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.
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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.
Happy New year!
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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.
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Low budget, hot market: our adventures as first time home buyers in a competitive market. How we finally got our first home, what we learned along the way, and our advice for other newbies to the real estate and mortgage circus.
We are now first time home buyers. I honestly don’t know how we did it, but somehow, we went from deciding to buy a house back in December to unlocking the door of our new home in August. I think luck had something to do with it, but following some sage advice from friends and family and our amazingly awesome realtor definitely played a big role.
Seattle has reached a near-crisis housing situation. With no rent control, skyrocketing rents, and thousands of people moving in from out of state for high paying jobs at tech companies like Amazon and Google, finding an affordable place to live in the city limits is becoming nearly impossible. Our neighborhood became too trendy and expensive, and when our landlord told us that she needed to raise the rent significantly, we had to figure out what to do. After weighing our options, we decided that if we were going to pay that much, it should be for a mortgage.
Seattle’s housing market wasn’t much better than the rental market. In fact, I’d say it is worse. Inventory is at an all time low, and bidding wars abound on almost every move-in-ready home. First time home buyers with financing contingencies and low budgets are competing with cash investors, making it very difficult to get an offer accepted. There wasn’t much of Seattle left in our budget, and prices were already on the rise. News stories of buyers waiving home inspections or shelling out $500-a-pop pre-inspections to get their offer accepted while also bidding well over list price were popping up at least once a month. One two bedroom, one bath 1,000 sq ft home in our neighborhood sold for $700K, which was $100K over appraisal value, cash offer. Our budget was just over a third of that price, leaving very little to choose from. On top of the prices on the rise, interest rates were predicted to rise by the end of the year as well. We were hopeful, but scared shitless.
But somehow, we got a house. And the address is in Seattle. (Technically it is unincorporated King County and recently annexed by Burien, but whatever. Our title and address say Seattle). After everything we’ve experienced, here is our twelve-step program for first time home buyers:
**Note: I am in no way an expert or in any position to give actual financial advice. This article is based on what we learned along the way, and our experience.
1. Check your credit, and fix it if need be
Step number one is probably the most important. You can’t buy a house without decent credit. Which means that if you have bad credit or no credit, your first time homebuyers dream may be a little further off than you thought (but still attainable!). Pull your credit report (free once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/ ) and see how it looks. If there is anything on there that is incorrect, you’ll need to report it immediately. It’s good to check once a year regardless in case of identity theft. It does not hurt your credit score to check your own credit once a year.
If you have no credit, you’ll probably need to build some. Start with a low-limit credit card, buy groceries with it and pay it off each month. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail about credit advice, because there are plenty of better resources for that.
Fortunately, our credit was great so step 1 was already complete when we started.
**Also, you and whoever you are taking the mortgage out with will need to have been at your current jobs for at least two years at the time of pre-approval for a loan. Keep this in mind if you plan on changing jobs soon, you may have to wait a bit longer before you apply for a mortgage.
2. Figure out your budget
First of all, don’t be fooled by mortgage calculators on real estate websites. They usually assume you’re putting 20% down (If you have that much saved up, you rock and are way ahead of the game), but most first time homebuyers struggle to come up with the minimum down payment. You can usually manually adjust the amount you’re putting down on the calculators to the minimum 5% for conventional or 3.5% for FHA, but you will be paying property tax, homeowner’s insurance, and if you don’t have the 20% down–mortgage insurance. All that adds up to a lot more per month then the calculators will tell you. If you are buying a condo, you will be paying HOA (home owner’s association) dues on top of your monthly payment as well.
We didn’t end up getting our mortgage through our Washington credit union BECU, but we used their very detailed mortgage calculator to figure out what payment we can afford. It wasn’t exact, but it was pretty close and a really good estimator.
When you get pre-approved, you may qualify for more than you can comfortably afford because banks go on your gross income and debt-to-income ratio. We set our budget at less than what we qualified for because we didn’t want to be so strained that we wouldn’t have any room left for travel or going out to eat. What matters most is what payment you can afford. Figure out your budget, and work backwards from there to determine what home price you can afford. ALWAYS leave a couple hundred dollars at minimum in your monthly budget for car tab renewals, medical bills, birthdays, vet bills, etc. You don’t want to max out your budget down to the penny–something always comes up. Always. And don’t forget the future home repairs…
Once you figure out your budget, start looking on Redfin and Zillow to see which areas have houses in your budget. Start exploring those neighborhoods and figure out where you want to look. This can be a tough reality check sometimes, but you can only afford what you can afford.
3. Attend a first time home buyers class
A lot of people don’t go to first time home buyers‘ classes. We did, and it was very helpful. If you are a single parent or in a lower income bracket, many cities and states have first time home buyersdown payment assistance programs available based on your income and the number of people in your household. We went to one offered by HomeSight, a Seattle non-profit that offers this kind of assistance. We didn’t qualify for down payment assistance, but we learned a lot about the home buying process and stuff to consider. They also offer credit counselling services and other resources. It’s all free, you just have to pay for the credit check if you go with their assistance program to find a home. Other Seattle programs for first time home buyers can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/housing/renters/buy-a-home. It’s worth researching what is out there.
4. Get your down payment together
This was the biggest hurdle for us. We had done the ultra tight budget savings thing before for our wedding, and we are used to saving up for travel adventures. I’m a bit of a type A detailed planner person, so I got a spreadsheet together mapping out each pay period, our estimated pay checks, and our expenses to figure out how much leftover we could save each month. The market was hot and prices were on the rise, so we wanted to get a house ASAP while we still could.
Aside from the down payment, there are the closing costs. Everyone tells you to get the seller to pay the closing costs, but in a hot market–don’t count on it. We figured with our bonuses and savings we could come up with most of the down payment within 9 months, but when we saw the closing costs and pre-paids estimate from BECU’s calculator, it looked like we might have to come up with a a total that was over 20 grand to include closing costs. We also found out that for a conventional loan, we needed to have two months mortgage payments in savings at the time of closing, on top of everything else. I don’t know many people who can pull 20 grand out of their asses, and our families were in no position to help us (and we wouldn’t expect them to). Our hearts sank.
Then I found out that I could do a loan out of my 401K. A 401K loan is essentially borrowing money from yourself, and doesn’t involve a credit check. The payments are deducted right out of my paychecks with a 4.25% interest rate, and my 401K had a loan calculator that would let me plug in the length of time and amount I wanted to borrow to model the loan and see what the payments would be. If you have a 401K this can be a great option for help with a down payment. Read all the fine print though–some 401K plans require you to pay it all back at once if you leave your current job for any reason. Mine allows continued payments if I change jobs, fortunately. Also, make sure you are clear with your lender that this will be part of your down payment, as they will have to add the new payments into your debt to income ratio and track where all your money is coming from.
Paddy’s 401K let him do either a loan or an early withdrawal. Now, normally I would advise strongly against an early 401K withdrawal, but since this was for an investment that is estimated to appreciate as Seattle continues to grow at a rapid rate, we decided it was worth paying the 10% penalty. We took out the maximum allowed amount of $7,000, which after taxes and the 10% penalty gave us $4,500. So we combined the 401K withdrawal with our 8 months of savings, and took the rest as a loan out of my 401K.
We were only comfortable with borrowing so much out of my 401K and therefore taking on new debt, so this pretty much only got us the down payment and first two months mortgage payments required to be in savings at closing. I mapped out a savings plan through winter and tax return time, and figured we could come up with additional savings for the closing costs by then. Once we had our down payment together though, we decided to get pre-approved and start looking—there’s no guarantee that the seller will pay closing costs, but it’s always worth a shot. If not, we’d keep saving and hopefully have enough to cover it by early spring. We saved our asses off.
5. Get pre-approved
Don’t even start looking for a house until you have your down payment together AND are pre-approved. Don’t waste your poor real estate agent’s time and your time, you’ll just get excited only to be let down. (This doesn’t mean you can’t obsessively look at listings 700 times a day on Redfin like I did. It’s torture but it will give you a good idea of how long houses take to sell and what they are going for in the neighborhoods you want to look in). When you look at a house in a hot market, you have to be ready to make an offer NOW. And by NOW I mean walk out the door of the house and go straight to your agent’s office to write up the offer.
The first step is to find a lender. We got a recommendation from our realtor for her favorite loan officer at HomeStreet Bank, but there are lots of options. Talk to your home-owner friends and see who they went with and why. If you already have a real estate agent, he or she might have some recommendations as well. We went with our realtor’s recommendation over our credit union because our realtor said that she’s dealt with our credit union on client home financing before, and they can be slow at responding to everything during the loan process. As first time home buyers in a hot market, we didn’t want a slow lender screwing up our deal.
What you’ll need:
Next, you’re going to have to come up with everything except your blood type to send to your lender. This usually includes your last 2-3 years tax returns and W-2s, recent bank statements, 401K statements, 2-3 months of recent pay stubs, copies of your drivers’ licenses and social security cards, employer info, landlord info, and any documentation on a 401K loan or withdrawal you may be making for the down payment. Any cash deposits on your bank statement will be questioned, so try not to deposit any large amounts of cash (from selling your stuff at a garage sale, for example) until after you buy the house.
6. Choose a type of mortgage
What type of mortgage?
Lastly, what loan are you going to apply for? For first time home buyers, the attractive option at first is the FHA loan with the lower interest rate requiring only 3.5% down. At first we thought this was the one for us, but we went with the 5% down 30 year conventional.
Here’s why we went with the conventional mortgage:
* While the conventional mortgage requires more money up front and two months’ mortgage payments in your bank account at closing, the FHA mortgage includes mortgage insurance for the life of the loan. There is mortgage insurance on the conventional mortgage as well if you don’t have the 20% down payment, but it falls off after you have paid down 20% of the principal, which is about 9 years. (The mortgage insurance is for your lender–not you–in the event that you default on the loan. Yes, it totally sucks).
* To get rid of your mortgage insurance earlier than the 9 years they predict it will take to pay down 20%, you can get a new appraisal if your property value has increased and get them to take it off early. I’m not entirely sure about how this process works, but it doesn’t involve a refinance. FHA loans require a refinance to get rid of mortgage insurance, which involves refinancing your loan to a new interest rate (currently predicted to rise), and paying closing costs all over again. No thanks.
* FHA loans have lots of stipulations on the condition of the house. You can’t have peeling paint on the exterior, for example. If the house requires a new roof or other major repairs, your lender might require the seller to take care of these prior to closing. Having an FHA loan as your financing contingency could make your offer a little less attractive to the seller than a conventional loan.
The major advantage of FHA loans aside from the lower down payment and lower interest rate is that they are the only home loan type that allows your family to gift you all or part of your down payment. If you have a generous Aunt Opal or parents with deep pockets who want to help, the FHA loan might be the choice for you.
Renovation loan? Like on Property Brothers?
Because the market was so crazy and our budget so low, we noticed that sometimes fixer uppers sit on the market a little longer. They either make people without means or desire to do renovations hesitate, or they are swooped in on and purchased right away by a cash investor to be fixed up and flipped. We wondered how the people on Property Brothers get the money to renovate the fixer upper on that show. The bank won’t loan more than the house is worth, so how are these people getting the money to fiance these renovations?
There are two ways, and I had to do a lot of research to find out about them–banks don’t seem to advertise them that much.
The first options are the FHA 203 K and FHA 203 K Streamline mortgage renovation loan. Both offer renovation money along with a mortgage. The 203K streamline is for renovations that aren’t structural–such as bathroom and kitchen updates, floors, paint, etc up to $35K. Our realtor just did one of these recently and she said it was a nightmare, but they got everything through and it all turned out well.
The other option is the Fannie Mae HomeStyle renovation mortgage, which is for conventional loans. There are less stipulations with this one because it is not FHA. We opted to get pre-approved for the HomeStyle renovation loan, and our lender had another associate at the branch to refer us to who specialized in these type of mortgages.
To our shock and disbelief, we found a move-in ready house within our budget, so we didn’t go this route. Our lender said that we were approved for “worst case scenario” if we found a house we loved under our budget, but it needed repairs right away that we couldn’t afford. If you are willing to go through a lot of paperwork and renovations and want to get pre-approved for one of these loans, I’d recommend making sure that your lender has a specialist for rehab mortgages because there is a lot involved. It’s a slightly higher interest rate and a lot of work, but it probably would have been worth it if we needed it. When we didn’t end up needing it, we were transferred back to the standard mortgage loan officer and continued from there easy peasy.
7. Find a reputable real estate agent
We were lucky because we already had a great agent who we’d known personally for a long time. She was a friend of a friend, and had helped a couple of our other friends buy their first homes as well. She gave us tons of great advice, was on top of everything right away, and made the whole process very smooth.
Talk to your friends who have bought houses in the area and find out who they used and if they would recommend their agents. Having someone experienced is key, especially for first time home buyers. A friend of mine who was also looking for a house in Seattle within our same budget told me she felt like she and her husband were “small potatoes” in Seattle’s pricey market and that they didn’t think many experienced real estate agents would want to bother with them. I stopped her short and told her that this is the biggest purchase she would make in her life and that they should expect nothing less than respect and hard work from any agent that they work with. If they have an agent who is treating them like “small potatoes”– it’s time to find a new agent. They ended up using the same realtor we did, and she helped them overcome several obstacles along the way, showed them countless houses, and finally found them the perfect home. They said that their two year old now thinks that our mutual realtor is part of their family.
If you are in Seattle and need a real estate agent recommendation, let us know!
8. Start looking
This is when shit gets real. Again, don’t even start looking until you have your pre-approval and down payment. It’s a waste of time and will only lead to let-down.
Make a wants vs. needs list for the home or condo you are looking for and give it to you realtor. Go over the needs list one more time–there might be some things you think you need, but might be willing to compromise on if everything else about the house is perfect. Finding something with a second half bath can be a challenge on a tight budget, for example. You don’t want to weed out the majority of the inventory when something else might be otherwise perfect.
By now you’ve probably obsessively looked at houses on Redfin and Zillow for awhile and narrowed down the neighborhoods within your budget. Keep looking online and keep the Redfin and Zillow apps on your phone. You can sign up for email notifications with Redfin for when things go on the market in your budget and desired area. If you see something that goes on the market that looks like a possibility, send it to your realtor immediately. You’ll want to get in and view it right away, in a hot market there may be offers by tomorrow.
If you are on a low budget, you are going to be looking at some very interesting houses. One friend of mine told us she and her husband looked at a house that had twenty empty barrel drums of soy sauce in the basement. She said that no new paint or flooring could ever get the smell of Asian food out of that house. Another friend of ours was being shown a house with a basement door that was locked from the inside. Her agent had a tool box with him, and took the door off the hinges to show them the basement. They walked down to find a group of people squatting in the basement, and the basement bathtub completely full of human feces. We toured a house with sloping floors, mold in the basement, and a yard completely full of junk. Another friend of ours was shown a home built for little people, as a testament to what she could get for her money in the higher priced neighborhood that she was hoping for. The friend of ours who witnessed the basement bathtub full of shit said that after looking at tons of houses and being outbid on four offers she begged her husband in desperation to buy a house where the ceiling was so short in the bedroom that he couldn’t stand up all the way. (Fortunately, he said no and they finally found the right house).
While all of the houses described above are nightmares, all of our first time homebuyer friends finally found the right house. Almost all of them were happy that they didn’t get the ones they were outbid on, because the best one was the one they ended up with. The one piece of advice I have for you is that if you are first time homebuyers on a low budget, you’re also going to need an open mind. Don’t pay attention to 70’s wood paneling, nasty carpet, bad paint, or the belongings of hoarders. You’re going to need to look past that. Pay attention to the condition of the roof, windows, electrical panel, furnace, floors (do they slope? any questionable spots?), musty smells, plumbing, etc. A good real estate agent will know what to look for and point out what really needs work. Carpet and paint are the easiest things to fix, and that groovy 1970’s sunset mural can easily be taken down.
9. Make an offer
In a hot market, you might not be able to spend time exploring the neighborhood at different times of the day and night, practicing your new commute, etc like everyone recommends. That’s because 6 other offers are coming in and it’s only been on the market 36 hours. You have to act now.
The first house we put an offer in on went on the market on a Friday afternoon. I sent it to our realtor and she got us in to look at it on Sunday. There were already other people looking at it when we showed up, and by Sunday night our realtor told us that there were already 20 offers and many had waived the inspection. That was our welcome to the Seattle housing market. We weren’t very surprised, however. Two of our friends had been looking for several months already and had been outbid several times.
Your agent will guide you through the whole offer process and write it up for you. Many people choose to waive the home inspection contingency, which I don’t recommend. The home inspection contingency in an offer means that if the offer is accepted, and then you find something horrific in the home inspection you can ask them to fix it and back out if they don’t. This of course makes your offer less attractive to a seller if you are in a multiple offer situation, but personally I think waiving it is way too big of a risk. You don’t want to find out that it needs a whole new sewer line or that the foundation is in really bad shape after the deal is done.
Other people do inspections prior to making an offer so that they can waive the contingency with peace of mind. Inspections average about $400-$600 each, and it was difficult enough for us to scrape together our down payment so paying for an inspection on a house we may not get wasn’t an option. Our realtor had an inspector she knew who would do a pre-inspection at half price, you just didn’t get the full inspection report until you paid the other half. You could do the whole inspection with him and have him show you things and get the verbal lowdown, and then if you got the house you could pay the rest and get the full report.
Something you can do to make your offer more competitive is put in an escalation clause into your offer, that says that you will bid a certain amount over the highest offer up to a certain amount. It’s kind of like ebay–you choose where you cap off your offer at but you can start at list price.
Many sellers are going to choose the highest and best offer (best meaning few or no contingencies), but sometimes you can appeal to a seller’s emotions about their house. I think this can be helpful if the seller is a couple who has lived in the house for years, raised a family there, and has a lot of sentimental attachment to it. Your agent can often find out the background of the seller’s situation and home history from their listing agent to get an inside scoop. You can appeal to them by including a cover letter gushing about how much you love their house and want to make it your forever home. This worked for a couple friends of ours. It was kind of a horrible story–the seller was an older couple who had cared for the home for years, but it was time to downsize. The house was in great shape, and they asked their listing agent what she recommend doing to it before putting it on the market. The listing agent told them just to mow the lawn and it would be ready to go. The husband went out to mow the lawn, and while mowing had a heart attack AND DIED. Needless to say, the wife was very distraught and emotional. When our friends wrote a letter telling her how they wanted to make it their forever home with their two kids and not change a thing because they loved the home as is, the seller chose them. Awful story, but a happy ending for our friends, who had already been outbid 5 times.
As part of your offer, you will also be asked to put up a portion of your down payment as “earnest money.” This goes to your real estate agency to be held, and your check is cashed when the offer is accepted. Earnest money means that you are “in earnest” to purchase the home, and if you back out of the deal after signing the offer (not including the home inspection contingency or financing contingency you probably put in), then you lose the money and the seller keeps it. Our realtor said she’s only seen someone lose their earnest money twice–once was a divorce after the sale was underway, and the other was because the buyer disappeared and they couldn’t find him, turned out the guy went to jail for fraud. When the sale goes through, the earnest money goes towards your down payment.
We got our house on our second offer. The house was overpriced, and had been on the market two months. It had a few aspects that probably turned off families with kids–small yard, only two legal bedrooms, steep driveway and a busy street. Everything else was great though, and it was over twice the size of our 840 square foot rental house. When the seller lowered the price, we looked at it and made an offer right away. Sometimes if a house is for sale too long in a hot market, people start to think something is wrong with it. In this case, it worked out well for us.
**Note: While your offer is pending, don’t buy anything on credit or do anything to negatively change your credit score or debt to income ratio. The bank will re-run everything right before closing, and if there is a big change to your credit (like buying a car, buying furniture on a credit plan, etc) it could kill the deal.
10. Get a home inspection
Whether you get a pre-inspection to waive the contingency on your offer, or an inspection as a contingency, make sure you do it. Everything our inspector found was mostly minor, but things we may not have noticed and now we know we need to take care of. We’re first time home buyers, and we are just now learning about home maintenance.
A friend of ours had an inspector come out for a house she and her husband were about to buy, and apparently something was so wrong with the house that the inspector told them that if they turned around and walked away from the house right now without looking back, he wouldn’t charge them for the inspection, as long as they called him for the next one. I don’t know what was wrong, but they were very thankful he saved them from a potential money pit. Get your inspection.
We also got a sewer scope inspection, as recommended by our realtor. I would recommend it as well. It’s around $200, and the sewer scope guy puts a camera on a long line down your sewer pipe and makes a DVD of it for you. The camera checks to make sure that the sewer line is in good shape and doesn’t have any potential blockers like roots growing into it. Replacing a sewer line can be REALLY expensive, especially if you have to dig up and re-pave the road in front of your house. We looked at another house that was pretty nice, but the previous buyer had backed out after a sewer scope had revealed tree roots growing through the sewer line. Our sewer line had been replaced to partway down the driveway in the last year, and had a few roots starting to grow in it, but the sewer guy told us that some herbicide flushed down the toilet once a year should keep them at bay. He also gave us a packet of microwave popcorn to go along with our DVD of our sewer pipe. Nice touch.
We had an inspection contingency in our offer, which meant that if the inspector found something that was a deal breaker for us, we could either ask the seller to fix it, reduce the price, or we could back out of the offer altogether and get our earnest money back. Most everything the inspector found was minor exterior work, and the roof, furnace, and electrical all seemed up to par. We asked the seller to service the furnace, install carbon monoxide detectors as required by law, and lowered the sale price by $2,500. He agreed.
11. Get quotes on homeowners insurance
You’ll be required by your lender to have homeowners/hazard insurance (which you will want anyway) but you can choose who you want to go with. We put out a facebook post to our homeowner friends for recommendations (or warnings) on specific companies. Turns out Paddy’s friend from high school’s wife’s brother was an insurance broker, and we went with his local agency. We chose the insurance he got the best quote on and recommended. This is also a good time to get a new quote on car insurance. If you combine homeowners and car insurance with the same company, you can often get a discount. We switched car insurance as well. We didn’t go with the same company, but our new insurance broker got us a slightly better deal with a different car insurance company.
Once you have a quote you are happy with, forward it to your lender and they will set it up directly for you, and the premium will be part of your monthly payment to the lender.
12. Appraisal, escrow, closing
Different states do things differently, so our experience with closing might be different from yours. Our bank scheduled the appraisal, and our realtor met the appraiser at the house for us. The appraisal isn’t nearly as detailed as the home inspection, it will probably only take about 30 minutes. The appraiser sends their home value estimate to the bank for approval, and as long as it appraises for what you are paying and there are no major repairs–everything should be fine. If you are on an FHA loan, the bank might require more repairs to done by the seller before the loan closes–peeling paint, new roof if it is towards the end of its life, etc. The bank could also require this for conventional loans as well, but there are fewer stipulations on conventional loans. If the appraisal comes back lower than your loan total, or there are repairs required before closing, then you’ll be back in negotiation with the seller. If the seller won’t negotiate, you might be out of luck.
Fortunately, our appraisal was fine and everything went smoothly. Our lender and realtor advised not to give our landlord notice until the appraisal was approved, just in case.
Next, your lender sends everything to an escrow company for final processing. They will contact you to set a signing date and give you the final payment due for your down payment and any closing costs you owe. You can either wire the funds to them or bring a cashiers check to the signing. We were able to have an escrow agent come to our house after hours for no extra charge. Signing in Washington happens a few days before closing. After we signed a pile of papers (and a few they forgot and emailed to us the next morning), we waited for the closing day. Once our record was released, the house became ours and our realtor was able to drop off our key.
Overall, we feel very fortunate to have had such a smooth experience as first time home buyers. It’s a tough market in Seattle with very low inventory. A couple of our friends are still looking for a condo and are on their 8th outbid. We just moved in last weekend, and now we are living amid stacks of boxes and unfinished projects, getting quotes on things like gutters and fences. Our cat is slowly getting over his fear of the basement. My Dad is slowly getting over having to pick up the contents of my lingerie drawer that exploded out of the moving truck into our driveway. I’d be lying if I told you we aren’t nervous–you never know what might need fixing at any moment. That’s why it’s important to have some savings for those unexpected repairs. If you are thinking about becoming first time home buyers as well, we wish you the best of luck.
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“FreLard,” the murky gray area between Fremont and Ballard in Seattle is becoming a destination neighborhood specializing in craft beer and craft meat
FreLard: the proverbial “taint” of Ballard and Fremont, a formerly drab, industrial and residential blur between the two neighborhoods is transforming into it’s own interesting little neighborhood. The main drag of FreLard is Leary Way NW, which runs from Market Street in Ballard all the way to N 36th St in the heart of Fremont. FreLard isn’t an official neighborhood title, but it’s something many Seattleites have called it for years– an accurate way to describe the location of a place when you’re not quite sure which neighborhood it is in. Is it in Ballard or Fremont? FreLard.
Over the last decade, and in the last two years in particular, many very hip new restaurants and nano-breweries have sprouted up in FreLard, adding to the few lonely businesses who have pioneered the area. A resounding theme: craft beer, upscale pub grub, and craft meat, with a down-home, high-quality/low-fuss attitude.
The largest of the early pioneers to FreLard is definitely Hales Brewery. The brewery started in 1983 in Colville, WA and moved to Seattle in 1995. The food is pretty good, but most people go for the beer and the spacious, comfortable pub that is great for larger groups. They have three event spaces to rent out for private parties, and in the spring they host the Moisture Festival. We’ve never been to the Moisture Festival, but have always wanted to go and have heard nothing but rave reviews. Maybe we’ll make it next year.
Another old standby in FreLard is The Dish, arguably one of the best breakfast spots in North Seattle. There is almost always a line on the weekends, with a sign in clip board tacked up outside the front door so you can put your name on the list.
The atmosphere in The Dish is bright and cheery, with mismatched coffee mugs and an old style diner breakfast bar. The food is fantastic.
If the weekend line for The Dish is too long, or you really need a little booze with your breakfast, I hear the dark and dog-friendly Leary Traveler next door does a great brunch from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. We keep meaning to try it out, but we often wake up at 8:00 AM starving on the weekends, and don’t feel like waiting until 10:00. Someday we’ll make it in there. I’ve heard the bloody marys are worth the wait.
A bit closer to the Ballard Bridge next to Cash ‘N Carry is Maritime Pacific’s Jolly Roger Taproom. While the focus at the Jolly Roger Taproom is showcasing their very tasty microbrews, we go for the food. It is actually one of our favorite restaurants in Seattle.
They have a regular happy hour and bar menu full of cheap yet unique and delicious pub items, such as smoked jalapeno caesar salads (Paddy’s favorite), smoked onion ring “stackers” with smoked jalapeno tarter sauce, beer battered bacon, and mahi mahi sliders. You can easily eat a very satisfying happy hour dinner there for under $15.
The Jolly Roger Taproom also has a rotating seasonal dinner menu that is even better than the pub snacks. In the fall they usually pay homage to Oktoberfest with German-inspired cuisine, and the rest of the year the menu is seasonal and creative. The prices are higher than the bar menu, but not outrageous–about $16-$22 a plate. The plates are enough on their own to fill you up, and the food is high end and unique enough that we’d put their chef up against any of the fancy big-name chefs in this town.
The secret of their amazing food hasn’t stayed a secret though, and you may find a bit of a wait on Friday and Saturday nights. Trust us, it’s worth it.
FreLard has also become a mecca for a smattering of new nano-breweries in the last couple of years, most of which have a symbiotic relationship with the local food trucks in the area. They serve beer out of warehouse-style taprooms tucked into residential neighborhood streets, while a food truck sets up camp in front to serve food to the beer drinkers. The food truck doesn’t need a liquor license, and the breweries don’t need a food license. It’s a win-win, and beer drinkers get to sample a different food truck menu on different days of the week.
The Stoup at 1108 NW 52nd St opened in 2013. They have an inside and outside beer garden, and you can check the food truck schedule on their website to see what’s for dinner.
Multiple people have told us to check out Reubens Brews on 5010 14th Ave NW. They just moved to their new larger location this month, two blocks from their original location. This is good news, because their popularity kept their old location so busy that the one time my co-workers and I tried to check it out, we couldn’t even fit in the door to get in line for beer. The beer must be fantastic, we’ll have to give it another try. They are open Monday through Thursday from 3 to 9, and Friday through Sunday from 12 to 9.
Also in the neighborhood is Popluxe Brewing, another new nano brewery in FreLard at 826 B NW 49th St. We haven’t been there yet and don’t know much about it, but the reviews are good. A friend of mine says they have a nice little yard area to hang out in and often host live music. Food trucks are stationed there on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Back on Leary Way NW in what looks like an old auto garage is Bad Jimmy’s Brewing. I went to Bad Jimmy’s on a Seattle Cycle Saloon tour with my co-workers and it was my favorite brewery on the tour. They had some really interesting and unique beers that I’ve never had anywhere else, such as their cocoa vanilla porter (delicious!), blood orange honey wheat, and habanero amber.
There is a somewhat decent amount of seating inside for bad weather days, and they encourage people to bring in food from outside. They are right next door to Bourbon and Bones, a new southern food and whiskey restaurant on Leary Way.
Bourbon and Bones has taken southern food and BBQ up a notch, also serving beer and craft cocktails with a focus on bourbon (if you couldn’t tell from the name). It is good that Bad Jimmy’s has developed a friendly relationship with their next door neighbor by allowing take-out food at their taproom, because Bourbon and Bones has a serious lack of seating for how popular they are. The first time Paddy and I attempted to go there, there was not one seat to be found and we weren’t in the mood to stand outside in the rain waiting for someone to leave. We decided to try again a couple months ago, and managed to snag two bar stools just as a couple people were leaving.
I had the fried chicken with collard greens and mac and cheese, and Paddy had the ribs with collards and mac and cheese, and we shared a side of hush puppies. Food was served on a metal lunch tray, and came with two slices of white bread which can pretty much be purposed as edible napkins for all the sauce. A few different house-made BBQ sauces were on the bar and all the tables as condiments, and they were all delicious.
The fried chicken was excellent, and Paddy really enjoyed his ribs. The collards were smoky and the mac and cheese was soupy. It was a nice contrast to dried out mac and cheese found at many southern restaurants in town, and the flavor was nice and cheesy. We didn’t have room for dessert, but there were some ridiculously amazing cakes and pies behind the bar waiting to be served, including a maple bacon cake that I kind of wished I’d gotten a slice of to go.
The only things that make us hesitant to make Bourbon and Bones a new regular spot are the constant battle for a seat and the slightly high prices. The counter is right at the front door, so it is easy to get take out to go. We might try getting some to-go dinner to have along with beer at Bad Jimmy’s in their taproom next time.
Last month, another new BBQ joint brazenly opened up in FreLard a block down the street from Bourbon and Bones on Leary Way NW, called Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ. While they may serve a similar cuisine to Bourbon and Bones, the theme and menu focus are very different.
At Drunky’s, it’s all about the slow-smoked meat. It is simple, affordable, and cooked with love. You can smell it cooking all the way into Fremont in the afternoons and it smells amazing. You won’t find any hush puppies, maple bourbon cake, or collard greens; instead there are simple, Texas-style staples like baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad. Paddy tried the brisket dinner and I had the half chicken. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor was incredible. The potato salad and coleslaw weren’t anything to write home about, but they were good. Just like mom used to make. The baked beans however were fabulous and flavorful–a far cry from a can of Bush’s.
There is more seating at Drunky’s than at Bourbon and Bones, and a great patio with astro turf and string lights to set the back-country mood. The owners put a lot of attention to detail into the restaurant itself: Tractor seats at the bar, velvet Elvis paintings and taxidermy, reclaimed rustic wood walls and a chandelier made out of chainsaws. Food is served on metal camping plates with baked beans in a matching camping mug. Given the awesome food, low prices, and fabulous patio, we may be back a few times this summer.
A little ways west down Leary Way NW from Drunky’s and Bourbon and Bones (across from the new BevMo) is yet another new western Americana-themed restaurant called Giddy-Up Burgers and Greens. Instead of BBQ, the focus is on gourmet burgers and a gourmet salad bar.
The “greens” are what sets this place apart. You can order hand cut fries or haystack fried onions, but they are an afterthought. Instead of the usual greasy fried sides, you can walk in, grab a bowl at the salad bar, fill it with whatever you want and however big you want, and pay for it by the pound at the counter when you order your burger. Or don’t order a burger–just have a salad. There were a variety of pickled veggies and a curry chicken salad, several types of cheese, and two types of greens in addition to all the usual salad bar stuff.
We’ve been twice, the first time I got the haystack onions as a side and while they were tasty, there wasn’t much to them. Kind of like a fresh version of the french fried onions you put on a green bean casserole. The second time we went I did the salad bar and it was excellent. The pickled onions I added to the salad were fantastic. Both times I got The Catch burger (I don’t eat beef) and it was very good. It was a house made cod patty instead of the usual breaded and fried pre-fab piece of cod, which was refreshing. Paddy had a different beef burger each time (sorry, I don’t remember which ones) and he said they were both great. They also have a chicken sandwich and a white bean and quinoa burger which I have yet to try.
Giddy-Up has a separate room area off the main area that can be rented for private parties, and in the summer is converted to an open-air dining area. Either way, there is usually plenty of space to find a seat.
FreLard used to be an area we’d just past through on the way to either Ballard or Fremont, but now it’s a place we go on purpose. There is more parking available than in Fremont and Ballard, and there are now several great restaurants to choose from, and more are most likely on the way. I just heard of a Korean restaurant that opened last year just off of Leary as well called Tray Kitchen which we will be checking out soon. FreLard–check it out!
Holiday fun for grown-ups: Our top recommendations for things to do during Christmas time in Seattle to put you in the holiday spirit
I love Christmas time, almost as much as I love Halloween and October. Christmas itself is nice, and great to spend with family. However, a lot of what I love about Christmas actually happens before Christmas. And Christmas time in Seattle has a lot going on.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker
To be clear, Paddy is NOT a fan of the ballet, but he was a good sport and let me drag him to this with me one year. Tickets can be expensive, but there are several seating options with varied prices. We got tickets for seats in the row right in front of the Golden Circle in the lower price area, and it was a great view for half the price of the Golden Circle tickets. It’s fun to dress up and go to the big ballet.
2014 is the last year for the Stowell and Sendak version of The Nutcracker, but it will keep going next year under a new and different production. I may have to go back and see it again next year with the new show. www.pnb.org
**Tip: The cheapest nosebleed back balcony seats aren’t worth it. You can’t see anything. Made that mistake once. Splurge on a little bit better view.
Driving around and checking out all the Christmas lights, and shopping downtown
While this may not be unique to Seattle, it’s still pretty fun. Downtown as well as the outlying Seattle neighborhoods dress up their sidewalk trees and store fronts. The Space Needle even has a Christmas tree formed out of lights at the top of the needle. Shopping (or window shopping) is fun at Pike Place Market and in the various shops and boutiques around downtown. While we’re not huge fans of malls, Pacific Place Mall downtown has indoor snowfall on December weekends in the atrium. It can be fun if you happen to be in the area. The Sheraton also puts on a Gingerbread Village every year that is free and open to come in and view.
If you want to keep your shopping local, the Ballard neighborhood has a lot of funky little boutique shops that are worth checking out. Check out the shops on Ballard Avenue and on NW Market St.
As for neighborhood Christmas lights, the Overzealous Clark Griswold Award for Christmas lights has to go to this house near us on 8th Ave NW. They do it every year, and I can only imagine what their electric bill is for the month.
Holiday Burlesque Shows
One of the best places in Seattle for dinner theater is the Triple Door downtown. And one of their best shows is Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker. Starring the top burlesque performers in Seattle, the show is full of glitter, glamour, dancing, and pasties. As the popularity of the show has increased over the last few years, so have the prices. It is worth it though. If you want to see a dazzling, glittering Christmas show in a swanky venue with a fancy cocktail and a delicious meal, this is your show. Dinner is served before and during the show (I recommend getting there when the doors open if you want to eat dinner–usually about an hour prior to the showtime) from the attached Wild Ginger restaurant. Dinner is optional, and drinks are served throughout the show.
Another fun venue for burlesque shows is The Can-Can near Pike Place Market. The venue is small and intimate, and their shows tend to be a little more risque in the humor department. They are another one of my favorite places for a good show and a fancy cocktail. This year they are doing a Winter Wonderland cabaret show, which we will be attending later this month. I’m never sure exactly what to expect at a Can Can show, but I’ve never been disappointed.
If the Triple Door and the Can Can are a little too pricey or sold out, The Pink Door around the corner from the Can Can in Post Alley offers a dinner and burlesque cabaret show at 11:00 PM on Saturday nights. It’s first come first served in the lounge area only, with dinner starting at 9:00. Priority seating is given to dinner guests, so if you are just having drinks you may be put on a waiting list. The show is $20.00 (cash only) collected separately from the dinner checks.
It might not be holiday-themed, but the food and drinks are top notch and you might think that you are in a naughty speakeasy in Paris in during prohibition. The atmosphere is great for a cozy romantic date.
The Dina Martina Christmas Show
I’ve tried to come up with a way to describe the Dina Martina Christmas Show to people who have not seen it, and I am always at a loss for words. All I can say is that it is Seattle’s best Christmas show hands down. If there is one show you see during Christmas time in Seattle, make it Dina Martina at The Re-bar. Shows run from Thanksgiving weekend all through December.
I’ve been to Dina Martina’s Christmas Show several times, and every time the lights dim and she walks onto the stage and begins singing, I hear someone who is at the show for the first time gasp “Oh my god!” in shock (or maybe horror). Expect ridiculous renditions of classic Christmas carols and top 40 hits, sequined dresses that don’t zip up all the way in the back, pantyhose as pants, and lots and lots of red lipstick. That’s all I’m going to say. Get your tickets early, Dina Martina sells out quick–especially for weekend shows. www.rebarseattle.com
Of course our all-time favorite part of Christmas time in Seattle is the annual white elephant Christmas party we throw each year, but that is not a public event. There are lots of other activities for families such as the WinterFest at the Seattle Center, but we prefer the sort that involve dressing up and cocktails. If you’re looking for Christmas time entertainment, Seattle has plenty to offer for the adults.
Seattle Cycle Saloon: Two-hour tour of nano and micro breweries in Fremont/Ballard area
I’d seen the Cycle Saloon around the Fremont/Ballard neighborhood a few times, including witnessing a cringe-worthy 5 mph drunken peddle across 4 lanes of evening rush hour traffic on 15th Ave NW. You can also guarantee spotting it in Seattle’s infamous Fremont Solstice parade every June, powered by naked, peddling “saloon” patrons amongst the 400 or so naked bicyclists that kick the parade off every year.
I always thought it looked fun, so when our general manager at my work decided that the Cycle Saloon brewery tour would be a good office “team-building” exercise, I was in.
We opted for a two-hour brewery tour on a Thursday night from 5:30 to 7:30, which was $28 per person. They also offer Friday and Saturday night pub crawl rentals for a flat rate of $185/hour. The Cycle Saloon seats up to 14 people, with 6 seats on each side (10 out of the 12 bike seats have pedals) and a bench seat on the end (no pedals). Our “driver” and guide sits up front and steers the Cycle Saloon while staying sober. Everyone else is allowed to drink while pedaling, as you are essentially just the “motor” of the vehicle. The driver controls the breaks.
We brought our own beers to have in the saloon (tour does not include anything but the Cycle Saloon itself and guide), and there was plenty of storage space in the roof rack for bags and beverages. There was also a keg tap which was unused.
We climbed onto the saloon, and set off down North 36th Street in Fremont and onto Leary Way NW. We only went 5 miles per hour no matter how hard everyone peddled. I’m pretty sure there is something built into the gears to keep the speed controlled at a slow pace. This was to the dismay of several drivers trying to get home, as we blocked an entire lane of traffic on Leary during rush hour. We got a lot of hoots and hollers from pedestrians along the way, as well as a few dirty looks from drivers.
Bad Jimmy’s Brewing has a large selection of brews, including some very unique flavors. We ordered a selection of tasters and tried as many as we could. I tried the Amber, and tasted a sip each of the Habanero Amber, the Cocoa Vanilla Porter, and the Strawberry Mango Hefeweizen. They were all delicious. the Cocoa Vanilla Porter was essentially dessert in a glass, but not too sweet. I’d never had anything like it. The Habanero Amber had a kick to it, but wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. I was told that they had a habenero cider in the summer, and I was kind of bummed that they didn’t have any left to sample. I’m sure they will again, it sounded awesome. The Strawberry Mango Hefeweizen was very fruity and a little sweet. If you’re not a beer drinker, this might be a good one for you.
Bad Jimmy’s also sells growlers to go, I think I’ll have to go back and get a few for our next party.
After a 30 minute stop at Bad Jimmy’s, we climbed back on the Cycle Saloon, peddled down Leary Ave and turned North on 8th Ave NW.
Our driver raved about Reuben’s Brews, another newer nano brewery on NW 53rd St. Unfortunately, Reuben’s Brews was so popular that we were unable to even fit in the door with the Thursday evening crowd that was there. It must be pretty good, I’ll have to go back and check it out with Paddy someday.
We hopped back on the Cycle Saloon and peddled around the block to The Stoup on NW 52nd St, yet another new nano brewery in the neighborhood.
The Stoup was also pretty busy, but there was room for us to fit in their outside bar area. There was a food truck there as well. Seattle has become quite saturated with food trucks in the last couple years every since the Seattle City Council bill 117225 passed in July 2011, easing regulations on street food vendors. Now you can find just about every kind of food truck you can think of (no longer just hot dogs and tacos). Food trucks and nano breweries have developed a symbiotic relationship–one has a license to sell food anywhere they want, the other has a license to sell beer. Beer drinkers like food, and food eaters like beer. Food trucks can rotate so the food is different on different days of the week, giving beer drinkers more options at their favorite breweries. It’s a win-win for everyone.
We ordered a bunch more tasters, I ended up with the porter which was tasty.
We had about 45 minutes left on our tour, so we hopped back on the Cycle Saloon and peddled back to Leary Way NW and down to Hales Brewery, a large and well-established micro brewery in Fremont.
Hales began in 1983 in Colville, WA, and has since expanded to Spokane and Seattle. The brewing is now done at the Fremont location, and distributed throughout bars in the Pacific Northwest. Their restaurant is huge, with lots of seating and a nice menu. We only had time for tasters, so we ordered a last taster sampler and tasted as much as we could in 25 minutes. My favorites were the Troll Porter and the Red Menace Amber Ale. The brewery part is in full view outside the restaurant door, and it’s kind of cool to watch (and smell) the beer being brewed on site.
At 7:30 we returned the Cycle Saloon back to it’s storage location on North 36th St. in Fremont, thanked our driver and had some delicious food at The Red Door to mop up all the beer.
The Cycle Saloon is a unique, entertaining and safe way to tour the many breweries in the Ballard/Fremont area of Seattle. I’d imagine that it is a popular choice for birthday, bachelor, and bachelorette parties as well. Check them out at http://thecyclesaloon.com.