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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 22, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 51
BEST OF TRAVEL 2017: Our favorite hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions from this year
Arts & Entertainment
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BEST OF TRAVEL 2017: Our favorite hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions from this year

by Albert Rodriguez and Jessica Price - SGN A&E Writers Sometimes you just have to get away, even if it's a two-hour train or ferry ride from Seattle. We couldn't let the year fade without sharing our picks for the Best of Travel 2017 from the destinations we visited these past 12 months. Here are our choices for the best hotels, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, plus visitor attractions in alphabetical order.

HOTELS

Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa - Scottsdale, Arizona
It seems odd that a luxury hotel should be tucked behind a strip mall, though that's part of the appeal of this new Scottsdale property; it's really a hidden gem. Instead of rooms in a traditional hotel building, guests stay in elegantly designed and spacious bungalows with private patios and big glass-door showers that you can literally do jumping jacks in. Three pools, on-site restaurant and bar, plus a helpful, cheery staff makes the Andaz a desert standout. A. Rodriguez

Icicle Village Resort - Leavenworth, Washington
Themed hotels can come off as gimmicky and I was afraid this resort, situated in the Cascade Mountain range in North-Central Washington, would be over the top. But I was delighted to encounter an enchanting Bavarian style property with lots of genuine charm and a variety of activities, from miniature golf to a video arcade, that I could easily see myself returning to. A. Rodriguez

Mountain Shadows - Scottsdale, Arizona
Embedded peacefully and majestically in the hills of Paradise Valley, an upscale town overlooking Phoenix, this hotel was originally built in the late 1950s, but re-opened in 2017 as an upscale, sophisticated property with contemporary elegance at every turn. If you want to splurge and feel like an A-lister, stay at Mountain Shadows. A. Rodriguez

Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa - Rancho Mirage, California
If you're planning to explore outside of Palm Springs, rather than spend the majority of your visit in downtown, I highly suggest this expansive hotel in Rancho Mirage that comes with its own water park. It has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a top brand name hotel with close proximity to restaurants, department stores, movie theater, and Coachella or Indian Wells, if you're looking to attend special events out there. A. Rodriguez

RESTAURANTS

Acqua California Bistro - Rancho Mirage, California
You can't beat a three-course meal for $19.99, especially when you can select from a list of mouthwatering favorites at this busy Rancho Mirage restaurant, nestled in The River shopping complex. The portions are generous, the sleek decor is fun, the atmosphere is electric and the service is quite friendly. A. Rodriguez

Downriggers - Friday Harbor, Washington
Overlooking the picturesque harbor on San Juan Island, this re-opened restaurant - which burnt down in 2013 - features a menu of outstanding Northwest-sourced fish and meat entrees, as well as soups and salads. The views are impeccable and the House Smoked Salmon Plate with the Fish + Chips makes for a wonderful evening out on the town. A. Rodriguez

FnB - Scottsdale, Arizona
Situated in Scottsdale's historic Craftsman Court, this restaurant is one of the city's very best and a favorite amongst local foodies. From the Peruvian Chicken Spring Rolls to the Grilled Half Chicken to the Butterscotch Pudding, I couldn't have asked for a dinner with more surprisingly tasty results. A. Rodriguez

Hash Kitchen - Scottsdale, Arizona
When in Scottsdale, you gotta brunch at Hash Kitchen - that is, if you can get a table. Usually packed on the weekends, but certainly worth the wait, this charming modern diner offers an adventurous menu of breakfast and lunch choices, including S'Mores French Toast, Oreo Cookies Pancakes, Carnitas Hash and Herb Fried Chicken Benedict, plus a Bloody Mary bar with over 40 items to garnish your cocktails with (like, actual bacon strips). A. Rodriguez

Hat Yai - Portland, Oregon
In the Vernon neighborhood of Portland is where you'll stumble across this small, very laid back and popular eatery specializing in dishes from the Southern tropical region of Thailand, such as a Braised Chicken Thigh smothered in Hat Yai's signature Malay-style curry with roti. But you may opt for the house-made Fried Chicken, served with a wonderful sticky rice. A. Rodriguez

Mother Bunch - Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix folks flock to this downtown hotspot for the home-brewed beer, but they also come in droves for the hearty comfort food. Besides burgers and sandwiches, Mother Bunch serves up great Salty Pork Rinds, Smoked Wings, House Cured Salmon and three types of mac n' cheese. A. Rodriguez

Mother's Bistro & Bar - Portland, Oregon
If you find yourself in downtown Portland searching for a place to grab breakfast, look no further than Mother's. This beloved spot is where the locals go, and you'll understand why when you order the restaurant's freshly made pancakes, hashes, frittatas, scrambles and a very memorable 'Biscuit Breakfast' - two biscuits smothered with country sausage gravy and two eggs any style. A. Rodriguez

Pulehu: An Italian Grill - Lahaina, Hawai'i
Located at The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas, this is a dining destination for locals, as well as guests of the resort. Classic Italian may not be your first thought when visiting Maui, but Pulehu's island twist on Italian cooking and freshly caught seafood will change your mind. Think risotto-crusted white fish with basil pesto citrus butter, or seared ahi with coppa ragu and pomegranate. J. Price

The Restaurant at Friday Harbor House - Friday Harbor, Washington
Start with the Duck Fat Fries or Oysters with horseradish and cantaloupe sorbet, then move on to the perfectly-cooked Grilled Salmon (if available) or another of Chef Jason Aldous' stellar dishes at this restaurant, tucked inside the Friday Harbor House on San Juan Island that looks out to the harbor and neighboring islands. A. Rodriguez

The Tropicale Restaurant & Coral Seas Lounge - Palm Springs, California
Besides a rather abundant menu, which included an excellent Fresh Egg Spaghetti Tossed with Marinara & Meatballs, what I liked most about this downtown Palm Springs restaurant was the lively ambiance and retro chic decor; I felt like I was in an episode of 'The Golden Girls.' A. Rodriguez

BARS/LOUNGES/COFFEE SHOPS
The Amigo Room - Palm Springs, California
Don't mind the stuffed bear behind the bar at this cool Palm Springs lounge, located at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club; it doesn't bite and neither do the friendly people who come here every night of the week for signature cocktails and good craft beer. During Greater Palm Springs Pride in November, this place is very, very happening. A. Rodriguez

Argonaut: Espresso Bar - Leavenworth, Washington
Not quite a cafe, but more of a take out window with limited outside seating is how to describe this adorable espresso bar in the heart of Leavenworth. A small outdoor counter looking out to the Cascade Mountains provides a panoramic memory that you'll think about long after you've returned home. A. Rodriguez

BS West - Scottsdale, Arizona
It's an oldie, but a goodie. Established in 1988, BS West is the only LGBT bar in Scottsdale that continues to entertain the local community with weekly events, such as drag shows, bingo, college nights and 'drunk karaoke,' in addition to a dance floor to shake your stuff. A. Rodriguez

Cafe Demeter - Friday Harbor, Washington
Categorically, this cozy spot on San Juan Island is probably more of a restaurant, although after the morning and lunch crowds have gobbled up Demeter's homemade pizzas, soups, salads and pastries, it really does become an intimate coffee shop-style place to unwind with a book or laptop. A. Rodriguez

Carlson Creek Tasting Room - Scottsdale, Arizona
Tasting rooms are a terrific alternative for wine-o's who don't like sitting in bars, and this particular one in Old Town Scottsdale serves award-winning wines from its vineyards in a classy, yet comfortable, space with bar counter, leather couches and the company of friendly locals. A. Rodriguez

Coava Coffee - Portland, Oregon
In the redeveloping Central Eastside Industrial district, this nifty Portland shop serves some of the city's best coffee in a retrofitted warehouse space with brick walls, high ceilings and community tables. It is a little pricey, but you get what you pay for and good coffee is priceless in my book. A. Rodriguez

Helton Brewing Company - Phoenix, Arizona
You can either discover this kick-ass Phoenix brewery on your own, or by participating in a guided beer tour that stops at other nearby breweries. The beer doesn't disappoint, neither does the grub, which can be enjoyed inside a casual indoor area, or in an adjacent garage-like eating and recreational space with pool and foosball tables. A. Rodriguez

The Rock - Phoenix, Arizona
On most nights of the week, this hole-in-the-wall gay bar in Phoenix's Melrose District is hopping. But on Saturday nights, it's the place to be because the one and only drag legend Barbra Seville performs to a packed house. You'll have a lot of fun, for sure, at The Rock. A. Rodriguez

Society Cafe - Portland, Oregon
A great coffee shop should go beyond what they serve, it should also have wonderful ambiance. And that's certainly what I loved about this street level cafe inside The Society Hotel in PDX's Old Town district. It was sweet and charming with a vintage-feel that doubled as a meeting space for locals in addition to hotel guests. A. Rodriguez

VISITOR ATTRACTIONS

Bavarian Village - Leavenworth, Washington
Whether it's 80 degrees in the summer, or covered with snow in winter, a stroll through the Bavarian-themed town center is the highlight of any trip to Leavenworth. Especially during the holidays, when the town is lit up with Christmas decorations, it really does feel like you've been transported to the German Alps. A. Rodriguez

BMW Performance Center - Thermal, California
Just outside Coachella, about 45 minutes from Palm Springs, is a thrill waiting to be experienced. Guests, regardless of what car (if any) they own back home, can drive BMWs and Mini Coopers at high speeds on a training track amidst a scenery of cocoa-dusted mountains in the distance. Adrenaline rush, guaranteed. A. Rodriguez

Full Day Adventure Tour with Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA) - Scottsdale, Arizona
To truly appreciate the lush scenery of Phoenix, Scottsdale and surrounding areas, spend a day with the expert guides at Arizona Outback Adventures (AOA), who'll provide an educational and fun experience up in the mountains and down in the water. Kayaking in the shallow Lower Salt River is an excellent way to cool off in the desert. A. Rodriguez

Musical Art Museum - Phoenix, Arizona
This Phoenix attraction has made our Best of Travel list before, but it's so incredible that it deserves another mention. With nearly 7,000 musical instruments from every part of the world on display in an expansive, immaculate space, this museum is a perfect excursion from the Arizona heat for anybody, not just music lovers. A. Rodriguez

Palm Springs Art Museum - Palm Springs, California
I wasn't expecting to be wowed when I stepped foot into this tri-level, nifty-designed contemporary museum, but once inside I was further impressed with the collections, from 'Kinesthesia: Latin American Kinetic Art, 1954-1969,' running through January 2018, to 'No Glass Ceiling! Women Working in Glass, Part 1,' presented until March 2018. A. Rodriguez

Pine Street Market - Portland, Oregon
The Rose City's first food hall in downtown features an impressive selection of food stalls, from authentic Japanese ramen and locally-made ice cream to freshly baked breads and Spanish-style rotisserie chicken to specialty burgers and high quality espresso. Bring an appetite because there's a lot of good food to choose from. A. Rodriguez

Roche Harbor Resort - San Juan Island, Washington
A 10 to 15-minute drive from Friday Harbor, this pristine resort area on San Juan Island is the perfect setting for summer weddings, lazy afternoons, family weekends and much-needed down time. It's so lovely and tranquil here that you'll not want to return to the city bustle anytime soon. A. Rodriguez

San Andreas Fault Sunset Jeep Tour with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours & Events - Palm Springs, California
Riding in the back of a jeep as the sun goes down is a nice way to take in the amazing landscape of the Palm Springs area, but learning about the San Andreas Fault and admiring the breathtaking views from the nearby mountains is a better way to do it. A. Rodriguez

San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA) - Friday Harbor, Washington
This two-year old museum showcases works by local artists in a beautiful space once occupied by emergency services. 'Dialogues from the Forest' was 2017's theme that featured art pieces by Jean Behnke, Peter de Lory, Michael Peterson and Gail Grinnel. A recommended excursion when visiting the San Juan Islands. A. Rodriguez

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