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When it comes to the holidays, nothing is more festive than the beautiful light displays. Some of my fondest memories involve watching the Macy’s star light up in downtown Seattle, walking around parks and zoos to see their light displays and driving around local neighborhoods taking in the lights. Most Christmas tree and town lightings are over before the holiday season, but there are still plenty of light displays open around the area. Likewise, now is the perfect time to explore local neighborhoods for lights as people have had time to put up their decorations. Some houses are decorated so elaborately you would think they have been done by professionals. Here is our list of the best places to get your holiday light fix for 2014, whether you want to see some of the more popular displays or avoid the crowds by checking out some secret hot spots that are off the beaten path.

Holiday lights at Pike Place Market

Holiday lights at Pike Place Market


With half a million colored lights shaped to flowers and critters, you will feel like you have entered a magical, sparkling forest or garden at Garden d’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. To view even more animals, there is also the ZooLights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, which features their famous green and purple tree as well as a new 15.5 foot Mount Rainier display and a 12th man Seahawk tree. Meanwhile, fans of traditional displays will love seeing lights, while also sampling some local brews, around the city of Seattle on the Holiday Brews and Bulbs Tour. They might also enjoy the Lights of Christmas at Warm Beach in Stanwood. In addition to millions of lights, there are enough activities (from live music to Washington state’s only talking Christmas tree) that you could spend a whole weekend exploring them.

While there are plenty of commercial displays in the Seattle area worth visiting, there are also a number of outstanding neighborhood displays that are completely free for your whole family to visit. The community on N.E. Park Road has been putting on Candy Cane Lane for six decades, which features 23 houses decked out in classic holiday decor that visitors can drive or walk through. The Zembruski family on the eastside also goes all out for Christmas, combining traditional and technical elements to create a Woodinville Wonderland in their own backyard. If you and your neighbors are still looking for inspiration for creating your own holiday displays, make sure to stop by Kirkland to see the ultimate sports fan’s display.

Christmas lights and snow in the Sunken Garden. Courtesy of The Bucthart Gardens

Christmas lights and snow in the Sunken Garden. Courtesy of The Bucthart Gardens


As soon as you enter Victoria, you are greeted by the festive green and red lights decorating the Parliament Buildings downtown. However, Parliament are not the only ones who go all out for the holidays — a lot of neighborhoods do as well. If you plan on doing a driving tour of lights, make sure to stop by the communities of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula, there is even a handy 2014 Christmas Lights Map created by the Times Colonist to help you find the best houses to visit.

Of course, the biggest, and likely the brightest, Christmas lights display in Victoria is at The Butchart Gardens during their Magic of Christmas season. All fifty acres of The Gardens are covered in dazzling lights and there are special “Twelve Days of Christmas” displays interspersed throughout. In fact, you may want to sing the song as you go along to make sure you find them all. Speaking of singing, there are also nightly carolers, an ice skating rink and free hot chocolate for kids under 12 years of age who bring a paper snowflake. If you want to skip driving this time around, The Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights Tour will take you and your friends or family up to gardens to see the lights, driving through many of the festively decorated towns along the way.

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge. Courtesy of The Listel Hotel Vancouver

Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge. Courtesy of The Listel Hotel Vancouver


See two of Vancouver’s most of famous Christmas lights displays during one easy trip on the Karaoke Christmas Lights Tour. First you’ll visit the Bright Nights of Stanley Park where you can either walk or ride the Christmas train through the park’s grounds to discover of all of the displays filling the park. Second, you’ll stop at the VanDusen Festival of Lights, where you can watch dancing lights on Livingstone Lake, themed lights arrangements and more. While in town you might also want to check out the Carol Ships Parade of Lights, as lighted boats travel through Vancouver’s waterways. Likewise, there is also the Canyon Lights event at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where the bridge (and the surrounding trees) is covered is glittering lights making it appear as though it is a strand of diamonds. Finally, don’t forget the Vancouver neighborhoods. Swing by the Trinity Street Christmas Lights Festival where residents compete with their neighbors to have the most decorated house, many of which would put the Griswolds to shame.

Decorated houses on Peacock Lane. Creative Commons Licensed by Visitor7

Decorated houses on Peacock Lane. Creative Commons Licensed by Visitor7


Hop on the Portland Christmas Tour to view the city’s houses and mansions at their finest. Visit Peacock Lane and enjoy a tradition that has been around since the 1920s. The owners of the Tudor houses go all out to cover them in lights and also create a variety of nativity and wintertime scenes on their yards. You will also stop by both Pittock and Victorian mansions, which have lights on the outside as well as on the inside in addition to rooms decorated in different themes. Next, enjoy lights, singing and peaceful reflection as the tour makes its way to the Christmas Lights at the Grotto, where there are five indoor concerts each night and outdoor caroling. Finally, take in the “largest holiday light show west of the Mississippi” with the Winter Wonderland at Portland Race Track. This drive through exhibit is fun for the whole family and features over 250 colorful lights arrangements and animated scenes, ensuring this attraction will end up on your list of places to visit during the holidays for years to come.

Although the Portland Christmas Tour does cover most of the popular light displays in Portland, it does miss a few. Animal lovers will want to make a trip to ZooLights to view holiday displays featuring both animatronic and live wildlife, while those who enjoy nautical activities may want to take a ride on of the lighted Christmas Ships (or watch from some place warm) as they travel up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

With so many fascinating and beautiful lights displays around the Pacific Northwest, you could easily spend days visiting them. However, if you want to discover more even more displays or seasonal activities happening in your part of town, check out our December Things to Do posts. Another option is to simply drive around and explore the lights in your town, you might be surprised how creative your neighbors can be.

Apples and Apple Cider Creative Commons Licensed by Phongnguyen1410

Apples and Apple Cider Creative Commons Licensed by Phongnguyen1410

Around the Pacific Northwest, apple picking has become a popular October and November activity. In fact, apples have almost gotten as synonymous with fall as pumpkins, with a number of orchards in the area offering u-pick options and festivals. Instead of eating or baking all of these tasty apples, why not try drinking them? An interesting and fun alternative to craft beer, hard cider is increasing in popularity and is popping up all over around the Pacific Northwest. You can even order a dry hard cider off the Victoria Clipper on board menu. This tasty beverage is made with apples grown in Oregon and Washington, and produced by Square Mile Cider Co in Portland. Eager to taste other local brews? Why not visit some of these cideries in person and relax with a new drink or two, or even a sampler, in front of cozy fireplace and soak in the ambiance? To make your search easier, we thought we would help narrow down the selection by providing some of our top choices in each city.


Seattle Cider Company

In the state known for its wonderful apples, cideries are surprisingly rare in Seattle. Perhaps it is because Seattle is one of America’s best beer cities, and it can be challenging to compete with fun activities like the Seattle Brews & Views Tour. Or maybe, it is because we would rather eat our apples than drink them, even though are they are mighty good either way. Luckily,Seattle Cider Co remedied this problem last year by opening the Woods tasting room, which serves two ciders year around and four to six seasonal and specialty handcrafted ciders. Be advised that at this cidery the focus is mainly on the cider so don’t expect to find much food, but you are welcome to bring your own.

Schilling & Company

Recently joining the Seattle cider scene is Schilling & Company. While the company has been brewing cider for a few years, they just opened their first cider house, located in Fremont, in September 2014. Future plans for the cider house include educational events and tasting sessions as well as cider making classes, so guests can become well-versed in the cider producing process.

Pacific Northwest Cideries

Mixed Apples for Cider Pressing Creative Commons Licensed by Anne Dirkse


Merridale Ciderworks

If you love cider, Merridale Ciderworks is the place for you. All seven of Merridale’s ciders are produced right there in Victoria, so while you are at Merridale you can see and learn about every step involved in the cider making process. Tour the neighboring orchards where the apples are grown, see the cidery where the cider is pressed, fermented and bottled, and of course, sample a few of these delicious beverages at the Ciderbar when your tour is over.

Sea Cider

A farm-based cidery, Sea Cider grows their cider apples right next to their ciderhouse on the 10 acre property. When you visit, make sure to check out the orchard, which contains over 1,000 trees that produce over 60 varietals of cider apples. After your tour, grab a snack and enjoy a short (three samples) or long (all current ciders, which is at least nine, plus featured cocktails) flight of cider while enjoying the view of the water.


Portland Cider Company

The story of Portland Cider Company is similar to that of many other cideries. Frustrated by the quality of commercial ciders, founders Jeff and Lynda Parrish decided to start producing their own cider made from Northwest apples. In their taproom you can taste flights of all their widely available ciders, as well as sample a couple of unreleased and limited availability ciders them before they hit the stands. Portland Cider Company has a variety of unique and flavorful brews, and even a pear cider, so it is definitely worth stopping by.

Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider

What began as a project to help rid a friend of excess apples by making them in to cider, quickly turned into the company now known as Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider. The story goes that once Rev. Nat started making cider, he realized he really enjoyed the process, practiced his brewing technique and became popular enough to open his own taproom. Stop by to experience Rev. Nat’s creative and tasty flavor combinations. You may even get to sample a taproom-only special that never leaves the building.

This time of year haunted houses, pumpkin festivals and every other type of Halloween festivity you can imagine abound. However, if you want to give yourself a real scare this October, try visiting one of the many old buildings, parks and cemeteries in Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver or Portland. All of these cities have a rich history and many of the popular attractions in these towns are rumored to be some of the haunted places in the Pacific Northwest. Don’t believe in ghost stories? You’ll just have to check out these locations yourself. A few of our tours, such as the Haunted Victoria Tour and the Haunted Halloween Trolley Tour in Vancouver, stop at a some of these spots and the other areas mentioned are also centrally located so you can easily add them on to create a tour of your own. Even if you aren’t spooked, you may learn some new facts and history about your city.


West Seattle High School Creative Commons Licensed by Joe Mabel

West Seattle High School Creative Commons Licensed by Joe Mabel

Pike Place Market

The Market is one of Seattle’s busiest attractions. Visitors travel from far and wide to see the teamwork of the fishmongers as they toss fish to patrons or grab a coffee at the original Starbucks. However, CBS Seattle explains that long before these establishments were created, the land belonged to the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes and were used as a burial ancient burial ground. As result, ghostly apparitions are often seen in the lower market.

Harvard Exit Theatre

Built in 1925, the Harvard Exit Theatre was originally used as a meeting place for the Women’s Century Club. Apparently, a few of these ladies still attempt to attend meetings, as a shadowy person can sometimes be seen haunting the lobby. On the third floor women dressed in flapper’s clothing can often be seen and heard laughing.

West Seattle High School

Rumor has it that one of the school’s former students, Rose Higginbotham, who died at the school in 1924 now haunts its halls. People also often catch glimpses of Rose and other former students at the nearby Hiawatha Playfield.

Victoria, BC

The Parliament at Night. Credit: Darius Wong

The Parliament at Night. Credit: Darius Wong

The Maritime Museum of BC

According to the organizers of the Ghosts of Victoria Festival, the Maritime Museum is the most haunted location in all of Western Canada. The Museum is built on the site of the city’s first gallows, and many men who were hanged there still lie buried beneath the building and still haunt it is halls. In addition, the “hanging judge” Matthew Baillie Begbie is said to still “hold court” over his old chambers on the third floor.

Parliament Buildings

The Parliament buildings have long been haunted by many ghosts, but the most famous of them all is the man who designed the buildings (and several others throughout Victoria, such as the Empress Hotel), Francis Mawson Rattenbury. Francis was bludgeoned to death by his wife’s lover, who was also his own chauffeur, and then buried in an unmarked grave. According to local superstition, Rattenbury now roams the buildings in order to seek the recognition he deserves.

Roger’s Chocolates

If you think ghosts stay away from “sweet” locations, then you would be mistaken. Not only is this shop a National Historic site, and oldest and most famous chocolate shop in Victoria, but it is also haunted. Founders Charles and Leah Rogers used to sleep in the kitchen of the store, and their spirits have never left. There have also been claims of a mysterious handprint that has shown up repeatedly in the store.

Vancouver, BC

The Vogue Theatre Creative Commons Licensed by Joe Mabel

The Vogue Theatre Creative Commons Licensed by Joe Mabel

Mountain View Cemetery

If you are looking for ghosts, a cemetery is certainly a good place to find them. The occupants of the gravesites at Mountain View are particularly tragic, as a number of them were unfortunate to be part of some of the worst disasters in Vancouver’s history. These accidents include the 1909 Lakeview BCER streetcar wreck, 1910 Rogers Pass slide disaster and the 1918 sinking of the SS Princess Sophia. With 108 victims buried in this cemetery from these catastrophes alone, you are sure to find a ghost or two bemoaning their untimely departure.

University Boulevard at UBC

As with Mountain View Cemetery, tragedy caused this UBC street to become haunted. The Postmedia News states that during the 1960′s, a couple got into an argument while driving to the campus library. The woman got out of the car to walk, and was hit by another car and killed. The young woman has been haunting the road ever since, asking young men for rides, handing them a piece of paper with library’s address on it and then disappearing.

The Vogue Theatre

The ghosts at Granville’s Vogue Theatre are more spiteful than spooky. One ghost can be heard walking around the downstairs dressing room, and surprising people by opening doors. The other ghost often appears in the seating area, dressed for the evening’s performance in a suit and tie.


The Shanghai Tunnels Creative Commons Licensed by Unknown

The Shanghai Tunnels Creative Commons Licensed by Unknown

The Shanghai Tunnels

These tunnels run underneath Old Town/Chinatown to the central downtown area of Portland. The tunnels connect the basements of a number of downtown hotels and bars, and were passages for many unsavory characters over the years. As a result, it is said that people who died in the Shanghai tunnels haunt them to this day.

The Roseland Theater

Named the “Best Haunted Venue” by Willamette Week, the theatre is haunted by publicity agent, Timothy Moreau. Moreau was killed by his boss Larry Hurwitz in 1990 after confronting Hurwitz about a counterfeit-ticket scam, but his body wasn’t discovered in the Columbia River Gorge until 2000. The building has been haunted ever since.

Cathedral Park

This popular park is said to be haunted by 15 year old Thelma Taylor, who was abducted and held captive under St. Johns Bridge before being killed in August 1949. Locals have told KOIN6 that Taylor haunts the park and that every summer they still hear her screams for help.

The Victoria Flower Count ended with a tally of 1,392,393,203 blooms for 2014! Every year, The Butchart Gardens and Tourism Victoria team up with Victoria residents to count how many blooms are in their community. This year, the City of Colwood won the title of “Bloomingest Community” with more than a billion blooms!

Victoria is known as the City of Gardens because the climate is ideal for growing flowers, so naturally their world famous The Butchart Gardens has been nominated as one of USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice awards for Best Public Garden. In addition to The Butchart Gardens, the list also includes other northwest favorites The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island and the Portland Japanese Gardens as well as the Huntington Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited! You have until March 31 to vote for your favorite public garden.

Victoria Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat in front of Victoria Clipper
Photo: Victoria Dragon Boat Festival Society

August is one of the months in the Pacific Northwest where you can usually count on nice weather and for those looking to make the most of the end of summer, there are plenty of options to keep you busy until the start of the school year and the return to cooler temperatures.

The Seattle Opera is performing its last cycle of “The Ring” under Speight Jenkins, retiring after 30 years working to make the Seattle Opera a Wagnerian center. In Victoria, the Dragon Boat Festival is a race and festival many enjoy every year. Labor Day weekend has many options this year including Bumbershoot music festival in Seattle, Art in the Pearl in Portland, and is a great weekend to head up to Victoria where you can take in the Vancouver Island Blues Bash and the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. For fans of the outdoors, Whistler has several mountain bike and racing events.

Here is our rundown of Things to Do in August:





San Juan Island:


There are many things that make Portland a great place to visit—the beer, history, food, easy access to the coast and mountains, adventure, and the quirky people. EverGreen Escapes offers a variety of tours in and around the Portland area that provide the perfect introduction to Oregon. Read the rest of this entry »

Located just under the shadow of the Space Needle, Seattle has a new attraction: Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum opened on May 21 as a showcase to one of the world’s most renowned glass artists, Dale Chihuly, and it is a stunning new addition the Seattle Center.

Chihuly Garden and Glass Seattle

The Chihuly Garden and Glass is located in the shadow of the Space Needle at Seattle Center

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Our first Gray Whale Watching tour of the year is this Saturday, so I thought I would share with you some photos our staff has taken on previous trips. The tour is a really great deal and fun for families. It departs from downtown Seattle most Saturdays and Sundays in March through May and heads towards Coupeville, Washington. On this daytrip you will get to spend time searching for Gray Whales as well as a couple of hours to explore Coupeville. You can learn more about Gray Whale Watching from Seattle on the Clipper Vacations website.

Seattle Gray Whale Watching

The tail of a Gray Whale spotted on one of the Clipper Vacations Gray Whale Watching Tours.

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This coming weekend the Washington seaside town of Langley on Whidbey Island hosts our favorite gathering of armature sleuths for their annual Langley Murder Mystery Weekend. Each year, the whole town gets into character playing out a brand new storyline written by local authors and riddled with clues so that you can play along as if you are in a real-life game of clue. Participants this year will be parsed with the task of uncovering who in the town has a case of gold fever – leading to them to commit murder “In Cold Mud.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alki Beach in Seattle on a sunny day

Alki Beach in Seattle on a sunny day. (Photo by Joe Mabel) via Wikimedia Commons

Seattle is having beautiful spring-like weather this week and the sun and warmer temperatures are making me excited for some great spring events coming up in Victoria, Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. Here is my round-up of some spring things to do in the Pacific Northwest:
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