Travel

Direct, Connect, Reflect

It’s easier than ever to reach these sun-splashed sensations from Seattle

By Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas December 6, 2023

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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

Need to escape Seattle this winter? Need some inspiration to pack a carry-on and cash in those miles? Here are four nonstop flights for nonstop escape.

In June, Alaska Airlines announced new nonstop service to Nassau, Bahamas, beginning Dec. 15. Board one of these flights at 9 a.m. and land just six hours later. Even with the time change, you can check into a hotel by dinner to enjoy an orange-burst sun splash over the ocean. This is a rare treat for a nonred-eye from the West Coast to the Caribbean. Snorkel, sip rum on white sand beaches, and then go island hopping. The Cove Eleuthera embodies understated luxury with its coveted pool and polished staff. Diving, snorkeling, canoeing, and sunset yoga are all available, as well as the iconic rose-colored sand scattered throughout the island.

The tiny nation of Belize appeared on Seattle’s radar two years ago, with direct flights now running all winter. Belize is Mexico-adjacent, English-speaking, Caribbean-influenced, and yet still totally unique. Coming from a Seattle winter, you’re going to crave some sun, so make like Madonna and dream of San Pedro. Belize claims her famous song was inspired by its tropical island breezes.

Cold beers ready to sip on the deck of Palapa Bar & Grill.

Photo courtesy of Palapa Bar & Grill

The laid-back town on Ambergris Caye has all the warm sand and beach bars you need to get the party started. Palapa Bar & Grill is where travelers head first. Waitstaff will serve drinks while you float lazily in the warm waters of the Caribbean if you desire. If “busy” San Pedro overwhelms, drive a golf cart to Secret Beach or hire a boat to Caye Caulker for all the sun and warm water, with far fewer people. You better Belize it! 

After island time expires, head into the jungle on the mainland. With a fierce conservationist movement spearheaded by locals and foreigners alike, Belize maintains the world’s only jaguar preserve, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Every year, nature enthusiasts descend on the jungle for a glimpse of the world’s shyest, most elusive predator.

You can hike to a remote waterfall, jump into a cool, wild river, or spot a blue morpho butterfly. For lodging, Black Rock Lodge offers all the amenities and blissful seclusion at a fair rate. Or go full Francis Ford Coppola. The legendary director became enamored with the country years ago and built deluxe hideaways Blancaneaux Lodge in the jungle and Turtle Inn on the beach. Take advantage of their travel packages and book both.

Leave the dark Seattle winter behind with a wine tasting extravaganza in San Luis Obispo. With a direct flight time of less than two hours, you can surround yourself with green hills, sunny afternoon walks, and bottles of rosé. It’s almost like turning the clock forward to spring.

Check into the fabled Madonna Inn. The legendary hotel maintains 110 rooms, each completely different from the next. Whether you select Caveman, Barrel of Fun, or California Poppy, you can’t go wrong. Nearby Avila Beach is an Insta-perfect seaside town — go beachcombing, dive in if it’s warm enough, or have a drink at Mersea on the pier. Rent e-bikes and cruise along the Bob Jones Trail, a truly impressive feat of multi-use path engineering. Don’t miss the Secret Garden to enjoy a mid-ride libation in a meditative, floral atmosphere.

Much of the charm of the town known as SLO Cal is enjoying world class wines in a low-key atmosphere. Both San Luis Obispo and its wine country neighbor, Paso Robles, are stocked to the gills with high-end casual wineries and organic farm-to-fork eateries. Linger over a healthy brunch at the lovely Gourmet Deli at Old Edna or seek out meticulously crafted organic pasta at Etto Pasta Bar.

A seaplane ready to transport you to San Juan Island.

Photo courtesy of Kenmore Air

For those who prefer cozy fireplaces with a chance of snow flurries, take a seaplane from Lake Union to San Juan Island. Lakedale Resort greets visitors with a warm lodge lobby, chic rooms, and lake views, plus cabins and homes for memorable group gatherings. Roaring fires, board game sessions, hot tub soaking, and forest bathing around the property are all on the agenda.

San Juan Island has limited light pollution and, with more than 247 clear nights per year, star gazing is an inviting pursuit. Lakedale has online guides to meteor showers, lunar eclipses, and other celestial bodies. On that note, there are magical winter residents — swans — who glide on the lake outside the lodge from November through mid-February.

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