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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The way back had the best views, as you are facing Mt Rainier the entire time.
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.
*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.
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: 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The wedding at the Edmonds Yacht club next to the harbor was beautiful, and we had a lot of fun.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Dissident was our favorite wine that we tasted, a hearty red blend of cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, and petit verdot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were also some good photo opportunities:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The crowd was tightly packed, but I caught a bit of the first round of lion dances as I slowly squeezed my way forward.
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.
This tough little guy was my favorite:
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.
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.
**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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves in the same situation again as we ascended the mountain. We did enjoy the spooky mist and forest views, however.
When we neared the top, instead of this:
We got this:
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are spending Halloween in Seattle, there are a lot of options for a spooky good time. Here are our recommendations for Halloween fun in the Emerald City:
Pumpkin Patch and Cider Tasting
If you are spending Halloween in Seattle have the means and enthusiasm to carve a pumpkin, one of our favorite October day trips is to Dr Maze’s pumpkin farm in nearby Redmond, WA. It has all the standard things a pumpkin patch should have–a corn maze, kettle corn, fruits and veggies for sale, hot apple cider, and a pumpkin patch where you can pick your own pumpkin. The reason we like this pumpkin patch the most is the fact that it is just down the road from the Minea Farm, a working farm with a 100 + year old cider press still in action. Buy a cup of hot cider and watch the cider press from the viewing window, or buy a gallon of fresh pressed organic cider to take home. They also sell apples, eggs, jams and jellies, honey, and other things made on their farm. Minea Farm is located at 13404 Woodinville Redmond Rd NE, Redmond, WA.
Horror Movie Exhibit
The EMP at the Seattle Center has an exhibit that has been running for a couple years (not sure how long it will run for) called “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of the Horror Film.” See real iconic horror movie props such as the facehugger from Alien, the axe from The Shining, and the script from Night of the Living Dead. I haven’t been to this exhibit yet but hope to before it goes away.
One of the longest running Haunted Houses in Seattle is the Kube 93 Haunted House in the Georgetown neighborhood just south of downtown. I actually haven’t been to this since I was a teenager, but I keep meaning to go again. It’s a little pricey at $23 per adult, but they really go all out. They run the haunted house all through the month of October and even the last weekend of September.
Haunted Seattle Ghost Tours
Spooked in Seattle offers ghost tours of Seattle, including one ghost tour a month on the last Friday of each month in the Seattle underground, the part of old town Seattle that the current city was built on top of after the great fire of 1889. We’ve been on the regular Seattle Underground Tour, and it was spooky on its own without looking for ghosts. We’ve been on Spooked in Seattle’s regular city walking tour where they take you around Pioneer Square and downtown and tell you about reported ghost sightings in the historical part of the city. If you are interested in Seattle’s history and want a little spooky Halloween in Seattle fun, this is a good way to get a little of both.
Spooky Burlesque Shows
If you like dinner theater, burlesque shows, and Tim Burton, then you are in luck. The Triple Door downtown hosts a burlesque-style performance of the Nightmare Before Christmas, called This is Halloween every year. I’ve been to a few shows at The Triple Door, and this is dinner theater at its best. Food from the attached Wild Ginger restaurant is served prior to and during the show and drink service is available throughout. I saw the show with some friends two years ago as a girls’ night out and it was great fun. Get your tickets in advance, especially for weekend shows.
Seattle’s top spot for year round Burlesque shows is The Can Can downtown (right next to the entrance to the Pike Place Market). They love to do theme shows, and last year I went to a Halloween burlesque show called “Zombie Cheerleaders From Hell.” It appears that they are running it again this year. The title is a little misleading, (I don’t remember any zombie cheerleaders), but it was full of classic and devilishly spooky song and dance numbers, pasties, and humor. I did notice that their ticket prices have gone up a bit–the $40 ticket price used to include a cocktail credit but it appears that it is now just admission. The performers are great and the shows I’ve seen have always been fabulous, so if you have the dough and want to see a unique little part of Halloween in Seattle, I’d recommend it.
Other good places to check for burlesque shows are the Columbia City Theater in Columbia City, and The Jewelbox Theater at the Rendezvous in Belltown. I checked their calendars for this October and both of them seem to be doing a Rocky Horror theme burlesque show of some kind, and The Jewelbox Theater has a “pole dancing Halloween recital”. I don’t know what all of those shows entail, but I’m sure whatever they are they will be at entertaining at minimum.
Creepy Circus Show and Dance Party
One of the best Halloween events I’ve been to over Halloween in Seattle is the Emerald City Trapeze annual event Carnevolar. Hosted at the Emerald City Aerialdome in Sodo, they usually do 2-3 shows over Halloween weekend. The evening starts with a trapeze act, followed by a stage show including dancing, aerialist acts, and other circus performances. Every Carnevolar has a different theme. I’ve been to the Vampyre Circus and The Haunting. Last year I think it was Funhouse, this year it is The Funeral.
After the performance, a DJ spins into the wee hours of the morning and the whole place becomes a dance party. Costumes are strongly encouraged, and from the two times I’ve gone people get very into the costumes here. Don’t be the boring lameass without a costume.
Psycho at the Symphony
If you’re up for something spooky but a little more low-key on Halloween night, The Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall downtown does a live performance of the score to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho along with the movie.
Halloween Night Fun in the City
Lastly, of course you can always spend Halloween in Seattle out on the town. Every bar in the city will have some sort of Halloween party going on, but if you really want to be at the heart of the action, the Pike/Pine corridor on Capitol Hill is the place to go. It will be busy, so go early if you want to snag a spot to sit and people watch, or go later and wait in lines and bar crawl like everyone else. One year when Halloween was on a Friday, we went to Linda’s early at 9:00 and snagged a booth. We had the intention of moving on to other bars, but as Linda’s became more and more packed our booth started looking a more and more appealing to stay in. The entertainment pretty much came to us–it was an endless parade of costumes.
Whatever neighborhood you end up in, finding booze and people in costumes shouldn’t be too difficult.
Whatever you decide to do, Halloween in Seattle is always a great time. Don’t forget to bring a costume.
San Juan Island, Washington in the summer: American Camp, English Camp, hiking, restaurants, and the best places to catch the sunset (and maybe even whales)
The best way to have a great getaway to San Juan Island, WA in the summer is to plan way in advance. I know that’s hard for some people to do, but the further ahead you book your hotel and ferry reservation, the easier your trip will be. If you plan on camping at San Juan County Park, try to get your reservation as soon as it becomes available 90 days in advance. I would also recommend dinner reservations at any nicer restaurants a few days to a week in advance if possible. The major holiday weekends (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day) are all going to be especially busy.
Friday Harbor/San Juan Islandis the busiest of the San Juan Islands, and has the largest town. If you want to go when the weather is still nice but less crowded (no guarantee for nice weather in the Pacific Northwest, however), try going in May before Memorial Day weekend or in September after Labor Day Weekend. This is the shoulder season and while it is still popular with travelers, most of the families have kids in school then and take their vacations in July and August.
The best way to enjoy San Juan Island in the summer is to get out of town (don’t spend all your time in Friday Harbor). I strongly recommend bringing a car or a bicycle to see the island, as public transportation is limited to the tourist shuttle and doesn’t give you much freedom to get around the whole island. Mopeds and buggies can also be rented, just try to stay in the bike lanes as much as possible when you rent these, and be prepared for glares from locals if you rent the buggies. If cost is a factor, it will be less expensive to bring your car on the ferry than it will be to pay for parking on the other side and rent a moped. Bicycles can be rented at Island Bicycles if you want to bike the island and don’t have your own.
I won’t cover everything there is to do and see on San Juan Island, but I’ll give you my favorite summer adventures. Grab a picnic lunch at King’s Market in Friday Harbor or from the Market Chef Deli and head out for the day.
The history and old military buildings are interesting, but the main reason to come to American Camp is the natural beauty. Miles of unspoiled beaches and golden grassy hills with ample amounts of primitive walking trails comprise the park. This is raw island beauty at its finest, and I used to spend hours walking the trails and coastline here as a kid.
Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of some of the local island foxes
The best beaches on San Juan Island are on the south end, most of them are in American Camp. South Beach is the largest, with ample parking and pit toilets. When heading through American Camp on Cattle Point Road, the South Beach road will be on the right and is well marked.
Eagle Cove Beach is outside of American Camp park, and is the number one local favorite on San Juan Island. It is one of the only beaches on the island that is sandy, and the tide often goes out pretty far in the summertime. It does get extremely busy in the summer, I would recommend going earlier in the morning to get a good parking space and catch the lowest tides. You can find a tide schedule here. To get to Eagle Cove, take a right off of Cattle Point Road onto Eagle Cove Drive just before the American Camp sign. Follow the residential road and the small grassy parking lot will be on your left.
If you want a sandy beach but want to avoid the crowds, Granny’s Cove in American Camp is another option. Park your car at the American Camp Visitor’s Center (take a right off of Cattle Point Road just after the American Camp sign) and follow the grass trail opposite the Officer’s Quarters down towards the coast. Veer to the right when you reach the coastal cliffs and the beach will be at the bottom of a short but steep trail down the cliff.
The Cattle Point Lighthouse is another one of my favorite sights on the south end. The parking lot is managed by the state, so note that a discover pass is required to park there. The trail is short and easy, and the views are stunning. There is another little rocky beach near the parking lot as well.
On the north part of the island, you’ll find the historical remains of the British occupation of the island in the 1800’s. English Camp is very geographically different than American Camp. Instead of sweeping, wild coastal plains, you’ll find grassy fields and orchards, an English rose garden, a rocky beach home to many shellfish, and several woodsy hiking trails.
There is a visitor’s center with historical information and videos, a decent sized parking lot, and pit toilets.
One of the best view hiking trails on San Juan Island is the Young Hill trail, departing from the English Camp parking lot. The hike is about a mile long uphill, gaining 600 ft of elevation to gorgeous views at the top. Locals call it Mt Young, but it really isn’t much of a mountain.
Roche Harbor and the Mausoleum
Roche Harbor is the only other part of the island where you will find some sort of civilization outside of Friday Harbor (i.e. cell reception). There isn’t a lot there, but you’ll find a harbor, a cafe, grocery store, gift shop, old historic Hotel De Haro, and remains of John McMillan’s lime quarry. McMillan’s Restaurant in the Hotel De Haro is pricey but very good. The restaurant and hotel are rumored to be haunted. Paddy worked with a guy who used to work there and he has stories of lights and radios coming on by themselves when he was alone at night closing the kitchen in the winter. In the summer you’ll find Roche Harbor bustling with wealthy tourists, the harbor full of expensive yachts. It is pretty though, and worth checking out.
If you peer over the edge of the docks you can often see the white sea anemones metridium senile growing on the docks.
Near the entrance to Roche Harbor next to the airfield is one of my all time favorite places to see on San Juan Island, The Mausoleum.
The Mausoleum was built by Roche Harbor founder John McMillan as a final resting place for his family.
Parking is in a gravel lot facing the private airfield, and the trail is just up the road a few feet. An easy half mile hike through the woods takes you past several old tombstones that are gated by wire and picket fences.
A windy little path through the woods meets up with a wide path that leads to the Mausoleum, “Afterglow Vista.”
It is beautiful and eery at the same time. The structure contains symbolism of the Masonic order. Grecian style columns surround a marble and stone table on a stone platform with six chairs surrounding it. Each chair contains the ashes of a family member, as well as his secretary. One of the columns was built purposefully broken.
The West Side
The West side of San Juan Island is the favorite place of many of my fellow island friends. It is most popular for watching the sunset from the rocky cliffs just off of West Side Road. There is parking at Lime Kiln State Park (Discover Pass required) and there are also a few pull off parking spots along West Side Road. There is a light house and the remains of old lime kilns from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. When I was growing up we always called it “Whale Watch Park” because the West Side is the best place to try and catch a glimpse of whales from the shore. At dusk and dark you can see the flickering lights of Victoria, BC across the sound.
Also on the West Side is Pelindaba Lavender Farm. If you like lavender and lavender products, this place is also worth a stop, if only to get a nice photo in front of the lavender fields. They also have a shop in town.
Go on a Whale Watch Tour
If you can swing a reservation (book far in advance for summer), a small boat whale and wildlife tour with Maya’s Legacy Charters is well worth it. Maya’s Legacy has small boats only, so you aren’t on a crowded boat straining to see around all the other tourists. They depart from the West Side at Snug Harbor. Leaving from the West Side where the whales are means you get more time with the whales and more out of your tour. They also have a naturalist on most of their tours to explain more about the wildlife. You can read about my recent tour with Maya’s Legacy Charters here.
My two favorite places for a nice dinner on San Juan Island are the Duck Soup Inn (about 4 miles north of Friday Harbor off of Roche Harbor Road) and the Backdoor Kitchen in Friday Harbor. Both close down for all or part of the winter season, so if I’m on the island in the summer I usually try to make a point to go to one of them.
The Duck Soup Inn is an old island establishment and recently changed ownership. I haven’t been there since the new owners took over, but hopefully it is still as amazing as it was last time I went. Entree prices are around $28-$37 a plate, but include both a cup of soup and a small starter salad, as well as their delicious signature anchovy spread and fresh bread. For fine dining, it’s a pretty decent deal for the price.
The Backdoor Kitchen is a little hard to find (I think the owners kind of like to keep it that way). One of the owners also runs a landscaping business on the island and the outdoor patio seating is amazing on a nice summer evening. It is a little pricey, but the food is organic and high quality. Cocktails are inventive and the menu has an international flair. Service is always fantastic.
I had the pan seared sea scallops last time I was there and they were delicious.
For lunch, my favorite spot is the Market Chef Deli in Friday Harbor, but they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays so if you are on the island during the weekend, you are out of luck. Their sandwiches come on fresh homemade bread and everything I’ve ever had there has been amazing.
I’ve also heard great things about Cafe Demeter (80 Nichols Street) for coffee and pastries, and Tops’l Seafood and Sushi (1 Front Street, above the Cask & Schooner) but I have not yet had a chance to eat at either of them.
In the summer, I would also recommend just packing a picnic lunch and heading out to the West Side for a spectacular sunset dinner. You might even see some whales.
Where to stay:
Being former locals, we haven’t stayed at a lot of places on the island ourselves. However, we know a bit about a few of them and here are my suggestions:
Juniper Lane Guest House
Juniper (the owner) is a friend of mine and has done an amazing job of blending cozy island style with hip, modern decor to create a warm, inviting, and affordable B&B. Juniper Lane Guest House also offers a cabin for rent and two backpacker/family rooms that can accommodate up to 6 people with bunk beds. Children must be 12 or older to stay. The Guest House is not very far from town (a little bit of a trek but still walkable) and offers beautiful grounds and pastoral views.
I used to work at Lakedale Resort many years ago and therefore know it pretty intimately. If you are looking for secluded peace and quiet or a romantic getaway, this is your place. The resort offers 9 lake view lodge rooms with jacuzzi bathtubs and gas fireplaces, as well as 6 cabins and one three-bedroom lake house. Cabins and the lake house enjoy shared use of a hot tub in a centrally located gazebo. “Glamping” cabins and a campground provide more outdoorsy yet still very nice accommodation options.
Be aware that it is four miles from Friday Harbor town so you will need to drive into town for meals if you stay at the lodge. Cabins have full kitchens and accommodate up to 6 people with one bedroom, a loft bedroom, and a futon in the living room.
I haven’t been to the Island Inn, but I’ve heard great things. It is centrally located in town within easy walking distance to everything. The rooms look modern from the photos and many appear to have great views of the harbor. They have some budget friendly-options as well.
Friday Harbor House
Paddy and I stayed at the Friday Harbor House once in November, and it was really nice. The prices in the summer are atrocious, and even in the winter it is a bit of a splurge but much more reasonable. Most rooms offer views of the harbor, gas fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. The complimentary continental breakfast in the morning was outstanding, including house made quiche and coffee cake. Location is ideal–easy walk from the ferry and everything in town.
San Juan Island is a great place to visit in the summer, but make sure you plan ahead. Never show up to the island without a hotel reservation in July or August. Growing up on San Juan Island was a unique experience, and I’ve had many magical summers there in my youth. Friday Harbor changes every time I visit, but the beauty and serenity of the island remains the same.
Fourth of July weekend on Lopez Island, WA: A relaxing getaway in the San Juan Islands without the tourist crowds, and some of the best fireworks in the state.
Growing up on San Juan Island, I always thought Lopez Island was boring. There is barely a town, and it’s mostly flat. This trip as an adult made me appreciate Lopez Island for exactly that–quiet, peaceful, not much going on. A friend of mine from San Juan Island inherited her grandparents’ property on Lopez Island and has been spending Fourth of July there with friends every year, while renting it out to tourists the rest of the summer. We had no Fourth of July weekend plans this year, and when she invited us to join her and her husband and friends, we figured why not?
Prior to the new ferry reservation system for the San Juan Islands that began this year, we would never have considered going up to visit the San Juans over Fourth of July weekend. Fourth of July weekend (especially for Friday Harbor/San Juan Island) is kind of like Black Friday is for shopping malls. It is insanely busy. I’ve heard stories of past ferry lines stretching miles away from the ferry terminal all the way into Anacortes town. Having grown up in Friday Harbor and worked many Fourth of July weekends in various tourist industry jobs, it is hell week for Friday Harborites, but also the weekend the tourist industry people make the most money.
But now we can make reservations. There is much controversy over this new policy with the locals, and I think they still have a few things to iron out. For us however, we made our reservation a couple months in advance, arrived an hour before the 12:35 boat to Lopez Island, and sailed right on with no problem. You can make reservation here up to three months before you head up to the islands. They release 1/3 of the reservations three months ahead, 1/3 a couple weeks ahead, and the remaining 1/3 two days ahead. If you can’t get your reservation, keep checking back.
Our friend Brooke joined Paddy and I for the weekend on Lopez. We had a smooth sail on the ferry with much fewer crowds than the Friday Harbor sailing. We watched a never-ending line of walk-on tourists board the ramp for the Friday Harbor ferry before the Lopez/Orcas ferry departed. We were on the brand new ferry boat, which had a nice sun deck up top for viewing.
There is no town at the Lopez Island ferry terminal, not much of anything there at all. We drove off the ferry with little traffic, and headed towards Lopez Village.
Our friends’ house is a short ways past Lopez Village, with a gorgeous view of Fisherman Bay. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the deck and making food for dinner. I made a cherry cobbler with some cherries I’d picked from another friend’s cherry tree and it turned out great.
**Note: You can rent this house June through August through VRBO.com (except Fourth of July weekend, that weekend is always reserved for the owners).
Relaxing and watching the sunset
We went into the Lopez Village Market to pick up some ice cream to go with the cobbler. Lopez Island Creamery makes some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Be sure to try some while visiting Lopez. You can also buy it by the cone at the market or in town at the Just Heavenly Fudge Factory in Lopez Village. I highly recommend the raspberry lemon if you can find it.
**Note: This isn’t the mainland. The Lopez Village Market is the only game in town for groceries, wine, beer, and booze and it closes at 7:00 PM every day. Make sure you get all your beer and supplies before then. There is a store on the south end of Lopez as well called the South End General Store, which is open until 7:30 and also serves food.
The rest of the evening we hung out and had drinks on the deck, BBQ’ed, and played some cards. The sunset was phenomenal.
The next morning was the Fourth of July. Every year, the Lopez Library has an annual book sale to raise money for the library. We ate breakfast and headed into the village early to get there before it got too picked over. We were handed a red sack at the front door which we could fill up as full as we wanted to for $20.00. Five of us filled it to the brim with lots of interesting books. You can also buy books individually.
Saturdays in the summer (mid May through mid September) are also the day for the Lopez Farmers Market from 10:00 to 2:00. It’s a great place to get locally grown veggies, but there are also many other booths selling local crafts, baked goods, tacos and tamales, jewelry, and other items.
One thing I love about Lopez Island is how accepting everyone is. There are a lot of hippies, artists, and free spirits on Lopez and they welcome diversity. I was wearing some funky sunglasses and a vintage-style sundress showing off my tattoos and got lots of random compliments from strangers– as opposed to judgemental “you folks ain’t from around here” looks common in many small towns across America. People from foreign countries and gay and lesbian travelers will feel welcome on Lopez Island as well.
After the Farmer’s Market, it was almost time for the Fourth of July Parade. We drove back towards the house on Fisherman Bay Road and were able to pull over and park near the start of the parade. We easily found a spot on the front of someone’s lawn on the side of the road.
The parade wasn’t much to write home about, but it was full of heart. It seems all anyone really needs to be a part of it is an interesting car or a funky outfit. My favorite part was the lack of crowds and low-key, low-stress vibe. That, and the random giant paper-mache Oscar Meyer Weiner float.
The parade wasn’t very long, and afterwards Paddy and I explored some of the south end of Lopez Island. We drove to Watmough Bay, but took a wrong turn along the way and ended up on a private road (I think to Paul Allen’s property). We turned around and found our way to the parking area for Watmough at the end of Watmough Head Rd.
Watmough Bay is touted by locals to be the best beach on the island. It is often very busy on summer weekends. I think we lucked out because everyone was at the Fourth of July BBQ in the village–there was a parking space and only a few people at the beach.
The bay reminded me a little of Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. No white sand–a little rocky and lots of seaweed in the water but still beautiful and very Northwest.
I found a beached lion’s mane jellyfish on the sand. If you see one of these, don’t touch it or step on it. The bell of the jellyfish is harmless but the tentacles will give a painful sting even when it is dead.
We hung out at Watmough for a few and then decided to move on. Next we went to Shark Reef Sanctuary, which is accessed by a short trail through the woods to the rocky coast of the southwest part of the island. You can often see seals basking on the rocks here. We didn’t see any seals, but the views are still stunning. You can see Cape San Juan on San Juan Island across the channel, and kelp forests in the water below. There were a few kayakers out enjoying the coast.
We were starting to get hungry, so we ventured back into the village. Our friend Brooke joined us and we decided on Bucky’s Lopez Island Grill, which has a nice deck out back. Paddy and I both had the cajun ahi tuna taco special, which was great. Brooke and I each tried a glass of the Madeline Angevine from Lopez Island Vineyards.
There isn’t a lot to Lopez IslandVillage, but there are a few shops to explore. After lunch we walked over to the Lopez Island Vineyards tasting room to taste their wines.
You could taste three wines for $5 or six for $10–we each opted for three. We all tasted the Siegerebbe (pronounced zee-ger-eh-beh) which is a very fruity and refreshing white wine grown on Lopez Island. The white grapes for the Madeline Angevine are also grown on island. The other grapes are imported from other drier, sunnier parts of Washington in the Yakima Valley, but all the wine is made on Lopez Island.
Paddy and I also tried the Sangiovese and the Malbec which he loved. I liked them (I like most wine, really) but the Malbec was a little tart for me (I’m more of a Syrah and Cabernet person). Brooke tried the Dry Rose and the Raspberry dessert wine. She said the Raspberry wine was very sweet and tasted just like raspberry juice. She bought a bottle of the rose so I tried a little later that evening. I didn’t think it was that dry, it was kind of sweet. Not super sweet though. We bought a bottle of the Siegerebbe to take home for later this summer. Most wines are $25 a bottle.
The vineyard itself is located on the way to the ferry from the village, you can see the grapes growing from the side of the road. There were signs in the tasting room for a summer Shakespeare play in the vineyard in the evening–it looked like fun.
We checked out a few of the other little shops in the village. There is a cute little consignment shop (mostly women’s clothing) next to the coffee shop that is worth a peek. Brooke found an awesome lime green vintage 60’s go-go dress.
Lopez Village doesn’t have a lot of restaurants, but there are a few options. I’ve only eaten at a couple of them other than Bucky’s, and that was 10 or more years ago, but I remember them being pretty good. Bucky’s and The Galley have burgers and salads and are a couple of the more inexpensive places to eat in town. The Bay Cafe is probably the nicest dinner restaurant. For breakfast I highly recommend Holly B’s Bakery–their bread and pastries are outstanding. Isabel’s Espresso is the local coffee joint, featuring organic coffee and organic milk. You can find a list and short description of all the restaurants on Lopez Island on the Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce website.
We spent the rest of the afternoon making food for dinner and relaxing. Near sunset people began setting up on the side of Fisherman Bay for the fireworks show, and more and more boats showed up to anchor out in the bay. I took a walk down the road to catch some views of the sunset, which was amazing.
Lopez Island is renowned for it’s Fourth of July fireworks display. They have always had the best fireworks in the San Juan Islands, and I’d go so far to say that they may be the best in the whole state of Washington. Our friends told us that this year they raised $80,000 for the show, which was twice Friday Harbor’s budget. It’s pretty impressive for such a small island. Lopezians take a lot of pride in their fireworks and always have.
Once the sun was set, Friday Harbor began their fireworks at dusk and you could see them across the sound in the distance. Lopez patiently waited until their show was done.
Once Friday Harbor wrapped it up, Lopez gave a 10 minute firework warning, and then a 5 minute warning. Then the show began. It was hands down the best fireworks display I’ve seen. It wasn’t only the volume of fireworks, but the types they had. Some of them I hadn’t even seen before. The show lasted about 30 minutes. I took some photos, but they really don’t do it justice.
Lopez voted no last year to the ferry reservations, so you can make a reservation going to Lopez but not to leave Lopez Island. The day after Fourth of July can be very crazy with long lines for the ferries, and because it was also a Sunday, we figured we were best off getting up early and trying to make the 7:15 AM boat. We got in line at 6:30 or so, and the line was already backed up down the road. Fortunately, the boat was large and only loading cars from Lopez to Anacortes, and we made it on. We were tired, but also beat the holiday weekend traffic and made it back to Seattle by 9:45 AM. It was well worth it.
Paddy and I fell in love with Lopez island a little this trip. After growing up with the insanity of the tourist season in Friday Harbor, it was so nice to be able to have an island summer getaway that was laid back and crowd-free. We will be back for sure. There is more of Lopez we’d like to explore–other hiking trails, etc. If you are in the mood for a lazy, low-key San Juan Islands vacation– Lopez Islandis perfect.