I live in the Northwest and spend much of every year scouring Washington state in search of what's new and noteworthy: great new hotels and restaurants waiting to be discovered; new tour companies and museums; and occasionally, new parks or other natural areas that have opened to the public. Inevitably, a few favorite old restaurants or shops have closed. Worse still, sometimes the places I once liked no longer make the grade and have to be taken out of this guide. Following are some of my discoveries for this edition:
One of the first high-rises to open in Paul Allen's new South Lake Union neighborhood is home to luxury condominiums and the Pan Pacific Hotel, 2125 Terry Ave. (tel. 877/324-4856 or 206/264-8111; www.panpacific.com/seattle), a luxury hotel that feels unlike any other hotel in Seattle. The floor-to-ceiling walls of glass flood the guest rooms with light, and the courtyard entrance gives the hotel a feeling of being removed from the bustle of the city.
At the opposite end of town, you'll find the Silver Cloud Hotel-Stadium, 1046 First Ave. S. (tel. 800/497-1261 or 206/204-9800; www.silvercloud.com), which, if not nearly so upscale and luxurious, has rooms that are every bit as comfortable and contemporary. This hotel is also the best place to stay if you are in town to catch a Mariners or Seahawks game.
If you're having a hard time finding a vacant room for your Seattle vacation, try the Sheraton Seattle Hotel and Towers, 1400 Sixth Ave. (tel. 800/325-3535 or 206/621-9000; www.sheraton.com/seattle). Recently expanded, this hotel now has 1,258 rooms and is the biggest hotel in the city. Of course, with the Washington State Convention & Trade Center right next door, this hotel does a booming convention business.
I have added quite a few new restaurants, and probably the one most worthy of attention is Seattle celeb-chef Tom Douglas's Serious Pie, 316 Virginia St. (tel. 206/838-7388; www.tomdouglas.com). With this little hole-in-the-wall, Douglas has set his sights on making perfect wood-oven pizzas.
Downtown, be sure to check out Purple Café and Wine Bar, 1225 Fourth Ave. (tel. 206/829-2280; www.thepurplecafe.com), which is the most dramatically designed downtown restaurant and also has one of the most extensive and diverse menus of any downtown restaurant.
In the Ballard neighborhood in north Seattle, I discovered a wonderful little Italian restaurant. Volterra, 5411 Ballard Ave. (tel. 206/789-5100; www.volterrarestaurant.com), which is set on one of the prettiest streets in Ballard and does dinner as well as a great, inexpensive weekend brunch.
If you love sushi, check out I Love Sushi on Lake Union, 1001 Fairview Ave. N. (tel. 206/625-9604; www.ilovesushi.com), which is on the shore of Lake Union and offers great sushi and fun cocktails.
Seattle seems to be crazy for Vietnamese food, and when it comes to the traditional noodle soup called pho, many Seattleites swear by Capitol Hill's Pho Than Brothers, 516 Broadway E. (tel. 206/568-7218). In fact, so popular is this restaurant that it has numerous locations around the city.
Want to try your Vietnamese food in a chewy, crunchy slice of baguette? Head to Capitol Hill's Baguette Box, 1203 Pine St. (tel. 206/332-0220; www.baguettebox.com), and try the drunken chicken sandwich or the grilled lemongrass skirt-steak sandwich.
Sightseeing -- If you have any lingering doubts that Seattle is rapidly becoming a world-class city, spend an afternoon at the Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave. (tel. 206/654-3100; www.seattleartmuseum.org). Reopened in 2007 after a major expansion, the museum now has seemingly endless large galleries in which to display both its permanent collection and traveling exhibits.
Even before the art museum reopened, Seattle had a worthy brand-new art space in the Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave. (tel. 206/654-3100; www.seattleartmuseum.org). With monumental sculptures by Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, and Claes Oldenburg, this terraced park overlooks both Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It's just a beautiful space and an amazing revisioning of an old industrial site.
Jack Block Park, 2130 Harbor Ave. SW (tel. 206/728-3654), near West Seattle's Alki Beach, is a hidden gem that should be on any family itinerary of Seattle. For much of the year, you can get to the park by water taxi from the Seattle waterfront. There's a children's play area and a short paved path that leads to a viewing deck that looks out over both Elliott Bay and the always-busy port facility where giant freighters are loaded and unloaded by huge cranes. Definitely a must for little boys.
Nightlife -- Elysian Brewing Company, my favorite Seattle brewpub, has opened in a third location. The newest pub, Elysian Fields, 542 First Ave. S. (tel. 206/382-4498), is adjacent to both Qwest Field and Safeco Field.
For superbly crafted cocktails with heritage, grab a seat at downtown's stylish Vessel, 1312 Fifth Ave. (tel. 206/652-5222; www.vesselseattle.com), which is located next door to the 5th Avenue Theatre.
The San Juan Islands and Washington's Northwest Coast
On Whidbey Island, Prima Bistro, 201 1/2 First St. (tel. 360/221-4060; www.primabistro.biz), is the current hot restaurant. The second-floor bistro is casual and serves very creative food.
If you can't get a reservation in the San Juans, you still have a great option on the mainland in downtown Anacortes. The Majestic Inn & Spa, 419 Commercial Ave. (tel. 877/370-0100 or 360/299-1400; www.majesticinnandspa.com), is a luxurious place with a historic feel. Directly across the street from the Majestic, you'll find the impressive Star Bar, 416 1/2 Commercial Ave. (tel. 360/299-2120; www.starbaranacortes.com), an upscale restaurant with a classic, clubby feel.
Although from the outside it looks like little more than an aging motel (albeit with pretty gardens), Elements Hotel & Spa, 410 Spring St., Friday Harbor (tel. 800/793-4756 or 360/378-4000; www.hotelelements.com), is actually one of San Juan Island's hippest hotels.
On San Juan Island, in the town of Friday Harbor, the Backdoor Kitchen, 400 A St. (tel. 360/378-9540; www.backdoorkitchen.com), long one of my favorite lunch spots on the island, has now become a full-fledged restaurant and bar and serves some of the most creative fare on the island.
Roche Harbor Resort has added more luxury suites, as well as the Afterglow Spa at Roche Harbor (tel. 360/378-9888; www.rocheharbor.com), while the Lavendera Day Spa, 440 Spring St. (tel. 800/349-0337 or 360/378-3637; www.lavenderadayspa.com), has moved in from the Pelindaba Lavender Farm and is now located right in Friday Harbor.
On Orcas Island, Turtleback Mountain Preserve (tel. 360/378-4402; www.co.san-juan.wa.us/land_bank/turtle_back.html) was saved from private development by a massive fund-raising drive and is now open to the public. The preserve offers what I think is the single best hike in the Puget Sound region. Spectacular views of the San Juan archipelago and Orcas Island's idyllic Crow Valley are the payoff for an hour's strenuous uphill hiking.
If you want to do some sea kayaking along the shores of Lopez Island, try Cascadia Kayak Tours (tel. 360/468-3008; www.cascadiakayaktours.com).
In La Conner, be sure to have a meal at the delightful Seeds, 623 Morris St. (tel. 360/466-3280), a casual bistro housed in a historic building that once housed a seed company.
One of my favorite Fairhaven restaurants these days is the cozy little Flats Tapas Bar, 1307 11th St. (tel. 360/738-6001; www.flatstapasbar.com), which has lots of great small plates. For the best sunset view in Bellingham, head to Nimbus, 119 N. Commercial St. (tel. 360/676-1307; www.nimbusrestaurant.com), which is atop a downtown high-rise.
The Olympic Peninsula
If you are heading out to Sequim to visit the lavender feels or on an excursion to Olympic National Park, be sure to have a meal at the delightful Alder Wood Bistro, 139 W. Alder St. tel. 360/683-4321; www.alderwoodbistro.com), which was an instant hit with locals when it opened.
There's now a great little riverside lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula near the town of Forks. The Quillayute River Resort, 473 Mora Rd., Forks (tel. 360/374-7447; www.qriverresort.com), has five suites with vintage appliances and furniture and makes a great base for exploring the west side of the peninsula.
If you like oysters, don't miss the opportunity to get a dozen of them barbecued at River View Dining, 618 W. Robert Bush Dr. (tel. 360/875-6155), which is just across the highway from Willapa Bay in South Bend.
At the south end of the Long Beach Peninsula, in Cape Disappointment State Park, be sure to visit artist Maya Lin's Confluence Project installations that celebrate the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Native Americans who were living on the Columbia River when the explorers arrived in 1805.
If you're staying in Vancouver and are in search of good food, head to Roots Restaurant and Bar, Riverstone Marketplace, 19215 S.E. 34th St., Suite 110 (tel. 360/260-3001), east of Vancouver in Camas.
For spacious, modern cabins right in the Methow Valley town of Winthrop, try the River's Edge Resort, 115 Riverside Ave. (tel. 800/937-6621 or 509/996-8000; www.riversedgewinthrop.com). For the best food in Winthrop, check out Arrowleaf Bistro, 253 Riverside Ave. (tel. 509/996-3920), which is in a little riverside cottage on the town's main street.
On the east side of Snoqualmie Pass, in the town of Roslyn, be sure to check out the hip Jones, 104 N. First St. (tel. 509/649-3656), a combination wine-and-coffee bar.
If you're headed to Mount Rainier National Park, be aware that Paradise Inn (tel. 360/569-2275; http://rainier.guestservices.com), the park's premier historic lodge, is scheduled to reopen for the 2008 summer season. The historic lodge has been closed for two years for a major reconstruction.
If you're planning to explore the Columbia River Gorge, you should consider staying in one of the pretty cabins at Carson Ridge Bed & Breakfast, 1261 Wind River Rd., Carson (tel. 877/816-7908 or 509/427-7777; www.carsonridgebnb.com).
There are plenty of new wineries in the Yakima Valley region, including Severino Cellars, 1717 First Ave., Zillah (tel. 509/829-3800); Steppe Cellars, 1991 Chaffee Rd., Sunnyside (tel. 509/837-8281; www.steppecellars.com); Desert Wind, Airfield Estates, 580 Merlot Dr. (tel. 509/643-1282; www.airfieldwines.com); Fidélitas, 51810 N. Sunset Rd., Benton City (tel. 509/521-4433; www.fidelitaswines.com); and Goose Ridge Estate Winery, 16304 N. Dallas Rd., Richland (tel. 509/628-3880; www.gooseridge.com). Prosser has recently become the nexus of winery development in the Yakima Valley, and at exit 80 off I-82, you'll find nearly a dozen wineries clustered just off the freeway.
Due to a paucity of decent restaurants in the Yakima Valley, several area wineries now have restaurants of their own. New wineries with restaurants include Desert Wind Winery, 2258 Wine Country Rd., Prosser (tel. 509/786-7277; www.desertwindwinery.com); Alexandria Nicole, 2880 Lee Rd., Ste. C, Prosser (tel. 509/786-3497; www.alexandrianicolecellars.com); Willow Crest Winery, 590 Merlot Dr., Prosser (tel. 509/786-7999; www.willowcrestwinery.com); and Tagaris Winery, 844 Tulip Lane, Richland (tel. 509/628-0020; www.tagariswines.com).
In Walla Walla, new wineries worth searching out include Trust Cellars, 1050 Merlot Dr. (tel. 509/529-4511; www.trustcellars.com); Va Piano Vineyards, 1793 JB George Rd. tel. 509/529-0900; www.vapianovineyards.com); Waters Winery, 1825 JB George Rd. (tel. 509/525-1590; www.waterswinery.com); and Zerba Cellars, 85530 Hwy. 11, Milton-Freewater, OR (tel. 541/938-9463; www.zerbacellars.com).
My vote for best new restaurant in Walla Walla goes to Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, 125 W. Alder St. (tel. 509/525-2112).
In Spokane, don't miss Wild Sage American Bistro, 916 W. Second Ave. (tel. 509/456-7575; www.wildsagebistro.com). However, the biggest news in Spokane is the Davenport Tower addition to the historic Davenport Hotel.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.