Fall Getaway to Astoria, Oregon: Goonies movie history, a shipwreck, amazing cocktails, and the best fish and chips we’ve ever had.
We love a good weekend getaway in October in the Pacific Northwest. We have been to the Oregon Coast many times, always passing through Astoria, Oregon but only stopping for lunch or not at all. Astoria is often overlooked as it isn’t on the beach like Seaside or Cannon Beach just a little further south. However, it’s an historic salty sea town with a lot to offer. We fell in love with Astoria on this visit, even adding it to our list of possible retirement locations. (So far this list only consists of Portugal and Astoria).
Day 1: Fish and Chips, exploring the town, and a tiki bar
Astoria is about a three hour drive from where we live in Seattle, so we took Friday off to make the most of our time there. We planned our arrival to be about lunch time. When we arrived, we were pretty hungry. We went straight to Bowpicker Fish and Chips as we had read rave reviews online. There was a line, and I get the impression that there is always a line. It’s worth it.
Serving out of an old boat turned into a kitchen, all they sell is fish and chips, that’s it. We didn’t want a ton of fries, and found it more cost effective to get the 5 piece fish and chips and add an extra piece of fish to share. Paddy was initially disappointed that we weren’t going to have a sit-down lunch in a restaurant after the long drive, but his disappointment receded when we got our fish.
What makes Bowpicker fish and chips unique is that the fish is albacore tuna instead of cod or halibut. The breading is unique as well, and so crispy, finished with a sprinkle of sea salt. It was hands-down the best fish and chips we have ever had. There wasn’t much seating around so we ended up eating in our car. It was so delicious that we didn’t mind. If you like fish, don’t miss Bowpicker in Astoria.
Next we checked in with our hotel to see if we could get into our room a little early, but no dice. We parked the car and explored the town.
The town was awesome. So many little independent shops and restaurants, all vibrant and thriving. The community really got into the Halloween spirit, and most shops and restaurants had Halloween decorations up. The town had even installed witches on brooms on lamp posts all over the main strip, made to look like they crashed into the lamp posts on their flights. Each one was different.
Raintown Vintage Collective was a favorite stop. The upstairs is a collective of artists and craftspeople selling gifts and other fun things, and the basement level is all vintage clothes. I found two vintage 1960’s dresses that actually fit me, which was a unicorn find. I was over the moon. All the shop people were really friendly, there was a real community vibe in the town.
We had a little time to kill before we could check into our hotel, so we stopped for beer and cider at Reach Break Brewing. They had a nice covered outdoor patio and the beer and cider were tasty.
We had originally booked an apartment for the weekend that was managed by the Norblad Hotel. However, earlier that week the Norblad contacted me saying that their elevator was broken in the apartment building, and they wouldn’t be able to get it fixed before the weekend. Our apartment was on the 7th floor. They offered cancellation or a discount if we wanted to keep the apartment and use the stairs. Unfortunately, they were sold out of their regular hotel rooms in the main building. Seven flights of stairs was more than we felt like dealing with, so I was able to snag us the last room at the Hotel Elliott. It was more expensive, but the location was great. I was worried that the last room available would be a crappy room right off the lobby, but it was a perfectly fine room and even had a jacuzzi bathtub.
The Hotel Elliott is an historic building, which may or may not be haunted according to local legend. Since it was October, we chose to believe that it was haunted. I’ll be honest, the Hotel Elliott is a splurge. A hot breakfast was included, and we were able to park in the public lot across the street all night on Friday, and in the bank parking lot two blocks down for free on Saturday, which softened the price tag a bit.
*Note: The public parking lot across the street is used for the Sunday Market and any car parked there after 5:00 AM on Sunday mornings will be towed. The front desk is good about making sure everyone checking in is aware of this. They have a deal with the bank parking lot down the street to use for guests.
Overall, we would definitely stay at the Hotel Elliott again–if it is in our budget. However, for a cheaper stay downtown the Hotel Norblad has rooms with a lower price tag and a hip vibe and we would likely try to stay there again on a future trip.
Paddy had a burger and a side salad, and I had their clam chowder and a side salad. The side salads were huge! We shared a round of oyster shooters. Everything was fresh and delicious. The beer and cider were good too.
After dinner we walked down the street to the Inferno Lounge for a drink. It’s right on the pier and has a funky sort of goth/New Orleans/mid century vibe. The view is fantastic and as the sun set and the fog rolled in, it provided the perfect cozy, spooky October vibe we were in the mood for. The cocktails were nice as well. They also serve food, but we didn’t try any. Great spot if you are looking for a place to drink with a water view.
Walking near the pier in the evening in the autumn fog continued the spooky vibe. A ship passing in the fog had a very ghostly appearance.
Full disclosure, one of the biggest things that prompted this trip was the opening of the new tiki bar in Astoria, Dead Man’s Isle. The proprietors of artisan tiki mug shop Munktiki finally opened their long-awaited tiki bar next door to their shop after some pandemic delays. Dead Man’s Isle takes reservations, which we made far in advance. They do take walk-ins as well. For a weekend, I would recommend a reservation to ensure a good table.
The decor at Dead Man’s Isle was on point. Classic tropical tiki, with an Astoria salty-sailor vibe. Everyone at Dead Man’s Isle was very friendly and appreciative of our shared tiki enthusiasm. We chatted with one of the owners for a bit and she gave us a sneak preview of a tiny micro bar off of the loft area that they are working on. It is supposed to be a Japanese-style bar themed around a specific type of Japanese toy. My understanding of the theme is limited, but it will only serve a few people at a time and will have an entirely different cocktail menu from Dead Man’s Isle. I definitely want to come back to experience that when it opens!
Dead Man’s Isle also has some food items that we would like to try on our next trip as well.
I had the Dead Man’s Grog, which came in their signature logo mug. I was worried it would be too sweet but it was perfect. I can’t remember what Paddy had (Suffering Bastard maybe?) but he said it was also lovely. For our second round we asked for recommendations and I went with our server’s favorite the Purple Orchid, which had lime, passion fruit, peach, ginger, Empress blue gin and cardamom bitters. The cardamom bitters are what makes this drink–it was amazing and I would love to experiment with these flavors in our home bar. Strong recommendation for the Purple Orchid!
Because Dead Man’s Isle is owned by renowned artisan tiki mug makers, they have an impressive selection of mugs, stickers, T-shirts and other swag for sale. Naturally, we bought the skeleton captain mug and a couple glasses and stickers. They even have a mini tiki mug vending machine!
Sadly, the Munktiki gallery and shop next door was closed for the weekend as the other owner was out of town visiting family. Next time we hope to see the shop.
Overall we loved Dead Man’s Isle and the mix of a traditional tiki bar with a Pacific Northwest fishing town vibe. The cocktails were fantastic and we can’t wait to go back.
Day 2: A shipwreck, Goonies movie history, exploring more of the town, a haunted underground tour, and a fantastic whisky bar
Saturday morning we took advantage of the free hotel breakfast, and then set off to Fort Stevens State Park beach to see the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale, about a 20 minute drive from Astoria.
The Peter Iredale is a ship that ran aground on its way to Portland due to strong currents and high winds in 1906. There isn’t much left of it now, but it is still a popular tourist attraction on the coast. Paddy found it a bit underwhelming, but I think it’s worth a stop if you’re in the area.
Astoria’s biggest claim to fame is the movie Goonies from 1985. If you were a kid in the 1980’s, you are likely familiar with this movie. The two biggest film spots in the town are the Goonies house, and the Oregon Film Museum.
First we dropped by the Goonies house at 368 38th St for a quick photo.
*Note–The Goonies house is in a quiet neighborhood and people live there. It is very important to be respectful of the homeowners and their neighbors and to not trespass on the property. Park your car on Duane Street and walk up, do not try to drive up to the house. When we went there was a little tip box at the end of the drive way so we put $5 in as a thank you for the photo op.
Next, we parked our car in the bank parking lot that partners with the hotel and headed to the Oregon Film Museum.
The Oregon Film Museum building is the historic old county jail that was in the Goonies movie. It is now a tiny museum with a lot of Goonies movie info and artifacts, as well as a museum for other films made in Oregon. Entrance is $6.00.
Honestly, if you are a big Goonies fan I think it’s worth a visit. If you’re not, it will probably not be that interesting to you.
We explored some more of the town, admiring many of the preserved Victorian houses. We hunted for treasures at PhogBounders Antique Mall and Treasure Alley, but didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without. I was tempted by a mid century blow mold jack o lantern but opted to save our money for cocktails that evening.
We heard a lot of marine mammal commotion near the pier so we wandered in the direction of the Bowline Hotel and found a gaggle of sea lions on a dock below. There was a lot of drama, a lot of bitching and shoving and griping at each other. Sea lion reality show.
For lunch we stopped at a small food truck food court on 10th and Duane and got some shrimp po’ boys at Surf 2 Soul. Absolutely delicious and the chef makes his own pickles. The homemade pickles really took it to the next level. Often store bought pickles are really salty and overwhelm the sandwich, but his homemade quick pickles were the perfect amount of salt and brine and didn’t steal the show from the shrimp. The homemade fries were great as well. Picnic tables are available if the weather is nice. We definitely recommend stopping here for a meal.
For dinner we were still in the mood for seafood, and opted for South Bay Wild Fish House. Owned by a family who sustainably catches the fish themselves, it doesn’t get much fresher. There was a bit of a wait, but the fish was fantastic. The set up is a little weird–you order and pay with the host and then they seat you. You can get on a waiting list when it’s busy and then they will call your name when a table is ready, take your order, and show you to your table.
We shared some Hawaiian ahi tuna poke as an appetizer, and then Paddy had the fish tacos and I had the Petrale sole with a salad.
The prices are good here for what you get. Sole isn’t a fish I have had a lot of but it was really good. If you are looking for fresh seafood in Astoria that is sustainable, high quality and doesn’t empty your wallet, South Bay Wild Fish House is a great dinner spot.
After dinner, we had booked an underground ghost tour a few weeks in advance. Much like Seattle, downtown Astoria was destroyed by a fire in 1922 and the rebuilt city was built on top of the ruins of the old one. There are still some buildings left below accessible by tunnels. These tunnels have stories of brothels, sailors getting “Shanghaied,” and paranormal sightings. The show Ghost Hunters even did an episode on the Astoria underground.
The tour met at Gulley’s Butcher Shop downtown, an appropriate location for a ghost tour. Our guide came in Halloween costume and let us through the butcher shop and down some stairs into the tunnels below.
The tour was supposed to be an hour long, and instead it was a 15 minute tour of the tunnels which were decked out with Halloween decorations, animatronic ghosts and clowns, and a few actors. We saw some of the historical spots and artifacts, but it was more of a haunted house walk through than a ghost tour with stories of paranormal activity. We were pretty disappointed.
However, after writing a bad review on Google, the tour contacted me and told me that there had been a mix up and the guide was under the impression that she was leading a haunted house tour and not the full ghost tour and offered a free ghost tour. We weren’t able to go again, so they apologized and offered a full refund if I removed my bad review. We were refunded and I took my review down.
Therefore, we can’t really give you a recommendation on this tour either way. If you go, I hope it is more exciting than the tour we got, and it sounds like it was a booking error on their part.
If you like craft cocktails, this is a bar you must go to. The cocktails were some of the best we’ve ever encountered. The menu is extensive, and it was difficult to choose. I honestly can’t remember what I had on my first round, but it was full of flavor and came with a pear wedge. Paddy had the Holy Woodsman, a take on an old-fashioned with black walnut bitters and cedar smoke among other delightful ingredients.
For round two I had the German Chocolate Cake Old Fashioned which was mind-blowingly good. Coconut fat washed whiskey, Frangelico, and cocoa bitters. Paddy had Smoke Signals, which came with a cloud of tobacco smoke held in place by a wooden coaster. Once removed, the smoke created a unique olfactory flavor experience mixed in with the cocktail, not to mention an impressive presentation.
We honestly could have kept savoring new cocktails for a few more rounds, but artisan craft cocktails like this come with a hefty price tag. We can’t wait to go back to Astoria just to go to Blaylock’s.
Our next stop was The Haunt, a Norwegian black metal bar. The bar is small, and don’t expect craft cocktails here. They do however have a decent collection of Aquavit. We had a couple beers and vodka sodas and the prices were very reasonable. They also serve Scandinavian food apparently, but we didn’t see anyone eating.
After a couple drinks at The Haunt, we stopped in to catch the end of a live music show at Labor Temple diner and bar, which also looks like a really great breakfast spot. On the way back to our hotel, we poked our heads into Galactix Arcade and Taphouse with an immersive sci-fi space theme. No cocktails offered here, but the beer and cider selection looked great, as well as the prices. We didn’t have any drinks, but I always appreciate a solid commitment to a theme.
Sunday morning we decided we couldn’t leave the Oregon Coast without a Dungeness crab benedict and biscuits and gravy at the Pig N Pancake. Pig N Pancake has locations up and down the Oregon Coast and never disappoints with their hearty breakfasts. The Dungeness crab benedict is always my favorite.
Astoria is a town with a lot of character, great food and drinks, and a fun, creative community. We left in disbelief that it took us this long to explore it. Cannon Beach and Seaside have the gorgeous beaches and family activities, but Astoria has a more unique charm. It is kind of like a micro Portland in a way. A salty-sailor fishing town full of artists and weirdos. Just our kind of place.
Two days in Phoenix, Arizona: Exploring the Melrose District, eating some fantastic Mexican seafood, and cocktails at one of the most impressive Tiki bars we’ve ever been to.
Phoenix, Arizona was the last stop on our San Diego and Arizona road trip adventure. We originally only planned one night in Phoenix, but our flight got cancelled so we got another day to explore. We originally didn’t think Phoenix had much to offer, but Phoenix turned out to be pretty awesome. As frustrating as a cancelled flight can be, we were glad we got some time to get to know this city a little better.
Day 1: Murals and an immersive Tiki experience
We left our Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell in Bisbee that morning, sad to be leaving the Tiki Bus behind but anxious to sleep in a real bed in a hotel after a less than comfortable night in the bus bunks. It was about a three hour drive North to Phoenix from Bisbee. There wasn’t much to see on the way.
Our first stop in Phoenix was the Oak Street Murals, something I found on Google Maps that I thought sounded unique and an interesting quick stop.
Oak Street Murals is a little residential area near Midtown where artists have painted concrete walls lining a section of streets with a large variety of murals. Some of them are pretty impressive. If you have a car and are spending some time in Phoenix, it’s worth a stop.
After exploring the murals, we were hungry and ready to return the rental car and check into our hotel. A look at Google Maps found nearby Hula’s Modern Tiki restaurant, and you know we can’t resist Tiki themes.
I wouldn’t classify Hula’s Modern Tiki as a Tiki Bar, more like a Hawaiian themed modern chain restaurant. That said, the location in Uptown Phoenix was a very nice spot for lunch. A nice patio with misters and shade coverings provided relaxing casual ambiance while also being an escape from the heat.
Not wanting a huge lunch or any leftovers, we opted for the Hilo Sliders off the appetizer menu with a side of Hawaiian macaroni salad. The slider trio served on Hawaiian sweet bread gives you the option to pick Luau Pork, Spicy Thai Fish Cake, or regular burger–or one of each. They were tasty and the perfect amount of food.
Ready to relax in some air conditioning, we returned our rental car to the airport and made use of the free shuttle to the Radisson Hotel Phoenix Airport to check in. No complaints about the Radisson, rooms were clean and beds were very comfortable. We wanted to be near the airport for our scheduled 8:30 flight the next morning.
That evening, we were excited to check out the one Tiki Bar in Phoenix, The Undertow. I had made a reservation a month prior (Definitely make a reservation in advance–this place is popular). However, The Undertow doesn’t serve food, so we needed some sustenance first. Knowing we were going to drop some dough on pricy cocktails, we opted for an inexpensive meal at Z’s Greek nearby. The food was fast food Greek, no atmosphere or ambiance and it seemed like they do mostly take out. However, it was good and exactly what we needed.
What I didn’t know about The Undertow was that it was part of a trio of bars in a building called The Century Grand. In addition to the Tiki-themed Undertow, there is also a New Orleans style speakeasy bar called The Grey Hen, and a 1930’s train car themed bar called Platform 18. I immediately wished we had also made a reservation for Platform 18, where 1930’s clad wait staff serve cocktails of the same era in a bar made to look like an old train dining car. While you sit, scenes of the countryside flash by the “windows” next to your booth, making you feel like you are actually on a train. Getting a reservation at Platform 18 is now my number one priority for a second trip to Phoenix.
On to The Undertow: This bar is just as impressive as the concept for Platform 18, if not more so. After checking in for your reservation, your host leads you into a dark room designed to look like the inside of an old ship. Two-person porthole tables line the sides of the room, and just like the train car theme bar, there is an ocean sailing loop that plays scenes through your porthole “window” to make you feel like you are on a moving ship.
Even more fantastic is that the hour-long loop of porthole view doesn’t stay the same. You leave a dock on a sunny day, pass some islands, the sun sets, the stars come out, and then a storm comes. During the storm part lightning strikes and thunder sounds in the bar, and all the lights in the whole bar flicker. We were really impressed with the whole dramatic and theatrical immersive experience.
To go along with the ambiance and experience are some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had. The menu is extensive, and an entire book full of stories and drawings. I don’t think you would have time to read the whole menu and it’s stories in your 90 minute reservation slot unless you were by yourself and really focusing on doing just that. It seemed to tell the tale of a zombie plague on a ship, from what I could skim.
Looking at their website, it appears that the menus are “chapters” of a book, and the stories and cocktails change with each new “chapter” of the book. I wish I could remember exactly what we had, but I can’t 100% pinpoint them exactly. I can tell you that they were from Chapter Seven. To be honest, the amount of choices on the menu was overwhelming, and they all sounded amazing. It was hard to narrow it down. Asking your server which ones are their favorites is a good way to go.
A few things to know about planning your trip to The Undertow:
Reservations are strongly recommended. The further in advance you can book if you only have a specific day you can go (especially for Friday and Saturday night reservations), the better. Reservations release 30 days prior at noon each day.
Porthole tables seat two only. The other seats available are bar seats, and there are two booths for up to 6 guests.
Your reservation is for 90 minutes, and they are strict about that. Your server will let you know when you have time to order one more drink before closing out. Typically 90 minutes is good for two drinks per person.
There is a pre-paid $20 beverage minimum per person when you make your reservation, with a $3 processing fee. The $20 fee per person is deducted from your bill. They also have a strict cancellation policy, and you will need to cancel your reservation at least 8 hours or more (online) or you will forfeit the deposit.
This is a lot more strict than other Tiki bar reservations we have had (first time we’ve ever had to make a deposit!), but it is worth it.
Thoroughly impressed with The Undertow experience, we took a Lyft back to our hotel to get some rest before our early flight the next morning. Or so we thought…
Day 2: A cancelled flight and an unexpected fun day in the Melrose District
Just when we were getting ready to head down for our shuttle to the airport, I got an email that our flight was cancelled. There was no rebooking offered, and when I tried calling the customer service number in the email, I was told that the wait to speak to an agent was approximately 5 hours.
We figured the best thing to do was to just go to the airport anyway, talk to the booking agent in person and see what we could figure out. We waited in line for about an hour and a half at the Alaska Air counter, and were told it had something to do with the flight being short staffed and/or Airforce One visiting Seattle the day before and cancelling a bunch of flights to clear the airport.
The best they could do for us after a lot of searching in their systems for all the flights back to Seattle was fly us back to Portland the next day and we would then rent a car and drive the rest of the way home. We were provided with a free hotel room, a couple meal vouchers for airport food, and told we could submit a reimbursement claim for the rental car and gas (this part was true, although it took a couple months to get reimbursed).
While we weren’t happy about getting home a day late, we decided to make the most of our extra day of vacation with a free hotel room.
We ate breakfast at the airport with our meal vouchers, then took the free shuttle to our new hotel and dropped off our bags. I scanned Google Maps for ideas on what to do for the day. I searched “vintage stores” and found several in one area…along with a couple gay bars. Could it be? A gayborhood in Phoenix?
Hot tip: If you want to find cool stuff in a city, find the gayborhood.
The gayborhood in Phoenix is the Melrose District, as we soon discovered. The main drag is on N 7th Ave, north of W Indian School Road. We took an Uber to one of the vintage stores we found on the map, Rewind Vintage & Antiques. Rewind Vintage had an impressive Indie record collection, and is run by an extremely nice couple who offered to mail us some records that we bought for the price of postage and record mailers. They also gave us some great tips on the neighborhood.
Paddy needed some coffee, and our new friends at Rewind Vintage raved about Copper Star Coffee just up the block, so that was our next stop. Paddy said their Americano was delicious. I had their lemonade, which was homemade and very refreshing. All of their baked goods and bagels looked amazing as well. If you are a looking for great coffee in Phoenix, Copper Star Coffee is the place to go.
Next, we crossed the street over to the Retro Ranch, which we would also recommend.
The Retro Ranch had a very impressive collection of antiques and vintage clothes. We didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without, but if we lived in Phoenix, we would definitely be regulars here.
All the rifling through antiques and vintage clothes made us hungry, so we wandered into Short Leash Hot Dogs & Rollover Doughnuts. Short Leash has a fantastic back patio to lounge in with sun or shade, and a variety of seating options.
The hot dogs and doughnuts are also delicious. I had the Lady hot dog with a chicken sausage, which comes on naan flatbread with sauteed onions, chipotle cheese sauce and fried pickles. Paddy had the Brat Stuffed Pretzel with a bratwurst, sauerkraut, onion, bacon, swiss cheese, and spicy mustard on their homemade pretzel roll. I couldn’t resist getting a doughnut to share–with peanut butter glaze, chocolate, and peanuts. Everything was decadent and delightful.
The lovely couple at Rewind Vintage also recommended the Thunderbird Lounge, which is a 1970’s throwback bar just off of 7th.
The Thunderbird Lounge also has a pretty awesome outdoor patio, but the interior is pretty darn groovy.
If you were a kid who grew up in the 70’s or 80’s and liked to go to the arcade, this place is your jam. Paddy was pretty stoked to play a few old games from his childhood.
They even had a vintage (and working!) Simon Says game that I remembered playing at my Grandma’s house in the 80s. It wasn’t as fun as I remembered.
The Thunderbird Lounge has lots of events in the evenings and live music. If we had some more time in Phoenix, I’d be into checking out what they’ve got going on.
After the hot dogs, beers, and doughnuts as well as walking around in the sun, we felt like it was time to go check into our hotel and take a nap.
For dinner that evening, I had found what looked like a pretty awesome Mexican seafood place called Mariscos Playa Hermosa in the (Douglas?) neighborhood of Phoenix. It was only a 10 minute Uber ride from our hotel near the airport.
Mariscos Playa Hermosa is popular! There was about a 20 minute wait for a table, but it was worth it. Their website says they just celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022. It is clearly a favorite with locals and for celebrations.
The menu looked amazing, and we wanted to try everything, but we couldn’t take any leftovers with us. They also take margaritas to the next level. We ordered the Mango Diablo, which is blended with mango, chamoy, Tajin, and tequila, and the Spicy Miami – a spicy watermelon margarita rimmed with Tajin and served with a watermelon paleta. The Mango Diablo came with a chamoy candy stick.
For dinner, we shared oysters and the Tostada Embarazada (a “pregnant” tostada) which had a ceviche mix of seafood and avocado on a crispy tostada.
We only ended up ordering off the appetizer menu. There were so many things we wanted to try but we were full after finishing that pile of ceviche with the tostadas and crackers that went with it. Everything looked so good, and with how busy they were–you know that their seafood is always fresh.
Note: The neighborhood that Mariscos Playa Hermosa is near that we drove through between the Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Airport and the restaurant looked pretty rough. Best to stick to taking an Uber or Lyft there and back and staying close to the restaurant while waiting for your ride home. That said, don’t let that scare you into missing this place. It is fabulous!
Phoenix surprised us. We hadn’t heard many good things about this city, so we weren’t expecting much. I wouldn’t say it’s a top destination, but if we end up going through there on another trip to Arizona we wouldn’t be too sad about it. On a second trip to Phoenix, it would be nice to have a car during the day to spend some more time in the Melrose District again and check out some of the other parts of town. As for nightlife, our number one priority would be a reservation at Platform 18, along with a second visit to The Undertow. It would be fun to check out what the Thunderbird Lodge has going on at night, and we will absolutely be going back to Mariscos Playa Hermosa HUNGRY.
Do you have some tips for things to do and see in Phoenix? If so please add to the comments below!
An overnight excursion to the towns of Tombstone, Bisbee, and Lowell in Southern Arizona: A taste of the wild west, the artsy old mining town of Bisbee, a ghost town frozen in the 1950’s, and a night in a 1947 tiki bus in a vintage trailer park.
A quick overnight trip to Bisbee was part of our California and Arizona trip including San Diego, Tucson, and Phoenix. We only had one night in Bisbee, and we wished we had been able to stay at least one more night. An artsy small town community in an old copper mining town, Bisbee turned out to be an unexpected hidden gem.
We checked out of our Airbnb in Tucson and headed south. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop in in the wild west town of Tombstone along the way.
Tombstone is the old mining town famous for Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the gunfight at the OK Corral. It is, as you would expect, a corny tourist trap doing what it can to separate you from your money. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a stop. If you haven’t seen it and you’re on the way to or from Bisbee, I would recommend checking it out.
We opted for a tour of the Bird Cage Theater, an old theater that used to entertain the miners with magic shows, wrestling matches, and other acts, as well as poker games in the basement. As with any old west town, prostitutes provided the miners with a bit of “entertainment” as well. Tours cost $15 and have a lot of old artifacts on display.
Next, at the recommendation of my parents who had been in Tombstone a few days prior, we did the stagecoach tour of town. For $10 per person, you sit in an old horse-drawn stage coach for a dusty 20 minute tour around town narrated by the driver. It’s a good way to get an overview of the town and it’s history, and the guide was very animated and had some good stories. Stage coach leaves from the main street of town.
If you want to see the OK Corral, you have to pay a fee. They have staged shootout re-enactments a few times a day. We opted to pass on this, seeing it from the outside was enough for us.
The last and cheesiest thing we did before leaving Tombstone was Ike Clanton’s Haunted Hotel tour. It was a self-guided tour through a few scenes with animated props and screens, and for $15 per adult I think I would recommend just skipping this one. It was mildly entertaining but pretty corny.
There are saloons where you can get a drink or something to eat, as well as old time photo studios where you can dress up and take those sepia toned wild west portraits with costumes. We were getting hungry but the saloons were pretty packed, so we decided to head on to Bisbee.
Bisbee is only about a 25 minute drive from Tombstone. We parked in a lot at the entrance to town and were pretty hungry, so opted for the first restaurant we stumbled upon, Bisbee’s Table. There was a little bit of a wait, but the food was good. We both had the Frick’N Chicken sandwich.
After lunch, we explored the small town. There were a lot of cool little shops to explore. We definitely noticed the elevation change as we walked around. For us sea-level dwelling Seattlites, Bisbee’s hilly streets and 5,538 ft elevation had us a little winded.
We enjoyed Classic Rock Couture, with new and vintage clothing. records, and gifts. Very desert/rock n roll/retro seventies chic. Red Bone Vintage was a cute vintage clothing spot. Miners & Merchants Antique Center was fun to explore, and Black Sheep Imports had lots of fun novelty gifts and unique Bisbee souvenirs.
We passed the Bisbee Social Club, a speakeasy style cocktail bar that hosts live music. We planned on coming back there later that evening, but ended up being too tired and our accommodation was a little ways out of town. It looked right up our alley though, and we hope to come back someday and stay in town so that we can enjoy more of what Bisbee has to offer.
Losing steam, we moved on to our last stop–the preserved 1950’s ghost town of Lowell.
Lowell is another old mining town about a 6 minute drive from Bisbee. According to Atlas Obscura, the residential areas of Lowell were demolished in the interest of expanding the copper mine, and less residents lead to the abandonment of the town. Lowell is now incorporated into Bisbee, and the volunteers of the Lowell Americana Project have worked to preserve the town. The lone open business on Erie Street in Lowell is the Bisbee Breakfast Club, an old diner that serves a hearty breakfast.
Vintage cars, trucks, and even an old Greyhound bus line the eerily empty streets of Erie Street in Lowell. If nothing else, it’s a fabulous photo op. I’m not sure who the owners of the cars are (individuals or a preservation society?), but letting them sit on the street in Lowell and be part of the ghost town experience is really awesome.
Adjacent to Lowell is the Shady Dell Trailer Park, which would be our home for the night. Full disclosure: it was the 1947 Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell that brought us to Bisbee.
The Shady Dell is the perfect compliment to Lowell. Full of vintage trailers, buses, and even a boat that you can rent for the night–it is a campy, unique vintage experience.
We arrived and went to the office to check in. No one was around, but a sign on the front door with our name on it instructed us that the key to the Tiki Bus was in the bus, and to make ourselves at home.
The quarters were tight, but the attention to detail was fantastic.
The bus came equipped with a kitchen including a fridge and a sink with running water and dish soap. No cooking is allowed due to food smells that can permeate the bus, but a cold fridge is ready and waiting to store your beer and tiki cocktail ingredients. Tiki mugs are included as well for your use.
The bus also had a record player with some vintage Hawaiian records. We tried listening to them but the records were in pretty poor shape and scratchy. It would be nice if they got a few that are in better condition. We almost wanted to go buy some and add to the collection ourselves.
The bus had a bathroom with a toilet only, but campground style free shower stalls are available in the center of the trailer park.
We thought about going back into Bisbee that evening, but the long day and the elevation wore us out. We opted to get some takeout sub sandwiches from Dylan’s Pizza Bistro and beer from the Safeway nearby instead. The sandwiches were decent, and the restaurant was nice enough to give us two cups of ice to take back to the Tiki Bus for cocktails. One way the Shady Dell could be improved: offering ice for sale or an ice machine on the property.
Dusk fell, and lights came on around the park. I made some grog in the tiki mugs with rum, lime juice, and demerara syrup that we brought. We sipped our cocktails on the little porch, taking in the atmosphere. It was quiet and pleasant.
The bus was charming, but the bed situation was less than optimal. There was a twin bunk with a spongy, springy uncomfortable mattress, and a slightly smaller than a full size bed double bunk. It was pretty tight for two people, and the bus leaned a little bit, so whoever was on the outside of the double bunk would end up rolling towards the other person and smushing them. Paddy took the twin bunk and slept fairly uncomfortably. I slept okay in the double bunk by myself. He’s a gentleman.
Overall, a super fun experience and we were glad we did it, but we were also glad we had only one night there. Perhaps the other trailers have more comfortable beds.
Breakfast was good, your classic diner fare. We were sad to say goodbye and wished we had one more night in Bisbee to get to know the town a little better.
If you’re into kitsch, art, and old desert history, Bisbee, Lowell, and Tombstone are definitely worth visiting. If it’s your first visit, I would recommend two nights–one at the Shady Dell for a fun kitschy experience, and one in the town of Bisbee so that you can get the feel of the town and maybe some nightlife.
Tucson, Arizona: Exploring Saguaro National Park, San Xavier Del Bac Mission, and enjoying some of the best Mexican food Tucson has to offer.
Ever since my parents moved to Arizona to enjoy their retirement in the sunshine, they have been wanting to explore more of their new state. This year, instead of visiting them at their home, we decided to meet up with them and both explore Tucson, Arizona. We rented a VRBO house just outside of the city in the Oro Valley area–a very nice area if you are looking for some peace and quiet but still want to be close to all the main attractions. We visiting in April, one of the best times for weather in Arizona and around the time that we Seattlites are in desperate need of some sun.
Day 1: Road trip from San Diego to Tucson
After spending three nights in San Diego (click to read more about our time there), we rented a car to drive to Tucson to meet up with my parents. I’m a pretty big fan of road trips, an the drive was about 6 hours through the desert. However, there wasn’t much to see along the way and it was honestly a pretty boring drive. When we arrived at our rental house, we just ordered some delivery dinner and spent some time enjoying the evening with my parents.
The sunsets in Tucson are fantastic, particularly when accompanied by a prickly pear margarita.
Day 2: Saguaro National Park and some fantastic tacos
Saguaro National Park surrounds Tucson, and there are actually two separate parts to the park–one to the east of the city and one to the west. I had a few short and easy hikes on my list, but even though it was a cooler time of year to visit Tucson, it was already 85 degrees by the time we arrived at the park. We also had my parents with us who have some mobility limitations, so we opted for a short, half mile stroll on an easy paved path through the Saguaros.
There is no toll booth for entry to Saguaro National Park West, you can pay at the visitor’s center. The fee is $25.00 per vehicle. Rangers at the visitor’s center and gift shop are happy to help answer questions about hiking trails, wildlife, and any other inquiries you may have about the park.
The short easy trail we did was the Desert Discovery Trail, which is all level and paved and includes several shaded benches along the way. It is a perfect way to see the saguaros up close if it’s too hot to hike, or if you or your family have mobility challenges.
Note: Always stay on the trail as rattlesnakes and scorpions are often hiding under rocks. Always be sure to take water with you as well, no matter how short of a hike you are doing.
The huge saguaros are really impressive in person. It takes them about 70 years to reach 6 feet tall, and 200 years to reach their full height of around 45 feet. It seems that not one saguaro is identical, they all had unique shapes and varied amounts of arms.
After the little Desert Discovery Trail loop, we took a drive around the rest of the park and enjoyed the scenery.
We said goodbye to the Saguaros and headed into Tucson for some lunch at Top Chef finalist Maria Mazon’s restaurant, Boca Tacos y Tequila.
We enjoy watching Top Chef (it’s pretty much the only reality TV show we watch) and were excited to try Maria Mazon’s food after cheering her on while watching the show. We were surprised and delighted to see that she was actually running food out to customers at her restaurant! She even posed for a photo with Paddy, who was fanboy giddy with excitement. I think she enjoys interacting with her patrons.
As for the food, it was just as delicious as we expected it to be. We had to go with the Boca Balls (fried chipotle mashed potato balls), and the Pulpo Asado (octopus tentacles with ancho chile and lime butter and grilled green onions). We also tried a selection of the tacos, which were all fantastic. My favorite was the salmon taco.
Boca Tacos y Tequila is open for lunch and dinner, and has a full bar. They take reservations for parties of 4 or more. Don’t miss this place while visiting Tucson!
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool and ordered pizza delivery for dinner. Our VRBO rental in the Catalina Foothills was just too relaxing to leave.
Day 3: Downtown Tucson and a Disappointing Tiki Bar
We began our third day in Tucson by doing a driving/walking tour of Barrio Viejo, the old historic part of downtown Tucson. In Barrio Viejo, you can find some historic buildings from the 1800’s that are still standing from when Tucson used to be part of Mexico. Many of the old adobe houses and buildings are painted bright colors.
Per the Tucson Museum website, “The ‘Curse of The Wishing Shrine’ centers predominately on its visitors motives for their visit, and their own lives. It is said that if one visits with a clear open heart that forgives, they will pass, and they may even get their wish fulfilled. For others, it may just be the beginning of history repeating itself depending on what they themselves bring to the shrine. Also, it is said that if you light a candle at the shrine and it remains burning all night long without going out by sunrise, your wish may be granted depending on your motivations.”
Read more about the story of this intriguing historical site here.
After enjoying the historical buildings in Barrio Viejo, we ventured over to North 4th Ave, a neighborhood area in between downtown and the University of Arizona with a lot of fun shops and restaurants. We recommend visiting Pop Cycle, a shop with a lot of unique locally made art and gifts, Generation Cool vintage clothing, the Tucson Thrift Shop (more vintage clothing and costumes), Wooden Tooth Records, and Jellywink (a sex-positive adult boutique).
We were pretty hungry after exploring, and were ready to try some more local food. One of the foods Tucson is famous for is the Sonoran Hot Dog, a hot dog wrapped in bacon and dressed with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, mayo, mustard, and jalepenos. We were told one of the best places to get these is at El Guero Canelo.
At El Guero Canelo, they bake the hot dog buns themselves. After ordering at the counter, your Sonoran dog arrives on a paper plate in a soft, pillowy bed of fresh baked bread with beans and all the fixings. An economical meal that is delicious and uniquely Tucson, a lunch stop at El Guero Canelo is a must. There are several locations to choose from.
Later that evening, we were excited to check out Tucson’s only Tiki bar, Kon Tiki. A historical hold-out from the mid-century Tiki heyday, Kon Tiki has been in swing since 1963, with much of the original decor and signs.
The Tiki decor and atmosphere in Kon Tiki is well-preserved, but they seem to have added some TVs and made it into a sports bar, which was disappointing. We were seated in a section away from the main TV area so we were content there. Overall, the vintage Tiki vibe is thriving here.
The biggest disappointment however, was the food and drinks. The drinks were sugary 1970’s or 1980’s era tropical. My Mai Tai was mediocre and sweet. The food left even more to be desired. I made the mistake of trying the macadamia crusted mahi, expecting something similar to macadamia mahi dish I’d tried at Duke’s in Waikiki. What I got was a piece of fish drowned in a very sweet, gray sauce with flavors that should never be paired with fish. We all agreed that the cook seems to be afraid of salt, and I had to ask for salt to try and make the meal edible (it was not on the tables). Paddy tried the katsu chicken and waffles (also a mistake), which was bizarrely prepared with a questionable bechamel sauce.
I really wanted to like Kon Tiki, as it is a historical relic of the Tiki era. However, I can’t recommend it and we definitely won’t be back. If you are a Tiki fan and want to go just to see it, I recommend sticking to beer and maybe just try some of their potstickers. Good luck.
Day 4: San Xavier del Bac Mission
A trip to Tucson isn’t complete without a visit to the San Xavier del Bac Mission. I had been once before with a friend on a three week road trip around the southwest in my early 20’s, and the second visit was just as magical as the first. Just a 30 minute drive south of Tucson, it’s an easy day tour.
Tucson and San Xavier were part of Mexico up until the Gadsden purchase of 1854. The Catholic mission of San Xavier dates back to 1692, with the current church building dating back to the 1700’s. It feels like something you would see in Europe due to it’s age and Spanish architecture.
The outside grounds are beautiful, but the inside is shockingly elaborate. Entrance is free, but check the website to avoid mass times as the church is still in active operation.
After touring the mission in the morning, we went a little further south to the tiny town of Amado to visit the iconic Longhorn Grill and Saloon for lunch. We were there for food, but the food is not the draw to this establishment. It’s because it looks like this:
The building dates back to the 1970’s, and has been the site of a bait shop, a roofing company, and a clothing store before becoming a restaurant. It seems to have had a recent remodel inside, and the atmosphere was nice. Menu serves decent pub grub and southwest fare. It really doesn’t get much more Arizona than a restaurant with a giant cow skull in the middle of the desert. It’s worth the stop for the photo-op alone, but the food isn’t bad. Just don’t come in a hurry–service is a little slow.
We spend the rest of our last day in Tucson enjoying our pool and relaxing.
For dinner, I had read that some of the most legendary Mexican fare in Tucson is served at the El Charro Cafe. It is at El Charro that the chimichanga was invented, and it is the oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in the US.
As we were staying in Oro Valley, we opted for the Oro Valley location nearby, instead of the flagship downtown location. The Oro Valley El Charro was disappointingly in a strip mall, and we sat outside with a view of the parking lot and a Kohl’s. The food however, did not disappoint. Service was quick and the meals were delicious.
A food that is traditionally Sonoran is Carne Seca, which is dried beef that is then shredded and cooked as a filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. El Charro has many dishes featuring Carne Seca. Paddy tried the El Charro Carne Seca Burro, “elegante style,” and I tried the Sinaloa Shrimp Culchi (shrimp cooked in a creamy garlic verde sauce). My shrimp dish came with a side of nopalitos, or cooked nopal/prickly pear cactus.
El Charro is a must for a visit to Tucson, but maybe try and visit the downtown flagship location for better atmosphere. The downtown location is on our list for a return trip.
Overall, Oro Valley was a nice place outside of downtown to get a house with a pool and relax. Pro tip for searching for a house with a pool: If coming during a cooler time of year, check to see if the pool is heated or has a heating option (often for an additional fee) before booking. Many Arizona pools are not heated at all, and are a little too chilly to use during the spring and fall.
I would love to come back to Tucson in March when it is a little cooler and try some easy day hikes in the Saguaro National Park. We didn’t get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, and I have a dream of watching the sunset over a hill of Saguaros. We really liked Tucson and would like to spend more time there someday.
Long weekend in San Diego 2022: Tiki Bars, Balboa Park, Mission Beach, and a funky old mid-century resort.
We decided to take a quick long weekend in San Diego when looking for a little side adventure before meeting up with my parents in Tucson, Arizona for a few days. It is a quick 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, and somewhere I’d never been. (Paddy has been before, when he was 18 on an ill-fated road trip with friends, but that’s another story).
We chose San Diego for the sunshine, beach, and because it is home to a couple renowned Tiki bars that we have seen rave reviews on. We know San Diego has a lot more to offer and this trip only touched the surface. We saw and did what we felt like for the short time that we had.
Day 1: Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn and False Idol
Our flight was a bit delayed, so we had to rush to check into our hotel and head downtown for dinner before our reservation for drinks at False Idol. Fortunately our hotel, Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn was a short 10 minute drive from the airport on Shelter Island.
Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn is a resort hotel dating back to 1967. It is located on Shelter Island, a harbor neighborhood of Point Loma. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, all buildings on Shelter Island were supposed to follow a Polynesian/tropical theme. Many of these buildings have since been renovated or torn down, but Humphrey’s has been updated and still holds onto it’s tropical roots. There is a large heated pool that is open until 11:00 PM, a hot tub, tropical gardens including two resident parrots and a koi pond. Rooms are either pool view, parking lot view, or harbor view, with a select few overlooking their concert venue.
We opted for a “tropical-view king,” with a request for a ground floor room with an outside sitting area. Our sitting area faced the walkway around the pool and the view wasn’t much, but it was nice to have a little area to drink our morning coffee outside.
We dropped our bags off, changed clothes, and jumped in an Uber to Cafe Sevilla in the Gaslamp District. We love Spanish food and tapas, and had planned on a relaxing tapas dinner before our 9:00 PM reservation at False Idol. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Cafe Sevilla, it was 7:45, which was just enough time to order a shared paella and two glasses of wine before dashing out in another Uber over to False Idol. Reservations at False Idol book up way in advance, so we didn’t want to risk being late. The Paella was delicious, and we would love to go back and try more of their dishes someday.
False Idol is in the Little Italy neighborhood, and while it is a newer tiki bar, it has all the elements of classic tiki: Speakeasy style entrance within another bar (Craft & Commerce), classic 60’s exotica music, low lighting, tropical decor, and a drink menu filled with many classics. I cannot stress enough planning ahead and getting a reservation. They do let some people in for standing room, but I saw many getting turned away at the door. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Reservations are for an hour and a half, about enough time to enjoy two rounds of drinks.
In addition to all the classic cocktails on the menu (many I recognized from Martin Cate’s Smugglers Cove book), they had different house-concocted variations of each.
We tried the Victory on the Red Sea (a variation on Three Dots and a Dash), The Polynesian Forty-Niner (a variation on the Pearl Diver), Steve’s Rum Barrel, and the False Idol Old-Fashioned. All were top notch, very complex, and beautifully presented. When we first started getting into tiki, I wasn’t so into rum or “tropical drinks” as the ones I had tried in the past were sugary sweet, hangover-inducing horrors of the 70’s and 80’s.
After visiting Barbados and sampling some higher-end aged rums and the cocktails of today’s serious craft cocktail tiki bars or immersion bars, I have become a lover of rum. You won’t find high-fructose corn syrup grenadine or piña colada mix in a legit tiki bar of today. Syrups and liqueurs are often house-infused and only quality spirits are used. That said, they are pricey. Expect to pay about $15-$18 a drink. You get what you pay for here.
We can’t recommend False Idol enough, and will absolutely be back on any future trip to San Diego.
Day 2: Balboa Park, Mission Beach, and More Tiki Cocktails
We started the day by grabbing some breakfast burritos from the Pearson Deli and Fuel Dock a couple blocks from Humphreys. This little family- run spot is beloved by locals in Shelter Island, and has delicious and inexpensive breakfast sandwiches and deli sandwiches to go. There is a restaurant at Humphrey’s that serves breakfast, but it is quite pricey. We made coffee in our room and enjoyed breakfast on our patio.
We opted to spend the early afternoon at Balboa Park, walking around the area of the Spanish Village Art Center. The park is huge, way too large to see all of it at once, so we just walked around the Spanish Village area. Lots of museums, Spanish-style architecture, gardens, and pavilions with vendors selling food and crafts. The art center portion is full of little studios selling paintings, prints, crafts, and sculptures. The sculpture studio was our favorite–so many bizarre and unique sculptures.
The rose garden was also lovely. A great spot to stop and enjoy a fresh-squeezed lemonade from a vendor cart in the pavilion.
After a siesta back at the hotel, we figured it wouldn’t be right to go to San Diego and not see the beach. We took an Uber to the Mission Beach Boardwalk to walk around and check it out.
Mission Beach Boardwalk reminded me of a smaller, cleaner version of Venice Beach in LA. To be honest, I prefer the gritty, surf-hippy LA vibe of Venice Beach to Mission Beach, but it was fun to see. The Belmont Park boardwalk area offers rides and carnival games, including an old wooden roller coaster dating back to 1925 that is still in operation.
We walked along the beach enjoying the late afternoon sun, eventually arriving at Miss B’s Coconut Club for dinner and drinks.
A giant cocktail in a huge, solid copper flamingo? Yes please!
We ordered the “Havana Good Time” cocktail for two, featuring vodka, grapefruit, cucumber, and kombucha. Paddy was a good sport about sharing this with me, because I wasn’t going to let this giant, boozy flamingo experience go. The cocktail itself wasn’t too strong, and was surprisingly good. Well balanced and tart, not too sweet at all.
For dinner we opted to share the jerk chicken plate (house specialty), and the coconut seafood ceviche. Both were delicious. The chicken was cooked perfectly and fall-off-the-bone tender. There was a really nice veggie medley on the side that I wished there was more of. The ceviche was served with plantain chips, and tasted like a hybrid of classic ceviche and Tahitian poisson cru.
We had one more cocktail before heading back to the beach to watch the sunset–The Oaxacan Dead. Consisting of tequila, mezcal, pomegranate, cinnamon, falernum, and grapefruit juice, The Oaxacan Dead is definitely one we would like to learn to make at home.
If you’re looking for fun cocktails and Caribbean food a couple blocks off the beach, Miss B’s is a great spot.
We ended dinner at just the right time to watch the sunset before heading to our reservation at The Grass Skirt. It had been a while since I watched the sun disappear into the ocean.
First of all, I cannot stress enough that you should make a reservation in advance. This place is popular and reservations go quickly online. They release new reservations about 3-4 weeks in advance of each date, so check the website when planning your trip and get a booking if you plan on going here. Weekends always fill up quickly, you may have better luck on weeknights.
Second, The Grass Skirt gets the award for the best hidden entrance that I have ever seen. A trait of a great tiki bar is that it be secretive and special, without a view to the outside world. An immersive experience. Super bonus if that means the entrance is disguised! To enter, you go to the Poke shop next door, and check in with the host. When your table is ready, you are led through a door that is disguised as a restaurant walk-in refrigerator in the Poke restaurant kitchen. That’s right, you walk into the kitchen, behind the restaurant cooks, and go into the walk-in. You are then immersed into the dark, tropical world of The Grass Skirt. Genius.
We were seated in the fireplace area, which is open air while still being closed off from the outside. The tiki fireplace is an impressive work of art and ambiance.
Our server was over-the-top fantastic. She chatted with us quite a bit, and was very knowledgeable about the cocktail menu. We told her we had our own basement tiki bar at home, and she seemed excited to have people who really appreciate the drinks and experience of tiki. She even brought us a couple shots on the house in complementary souvenir shot glasses–“Johnny’s Bananas,” a chiled, house-infused banana rum, and “Batida Time,” a tequila guava aperitif. Both were delicious.
On to the drinks:
Paddy tried the Oaxacan Dead, a different version of the cocktail we just had at Miss B’s Coconut Club. I started with The Grass Skirt Daiquiri, which had Navy Strength Rum, pineapple rum, lime, and smoked salt. A fruitier version of the classic daquiri. The Oaxacan Dead was a very different, fruitier, rum version (as opposed to tequila). It was just as delicious, however I think I prefer the tequila flavor for this drink.
For our next round I tried the W.W.Z., with rhum agricole, pomegranate, lime, cinnamon, and absinthe among other rums and ingredients. It was complex and boozy, very classic tiki. Paddy had the Kona Old-Fashioned, a rum version of the classic Old-Fashioned: aged rum, macadamia nut liqueur, and Bittermans xocolatl mole bitters. This one blew us away so much that we went out and bought a bottle of Trader Vic’s Macadamia Nut Liqueur when we got home so that we could enjoy these in our home bar. The Kona Old-Fashioned is slightly desserty, complex, and buttery with an exotic twist from the bitters. Definitely recommend!
The music at the Grass Skirt was a little more modern (there was even a DJ setting up when we left). False Idol gets the edge as far as a classic tiki experience goes, but both tiki bars are fantastic. Don’t miss these on your San Diego trip–and be sure to make a reservation.
Day 3: North Park and Relaxing on Shelter Island
On our last day, we opted to take it slow and not attempt to do All The Things. We could have explored Ocean Beach, or Old Town, or checked out more of Little Italy and the Gaslamp District. However, we were on vacation and we felt the need to relax and enjoy life. We would love to come back and see more of San Diego on our next trip.
When I visit a new city, I try to find a fun neighborhood to explore with fun shops, record stores, vintage clothing, etc. It looked like the North Park neighborhood had a lot of those things. After breakfast burritos at Portside Coffee and Gelato up the street from Humphrey’s, we called an Uber to check out North Park.
To be honest, we found North Park a little disappointing. Many shops were closed and boarded up (pandemic casualties, most likely). The record store we wanted to go to was closed (despite Google Maps stating that it was open).
Artelexia : Shop specializing in Mexican gifts, crafts, home goods, and other fun things.
The Girl Can’t Help It : Vintage clothing and accessories. I’m not going to lie, you need to have a fat wallet to shop here. However, it’s a pretty amazing little collection and worth a peek if you like vintage.
Lucha Libre Tacos : One of two locations in San Diego, this taco shop has delicious tacos and burritos, and (dare I say?) “instagram worthy” interior. Hot pink walls and gold glitter vinyl booths? Yes please. Try the San Diego style burritos with French fries instead of rice for a true local experience.
After our jaunt over to North Park, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pool at Humphrey’s.
For dinner, we had plans of checking out Mitch’s Seafood in Shelter Island as we had read rave reviews. Unfortunately, so had everyone else. The line was very long, and the harried staff was trying to clean up the dining area and convey to everyone that it was at least an hour wait. It was a little windy and chilly, and after one douchebag thought it was perfectly fine to be the “place holder” in line for his family of 17 who all showed up and butted into the line in front of everyone else, we left.
Tip: Go to Mitch’s Seafood on a weeknight instead, and maybe be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Not wanting to drop a fortune on dinner, we walked back and opted for a deck table at Ketch Grill and Taps. This turned out to be a happy accident, as Ketch had a very short wait, a beautiful open air deck with heaters and a nice view of the harbor. There were even some affordable menu options.
Paddy sampled one of their house-brewed beers, and I tried a pineapple margarita (it was delicious). For dinner we had the Ketch of the Day as a sandwich. This was a choice of three different fishes with several options of cooking styles, and two sides. For $17.50 it was an affordable dinner option and we got a great view. Just watch out for the seagulls–they are very shady and will try to sample an unattended plate.
We are excited to return to San Diego again and see more of this beautiful city. Stay tuned for the next leg of our adventure in Tucson!
Road tripping during COVID: Our two-week road trip through California. Touring the coast, the Redwoods, wine country, and the desert while social distancing and staying safe.
Cancelling our big 10-year anniversary trip to Greece was painful, but all things considered we have been fortunate (so far) in 2020. We both remain employed, healthy, and are able to work from home. We are counting our blessings.
Like many of you, we miss traveling. However, there is no way we are getting on a plane right now nor until there is a vaccine. Being safe and socially responsible are things we take seriously.
That said, we had two weeks of time off booked for September for our Greece trip, and a stay-cation just didn’t have the same luster that it used to. My parents had just sold my childhood home on San Juan Island, WA and moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in July, so we decided to take a road trip to visit them in their new house.
A lot of thought went into this trip and how we would keep ourselves safe. We came up with the following guidelines and preparations:
We would only stay in motels with outdoor entrances or Airbnb houses where we wouldn’t have to share hallways and elevators with others.
We brought our own pillows and comforters to use as hotels only wash the sheets.
We put together a cleaning kit with alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, hand soap, and cleaning products to do a wipe down of high touch surfaces in our accommodations, and to wipe down any other surfaces as we travel
We focused on outdoor attractions only. No museums, restaurants, bars, shops, etc.
We brought a cooler and snacks, and picnicked, got takeout or delivery, or cooked in our Airbnb. Even where indoor dining was open again, we stayed out of restaurants except to pick up food.
We brought a plethora of masks (to coordinate with our outfits of course) and face shields.
Aside from store trips and doctors appointments, my retired parents had been social distancing pretty diligently as well, so visiting them was a calculated risk. It’s been a month since we got home, and no one has COVID so I’ll call it a success.
In addition to COVID, we also had the wildfires on the west coast to contend with. We kept up to date on the fires daily and did a few last-minute plan changes to stay far away from active fire areas.
This trip was a lot more stressful and less carefree than any other trip we’ve taken, but after 6 months cooped up in our house, we had to go on an adventure.
Day 1: Seattle to Crescent City
We set off in the early morning and drove pretty non-stop all day. We had one quick visit to my Grandma’s care home in Albany, OR where we had a social distance visit with her on the patio and ate our sandwiches that we made that morning. We departed I-5 in Grant’s Pass to the 199, passing the famous “Sweet Cron” sign on the 199 highway in southern Oregon.
I hadn’t made a reservation yet for that night, because I kept worrying that we would have to cancel our trip due to COVID or wildfires, and there seemed to be a lot of hotel availability several days before. This was a huge travel failure, as it was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and everyone else apparently had the same plan. I reserved the last crappy room at the Crescent City Motel 6 for $169.00 a night. I’m normally a planner who books way in advance, and for Labor Day weekend I should have known better.
We arrived in Crescent City starving, and I also had the bright idea of getting fish and chips for dinner. Guess what? So did everyone else. We walked to Fisherman’s Restaurant down the road where there were quite a few people waiting for tables or waiting outside. Some people weren’t wearing masks at all, staff was wearing masks under their noses, and we really should have left and gone to the taco stand down the street. But we thought we might be able to just get a quick takeout order.
We were told our order would take about 20 minutes and would be brought out to us when ready. They were very busy and having worked in a restaurant during Labor Day weekend in a tourist town, I know they were doing the best they could. I can’t even imagine having to work in a tourist town restaurant on Labor Day weekend during COVID. Our food finally came out 45 minutes later, and it was a chilly walk back to our crappy Motel 6. The sunset was nice while we waited, but overall the evening was a complete fail.
Day 2: Driving the 101 through the Redwoods
We ate cereal and made coffee in our motel room, and checked out of the Motel 6 as quickly as we could. After yesterday’s travel fail, we were determined to have a better day. Fortunately I had reservations for the rest of our trip, so we had good accommodations to look forward to.
Before we left Crescent City, we gave it one last chance to delight us and went out to the Anchor Way jetty to see if we could spot some sea lions. Crescent City came through for us and there were dozens of fat sea lions sunning themselves on the docks. They were pestering each other and loudly barking and flopping about in big piles. It was amusing to see. The morning sun over Crescent Beach was beautiful, and we felt like today would be a great day.
The coastal drive south on the 101 was beautiful, with lots of beaches and rocky overlooks to the coast below. It wasn’t long before we made it to our first roadside attraction: The Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues at the Trees of Mystery. We did not tour the Trees of Mystery as it was Labor Day Weekend and we wanted to stay away from other people. So this was just a fun photo op.
Further down the 101 we pulled into Klamath to do the “Tour-Thru Tree.” There are a few drive-through trees in the Redwoods, some more expensive than others. Signs in Klamath led us to a small road with a pay booth. No one was at the pay booth, so there was an honor-system pay box requesting $5.00 that we deposited our money into and continued up the road.
The Tour-Thru tree looks like a really tight squeeze, so I got out to take a picture and make sure Paddy got the car through without incident. We have a Nissan Versa and it fit through just fine. Just go slow and straight. It was a little silly but a fun little photo op and break from the highway.
Just south of Stafford, the 101 splits off with a parallel road, called the Avenue of the Giants. This was the second time we had driven this road and it is something you cannot miss if driving through Redwood country in California. The two lane road winds through towering redwood trees, with lots of places to pull off and picnic, take photos, or just get out and stare in awe at these ancient, magnificent works of nature.
Also, there’s a giant ear of corn.
Our magical Avenue of the Giants tour was only slightly hazy from the wildfire smoke near Sonoma, and the temperature was perfect. Our stopping point for the night was Ukiah. When we got further south towards Ukiah, we stepped out at a rest stop and were hit by a 100+ degree heat wave. We were definitely heading into the lower valley.
We had a reservation at the Ukiah Quality Inn, which seemed to be the highest rated motel in the area at a reasonable rate. It was a refreshing change from the Crescent City Motel 6.
*Pro tip: not all chain hotel locations are created equal. I’ve stayed in the Walla Walla Motel 6 which was fine, and the Austin airport Quality Inn which was horrendous. Check reviews.
With COVID, 109 degree temperatures, and poor air quality due to the wildfire smoke, we spent the evening in our room and ordered delivery from Super Taco on Door Dash. It was excellent, we would definitely recommend their food.
Our Redwoods adventure day made up for our Crescent City travel fail.
Day 3: Ukiah to The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo
A few weeks before this trip, I was planning a re-route to avoid the wildfires near Monterey and Big Sur where we originally planned on going. Somehow I stumbled upon the website for The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, and wondered how in the world I had never heard of this place. It became a major destination focus on this trip. Be sure to reserve in advance, their themed rooms are pretty popular.
We continued our drive on the 101 south and opted to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, since we had never done that before. Had we not been in a pandemic, we would have planned for a couple days in San Francisco going to Tiki bars and seeing the sights, but we’ll have to save that for another trip.
The weather got hazier as we drove further south. We stopped for a quick lunch at El Pollo Loco in Salinas. It’s a chain we’d never eaten at before and we were impressed. We loved their salad with avocado dressing and the chicken was bomb. We had to eat in our car though, which was hot and kind of messy. Se la vie in COVID times.
After a long day we finally arrived at The Madonna Inn. I was so excited.
What can I say about the Madonna Inn? Well, it’s eccentric. It was built in 1958 by Alex and Phyllis Madonna, and each room has a different theme and decor. Phyllis Madonna loves the color pink, which is everywhere in the hotel from the mid-century style Steakhouse to the signature goblets for sale in the gift shop, to the signature Pink Champagne cake in the on-site bakery. Some of the rooms are also very pink forward, such as ours:
Behold the Carin Room:
Pink glitter wallpaper. Need I say more?
Having booked the room in advance of our trip, we packed some fun outfits because if you have a hotel room like this you HAVE to do a photo shoot, right? Right.
Paddy was a good sport.
Fun fact: The Grimes music video for her song “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” was filmed at the Madonna Inn and in the Carin room:
The awesome thing about the Madonna Inn was that all the rooms have outdoor access, so no elevators or hallways to worry about during COVID. Be aware that some of the rooms (like this one) are only accessible by stairs, so if you are mobility-challenged be sure to ask which ones are best for you before booking.
After checking in and doing our epic pink glitter room photo shoot, we put on masks and explored the hotel grounds. There were lots of signs around telling guests to wear masks outside of their hotel rooms, and most people complied. Check in only allowed two people into the office check in at a time (not a problem, no one was there when we arrived except the front desk workers).
Most people were wearing masks in the indoor areas in the hotel (bakery, main lobby and gift shop) but a few had masks pulled down under their noses and on their chins, and two ladies kept taking them off altogether. So selfish.
The Goldrush Steakhouse interior was closed for indoor dining, with outdoor dining open. We will definitely have to come back here after COVID. Those pink booths are amazing.
We stopped to admire the cakes at the on-site bakery.
We ordered dinner to go from the Gold Rush Steakhouse. The menu is pretty old style mid-century steakhouse, and nothing on there intrigued me, especially for the high prices. It was hot, so we got some salads and a slice of the pink champagne cake. I feel like dropping the dough on a full steakhouse dinner experience would only be worth it if you were dining in that magnificent steakhouse. We’ll save that for a post-pandemic visit.
The salads were not memorable, but the cake was. We ate dinner and watched a hazy sunset from one of our room’s two balconies and enjoyed some pink champagne and wine.
We also learned that glitter wallpaper really comes alive at night. It felt so fancy to drink pink champagne amongst all the sparkles!
Side note–the bed in the Carin room has seen A LOT of action. It wasn’t very comfortable. For the price we would expect better, and I hope they upgrade the mattress. Not sure if every room has an old worn out mattress or if the Carin room does because it is one of the most popular.
After the pandemic, we would like to come back and enjoy all the Madonna Inn has to offer–the steakhouse, horseback riding, and the magnificent beach-style walk in pool. But for now, the Carin room was exciting enough and we stayed safe. I can’t decide if my next top room choice will be the Hearts and Flowers room or the Blue Romance room. Stay tuned!
Days 4 and 5: Paso Robles Wine Country
The Copper Cafe breakfast looked expensive and boring, so we just ate the breakfast options we brought in our cooler. The wildfire smoke was pretty bad, and our car was covered in ash. We were headed a half hour drive away to a little Airbnb house in Paso Robles wine country, but couldn’t check in until 1:00. We decided to drive over to Pismo Beach to take a look at the California coast. But first, we stopped into the Madonna Inn bakery to get two slices of cake for the road. Their cake is out of this world! If you don’t stay there, at least stop by for cake.
We pretty much just got out of the car and looked at the smoky beach (it was actually a sunny day–those clouds are actually all smoke and ash). I guess at least it wasn’t crowded during the pandemic? I had a plan for us to walk on the beach and do a picnic lunch here, but it was best to not be outside breathing the hazardous air and it wasn’t much to look at with all the smoke.
We hit up the San Luis Obispo Whole Foods and picked up lunch and groceries for dinner, along with some local wine and headed to Paso Robles.
Our Airbnb house was adorable. It was a guest house on a gated private property, with grapes growing in the front yard, nice views and a pool. Paso Robles was a higher elevation than the coast, so we were able to get out of the worst of the wildfire smoke.
It was 95 degrees, so I went and took a quick dip in the pool. It wasn’t heated and was mostly in the shade so it cooled me right off! However, even in 95 degree heat it wasn’t comfy enough to swim in for very long. It was nice to read in the pool loungers, however.
After doing so much driving for the past three days, we were ready to have some down time. We cooked some delicious halibut for dinner and some of the Madonna Inn raspberry white chocolate cake for dessert and binge watched Netflix.
Exploring wine country
The next morning, the wildfire smoke made its way up to our elevation so my lovely day of sunning myself by the pool was not going to pan out. It wasn’t as hot which was nice, but it left us without a lot to do but hang out and relax. We’re good at that though.
If we weren’t in a pandemic (and multiple wildfires), I would have had a whole afternoon of wine tasting planned, possibly with a wine tour for safe transport to the many wineries in the area. I felt like we had to taste some wine, so prior to the trip I had researched some wineries open on Wednesdays (many are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), that had COVID-safe plans. We selected Niner Wine Estates. Their tastings during COVID are reservation only, are outdoor only with wide spacing between tables, and masks are required at all times except when seated at your table. In addition, they sanitize each table between guests, and have all the tastings poured for you when you are seated, so as to limit your server having to come to your table very often. All the servers wore masks.
We felt very safe. We were greeted outdoors by a masked host who offered us a welcome tasting of wine outside seated far from the entrance area. He took our wine tasting order (one white flight and one red) and once our table was sanitized and all our tastings poured, we were shown to our seats.
We chose the last tasting reservation of the day at 3:00 PM, partly because we wanted there to be as few people as possible, and partly because I had a lovely plan of driving around the countryside looking at vineyards in the late afternoon sun and taking lovely photos.
Unfortunately, the late afternoon sun/lovely photos part was ruined by the wildfire smoke. However, the vineyards were still pretty and the winery had very few people visiting.
We enjoyed the cabernet and the chardonnay the best at Niner, and bought a bottle of each to take with us. They had a nice looking menu as well, but we planned on getting take out in town.
We did a drive around the vineyards despite the smoke and back to town. It was really nice and we would love to come back and do wine tasting again sometime after the pandemic.
For dinner we got take out from La Cosecha in Paso Robles town. Outdoor dining was allowed, and restaurants had spilled their tables out onto the sidewalks and parking spaces in town to create socially-distanced dining. We still weren’t comfortable with this due to so many people walking by, some without masks. We ordered several small plates for takeout: the grilled octopus, the seared scallops, the fried “bombas”, and the beet salad. Everything was excellent. We would love to come back and dine in again after the pandemic.
Day 6: Long driving day to Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Thursday morning, we got an early start on the road for our long day of driving to my parents’ house in Lake Havasu City. The smoke was still bad, and got worse around Bakersfield.
We passed a really bad semi truck flip blocking the entire two-lane highway 58. I think we arrived just after it happened, traffic was beginning to back up for miles. I think the driver was okay, there were people walking around the crash outside on cell phones. Gasoline was leaking all over the road. Hopefully no one threw a cigarette out the window. Yikes.
It was a pretty bland road trip day overall. Lunch was a Del Taco drive-through stop in Barstow. Our one and only roadside attraction on today’s agenda was the Mohave Trails National Monument on part of old route 66, in the “town” of Amboy. The plan was to detour off highway 40 onto highway 66 and then re-join the 40 down the road, but there was a detour and we were directed straight off the 40 cutting over to Amboy on Kelbaker Road. It was an old, poorly maintained road through the desert which was a little nerve-wracking. I had flat tire nightmare panic the whole time. However, we were fine.
The Mohave Trails National Monument wasn’t much to see from the road. It was actually a nature preserve that is good for hiking and exploration with an off-road vehicle.
However, we got an awesome historical shot of old Route 66 and a rad mid-century motel and cafe. I want to come back and check out Roy’s cafe after the pandemic.
We made it to my parent’s house in Lake Havasu City, Arizona late that afternoon and spent time relaxing.
Days 7-8: Drive to Oatman, Arizona and some relaxing pool time
My parents took us on a drive on part of old route 66 through a winding canyon with a lot of harpin turns that was nerve-wracking, but beautiful. The drive took us through the old west town of Oatman, Arizona which is known for the wild donkeys that roam the town and surrounding area.
The town is about one block long, and full of touristy shops and saloons, and of course–donkeys. Tourists buy food pellets for the donkeys and feed them in the street, which keeps the donkeys coming back often for free lunch.
Unfortunately there were a lot of tourists without masks, so we didn’t get to explore the shops while we were there. We managed to catch a group of donkeys alone and got out to say hi. They were very sweet.
We spent the afternoon and the next day relaxing in my parents’ pool and enjoying some family time in their new house.
Day 9: Yucca Valley, California
We said goodbye to my parents and began our journey back west to California. Our last stop on the trip was an Airbnb house in Yucca Valley for three nights, which is near Joshua Tree National Park.
The drive from Lake Havasu to Joshua Tree was only about three hours, and we made it to the Joshua Tree area by lunch time. We stopped for lunch at Andrea’s Charbroiled Burgers in Twentynine Palms. Andrea’s had outdoor tables set up in their parking lot with canopy tents for shade. No one else was at the restaurant (from the dishes on the tables it looked like their lunch rush had just ended), so we decided to eat there. It was a lot more comfortable than trying to eat in our hot car and there wasn’t anyone around besides the two restaurant workers who were wearing masks. The burgers were good, I would highly recommend Andrea’s over the fast food chain options in Twentynine Palms.
Our next stop was in the town of Joshua Tree to see the World Famous Crochet Museum. Back in a lot by an art gallery, one woman’s crochet obsession occupies an old photo processing booth. It is tiny but amazing, full of interesting and colorful crocheted items. It’s free, but there is a donation can with a $0.25 suggested donation. I’m obsessed with unusual museums and this collection is definitely worth the stop in my opinion.
Our last roadside attraction for the day was the Desert Christ Park in Yucca Valley. The park is a collection of white statues of Jesus and biblical figures in the foothills of the desert, installed in the 1950’s. It’s an interesting and unexpected sight and also free to visit.
We arrived to our Airbnb in Yucca Valley promptly at check-in time, anxious to see this unusual house that looked so intriguing in the photos.
The house is called The Ancestor, and was built by hand with materials from the surrounding desert by an architect in the 1970’s. The house truly was a work of art.
The Ancestor had a pretty large plot of property covered in Joshua trees, with a large deck on the upper level perfect for having margaritas and watching the sunset. There was a shallow wading pool (not heated) in the front, and an awesome enclosed courtyard hangout area off the kitchen with a gas firepit. The house had so many interesting little details and the hosts provided extra touches like upscale bath products and incense. The house also has a hot tub in an enclosed sunroom area that can be opened up to the outside. It was hands-down one of the most magnificent and unique places we’d ever stayed.
We went into town to pick up some groceries for our stay, margarita mix and tequila, and some takeout BBQ for dinner from Dickey’s BBQ.
Not only was Dickey’s BBQ delicious, they were set up perfectly for COVID safe pick up. Their tables were arranged in a square in the center of the restaurant, with direction for one way in and one way out, as well as 6 ft spacing signs for waiting in line. The staff wore masks and once we paid, they directed us to sit on the side bench to wait, and then deposited our order on the table instead of handing to us to maintain social distancing. We highly recommend their ribs and the turkey.
We spent the evening enjoying margaritas from the deck of The Ancestor and watching the sunset.
Days 10-11: Cabazon Dinosaurs and Yucca Valley relaxation
Our main intention in Yucca Valley was to get some sunshine and relaxation in before heading back to the rainy Seattle weather and an indefinite amount of quarantine in our house. However, we decided to get one more COVID-safe excursion in: The Cabazon Dinosaurs.
The Cabazon Dinosaurs is more of a roadside photo-op than anything else, and at $13 per person the park was a little small. You can walk through it in 15 minutes. However, it is all outdoors, and masks and social distancing were required. The giant T-Rex in the front of the park that you can see from the road has a stairwell up to a lookout from his mouth. We didn’t do that though, as we didn’t know if we would have to pass other people or be in a tight space with people.
Overall, it was a fun little excursion and provided for some great photos.
We spent the rest of the day and the next day relaxing on the property, getting some sun in the splash pool, and enjoying the desert before our drive home.
Quick tip about Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley: It is consistently 10 degrees cooler in Joshua Tree and the high desert than down in Palm Springs. The temperature stayed at 95 while Palm Springs was over 100 when we were there.
In addition, the wildfire smoke was much worse in the lower elevation areas in and around Palm Springs. We had almost booked a house with a pool in Palm Springs but were really glad we didn’t. The air was a bit hazy in Yucca Valley but the higher elevation kept it from being really bad.
Days 12-13: Long, smoky drive home
The wildfires in Oregon were really bad while we were on this trip, and there were large fires up and down the I-5 corridor through Oregon, causing hazardous smoke. In addition, many hotels were occupied by wildfire evacuees. We decided the best thing to do would be to drive home in two days instead of three, which meant 11 hours per day of driving, but no stops in fire-ravaged Oregon.
Our first day we drove from Yucca Valley to Redding, California. It was a pretty long, brutal day. We managed to make one roadside attraction stop at the giant olive in Corning, CA:
We rolled into the Thunderbird Lodge in Redding, CA tired and hungry. The Thunderbird Lodge is a re-vamped vintage motor lodge. It was average and clean.
Northern California was allowing dining in restaurants, and restaurants and bars were packed with people not wearing masks. I stopped at a Japanese restaurant nearby to try and order something to go, but left immediately after a large group of people without any masks whatsoever walked in and stood right next to me.
We ended up getting some gross takeout salads from a bar near the motel, getting side-eye glances from anti-maskers in the bar when we asked to wait for our food outside.
The next morning, we hit a Starbucks drive through (masks worn), but noticed customers not doing the Starbucks employees the courtesy of wearing masks at the drive through. We made one final stop in Redding before hitting the road at a gas station to fuel up and get some ice. There was a large “masks required” sign on the door to the gas station, but the two employees inside were not wearing masks, nor was the customer who walked in while I was in there. Overall, Redding was a pretty bad experience.
The drive through Oregon was so smoky we had to wear our masks inside the car for parts of the drive near Roseburg and Eugene areas. It was sad to see some neighborhoods demolished by fire from the freeway, and large portions of scorched land. I felt so sad for all the people affected by the fire. Businesses and homes lost, animals and even some human fatalities.
We were so happy to have been able to get out and get in a travel adventure this year. We miss traveling a lot, but we won’t be getting back on a plane until there is a vaccine or the virus is down to a dull whisper. This trip gave us lots of ideas of things we want to come back and see in California post-pandemic. We definitely will be visiting the Madonna Inn again, and we would love to spend some time in San Francisco and LA.
Stay safe out there. Mask up and protect your community. We will get through this.
I did a big grocery shopping run a couple days before the panic started. Hearing about the COVID-19 virus in the news, my state (Washington) with the first reported cases, was making me uneasy. I had checked my emergency supplies bin the weekend prior, and found all our supplies floating in moldy water. A couple gallons of water had burst and ruined most of the items in it. (I no longer store water in the emergency bin).
The grocery store was pretty calm, there was plenty of toilet paper, just no hand sanitizer left. I replenished my emergency food and medicine stock, adding some extra soups, Kleenex, and cold medicines in case we got the virus.
Three days later, the first person in the US died of COVID (in WA), and the panic started. By the next week, deaths were a daily occurrence as the virus ravaged a nursing home in Kirkland, WA. My boss, our general manager, and I came up with a plan for everyone in our office to work from home (fortunately everyone was mostly set up for that already). I re-routed all our company mail to my house, packed up my office chair and a large monitor and some supplies, and went home. Initially we figured we’d be back in April. Probably. I mean, this HAS to go away soon. Right?
Obviously, that was not the case.
Paddy and I stayed home and became increasingly afraid of the outside world. We are both privileged to have office jobs in essential businesses that are still doing okay and very lucky to both be able to work from home. We have a large house with an attic and a basement where we can work far away from each other and not disturb each other. We also have a great relationship and after months of pretty much only hanging out with each other, we still enjoy each other’s company. We are fortunate in many, many ways.
Initially, I think we all thought this would be over by summer. We cheered ourselves up by deciding to take this “down time” to get projects done, embark on hobbies, start a garden. (We didn’t join the sourdough bread-making bandwagon, but we considered it). I bought planters for our deck and planted vegetables. I utilized my attic art studio and completed two paintings, the first in 4 years. I canned a big batch of pickled green beans using dill from my deck herb garden. I made a fantastic carrot cake for Easter (it was SO good), and we watched old 80’s movies. We did a bi-weekly Zoom call with some friends and started a Netflix party movie group for Friday nights. I did daily walks on the treadmill while watching travel vlogs on YouTube during my lunch breaks.
There were dark days, though. There were a few days where I found myself curled up into a ball on the daybed next to my makeshift folding-table desk, crying. I was sad and scared, and sometimes “making the best of it” wasn’t possible. I felt guilty for being sad when so many others had fallen on much harder and scarier times than me. I am someone with an income, a house, and a job that didn’t require me to interact with the public. Our families were doing okay and taking the virus seriously. I did have to take a 3-month 5% pay cut, but that was minimal considering I was no longer spending time and money on gas and tolls to commute to work.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression all of my adult life. For the most part, I am able to stave it off with medication and lots of planning. Before the pandemic, I was always planning a big annual trip, as well as several parties and mini-getaways. As long as I had something to look forward to and plan, there was a reason to get through another work week. Paddy and I are very social, and sometimes had to schedule weekends for down time with no plans, as our weekends were always full.
Now, I can no longer plan. No parties, no social events, no concerts or shows. I’ve lost that coping mechanism. It became clearer and clearer that our big “second honeymoon” in Greece in September for our 10 year wedding anniversary was not going to happen, after I had spent months meticulously researching, planning, and booking everything. In May, I went ahead and cancelled the trip. We lost a small amount of money, but got most of it back or credited until 2022. I have a 2020 calendar in our kitchen with scenes from the Greek Islands. It now makes me sad.
In May there was a glimmer of hope as the virus numbers began to curve downward. I didn’t have any hope of parties or travel again until a vaccine was widely distributed, but maybe things would get safer. Scientists came to the conclusion that masks stop the spread and are necessary, and a lot of people got on board with that. I read a news story about two hair stylists in Missouri who worked with COVID symptoms for a week after restrictions were lifted. Both the stylists and customers wore masks the whole time, and no one got infected. If we all wear masks, maybe we can beat this!
Of course, that hope got ripped apart, stomped on, and set on fire as many states threw caution to the wind, opening up everything willy-nilly, and hoards of non-mask wearing people began having Memorial Day BBQs and pool parties. Some states never closed down much to begin with. While New Yorkers, reeling from the worst of the US pandemic began wearing masks and face shields, people in Florida began going to night clubs and bars. A woman I worked with at another company location who had been out sick for a month passed away of COVID.
No longer temporary
Realizing that we would be in this for the long haul, we purchased real desks from IKEA via curbside pick-up, replacing our makeshift folding table and tv tray office set ups. I ordered masks in fun prints, which piled up on the dining room cabinet. It became clear that a permanent mask storage solution would be needed, so I bought a hanging basket to store them.
I started a project transferring old VHS family home movies and embarrassing middle school lip sync videos to digital. I bought a hammock. I am growing out my natural hair color for the first time since I was 14. I wear yoga pants. I no longer bother to lint roll off the sweater of cat hair off my clothes when I make my bi-weekly trip to the grocery store, because fuck it.
Acceptance. It’s one of the stages of grief.
The world exploded
As the virus numbers climbed more and more sharply, the criminally negligent (and perhaps willful?) killing of George Floyd by a police officer caused an explosion of protest and outrage in Seattle and across the country. This death shortly after the murder of Breonna Taylor in March, and Ahmaud Arbery in February—two other unarmed black Americans, was a tipping point for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Grief turned into overwhelming anxiety about the state of our country. Emboldened racism, our doomed economy, and a president who fancies himself a dictator cannot be a good recipe for the future. I’m not sure we can even rule out the possibility of civil war at this point. The November election may break us. I am terrified about it.
The world closed its borders to Americans, seeing that our leadership was proving incapable of getting the virus under control, and Americans are too selfish to care about others. The term “ugly American” took on a whole new level of meaning.
Today, there was a headline about another unarmed black man shot seven times in the back by police in Wisconsin, in front of his children. The state of California is on fire, there are two hurricanes headed one after the other to the southeastern states, and there are a lot of shady things going on with USPS in advance of the election. We have passed 170,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US.
There is so much to love about the US. But right now, we are broken. I am trying to hold onto hope that we will find a path forward and out of this dark time. It is really hard to stay positive when a good news headline comes only once in a very, very blue moon.
Depression and anxiety go hand in hand, the latter usually preceding the former. Depression to me feels like floating deeper and deeper out to sea. You can see the land (healthy mental state), and most of the time you can beat the current and swim back. Sometimes the current is strong though, and it gets harder and harder to get back to safety.
2020 is a lost year. I hope that we can only go up from here. I hope you are doing okay. I don’t have any answers, or anything profound to say right now. There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said. If you aren’t okay, please reach out to your friends and family for help. Take it one day at a time.
One week in Portugal in November: Lisbon, Sintra, Evora, and a wine tour in the Setubal Peninsula. Crazy castles, a cathedral made of human bones, delicious food and wine, and beautiful historic architecture.
We have several friends who have done a big trip around Spain and Portugal, or Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, etc. All of them spent most of their time in Spain, and allowed just a couple days for a stop in Portugal. All of them came back saying they wished they had spent way more time in Portugal.
We were looking for somewhere to go for a one week trip over Thanksgiving week, and Portugal’s food, low prices, and gorgeous historical buildings lured us in. There aren’t any direct flights to Portugal from Seattle, but it was 100% worth the layover and a little extra travel time . Portugal is one of the most affordable countries in Western Europe–we got a great apartment on HomeAway for only $66.00 USD per night. The food was some of the best we’ve ever had, and everyone was really friendly. English is widely spoken and we had no trouble getting around. If you know some Spanish you will be able to decipher some of the signs and restaurant menus that are in Portuguese, and some phrases and words are similar to Spanish. Don’t try to speak Spanish though, most people we met spoke English as a second language over Spanish.
If you are visiting Lisbon or Sintra, you should be prepared for the hills. If Google Maps tells you your route in Lisbon is “mostly flat,” it’s lying. What it means is that your route goes up and down like a roller coaster, including one or two blocks with the steepest hill you’ve ever climbed in your life. If you’re not good with lots of hiking, don’t stress. Uber is available in both Lisbon and Sintra and is really affordable. There were several times when we were tired and called an Uber back to our apartment from wherever we were in the city, and the cost was only $3.00 USD. If you are in good shape to walk, then it just means you can justify eating more pasteis de nata.
Day 1: Arriving in Lisbon
We took an overnight flight from Seattle to Amsterdam with Delta, and then had a short 2.5 hour flight with KLM from Amsterdam to Lisbon, arriving Friday afternoon.
One thing that made the 10 hour flight from Seattle to Amsterdam tolerable was getting to see the northern lights over Canada from the plane! Horrible photo, I know. It doesn’t nearly do it justice for how gorgeous it was.
For our arrival in Lisbon, we had arranged for an airport pick up with Welcome Pickups, which from my research was only a tiny bit more than getting a taxi, and delivered door to door service. We were even able to share our pick up with our apartment host so that they would get a notification when we were picked up and could track us on the way to the apartment. Our driver was there waiting for us when we got out of customs and everything went really smoothly.
Our apartment was on the third floor of a very classic building on a small street in The Santa Catarina neighborhood. It had a fantastic view.
We really liked the Santa Catarina neighborhood. It is very close to Bairro Alto, the nightlife district but far enough away to be quiet. It also felt pretty local and wasn’t as touristy as the historic Afalma neighboorhood.
After we checked in and unpacked, it was time to venture out to find sustenance. It was 5:00, so a bit early for dinner by Portuguese standards (most restaurants open for dinner at 7:00 pm and people often don’t go out to eat until 8:00 or 9:00). We had read about Time Out Market which was only a short walk away from our apartment, and it sounded like a perfect way to get an introduction to Portuguese food.
Time Out Market is a large and busy market full of many food stalls, wine shops, flower vendors, bakery stalls, etc. During the day there is a food market side as well. Many of the reviews I read about Time Out Market said it was touristy and expensive. It is. However, expensive for Lisbon basically meant that the prices were comparable to Seattle. In addition, the market has many food stalls from Lisbon’s top-rated chefs to give you a quick and less expensive sampling of their cuisine. All the food looked amazing.
After doing a loop around the busy market looking at all the food stalls, we pulled up a stool at Sea Me, as I was lured in by their octopus hot dog.
The octopus hot dog was two perfectly cooked octopus tentacles on a bun, with lettuce, tomato, and garlic sauce. It was delicious. Paddy had a salmon dish that was also outstanding.
As much as we wanted to eat everything in the market, we only had room for one more small thing after that, so we tried some croquettes and beers at the Croqueteria, which were also delicious.
Not sure what to do for breakfast the next morning, we picked up 6 mini pies from Chef, a stall in the center of the market (they were amazing).
We ended our tour of Time Out Market with some wine tasting at a little wine shop and bought a bottle of wine to take back to the apartment. Lack of sleep and jet lag were taking their tolls, so we made it an early night.
Day 2: Exploring Castelo de Sao Jorge and the historic Afalma neighborhood
After a full night’s sleep and eating our mini pies, we ventured out and found some excellent coffee around the corner from our apartment at The Mill.
Once we were fully caffeinated, we called an Uber to Castelo de Sao Jorge, one of the largest tourist attractions in Lisbon.
It was recommended in online forums that I read to Uber to the castle, tour it first thing in the morning, and then explore the historic Afalma neighborhood below (walking downhill). I would whole-heartedly second that recommendation. Uber was really inexpensive (only $2-$7 USD per ride just about anywhere we wanted to go in the city), and it’s best to explore the City of the Seven Hills by starting at the top of a hill, and working your way down.
Castelo de Sao Jorge has had a long and interesting history. The Castle was originally built by the Romans in 200 BC, later occupied by the Visigoths between 480-714 BC, and then the Moors from North Africa from 714-1147. It was later taken over during the Christian Crusades, and became a power stronghold for Portugal through the middle ages. In 1755 it was destroyed by the big earthquake in Lisbon and wasn’t restored until 1938.
Admission is €10 per adult, and most of your visit to the castle will be exploring the exterior grounds. There is an interior area that has been turned into a museum with excavated pottery and other items from throughout the castle’s history, Roman times to the middle ages.
There is a great view of the city from the castle, and a family of peacocks roaming the grounds.
After exploring the castle, we walked into the Afalma neighborhood, which is the oldest part of Lisbon. This is the only area in Lisbon that remained mostly intact after the 1755 earthquake leveled the city. It is a labyrinth of narrow winding streets with azulejo-tiled buildings and cobblestones.
We stopped by the Fiera da Ladra flea market (also called the Theives Market), which is only open on Saturdays and Tuesdays. It was fun to walk through, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it.
For lunch we found a fantastic tapas restaurant in a little alley in Afalma called O Cantinho da Rute. When we asked the owner what he recommended, he said “everything.” While that didn’t help us narrow down our selections, he wasn’t lying. Everything we ordered was fantastic. We had dish with sliced potatoes and hard-boiled eggs with paprika, garbonzo beans with chorizo in a paprika sauce, and prawns drenched in garlic paprika butter. I think they just have a vat of clarified garlic paprika butter in the kitchen that they ladle onto everything. Get bread to mop it up, it is delicious.
For dessert we tried the Portuguese ginjinha, a liqueur infused with sour cherries. It was served in a small cup made of chocolate. Most restaurants have ginjinha, or you can find small places serving it from a tiny counter bar off the street. Be sure to order some with dessert, or any time. The Portuguese even drink it in the morning.
After lunch, we walked until we got to the Se Cathedral, another one of the big tourist attractions in Afalma. Entrance is free, but be respectful if there is a service taking place, and be sure you are modestly dressed. The cathedral dates back to the 12th century.
When we got out of the Se, it was starting to rain and we were tired. We called an Uber to take us back to the apartment, which only cost €2.50.
That evening Paddy wanted to find some rock bars to have a drink at. It was really early at 6:00 PM, and not much in Bairro Alto was open yet. We stopped into a tapas bar for a cocktail, then found The Cave. We were the only customers at such a premature hour. Punk music was playing, and they had mediocre sangria. Goths, punks, and metal heads may feel at home here.
We walked around Bairro Alto looking at restaurant menus and finally decided on Cervejaria do Bairro. I tried a traditional Portuguese bacalhau dish (salted cod) with potatoes and greens, and Paddy had the veal. We shared a sardine dish for an appetizer. If you eat seafood, don’t leave Portugal without trying a bacalhau dish and a sardine dish. These items are staples to Portuguese cuisine.
The food at Cervejaria do Barrio was good, but the atmosphere was bland and this meal was probably my least favorite of the trip. Since it was a good meal, that says a lot about Portuguese food.
We had a couple more drinks after dinner at Wasp, a rock bar with a bit more of a classic rock theme. This and The Cave fulfilled Paddy’s rock bar requirement of the trip.
Day 3: Day trip to Evora
One of the number one things on my list for our trip to Portugal was Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of the Bones) in the town of Evora, about 1.5-2 hours outside of Lisbon. This was an easy day trip, and you can either take the train or a bus. The bus has more frequent departure and return options, but we preferred the train.
I purchased train tickets from the Entrecampos station in Lisbon to Evora online before we arrived on https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en/buy-tickets. Note that you need to create an account and enter your passport number when buying train tickets on the site. You can also buy them at the train station. You will show your tickets to the train conductor while in transit, so keep them where you can access them easily.
Evora is a small medieval town with a lot of history. It was occupied by the Romans, then the Moors, and then a Portuguese monarchy in the middle ages. Much of Evora’s medieval buildings are still standing, as well as one ancient Roman ruin in the center of town. Evora looks very different from Lisbon. It is less hilly, and the town sticks to a uniform white and gold color on all of its buildings.
Our train arrived at 11:00 AM, and we proceeded immediately to Capela dos Ossos, a short walk from the train. It was Sunday, and the attached cathedral had a service in session so we just visited the chapel and museum.
Capela dos Ossos was built in the 16th century by a Franciscan friar, using the bones from local cemeteries. It was meant as a contemplation about life and death, believing our time on earth to be one stop on the spiritual transition. At the entrance is an ominous engraved scripture that reads “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” or “We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours.” Some find Capela dos Ossos very morbid. I’m always into the macabre, and seeing human bones does not bother me so much.
The attached museum had mostly medieval art and was mildly interesting but the chapel was the star attraction. We really lucked out on our timing–there were only a few other patrons in the chapel when we were there, but when we walked out there was a huge line to get in. Go early if you can.
We were really hungry, and I had read about a restaurant in Evora specializing in suckling pig called O Parque dos Leitoes. It is on the outside of the town wall near the train station.
We didn’t expect O Parque dos Leitos to be as fancy as it was, but they were able to squeeze us in without a reservation. If you come here, dress up a bit and make a reservation if you can.
O Parque dos Leitoes specializes in pork. In many forms. Legs of cured Iberian ham hang on the wall near the entrance, sliced very thin and delicate and served as an appetizer.
Many small dishes are already on your table when you arrive, and they are not free. They are all listed in the menu, and you tell the waiter which ones you would like to keep (if any). We had the octopus salad. Given the level of white tablecloth fanciness, it felt like ordering wine with lunch was the right thing to do.
We ordered a dish with Iberian black pork medallions, and the suckling pig. Everything was delicious, and the suckling pig skin was crispy and almost candy-like. Both pork dishes were extremely tender. The suckling pig came with potato chips, which I found odd. I would have preferred a vegetable side to go with all that rich pork. The black pork medallions came with tomato bread pudding, which was pretty good but very carb heavy.
There were some mouth-watering pies and cakes in a glass case near the entrance, but we were too full for dessert. If you stay a night or two in Evora, go here for dinner and be sure you arrive hungry.
Re-fueled (perhaps a bit too much), we waddled up the gradual hill back through town to the Roman temple ruins.
It was Sunday, and many of the shops were closed. Most of the ones that were open were tourist shops. We enjoyed just walking around the narrow streets, and listening to a group of singers outside the Sao Joao Evangelista church.
There was an hour and a half to kill before our 4:45 PM train, and it was starting to rain a bit. We walked around in search of a bar or cafe we could go in and have a glass of wine at, but not much was open. We eventually resigned ourselves to waiting at the train station kiosk, but happened by a funky little cafe/bar in the Alkimia Madeirense restaurant right near the train station. It was a beacon of light and we warmed up with Irish coffee until it was time for the train.
*Self-catering tip: One of the best things about the Entrecampos train station in Lisbon is the large Lidl grocery store attached to it. We were tired and still a bit full from our huge lunch, so we thought we’d get some wine and snacks and have a quiet night in. We walked out with two bottles of local wine, bread, cheeses, cured salami, cucumber, tomato, several savory pastries for breakfast, a salad mix and two liters of water for under $18 USD.
*Note on Lisbon groceries: It was actually pretty difficult to find a real grocery store in our neighborhood. There were lots of mini marts but Lidl was the only store we found that was a full size grocery store. If you plan on cooking in your apartment, it’s worth an Uber ride there and back to do one big stock up trip.
Day 4: Day trip to Sintra
The castles of Sintra, particularly Pena Palace, are the most visited tourist attractions in Portugal. Whenever I am set on visiting a very touristy site, I always do a lot of research on how to make it the least horrible experience possible. Based on my research and experience, here is the wisdom I will bestow upon you for Sintra:
Tips for visiting Sintra:
1. If you want to see more than two attractions in Sintra, plan on staying at least two days there. You won’t be able to see them all in a day trip, even though many of them are close together.
2. If you’re visiting Pena Palace, go there first, and go there right when they open. Also, try to visit in the off season if possible. It was packed enough for us in November, I can’t imagine it in June.
3. Buy your tickets online in advance for Pena Palace. If you don’t get your tickets in advance, there is an automated ticket machine that had no line that takes cards with four digit PIN numbers only. Otherwise, be prepared to stand in a long line at the ticket counter, and then another long line to get in.
4. Don’t even think about walking to the castles from Sintra town. We did not make this mistake, but from what I read, many others have. It is a huge hike up a mountain. Take an Uber or the tourist bus.
5. If you’re doing a day trip from Lisbon, take an Uber. I read a lot about how easy it is to take the train from Lisbon, then the tourist bus up the hill to the castles. When I added up the cost of an Uber to the train station in Lisbon, then the train tickets for both of us to Sintra, then the tourist bus tickets up the mountain to the castles, it worked out to be almost the same as an Uber ride. The Uber picked us up at our apartment in Lisbon and dropped us right off at the entrance to Pena Palace. It was $30 USD each way. Quick and easy.
We had a fantastic Uber driver to Pena Palace. I was worried we might get someone grumpy about driving 40 minutes out of town, but he was very talkative and gave us lots of tips for visiting Sintra.
We hadn’t bought tickets in advance unfortunately, and when we arrived there was already a long line at the ticket booth before it was even open. Our Uber drive suggested that we walk a little ways back down the hill to the tourist office and get our tickets there and walk back up to avoid the line. We were about to do that when we noticed two ATM-style ticket machines with no one using them. We walked up to them and got behind one other tourist who successfully purchased tickets. You just need a credit or debit card with a four digit PIN number to use the machine. We were stoked that we didn’t have to wait in the long line.
What we didn’t know, was that you can opt for shuttle tickets up to the castle from the entry gate, which we did not opt for. There is, of course, a line for said shuttle as well. Given that and that we were out of shape yet able-bodied, we climbed up the steep hill to the castle. I had to take a few breaks. But we made it.
The palace is a thing to behold.
Pena Palace began as a monastery in the 1500s, later built into the colorful Disney castle type structure in the 1800s by King Ferdinand. Following the death of King Ferdinand, the palace was opened to the public as a museum in 1911. It was classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape along with the entire town of Sintra in 1995.
You can tour just the castle grounds and the surrounding park by itself, or you can tour the grounds and the castle interior. The castle interior requires a full ticket and your ticket will be checked again at the castle entrance if you have opted for this option (don’t throw it away).
The interior of the castle was interesting, but the exterior was the most amazing part. The level of detail and eccentricity was mind-boggling. There were so many details to look at, and each part of the exterior was different.
Pena Palace is the busiest tourist attraction in Portugal, but it is cool enough to be worth braving the crowds.
There are several other attractions in Sintra: The Moorish Castle, The Palace of Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira, Queluz Palace, The National Palace of Sintra, and several other parks and gardens. We knew we’d really only have the time (and energy) for two attractions, so after reviewing our options, we chose Quinta da Regaleira as our second stop. Quinta da Regaleira is not far from Pena Palace, it is at the bottom of the mountain near town. We were able to get an Uber pretty quickly from outside the main entrance of the Palace down to Quinta da Regaleira.
Quinta da Regaleira is also a palace, along with a chapel in a gothic architectural style. However, the palace is less the main attraction than the property itself. There are lakes, grottoes, tunnels and caves, and various towers and structures around the property. It is gorgeous and very unique. Plan on spending some time outdoors here exploring.
One of the most interesting parts of the property at Quinta da Regaleira is the Initiation Well, an inverted tower. I had seen pictures of it but didn’t know what to expect until we were there. A sign told us it was one-way only, single file entrance through a tiny door in the side of a rock formation at the top of a hill.
After waiting for several young ladies holding up the line to get the perfect Instagram photos (insert eye roll here), we began our descent down the spiral tower, not having any idea where we would end up.
We ended up in a series of underground cave tunnels. It took us a few minutes to figure out the best way out, but it was fun! Such a crazy, unique place. Apparently the tunnels and well were used for Tarot initiation ceremonies…whatever those entailed.
We had worked up an appetite by the time we had finished touring Quinta da Regaleira, and fortunately it was only a short walk from there to a tapas restaurant I’d scoped out online.
Tascantiga did not disappoint. Sort of like sushi restaurants, they provide you with a paper menu with quantity boxes and a pencil to fill out your selections. Most dishes are small and meant to be shared, so you can order several of them. The atmosphere was cute, with mis-matched dining chairs and cheerful colors. There was an outdoor patio for nice weather.
Everything was delicious, and we wished we could have tried more of their dishes. If you’re visiting the attractions of Sintra, this is a great lunch stop.
After lunch we felt like we had done a major hike up a mountain from all the climbing up hills and stairs and walking around the palaces, so we called an Uber back to our Lisbon apartment for a nap.
Later in the evening, we went for dinner at Os Bons Malandros in Bairro Alto. We were the first people there when they opened at 7:00 because we’re American and we eat early like that. We took the advice of the owner and many reviewers on Tripadvisor and ordered the avocado tuna dish, the prawns, and a dish with goat cheese wrapped in phyllo pastry with red pepper jam. Paddy ordered a steak which came with potatoes and creamed spinach.
The tuna that everyone raved about on Tripadvisor was even better than I expected it to be. I was expecting a straight ceviche-style tuna with avocado, but it was sort of a hybrid ceviche/Hawaiian poke flavor. There was a refreshing lime flavor as well as a sesame oil flavor that was not too overpowering. It came with two “mojito balls” on spoons to give a burst of mojito flavor prior to eating the tuna.
The prawns were the best I’ve ever had, and that’s not an exaggeration. They were HUGE, and tasted like little lobsters. Cooked perfectly and very tender, with a very flavorful sauce. Paddy also enjoyed his steak, and the goat cheese…well, how can you go wrong with goat cheese in phyllo pastry? It was delicious.
As it was early on a Monday and there weren’t many customers, the owner chatted with us a bit and was very fun to talk to. He recommended some fantastic local port wine for dessert.
Go here for a quiet, relaxing dinner and be sure to order the tuna and the prawns.
A trip to Portugal isn’t complete without listening to some live Fado music. Fado is a traditional Portuguese style of music, usually involving a singer and a guitar or two, signing mournful, soulful, melancholy songs. Being fans of Anthony Bourdain, we followed in his footsteps to A Tasca do Chico in Bairro Alto.
The secret’s out at A Tasca do Chico, so be prepared to wait in a line at the door. The place is tiny, and people are packed in like sardines. The doors are closed during performances, which last about three songs before the doors open again, giving people a chance to leave and others to come in. We waited about 15 minutes before we were ushered in by the doorkeeper. He didn’t speak English but we deducted that he was telling us to go to the bar. We ordered glasses of wine and then he told us to stand near the door (the only available standing space) while the guitar players and singer set up. The doors closed, and the music began.
The music was beautiful, and the place was really cozy. Had we had a seat and had there not been a line of people anxious to see the Fado performances outside in the rain, we could have easily sat and enjoyed the music all evening. But we wanted to give others a chance to enjoy it, so we left after the three-song set.
There were lots of touristy places in Lisbon offering Fado, and this place may not have been as touristy prior to Bourdain’s visit, but it was touristy now. However, it still wasn’t cheesy touristy. It still had the cozy charm that I’m sure brought Bourdain’s crew there to begin with. If you’re willing to wait and squeeze in like sardines to see some Fado, it’s worth a visit.
Day 5: Lisbon’s pink street, a tiki bar, and a lot of rain
We were glad we packed our three gung-ho sightseeing days into the first three days, because when we woke up Tuesday morning, it was absolutely pouring rain. In addition, Paddy woke up with a sore throat. We felt like a lazy day was in order.
Eventually, we ventured out into the city. We had raincoats and we were from Seattle after all, so what was a little rain? We treated ourselves to Thai foot massages at Siam Thai Massage in the city center. Our feet were rejuvenated after all that walking, and it was a good rainy day activity. (Note–Siam Thai is cash only).
We walked around the commercial shopping streets a bit until we found ourselves at the Praca do Comercio, the large main square on the River Tejo.
Under normal circumstances, the Praca do Comercio would have been a nice place to stroll and have a cup of coffee in the sun. However, the rain was relentless and we began to get a bit wet, despite our raincoats. We did a little shopping at a shop selling port wine and canned sardines, and then called an Uber back to the apartment to dry off.
That evening we had a dinner reservation at Le Petit Cafe in Afalma, which ended up being the best meal of our trip. If you are looking for a romantic dinner spot with excellent Portuguese food, Le Petit Cafe is your date spot.
I had one of the two best octopus dishes I’d ever had in my life (the other was in Tulum, Mexico). It was so tender and flavorful. We shared a chocolate mousse for dessert.
If you’ve read much of our blog, you know we can’t resist a tiki bar, so after dinner we took an Uber to the one tiki bar in Lisbon, Bora Bora Polynesian Bar. It was very early at 8:30 PM, and we were the only people in the bar.
The waiter kept giving us weird looks while we walked around taking photos. We initially thought he didn’t like us much, but it turns out he was just a little odd and socially awkward. He was actually a really nice guy and gave me a daisy “for the lady” and told me that the Bora Bora dated back to the 1980’s. The decor was very classic mid-century style tiki bar, I would have guessed the 1970’s. A few workers were carrying in buckets of ice and they seemed to be preparing for a busy night. I would love to go back late on a Saturday night to see what kind of crowd parties here. There was a second room downstairs as well that we didn’t get to see.
The music was wildly inappropriate for a tiki bar (Meatloaf?!?) but the decor and elaborate tiki mugs were on point. The drinks were a little sugary. The menu didn’t list what was in the drinks, so we asked the waiter to identify the less sweet ones and we went with those. Paddy had a Mai Tai, and I had the Fire’s God. Mine came with dry ice “smoke.”
Overall, it was pretty awesome. I’d like to come back and see it when it’s busy. They really do need to work on that music though.
Not ready to call it a night yet, we took another Uber down to the infamous “Pink Street” in the Cais do Sodré neighborhood. The neighborhood used to be the red light district in Lisbon, but got a makeover in 2011 complete with a street painted pink. I’d read about a bar called Pensão Amor that sounded really funky and wanted to check it out.
The entrance to Pensão Amor wasn’t well marked, but we heard a band playing upstairs in a building where Google Maps said it should be, so we walked up the stairs. I instantly knew we were in the right place.
Burlesque comic-style graffiti art covered the stairwells between multiple levels in the building. Each level had something different going on within the burlesque theme. There was a sex shop selling toys, a disco ball room, a room with cozy alcoves, tiger print fabric wallpaper and a display case of vintage perfume bottles and other trinkets, and the main bar with a live band. It was hands-down the coolest bar I’ve ever been in.
There was no cover for the band, we walked right in. In the back room of the main bar were tables an chairs that looked like the set up from an 1800’s Victorian brothel. It was adorable. The band was awesome–they were from Brazil. The bar patrons were a young, artsy set and we felt right at home. It was a great evening. If funky, artsy bars are your thing, visit Pensão Amor and see what they’ve got going on. Live music, burlesque shows, open mic nights–who knows. Whatever it is, it will be worth checking out I’m sure.
Day 6: LX Factory
We slept in a while after a late night out, and Paddy was still recovering from a sore throat. We had a lazy morning, with coffee and croissants at a little cafe down the street. In the afternoon we took an Uber to LX Factory in the west part of the city.
LX Factory is an industrial part of the city that was taken over by artists and turned into a creative area with shops, galleries, restaurants and bars, and music venues. I think it’s probably most active in the evening, but it was fun to visit during the day. There are a lot of awesome murals, fun shops and some great restaurants.
At the recommendation from our friends who had recently visited Lisbon, we had a tapas lunch at A Praça. We second that recommendation.
After exploring all the shops, we ended our tour of LX Factory with a shared piece of chocolate cake and lemon tea at Landeau Chocolate. Their cake has been written up as some of the world’s best chocolate cake, so we had to see what the fuss was about. I have to say, it’s pretty damn good. Layers of fluffy light chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and a fine dusting of dark chocolate powder on top.
Paddy’s throat was still bothering him, so we picked up some groceries at Lidl and had another quiet evening at the apartment.
Day 6: Wine tour in Setubal region
I had booked a private wine tour through Tripadvisor for our last day. It ended up being a perfect, relaxing way to end our trip. Our tour guide Rodrigo picked us up around the corner from our apartment in the morning, and we drove south to the Setubal peninsula. Rodrigo was a great tour guide, and told us a lot about Lisbon and the Setubal region.
Our first stop was José Maria Da Fonseca Wines in Azeitao. José Maria Da Fonseca winery is a family-run winery that was founded in 1864. We took a tour of their cellars, featuring some of the largest wine barrels I’d ever seen. The oldest vintages were covered in cobwebs and we could only view them through a locked gate. It was quite a contrast to the newer wineries of Eastern Washington back home.
The tour ended with a tasting of two of their wines in their gift shop.
Our next stop was another family-run winery, Quinta de Alcube. This winery was in a much more rural setting in the Arrabida Mountains on a small farm. We were able to sit and relax and taste wine while talking to Rodrigo (and the winery cat, who was also very talkative). The wines were really nice, and it was refreshing to get a chance to see some of the beauty and charm of rural Portugal.
Rodrigo took us to another stop before the last wine tasting, Azulejos de Azeitao azulejo tile factory. It wasn’t so much a factory as an artisan tile shop. Artists roll, cut, fire, and hand-paint the traditional Portuguese azulejo tiles in this small shop. We were able to get a demonstration of how the tiles were made, and see artists painting the tiles by hand. They have a shop selling the tiles individually if you would like to take one home as a souvenir.
Our last stop was a wine shop in the town of Palmela. Rodrigo ordered us a cheese platter to go along with our tasting, which was welcome as we were a little buzzed and getting hungry.
At the end of our tour, Rodrigo offered to drop us back at our apartment, or if we were hungry for lunch he recommended a food market a lot like Time Out Market but for locals called Mercado de Campo de Ourique. We felt like we could use another snack after all that wine, so we opted to check it out. Located in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood in Northwest Lisbon, this is a great spot to sample local Portuguese cuisine in a non-touristy setting. It is smaller than Time Out Market, but had some very tasty-looking food options. We had some codfish croquettes that were delicious.
Later that evening, we had our last dinner at a restaurant right next door to our apartment, Fumeiro de Santa Catarina. We didn’t have a reservation, so we went right when they opened at 7:00 and were able to get a spot on the end of a large party table who didn’t have a reservation until 9:00. The place is tiny, so reservations are recommended. Several people were turned away after we were seated.
Fumeiro means “smoked” and that is what their specialty is. Dishes are tapas style, meant to be shared. We ordered a few dishes, but our favorites were the smoked octopus, and the scallops. Everything was delicious. I couldn’t resist the chocolate mousse swimming in port wine for dessert. It was our last meal in Portugal, after all.
Our flight home was at 5:00 AM the next morning, and we had arranged for Welcome Pick Ups to pick us up at 2:00 AM to give us piece of mind in case it was tough to get an Uber. They showed up right on time and we would highly recommend them.
We absolutely LOVED Lisbon and Portugal. Paddy is ready to pack his bags and move there. The people were very friendly, the prices were affordable, and the food was some of the best we’ve ever eaten. Not to mention all the gorgeous architecture and historical buildings. We can’t wait to go back and visit Porto and some more of rural Portugal.
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Four days in Austin and Texas Hill Country: Tacos, vintage shops, delicious BBQ, wine tasting, and rock n roll.
We definitely did not get enough time in Austin on this trip. It was our first time in Texas, and it left us wanting to see more. Austin is a twangier, tangier, dustier version of Portland, Oregon. In fact, Portland actually stole Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. Austin has more live music and less rain, more BBQ and less strip clubs. I am in love with both cities equally now, and wish it was easier to visit Austin as much as we visit Portland.
Paddy’s band The Mercy Ray was invited to play at their lead singer’s best friend’s 50th birthday party in Dripping Springs, Texas, about an hour outside of Austin in Texas Hill Country. Heidi (the lead singer) was from the Austin area, and really wanted to bring her band home for the party. We’d never been to Texas, so we all cashed in our airline miles for a four day weekend.
The best time of year to visit Texas is not early September. Austin in early September is 100+ degrees. That being said, it is still possible to have a great time while taking periodic refuge in air-conditioned environments.
Day 1: Exploring Austin: shopping and murals in the North Loop and South Congress neighborhood
In order to maximize our time in Austin and due to the lower flight price, we opted to fly in on Wednesday night and stay a night at a crappy airport hotel. The rest of the band was getting in late afternoon on Thursday, so we had the day to explore Austin on our own before our entourage arrived.
We checked out of the not-so-quality Quality Inn at the airport, picked up our rental car, and headed to the North Loop neighborhood to do some vintage shopping.
The North Loop neighborhood in North Austin has a cluster of great vintage shops right next to each other. If you are looking for a vintage Playboy issue or mid-century antiques, Room Service Vintage is your mecca.
Had we not had to ship it home, we may have purchased an awesome 70’s swag lamp here. But alas, it wasn’t quite worth the price or hassle. There was some truly fantastic stuff though. If you are into vintage shopping, this cluster of shops shouldn’t be missed.
After shopping, we were a bit peckish so we went for lunch at nearby Torchy’s Tacos. Torchy’s has many locations in Austin so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one. An Austin fast food favorite, Torchy’s offers lots of inventive and tasty tacos that are not your traditional Mexican fare. We both had a Trailer Park taco, which was fried chicken with pico de gallo, lettuce, chiles, cheese, and a poblano pepper sauce. Paddy also had a Brushfire jerk chicken taco with mango, and I had a Mr. Pink taco with seared ahi tuna and chipotle sauce. There were so many delicious options, we wanted to try them all!
We also loved that they had a big vat of house made unsweetened ice tea with fresh lemon wedges as a drink option. There was a house made sweet tea as well.
After lunch, we sought out a couple famous Austin murals. Austin has a plethora of great murals, and we only made it to a few of them. We prioritized the two Austin Texas murals for the photo op. It was our first day in Texas, and we couldn’t help ourselves.
We had a couple hours left to explore the South Congress neighborhood.
South Congress is a very popular area with both tourists and locals. Be warned that parking is not easy to come by. After driving around and discovering that all the neighborhood streets off South Congress are residential permit only, we finally found a pay lot at the South Congress Hotel on E Monroe Street.
South Congress street is full of fun shops and restaurants to explore, and is a must do for anyone visiting Austin. Our favorite store was Triple Z Threads, which takes vintage western shirts and embroiders various designs on them. There were sasquatches, scorpions, cats with laser eyes, and other fun designs. They also have a lot of fun t-shirts and other unique gifts.
Big Top Candy Shop has just about every kind of candy you can think of, and some you couldn’t imagine yet (sweet corn or pickle soda anyone?)
Allen’s Boots has the largest selection of cowboy boot styles I’ve ever seen. So many prints, sequins, colors, styles. If you are looking for some Texas cowboy boots to take home–this is your place. However, be sure to budget $200-$800 for a pair. These boots are quality, and some are even works of art.
Venturing out into Texas Hill Country:
The rest of the Mercy Ray had arrived by 3:00 so we met up with them at a nearby music rental store to get their gear. Once that was sorted out, we were ready to head out to our Airbnb house in Dripping Springs, about an hour from Austin.
Austin’s hill country is hot and dry, but also full of natural springs and swimming holes. We didn’t have time to check out any swimming holes on this trip, but if you need a break from the heat, here are a few options in the area:
*Note that many of the local swimming holes are organized and require advance reservations for a specific day and time slot as crowd control.
Our Airbnb house was really out in the middle of nowhere, but it was pretty. We loved the big porch with the hill country view.
There were quite a few Airbnb rental house options in the hill country area. Some even had swimming pools. We were happy that our rental had nice, frosty air conditioning and the fridge was stocked with Texas Topo Chico sparkling water.
Epic Texas Hill Country BBQ:
That evening we met up with Heidi and her family at the famous Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood. The Salt Lick can get pretty busy in the evenings, and they accept reservations for parties of 10 or more on weeknights. We made a reservation for our big group, which was advantageous. When we arrived there was already a walk-in wait list for the air-conditioned dining room.
If you can’t wait for a spot in the dining room, there is plenty of outdoor seating and you can order to-go orders to eat on the picnic tables outside.
A couple things to know about the Salt Lick:
1. It is cash only. There is an ATM on site if you need it
2. It is BYOB. They don’t sell alcohol here, but will gladly provide you with cups to drink yours with. Customers actually show up here with coolers of beer. If you didn’t bring your own, the Salt Lick has a winery next door with wines and beers for sale.
And then there’s the meat:
The meat is cooked over a huge BBQ pit, and there are several kinds to choose from. I had the pork ribs and turkey, and Paddy had a sampler platter with ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. While the meat was clearly the star of the show, we were super impressed with the coleslaw! I don’t like sweet, mayonnaise-based coleslaw, and theirs was quite the opposite. It was vinegar-based and super flavorful. The perfect compliment to the heavy meat. The potato salad was also delightful and very low on the mayo. Everything was top notch.
The only thing we weren’t crazy impressed with was the cobbler. It was WAY too sweet. They had peach and blackberry, and both were very sugary and didn’t let the tartness of the fruit come through. We also tried the chocolate pecan pie, which was good, but nothing outstanding.
After that huge dinner and a long day of sightseeing we were tired, so headed back to the Airbnb to have some drinks and relax.
Day 2: Day trip to Wimberley
We all went separate ways to do our own things on Friday. Paddy and I opted to drive down to the town of Wimberley, about a half hour drive from our Dripping Springs rental house.
Wimberley is a cute little town. It’s a town your mom will love. Lots of boutique shops to stroll around in and a western vibe. It’s a mom town.
We enjoyed all the artsy cowboy boot sculptures throughout the town. I read that there were more than what we saw, but we didn’t have time to find them all.
The shop keepers were very chatty and friendly. We took a lunch recommendation from one of them and had lunch at the Leaning Pear.
The Leaning Pear looked very upscale and new. It was full of ladies who lunch drinking ice tea and chardonnay. We expected it to be a bit pricey, but were shocked at how reasonable the prices were.
We each had a sandwich and a cup of their gazpacho. The ice tea wasn’t standard Lipton, it had a subtle fruit flavor to it. The gazpacho was very refreshing on such a hot day. The sandwiches were fantastic and only $8! Everything else on the menu looked delicious as well. If you are looking for a lunch spot in Wimberley, The Leaning Pear can’t be missed.
The Texas Hill Country is home to many wineries, and I had hoped to do a bit of wine tasting after lunch. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and were only able to visit one vineyard in Dripping Springs. We opted for the Solaro Estate Winery not far from our Airbnb.
Solaro Estate Winery had an impressive wall of wine awards off their tasting room. Our friendly host had us taste several wines, of which our favorite was their sparkling wine. Unfortunately sparkling wine and non-pressurized airplane cargo holds are not a good mix, so we didn’t purchase a bottle here. The others were nice, but we didn’t love them enough to justify the prices.
We spent the late afternoon and early evening enjoying the pool at Heidi’s friend Sita’s house in nearby Driftwood. In retrospect, we probably should have opted for an Airbnb with a pool, as nice as our rental house was. It was so hot and sitting in a pool with a drink made for a comfortable, relaxing afternoon.
For dinner that evening we went out to Hays City Store in Driftwood. We sat at outdoor picnic table seating under string lights. It was the perfect place to mop up all the beers and wine we drank at the pool.
I had the Chicken Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and jalepeno gravy and a side of sauteed spinach. The jalepeno gravy had a nice flavor without being too spicy. I also tried their margarita sampler, which was Instagram-worthy and delicious. It came with classic lime, strawberry, watermelon, and jalepeno cucumber. If you are going for a full margarita here, the jalepeno cucumber is the best.
Day 3: Rock n Roll birthday party
Saturday was the day of the big 50th birthday party for Heidi’s friend Sita, so Paddy and the rest of the band wanted to take it easy and rest up.
The party was at an outdoor venue called Roadrunners in Dripping Springs. We arrived early so the band could load gear and set up before the party.
Roadrunners is a bar and grill in downtown Dripping Springs with tons of outdoor seating and shade, along with a playground for kids and a mini-golf course. In addition, they often have live music on the weekends. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the food, but we were all impressed with the quality. Their menu isn’t extensive–mostly burgers and sandwiches. However, the salad options were leafy, green and organic (no iceberg lettuce here) and the sandwiches were tasty. Craft cocktails were expensive, but beers were very reasonable. The Roadrunners staff were very accommodating for Sita’s birthday party and everything was a great success.
The layout of the property is nicely set up as well–the playground for entertaining the kids is far from the stage. Close enough to the main bar area for parents to sit in the shade and keep an eye on them, but far enough to not be a distraction from the entertainment at a show. There are many nooks and little tables to sit at throughout on the stage side. Enough space for someone to have an intimate conversation or be right up front to watch music.
The Mercy Ray did one of their best shows ever, and the party was fantastic. It was insanely hot though. Being an outdoor venue, we had to endure the 100 degree heat until the sun went down and dropped the temperature to 85. The drummer almost had heat stroke, but everyone survived and the staff supplied ample pitchers of ice water to everyone throughout the evening.
We loved Austin, and want to go back again and spend more time staying in the city itself. There were a lot of things I wanted to see that we missed, like the bats! We also want to check out more of Austin’s music scene and nightlife. If we go back, it will definitely be in the early spring or a time when it isn’t so dang hot. We had a bit more time to explore Austin before we went back to the airport Sunday afternoon, but it was so hot that we opted to go to the airport early for the air conditioning.
We did get a chance to check out a few shops on South Congress that we missed the first time, like Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. Their plus-sized costume selection wasn’t stellar, but their earring selection was. I had to control myself and narrow it down to four pairs.
So long Austin, until we meet again!
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Four days in Walla Walla in July: A cute town with lots of shops and great restaurants, a Batman legacy, and more wine than you can shake a cork at.
Washington may be the Evergreen State, but half the state is not green at all. Eastern Washington is full of rolling hills, canyons, tumbleweeds, lakes, orchards, and wineries. As wine tasting is our favorite sport, we’ve explored quite a bit of it, but not all. I had been to Walla Walla once for a one night trip for the annual Onion Festival a few years back. It was a quick trip, and I was looking forward to seeing a bit more.
Every summer, hoards of Western Washingtonians pour over the Cascade mountain passes to Eastern Washington in search of sunshine. This was exactly our mission on this trip. We found a rental house with a pool on HomeAway, and our group of 8 friends was excited for a poolside holiday. Turns out, Walla Walla is a cute town that has a lot to offer. Come for the sunshine, but stay for the food, wine, and scenery.
Day 1: Roadtrip from Seattle to Walla Walla
Walla Walla is about a 4.5 hour drive from Seattle. We left Seattle on Wednesday morning at 9:00, after rush hour died down. I estimated our lunch pit stop time to be about when we were passing through Prosser, which ended up being correct. We stopped for lunch at the Horse Heaven Saloon in downtown Prosser.
I’m all about a good roadside attraction. There isn’t a lot going on in Granger, which is probably why they created a dinosaur park to attract tourists. It’s worth a stop if you are into that sort of thing.
In Prosser, The Horse Heaven Saloon was small, dark, and delightfully air-condtioned.
The food was pretty damn good. Paddy and I shared the nachos, which came with a beer cheese sauce. The cheese sauce was really tasty and a nice change-up from traditional nacho cheese. The chips were house-made. The menu is mostly pub grub, but all done really well with a bit of extra creativity. Our friends enjoyed their burgers and sandwiches as well. We would recommend this lunch stop if you are passing through Prosser.
Finally just outside of Walla Walla, we made one last stop at Woodward Canyon Winery, because we can’t help ourselves.
The host at Woodward Canyon gave us an overview of Walla Walla’s wineries, along with some restaurant recommendations. She suggested that if we only have limited time to wine taste during our visit, that we should go to the wineries on the south side of Walla Walla, as that area is the most scenic. Noted.
Woodward Canyon’s wines were a bit on the pricier side, but we did purchase a bottle of their less expensive “Pizza Wine,” a red blend with a whole lot of different types of grapes involved.
We finally met up with our friends in Walla Walla in the late afternoon. Our rental house was as described and the outdoor pool was as glorious as we had hoped. We spent the evening in the pool.
Day 2: Exploring Walla Walla: Shops, a historical museum, and Batman.
Here’s a little-known fact: Adam West, the star of the 1960’s Batman series, grew up in Walla Walla. The town of Walla Walla is so proud of this that they have an Adam West Day every year in September on Adam West’s birthday.
If you’re a Batman fan and can’t make it to Walla Walla on Adam West Day, don’t worry. You can visit a copious amount of Batman items and artifacts at the Kirkman House Museum. Paddy is a huge Batman fan, so this was a must see for us.
The Kirkman House Museum is a restored 1800’s mansion previously owned by the Kirkman family. We were given a guided tour by a very nice lady of the entire mansion and all its historical Kirkman family and 1800’s era artifacts. It was all very interesting, but the highlight was definitely the Batman room.
The climactic moment in the Batman room was when the statue next to the Bat Phone triggered the wall to the “Bat Cave” fire poles opened. Alas, there was no Bat Cave, but there was a good photo op with the poles and the Bat Phone.
If you are a Batman fan, or into historical museums, the Kirkman House is worth a stop. Open Wednesday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Sunday 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Admission $7.00, cash preferred.
We spent another hour or two walking around downtown Walla Walla. There are many fun shops to explore with gifts, antiques, clothing, and toys. If you have a sweet tooth, Brights Candies is an old fashioned candy shop that has many kinds of candies and excellent fudge. The Hot Poop record store had a funny name and a large inventory, but their prices were a little outrageous. I did find a fun disco record there though.
If you enjoy wine tasting, there is a tasting room in between almost every other shop in downtown Walla Walla. If you are staying in town and don’t want to worry about driving, this is probably the best place to wine taste that I’ve been in Washington. You can walk to all the tasting rooms and restaurants and taste as much wine as you want without having to worry about transportation. There are more tasting rooms for local regional wines than anyone could ever visit in a day.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, because it was 95 degrees out, and because pool.
Day 3: Southside Vineyards and a delicious dinner
We were ready to taste some more wine, and see some grapes growing. For me, part of the fun is visiting the vineyard and seeing the actual grapes growing in the sun. Most vineyards allow picnics as they don’t serve food, so you can make an afternoon of it and enjoy the wine and the scenery. In addition, tasting rooms are a great place to chit chat with a local host and find out recommendations and info on the area.
We followed the advice of our host at Woodward Canyon and drove out to the south side. Our first stop was the Castillo de Feliciana vineyard, which is actually just over the Oregon border and not in Walla Walla. It is only a 15 minute drive from town.
Castillo de Feliciana has a Spanish theme, from the tasting room architecture to the music to the grape varieties grown. It was a gorgeous vineyard, and the hosts told us to go sit out on the patio while they brought each tasting out to us. We sat and enjoyed the vineyard views of the countryside and Blue Mountains.
Our favorite wines were the Miercoles (“Wednesday”) red blend, the Rose of Tempranillo, and the 2015 Garnacha. We purchased a bottle of the Rose and the Garnacha. I think the tasting fee was $10 per person, waived with bottle purchase.
Castillo de Feliciana also serves sangria in the summer if you feel like spending some time and having a picnic. There are plenty of patio tables to picnic at, and the Spanish music piped outside really sets the mood. Bring some tapas and hang out for an hour or two with a glass of your favorite wine after the tasting.
We decided to go to one more vineyard, and chose Va Piano. Va Piano is an Italian style vineyard (we just went to Spain, why not go to Italy too?) in a cluster of many vineyards back over the Washington border.
Va Piano had grapes growing almost right up to the front entrance of the building, frosty air conditioning in the tasting room, and a very friendly host. The tasting fees were higher here but the wines are high quality. Tasting fees are waived with purchase.
I am not normally a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, but the Va Piano 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite white of the bunch, and a really nice refreshing summer wine. We ended up buying a bottle of the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2016 Syrah. We got a taste of the rich and smokey estate Syrah, which was not in our budget, unfortunately. It was really, really good though. We did not care for the Chardonnay here.
We had a picnic at the large, shaded table outside the tasting room, and our friendly host provided complimentary water.
If you are really into wine tasting at Walla Walla Valley vineyards and want to make a day of it, there are several tour and transportation options. You can join a tour for the day or hire a private tour driver for your group. I would recommend booking a few weeks in advance in the summer, especially for a weekend. Options can be found here: https://wallawalla.org/listing-category/wine-tours-transportation/
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, as it was 96 degrees and we’d had enough walking around in the heat for the day.
Later that evening, we went out for dinner. We only went out to eat once on this trip as we like to cook together at our rental house to save money (and a lot of us like to cook). However, there are a lot of great restaurant options in Walla Walla, and it took us a bit to narrow it down to one choice for our dinner out.
Everything was oustanding: the service, the cocktails, the food, and desserts. It was very difficult to decide on an entree. Our host at Va Piano vineyard told us that he was still thinking about the chicken and grits dish he had ad a week or so before. I also have a hard time saying no to a good duck breast. Paddy and I ended up both going with the grilled pork collar with smashed potatoes, black garlic crema, and charred tomato chimichurri. We shared the duck pate appetizer as a starter.
The pork collar was very smokey, and the black garlic was a delicious compliment. The charred tomatoes added a nice acidic element to balance the heavy pork.
Our friends had a variety of dishes, and we covered close to everything on the menu. Everyone was very happy with what they ordered. Our friend who took our Va Piano host’s advice and ordered the chicken and grits dish was not disappointed.
A few other restaurants that we were interested in but did not get to try on this trip:
Our last full day in Walla Walla led us out of Walla Walla for the morning to Palouse Falls, an hour drive north of Walla Walla.
The drive to Palouse Falls from Walla Walla is through rolling hills of wheat fields. You can take a couple different roads from Walla Walla to get there. The most direct is highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which has a lot of windy twists and turns in the beginning. If you are prone to motion sickness, this might not be the best route for you. The other direct way is highway 12, connecting with the 261 in Lyons Ferry. The latter goes through a small town or two, and is longer but a bit less twisty.
We took highway 125/Lyons Ferry Road, which was pretty but did make me a little queasy, despite sitting in the front seat. The drive was only about an hour, and there was still plenty of parking available when we got there. We took highway 12 back.
*Note: Palouse Falls is a state park, which requires a Discover Pass to park there. There are no places to purchase a pass at the park, so buy an annual pass or day pass prior to your trip.
From the parking lot, walk down through the tiny campground to the cliff to view the falls.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, because pool.
Walla Walla was a fun summer trip. It is a nice town with great summer weather, fantastic restaurants, and our favorite spot in Washington State so far for wine tasting. There are many beautiful sights to see nearby and fun shops to explore in the town. There is far too much wine to taste in one trip, so Paddy and I will be going back on our own to pick up where we left off.
Walla Walla has several hotel options in the downtown area, and many AirBnb/Home Away rentals as well. Bonus if you can find a vacation rental with a pool!
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from product links on this site.