Our weekend away on Cascade Highway 2, Washington in the summer of 2011: Cabin on the river in Skykomish, hiking the Iron Goat Trail and Bridal Veil Falls
We wanted to do something special for our one year wedding anniversary, and a cabin on the river off Washington Cascade Highway 2 sounded peaceful and relaxing. I searched on vrbo.com and found a great cabin. The cabin is one of three owned by the same lady in the Skykomish area–her website is www.skycabins.com and the cabin we stayed at was Whispering Waters. There is a four night minimum in the summer, so we made a four day weekend out of it.
The cabin was very clean and super cute. It had a yard with a fire pit right on the river, a back deck, an outdoor hot tub, a small kitchen, one bedroom downstairs and a loft bedroom, and a living area with TV, DVD player, and satellite TV. The loft bedroom had steep stairs, but was very nice. My favorite part was the tiny porch with French doors off the loft bed. There were a couple chairs on the porch and a mosquito coil for night.
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We brought all our groceries to make all of our meals. We arrived on a Friday evening, unpacked, and roasted some hot dogs over a campfire by the river.
The next morning, we cooked eggs benedict and home fries, and looked through the binder of area attractions that our host had left in the cabin. We got directions to the Iron Goat Trail, just a short ways up Cascade Highway 2. We got a Northwest Forest Day Pass from the Ranger Station nearby, which you need for parking at trail heads in the area.
We hiked along the Iron Goat Trail for a ways. It was a nice walk, very flat, but also pretty boring. It was nice for exercise and families with kids, but there wasn’t really anything that would make me recommend it otherwise. We hiked a ways and then turned around.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the cabin, reading and sunbathing by the river.
Sunday was our anniversary, so we went on a recommended hike to Bridal Veil Falls. It is about a 2.5 mile uphill hike to the falls. The first two miles of the trail is a gradual incline with a few steep parts here and there. While gradual, my 40+ hour a week desk job doesn’t leave me in the best hiking shape, and at the 2 mile point, I was dying. When I thought we were almost there, we saw a sign pointing sharply to the right for the falls in .5 miles. We turned and stared at a set of wooden stairs straight up the side of a mountain for half a mile. I just about died. I’m not a quitter, so we pursued on up the steep stairs and finally made it. It was worth it, and I would recommend the hike. I probably won’t do it again though. The 2.5 miles back was all downhill, and went by a lot faster.
We got back to the cabin and made a special anniversary dinner of some of our favorite things: Raw oysters with lemon and hot sauce, and Tahitian Poisson Cru with rice (to remember our honeymoon). We capped dinner off with some champagne and a “wedding cake top” designed after our wedding cake from Larsen’s Bakery in Seattle.
It was a great evening and the weather was perfect.
Monday was our last full day, and we decided to drive east on Cascade Highway 2 over the pass to the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, WA for the day. We poked around in the little shops and had some schnitzels and spaetzle at King Ludwig’s Restaurant. It was good and we learned a little about German food.
In the summer Leavenworth is a known for river tubing excursions. I think we’ll have to come back sometime and try it out.
Overall the trip didn’t have a ton of adventures, it was mostly about a romantic getaway on the river in the Cascades. Cascade Highway 2 is one of our favorite places in Washington, and I can’t fully describe why. Mountains, rivers woods, and very sporadic civilization. It’s all very peaceful and a short drive from Seattle. I would highly recommend skycabins.com’s rentals. There are more hiking and adventures to be had in the area, as well as Steven’s Pass in the winter. Who knows….maybe we’ll own property there someday.
Our road trip around Nevada, 2011: Ely, The Extraterrestrial Highway, Las Vegas, Beatty, Death Valley, and Reno
We were on a budget in 2011 as we were still paying off our French Polynesia honeymoon, but decided to at least take a week-long vacation by doing a classic American road trip. We figured that Las Vegas was pretty inexpensive in the right places, and what is more classic Americana than road tripping through the desert? So we set off on our way to Vegas with some sightseeing in Nevada along the way.
Nevada really feels like its own country. It is such a huge cultural difference from the Pacific Northwest and many other places in the USA. I think if you really want a picture of quirky, random and sometimes over-the-top things that you can only find in the US, Nevada is a good place to start.
So in late April 2011, we took our tax return and ran off into the desert. There is something so freeing about just getting in your car and driving. Just taking off without the hassles of an airport, lines, mass transportation, etc. Just being able to GO and change your mind about where at any given point in time. We hadn’t been on a road trip together since our first trip ever together to the California Redwoods in 2003 and we were way overdue.
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Our first day we left rainy Seattle and head to our first stop, Baker City, OR. There wasn’t anything special about Baker City, other than it is about the 8 hour point with stops for lunch and bathroom breaks and that’s about as much as we wanted to do in one day.
While Washington is the “evergreen state,” many people are unaware of how much of the state is actually desert. Once past Cascade Mountains, there is very little greenery to be seen. The drive was very scenic and tumbleweeds could be seen going past as we got closer to the Oregon border.
It was a long day, and we decided to make it to Pendleton, OR before getting something to eat. We should have stopped for gas around Hermiston, but Paddy thought we’d make it. Soon after Hermiston our gas light came on. There weren’t any gas stations until Pendleton and I think we were coasting on fumes down the highway hill into town. We vowed to keep the gas tank as full as possible for the rest of the trip. Looking for a quick meal that wasn’t fast food, we found Cadillac Jack’s Saloon and Grill and had some burgers. We definitely got that “you folks ain’t from around here, are ye” look from some locals, but overall the service was good and the food was decent.
After that, we drove the last leg of our journey to Baker City and stayed at The Knight’s Inn, where we got a cheap room for around $40-$50. The price matched the room, with wood paneled walls and 1980’s flowery beadspreads, but overall it was very clean and comfortable. It also came with this lovely painting “Log Jam” by Walter Butts. No further comment.
The next day we got packed up and ate a big breakfast at the local diner Sumpter Junction. Classic American breakfast fare with nice crispy hashbrowns and a train that goes around the restaurant non-stop.
Our next destination was Ely, Nevada as it seemed to be a good halfway point to Vegas.
The drive to Ely was longer than the drive from Seattle to Baker City. I think we stopped for a quick fast food lunch around Twin Falls, ID, and after that we soon crossed the Nevada border on Highway 93. There was a whole lot of nothing on Highway 93, but it was a beautiful albeit a little eerie drive. We had a playlist full of Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline to keep us going.
At long last, we started seeing billboards for “Asian massage,” casinos, and “Soapy rub-downs” and knew we were getting close.
I had really wanted to get a room at the historic Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall but there was a convention of some sort booking all the rooms that day so we settled for the La Quinta. The La Quinta in Ely was pretty new and very comfortable and included free breakfast.
It was the end of April, and Ely was cold. I think it was in the teens or twenties but bright and sunny. We warmed up in the hotel and I made use of the hotel’s indoor hot tub. After a little relaxing we went out in search of dinner. We consulted Yelp and took a drive up and down the main drag, and decided on Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant. It was pretty good.
The next morning we had the free breakfast at La Quinta and checked out. We took a quick tour of Ely and the Hotel Nevada before we got on the road. The Hotel Nevada was everything I had expected it to be. An old historic mining town hotel, full of statues, knick-knacks, slot machines, and cigarette smoke, it was a true piece of Americana.
We walked around the town, which was pretty quiet in the morning.
It’s 2011, but they still love Ronald Reagan.
We said goodbye to Ely, and got on the road. About two miles outside of Ely we passed a high security penitentiary with a gun tower, a sign telling us not to pick up hitchhikers, and a sign with an 800 number telling us to report people shooting from the highway. Because apparently in Nevada people hunting out their car windows along the highway is a regular occurrence.
Soon we were on highway 318, which was another lonely stretch of desert. Fortunately, it got a little warmer the further south we went. Our next destination: The Extraterrestrial Highway.
We stopped for gas in a tiny old mining town of Pioche, NV as there weren’t going to be many gas stations again for a long time. After a short ways, we reached the junction for highway 375, aka The Extraterrestrial Highway. The highway gets its name from being the highway next to Area 51, the most mysterious and secretive US Government test site. It’s been rumored to be a specialized weapons and experimental aircraft test site, and the high level of secrecy and security gives fodder to all kinds of theories of alien crash sites and cover ups. There were plenty of signs along the highway that warned us that if we went any further than a certain point into the area that we would be shot. We didn’t attempt any hiking.
Shortly after turning off onto highway 375, we saw a giant alien statue and a tin shed that appeared to be a gift shop that was closed. Still a great photo op.
We headed to the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada in the middle of highway 375. There is nothing in Rachel other than a tiny restaurant, giftshop, and hotel all rolled into one, The Little A’le’inn. (There is also no gas station, so fill up before you head out here). The hotel part appeared to be a collection of trailers. We saddled up to the bar for a beer and some lunch and talked to the lady who owned the place. I had the greasiest tuna melt I’ve ever had in my life served on a styrofoam plate, and the owner told us all about living in Rachel, Area 51, and aliens. After lunch, we purchased our obligatory alien souvenirs and bid the lady adieu.
We continued on our way to Vegas.
We arrived at The Orleans in Las Vegas around late afternoon, checked in, and relaxed for a bit. This was actually our second time in Vegas. We opted for The Orleans as our friend recommended it. It was a really good price for the quality, and though off the strip there was a convenient free shuttle every 15 minutes or so to the strip. Last time we had stayed at the Mirage in 2003, which was also really nice. It seems that prices in Vegas aren’t what they used to be though, and the strip these days is kind of expensive all-around.
That evening we had an underwhelming meal at the TGI Friday’s in the casino, just because we didn’t really feel like going anywhere that night. We played some games and had a few drinks and relaxed. We had our cooler with us and there was a convenience store near the hotel we could walk to, so we stocked up on beer and wine there to save a little money and used the ice from the ice machine to fill the cooler.
The next morning, our friends Stephen and Heather flew in from Seattle to join us for the Vegas portion of our trip. When they had had a little rest, we all took the shuttle to the strip and walked around a bit, and did some shopping in the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace. Vegas had great spring weather, warm enough to wear a tank top and shorts during the day. It was a nice change from frigid Ely. I was particularly fond of the Bettie Page store, with retro-style dresses and accessories. Since this trip, they’ve opened up a location in Seattle. I’ve been trying to keep myself away from it as I need to save money for other things….like travel.
In the afternoon I was hell-bent on seeing the mermaid show at the Silverton Casino, which is 6 miles from the strip and pretty out of the way. It’s more of a local spot, which our cab driver confirmed on the way there. We had some food and drinks in the Mermaid Lounge which had a nice atmosphere and a great view of the fish tank, but horrendous service. There was barely anyone there and we had to wait forever to get any service. I did really enjoy the jellyfish tank above the bar. The mermaid show happens in the fish tank several times throughout the day–consult website for times.
The mermaids put on a great show, even posing for pictures and interacting with the spellbound little girls pressed up against the fish tank.
After we had our fill of the mermaids, some food, and a few drinks, we caught a cab back to our hotel.
We gussied up a bit and caught another taxi to The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge on the strip. The Peppermill has your standard diner fare, and seems to be a good spot for late night breakfast or to cure a hangover the morning after. With it’s flourescent pink lights, giant indoor fire place, and pink velvet furniture, it is everything over-the-top about Vegas that one could hope to find. We weren’t there for food, though, we were there for the cocktails in the Fireside Lounge. Particularly one cocktail–the infamous Scorpion Bowl. The Scorpion bowl is a fish-bowl sized drink with all kinds of booze and juice in it, along with your choice of 1-4 long straws to share the drink with.
After our scorpion bowls were dry and we had a slight buzz going, we decided just to head back to the Orleans where the drinks were cheaper and play some slots and hang out.
As we had a car with us this trip, we decided to head out of Vegas and do some sightseeing in Red Rock Canyon. If you don’t have a car or want to rent one while you are in Vegas, you can easily find tour groups to Red Rock Canyon online or while in Vegas.
We weren’t really outfitted for some serious hiking, so we drove around the scenic loop stopping at the view points and did a very easy walk in Lost Creek, which has views of cliffs with old petroglyphs on them.
We got to see some of the Last Vegas suburbs on the way to Red Rock Canyon, and it was row upon row of the same house. Strip malls and cookie cutter housing complexes. I can’t say Vegas really appeals to me as a place to live.
We got back to the hotel and spent some time relaxing at the Orleans pool. It was warm enough to lay out in the sun but not super hot. There was a bar at the pool that served frozen drinks that were very refreshing. Overall, the Orleans pool isn’t one of the best pools in Vegas, but it was nice enough. After cold rainy Seattle and freezing cold Ely, we were ready for some sunbathing and swimming pools.
That evening we walked around the strip a bit. Eventually we were hungry for dinner and felt like splurging on something a little nicer. We walked around and decided on Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Las Vegas casino hotel. It was packed even at 9:00 PM but we got on the waiting list and were seated at 9:30 outside. It was a warm night and the restaurant has a nice view of the Bellagio fountain show across the strip. I don’t recall everything we had but I do remember a very nice duck leg confit and a side of garlic spinach that were very tasty. I think Paddy had steak frites. It was all very good and we would definitely go back.
When we left the restaurant, it was already 11:00 PM and we had a tour planned for the next morning, so we headed back to the Orleans for a few more cheaper drinks before calling it a night.
One of our main priorities in Vegas was visiting the Neon Boneyard. We had to make tour reservations in advance as they can only take a certain amount of people per day and you can only visit on a guided tour. The Boneyard was definitely a top highlight of our trip. It is a where all the neon signs of Vegas go to die, and an amazing walk through the ghosts of Vegas past. Our tour guide gave us an informative tour of all the old signs and Las Vegas history. I would highly recommend booking a tour here.
That afternoon I really really wanted to see an Elvis inpersonator (it’s just so classic Vegas). Unfortunately, Elvis inpersonators are not as prevalent as in days past but I managed to find one free show with Big Elvis at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon on the strip (I believe he has now moved his show to Harrah’s). We got to Bill’s and ordered some drinks, but unfortunately Big Elvis was out sick that night, so we got Chuck. Chuck looked much more like a Roy Orbison inpersonator but sang all Elvis songs. Honestly, the show would have been much better if he had just gone with a Roy Orbison routine. I was a little disappointed, but we still got a classic Vegas lounge act in and had fun.
After the show, we split off from Heather and Stephen and went to Jubilee at Bally’s, which is one of the most classic Vegas shows there is. Lots of showgirls, feathers, glitter, and synchronized dancing. It was a great show. We had purchased some of the cheaper tickets and were on the isle. Shortly after the show began, we noticed the usher picking people off the isle to go down to some open seats in the front. He hadn’t picked us, so Paddy went and asked him if there were any front seats open that we could move to, and he found some for us.
**Tip: If you need to book a cheaper seat, book an isle seat and ask the usher if it might be possible to move to open front seats if available. You might get lucky like we did.
After four nights in Las Vegas, we were ready to leave and get back on the road. Vegas is fun, but it’s definitely an “in small doses” kind of a destination. I wouldn’t recommend more than 4 nights. The slot machine clanging and cigarette smoke get to you after awhile.
The drive to Beatty was only about an hour and a half from Las Vegas. We got into town and were ready for some lunch. Beatty is a tiny town so we just picked a spot on the main drag, KC’s Outpost Saloon and Sandwich Shop. We had some sandwiches at the bar and talked to the owners, who were very friendly. After that we were ready to check into our room.
We had reserved a room for the night at The Atomic Inn. The Atomic Inn was originally built to accommodate defense contractor and military personnel working at Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. The new owners went with the atomic idea and renovated the place with a 1950’s atomic theme, complete with fake atomic bombs sticking out of the cactus garden out front and framed 1950’s and 1960’s magazine ads and paintings in the room. The guy at the front desk was very laid back and friendly. We had booked a standard room for $50.00 a night but were upgraded to a deluxe room at no extra charge. Our room had a fridge, coffee maker, microwave and a comfortable queen bed. There was also a selection of 1950’s B movies at the front desk that we could check out if we wanted.
The only negative thing about the room is that the walls are very thin, and the next morning we were awakened early by some very loud Russians in the room next door. The fact that we could figure out that they were speaking Russian should be a testament to how thin the walls are. It wasn’t a huge deal though, and I don’t know that the owners could really do anything to fix it.
After checking in and getting settled, it was time to go see some of Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is huge, and I’d love to see more of it from the west side on a California road trip someday. As it was, we had only one afternoon to explore from Beatty so we only made a few stops.
First we visited Rhyolite Ghost Town. This is the ghost town of an old mining settlement that was established in 1906 and was abandoned in 1916. It is technically outside of the park on the Nevada side, about 10 minutes from Beatty. In addition to the remains of the town, there is also a really awesome sculpture garden out in the middle of the desert in Rhyolite that is definitely worth a visit. Especially appropriate are the statues of ghosts, the larger ghost sculpture is supposed to be “The Last Supper.” The one with the bicycle was my favorite.
Next, we drove into the park and headed to the visitor center. There is a gas station here for people who make poor planning decisions, at about $6.00 a gallon. I would suggest filling up before you come. There wasn’t a checkpoint at the border like there is in many national parks, just a pay kiosk where we could pull over and get a visitor pass. We drove 40 minutes into the valley before reaching the visitor center. We talked to the rangers, and decided that the salt flats were a good destination and that we wouldn’t have a lot of time left to see much else. We continued another 40 minutes into the park to reach the salt flats in Badwater Basin.
The salt flats in Badwater Basin are 282 feet BELOW sea level. Here we truly felt like we were in Death Valley. Nothing for miles but white salt and rock, and it was 120 degrees. We parked and ventured into the salt flats a ways with lots of water and sunscreen. We didn’t make it too far though before the heat made us turn around back to the parking lot. I had to pee, and I can report that the Badwater Basin salt flats outhouse is the hottest, smelliest outhouse I’ve ever been in. An unventilated pit toilet baking in 120 degree heat. It was a lovely experience.
After the salt flats, it was getting close to evening so we made the long drive back to Beatty to see what we could find for dinner.
Prior to going on this trip, we had watched the HBO reality series Cathouse, about the professional lives of the workers at the Moonlite BunnyRanch brothel near Carson City, Nevada, owned by Dennis Hof. We decided on getting some BBQ at the Sourdough Saloon, and walked in the front door of the saloon to see Dennis Hof and one of his bunnies waiting on some BBQ takeout. He was wearing a BunnyRanch shirt and his bunny was in a classy outfit of a hot pink leopard print string bikini top over large fake boobs with sweatpants. Beatty is about 5 hours from the BunnyRanch so I can only guess that they were on their way back from Vegas or something. It was an unexpected and entertaining surprise.
The BBQ at the Sourdough Saloon was good and so was the local color. After food and a few beers, we headed back to the room to relax and watch a movie.
After the loud Russians next door woke us up through the thin walls, we packed up and got ready to get back on the road. On our way out of town we stopped at the Stagecoach Hotel and Casino for a classic diner breakfast, with the ambiance of clanging slot machines and stale cigarette smoke. The hash browns were nice and crispy.
Our next destination: Reno.
Beatty to Reno was about a five hour drive. On the way we stopped for a photo op at the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada (super creepy, but I would totally stay there had it fit into our trip plans). Next to it was an old pioneer graveyard….even creepier. We also drove by the 5th and final brothel sighted on our road trip, the Shady Lady Ranch. We were notified of its pending appearance on our journey by a hand-painted plywood sign letting us know we would reach it in one mile. We looked out for it and got a photo. It was literally a collection of small trailers in the middle of the desert. Ew.
I had made us a reservation at the most over-the-top casino hotel in Reno, the Peppermill. Yes, this is of relation to the Peppermill Las Vegas and also has a Fireside Lounge. It has an older wing (Peppermill Tower) and a newer wing (Tuscany Tower). We booked the cheesiest room they had, a Spa Suite in the Peppermill Tower. It was 1980’s chic, with a giant four-poster bed, a mini-bar, mirrors on the walls, a two-person jacuzzi tub in the bedroom area, and a steam shower in the bathroom. It was ridiculous, and like all classic casinos–not that expensive as they hope you’ll give them all your money downstairs gambling.
After a rest in our ridiculous room, we walked around the casino a bit and then caught a taxi downtown for dinner and drinks. (The Peppermill is a little far from downtown to walk, FYI). It was Cinco de Mayo, and a good friend of ours who grew up in Reno recommended Bertha Miranda’s. However, as it was Cinco de Mayo, the place was packed with no table available in site and a long wait. We were hungry, so we decided to venture into the main drag in search of quicker sustenance.
After walking around a little more, we decided we liked the small-town vibe of Reno vs. Las Vegas. We looked at our options for the next day and made a plan to go on a day trip to the old west town of Virginia City as we were staying another night in Reno. We caught a cab back to the Peppermill for some more drinks and slot machines.
The next morning we woke up in the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in in our entire lives. We also realized that this was our last full day of vacation before two long driving days home and then back to work. Our day trip to Virginia City seemed less enticing and we decided to spend the day being lazy at the casino. We slept in, ordered room service, and then spent some time at the pool. It was a little chillier than Vegas so we didn’t swim too much. It was a very nice pool on the newer Tuscany Tower side.
That evening we had some drinks in the Tuscany Tower and did a little light gaming.
There are a lot of restaurant options at the Peppermill, but we had to eat at Oceano. Because….well….look at it:
Jellyfish lights?!! Neon blue lighting as far as the eye can see? Where else have you seen a restaurant that looked like this? Exactly.
The food was sub-par, (obviously a seafood menu) but expecting good seafood at a mid-range casino restaurant in the desert is a tall order. It was worth it because of the jellyfish lights, which I totally want to install in a house I own someday.
Overall, the bang for your buck is big at the Peppermill in Reno. Even though it is a little far from downtown, there is a lot to see, do, and eat right there in the casino itself and a cab is not expensive into downtown. We still think about that amazingly comfortable cloud bed to this day. I think we’ll be back.
We packed up the next morning, left Nevada behind, and headed to Eugene to visit our good friend Curtis and his dog Larry. By this point, I was craving greenery and fresh vegetables like nobody’s business. As soon as we began seeing evergreen trees again in northern California, we began to feel back at home.
We pulled into Eugene exhausted after a grueling 8 hour drive with minimal stops. Curtis welcomed us with a comfy guest room and a dinner of fresh salmon he’d caught himself in the Columbia River, organic romaine salad grilled on the BBQ, some fresh bread, and an organic heirloom tomato sliced with salt. I was getting really sick of diner salads with iceberg lettuce and one tomato wedge in the desert, and it was the perfect meal and exactly what I’d been craving. We had a great evening catching up with Curtis over some drinks and getting to know Larry.
After a healthy breakfast of fresh strawberries and yogurt, we said goodbye to Curtis and Larry and started on the home stretch to Seattle.
Nevada was an interesting place and a great road trip. I think we’re kind of over Vegas but we’ll be back to Reno, Virginia City, and Lake Tahoe someday.
Our weekend in Ocean Shores, WA in February 2011: Wintry beaches, coastal drives on highway 109, and a fantastic Irish Pub
We were still paying off our honeymoon to Tahiti in February 2011, but I became desperate for a getaway. So I looked around and found a room in Ocean Shores, WA at the Guesthouse International Hotel for $79/night, including free breakfast. Our room had a distant ocean view, and was more or less adequate. It wasn’t quaint or endearing on any level, just a regular corporate chain hotel that you might find on the side of a freeway on a road trip. Our room did have a fridge, coffee maker, and a microwave which was nice. Two things were a turn-off, however:
1. The complimentary shampoo was a used bottle that was 25% full with the lid screwed back on and the label sealed back over the top. Tacky.
2. We were on a non-smoking floor, but for the first day our room filled with a strong odor of cigarette smoke through the bathroom fan. It was really unpleasant.
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Overall, the price was decent and sometimes you get what you pay for. I’d say the price matched the quality.
We had left Seattle in the morning and rolled into Ocean Shoresaround lunch time. We were ready for the obligatory fried fish basket, oysters, chowder, and the like. I’d already consulted Yelp for restaurant advice and chose Mike’s Seafood. It was small and busy, but the wait wasn’t very long. After some fantastic oyster shooters and fried captain’s platter, we were ready to go explore the town.
Above: I really wanted this gift shop to be a really cool bar or restaurant, but alas it was just a gift shop with your average mass-produced beach town souvenirs that you can buy in any other beach town anywhere in the United States. But it makes for a good photo op.
Most of the town and restaurants were about a mile from our hotel. During the summer, this wouldn’t be an issue and would be a pretty pleasant walk. In the winter, it was a little dark and cold at night to walk so we drove to go out to eat.
Ocean Shores has a run down arcade, some go-karts, and several little shops. It looked like a crusty old beach town that someone attempted to develop into a tourist spot and was probably really sucessful at it about 50 years ago. Now, it just seems like an aging, forgotten, half-ass version of Seaside, OR. I would imagine that it must be best to visit in the summer and overall it is a good family destination. If you are looking for some quaint boardwalk beach town family fun, however, I’d recommend Seaside, OR instead. It’s not that much further down the coast.
We went for a nice walk on the beach and then decided to settle in to rest and read a bit before dinner.
For dinner we consulted Yelp again and decided on Galway Bay Irish Pub and Restaurant and were pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was nice and the food was excellent. Entrees come with a delicious fresh baked mini loaf of Irish soda bread and a salad. The prices were reasonable and the service was great.
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel. The eggs were powdered and it wasn’t a great breakfast, but it was free. I mixed some cream cheese and Tabasco in with the scrambled eggs and it made them taste decent. Paddy said the biscuits and sausage gravy was alright. There was also your standard hotel continental breakfast fare of cereals, bagels, toast, fruit, yogurt, coffee, and juices.
We then left Ocean Shores and took a drive up the coast on the highway 109 to Pacific Beach. It was a nice drive, but nothing like the beautiful 101 through Oregon. We stopped for lunch at The Seagate Restaurant and Lounge in Pacific Beach. It was a salty little dive on the bay. I had the clam chowder which the waitress said was homemade, but you couldn’t tell. It was really thick and average tasting.
We drove to the dead end of the highway 109 in Taholah, and stopped and got a few glimpses of the beach on the Quinault Indian Reservation. There were signs posted that it was reservation property and we weren’t allowed to trespass, so we didn’t stay. The beach views up here though were the best of the drive.
In the afternoon we arrived back in Ocean Shores and decided to go for some afternoon bloody marys at Mariah’s Restaurant in the Polynesian Resort. The best thing about Mariah’s is the ocean view. Otherwise, the hotel and restaurant are pretty outdated, with a boring overpriced menu and a 1980’s interior. It was a great place for some afternoon cocktails, however, and I would recommend it for that reason only. The bloody marys were very tasty.
For dinner that evening we decided that the Galway Bay Irish Pub was so good that we should just go there again. It seemed to be the best quality for the money and they had live music.
The next morning, we had the free breakfast in the hotel again and got on our way. On the highway back to Seattle we saw a giant roadside inflatable muscle man and had to stop for a picture. It made my day.
Overall, we probably won’t go back to Ocean Shores again. There wasn’t much character to the town and the beaches are much nicer further south.
Our Honeymoon in Tahiti 2010: Waterfalls and ancient ruins in Tahiti, a remote tiny island paradise and a vanilla plantation on Taha’a, and an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora
I spent a year in Hawaii in college, studying art and anthropology and learning about Pacific Island cultures. That’s where I first discovered Tahiti, and I was obsessed with going there someday and staying in one of those overwater bungalows. Once I saw how much they cost, I was sure I would never be able to live my dream.
Seven years later I got engaged to Paddy, and I decided that our honeymoon had to be Tahiti, there was no compromise about it. Tahiti is a place for honeymooners and if we had to spend the next two years paying it off, dammit–it would be worth it.
So we did. We registered at Honeyfund, a great website where you can turn your honeymoon into a wedding gift registry. Our friends and family were very generous and that helped a lot. The rest we split between three credit cards, as we had already spent all our money on the wedding. Now, I would never recommend going into debt over a vacation like we did, but it was the only way to have our dream honeymoon and we took a gamble. We were already used to scrimping and saving every penny all year for the wedding, not going out to eat, and not going on any weekend getaways. I figured we could do that again for another year or two. I was nervous about illness, job loss, or anything else that could screw up our fast pay-off plan. But we did it. We put every extra cent we had into paying that debt off for a year and a half and we did it. We don’t regret a thing.
Depending on how much time you have, you will need to narrow your island choices down to 2-3 islands. Most people just use the main island of Tahitias a stopover and don’t spend much time there as it doesn’t have the beautiful lagoons and overwater bungalows like Bora Bora and the other islands. Bora Bora is the most popular island, followed by Moorea. I think there is quite a bit to see in Tahiti, but if all you are interested in is lagoons and overwater bungalows, you may want to spend less time on Tahiti.
At bit farther from the Tahiti archipelago are the Tuamotus, a geologically older group of islands that are much more remote. On this trip we chose Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. If we go back, I think we’ll spend some more time on the main island of Tahiti, and I would also love to visit Huahine, Rangiroa, and Tikehau. If we head back to Tahiti, it will be much more off the beaten path. If you are into diving, Rangiroa is a world class diving destination.
Map of French Polynesia:
Click on any image below to enlarge
All flights to Tahitileave from Los Angeles in the United States. The flight from LA is about 8.5 to 9 hours straight through. We flew out at night and arrived in Tahiti at 5:00 AM. We had arranged an early check in with our travel agent so that we could get to our room and rest right away. We stayed our first two nights at the Intercontinental Tahiti, which is located conveniently two miles from the airport. We exchanged cash at the currency exchange at the airport as I was told on tripadvisor that some debit cards don’t work at the ATMs. Our shuttle driver gave us a welcome lei and dropped us off at the resort. We got a welcome drink of juice, and were shown to our room, which was a “panoramic view” room. The sun wasn’t up yet, so all we could see from our deck were the glowing lights of the pool down below. We shut the blinds and crashed for the next couple hours.
We woke up a few hours later and decided to get up and make the breakfast buffet. Today was Sunday, which was the biggest breakfast buffet of the week. We could eat the regular buffet, or pay an additional surcharge to eat off the special buffet as well. We went ahead and did the surcharge. There were oysters, fruit, brie, meats, eggs, cheeses, pigs feet, head cheese, fried potatoes, and other items. One of my favorites was a doughnut shaped coconut bread which was made from coconut milk and coconut flour. It appeared that a lot of locals come to the breakfast buffet on Sundays and to spend the day at the pool. When the breakfast buffet was about to close, some local guys were piling a giant amount of oysters onto their plates to get as much as they could.
Above: View from our room
Below: Sunday breakfast buffet
Below: Deck in our room and our welcome leis
Below: our wing of the resort
Below: View of the main pool from the lobby deck
After breakfast we spent the day at the pools and exploring the resort. They had a big central pool, and a more relaxed sand-bottom infinity pool with a swim up bar. The drinks were very expensive, but we had to have one each at the swim up bar just because.
For lunch we ate some of our tuna and crackers and cookies that we brought from back home as a snack to tide us over for dinner. In the evening, we went down for a drink at the Tiki Bar by the pool, then headed over to Le Lotus restaurant for dinner.
Le Lotus was a fine dining restaurant in an overwater dining room right across from the building our room was in. The amuse bouche was some sort of seafood foam in a tiny cup. Not sure if we understood what we were eating, but it was good. I can’t remember what we had as a starter, but I remember having a swordfish dish with cuttlefish ink spaghetti. The prices were high, the portions were small, but the service was excellent and we were well aware of the high prices before we came. It was our first honeymoon dinner, and it was lovely.
The next morning we had booked a 4 wheel drive tour of Tahiti‘s interior. We ate at the breakfast buffet and were picked up by our tour guide early in the morning.
Tahiti is often associated with the lagoons and overwater bungalows of Bora Bora and other neighboring islands, but the main island of Tahiti is actually the youngest island in French Polynesia, and therefore has very little white sand lagoons and beaches. It is kind of like the Big Island of Hawaii, but with no active volcanoes. The Big Island has volcanic desert and white sand beaches on one side, and lush rainforest and black sand beaches on the other side. Tahiti has mostly undeveloped jungle interior and black sand and rocky beaches all around. Most visitors bypass Tahiti as a layover stop on the way to Bora Bora and Moorea, but I think Tahiti has a lot to offer and I would like to come back and see more. As it was, the Tahiti interior tour was very beautiful and reminiscent of what Hawaii may have been 100 years ago. Most of it is only accessible through four wheel drive vehicles.
There was one other couple with us from Australia, and our guide drove us around deep into the middle of Tahiti, showing us waterfalls, jungle, and rivers. A delicious chicken lunch was included at Relais de la Maroto hotel, the only hotel in the Tahiti interior and is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles.
After lunch, we saw some ruins of an ancient Tahitian village in the Papenoo Valley, which is now used as a camp where kids go to be taught about their heritage and the lives of their ancestors. Our guide told us all about the local plants in the area and what the lives of his ancestors were like.
I took some less-drowsy Dramamine before our tour and it seemed to help. I only began getting a little queasy towards the end but it wasn’t too bad. If you suffer from motion sickness, definitely take something at least 30-60 minutes before this tour. It is very bumpy.
That evening we ordered pizza and a burger from the room service menu, which was the cheapest dining option at the resort.
Aside from the island of Moorea, the closest island in the Tahiti archipelago which has a ferry, the only way to get between the islands is to fly. We checked out of our hotel and headed back to the airport to fly to our next destination, the island of Taha’a.
After a very short flight to Taha’a’s neighboring island Raiatea (there is no airport on Taha’a), we were met at the airport by a boat from our next hotel, Hotel La Pirogue on a tiny motu off the island of Taha’a. (I wasn’t able to find the website for this place online anymore, so I hope they are still in business, because it was an amazing place).
After a scenic boat ride, we were dropped off on the tiny motu island at Hotel La Pirogue, and greeted by the French owner with flower leis and a welcome drink of our choice. We were shown to bungalow #1, the closest one to the bar/restaurant/reception building. It was adorned with hibiscus flowers and a split of French champagne in ice on the front porch overlooking the beach with a view to the main island of Taha’a. There was a mini fridge, an electric hot water kettle with some Nescafe and tea and cups, and a small TV that had a handful of channels all in French. We didn’t bother with the TV.
Video of property and bungalow:
One of our biggest expenses here was bottled water. The tap water is not drinkable and the water was around $4.00 a bottle. There were two bottles provided for us by housekeeping each day, but the rest we had to pay for. While this was expensive, the owners have to purchase them as well from the mainland. Other than that, we had paid for a continental breakfast and full dinner meal plan so most of our food was included.
After we settled in, Paddy read for awhile while I went exploring the motu.
There was a path through the palm trees past several houses that I assumed were where the owner and staff lived. It lead back to a rocky beach facing the ocean on the back of the small motu. After that I walked along the front beach line, passing one small cabin but the island was for the most part pretty deserted on the east side. The west side of the island past our hotel was all private property. It was very remote and peaceful.
As evening approached, we figured we should not let our champagne go to waste. We sat and watched the sunset.
Once the sun went down, we headed to the restaurant for dinner. The staff didn’t speak any English, so the wife/co-owner came over to help serve us. We appeared to be the only Americans, most of the other visitors were French or Italian. The husband/co-owner was our chef as well. At first the wife was a bit snooty with us, feeding the French stereotype–but after she saw that we were making every effort to decipher the menu with our Rick Steves French phrasebook/dictionary, she warmed up to us quite a bit.
The food at Hotel La Pirogue was some of the most amazing food we’ve ever had in our lives. Combining French cuisine with Polynesian cuisine turned out to be absolutely brilliant. While Tahiti is expensive, most of the food is worth the money in the right places. This was one of them. Having already added the price of dinner into our honeymoon package, it was nice to order whatever and not have to worry about price. Alcohol was not included though, so we ordered a carafe of the house wine each dinner, as that was the most economical option. Fruity cocktails and bottles of wine and of course Hinano beer were available as well.
Dinner each night included a starter, a main course, and a desert. It was always more than enough to eat, and we usually split a desert because we were too full to eat two of them.
The next day we woke up and went to breakfast at the same restaurant area. Breakfast was the same each morning, with a basket of baguettes, butter, jellies, ham slices, cheese, fruit, yogurt, and cereals as well as coffee, tea, and juice.
That day we didn’t do much. We just went swimming, read books, and were generally lazy. For lunch we splurged on a crab sandwich and french fries from the a la carte lunch menu in the bar. It was big enough to share and very good, although it was imitation crab. There are crabs all over the island, so the fact that the crab wasn’t real was a little odd.
The beach was somewhat free of coral, but there were many sharp rocks and shells and bits of coral so we wore water sandals when swimming. Also, there were many sea cucumbers littering the sea floor, which squished when stepped on and looked like big brown turds. We tried not to step on them as much as we could. Swimming was nice, with very little current and warm, clear water. We also explored more of the motu coastline farther up the beach from the resort. We found ourselves completely alone. It felt very much like being stranded on a desert island.
Dinner was excellent again.
Once again we waddled back over to our bungalow full and happy. We read books and spent some quality time with our gecko roommates.
The next day we booked a day tour on Taha’a through Hotel La Pirogue. We rode across the water to the main island with a few other French and Italian guests, and then were split apart by language. We were the only English speakers, so we got our own private guide for the day.
Our first stop was an organic vanilla plantation, La Vallee de la Vanille. Taha’a is known as the vanilla island, as 80% of the vanilla in French Polynesia is grown here. Most of the farms are greenhouse farms, but this organic plantation owned by Moeata Hioe and her husband Danish expat Brian Hansen is one of the few left that grows vanilla the old fashioned way. Moeata spoke perfect English and gave us a tour of her family’s plantation, which has been in her family three generations. She seemed clearly in charge of the operation, and it was here that I began to realize how much equality and respect women have in Tahitian culture. In fact, in traditional Tahitian culture women were seen as so important to the family that if a couple did not have any daughters, they would select one of their sons to be raised as a woman. These transgendered children were called Rae Raes. Today, Rae Rae is the name for male to female transgendered Tahitians, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered people are all generally accepted by Tahitian society.
Raising vanilla beans is tedious work, especially organically. The vanilla plant is a member of the orchid family. There are no bees to pollinate the flowers, so Moeata and her family have to get up at 3:00 AM to go around and pollinate each flower with a toothpick. If they don’t do this before sunrise, the beans will not grow. Full grown beans are harvested, dried, and then separated by size for bundling and shipment.
While we were talking to Moeata, her husband Brian came by and she introduced us. She said he was from Scandinavia so I asked which country. It turned out he was from Denmark, where I had spent a year as a foreign exchange student. I began speaking to him in Danish and he was very surprised to hear his native tongue out of an American in Tahiti. After feeling like the stupid Americans who don’t speak French, it was nice to be able to prove that I had some bilingual capabilities….even if Danish is kind of one of the world’s most useless languages to know. I didn’t expect to be able to practice my Danish in Tahiti. More proof of what a small world it really is.
We purchased some vanilla and vanilla products from Moeata’s family in her small open-air store to take home. After that, we moved on to the pearl farm.
Black pearls are Tahiti’s number one export. The reason being that black pearls are only found in one species of oyster that only lives in French Polynesia.
The black pearls are very expensive. The pricing depends on the size, shape, and luster. I wanted a pearl to take home, but could only afford one individual pearl from the mis-shapen pearl bowl for $20.00. I really like the mis-shapen pearls, they seem so much more unique and natural to me. I still have it, and am trying to decide if I should get a piece of jewelry made from it or not.
After the pearl farm, we continued on towards the harbor to set out on a snorkel tour. I got a few shots of the island along the way.
We made a quick stop at a small store to get water. Paddy and our guide went in together, and I stayed in the back of the truck. Our tour vehicle was just a small pick up truck with bench seats in it. As I waited alone, two Tahitian men approached me speaking French. I was wearing a halter top and my first instinct as in many countries was to assume they were hassling me and to not engage them. They realized I didn’t speak French and attempted a few words in English. I quickly realized that they were very interested in my colorful koi fish tattoo on the back of my shoulder. Tattooing is a big part of Polynesian culture, but it is all done in black ink, no color. As I am the palest person ever, color shows up very brightly on my skin and I wonder if they had seen a tattoo like that before. They asked me how long it took, and were very friendly. Then they both lifted up their shirts to show me all of their Tahitian tattoos, of which there were many. I am kicking myself to this day that I didn’t ask them if I could take a photo. I felt silly for feeling threatened by them. That is another thing I love about Tahiti. Never once did I feel leered at or hassled by men like I would in Mexico or many other countries. Men seem to respect women here, and skimpy tops and clothing isn’t seen as sexually inviting, but just a normal way of dress in the warm tropical weather. All of the Tahitian people we talked to throughout our trip were extremely friendly and welcoming.
We headed to a small port to get our guide’s boat to go snorkeling. When we arrived at the port, he made a couple phone calls and explained that his boat wasn’t fixed yet, they were still waiting on a part to be shipped that hadn’t arrived on time. He had called a friend with a boat to come help.
Very soon a man wearing a loincloth and a straw hat in a plywood boat arrived and we set off towards a motu.
On the way our guide played the ukulele and our driver sang along with him and blew his conch shell. We passed the fancy overwater bungalows of the Le Taha’a Resort, and arrived on a connecting part of the same motu that appeared to be the man’s property.
The property had many fruit trees, chickens, and small shacks. We borrowed some of his snorkel equipment that hung from the trees on the beach to snorkel in the coral garden. Our guide said the man who owned the property had been approached by the Le Taha’a resort many times with offers to buy his land, but he won’t sell. It became clear why Tahitians have faired so much better than the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians were pressured, duped, and lied to by the USA into selling their land. Once the money from the land sale was gone, they had nothing. Our friend in the loincloth seemed to understand this very well. Many native Hawaiians are now homeless, living in tent cities on beaches as low-income housing becomes more and more scarce. On his land he had plenty of area for farming, vegetables, and fruit trees, chickens, and all the fish he cold pull out of the ocean right in his backyard. His family probably worked or went to school on the main island during the day. Healthcare and schools are free for Tahitians and are funded by France. I hope he never sells his land, his life looks pretty great to me.
We were shown the “starting point” for the coral garden. It was so shallow that we had to find a path through the coral instead of swimming over it. We were told to be careful of the spiny sea urchins living under the coral, as their spines cause a painful sting. Paddy was particularly freaked out by this. It was hard to make sure we could find a spot to stand in the sand when we needed to adjust our masks or look for each other, and bumping an ankle against a sea urchin was always a possibility. Halfway through, we got stuck and had to figure out a way around and over some coral, which was a pretty big challenge. Finally, we made it through, and Paddy was relieved. It was very stressful for him but I had to admit it was the best snorkeling experience ever for me. The water was so clear and the sea life and fish very abundant.
On our last day on the Taha’a motu, we decided to make use of the hotel’s free kayaks and explore the lagoon. It ended up being much harder than we thought it would be, as we had to fight against a current. We paddled down the west side of the motu in hopes of finding some more deserted beaches but instead found a lot of private property with signs posted in Tahitian–“tapu.” We saw a pair of sting rays swimming along near us, but they quickly darted away when we came closer.
After muscling against the current back to our bungalow, we spent the rest of the day reading, relaxing, and finishing off the rest of our box wine while watching the sunset. Dinner was amazing again.
After breakfast we were given shell leis by the hotel owner (flower leis are given to welcome, shell leis are given to say goodbye) and put on our boat transfer to the Raiatea airport. After a very short flight, we arrived in Bora Bora. Unfortunately, we found ourselves to be amongst a huge sea of Japanese tourists on a tour group. I think that three countries compete for the title of Worlds Worst Tourists, and the Americans and the Japanese are neck and neck, followed by the Germans. Bora Bora is the most popular island, so I suppose it made sense that we’d be woken out of our remote relaxing island haze upon arrival by masses of pushing and shoving clueless Japanese tourists.