The Pacific Northwest

The world's largest ocean, North America's highest peak, and some of its grandest rivers paint a picture of superlatives in the states of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

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Housing Options:

The setting has inspired pragmatic design and use of indigenous materials. Home styles are eclectic, having absorbed traditions and preferences of the region's diverse populations. Most Alaskans live in straightforward ranch, split-level, or two-story bungalow-style homes, similar to suburban styles in the Lower 48. But it's not uncommon for a sophisticated Alaskan to happily nest in the woods in a custom-built cabin with no electricity or running water and the privy out back. Renowned Seattle architects have responded to clients who want elegant simplicity. The region also opts for the sweeping grace, strong lines, and bold use of native stone and timber that characterize Northwest contemporary style. New seaside community developments are rare here, but they do emerge. In Pacific City, Oregon, Shorepine Village is expanding and offers a percentage of homes with a fractional-purchase option that mimics a timeshare, with clever improvements.

What It Costs:

Alaska still offers reasonable (by Lower 48 trends) buys. In Juneau, where nothing is far from the water, homes range from about $145,000 to $675,000. Anchorage has multiple listings from $110,000 for a one-bedroom downtown to a four-bedroom for $1.2 million in the Potter Marsh district. Or you can buy a 224-square-foot cabin on 8 acres for $32,500 in Homer, on the Kenai Peninsula, and build a family home later. In Seattle, high-maintenance houseboats cost from $300,000 for one needing work to $1.9 million. In the San Juan Islands, 2003's median price was $315,000. Olympia can command $500,000 to $1 million for waterfront estates, but as little as $180,000 for a two-bedroom with partial views. On Oregon's central coast, homes average $200,000 in Florence, and those a mile inland range from $75,000 to $425,000. Ocean-view homes are hard to find here and cost from $274,000 to more than $1 million. Farther north in Lincoln City, Oregon, the average listing runs $205,000, but oceanfront properties average $450,000 and can exceed $1 million.

 Your Next-door Neighbors:

In both urban and rural communities of all three states, count on fishermen being nearby. In Alaska, you may befriend a National Park Service ranger, a photographer specializing in bald eagles, a kayaking outfitter, an internationally known jewelry designer, a wilderness guide who leads documentary crews, and an American Indian totem carver. In Washington, a 30-something Microsoft millionaire would be close by, as would an aerospace engineer. Other neighbors might include a professional forager and a third-generation oysterman. In Oregon, a new-community developer might introduce you to a dory-boat fisherman and an architect with a flair for Pacific Northwest design. There'd be a telecommuter who moved from California and the owner of a drive-through espresso kiosk.

How You'd Spend Your Free Time:

Year-round outdoor activity is the No. 1 Pacific Northwest pastime. In Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage and out into the Gulf of Alaska, you can kayak in a wonderland of bald eagles, humpback whales, and sea lions. In Anchorage, bike or walk the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Go glacier-hiking in Juneau. Ferry to Washington's San Juan Islands. Explore the Hoh Rain Forest on the state's Olympic Peninsula. In the book-lover's paradise of Seattle, you can find an author reading somewhere nearly every night. Bone up on Lewis and Clark lore at Fort Canby State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula in southwest Washington. In Newport, check out the latest exhibit at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Charter a boat to salmon fish off the coast of Pacific City and take a jet boat from Gold Beach up the mighty Rogue River. Later, go wine-tasting in Oregon's interior Willamette Valley.

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