It wasn’t until I started my first real post-college job — the kind that gives you one week of vacation after you’ve been working for an entire year — that I fully appreciated a primary reason to be grateful at Thanksgiving: four glorious, contiguous days off.
After my “aha” moment, I started skipping town during Thanksgiving and using those four days to jump-start a vacation I couldn’t have done otherwise. Southern Spain, Vancouver, B.C., even a honeymoon in Paris.
My Thanksgiving getaway strategy has atrophied since having our son. But now that he’s almost 4, I’m feeling the November itch again, except that now I am drawn to destinations just far enough away that we can have a small adventure and reconnect as a family.
Here’s my wish list for Thanksgiving getaways that are easy to plan even just a few weeks out.
1. Victoria, B.C.: Tea, trees and salmon
2. Whistler: Early-bird skiing
3. Yurt or other rustic retreat: Pass the remote
4. Seabrook: Reconnect at a family resort
5. Portland: Holiday lights and microbrews
Victoria, B.C.: Tea, trees and salmon
While it’s a holiday weekend in the U.S., it’s the off-season in Victoria: Zip over on the Victoria Clipper and sightsee on Thanksgiving Day. Check out the Bug Zoo, the new holiday ferris wheel in Centennial Square, the Royal B.C. Museum, Butchart Gardens (gorgeous in the fall) and the Festival of Trees at the Empress Hotel.
If you have access to a car, visit Goldstream Provincial Park to witness the annual return of thousands of chum salmon to their spawning grounds amid old-growth rainforest. For extra fun, book a hotel with a pool, such as the Royal Scot Hotel & Suites, or, for a true splurge, the palatial Fairmont Empress Hotel. (Check for Clipper Vacations deals on clippervacations.com.)
Let’s eat: Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, splurge on high tea at the Empress Hotel, or the less-expensive, Asian-influenced tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific, which has a special menu just for kids.
Also consider: Vancouver, B.C., of course! Take the train up to the Northwest’s most metropolitan city for a weekend of Asian culture, superb eats and attractions like Science World and Granville Island.
Whistler: Early-bird skiing
If you don’t mind early-season snow conditions, you’ll reap the benefits of deals and a less-crowded time at what is arguably North America’s best ski resort. When Whistler/Blackcomb officially opens for skiing on November 27, the resort expects that half the mountain will be open, which means that the area's skiable terrain at Thanksgiving will still be twice the size of Vail’s when fully open.
Whistler’s “Stay & Ski” packages offer 20 to 40 percent off high-season rates. If you book three nights or more, kids ages 12 and younger stay, ski and rent equipment for free. (Book by Nov. 15 for best deals.) Accommodations with heated pools and hot tubs abound. Sold yet?
Let’s eat: Whistler.com’s Canadian-nice reservation agent assured me that some restaurants offer an American Thanksgiving dinner, but I’d hold out for something more exotic, such as tapas at Elements or a tatami room at Sushi Village.
Also consider: Washington’s Crystal Mountain also will be open, and Alta Crystal Resort offers a Thanksgiving special, with a fourth night for free if you book three nights, plus a holiday meal delivered to your room.
>>Next: Yurt or other rustic retreat
Photo credit: Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler
Yurt or other rustic retreat: Pass the remote
Yurts (tent-like cabins) located in parks around the state offer a ticket to the quiet pleasures of off-season camping — empty beaches, cozy campfires and chilly hikes — with some creature comforts, as well. Many yurts and their cousins, platform tents and rustic cabins, boast amenities such as a heater, hardwood floors and decent futon-like beds, with a picnic table and fire pit outside.
ParentMap reader Patty Teich says one of her favorite Thanksgivings was spent renting a yurt at Cape Disappointment State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula. “It allowed us quiet time to be thankful for our blessings.” Plus, it’s ultra-affordable: In the off-season, a yurt that sleeps five starts at $45 a night. Check parks.wa.gov or washington.goingtocamp.com for availability, and don’t forget county parks: We love the yurts at Kayak Point County Park near Stanwood, located a short walk from a picturesque, rocky beach, strewn with logs, that doubles as a nature playground for kids.
Let’s eat: BYOCT — bring your own cooked turkey — might be the way to go. Many yurt villages have a covered shelter/picnic table area that you can use for cooking in rainy weather.
Also consider: It’s more expensive than a yurt, but unplugging at Scottish Lakes High Camp, a mountain retreat in the North Cascades, is guaranteed. It hosts a community potluck on Thanksgiving Day.
Seabrook: Reconnect at a family resort
Seabrook, located on the Pacific Coast about three and a half hours from Seattle, is like your ideal neighborhood: A walkable community of front-porch houses seemingly designed for family bonding. You can ditch your car for the weekend and walk everywhere. Wander the beach, bike on the paths, play basketball or spend hours at the indoor swimming pool.
One ParentMap staffer has spent several Thanksgivings there with extended family. “We all make individual reservations for different cottages, and then there’s a cooking house, a football house, a house where most of the kids congregate, etc. At dinnertime, we all get together at one house to feast!”
Let’s eat: Although Seabrook’s on-site restaurant (Mill 109) is closed for Thanksgiving, it can provide a precooked meal for guests to eat at their cottage.
Also consider: Lauren Braden, contributor to ParentMap and author of the new e-book Autumn Escapes, sings the praises of a Thanksgiving stay at historic Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Park. Hike the emerald rainforest and enjoy a Thanksgiving buffet at the lodge.
>>Next: Portland, Oregon
Photo credit: Seabrook
Portland: Holiday lights and microbrews
It’s never a bad time to visit funky, charming Portland, but its urban pleasures shine especially bright in the fall and winter. Stay at a kid-friendly hotel such as Hotel Monaco or McMenamins’ Kennedy School and get into the holiday spirit by attending the annual tree lighting and sing-along at Pioneer Courthouse Square the day after Thanksgiving, or Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights. Play pinball at Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade, eat at kid-friendly brewpubs such as Hopworks and get lost at Powell’s Books. And if you’re not crowd-averse, head downtown for some Portland-style holiday shopping, tax free.
Let’s eat: Some of the standouts in Portland’s extraordinary restaurant scene should be open on Thanksgiving, including Paley’s Place, owned by a James-Beard-award-winning chef, and my favorite, Peruvian restaurant Andina. The Kennedy School offers a Thanksgiving buffet.
Also consider: Bellingham, home to Western Washington University, boasts a museum of electrical invention (the SPARK), a railway museum, terrific walks and a killer ice cream shop downtown, Mallard Ice Cream.
>>Next: More tips from readers
Photo credit: Torsten Kjellstrand / www.travelportland.com
More Thanksgiving escape tips from readers
“Salish Lodge & Spa — culinary delights, traditional and famous ‘country breakfast,’ and spa to alleviate stress”
“Our favorite fall vacation spot is Curlew Lake [in Republic, Wash]. This old mining town is a gem.”
“We often stay on a cabin on Harstine Island [south Puget Sound]. It’s a lovely place to explore.”
“We go to Mexico. Pack stuffing in our suitcase. Buy a roast chicken from the vendors. Eat in our condo as a family.”
“Oregon beach — Take a room with unobstructed ocean view at Coho in Lincoln City, and hope for the perfect storm. Some indoor things to do around the area include the Tillamook Cheese Factory, Wings & Waves Waterpark, and the Oregon aquarium in Newport.”
“We had a great Thanksgiving one year staying at a timeshare at Wapato Point on Lake Chelan. Heated pool, places to walk, it even snowed!”
“Another year we stayed at a timeshare near Nanaimo, B.C., and the kids loved it — hot tubs, heated pools, explored the beach and nearby forests.”
“We have rented a house near the beach in Manzanita, Oregon. While cold, we love parking the car for the weekend and just walking around the little town and bundling up for a walk on the beach or hike in nearby state park.”