Carefree, car-free

The train is the key to easy weekend getaways in Seattle and Portland
Karl Samson

The next day, after checking out of your hotel, head back to Alaskan Way and hop on the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar, whose Australian-made trolleys date to 1928. Ride one back to King Street Station, one block from the end of the line. If you leave your bags at the depot's parcel check, you can head out unencumbered to explore the adjacent International District.

Catching the train

Thanks to the Amtrak Cascades train line, Portlanders can experience Seattle, and Seattleites can explore Portland ― all without a car. On the 3 1/2-hour trip between the two cities, you can drink in views while sipping a cocktail and relaxing or snuggling with your sweetie. Forget traffic jams, bad weather, and hotel parking fees.

We've mapped out great weekends in Portland and Seattle, focusing on attractions that can be reached on foot or via public transportation.

Railway weekend #1: Seattle

Market stalls, French cafes, and the International District lend an exotic flavor to a Seattle getaway.

ARRIVAL

The Amtrak train from Portland drops you at Seattle's King Street Station, on the south side of downtown.

Two blocks east, at Fifth Avenue South and South Jackson Street, you'll find International District Station, the southernmost stop for the subwaylike downtown bus tunnel. Free Metro Transit buses run between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturdays, taking you to three stations that are convenient to downtown hotels: University Street, Westlake, and Convention Center. You can also get a taxi to most downtown hotels for about $5.

TOURING THE TOWN

The next morning, head to Pike Place Market. Start with a crumpet slathered with butter and jam at the Crumpet Shop (1503 First Ave.; 206/682-1598), then browse the market. At lunch, soak up the French atmosphere at Le Pichet (1933 First; 206/256-1499). Alternatively, grab a sandwich of membrillo (quince paste) and manchego cheese while you shop for a paella pan at the Spanish Table (1427 Western Ave.; 206/682-2827).

Spend the afternoon on the waterfront and check out the Life on the Edge tidepool exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium ($9.75; Pier 59, 1483 Alaskan Way; 206/386-4300). If the fish make you crave fresh seafood, head to Elliott's Oyster House (Pier 56, 1201 Alaskan; 206/623-4340) for oysters on the half shell--the ultimate romantic meal. Then sail off into the sunset aboard a ferry from Pier 52 to Bainbridge Island. For $5.10 round trip, you'll get a 30-minute cruise and a great view of the city skyline.

Here, at House of Hong (409 Eighth Ave. S.; 206/622-7997), savor dim sum. Later, relax over organic oolong as you peruse old photos of the International District at Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee (605 1/2 S. Main St.; 206/515-4000). You can stock up on Chinese and Japanese teas at the Ten Ren Tea Co. (506 S. King St.; 206/749-9855).

MarketPike Place Market

Streetcar
Seattle's Waterfront Streetcar

Before running to catch your return train, stop at Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave. S.; 206/624-6248), a sprawling Asian supermarket. At the food court, you can sample the cuisines of half a dozen Asian countries. Order your food to go and you can enjoy it on the ride home.

Railway weekend #2: Portland

Explore to your heart's desire aboard the Portland Streetcar, seeking out the city's discrete charms.

ARRIVAL

The "Go by Train" sign commands attention atop Portland's Union Station, and this railway depot makes a good case for its directive. Wilf's Restaurant & Piano Bar (closed Sun; 800 N.W. Sixth Ave.; 503/223-0070), a timeless fine-dining establishment, anchors one corner of the restored 1895 Italianate building.

Across the way, at the corner of Northwest Fifth Avenue and Northwest Irving Street, you can hop on a free TriMet bus for the dozen blocks into downtown, where you'll find numerous hotels. Or you can take a taxi for about $5.

TOURING THE TOWN

Portland can be readily enjoyed on foot, even on a wet winter weekend. When your feet tire or the rain becomes too much, board the Portland Streetcar, which meanders past the Portland Art Museum, through the Pearl District, and out to the Nob Hill neighborhood. Much of the route is within Fareless Square, a zone (essentially downtown) where public transit is free; outside this area, you'll pay only $1.25. Onboard, be sure to grab a copy of the "Guide to Portland Streetcar & Restaurants."
At the European-style Pearl Bakery (closed Sun; 102 N.W. Ninth Ave.; 503/827-0910), cozy up to a cafe table for a pastry and latte. From here, it's a five-minute walk to the Portland Classical Chinese Garden ($6; 239 N.W. Everett St.; 503/228-8131), a block of tranquility in the city. Then trade contemplation for consumerism amid the displays of the American Advertising Museum (closed Mon-Tue; $5; 211 N.W. Fifth Ave.; 503/226-0000).

If you're an animal lover, check out artist William Wegman's Portland Dog Bowl sculpture, which is located in the North Park Blocks between Northwest Davis and Northwest Everett Streets.

You haven't been to Portland until you've gotten lost in the stacks at Powell's City of Books (1005 W. Burnside St.; 503/228-4651). This huge bookstore anchors the southern edge of the Pearl District, home to cutting-edge art galleries, shops, and romantic restaurants.

On gray winter days, there's no place in the Pearl District sunnier than Torrefazione Italia (1140 N.W. Everett; 503/224-9896), a cafe serving its espressos in hand-painted Italian cups. The spicy fare at Pho Van Bistro (closed Sun; 1012 N.W. Glisan St.; 503/248-2172), an upscale Vietnamese restaurant, also goes a long way toward taking the chill off.

On your second morning, don't miss Bijou (132 S.W. Third Ave.; 503/222-3187), a cafe where the eggs are free-range and the coffee is organic. Leave your bags at your hotel, then do a bit more exploring before heading for the train. At the Portland Art Museum (closed Mon; $10; 1219 S.W. Park Ave.; 503/226-2811), check out the Paris to Portland exhibit to see what a big impression French impressionists have made on Portland art collectors. When it's time to catch the train, just hop a northbound bus on Southwest Sixth Avenue at Main Street.

The following hotels and inns are close to public transit:

SEATTLE

In the winter, Seattle hotels often offer half-price room rates (full rates are listed here); contact the Seattle Super Saver ( www.seattlesupersaver.com or 800/535-7071) for details.

The Edgewater. Seattle's only waterfront hotel can be reached from King Street Station on the Waterfront Streetcar. From $149. Pier 67, 2411 Alaskan Way; www.edgewaterhotel.com or (800) 624-0670.

Inn at the Market. The inn is set in the heart of Pike Place Market. From $160. 86 Pine St.; www.innatthemarket.com or (800)446-4484.

Mayflower Park Hotel. This historic hotel is attached to Westlake Center, which houses the downtown monorail station and has a bus tunnel stop. From $119. 405 Olive Way; www.mayflowerpark.com or (800) 426-5100.

PORTLAND

Embassy Suites Portland Downtown. This historic hotel offers a free shuttle from the train station. TriMet buses stop within a block of the hotel. From $139. 319 S.W. Pine St.; www.embassyportland.com or (800) 362-2779.

Fifth Avenue Suites Hotel. Located on the downtown bus mall, this 60-room hotel is just a short hop from Union Station. From $109. 506 S.W. Washington St.; www.5thavenuesuites.com or (888) 207-2201.

Inn @ Northrup Station. This new all-suites hotel is located on the Portland Streetcar route within a few blocks of several good restaurants. Catch the streetcar six blocks from Union Station at the corner of N.W. Glisan St. and N.W. 10th Ave. From $99. 2025 N.W. Northrup St.; www.northrupstation.com or (800) 224-1180.