The Seattle city skyline with Mt. Rainier in the background. (Chuck Pefley/GETTY IMAGES)

Who: Laurie Bledy and Matthew Sked, both 30, of Alexandria

Where: Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Why: Combination five-year wedding anniversary and pre-baby blowout

When: One week in May

Laurie Bledy and Matthew Sked of Alexandria (Family photo)

Budget: Under $5,000 if possible

“After watching a ton of Food Network/Travel Channel-type shows, we like to seek out new experiences and try new foods.”

You’ve got to love a reader who writes in for vacation advice and, while waiting for our response, books her airline tickets and a couple of very cool places to stay — all at rock-bottom rates. I’m tempted to ask her to plan my next trip, but in the meantime, let’s see what we can do to help Laurie Bledy and her husband, Matthew Sked, with the rest of their May visit to the Pacific Northwest.

The Alexandria couple has scheduled three days each in Seattle and Portland, Ore., and they’d like to check out both cities’ classic attractions as well as explore neighborhoods and parks, sample local cuisine, hike and kayak. The problem: Both destinations are so rich in urban pleasures and stunning natural beauty that six days is simply not enough time to “do” them properly. Ideally, I’d recommend choosing one city as a base, taking day trips to islands, lakes, bays and mountains as desired. But those airline tickets are a done deal, so think of this trip as a Pacific Northwest appetizer — enough to whet the appetite for a return visit.

Getting there and getting around: The couple booked an open-jaw (multi-city) itinerary: They’ll fly from Washington to Seattle, drive to Oregon and fly home from Portland. They paid $760 for two round-trip airline tickets, a very good price. Currently, nonstop flights from Washington are starting at about $480 each, connecting flights about $400.

To save a few more bucks, take Seattle’s new Link Light Rail service from the airport to downtown ($2.50 per person one way; Seattle is a very walkable city with excellent public transportation, so hold off on the rental car until Day 3 of the trip, and then rent it downtown to avoid airport taxes. A standard car for four days starts at $252, including all fees and taxes, from Hertz, via

Where to stay: Bledy and Sked, looking to save money and hoping for a more personal experience than they’d get staying in hotel rooms, booked their lodging through (www.air
), a sort of B&B-cum-social-networking site where rooms — some of them quite plush and in desirable neighborhoods — go for much less than comparable hotel properties. The couple paid $560 for six nights’ accommodations — three in a downtown Seattle condo with a private entrance and kitchenette, and three in an airy basement suite in Portland’s hip Kerns neighborhood — and figure they saved about $600 over standard hotel rates. As with any Internet referral service, check references and take common-sense precautions.

Now, time to get busy.

Day 1: Downtown and the waterfront. Start at Seattle’s legendary Pike Place Market overlooking Elliott Bay. Yes, it’s tourist central, but it’s legitimately wonderful for its staggering array of food, crafts and local characters. Buy picnic food there and start walking. Do not miss the Olympic Sculpture Garden, the gorgeous Central Library, Pioneer Square, the Experience Music Project and the Underground tour. Skip the Space Needle, unless you crave crowds and revolving views. Have a fish dinner at Matt’s in the Market, with spectacular views of the bay (

Day 2: Neighborhoods and a ferry ride. Branching out north from downtown, check out Belltown, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Fremont, the University District or a combination thereof. Save time to tour UW’s (that’s U-Dub’s) gorgeous urban campus, and when you crave a coffee, stop at the venerable Cafe Allegro (seattle
). Scope out some dining options as you explore, since many of the city’s hottest restaurants are located away from downtown, including Sitka & Spruce on Capitol Hill, Petra Mediterranean Bistro in Belltown and Zippy’s in West Seattle — all current favorites of Seattle Weekly critics (

Back downtown, catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island for a great view of the city (35 minutes from Pier 52, $7.10 each way for pedestrians, Stroll, shop, eat and rent a bike before heading back.

Day 3. Outdoor adventures. Rent a double kayak at Northwest Outdoor Center  ($19 an hour, and paddle around Lake Union. Or drive to Mount Rainier National Park (90 miles each way, www.visit
) for hiking, a picnic and incredible views.

Day 4: Drive to Portland, about three hours south via I-5. (Optional detour along the way: Mount St. Helens.) Once settled in town, check out Waterfront Park, with a pedestrian and bike path featuring great views of the skyline. Hop on the Portland Streetcar to go from the downtown Cultural District to the Pearl District, Nob Hill/Northwest neighborhoods and more ($2 all day).

Days 5-6: Two words: food and bikes. You’ll be eating lots of the former (at markets, restaurants and carts) and burning it off on the latter in this bicycle-crazy town (
for rental info). Other must-dos include gardens (International Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden), the Saturday Farmers Market and Powell’s Books (www.


In addition to the city’s 600-plus food carts, Post food critic Tom Sietsema likes Gruner for Alpine-inspired German (www. grunerpdx. com), Laurelhurst Mar­­ket for steak (www.laurel
) and Pok Pok for Thai home cooking (pok
). Check the Oregonian ( and Portland Monthly (www. for more recommendations. For a guide to food carts:

Cost: Air, lodging and rental car come to $1,600, leaving a whopping $3,400 for food, admissions, gas and incidentals.

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