Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST

Our travel adventures in the Pacific Northwest USA

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach

Oregon Coast Summer 2018: Lincoln City, Newport, and Pacific Beach: Summer getaway with friends to the beautiful Oregon Coast. Attractions and Activities from Astoria to Newport on Highway 101.

 

We are part of a small group of friends who like to do a 5 day group vacation together every summer. The last few years we have all rented a house somewhere in driving distance from Seattle, and this year the Oregon Coast was suggested as a destination.

I’m the planner in the group, so I scouted out rental houses in our budget up and down the northern Oregon coast on HomeAway, VRBO.com, AirBNB, etc. Our budget wasn’t huge, and the time of year was peak season. We wanted something close to the beach if not on the beach, and found nothing that fit our budget and required house size in Cannon Beach, Seaside, or the northern coast areas.

We finally found a nice house one block from the beach in the Roads End area in Lincoln City, Oregon. It was a little bit further of a drive than we had hoped for, but since none of us were super familiar with that part of the coast, we decided to make an adventure out of it. Turns out, there are a lot of fun things to do up and down the northern Oregon coast, and we had a great time.

*Tip: As we quickly discovered, the temperatures on the coast are a lot lower than further inland. While it was between 85-95 degrees in Seattle and Portland, the temperatures on the coast stayed between 65-69 as a daytime high. Pack lots of layers!

 

Day 1:

We all set off from the Seattle area around 8:30 AM, breezing down I-5 to Olympia, where we branched off heading west on highway 8 towards the 101 south. We all planned to meet in Cannon Beach for lunch at Mo’s Chowder. There were wistful and well-intentioned thoughts of poking around the town and shops in Cannon Beach as well.

Oregon Coast road trip!
Setting off on our Oregon Coast road trip!

Paddy and I made it to Cannon Beach first, and made the mistake of heading into town. It was complete tourist insanity and there was absolutely nowhere to park. It took us about 15-20 minutes just to get back to the highway 101 driving through the main drag. We texted the rest of our party and advised them not to stop in town.

Having been to Cannon Beach a few times, I had suggested Mo’s Chowder in Tolovana Park just south of Cannon Beach town for three reasons:

1. It’s not in downtown Cannon Beach, so it is easy to get to and there is ample parking

2. It is large and caters to large families and groups–easier to get a table for 8

3. Beach views!!

Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park
Cannon Beach/Tolovana Park

As I had hoped, getting a table for 8 was no problem next to windows with lovely beach views. The temperature was a bit of a shock when we stepped out of the car. It was quite windy and only 62 degrees. It was also pretty foggy over the water, so our views of Haystack Rock up the coast were obscured. Either way, we were at the coast and it was awesome.

The rest of our group trickled in shortly after us. Paddy and I shared some oysters as an appetizer, and then I had fish and chips and Paddy had the clam chowder in a bread bowl with bay shrimp. Mo’s isn’t the best seafood I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty good and eating it on the beach is what makes it delicious. The prices aren’t bad either.

Oysters at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Oysters at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Fish and chips at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Clam chowder with bay shrimp at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach
Mo's Chowder in Cannon Beach
Paddy enjoying chowder at Mo’s Chowder in Cannon Beach

After lunch we drove another hour down the 101 to Tillamook, and all made a stop at the newly re-vamped Tillimook Creamery (formerly known as the Tillimook Cheese Factory).

If you’re not from the Northwest, Tillimook cheese (particularly their cheddar cheeses) are a staple in Pacific Northwest grocery stores. They also produce ice cream, yogurt, and sour cream.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

The Tillimook Creamery had just gone through a remodel and had recently re-opened a few weeks prior, and it was crazy busy. Our original plan was to check out the creamery and gift shop, and get some ice cream. However, the ice cream line was complete insanity and none of us felt it was worth the wait for a cone.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Ice cream line at Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Instead, we went upstairs for the self “tour,” viewing the cheese logs being made in the factory below, and purchased a few cheeses and specialty food items in their gift shop.

Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast
Tillimook Creamery, Oregon Coast

Thoroughly cheesed out, we continued one last hour down the coast to our Lincoln City beach house.

We had rented the house through Meredith Lodging, and everything was as described in the listing. There was beach access just a very short ways down the road across the street, and the beach was beautiful.

Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Our rental beach house in Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Roads End Beach, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We spent the evening BBQing, walking on the beach, and enjoying the house’s hot tub after a long day of driving.

 

Day 2: 

On our first full day on the coast, we opted to drive another 45 minutes south of Lincoln City to the town of Newport to check out the local attractions that Newport had to offer. Newport is a bit more touristy than Lincoln City, and has a lot of silly beach town things to do such as a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, and a wax museum. There is also plenty of fudge, salt water taffy, and fish and chips if you feel so inclined.

The main event for us was the Oregon Coast Aquarium, one of the top aquariums in the US. Admission is $22.95 per adult, and there are quite a few exhibits to look at.

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Piranha, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

My favorite exhibits were the jellyfish (they have two different species–the pacific sea nettle, and moon jellies) and the colorful tidal tanks of sea stars and sea anemones. It can be quite relaxing watching the jellies pulsate and swirl around in the tanks. Jellyfish are one of the most fascinating creatures on the planet to me. They are beautiful and terrifying, and I I have a sort of respect for a creature who has stubbornly refused to evolve since the dinosaur days.

Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Moon jellies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Pacific sea nettles, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport
Tidal pool, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport

After the aquarium we were ready for lunch, so we drove a short ways from the aquarium to the Rogue Brewery and headquarters. You might be familiar with their beers such as the famous Dead Guy Ale.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Dead Guy Ale, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

There was a bit of a wait but not too bad. The upstairs bar and restaurant has a view of Yaquina Bay and a nice lunch menu. I had their clam chowder which was very tasty. You can order a beer sampler if you want to taste a variety of their beers, or just order a full pint if you like.

Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon
Clam chowder, Rogue Brewery Newport, Oregon

After lunch we split up a bit to explore the town. Paddy and  I are always looking for more unique treasures to add to our home Tiki Bar, so we ducked into an antique shop nearby called Pirate’s Plunder with another couple from our group. Pirate’s Plunder had a huge amount of random items and antiques, many nautical in theme. We didn’t find any perfect treasures for our Tiki bar, but it was fun to browse and there were some good photo ops outside the building.

Pirate's Plunder antique store, Newport
Pirate’s Plunder antique store, Newport
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast
Fun in Newport, Oregon coast

Before heading back to the beach house, I wanted to see downtown Newport and the Sea Lion Docks. The Sea Lion Docks are literally just a small collection of docks that sea lions enjoy laying on in piles at the downtown Newport marina. Sadly, the sea lions were elsewhere for the afternoon and all that we saw on the docks were crab carcasses. The marina was nice though.

Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast
Newport marina, Oregon Coast

 

Day 3:

On our second full day, half our group wanted to check out the nearby outlet mall, and the other half (including me) wanted to go check out the beach at Pacific City and the Pelican Brewery.

Pacific City is about 30 minutes north of Lincoln City, and it is a gorgeous sandy beach. It seemed pretty popular with surfers and families. There are sand dunes adjacent to the beach that looked cool but climbing uphill in sand is not my idea of fun.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We decided to stop into Pelican Brewing on the beach to sample their beers before having a picnic in the sand. There was a bit of a wait for a table as it was peak season. Cass and I each had a sampler, which to our delight came in an impressive little spin tray with a large pelican. None of the beers blew my mind, but they were good. Except the IPAs, but I hate IPAs in general. Devin and Heather just had a couple pints.

Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pelican Brewing sampler, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

After sampling all those beers we had a buzzy beach picnic and enjoyed watching the surfers and laying in the sun. It wasn’t hot, but it was pleasant. Just about everyone in the water was wearing a wetsuit except for a few kids splashing around on the shore.

Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific Beach, Oregon Coast
Pacific City, Oregon Coast
Cass flying the world’s tiniest kite, Pacific City, Oregon Coast

We relaxed, ate sandwiches, and watched a seagull feeding frenzy over someone’s unattended bag of potato chips.

Pacific Beach Oregon Coast
Seagull feeding frenzy

Later that evening after we all cooked dinner together, five of us decided to go check out the nearby Chinook Winds Casino. The Chinook Winds website advertised dancing in their upstairs lounge after 10:00 PM.

We arrived around 9:00, and walked around the casino playing a few slots. There were quite a few bachelorette parties roaming around, as well as the usual sad gambling scene amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

We went up to the lounge just after 10:00 and were somewhat surprised to see almost all men on the dance floor. A few couples and a few bachelorette parties joined in eventually. The music was standard boring top 40, the demographic mostly caucasian. We danced a little, drank a little, people watched a little, and opted not to eat the penis candy given to us by a bachelorette party.

Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Lounge at the Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

 

Day 4:

 

On our last day, we decided we should probably actually check out the town of Lincoln City, since we were staying there and all. Paddy and I wanted to go “antiquing” to search for treasures for our home Tiki bar, so we split up from the rest of the group, who walked around a little bit and ended up spending a while at the Game Over Arcade in town.

Paddy and I enjoyed treasure hunting at Granny’s Attic and the Rocking Horse Mall. Rocking Horse Mall had two floors of antiques combined with some newer nautical items such as mermaid Christmas ornaments and new glass floats.

There seemed to be no shortage of creepy Santas.

Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City
Creepy antique Santas in Rocking Horse Mall, Lincoln City

We ended our antiquing excursion at the Little Antique Mall in the north part of town, where we found an awesome mint-condition mid-century glass lamp and a Tiki mug.

Our last stop of the day was at Barnacle Bill’s for some fresh seafood for our seafood boil/clam bake that evening.

Barnacle Bill's Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast
Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Market, Lincoln City, Oregon Coast

Barnacle Bill’s is probably your best bet for fresh seafood in town, although it is cash only so be sure to hit the ATM before you go there.

We had hoped to get some crab, but their dungeness crabs were $20-$25 each which was a lot more than we wanted to spend. We ended up getting some fresh jumbo prawns instead. A couple other seafood-loving members of our group picked up some lobster tails, mussels, and clams at Safeway.

Our seafood boil was a success, and included corn on the cob, andouille sausage, and potatoes in addition to seafood. Kind of a hybrid Northwest/Cajun style clambake. It was delicious.

Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast
Seafood boil feast

We had hoped the fog would lift to enjoy a beach sunset for our last night, but it did not. That didn’t stop us from taking a last stroll on the beach before heading home the next day. It was breezy and peaceful, and we were the only people on the beach.

Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast
Lincoln City Beach, Oregon Coast

 

Day 5:

Sunday morning we got a somewhat early start heading back to Seattle. Traffic was unfortunately not as smooth as on the trip down.

We stopped for a photo op with a giant inflatable crab in Garibaldi, and lunch at the Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon near the Oregon-Washington border.

Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi
Roadside crab photo op in Garibaldi (thanks for indulging me, Paddy)

Parking in Astoria turned out to be a little crazy, as were the hills. Astoria could give San Francisco challenge for the most hilly West Coast village. The Fort George Brewery turned out to be pretty busy too, but we didn’t have to wait too long for a table for four. The food was tasty, I didn’t try the beer but was told by the rest of the group that it was good as well. There is a nice upstairs area and deck with a view, but the full menu is not available upstairs.

Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast
Fort George Brewery, Astoria Oregon Coast

Astoria is famous for being the town that the Goonies movie was filmed in back in the 1980’s. Don’t try to visit the Goonies house, however. The people who live there are very tired of curious tourists and will call the police if you try to enter their driveway for a photo. There are new strict parking fines for improperly parked cars near the house as well.

Afternoon traffic was less than fun heading back to Seattle, and we didn’t make it home until 6:00 PM. It was a great trip though and worth the long drive. There were a lot of things to do and see on the way down.

 

The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places in the US. It is big, beautiful, and wild. The rocky Washington beaches don’t live up to the beauty of Oregon’s coast by a long shot. Oregon beaches aren’t going to be a hot, sunny, beach vacation like the East Coast, but their raw natural beauty and the sunsets can’t be beat. I never get tired of watching the sun set behind Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, or looking at bright-colored sea stars and anemones at it’s base during the day at low tide. It is fun and lively in the summer, but Paddy and I like to visit by ourselves in the winter when it is calm and quiet. Watching the stormy waves or the sunset from a room with a fireplace is one of our favorite winter getaway activities.

Silver Forest Hike in Mt Rainier National Park

A fun camping weekend and an easy relaxing day hike on the Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park. A perfect day hike if you are out of shape or short on time and want some great views of Mt Rainier.

Paddy and I have been to Mt Rainier National Park a few times, but only to the Sunrise Side once and that time we didn’t actually go to the visitor’s center. Every time we go to Mt Rainier National Park we are blown away by how beautiful it is. On this trip we camped outside of the park at Silver Springs Campground, and did a quick and easy trek on the Silver Forest hike from the Sunrise Visitor Center in the park.

The Sunrise side of Mt Rainier National Park is the northern side of the mountain, and is a little less visited then the popular Paradise visitor center. At 6,400 ft above sea level, it is the highest elevation point in the park to visit by vehicle. There are several great hiking trails that start at the Sunrise visitor center parking lot.

Day 1: 

We left Seattle a little before 3:00 in the afternoon on Friday, headed to Silver Springs Campground. We had made a reservation there early in the spring through www.recreation.gov, so our site was all ready and waiting for us. We camped at Silver Springs the last time we visited the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier, and we like the campground. It is a good close proximity to the mountain and sites can be reserved ahead of time.

*Camping tip: Even though spring  seems way too early to make summer camping plans, the recreation.gov website allows you to make camping reservations up to six months in advance, starting in January. Weekends in July and August fill up fast, so I like to get a reservation in for a good site (you get to pick your site out) around March. If your plans change and you have to cancel, you get a full refund minus the $10 reservation fee as long as you cancel at least two days before your arrival date.

Silver Springs Campground
Silver Springs Campground

The campground hosts have firewood for sale (cash only) or you can purchase it at the Greenwater General Store about 15 minutes away. This is the closest store with provisions, so if you find that you have forgotten something, stock up here.

We set up camp, sprayed ourselves with bug spray, and cooked hot dogs, beans, and corn for dinner with the campfire.

Camping at Silver Springs Campground
Camping at Silver Springs Campground

Day 2:

I set the alarm for 7:00, as it is best to get an early start when hiking at Mt Rainier on a summer weekend. We made coffee with our camp stove and french press, ate hard boiled eggs and granola for breakfast, and set out up the mountain.

Not far down on the 410 highway heading south from the campground is the Sunrise Park Road. The White River ranger station will collect your national park entrance fee of $25.00, good for one week. After passing the fee station, the visitor center is another 40 minutes up the mountain. It is a beautiful drive.

Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park
Sunrise visitor center Mt. Rainier National Park

We arrived at the Sunrise Visitor Center at around 9:00 AM. There were lots of cars in the parking lot already, but still a lot of spaces left. The Visitor Center building wasn’t open yet, but a park ranger was standing outside and answering questions from the hikers. He provided lots of helpful info on trail conditions. Even though it was July, some of the higher elevation trails had too much snow still and weren’t suitable for hiking in certain areas.

Everyone there was gung-ho about going up the high elevation trails, but we opted for the easy-breezy Silver Forest hike. The Sunrise elevation is pretty high for us sea-level dwellers with desk jobs, and we prefer to do uphill hiking at lower elevations. The Silver Forest hike is fairly even the whole way. The trail starts from the left side of the parking lot facing the visitor center building. The trail is an out-and-back hike, so you have to hike to the end and then turn around and return back to where you started.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

For such an easy trail, the Silver Forest hike offered amazing views of Mt. Rainier. If you’re not very in shape or are short on time, this hike offers big bang for your hiking buck (so to speak).

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Wildflowers, Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

After a (too) short amount of time, we reached the end of the maintained trail (about a mile in). We weren’t ready to go back so we continued for a little ways on the not-so-maintained part of the trail, which was really more or less a ditch someone dug. It kept going, but was a bit difficult to walk in as it was deep and narrow. We stopped when we ran into some snow. We could have gone around, but decided to head back.

Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

The way back had the best views, as you are facing Mt Rainier the entire time.

Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest Hike Mt Rainier National Park (Sunrise side)
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park
Silver Forest hike, Mt Rainier National Park

Overall, the trail was shorter than I would have preferred, but the views were excellent. If you are visiting Seattle and want to do a day trip to Rainier and don’t have time for a big hike, the Silver Forest hike is perfect for a quick dose of “Mt. Rainier-lite.” Your photos will look like you did some major hiking, and all your friends will be jealous.

When we arrived back at the parking lot we checked out the information displays at the visitor center, and then began our descent down the mountain. We left at a little before 11:00 AM, and rangers were already directing traffic into the overflow parking on the side of the road.

Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot
Snow pile next to the Sunrise visitor center parking lot

*Tip: If going to Mt Rainier on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August, GET THERE EARLY. If you are doing a day trip from Seattle, I’d recommend getting on the road around 7:00 AM at the latest to make sure you get a decent parking spot and get on your hike before the trails get crowded.

We stopped at a lookout a short ways down the mountain that provided views of some alpine lakes and Mt Adams in the distance.

Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Scenic lookout on the way to Sunrise in Mt Rainier National Park
Mt Adams
Mt Adams

At the bottom of Sunrise Park Rd, we passed a very long line of cars waiting at the entrance fee station. It looked like about a half hour wait just to enter the park. Again, GET THERE EARLY.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing at the camp site, and listening to the White River. Living in the city near the airport makes us really appreciate the sounds of nature whenever we are able to get away.

The Silver Forest hike wasn’t my favorite hike in Mt Rainier National Park, but it was a nice and easy scenic jaunt. If you are able to do a longer hike that is slightly more challenging at a lower elevation, I’d recommend the Naches Peak loop hike. It is also on the Sunrise side of the park and one of our favorites.

 

Wine Tasting in Prosser, WA 2016

Wine tasting in Prosser, WA: Visiting a tiny historic town in the Horse Heaven Hills, with lots of wineries and a fabulous dinner

 

For our anniversary this year, we wanted a quick getaway out of the city, but we didn’t have a lot of time or money. Since we both love wine tasting and have so much of Washington’s extensive wine country left to explore, we decided to check out Prosser.

Prosser is in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills region of southern Washington State. It is about a 45 minute drive south east of Yakima, and an hour and a half west of Walla Walla. It was roughly a 3.5 hour trek from Seattle. We chose Prosser as it appeared from looking at the map that there were quite a few tasting rooms and a nice restaurant in walking distance from the Best Western, which meant that we didn’t have to worry about drinking and transportation.

We left Seattle at 8:00 AM on Saturday, timing our arrival in Prosser for right around when the winery tasting rooms open. Once we began our drive south on I-84 just after Ellensburg, the landscape changed dramatically. The mountain forests and valley farmland gave way to dry, rolling hills and desert sagebrush.

We arrived in Prosser just after 11:00, and ventured into the historic downtown area. It was late morning on a Saturday, but downtown had barely a soul in site. There were some antique shops open, but not a whole lot going on. The buildings were old, reminiscent of the wild west. Prosser felt like a ghost town that a group of people had recently decided to inhabit again.

Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Historic downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA
Downtown Prosser, WA

We had brought some picnic items with us, but wanted to find a grocery store where we could get a baguette to go with our meats, cheese, and pickles. The only grocery store in town appeared to be the Prosser Food Depot in the downtown area. We were able to find a baguette, and the store looked like it had most of the essentials.

Armed with snacks, we were ready to taste some wine. Our first stop was 14 Hands Winery just on the outskirts of downtown. We were familiar with their commonly found grocery store wines, and wanted to know what else they had to offer.

14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA
14 Hands Winery, Prosser, WA

14 Hands Winery is themed after the Horse Heaven Hills and the wild horses that once inhabited this region of Eastern Washington. Our host was very friendly and greeted us immediately when we walked in, and had no problem with us bringing in a few snacks while we were tasting the wine. There was a country band playing that was covering old Johnny Cash songs and other old-style country songs.

The wines we tasted were their reserves, only available at the winery. The reserve Syrah was our favorite of the wines we tried, which included a Savignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Rose of Malbec, a Cabernet, and a Merlot. They were all nice, but not wonderful enough to make us cough up the $30 a bottle price. The tasting fee was $7.00 per person, waived if you buy a bottle. They sell their regularly distributed wines there as well for $10-$12 a bottle, so it made sense to buy two of those for a few extra dollars than to pay the tasting fee.

Next, we moved on outside of town to one of the oldest wineries in the region, Pontin Del Roza. Pontin Del Roza Winery has been making wine since the 1980’s, but the Pontin family has been farming the land for the majority of the 20th century. The tasting room was air conditioned and quiet, giving us a chance to talk to owner for a bit.

Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA
Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser, WA

Pontin Del Roza Winery had a very nice sweet (but not too sweet) Chenin Blanc, a couple reds that I hadn’t heard of (but wasn’t a huge fan of), and some other very tasty wines including a Merlot, a Cabernet, and a nice Rose.

The outdoor patio was very relaxing and there was a bocce ball court. We were welcome to sit and eat the rest of our picnic out on the patio. There were carafes of water with mint and cucumber, and sodas for sale as well. I ordered a glass of the Chenin Blanc to go with our picnic and got an extremely generous pour.

Pontin Del Roza Winery patio prosser
Pontin Del Roza Winery patio
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser
Picnic at Pontin Del Roza Winery, Prosser

After lunch at Pontin Del Roza, we were ready to check into the hotel and ditch the car. You can only do a little bit of wine tasting if you are driving.

We checked into the Best Western at Horse Heaven Hills, which was about what you can expect a Best Western to be. It was nice to have AC and a fridge in the room, and the bed was comfortable.

Our room at the Best Western in Prosser
Our room at the Best Western in Prosser

We had chosen this Best Western because it was in walking distance to Prosser’s Vintner’s Village. Vintner’s Village is essentially the mini Disneyland of wine tasting, with 10 winery tasting rooms in one 32-acre area, along with one nice restaurant. There is also an RV park near the village with a RV sites, a couple of tent sites, and an outdoor pool as well if you want to camp.

Vintner’s Village is pretty much set up for wine tourism. The Village and the Best Western are fairly new, attempting to bring a collection of the regional wineries together in one spot, working together to make it convenient for tourists.

Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA
Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

You’re not going to find picturesque vineyards and gorgeous grapes growing in the sun here. It’s pretty much just a collection of very large tasting rooms with a few nice courtyards. However, it was nice to taste at our leisure and not have to worry about driving or transportation.

We only made it to two of the tasting rooms, as it was late in the afternoon. The tasting rooms are generally open from 11:00 or 12:00 to 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. The 91 degree desert sun was extremely hot. We approached a large complex called “Winemaker’s Loft” in the style of a Tuscan villa. Inside were a couple different wineries, and we started with Coyote Canyon.

"Winemaker's Loft" in Vintner's Village, Prosser WA
“Winemaker’s Loft” in Vintner’s Village, Prosser WA

We tasted a lot of wine at Coyote Canyon, and the wine server and her little dog were very accommodating. We didn’t taste any that “wowed” us enough to buy a bottle, so we thanked them and headed next door to Martinez & Martinez. We were a bit tipsy at this point, so this was going to have to be our last stop. It was also just about closing time for the tasting rooms.

Martinez & Martinez has a little tasting room with a lot of Mexican-inspired art. The hosts were friendly. The best part about their tasting room however, was the frozen wine slushie machine. It was the perfect ending to our day of wine tasting on a hot Eastern Washington day. It was made with the Martinez & Martinez Rose, and tasted a lot like sangria with added fruit juice.

Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner's Village, Prosser
Wine slushie at Martinez & Martinez winery in Vintner’s Village, Prosser

After we finished our slushie, we headed back to the room to cool off and rest for a bit.

Our dinner reservation was at 7:00 at the one restaurant in Vintner’s Village, Wine O Clock Wine Bar. I had read that reservations were strongly recommended, so I filled out their online contact form and requested a reservation the week prior.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

The restaurant is part of the Bunnell Family wine cellar. The dining room is set up like you are eating in someone’s house, with a very homey open kitchen, tables with Kitchen Aid mixers and cook books in the corners, and a TV with muted vintage Julia Childs cooking shows running on a continuous loop.

Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser
Wine O Clock Restaurant and Wine Bar in Vintners Village, Prosser

The menu changes weekly with the seasonal whims of the chef and her garden. You can pair your entree with a suggested wine flight instead of committing to a single glass so that you can get a sampling of the Bunnell wines while you dine.

The water served had cucumbers in it, which was a nice refreshing touch on such a hot day.

Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser
Wine flights at Wine O Clock wine bar in Prosser

We started with the burrata, which came with a fruit jam, fresh figs, and toasted baguette slices. Everything was top quality, although we did think the burrata cheese could have used just a pinch of sea salt or something to zest it up a bit. Just a personal preference.

Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser
Burrata appetizer at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For our entrees, Paddy had the pork loin with sweet potato cakes, and I had the nicoise salad with a bearnaise sauce, golden beets, and seared ahi tuna. Both were delicious.

Paddy’s entree had fresh garlic greens that were delicious. We couldn’t believe we’d never had them before. They kind of tasted like a garlicky asparagus stalk. Everything was delicious.

Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Nicoise salad with seared ahi tuna at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

For dessert we shared the chocolate mousse cake, which came with a dessert wine of sorts that the server told us to taste before she would tell us what it was. It was sweet and robust and very complimentary to the rich chocolate. It was a cherry cordial, with no grapes at all. The chef makes it to serve in the restaurant but doesn’t have a license to bottle and sell it at the moment.

Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner's Village
Chocolate mousse cake at Wine O Clock in Prosser Vintner’s Village

After dinner we walked outside into the warm twilight. It was such a nice evening, finally a comfortable temperature to walk around in. There was a party going on over at Winemaker’s Loft with a BBQ and a Mexican band. It looked fun but we didn’t feel like shelling out the $10 cover.

 

We wished we had the time and money to stay another night and check out more of the region and Vintner’s Village, but we’ll have to come back another time. The warm evening and the RV park across the street made us wish we had a trailer to camp in instead of the hotel.

Overall, Prosser was a great quick anniversary getaway and we’d love to come back. If you want to do some wine tasting in the Yakima to Walla Walla area of Washington, this is a great stop with easy access to a lot of wine and accommodations in one place.

Tubing the Skykomish River: A Cautionary Tale

Tubing the Skykomish River: A fun lazy river float that took some scary and unexpected turns. What we learned on our first river tubing adventure and what to be aware of when venturing out onto any river

 

I waffled at first about whether to write about our adventure tubing on the Skykomish River. We are all still trying to process what happened and it definitely wasn’t the day of fun memories that we expected it to be. However, I think that one of the most important parts about travel and adventure writing is writing about the things that go wrong, and what you learned from them. It can help others learn from your misadventures and hopefully prevent their own.

Here is a cautionary tale of our adventure, and how a fun day on the river turned into one of the scariest days of our lives:

 

We went tubing on the Skykomish River on a Saturday in August, and the day started perfectly. The weather was sunny and in the high 80’s, nice and hot for a day on the cold Skykomish River just northeast of Seattle. This was our first time river tubing and we had been invited by some friends of ours who go river tubing annually, and we were excited to try it out.

The two organizers in the group did an excellent job of making sure us newbies were prepared. They posted a packing list on the event page on Facebook and gave us the low-down of what to expect and what to bring (and not to bring). The packing list included the following:

Cheap sunglasses
Hat
Old sneakers or water sandals with straps and traction (flip flops are useless)
Something for lunch, snack for breakfast
Lots of water
Discovery pass for parking if you have it
Sunscreen
Towel
Change of clothes for after (at least undies)
An oar
A sturdy river tube (not a pool floaty)

We were advised not to bring anything valuable as the river has a propensity to make off with people’s belongings.

We brought everything we were advised to, also including a waterproof digital camera with a float strap, our phones in LifeProof cases, and a waterproof waist pack for ID, debit card, and health insurance card, and some sunscreen chapstick. I also packed some first aid supplies in a zip lock freezer bag. (I was dubbed the “Nervous Nellie” of the group for this). My supplies bag included a tube patch kit, a tiny container of rubbing alcohol for said patch kit and any disinfecting first aid needs, band-aids, gauze pads and tape, travel toilet paper, super glue, antibiotic ointment packs, and baking soda for bee stings).

There was also an orange theme, so we were all supposed to wear orange stuff as a fun way to unify the group. Paddy wore an orange rash guard and I wore orange heart shaped sunglasses.

Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA
Paddy and I getting ready to go tubing on the Skykomish River in Sultan, WA

I thought about getting life jackets before we went, but no one else was wearing them and didn’t seem to feel like they would be necessary, so we didn’t buy any.

Our tube was an Intex River Run two person tube with a “cooler” in the middle, perfect for holding water, sunscreen, and some other essentials. It looked just like this:

intex-river-run-two-person-tube

We had two plastic oars to navigate with, and we had a separate inflatable cooler for extra water and beer which we tied tightly to the side of the tube.

We all arrived at the Skykomish River drop in spot at Sultan Sportsman Park off of Highway 2 around 11:00, inflated tubes and sorted out our gear, and then had a few drivers shuttle cars down to the end spot in Monroe and then come back. There was a slight snafu with forgetting a cooler full of everyone’s lunch and water in a car at the end parking lot. One of our organizers drove back to retrieve it and this added another hour onto our schedule. It wasn’t a big deal, we were able to wait on the river bank in the shade and chat while we waited.

tubing the Skykomish River
Getting ready to go at the drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan
tubing the Skykomish River
Drop in spot on the Skykomish River in Sultan

One of our friends wanted to fish instead of float, so she planned on helping us get going on the river, then driving down river to find spots to fly fish from the shore. She would check in with us along the way.

There were a lot of other groups getting on the Skykomish river with various types of floats. We got one of them to take a group photo of us and then got in our tubes and inflatable boats and let the river carry us away. The water was freezing cold at first, but we got used to it quickly. It was refreshing combined with the hot sun.  We had one inflatable boat with coolers, extra drinking water, and an extra air pump that we tied along side one of the inflatable boats to be our supplies raft/trash raft.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Setting off–Tubing the Skykomish River

The water was calm and the pace was slow. People had brought some rope to tie together with, but one of our experienced organizers told us not to tie together until after we went around the first rapid water bend in the river, and that after that it should be pretty calm the rest of the float. It was estimated that we would be floating about 5-6 hours, depending on how often we pulled over onto river banks to have food or take a break.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

It wasn’t long before we reached the bend our organizer had told us about, and the water pace sped up. It was shallower here, so we had to lift our butts up in the tubes to avoid bumping rocks as we sped around the corner. I broke my oar trying to shove away from the river bank, so we had one and a half oars after that.

Everyone made it around the bend with no problems, and we were back to lazy float time. Some of the group tied together with the rope, but we opted to stay free but close by.

Tubing the Skykomish River
Tubing the Skykomish River

About an hour in, we decided to pull over at a river bank and have some snacks and re-apply sunscreen. I appreciated our organizer’s reminders to re-apply! Paddy and I burn super easily.

After a quick break, we got back on the river. We were all having a great time and enjoying the scenery.

We came upon another fast moving bend in the river that we wooshed down with no problems. We floated along a while longer. Paddy was a gentleman and gave me the long oar (he has longer arms anyway) and used the half oar to paddle and navigate on his side. We didn’t need to paddle a whole lot, the river was slowly floating us along at a leisurely pace.

Then things took a bad turn.

 

About an hour and a half in, we approached another bend where the water was moving fast, and we could see a large fallen tree with roots sticking up out of the water. We tried to navigate away from it, but it became clear as we picked up speed that we were going to slam right into it.

Bracing for impact, I stuck my arms out to brace us and try to bump us around the tree. We were going so fast that I thought the tree would puncture the tube, or injure us (or both). We hit the tree without injury, but the impact launched Paddy right out of the double tube and into the river. Paddy can swim, but he isn’t a great swimmer, and the river currents were strong. As soon as I knew that he was in the water, I was terrified. It was so fortunate that I had the long oar and not the broken one. I was able to reach the oar out to him as far as I could lean over the tube as he struggled against the current, panicking and trying to keep his head above water. He got a hold of the oar, and with his kicking and my pulling I was able to pull him over to the tube and get a hold of his arm. He had a hold on the oar under the raft and there was no way for me to navigate us to the shore while holding onto him.

Fortunately, one of our organizers and another friend had made it around the fallen tree and had pulled over to the river bank to make sure everyone got through okay. They were able to wade into the river and pull us to shore. Paddy crawled onto the river bank, very shaken up and gasping for breath.

Things then went from scary to terrifying.

 

I was making sure Paddy was okay when we heard a woman’s anguished crying and wailing from upriver where the tree was. I couldn’t see what was happening, but since Paddy seemed to be okay I grabbed my first aid supplies and ran with everyone else up the river bank. On the way up the bank I noticed that there was an empty inflatable boat and other empty tube from our group floating down the river. Our organizer shoved his car keys in my hand and jumped into the rushing water to help.

One of the women in our group had also hit the tree, and was launched out of her boat. the raft she was in had been tied to others in the group, and according to the people who witnessed it, the rope had wrapped around her neck and was strangling her as she fought to keep her head above the water. Her boyfriend jumped in to help, and yelled for someone to swim out with a knife. Fortunately, he managed to get the rope loose enough to push her head out of it, and swam her through the rushing water to shore.

She was hysterical, as anyone would be after that kind of near death experience. I can’t even imagine how terrified she was. She had rope burns on her neck and there was no way she or her boyfriend were going to continue the float. The nearest road was across the river, and she was adamant that she was not getting back in the river at all.

There was a house across the river, and a lady who lived there had seen what was going on and called 911. We were trying to figure out a way to get the the woman and her boyfriend over to the road on the other side of the river when EMTs showed up. They said that a rescue boat was on the way and it could get her across the river.

While we waited for the rescue boat, we watched another group of floaters come down the river towards the tree. They ended up stuck on the tree, and were also tied together. It took them about 15 minutes to figure out how to get untangled, but none of them had been hurt or launched into the water. Shortly after they untangled themselves the rescue boat arrived and the EMTs got out to assess the woman in our group who had nearly drowned.

While the EMTs were assessing our friend, a family in tubes came down the river with a little boy and the little boy was launched out of his tube after he hit the tree. Fortunately he was wearing a life jacket, but was still in need of rescuing. The EMTs quickly jumped back in the boat and grabbed the kid out of the water before he got swept downriver. The felled tree was a major hazard for everyone coming through.

Two of our friends decided that they had also had enough of the float, and decided to get out as well. They called our friend who had been fishing and gave her the address for the house across the river, and were able to drive the couple to the hospital in Monroe to get checked out after the EMTs ferried them across the river. It was very fortunate that our friend had her car nearby and was able to pick them up.

The rest of us were very far from our cars on either end of the river, and were behind schedule. We had at least three hours of float time before we reached the end spot in Monroe. We decided to keep going, but the mood was somber.

river tubing on the Skykomish River
Tubing on the Skykomish River

Only a little ways further down the river, Paddy and I got stuck in a swirl current that kept us stranded in one spot. Everyone else had made it through. We were down to one oar, and were paddling furiously to try to get through, but it was fruitless. We decided to try to get to the river bank, which wasn’t too far away, get out, and carry our tube down a ways and then get back in the river near where our friends were waiting for us. We paddled furiously and made it to the edge. I could see shallow rocks under the water next to the river bank, so I thought we were at a place where I could get out and pull us in.

I scooted out of the tube expecting to step down into a couple feet of water, but instead I dropped straight down into the deep river. It was such a deep drop off, I didn’t even feel the bottom when I plunged down. I was still holding onto the raft when I dropped in, so I flipped it upside down.

Before I even surfaced, I knew the tube had flipped and that Paddy was in the water again along with me. I surfaced and lifted the tube up frantically looking for Paddy. He was there, struggling and panicked, unable to get a grip onto anything on the upside down float. I didn’t have a good grip on the float either but all I could think about was making sure he had something to hold onto, so I told him to grab my arm. He did, but it wasn’t enough to keep him up and he let go and grasped for the floating cooler. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get us out of this current and make sure Paddy didn’t drown by myself. I was also in a dangerous spot. Just as I yelled for help, two guys who were nearby jumped into the water next to us, and I told them to help Paddy as he couldn’t swim that well. I also instantly felt like an idiot for not having life jackets on, knowing that Paddy wasn’t very confident in the water. They grabbed Paddy and got him holding on to one of their tubes and the four of us along with another member of our group who had jumped in to help kicked as hard as we could to get the raft the two feet to the river bank. The current was extremely strong.

We thanked the two guys profusely for saving us. Another member of our group had miraculously managed to grab almost all of our stuff that fell out of the cooler in the tube–Paddy’s phone (in a LifeProof case in a ziploc bag), sunscreen, and my water camera. As we were explaining what had happened, we looked down from the shore and saw another girl in a tube stuck in the same current spot we were stuck in. Fortunately she was still in her tube and not in danger, just struggling to paddle out.

Paddy and I were done tubing. Both of us were too shaken up to continue, and with all that had happened, it wasn’t fun anymore, anyway. I also didn’t want to go on without life jackets, in case there was another incident. We got across the river in a shallower, calmer spot, deflated our tube and put it in the extra inflatable boat that the group was towing along, and walked through someone’s property and up to the road. Our organizer gave us his house key (our car was parked at his house with our keys and stuff inside their house in north Seattle) and a bottle of water and told us to keep in touch to let them know we got back okay.

We made it to the road, dripping wet in our bathing suits, and managed to get the one Uber driver in Sultan to pick us up. I was glad I had opted for a conservative bathing suit with a skirted bottom and full coverage tankini top, instead of a bikini. Both of us were a bit emotional and shell shocked.

Our fishing friend with the car who drove the woman who almost drowned and her boyfriend to the hospital was able to meet us at the hospital in Monroe along with two other friends who had decided to go home as well. We got a ride home with her, stopping at our organizer’s house to get our stuff out of our car (our car was blocked in by two other cars at their house, so we opted just to come back and pick it up in the morning). We were exhausted and just wanted to go home.

The remaining nine members of our group continued down the river, and they said it was mostly calm the rest of the way. They ran into a few girls who had lost their floats. They were crying and stranded on the river bank. Our friends had an extra inflatable boat from the couple that went to the hospital, so they gave it to them to help them get home. They were all so far behind schedule at that point that the last part of the float was in the shade, and everyone was getting cold and paddling hard to get to the end. They all made it out at about 7:00 PM and everyone was okay.

I think we’ve all been replaying that day over in our heads. There are so many “whatifs” that will drive us crazy if we think about them too much. What if Paddy hadn’t given me the long oar and I wasn’t able to rescue him from river in time? What if the woman with the rope wrapped around her neck wasn’t rescued in time? What if the people who had jumped in the river to help her and us were carried away by the current and drowned? What if someone was seriously injured on that tree or a sharp branch under the water? Fortunately, we are all okay. We didn’t even get sunburned.

I was just given an update that the woman in our group who almost drowned is doing better. She has rope burns on her neck and is finally able to turn her head after two days of rest. She plans on returning to work in a couple more days. Her emotional scars will take much longer to heal.

What we’ve learned

 

When I had asked the experienced river tubers in our group how dangerous tubing on the Skykomish River was, I was told that the accidents that happen are usually with white water rafters in the spring, and drunk people being stupid. I think for the most part, that is true. However, rivers in the summer are like domesticated wild animals. They may seem tame most of the time, but they are still wild. Remember when Sigfried and Roy’s tiger attacked Roy? You can’t ever be too sure about nature.

Here are the three most important things that we took away from this experience:

1. Don’t underestimate the river
2. WEAR LIFE JACKETS
3. Don’t tie your floats together

 

We have also determined that sturdy, individual inner tubes are easiest to navigate. The double tube with the cooler might be awesome for a very lazy river or a day on the lake, but both of our accidents may have been prevented (at least for one of us) if we hadn’t been in the same tube. Individual tubes with an oar are also much easier to paddle than a double tube with an oar on each side (or in our case by the end–one oar).

What happened with the rope around the woman’s neck was a freak accident that I’m sure is rare, but it happened. It would not have happened had the floats not been tied together. Rope can very easily get snagged on trees and rocks and debris in the river and the impact of a caught rope on a fast river can throw you out of your float. Not to mention tangle you up in it.

I read some articles about the Skykomish River when I got home, and there was an article about some kayakers who had to be rescued back in June because they ran into some felled trees in the river. The article said that this last winter there was a lot of flooding which caused soil erosion and a lot of trees to fall into the river. Even if you have been tubing down the same river every year, you never really know what the river has in store for you. Each winter brings storms and floods and intense water flow and the river is always changing. Rivers can even erode away banks and change course or create new bends and turns.

The most dangerous part of river tubing or rafting is the debris, rocks, and log jams that you may run into. Rivers can also be deceptively deep and currents are very strong. The water is also very cold, and even the strongest swimmers can get into trouble in water that cold with currents that strong. That is why life jackets are so important.

We would like to go river tubing again, but we might want to go elsewhere than the Skykomish River. Something calmer would be nice, with a slower pace. I don’t think anyone in our group is ready to do it again this summer, but probably by next year.

Be careful out there. Mother Nature is unpredictable.

Edmonds, WA 2016

Edmonds, WA: beaches, a farmer’s market, a quaint little town, a tiki bar, a wedding, and some delicious dim sum.

 

Some good friends of ours were getting married at the Edmonds Yacht Club in Edmonds, WA, a small waterfront town just 30 minutes north of Seattle. Since we now live in South Seattle, it was kind of a long way to cab and we wanted to be able to have a good time at the wedding, so we decided to get a hotel room at the Edmonds Best Western and make a weekend of it.

Paddy grew up in Edmonds, living there from birth to age 14. He said it was a nice little working-class small town when he lived there in the 1970’s, but it has since gentrified considerably. Now there is a lot of money in Edmonds, with a lot more upscale shops, bars and restaurants. We decided to play tourists for the weekend and check out the town while Paddy took a walk down memory lane.

Day 1:

We arrived in Edmonds at about 1:00 PM on Saturday, and located the Best Western. They had a solid 3:00 PM check in time, as they were fully booked that night and the housekeeping staff had their work cut out for them. We were able to check in without getting the room keys, and were given a parking pass so that we could leave our car in the lot while we walked around.

My only previous interactions with Edmonds were to purchase my wedding dress back in 2009 (at a fabulous and reasonably priced bridal boutique called Cynderellie’s Closet which is sadly now closed), and to get on the ferry to Kingston on the Olympic Peninsula.

We walked down to the beaches by the ferry dock and soaked up the sunshine a bit. The beaches are nice, with public bathrooms and changing areas and an outdoor shower.

Edmonds Beach
Edmonds Beach
Edmonds, WA
Edmonds, WA
Edmonds / Kingston Ferry
Edmonds / Kingston Ferry
Edmonds Beach
Edmonds Beach

 

There were a lot of divers at the beach, getting ready to dive or coming back from a dive off the shore. We learned that Edmonds is a very popular spot for divers, as it has an underwater park right next to the ferry dock with ship wrecks and “trails” made by ropes that divers can follow to explore the park.

Edmonds underwater park
Map of Edmonds underwater park from http://www.edmondswa.gov/images/COE/Services/Education/discovery-programs/images/EdmondsUWPark.jpg

Paddy and I have never learned to dive, but we’ve considered it. Maybe we’ll get certified and check out the park someday. It sounds really interesting.

In addition to the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula, Edmonds has a train stop for Amtrak and the Sounder weekday commuter train, making it very easy to get to other places in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada without a car. The train station is also close to the ferry and waterfront.

After a short time enjoying the beach, we headed up Main Street to the Edmonds Farmers Market, which happens on Saturdays from May through September. The farmer’s market was pretty large, with vendors selling all kinds of local crafts, fruits and veggies, and artisan foods and baked goods. We sampled some delicious local peaches.

Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market
Edmonds Farmers Market

We left the farmers market and explored the downtown area. Paddy was reminiscing about is childhood. A lot had changed since he was a kid, but he was happy to see that the bakery that he used to get a free cookie at when he was little was still there.

For lunch, we weren’t starving but wanted to check out A Very Taki Tiki Bar, as we are tiki bar enthusiasts.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

Full disclosure: I’d actually eaten lunch here with a friend seven years ago after trying on wedding dresses, and it was terrible. I had ordered a Caesar salad with a seared ahi tuna filet and the tuna came not seared, but overcooked to the point of a tough pasty cardboard texture. However, since seven years had passed and this place was still open, and the Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews weren’t terrible, I wanted to give it another shot. Maybe they were having problems with an untrained cook back then.

The menu was a mix of average pub grub, more burgers and Mexican dishes and appetizers than Polynesian. We decided to share an order of the mahi mahi tacos, Paddy had a beer and I ordered the Taki Tiki Torch drink, which was Strawberry Stoli vodka muddled with lime and lemon juice, strawberry puree, and jalapeno. It was sufficiently tasty, but for $8.00 I expected at least a slight buzz. I don’t think there was a lot of alcohol in it.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
Taki Tiki Torch, A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

The mahi mahi tacos were average, the fish was cooked okay and they were tasty. Not tacos I would make a point to come here for, but alright. The tiki decor was fun, a lot of nautical decor and Mexican beer advertisements. Overall, however, it wasn’t my favorite tiki bar. I think we’ll skip it next time we come to Edmonds.

A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA
A Very Taki Tiki Bar, Edmonds, WA

After lunch we poked around in a few of the shops in the main part of town. Our favorite gift shop that we found was Treasures & Teas, which had a lot of fun nautical gifts including a few tiki  items. If you’re into nautical/beach-theme decor, pirates, mermaids, or anything related to the sea for your house (or are looking for a gift for someone who is), this is a good place to shop.

We went back to the Best Western at 3:00 to get ready for the wedding. Our room was on the ground floor, not the best room in the hotel but nice enough. The bed was comfy. There was complimentary hot breakfast available in the morning, and a small outdoor pool and jacuzzi that we didn’t have time to make use of.

Best Western Edmonds
Our room at the Best Western Edmonds

The wedding at the Edmonds Yacht club next to the harbor was beautiful, and we had a lot of fun.

All dolled up for a wedding at the Edmonds Yacht Club
All dolled up for a wedding at the Edmonds Yacht Club

A group of us ended up at the Channel Marker pub after the reception for a night cap, a divey little spot in a strip-mall type building in between the Yacht Club and the Best Western. We ordered some jo-jos and tater tots to soak up the booze, had some last drinks and then called it a night around 1:00 AM.

 

Day 2:

The next morning, we met our friends Heather and Stephen for dim sum at T&T Seafood on Highway 99. Downtown Edmonds doesn’t have a lot of cultural diversity, but there is cultural diversity closer to and on Highway 99.

T&T Seafood is one of the best spots for dim sum north of Seattle. It is authentic and delicious, and very affordable, not to mention GREAT hangover food. Tons of dumplings, sweet and savory pastries, congee, chicken feet, sticky rice with pork in tea leaves, sauteed veggies and noodles, and various dessert items such as sesame mochi with red bean paste.

If you’ve never been to dim sum before, it’s fun. You sit at a table with a card, and servers come around with carts of various small plates and you can choose what you want off of the cart. There is usually a steamed dumpling cart, a fried dumpling cart, and a baked dumpling/pastry cart. There was also a congee (Chinese savory rice porridge) cart coming around here as well.

The server marks the plates you take on your card, and you pay at the cashier at the end. Everything on the card is in Chinese, and we have no idea what the prices are, but we always seem to leave stuffed for under $30 for the two of us.

There are a few Asian markets nearby as well, the largest of which is Ranch 99. It’s not as good as Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District, but it has most of the same types of foods.

Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds
Dim Sum at T&T Seafood in Edmonds

I don’t think we would have ever stayed in Edmonds had it not been for our friends’ wedding, but it was fun to be tourists for a weekend and Paddy had a good time reminiscing about his childhood and seeing how things in the town have changed. It’s a cute little town, and from a tourist prospective it seems like a good home base/transit point to the Olympic Peninsula by ferry, as well as Seattle, and cities north all the way to Vancouver BC by train.

Walla Walla, WA 2016: Sweet Onions and Wine

Walla Walla, Washington 2016: A quick girls’ weekend trip to Walla Walla during their annual Sweet Onion festival. Onions, great food, and wine, wine, and more wine…

 

I’d never been to Walla Walla, WA, or knew much about Walla Walla other than that it was in Eastern Washington, contained the state penitentiary, and was the home of the infamous Walla Walla sweet yellow onion.

My friend and I read that there was an annual Sweet Onion Festival every year in June, and we decided this year we’d check it out. In addition to onions, we assumed we’d be guaranteed sunshine on the east side of the Cascade Mountains (sunshine is not as frequent in Seattle in June), and we’d heard there was lots of great wine in the area and were hoping to do some wine tasting. Onions, sunshine, and wine–(three great tastes that go great together?) A girls’ trip seemed in order.

Day 1:

We left cold, rainy, Seattle at 6:30 AM to get a head start on the long drive. We were all wearing sundresses and tank tops, expecting gorgeous rays of 75 degree summer sun to blind us at any moment as we went over Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades.

To our disappointment, the rain and 56 degree temperatures continued to follow us from Seattle. Confident that the 75 degree sunshine that the weather report promised us would appear any moment, we cranked up some disco on the stereo and sallied forth to wine and onion country.

We ran into a little snag in our route with an accident fully blocking both lanes of a highway, and had to detour which turned our 4.5 hour drive into a 5 hour drive, but it wasn’t too bad. We had snacks. We arrived in Walla Walla at 11:30 AM, and checked into the Motel 6.

Motel 6 Walla Walla
Motel 6 Walla Walla

The Motel 6 was clean, basic, and the beds were comfy. A fridge was included, which we utilized. There was a laughably small pool off of the parking lot, and a convenience store next door. The best thing about the Motel 6 however, was the location. It was right in downtown Walla Walla and in walking distance to everywhere.

**Note: Hotel reservations recommended in advance for the Onion Festival weekend.

Unfortunately, it was still rainy and not any warmer than when we left Seattle. Gretchen (who is always prepared) had brought a couple umbrellas which helped tremendously as we walked around town. We were hungry, so we scouted out somewhere for lunch.

We didn’t scout very long. Despite the umbrellas, we were unprepared in our cardigan sweaters and sundresses for rain and the light wind that seemed to be picking up. We settled on the first place that looked good, which was Wingman Birdz & Brewz.

Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla
Wingman Birdz & Brewz, Walla Walla

The food was good and the service was friendly. I had the “Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese” which was grilled cheese on brioche with three kinds of cheese, tomato, bacon, and avocado. It was delicious, albiet a little pricey at $12.00 for grilled cheese.

Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla
Second Runner-Up Grilled Cheese at Wingman Birdz & Brew Walla Walla

The rain and wind still weren’t letting up after lunch, so we ducked into the little Macy’s on Main Street in hopes of finding raincoats on sale. We were in luck, and found a raincoat and a hooded sweatshirt for $15 -$20 each in the deep discount section. Macy’s is a pricey store, but when they have a sale, they have a SALE.

The locals kept remarking on how unusual the weather was, and lamenting about the poor Onion Festival that was getting rained out. We passed the small corridor of vendor tents comprising the festival on our walk, but just didn’t feel like being in the rain. It didn’t look like we were the only ones, there weren’t a lot of people milling around at the festival.

We explored a couple antique shops, and a great little soap and body care shop on Main Street called Midnight Oil Soap and Apothecary. The very creative and fun soaps and personal care products are all made by the owner Kim on her farm outside of town, many made from goat milk from her own goats. I was enticed by some glittery cucumber melon body butter, which I regretted not purchasing then as we discovered the next day that she was closed on Sundays. Fortunately, she sells her products online as well. If you’re looking for a gift for someone, this is a great place to shop.

midnight oil wine soap walla walla
Image from http://midnight-oil-soap-apothecaary.myshopify.com/
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla
The Hot Poop record store, Walla Walla

The rain still wasn’t letting up, (despite the weather reports on our phones still proclaiming 73 and sunny weather for the afternoon) so we decided it was time to start wine tasting. We ducked into the first tasting room we encountered, which was the Mark Ryan Winery.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

We tasted several wines, some with names that led me to believe that Mr. Ryan is an avid Pearl Jam fan (“Crazy Mary” and “The Dissident” for example). The tasting room had nice atmosphere and a very friendly host who came around to pour the wines for us while we sat by the window. We did find the $10 tasting fee to be a little steep here, but it is waived if you buy a bottle.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

The Dissident was our favorite wine that we tasted, a hearty red blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.

Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla
Mark Ryan winery tasting room, Walla Walla

Walla Walla has 25+ tasting rooms in the downtown area, which is actually a little overwhelming. We decided to ask our friendly host where she recommended we head to next, and she recommended the Rotie Cellars tasting room across the street.

The Rotie Cellars tasting room felt like a law office waiting room, pretty bland with not much character. The wines were quite the opposite, however. We loved them all, but the Southern White was my favorite. A very summery, fruity and refreshing wine for a hot summer day. The name and flavor made me want to go sit on a big porch in Georgia, eating peaches and drinking this wine on a hot, sticky, southern summer night.

There weren’t a lot of wines to taste (I think we tasted 4?) but they were all very nice. Tasting fee was $5.00.

Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla
Rotie Winery tasting room Walla Walla

We asked our friendly wine server at Rotie where he recommended going next, and he directed us over to 2nd Avenue just off of Main Street where there were a few of his favorites.

We found Spring Valley Vineyard, which our Rotie server highly recommended. This tasting room proved to be our favorite one hands down.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla

In addition to fabulous wines, Spring Valley is a family run vineyard with a lot of family history going back to the 1890’s. The service was excellent, with a dose of the family history to go along with it. I don’t know what the tasting fee was because we all bought wine here (it was waived with purchase, whatever it was), but if it is $10.00 it is worth it. They invite you to try all six of their wines, each one proudly named after a member of their family. You can taste the love in each sip.

In addition to delicious wine and excellent hospitality, we were served a chocolate truffle with our last wine–a Syrah named Nina Lee. The truffle was infused with the Nina Lee Syrah as well. That is the wine I went home with, along with a little two pack of the truffles to share with Paddy later.

Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla
Wine tasting at Spring Valley tasting room, Walla Walla

When we left Spring Valley, we were significantly buzzed but couldn’t resist one more tasting room next door at Maison Bleue, another family-run winery with extensive vineyards in the Walla Walla area and two in the Columbia Valley.

Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue Winery Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla
Maison Bleue tasting room Walla Walla

At Maison Bleue we tasted four reds and two whites, including two different Chardonnays. The first Chardonnay was aged in stainless steel, the second was aged in a traditional oak barrel. I’m not a fan of oakey Chardonnay, but the stainless steel aged chardonnay was very nice. The Syrah was my favorite red, but I’m a little partial to Syrah.

When we left Maison Bleue– low and behold–the sun was finally out. A little drunk, we walked back to the hotel to lay in the sun near the tiny parking lot swimming pool. One of us may or may not have fallen into the pool fully clothed. The sun was nice. Eventually we were joined by children doing cannonballs, so we retired to the room to take naps before dinner.

Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla
Lounging by the Motel 6 pool, Walla Walla

 

For dinner we had made an 8:00 PM reservation at The Ox & Cart at the recommendation of the wonderful people at Spring Valley Winery. We’d had visions of enjoying more lovely Walla Walla wine with a nice dinner, but we were a bit wined out. The waitress gave me a funny look when I ordered a bloody mary, and asked if I had an evening hangover. Yes, something like that. The bloody mary was excellent–it came with house pickled pearl onions.

Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla
Ox & Cart, Walla Walla

We were hoping that there might be a special dish for the onion festival highlighting the Walla Walla sweet onion, but it didn’t seem that many restaurants were on board with that. Nonetheless, The Ox & Cart was a great choice for dinner. It is part of the new farm-to-table style of cuisine focusing on regional organically grown food.

Gretchen and Kari shared the Amberjack Crudo appetizer, which they said was outstanding. I felt like I needed some fresh veggies in my life, so I ordered the Spring’s Bounty Salad as a starter, a fresh mix of asparagus tips, fava beans, cucumbers, and other veggies with green garlic and a champagne vinaigrette. It was just what I needed.

Spring's Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Spring’s Bounty Salad, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Amberjack Crudo,Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

For an entree I had the Oregon Sole  with crispy potato cake and sauteed spinach, which I didn’t expect to be battered and fried but it was great regardless. I found it a tiny bit under-seasoned and could have used a bit of salt to jazz it up, but salt wasn’t provided on the table.

Gretchen had the Buttermilk Fried Chicken with waffles, which she said was amazing. Kari had the Study in Foraged Mushrooms with charbroiled morels and porcini mushrooms, asparagus and wheat berries.

Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Oregon Sole, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla
Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Waffles, Ox & Cart restaurant, Walla Walla

All the food tasted extremely fresh and a lot of care was put into each dish. If I go back I may be tempted to bring some sea salt along in my purse though.

After dinner it was about 10:00, and we were tired but curious to see what kind of Walla Walla nightlife was going down. We did not find much. We found two bars that had some action–one was very crowded and the other had some kind of punk band all ages show going on. We weren’t feeling it for either of those scenes.

There was also a country/classic rock band playing the remnants of the little Onion Festival on Main Street, to a crowd of about 20. It was cute.

We were hoping to find a bar to have a quiet drink in, but there wasn’t much of any place that we saw to have a quiet drink in open at 11:00 PM. We were tired from an early morning and all that day drinking, so we decided to turn in for the night.

Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife
Walla Walla Onion Festival nightlife

 

Day 2:

We woke up to the Eastern Washington summer sun shining full force outside. We checked out of the hotel and walked into town in search of sustenance.

We walked by Bacon and Eggs, which must be awesome because it was packed with a line out the door. We weren’t in the mood for a long wait, and decided on the Olive Marketplace on Main Street. There was no wait, and had shady tables outside on the sidewalk. Their menu was amazing. I wanted everything, it was hard to decide. Breakfast flatbread pizza with pork belly and farm fresh egg? Chevre asparagus strata? Maple braised pork belly with sweet potato hash? It was all too much. And that doesn’t even cover their baked goods, which were completely out of control.

Kari had a fig danish and the vegetable benedict with roasted veggies, Gretchen had the baked brioche french toast with pink lady apples and fresh berries, and I had the smoked salmon benedict with lox and poached eggs on a home baked biscuit with spinach. It was all outstanding.

Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Smoked Salmon Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Vegetable Benedict, Olive Marketplace, Walla Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla
Baked Brioche French Toast, Olive Marketplace, Walla

I got a peek into the kitchen from the expansive dining area and there were several huge, delicious looking layer cakes standing on the kitchen island that were waiting for something.

You order at the counter, and food and coffee are brought out to you when they are ready. The prices were very reasonable. They also had a large display case of deli items such as olives and fancy cheeses ready for someone’s picnic. Their lunch menu looked amazing as well. I will definitely be coming back here next time I make it to Walla Walla.

Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla
Olive Marketplace, Walla

After breakfast, we decided to check out the Sweet Onion Festival on Main Street. It was mostly two blocks of vendors lining the street, all selling arts, handicrafts, and local gourmet foods. I bought some organic garlic and some Walla Walla sweet onion mustard.

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

There were also some good photo opportunities:

Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival
Walla Walla Onion Festival

We walked around the main part of town a little longer, visiting another great antique store called Tra Vigne on Main Street that had all kinds of treasures. Gretchen found a pie safe that she was in love with but was too big to transport back in her car. However, we found out that the owner does trips to Seattle and will deliver for a very reasonable price.

We made one last stop at Bright’s Candies to pick up some jelly beans for Kari’s kids before we headed home. They sell all kinds of classic candy as well as ice cream and house-made chocolates.

Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla
Brights Candies, Walla Walla

The drive back to Seattle took about 5 hours again, due to a slight slow-down on I-90 due to a couple of accidents. The long drive was worth it though, it was a short but very fun weekend.

I liked Walla Walla more than I thought I would, and I would absolutely visit Walla Walla again. The only large drawback is the long drive from Seattle. While the Sweet Onion Festival was cute, it turned out not to be the main draw. The main draw to Walla Walla these days is wine. It was the perfect place to sample some of the great wine that Washington State has to offer, with many vineyards you can drive to outside of town and tour, and a plethora of tasting rooms in the downtown area that don’t require driving (always something we look for with wine tasting). In addition, there seemed to be a number of great restaurants to compliment all that great wine, something that Paddy and I have had trouble finding on some of our other Washington wine tasting adventures.

I am looking forward to bringing Paddy back to Walla Walla in the future, and staying a bit longer than one night to see more of the area.

Wine Tasting Tips for Beginners

Wine tasting tips for beginners: what to expect and how to have a great wine tasting adventure

 

Paddy and I love wine. We also love food, and the two go hand in hand. We are lucky to live in one of the top wine producing states in the US, Washington State. Wine tourism has boomed in Washington over the last 20 years, with new wineries and vineyards springing up all over the state. The highest concentration of Washington wineries are on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, and there are so many to choose from that it can be quite overwhelming. Wine tasting is one of our favorite tourism activities in our home state, and we’ve been on several wine tasting adventures.

We know a considerable amount about wine, but not a ton. We are by no means experts and there is A LOT to learn. We really enjoy drinking wine and pairing wine with food, but we don’t always know what we’re doing.

Here are some wine tasting tips for beginners based on our experiences:

1. You don’t have to know anything about wine

If you don’t know anything about wine, except that you kind of like it and are curious to know more, wine tasting is the best way to learn. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t feel like a failure if you can’t taste all the “notes of fig and honeysuckle” like the wine description says you should. It can take a while to develop your palate. Concentrate on finding out what you like and don’t like in a wine–reds or whites, sweet or dry, fruity or spicy, light or robust and smoky. Remember the types of the wines that you liked, and remember that not all types of wines are created equal. Some wineries might make a chardonnay that you love, while others may have ones that you aren’t so into. Just taste and learn. Don’t be afraid to ask the winery questions.

2. Wine tasting is a daytime activity

Wine tasting rooms are typically open between noon and 5:00 PM, with some opening as early as 10:00 AM and some closing as early as 4:00 PM. It’s generally not an activity to do after dinner, and will monopolize your whole afternoon, so don’t have any other plans that day unless they are in the morning. Also, you may end up needing a nap before dinner after all that wine…

3. You will most likely get a little drunk, so have a safe transportation plan

One of the downsides about wine tasting is that a lot of areas have wineries that you have to drive to. Since drinking and driving is not a good idea, you have several options to address this common conundrum:

  1. Have a designated driver–your DD can spit the wine out into the receptacle at the wine counter after tasting, or opt out of tasting altogether.
  2. Join a wine tasting tour or hire a driver. Many of these can be expensive or book out far in advance, so plan accordingly. It is nice to have a driver.
  3. Stay in a town with wine tasting rooms in walking distance from your hotel
  4. Drive to only one or two wineries, and/or have a picnic at one of them after tasting while you sober up. Many wineries are happy to let you sit out and eat some snacks while you sip. A lot of them don’t have food licenses so they have no problem with you bringing your own.

Our plan of attack is usually a combo of suggestions 4 and 5. We like to find a hotel in walking distance from tasting rooms, but drive to a couple in the beginning before we get buzzed to see some of the pretty vineyards and grapes. Some good Washington towns with ample tasting rooms in walking distance from downtown lodging are Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Prosser, and Walla Walla.

wine tasting tips
Getting out of town and seeing the grapes growing in the vineyards is a great part of the experience. Just be sure to be safe if you are driving.

4. Tasting rooms generally have fees

Wine tasting generally isn’t free. Some wineries don’t charge fees, but most of the time you should expect to pay about $5-$10 per person at each winery to taste between 4-6 wines. Most will waive the fee if you buy a bottle, however. The winery wants to sell you wine, and if you plan on investing in a nice bottle, it’s great to sample beforehand. Most places take cards, but having cash is easier if you don’t plan on buying many bottles.

Wine tasting tips

5. Take your time and experience each wine

Don’t just gulp it down. Take some time to sniff each wine, and swirl the wine around in the glass to oxidize the wine and release the flavor. Think about what you smell and then how the wine tastes at first, while you swirl it around in your mouth, and how it finishes when you swallow it. Think about what kind of food would pair well with it (steak? chocolate? fish?) It might take some time to develop your palate and really be able to differentiate all the complex flavors each wine has, but taking your time is the way to learn.

wine tasting tips

6. You are really only going to make it to four or five wineries in a day

When we first started wine tasting, we thought we’d be able to go to a ton of tasting rooms in one day but each time we find that we only end up getting to four or five. Wine tasting takes more time than you think it does. You might have to wait your turn at the pour counter, you may get into a lively conversation with your server (extra tip–your time with your wine server is a great opportunity to find out where the best place for dinner is that evening or any other local tips about the area), and tasting each wine takes time and shouldn’t be rushed if possible. Also, there is a strong possibility that you may be drunk after five wineries, and ready for a nap. We once went to a winery that had us taste all 12 of their wines. We were a little loopy at the end of that day.

Research the ones you think you might want to visit, or just ask a local which ones they like best and narrow it down from there.

wine tasting tips
Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills, WA

7. If venturing out to vineyards out of town, pack a picnic

When Paddy and I first went on our first wine tasting adventure around Wenatchee and Leavenworth, we got hungry. I think I may have said something like, “I could eat the shit out of some brie right now” on the drive back to Leavenworth. But wineries generally don’t have food licenses and there was no great cheese and snacks around to go with all that good wine.

Many wineries that don’t sell food are perfectly fine if you bring a little picnic. Pack some fruit, cheese, salami, crackers, chocolate, or whatever you want. You may want to purchase a glass of wine as a courtesy to go with your picnic if the winery allows you to sit and enjoy their vineyard.

wine tasting tips
Wine tasting in Chelan, WA

 

Wine tasting does not have to be as pretentious as some people make it out to be. Everyone who likes wine had to start learning about it somewhere. You also might find out that wine just isn’t your thing. Either way, it’s fun to learn and try new things, and a great way to spend a day with friends or a partner.

Lunar New Year in Seattle’s International District

Lunar New Year in Seattle’s International District: dragon and lion dances, martial arts performances, firecrackers, and a chance to sample a lot of great food on the $3 food walk

 

Every year, Seattle celebrates the Asian Lunar New Year that is widely celebrated across Asia. Many people refer to it as Chinese New Year, but many other Asian countries besides China celebrate it. The Lunar New Year is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, which is an astrological calendar revolving the month beginnings and endings around the cycles of the moon.

This year I am a liason for a Chinese exchange student through AFS, and have been learning a bit more about Chinese culture. We never really knew much about the Lunar New Year festivities or even that there was much of a celebration in Seattle at all, but this year we read up on it and decided to check it out.

Seattle’s “Chinatown” is pretty small compared to most large cities’ Chinatowns. It is officially called the International District, as the neighborhood includes Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Filipino, Japanese, and other international restaurants and shops.

seattle chinatown international district lunar new year
Seattle’s Chinatown and International District

seattle chinatown international district lunar new year

We read up on the Seattle Chinatown International District website that the event schedule was from 11 AM to 3 PM on Saturday February 13th. The lunar New Year is never on the same day, as it coincides with the cycle of the new moon. It is usually sometime in late January to mid February.

We arrived in the International District at 10:30, and everything was just getting set up. Crowds were gathering around the stage at Hing Hay Park on S King Street. Paddy hadn’t eaten breakfast and was starving, so we ducked into busy Mike’s Noodle House which was open serving noodle soup and congee (Chinese savory breakfast rice porridge) and he ordered some soup. Most everything on the menu was between $6-$8, and he said the soup was great. Note: Mike’s Noodle House is cash only.

Paddy wasn’t quite finished with his soup when we heard drums and cymbals across the street, signaling that the the lion and dragon dances were starting at Hing Hay Park. He told me to go ahead and he’d catch up with me.

I was able to catch a dragon dance circling the crowd before trying to squeeze my way in for the lion dances.

Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle
Chinese dragon dance, Lunar New Year in Seattle

The crowd was tightly packed, but I caught a bit of the first round of lion dances as I slowly squeezed my way forward.

Hing Hay Park Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Hing Hay Park Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dances Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dances at Hing Hay Park

The performance was put on by a local martial arts troupe, who also put on a martial arts performance after the lion dances. There were people of all ages performing and it was pretty impressive.

Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

This tough little guy was my favorite:

Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Martial arts performance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

Paddy found me in the crowd during the martial arts performances, and we both had a better view finally for the next lion dance, which was pretty fantastic.

It takes two people to comprise the lion, one person to be the back legs and one to be the front legs and operate the head, which has blinking eyes and an opening and closing mouth. It was really amazing how much they could make the lion appear like an excited kitty cat dancing and prancing around. Most impressive was when the person in the back lifted the front person to make the lion rear up or stand up.

Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration
Lion Dance at Seattle Lunar New Year celebration

At the end of the dance the lion “drank wine” out of a large gold container and became drunk, staggering about. It was entertaining.

Once the lion dance was over we picked up a map from the information booth of the $3 food walk. The food walk is a chance to walk around the neighborhood and sample a small portion of a dish from quite a few participating restaurants. It is a great way to get to know the food in the area without committing to one particular restaurant or meal.  There was also a tear off “passport” section of our food walk map that we could get stamped and fill out to enter to win a trip from Delta Airlines at the end.

Seattle Lunar New Year Food Walk
Seattle Lunar New Year Food Walk

**Note: Everything is cash only for the food walk, and there are not a lot of ATMs in the International District. Bring cash, or you can find a couple ATMs near/in Uwajimaya shopping center or at the Bank of America on 6th and Jackson.

We looked at our map and decided to start with the dim sum sampler at Dim Sum King on Jackson Street. The line was long but moved quickly as a lady at a table collected money, another stamped food walk cards, and a third filled the table with dim sum samplers as fast as they were being taken.

We got a sampler with a custard bun, a coconut bun, and two pot stickers. The pot stickers were average, but the pastries were phenomenal. My favorite was the coconut bun, which had a buttery sweet coconut paste on the inside. The custard bun was creamy with a nice crust. We will be back to this place for sure.

lunar new year seattle Coconut bun and custard bun at Dim Sum King
Coconut bun and custard bun at Dim Sum King

Next stop was Asia Bar-B-Que on Jackson for some honey pork and Singapore noodles. The Singapore noodles were good but a little bland, but the honey pork was moist, tender, and flavorful. The two together were a great combo.

lunar new year seattle asia bbq
Asia BBQ on Jackson St
lunar new year seattle food walk
Singapore noodles and honey pork from Asia Bar-B-Que on Jackson Street

We didn’t want to limit ourselves to Chinese food on the food walk, so we walked a few blocks further east on Jackson Street to Than Vi to sample some Vietnamese cuisine. We sampled their fried chicken wings with Sriracha, which were really good and so fresh from the fryer that we had to wait a bit to eat them because they were so hot.

Near Than Vi we saw another lion dance going on on the side of the street, and in a parking lot a block up the hill on Jackson we could hear a massive amount of firecrackers going off for about ten solid minutes.

lion dances seattle lunar new year

lion dances seattle lunar new year
Lion dances on the street

It was about 1:00 PM and we were starting to lose steam, so we headed back to Uwajimaya to sample the Japanese Takoyaki at Tako Kyuuban Takoyaki. Takoyaki is one of my new favorite things. It is octopus in dough fried in special fryers that are full of round indents. The cook pours the takoyaki batter into the fryer, and then when the takoyakis are just about cooked on the bottom, they are transferred one by one to the other identical side of the fryer with picks and turned and shaped with the picks while cooking until they are delicious little fried balls of awesomeness. They are then taken out of the fryer and squirted with a couple kinds of sauces, smoked dried bonito fish, and dried seaweed. Here is a diagram from their website:

takoyaki
Image from http://takokyuuban.com/
seattle lunar new year takoyaki food walk
Cooking takoyaki
seattle lunar new year food walk
Takoyaki

We decided to do one more food walk sample before we headed home, and Paddy wanted to end with something sweet. In the same Uwajimaya food court as the takoyaki stand was UniCone Crepes, also participating in the $3 food walk with strawberry banana crepes. They were tasty.

We dropped our stamped food walk passport off at the info booth to enter the Delta Airlines contest, and called it a day. That evening we went to our friends’ annual Chinese New Year party complete with karaoke.

Seattle’s Lunar New Year celebration was a great day, and we can’t wait to go back to some of the restaurants and have some full meals. There is a lot of great authentic food in the International District and the Lunar New Year celebration is a perfect opportunity to sample it and learn a bit about Asian cultures.

Happy New year!

seattle lunar new year
Paddy the karaoke rockstar

Our Top Food Experiences From Our Adventures

Our top food experiences from our adventures 2008-2015: Our most memorable meals from our travels around the world (so far).

10. The Winding Stair in Dublin, Ireland

Given that everything in Ireland is expensive, we couldn’t eat out at many upscale restaurants on our two-week trip. The Winding Stair was our one big splurge in Ireland, and it was worth it. It is located above an affiliated book store (one of the oldest independent book stores in Dublin) overlooking the River Liffey. It was cute, quiet, and romantic. The food is fresh, organic, and locally sourced.  If you’re in Dublin looking for a fantastic Irish meal with ambiance, this is a great little spot. Definitely one of our top food experiences in Ireland.

River Liffey, Dublin
River Liffey, Dublin
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Duck breast with fingerling potatoes at The Winding Stair
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Pork loin at the winding stair

9. Kèköldi Indigenous family farm, Costa Rica

Our friends Sarah and Julio took us to a farm owned by the indigenous Kèköldi people near Cahuita, Costa Rica. Our host gave us a tour through the rain forest surrounding his home and told us about all the medicinal plants and foods found in the area that are used by his family. Afterward, we were served a typical lunch of chicken, plantains breadfruit, and sweet potatoes served in banana leaves, which are used as plates and bowls. The chicken was some of the best we’d ever had and it was a very interesting and educational day. If you are interested in taking this tour, you can book it through Sarah and Julio’s tour company, www.boyerotours.com.

Kekoldi indigenous tour costa rica top food experiences
Lunch at the Kèköldi farm: Chicken, breadfruit, plantains, and sweet potato
Kekoldi village costa rica top food experiences
Julio and our host at the Kèköldi farm, Costa Rica

8. Argentinian cooking at Tierras Del Sol, Tulum, Mexico

When we were in Tulum, Mexico in 2009, we stayed at a little place on the beach called Tierras Del Sol (unfortunately, it looks like it is now closed). The beach was the best we’ve ever seen in our travels to the tropics, and because it was the low season we usually had it all to ourselves.

Tulum-beach-Mexico-top-food-experiences (6)
Tulum Beach

It was located at the very end of the Boca Paila Rd, about 12 miles from the center of town and we had no car. They served dinner and breakfast, and the manager/cook was from Argentina and cooked amazing food every night. It was pretty much the same menu: three salads, grilled vegetables, and then grilled meat or fish with an Argentinian marinade. We stayed for four nights, and ate three dinners there it was so good. Each night the grilled meat or fish was whatever looked fresh at the market that day. One night we ventured further down the road to a neighboring bungalow resort and ate at their restaurant, but the food was small, pretentious, and not nearly as good.

Simple and delicious, served with a side of peace and quiet, the warm sea air, and plenty of beer and margaritas. It was one of our top food experiences for sure.

Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (2)
Top food experiences –Tierras Del Sol restaurant/lounge area

Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (10)

Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (12)

tulum-mexico top food experiences

7. Kuma’s Corner, Chicago

Paddy maintains that one of the best burgers he has ever had (perhaps THE best burger he has ever had) was at Kuma’s Corner while we were visiting a friend in Chicago in 2008. Located in the Avondale neighborhood, Kuma’s Corner is all about two things: amazing burgers and heavy metal. And burgers named after heavy metal. What more could you want?

It sounds gimmicky, but the real rock star here is the food. Most of the burgers are served on pretzel buns, and really are in a league of their own. If you go to Chicago, don’t miss Kuma’s.

Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
At Kuma’s Corner, Chicago
Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
The “Slayer” burger at Kuma’s Corner. Served with ANGER!

 

6. The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C. Canada

We spent a holiday weekend in Victoria BC in 2014, and we were surprised to find so much great food! It was tough to choose which one of our meals that weekend would wind up on our top food experiences list, but we decided it must be the Jam Cafe. We had pulled pork pancakes (large enough to feed a family of four) and the fried chicken benedict and shared. The bloody marys were also fabulous and are served with a piece of candied bacon and a seasoned salt rim. It was one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, and worth the 20 minute wait in line.

A close second of our top food experiences in Victoria: Red Fish Blue Fish. It was almost a coin toss.

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The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C.
Jam-Cafe-Victoria-BC-top-food-experiences (6)
Bloody Mary at the Jam Cafe with candied bacon
Jam-Cafe-Victoria-BC-top-food-experiences (10)
Pulled Pork pancakes with jalepeno sour cream and pickled cabbage
Jam-Cafe-Victoria-BC-top-food-experiences (11)
Fried chicken benedict with roasted corn salsa

5. Atchafalaya, New Orleans

Atchafalaya New Orleans
Atchafalaya restaurant–brunch highly recommended!

We spent Halloween 2015 in New Orleans, which I’m sure you know is home to some pretty spectacular cuisine. The winner from this trip was definitely brunch at Atchafalaya in the Garden District. They had a delicious-looking breakfast cocktail list, but we couldn’t pass up the bloody mary bar where you can build your own bloody mary from two different types of mixes, and an array of hot sauces and house pickled veggies to go with it. The bartender gives you a glass with your choice of vodka and you make it however you want it.

Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar-green tomato bloody marys!

The breakfast menu made for a tough decision. I eventually decided on the duck hash with blackberries, mangos, duck confit, potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and bacon vinigarette. Paddy had the shrimp and cream cheese grits with smoked tomatoes and andouille sausage. Our friends tried the fried chicken and biscuits and gravy, the bananas foster french toast, and the truffled eggs with spinach. It was all amazing. They also serve dinner, and we will definitely be back on our next visit to NOLA.

Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya New Orleans
Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya New Orleans
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya

4. Chiky Blu Restaurant in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

On our first night in the small beach town of Bayahibe, Dominican Republic, we ventured into a little unassuming open-air beach restaurant with reasonable prices and ordered up some dinner. I had no idea going in that I would have the best whole fried fish I’d ever had that I still think about to this day. It was simple, but full of flavor, and very crispy without any greasiness. It came with rosemary fried potatoes on a bed of lettuce with three tomato slices on top and a lime wedge.

Paddy had gnocchi which was also excellent. We went back for dinner again on our last night and had the pizza which was also good, but I still think about that fried fish. I haven’t had one live up to that one since.

Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Fried fish chiky blu bayahibe
Best fried fish I’ve ever had at Chiky Blu

3. Hotel La Pirogue, Taha’a, French Polynesia

We spent our honeymoon in French Polynesia, traveling to Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. On Taha’a we stayed on a remote motu island off the coast of the main island of Taha’a at a little resort called Hotel La Pirogue. It was completely remote, so we did the breakfast and dinner meal plan. Breakfast was standard European continental style, with muesli, yogurt, fruit, and baguettes with cheese and ham cold cuts.

hotel la pirogue tahaa
View from our bungalow porch at Hotel La Pirogue on the Taha’a motu

Dinner, however was unexpectedly some of the best food we’ve ever had. The little resort was owned by a French couple who were very welcoming. The husband was an outstanding chef and cooked dinner for the guests while his wife waited tables. We could choose a starter, main course and dessert for dinner each night.

The fusion of French cuisine with local Polynesian ingredients like vanilla, breadfruit, spices, and local fish, and shellfish was innovative and unique. It was some of the best food we’ve ever had.

We spent our days reading books, swimming in the beach in front of our bungalow, kayaking around the lagoon, and day touring the island of Taha’a. At night we would stuff ourselves silly at the restaurant and waddle back to our bungalow to sit on our porch and drink wine in the moonlight. It was a great four days.

Coconut curry shrimp
Coconut curry shrimp
Duck breast
Duck breast
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Seared Ahi tuna
Seared Ahi tuna
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue

 

 2. Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

While in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015, we had made reservations far in advance for Dill, which is arguably the best upscale dining restaurant in Iceland. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason takes Nordic cuisine to new and innovative levels, using local ingredients–much along the lines of the world-renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark.

Iceland-Dill
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland 107

Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

We may not ever be able to afford Noma ($300 per person for a seven course meal), but we were able to make room in our budget for Dill (much more reasonable at just under $100 per person for a seven course meal). Don’t get me wrong, it was really expensive, but worth it. In this culinary realm, food begins to cross from sustenance to art, bringing new flavors and textures and ideas to the dining experience that have not been done before.

Wine pairings with all seven courses were also offered at an additional $100 per person, but we stuck with one glass of champagne and one glass of red wine each. Our bill at the end was $250, which was slightly less than we had budgeted.

The meal came with four small amuse bouche starters and house-made sourdough rolls. It was a two-hour ordeal, and the most high-end culinary experience we’ve ever had. I hate rutabagas, and the rutabaga course with cream cheese foam, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet was so delicious I almost licked the plate.

Dill Menu
Dill Menu
salt cod course dill restaurant reykjavik
Salt cod course
scallop tartare dill restaurant reykjavik
Scallop tartare course
Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
Pork belly course with kale and black garlic
Dill-Restaurant
Rutabaga course with cream cheese, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet
Dill-Restaurant-2
Icelandic Skyr with celery sorbet and roasted oats

Nothing could really top that dining experience in Iceland, but I will give the lobster soup at Salthusid Restaurant in Grindavik a second prize.

 

1. Farm Pu Nim (Softshell Crab Farm) in Chanthaburi, Thailand

I don’t know where this is or how you get to it, but try to find out if you find yourself in the Chanthaburi province of Thailand. Farm Pu Nim (translates to “softshell crab farm”) was host to the number one of all our top food experiences in our travels to date.

We were visiting a Thai friend of mine and her family in Chanthaburi, Thailand, and they wanted to take us to lunch here. We drove a little ways outside of Chanthaburi town, and then parked and got in a small boat ferrying customers to the restaurant.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
top food experiences –Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

It was busy with Thai tourists and locals (no westerners that I saw), and our friend said it is somewhere that they take visitors or go to on special occasions. They ordered a bunch of dishes for us all to share.

The restaurant kitchen was visible from the path to the bathroom, and was totally chaotic. Piles of sea shells, plastic tubs, and tanks of fish and crabs were everywhere.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Our food arrived in courses, and it was a seafood feast. The food was amazing, and there was so much that we couldn’t finish it all. Oysters, shrimp, squid, a spicy fish soup, fried soft shell crab, soft shell crab in curry, and a whole fried fish with garlic. We’d never seen such a spread.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
fried soft shell crab

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand
Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Oysters

We squabbled over the bill at the end– we insisted on paying as they were taking us around Chanthaburi and being fabulous hosts, and after some arguing we were allowed to pay. For seven people (albeit two were small children), the total for all that food and a couple beers was $45.

A large part of what makes this number one of our top food experiences was the amazing food, but another part was being able to share in something uniquely Thai that our friends wanted to share with us. We would have never found that place on our own, and being able to share it with a long lost friend from my exchange student days and her family was very special.

 

Food is a huge part of our travels, and we hope to add many more meals to this list in the future. A meal doesn’t have to be expensive to be amazing, it just needs to be made with love and either talent or a good recipe. Stay tuned for more of our top food experiences in the future.

Orcas Island, Washington 2015

Our quick weekend getaway to Orcas Island, WA: Rosario Resort and the Moran Mansion, farmers market, great food, and beautiful island scenery.

 

Paddy and I are originally from San Juan Island, a neighboring island to Orcas Island in the San Juan archipelago. Even though we grew up close by, we have really only been to Orcas Island a handful of times in our lives.

While most tourists bypass the other islands and head straight to Friday Harbor and San Juan Island, Orcas Island is not to be overlooked. It is geographically the largest of the four main San Juan Islands, and has some of the most stunning scenery combined with small town laid-back island life.

Day 1:

We made our ferry reservations in advance, and caught the 6:30 PM sailing on Friday from Anacortes. We left Seattle at 3:30 and traffic wasn’t too bad. We arrived the Anacortes ferry terminal within about two hours. We grabbed a snack at the little Cheesecake Cafe ferry terminal kiosk and soon were loaded onto the boat heading to Orcas Island.

*Note: Ferry reservations strongly recommended for Friday evening sailings, and are an absolute must in the summertime.

There was a spectacular fall sunset on the way, and the weather was weirdly warm despite the strong October breeze.

sunset from ferry to orcas Island
Sunset seen from the ferry to Orcas Island

sunset from ferry to orcas Island

We arrived Orcas Island starving, and followed the train of cars through the dark about 15 minutes into the main town of Eastsound in the middle of the island. After a quick stop at the Island Market for beer, wine, and some light breakfast items for the morning, we walked next door to the Lower Tavern for dinner.

*Note: The grocery stores close around 8:00 to 9:00 PM, so be sure to get your snacks and beverages early.

The Lower Tavern is your basic local bar with a variety of burgers and pub grub. There is a pool table, neon beer signs, good beer selection, and locals a plenty. Service was good, and the food was your average pub fare. This is one of the less-expensive places to eat on Orcas Island if you are looking for somewhere casual.

lower tavern eastsound orcas island
Crispy chicken burger and fries at the Lower Tavern in Eastsound
lower tavern eastsound orcas island
Lower Tavern, Eastsound

After dinner, we drove another 15 minutes east and then south to Rosario Resort, one of the oldest hotels on Orcas Island. Rosario is the 40 acre former estate of Seattle shipbuilder and mayor Robert Moran, who built his mansion here over 100 years ago. The mansion is now the main building at Rosario, hosting a spa, bar and restaurant, and a museum of the upper floors of the Moran mansion.

Surprisingly, Rosario had the best priced room I could find on Orcas Island. We had reserved the least expensive room, a hillside king at $120/night.  It was a bit far from the main mansion, down the road and up a steep hill. The room was nice, and included cable TV, a fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and a nice balcony overlooking the bay. We were visiting in October, and the price of the room drops further in the winter season to $99/night (when I last checked, anyway). The only complaint we had is that the water pressure in the shower was pretty low. Other than that it was a very nice room.

Rosario hillside king room Orcas Island
Rosario hillside king room
Rosario hillside king room Orcas Island
Rosario hillside king room

Rosario hillside king room Orcas Island

 

Day 2:

We slept in the next morning, enjoying the view from our room and the sound of the waves on the shore below. We had coffee and snacks we had bought the night before in our room for a light breakfast, and then headed down to the Mansion to check out the museum.

Rosario Moran Mansion Orcas Island

The upstairs floors of the Moran Mansion are preserved as a historical museum of the Moran family. There is the main music room in the middle, with a two story pipe organ. I read that every Saturday you can come hear an organist play the organ and then have access to the library rooms on the third floor mezzanine, which are otherwise closed to the public.

The museum has a lot of the original furniture from the Moran family, as well as photos of the Moran family, models of Robert Moran’s ships that he built, and other early turn of the century artifacts.

Rosario Moran Mansion Orcas Island
Front of the Moran Mansion

Rosario Resort also has two outdoor pools for the summer season, including one for adults at the main mansion and a larger one for families down by the harbor.

Rosario Resort adult pool Orcas Island
Adult pool at the Moran Mansion
Rosario Resort Orcas Island
The hotel rooms from across the bay as viewed from the mansion

After touring the museum, we headed back to the town of Eastsound for the Orcas Island farmer’s market. In the fall it is located indoors at the Oddfellows Hall on Saturdays from 11:00 to 2:00.

The farmers market had lots of locally farmed fruits and vegetables, hand crafted jewelry, felted hats, and other gifts. Island made foods such as sausages, chocolates, baked goods, pasta, coffee, and jams were also available for sale. I scraped together some cash to purchase some huge and amazing-looking gloves of garlic from the farmer with the sausage (his credit card square wasn’t working on his phone). Bringing cash is recommended.

Paddy tasted a bunch of jams from Girl Meets Dirt at the table next door and said they were all delicious. He bought her peach chamomile preserves and miraculously got his card to swipe on her phone square. With flavors like rhubarb lavender, pear balsamic, and fig basil it was difficult to choose.

I also recommend Island Thyme bath and cosmetic products–especially the lip balms and the bar soaps. My Mom on San Juan Island often puts them in my Christmas stocking. I’m a lip balm and lip gloss junkie, and theirs is one of my favorites.

Girl Meets Dirt peach chamomile preserves from the farmer's market orcas island
Girl Meets Dirt peach chamomile preserves from the farmer’s market

If you can’t make it to the farmers market and still want some preserves or other locally made products, you can visit the Orcas Island Food Co-Op which is open daily in East Sound.

Eastsound Orcas Island
Eastsound, Orcas Island–view from Oddfellows Hall farmers market

After the farmers market we were hungry, so we decided to have lunch at Rose’s Bakery & Cafe in Eastsound. It was a nice little spot and the food was good, although a bit overpriced for what you got. Our sandwiches were $16.00 each, Paddy’s mole chicken sandwich came with about two tablespoons of coleslaw and my fried green tomato BLT came with about two tablespoons of potato salad. I know that things are more expensive in the islands, but cabbage and potatoes aren’t high-end ingredients. It seems that the side could have been at least a half cup’s worth. When we left Paddy was still hungry. Not exactly what you want to feel like after spending $16.00 on a sandwich. Good quality, but not sure if we’ll be back based on the prices.

Fried green tomato BLT at Rose's Bakery Cafe Orcas Island
Fried green tomato BLT at Rose’s Bakery Cafe
Mole chicken sandwich at Rose's Bakery Cafe
Mole chicken sandwich at Rose’s Bakery Cafe

After lunch we headed east towards Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park.  Moran State Park is host to several hiking trails, a campground, and two large lakes–one with a nice swim beach in the summertime. The last time we were on Orcas Island was about 12 years ago in October, and we tried to go up to the top of Mt Constitution to see the view from the tower but about three quarters of the way up the mountain we found ourselves in a dense fog prohibiting any kind of view whatsoever.

Moran State Park Orcas Island
Moran State Park entrance

Unfortunately, we found ourselves in the same situation again as we ascended the mountain. We did enjoy the spooky mist and forest views, however.

Foggy road to Mt Constitution
Foggy road to Mt Constitution

When we neared the top, instead of this:

Mt Constitution Moran State Park
View from Mt Constitution on a clear day. Image from http://moranstatepark.com/mount-constitution/

We got this:

Orcas-Island 236

*Note: Go to Mt. Constitution on sunny days only if you want to see the view. Also, be sure to have your Discover Pass with you for parking.

The rain was getting heavier, and we kind of felt like hibernating. We made a quick stop in Eastsound for an afternoon snack at Brown Bear Baking. After surveying several delectable items including chocolate croissants as big as my face, I selected a chocolate muffin for Paddy and I to share. It was delicious–very chocolatey with a nice crunchy top. We headed back to the room for some R&R.

Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound
Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound
chocolate muffins at Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound
Chocolate muffins at Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound

The sun broke through the clouds around 4:30 as we were watching the tail end of Footloose on TV. (Side note curiosity–how long did it take for Kevin Bacon to stop finding  glitter everywhere after filming the end dance scene?)

We were getting hungry and were trying to decide where to go for dinner. We decided on the Inn at Ship Bay just east of Eastsound. We called to find out if we needed reservations and were informed that they were completely booked for the evening but there were some spots at the bar open at the moment. We jumped in the car and snagged a couple of the last spots at the cozy little bar with a view of the sound.

Dinner was outstanding. It was a splurge, but well worth it. I ordered the Apple Pye cocktail, with apple liquer, bay leaf, vodka, and ginger beer. It was fall in a glass, and very strong.

inn at ship bay apple pye cocktail orcas island
Apple Pye cocktail

For dinner, we started with the Mangalitsa pork belly appetizer and the tomato goat cheese tart. Both were fabulous. The pork belly was nice and crispy on the outside and the quince and apple puree complimented it nicely.

For entrees I had the weathervane scallops with the sprouted lentil salad, and Paddy had the sirloin steak. We also couldn’t pass up on dessert–the goat cheese bourbon cheesecake with apples. It was a perfect fall meal, and we would recommend Inn at Ship Bay highly for dinner.

Mangalitsa pork belly with quince and apple puree
Mangalitsa pork belly with quince and apple puree
Goat cheese and tomato tart with arugula salad
Goat cheese and tomato tart with arugula salad
Sirloin steak Inn at Ship Bay Orcas island
Sirloin steak
Weathervane scallops with citrus risotto, sprouted lentil salad, and lemon aoli
Weathervane scallops with citrus risotto, sprouted lentil salad, and lemon aoli
Goat cheese apple bourbon cheesecake
Goat cheese apple bourbon cheesecake

After dinner, we headed back to Rosario. Paddy wanted to have a drink at the Mansion bar, and I wanted to go soak in the hot tub in the basement spa.

I had stayed here at Rosario once when I was a kid with my parents in the 1980’s. The indoor pool back then was a big, white, milky, creepy experience with pipes going across the room over the pool. It kind of felt like being in the belly of a flooded ship.

I was pleased to see that they had re-done the entire pool and that it was much nicer looking. There was also a sauna.

Rosario Resort indoor pool at the spa
Rosario Resort indoor pool at the spa

I got a locker padlock and a towel from the front desk lady in the gift shop area at the spa entrance, and made my way back to the little changing rooms and lockers. The changing rooms are all individual and unisex and just outside the main pool area. One thing that I’m pretty sure hadn’t changed since the 1980’s was the dingy green carpet in the changing room area and hallway that smelled like about 30 years worth of chlorine that had dripped off of hundreds of wet bathers festering away in it’s fibers. I have no idea why this area is carpeted, and is something that they should probably address.

Around the corner from the small wall of lockers is the hall leading to the outdoor adult pool and a very creepy exercise room. If there is one area that is haunted in this 100+ year old mansion, it is the exercise room. I am sure of it.

I found the womens showers and rinsed off, then climbed into the jacuzzi tub. The tub was huge and no one was in it, which was very nice. It was heavily chorinated, however. I smelled like chlorine the rest of the night, despite rinsing off afterward. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to evaluate the chlorine levels before getting in.

Rosario Resort hot tub in the spa
Rosario Resort hot tub in the spa

After I changed I found Paddy at the Mansion bar, which was hoppin’ busy. There was live music and a roaring fire in the fireplace. We headed back to the room to relax and watch a movie.

Rosario Resort mansion at night
Rosario Resort mansion at night

 

Day 3:

Sunday morning brought beautiful rays of sunshine. It was a shame we didn’t have time to go up to Mt. Constitution to take in the view before catching the ferry, but we had reservations for the 8:45 sailing back to Anacortes.

We got in line for the ferry about half an hour before boarding, and walked down the hill to the little Orcas Village Store in search of coffee and sustenance.

Orcas Village Store at the ferry landing orcas island
Orcas Village Store at the ferry landing

We ordered some espresso at their coffee/deli counter and some surprisingly delicious chipotle bacon breakfast burritos sitting pre-made in their warm food cabinet near the counter. There were also pastries, bagels with salmon cream cheese and other deli items for purchase. The breakfast burritos were really good.

Soon enough the ferry rounded the corner and we were loaded onto the boat, which made stops at Shaw and Lopez Islands as well.

Orcas Island ferry
Ferry coming into dock
Orcas Island village from ferry
View of Orcas Village landing from the ferry
Cars loading onto the ferry on Orcas Island
Cars loading onto the ferry on Orcas Island

It was a nice little weekend getaway. When we come back to visit Orcas Island again, we’d like to see a bit more of the island itself–hiking in Moran State Park, Cascade Falls, Deer Harbor, and Doe Bay. We’ll be back.