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Updated Friday, June 21, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Escape for a holiday break to Portland, Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.

By Kristin Jackson and Brian J. Cantwell
The Seattle Times

PORTLAND

It’s telling that one of this year’s holiday slogans on the Portland visitor bureau’s blog is “It’s the most wonderful time for a beer!”

Portland’s fair-trade/vegan vibe, linked with its reputation as the town of craft brews and food carts, makes it suited to surprises on every visit. (And if surprises aren’t what we like at the holidays, why do we wrap gifts?)

Portland has its own gift for shoppers: no sales tax. So you get a December getaway and shave about 10 percent off your shopping bill.

Finding the festive: Before draining the mug on the beer theme, here’s the event if you like an IPA with your ho-ho-ho: Portland’s annual Holiday Ale Festival, Nov. 28-Dec. 2 at Pioneer Courthouse Square (home to the city’s 75-foot Christmas tree). Sample from more than 50 winter ales with names such as Frosty’s Revenge and Blitz’n Prancer (holidayale.com).

Other Portland traditions: Tour the elaborately decorated Pittock Mansion, a turreted, 100-year-old wonder nestled in the West Hills. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Christmas Carols”; expect lords-a-leaping. See pittockmansion.org. Or catch a Christmas Ships parade (christmasships.org).

Shopping ops: The annual Fair Trade Holiday Marketplace has “handcrafted, unique and ethical gifts,” 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 8 at Portland Mennonite Church, 1312 S.E. 35th Ave. Or head for Portland Saturday Market — which, despite its name, is open every Saturday and Sunday, and daily Dec. 17-21. A holiday shopper’s wonderland-by-the-Willamette, it’s the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the nation (portlandsaturdaymarket.com).

Outta the rain: What could be lovelier? Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, whose interactive science exhibits are a hit with all ages, also features “Simply Beautiful: Photographs from National Geographic,” portraying variations on the universal theme of beauty, through Feb. 10 (omsi.edu).

Portland Children’s Museum this winter has a multi-sensory exhibit, “Chagall for Children,” focusing on the whimsical works of artist Marc Chagall (portlandcm.org).

Keeping up calories: With more than 700 food carts in the hungry city, how do you choose? Take the Flavor Street guided tour with local experts. Taste the best, skip the rest, 1 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays; portlandwalkingtours.com.

Night on the town: It’s the 50th year for Portland’s 300-voice “Singing Christmas Tree.” Catch it Dec. 1 and 2 at Portland Center for the Performing Arts; singingchristmastree.org.

Room at the inn: For beds on a budget, try the Northwest Portland Guesthouse, with rates starting under $70 (nwportlandguesthouse.com). For plush and lush: Heathman Hotel’s Symphony Suite, around $300 (with free parking and breakfast on the Portland Perks discount program; travelportland.com).

More information: travelportland.com.

— Brian J. Cantwell


VICTORIA, B.C.

Finding the festive: It’s lights and Christmas action around the Inner Harbour, Victoria’s downtown hub.

The Parliament Buildings and Fairmont Empress Hotel glow with lights. Go inside the venerable hotel to see dozens of decorated Christmas trees, part of a big charity fundraiser from now through Jan. 3. fairmont.com/empress

Dec. 1 is a major day for holiday fun. The Truck Light Convoy — dozens of decorated big rigs and delivery trucks — will roll through the city, including on Douglas and Government streets near the Inner Harbour, at about 7 p.m. See ieoa.ca. And the waterway fills up that night with decorated boats for the Inner Harbour Lighted Ship Parade (starts at 7 p.m., victoriaharbour.org).

Earlier, hear more than 60 tubas oom-pah-pah Christmas carols at downtown’s Market Square (1-3 p.m. Dec. 1, marketsquare.ca).

For an illuminated garden fantasyland — with tens of thousands of outdoor lights, carolers and outdoor skating — head to the 55-acre Butchart Gardens on the city’s outskirts. (The “Magic of Christmas” runs Dec. 1-Jan. 6, butchartgardens.com).

Shopping ops: Rogers Chocolates began in Victoria in 1885; its delectable candies are sold at an old-fashioned downtown storefront. Try its classic Victoria creams, truffles, caramels and many, many more. rogerschocolates.com

For a culinary gift with a difference, head to Silk Road Tea in Victoria’s small Chinatown for exotic teas, natural skin and hair-care products, and a tea-tasting bar. silkroadtea.com.

The Winter Farmers Market on Dec. 15 will expand with artisans offering their crafts at Market Square, a trendy indoor/outdoor shopping complex amid heritage buildings (11 a.m.-3 p.m., victoriapublicmarket.com).

Outta the rain: Get thee to Craigdarroch Castle, a 19th-century coal baron’s lavish 39-room manor turned museum. It’s decorated for an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas for all of December, with trees and period toys. thecastle.ca

Keeping up calories: Take shelter from the storm of Christmas shopping and sightseeing at the Bengal Loungein the Fairmont Empress hotel, with its lush British/Indian colonial-style décor of leather chairs and palm plants. Indulge in the curry buffet, or just relax with a drink. Or there’s always afternoon tea at The Empress, a meal in itself of scones, mini-sandwiches and pastries. fairmont.com

Night on the town: Splurge for a good cause at Christmas Dinner Theatre at the luxurious Oak Bay Beach hotel, with musical comedy and a three-course dinner (Friday and Saturday nights this weekend through Dec. 15). The oceanfront hotel is to reopen late this month after a major renovation/rebuild. oakbaybeachhotel.com

Room at the inn: For a budget stay, the Days Inn is well located by the Inner Harbour (near the Victoria Clipper dock and Parliament Buildings) with rooms from about $70 a night in early December. daysinnvictoria.com. For a splurge, stay at one of Victoria’s upscale heritage inns such as Abigail’s, a 23-room hotel in a Tudor mansion. Rooms begin from about $160 in early December. abigailshotel.com

More information: www.tourismvictoria.com

— Kristin Jackson

VANCOUVER, B.C.

Finding the festive: Some of Vancouver’s most enchanting Christmas displays are in city parks. The trails, shrubs and trees of the 55-acre Van Dusen Botanical Garden glow with hundreds of thousands of lights; a light show bathes the park’s small lake; community choirs sing; and Santa greet visitors. The botanical garden’s Festival of Lights runs Dec. 7-Jan. 1; vancouver.ca (click on parks).

Stanley Park unveils hundreds of thousands of lights for its Bright Nights celebrations, lighting up the park’s woods near the miniature train. Take the 10-minute train ride, listen to Christmas music, see animated displays. vancouver.ca(click on parks).

On the city’s many waterways, including the narrow False Creek, decorated ships will sail in the evenings in a holiday flotilla, Dec. 1-23.carolships.org

Shopping ops: The Vancouver Christmas Market (Nov. 24-Dec. 24) is modeled after Christmas street markets in Germany. Dozens of vendors’ wood huts — offering everything from hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations to food, clothing and jewelry — are set up on a downtown plaza, and choirs perform on an outdoor stage. vancouverchristmasmarket.com

For upscale shopping, head to a cluster of designer shops along several blocks in the South Granville neighborhood, southgranville.org

Have kids in your life? Make a beeline for the nearby Granville Island Kids Market, a cheerful warren of 30 child-oriented stores — toys, books, clothing and more. kidsmarket.ca.

Outta the rain: Soak up culture at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the heart of downtown, showcasing everything from European masters to paintings of the beloved early 20th-century B.C. artist Emily Carr and contemporary works by Vancouver’s cutting-edge photographers. vanartgallery.bc.ca

Keeping up calories: Splurge at West Restaurant, in the South Granville district, for locally-sourced gourmet dishes,westrestaurant.com. Or join the line for a table at Vij’s, a very popular Indian-fusion restaurant, vijs.ca. (A sister restaurant, Shanik, is due to open in December in Seattle’s South Lake Union.)

Night on the town: You could go to a “Nutcracker” performance at downtown’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre,vancouver.ca (click on parks and recreation). But for something completely different, go to the countercultural Commercial Drive area for a show at The Cultch (Vancouver East Cultural Centre), including “The Christmas Carol Project,” a musical version of Dickens’ classic tale. thecultch.com.

Room at the inn: For a budget stay, the YWCA Hotel (open to all travelers, not just women) in downtown Vancouver has rooms with shared bath from $65 in winter or rooms with a private bath from $87. By staying at the hotel you’ll be giving back; proceeds support YWCA community programs. ywcahotel.com

For a splurge, try the stylish Opus hotel in the Yaletown neighborhood, once a warehouse district that’s morphed into a hip neighborhood of trendy restaurants, bars and shops. Rooms from about $190 in early December (and watch for winter sales). vancouver.opushotel.com

More information:tourismvancouver.com

— Kristin Jackson


Torsten Kjellstrand / travelportland.com
Shoppers ride a pedicab past Pioneer Courthouse Square, the center of downtown Portland.




Deddeda Stemler
British Columbia’s Parliament Buildings are decorated for Christmas in Victoria.




Tourism Vancouver /Jim Jorgenson
A dragonfly in lights is part of the Festival of Lights at Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, B.C.




Tourism Vancouver / Robert Leon
Capilano Suspension Bridge glitters with holiday Lights in North Vancouver, B.C.




Deddada Stemler / Tourism Victoria
The Festival of Trees is a holiday attraction in the public areas of Victoria's Fairmont Empress Hotel.




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