Contrary to popular belief, the slow season of the year can be a great time to visit the Pacific Northwest. Fewer crowds and a quieter beauty leave more space to connect with nature and your loved ones. Although the main holidays are often obvious moments to seek getaways, drivable weekends away for no reason are soul-reviving too. Over the years I’ve had a number of visitors arrive in the dead of winter, wanting to experience the essence of Oregon and Washington. To the untrained eye, it might seem futile to breathe life into a wintery itinerary, but I’ve locked in on some great places that foster the cozy essence of the PNW. Following is a list of my favorite unique Pacific Northwest hotels — a list of places to stay, even in the cold and rain!
In a previous life, I stayed in countless hotels for business and even hosted trips with travel agents, we called FAMs (for familiarization). Sometimes we’d visit ten hotels in one day, surveying the grounds, lobby, and different room floor plans. I used to marvel at the way we’d investigate to see if irons were in each room, ice buckets, mirrors, because THEY WERE ALL THE SAME! Different wallpaper and nondescript art. But to me, it was really about the vibe of the place. What do I feel when I set foot on the premises? How does the service make me feel connected?
I trust you probably know how to find an Oregon or Washington hotel on the web, or you use hack tricks with hotel points to book free stays. This article offers you the best way to connect with your environment by starting out with a place to stay that offers a great vibe. From historic lodges to retro motor inns, these are “destinations” to remember long after you pull away from the front entrance. Many do not participate with the large booking engines. And contrary to all that cramming on FAM trips, I’ve stayed in each place — experiencing the true essence of an overnight there.
Just a few “housekeeping” items to keep in mind. Supply and demand of labor are on pandemic-induced rocky ground — especially in rural parts of both Oregon and Washington. Be patient and understand that many of these places to stay will be understaffed and restaurant hours and other services might be unusually limited. If you live local, consider taking a cooler with simple provisions to set up impromptu picnics. If there is anything you must have, call ahead to ensure it’ll be available because Google just isn’t hitting it right in many places right now. Also, a great experience for me doesn’t depend on en-suite rooms, just so you know!
Unique Pacific Northwest hotels — table of contents
- Lake Quinault Lodge — Olympic National Park
- Tokeland Hotel — Washington Coast
- Captain Whidbey — Whidbey Island
- Sleeping Lady Resort — Leavenworth
- McMenamin’s Elks — Tacoma
- McMenamin’s Kalama — Columbia River
- Society Hotel — Bingen & Portland
- Balch Hotel — Columbia River Gorge
- LOGE — Bend and various locations
- SCP — Redmond, OR and various locations
- Strait Surf Cabins
- Honorable mentions — 4 well-located hotels
- Interactive Map
Lake Quinault Lodge — Olympic National Park
My favorite places to stay in Washington State are hands down Paradise Inn on Mt. Rainier, Lake Crescent Lodge, and this iconic gem. All are beautiful historic hotels, complete with quirks accumulated over decades welcoming guests to explore deep ways to connect with pristine nature. Paradise closes completely down for the winter, Lake Crescent has some limited availability, but Lake Quinault Lodge remains open year-round — making it my favorite unique Pacific Northwest hotel.
It’ll be wet for sure, but that’s the charm of a lodge built in 53 days, way back in 1926. Sit in one of the plush leather couches in the grand room while the fire roars, sipping on a happy hour beverage, or move the pieces of an oversized chessboard in a friendly game with your loved one. This is the place to rest, engage in conversation, and put away all the devices. Outside the front door, you can venture deep into a real old-growth forest and hug ancient Douglas fir. The five-mile trail is an outstanding opportunity to soak up pristine forest — a damp, velvety green wonderland.
I’ve written another article specifically about this great escape, complete with room hints and other things to do in the area. Check it out: Explore Washington’s rainforest at Lake Quinault Lodge.
Tokeland Hotel — Washington Coast
Between the notoriety of the Olympic Peninsula and the Oregon Coast lies an often overlooked hidden realm. Areas of the Washington Coast provide simple pleasures with uncrowded beaches, great parks, and excellent fresh seafood. The Tokeland Hotel is a place that seems to define cozy — with delicious food and drink, a roaring fireplace under antlers, and bedding in the rooms that’ll make you want to sleep in every day. Add the Washington Coast, and you have a magical place off the beaten path!
I’ve stayed here a number of times and created a separate piece with all the information you need to book a stay. Read the article, Tokeland Hotel — the spiritual oasis of the Washington Coast.
Captain Whidbey Inn
Whidbey Island makes for an easy getaway. A quick ferry ride (or drive around Deception Pass) away from the buzz of the city opens up a portal to a quieter, more peaceful world. In particular, Captain Whidbey Inn seems to harken back to a time when sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, gazing out into a pristine inlet of the Salish Sea, was the best way to spend a crisp fall afternoon.
The lodge dates back to the early 1900s, yet has all the modern touches with just the right amount of rustic luxury. I enjoyed my stay here so much I wrote an article about it, complete with detailed information. It includes which rooms to book, services, and an interactive map for things to do in the area.
Sleeping Lady Resort
It’s almost that time of year when the snow falls in the Cascades, beautifully blanketing places like Leavenworth. I fell in love with Sleeping Lady Resort because of the proximity to The Enchantments (built into the mountain), the excellent service, and an effortless balance between pristine nature and all the comforts you’d expect in a resort. The Art Walk is really cool too. Check out the Dale Chihuly just hanging out on the rocks… no big deal. Great for fall or winter, or spring or summer.
McMenamin’s Elks Temple — Tacoma
One of the things I appreciate most about the McMenamin hotels — like this refurbished Elks Temple in Tacoma — is the attention to original artwork that reflects the flavor of the location. I felt particularly honored to sleep in the room dedicated to one of the founders of Nirvana, Chris Novoselic (Nirvana started performing in Tacoma in the early days).
Exploring this maze of bars connected by secret passageways offers a unique lodging experience in Tacoma (or anywhere). The location downtown is convenient too. If you go be sure to check out the basement tiki bar, The Old Hangout. That space used to be the Elks swimming pool where my mom and her family would go on Sunday afternoons.
Speaking of McMenamins, if you’re looking for a place to stay between Seattle and Portland — maybe to spend time exploring Mount St. Helens — Kalama is a great option. Departing from the usual McMenamin style to repurpose existing historic buildings, this hotel was built from the ground up.
In a nod to the early 1800s which were centered around the mighty Columbia River and the Hawaiians who ventured here to work in the maritime culture, the design is territorial Hawaiian. And like Tacoma’s theme around music, each room at the Kalama Hotel features figures of Columbia River lore. I love to sit on the wide veranda and watch the large ships navigate the river while people walk along a paved boardwalk that stretches for 2.3 miles along the shoreline.
The Society Hotel
The Society Hotel Bingen is a unique oasis set in a former schoolhouse. Bingen, Washington (BIN-jen) is on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge (across from Hood River). The spa is fantastic and makes for a great place to soak in the winter months after exploring all the Gorge has to offer by day. There is a stylish cafe in the lobby and a few good restaurants in the area for more substantial food.
The Columbia River Gorge has many places to stay, but to get away from the hustle and bustle I enjoy the tiny farming community of Dufur, Oregon. The quick drive south from The Dalles, Oregon, seems effortless as rolling hills of wheat flow with the wind. The town of Dufur hosts a mercantile, local cafe, and the proud Balch Hotel. The three-story building was built in the heyday of the early 1900s to house travelers passing through.
Today, the hotel offers a variety of room options (en-suite and European) and an excellent restaurant. The location along the historic Sam Barlow Trail (the overland option of the famous Oregon Trail) makes for a great getaway on its own or as part of a tour of Mt. Hood and/or the Columbia River Gorge.
LOGE Camps are located in Bend, Westport (WA Coast), Leavenworth, Mt. Shasta, and Breckenridge, and cater to the outdoorsy crowd that still wants a soft bed after a day doing something outdoors (like me). I visited the Bend location last summer and loved my experience. Fire pits were located around the property with access to bike rentals and other activities that departed from the hotel. This location is also one of the best to quickly get to Mt. Bachelor. And the hammock in my room was an enjoyable surprise!
SCP Redmond Hotel (and other locations)
SCP stands for Soul Community Planet. These minimalist-styled hotels offer four locations — Redmond and Depoe Bay, in Oregon, Hilo, Hawaii, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The 49 guest rooms offer modern energy to the refurbished historic hotel in the heart of downtown Redmond, Oregon. The open plan of the lobby and cafe creates a welcoming space to chat with friends or do work while sipping a wellness tonic.
Later in the day, head up to the rooftop lounge for a breathtaking sunset over the Three Sisters. The location is perfect to enjoy the tasty downtown restaurants and is close enough to the Redmond Airport to serve as an overnight spot before flying out. We stayed here after visiting the John Day Fossil Beds and it made for a relaxing end to the trip.
Strait Surf Cabins — Olympic Peninsula
These gems are not a hotel, but anyone who travels out to the Olympic Peninsula for overnights knows that booking lodging, especially in winter, can be sketchy — especially when the few favorites are full (or closed for winter). A new beachfront option is available close enough to the services of Port Angeles but tucked away on a quiet stretch of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The location near the mouth of the Lyre River makes Strait Surf Cabins (Strait for the Strait of Juan de Fuca) a favorite getaway destination for surfing, kayaking, and exploring the Olympic National Park and Forest. For full disclosure, my cousin Molly and her husband Michael own and operate these cozy cabins. They are attentive hosts with impeccable attention to creating a stylish, but relaxed environment.
Honorable mention — 3 well located Pacific Northwest hotels
I’ve already mentioned the challenge with finding quality places on the Olympic Peninsula — especially around Forks. Forks makes a great overnight location to break up an Olympic Peninsula adventure, but the options are not spectacular. Try the Woodland Inns, which is a collection of cute cabins tucked into an area right on Highway 101. If you stay here be sure to hit up Pacific Pizza, probably the best food in Forks.
Port Angeles is another strategic place to overnight on a journey to the wonderland of the Olympic National Park. There are plenty of lodging options here, including Airbnb’s, but I recommend the Red Lion Hotel. The property provides waterfront views and an excellent location near downtown, which is also near where you can catch the ferry to Victoria, Canada (at the time of this writing September 2021, the ferry is not operating due to the pandemic).
Port Angeles has a similar feel to Astoria, Oregon. If you’re looking for a quick overnight place to stay in and around this fantastic town at the mouth of the Columbia, try the Atomic Motel. The rooms are basic but offer a fun retro feel while the location near the Astoria Bridge makes for easy access to the River Walk, and is close enough to downtown.