How to do Semiahmoo
Why do lights, like those of White Rock, B.C., appear to twinkle when viewed at a distance, like from the balcony of our second-floor room across...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Semiahmoo historyThis narrow spit of land near the border between Washington and British Columbia, originally occupied by a Coast Salish tribe, was the longtime site of one of the West Coast's largest salmon canneries, which operated into the 1970s. The resort, originally called the Inn at Semiahmoo, opened in 1987, a year after the nearby Arnold Palmer-designed Semiahmoo golf course. In 1999, Bellingham-based Trillium acquired the resort and in 2000 acquired a second golf course, Loomis Trail. In 2003, the Upper Skagit Tribe, which operates the Skagit Valley Resort & Casino north of Burlington, purchased a share of the Semiahmoo Resort and became its managing partner.
Pros and cons from our visitPro: Staffers were friendly and helpful at the hotel, restaurant and golf course.
Con: Although most of the resort's facilities were in good shape, an assortment of nicks and scratches in various surfaces — exterior door handles, valet stand, decking, walls — indicates the need for constant upkeep to avoid flirting with the fine line between "rustic" and "tarnished."
Pro: Each piece of equipment I tried in the fitness center was in good repair, more than I can say for other hotel workout rooms I've visited (or my Gold's Gym in Seattle, for that matter).
Con: This spot isn't as quiet and remote as it once was. A fair amount of development is evident in the area, including a 54-unit condominium project directly adjacent to the hotel. The condo project is not related to the resort, but as part of a local resort association, must have consistent architecture.
Pro: Loomis Trail, the golf course I played, was in excellent shape, its greens fast and true, with an array of holes that called for the golfer to make decisions to negotiate safely past water hazards, not just whack away. A daunting 7,137 yards from the back tees, it plays a more manageable 6,192 yards from the whites and 5,399 from the reds.
Why do lights, like those of White Rock, B.C., appear to twinkle when viewed at a distance, like from the balcony of our second-floor room across Semiahmoo Bay?
The beauty of being able to gear down at a destination resort two hours from home — no airport hassle, no border crossing (for U.S. visitors), no marathon drive — means you really don't have to answer that question.
Sure, there's some atmospheric/scientific explanation of why lights twinkle, but for now, you just sit back, feel the mild salty breeze and enjoy the fact that they do.
Despite its plentiful amenities — renovated spa, two golf courses, fine restaurants, well-equipped fitness center, nearby marina — the greatest asset of this 20-year-old resort remains the incredible piece of real estate it sits on, with views northeast to the Peace Arch border at Blaine, north to mainland British Columbia and west to B.C.'s Gulf Islands.
Over the years, the resort has changed hands, and some returning visitors noted that its original luster has faded. But its current owners have invested in significant maintenance and improvements and say more are on the way.
Even through the transition, the resort has held AAA's coveted Four Diamond rating for the past 11 years, a distinction awarded to only 3.4 percent of the properties reviewed.
And it's hard to imagine a much more pleasant location in which to smack a golf ball, enjoy a massage, savor imaginative entrées in waterfront restaurants or simply walk a sandy beach in a 1,100-acre wildlife preserve frequented by blue heron, osprey, cormorants and the occasional bald eagle.
It's worth spending a little extra to get a water view, especially at sunset, when you can sit out on a deck just large enough for two patio chairs and watch the rosy glow of twilight. If it gets cold, just duck back inside, pull up the wooden blinds and enjoy the same view, minus the breeze.
Our deluxe room included a king-size bed with a thick floral-print bedspread and extra pillows, large sofa bed, desk, coffee table and a pine armoire containing a 27-inch TV above a chest of drawers. (We didn't actually use the television, but it offers 31 channels of free cable and, at an additional charge, movies.)
An honor bar offered pricey snacks: $4.50 cans of Heineken and a $25 bottle of Hogue Chardonnay — a wine sold at state liquor stores for $6.99.
Eight rooms and 28 suites offer wood-burning fireplaces, with pressed-wood logs supplied by the hotel; larger suites have wet bars and refrigerators.
(A tip: Check out specials on the resort's Web site, but if you insist on the cheapest rate, don't count on a nice view. Do the math to see if a golf, spa or dinner package pencils out in your particular case. We paid an additional $50 for our room to get a $60 credit toward dinner — a $10 savings.)
• The rustic décor includes pine furniture, including a trestle-style coffee table, a desk and a cushioned-top chest for extra storage space. A 5-foot-tall oval, pine-framed mirror hung in the hall.
• Brass floor, wall and table lamps offered plenty of light in each area of the room. Each side of the bed had its own nightstand and lamp.
• Our room had phones on the desk and nightstand and free high-speed Internet-access cable. Wireless Internet service is available in the lobby and in meeting rooms.
• On a counter outside the bathroom was a coffee maker with regular and decaf coffee, plus — a hint at the strong Canadian traffic — 11 Lipton tea bags. There's also an ice bucket and two inexpensive wine glasses.
• A closet held an extra blanket, iron and ironing board and two cream-colored plush microfiber robes.
• A newspaper is placed outside each room in the morning.
The single-sink bathroom in our room was not large, but adequate, with a white-tiled shower and tub and a 4-foot-wide pine-frame lighted mirror, along with a heat lamp, but no fan.
• A wicker basket held an assortment of Gilchrist & Soames toiletries, plus a shoe mitten, mending kit and shower cap atop fan-folded washcloths and hand towels.
• Four large white plush bath towels hung from a metal rack.
• A compact hair dryer was mounted on the wall in the alcove outside the bathroom, in front of another wood-framed mirror.
The resort has plenty of places, inside and out, to sit and visit, read or just admire the view, starting with the large two-story lobby with fireplaces built of brick from the salmon cannery that once occupied the site. One side faces the hotel entrance; the other faces the beach.
The rustic theme includes wood-frame, overstuffed couches and chairs, polished knotty-pine floors and overhead beams covered in golden oak veneer. Edward Curtis photos depict Native American culture in the early 1900s. An anteroom with chairs and couches outside Stars restaurant features framed nautical charts of Northwest waterways.
Outside, a wide wooden deck wraps around one end of the hotel, and a patio surrounded by a lawn sits above the beach, which is a small strip of sand at high tide and a vast mud flat at low tide.
• A library adjacent to the lobby also looks out on the beach and offers a small selection of books (many seem selected for décor, rather than reading) and board games that can be checked out at the bell stand.
• The outdoor wooden patio has a bench and eight weathered, wooden rocking chairs. Cut into the lawn are four horseshoe pits and a sand volleyball court.
• A business center off the lobby has two computers and a copier. Meeting and convention space is available.
Stars is the hotel's upscale dining room, which picks up the bright, wood-beamed theme of the lobby, accented by live plants. A pianist performs Friday and Saturday evenings.
It looks out on Semiahmoo Bay, but diners in the more casual Packers Lounge and Oyster Bar actually have a more direct view, due to an indoor corridor running between the Stars dining room and the beach.
At Stars, my grilled king salmon with local mushrooms over couscous risotto ($26) was firm and flavorful; my wife enjoyed the seared jumbo scallops over cabbage and potato minicakes with bits of bacon ($24.) Pricier options included filet mignon with portobello mushrooms ($44) and a veal rib chop ($39.) A tip: Don't "bond" with anything on the menu until your waiter tells you what's special — and what's absent — that night. My first entree and wine choice were not available, but plenty of other options were.
Packers, where entrees ranged from about $16 to $30, was busier, with a lively bar and a half-dozen tables outside on the deck.
Dining options include not just the restaurants at the hotel but those at the resort's two golf courses.
• We were encouraged to make dinner reservations when we booked our room, but on the Sunday night we were there, business in Stars was sparse. Service was efficient and attentive, but not intrusive.
• The wine list offered about a dozen glasses at $6.50 or $7, inexpensive by Seattle (or resort) standards. The several pages of wines by the bottle included a smattering under $30, a good variety in the $30-$40 range and premium selections reaching into three digits.
• The Great Blue Heron Grill, at the Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club, is the fancier of the golf-course restaurants, with views out onto the course.
• Big-breakfast lovers hit the Pierside (in the main hotel) on Sundays with its selection of three-egg omelets, waffles, croissants and more. If you prefer a modest breakfast, save time and money by grabbing a latte and a pastry at the coffee counter in the hotel's gift shop.
The reports are true: There is water on every hole of the Loomis Trail course, rated as one of the most difficult in the state. But this bogey golfer found it not as treacherous as I had feared; I lost only three golf balls.
I played on an even-numbered date, when the Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club course, three miles from the hotel, is reserved for members, and the public (including resort guests) plays Loomis Trail, eight miles from the hotel.
On odd-numbered days, the courses switch roles. Courtesy shuttles are available from the hotel to either course, and Loomis Trail's huge Tudor-style clubhouse even has 15 guest rooms, generally used in connection with golf events.
Both courses have appeared on golf publications' lists of the best in the state. Loomis Trail meanders through a largely flat birch forest. Semiahmoo follows the gentle contour of a hillside through a housing development closer to the water.
In the summer, nearly half of the resort's guests use the golf courses.
• Under summer rates, which apply through September, hotel guests pay $55 Monday-Thursday to golf, and $65 on the weekends, $10 less than nonguests. Discounts are available for early-bird or twilight play. Power carts are $15 each person.
• Golf-plus-room package rates are available, which include golf for two, or one round of golf and a $100 credit at the spa.
• Hotel reservation clerks can also book golf tee times, and it's a good idea to book your tee time ahead, particularly on summer weekends, because the course is open to the public.
• Both courses are walkable, particularly Loomis Trail, but I saw far more people riding, perhaps a reflection that golf packages include the use of a power cart.
Of all the resort's amenities, the European-style spa has seen the greatest expansion in recent years and is also open to nonguests. Its extensive menu (posted on the resort's Web site) runs from a half-hour Swedish massage ($60) through an array of massages, facials, skin treatments, hot stones, seaweed wrap, manicures, bikini waxing — all the way up to a seven-week "slimness package" for $2,800.
Though the spa is pricey, use of the Fitness Center & Health Club is included with your room. It has several treadmills, stationary bicycles, stair-climbing machines, free weights and about a dozen weight-training machines, with stretching area, mats, pitchers of ice water and towels at the ready, even a banked, indoor, hard-rubber running track — 20 laps make a mile.
Among other activities at the resort, besides beachwalking, are tennis (indoor and outdoor), pingpong, volleyball and horseshoes.
A great bird-watching opportunity is available weekends (Friday-Sunday) through Labor Day on the 17-passenger Plover, a 1944-vintage ferry used during salmon-cannery days. The boat, owned by the city of Blaine and operated by the Drayton Harbor Maritime Society, offers 20-minute trips to Blaine's harbor for a suggested $2 donation for adults.
• The outdoor pool, heated to 83 degrees, is open year-round, as is a large hot tub under cover nearby.
• The resort has six tennis courts: an indoor court and outdoor court at the hotel, and two of each at the Semiahmoo golf course.
• Locker rooms serving the pool and fitness center have saunas and steam rooms and are stocked with complimentary shaving cream, body lotion, mouthwash and pump-spray (environmentally friendly) deodorant and baby-changing tables.
• For visitors arriving by boat, the adjacent Semiahmoo Marina, under separate ownership, usually has moorage available for rent (360-371-0440 or semiahmoomarina.com).
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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