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.
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.
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.
Camping in the Hoh Rainforest 2015: Overnight stop in Port Angeles, Olympic national Park Hoh Rainforest Visitor’s Center, walking the Hall of Mosses trail and Spruce Nature trail
We love the Olympic National Park. There is so much to see and so many different parts of it. We had visited the Hoh Rainforest portion of the park 11 years ago and loved it, but unfortunately the distance from Seattle makes it only worth it to us to visit on a three day weekend or longer. We were invited to go camping with some friends on their property on the Hoh River in May, so we took an extra day off work and packed up our camping gear.
Getting to the Hoh Rainforest from Seattle is a bit of a trek, usually involving a ferry. You can go a few different ways depending on which ferry is closest to you, or even drive around from the south. We opted for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route in the north, with an overnight at a hotel in Port Angeles on Thursday night to get a head start.
The ferry from Edmonds to Kingston is a short 35-minute ride and is first-come/first served (no reservations). They leave about every hour to hour and a half or so depending on the season and day of the week. The 2015 fare for a vehicle and driver from Edmonds to Kingston is $17.30 + $8.00 per passenger. On the way back passengers travel free.
We managed to catch the 5:25 PM ferry on Thursday, and we drove straight from Kingston to Port Angeles (about an hour and 20 minute drive). We were on a super-tight budget, so we had reserved a room at the Flagstone Motel on the main highway, in walking distance to everything in town. The rate was $59 a night, and it was about what you can expect for that rate.
The bed wasn’t super comfortable, but the room was clean. The towels were actually not small pieces of sandpaper, which was pleasantly surprising. I was glad we brought our hair dryer though, there was none to be found in the room.
After we checked in, we were starving so we headed into town seeking sustenance. An old college roommate of mine grew up in Port Angeles, so I had messaged her for recommendations prior to our trip. For dinner she recommended the Next Door Gastropub, so we went down to check it out. Unfortunately, it was jam packed with a wait at the door. No one seemed available to put us on a list or give us an estimated wait time, and we were too hungry to wait around. We walked down the street and around the corner to Front Street and found the Kokopelli Grill. They were able to seat us right away and their southwest menu looked good.
The entree prices were a bit high, but they came with soup or salad and dinner rolls, as well as a vegetable and your choice of cilantro rice, plain or green-chili mashed potatoes, southwest fries, or sweet potato fries. We both started with the salmon corn chowder. Paddy ordered the surf and turf with grilled shrimp and the green chili mashed potatoes, and I had the yellow and blue corn crusted crab chili relleno with southwest fries.
Overall it was a pretty good deal for the money and the service was good. The restaurant decor was a little strange, it kind of looked like it used to be an Italian restaurant that someone bought and added a few Kokopelli figurines on the walls and Kokopelli dishware. The food was good, however and there was more than we could eat.
Completely stuffed and tired from working earlier that day, we walked back to the hotel and made it an early night. At around 3:00 AM there was an incoherent drunk yelling outside the motel, but he didn’t yell for too long. The Motel is right on the highway through town, so it can be a little noisy and the walls are thin.
Since we had gotten a head start the night before, we were able to sleep in and take our time in the morning. I woke up with a stiff back from the cheap mattress, but a hot shower fixed it. We checked out of the room and went down the street to First Street Haven, the restaurant my old college roommate recommended for breakfast. It was tiny and a bit cramped, but we got a table right away. I’m sure there is a wait on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
We were given a choice of light or dark roast coffee (nice to have the option!) and a regular menu and a specials menu. All breakfast entrees come with either toast or a baked good–coffee cake, cinamon roll, scone, muffin, or bagel. Paddy ordered the Montrachet omelette with toast off of the regular menu, and I ordered the bacon and brie scramble with raspberry coffee cake off of the specials menu. The coffee cake arrived first by itself and it was enormous. We sampled a few delicious bites, but figured we had better save room for our egg dishes. Fortunately, coffee cake travels well and we were able to take the rest to go. They didn’t skimp on the goat cheese on the Montrachet omelette, much to Paddy’s delight (you can never have too much goat cheese). Both the omelette and scramble were excellent–this place is worth the wait on the weekend if there’s a line.
After breakfast we walked across the street to check out Moss, a little boutique store featuring Northwest style clothing and accessories, as well as outdoor gear and gifts. The owner was a friend of my old college roommate, so we went in and said hi. The store was outdoorsy and unique, and had a lot of interesting stuff. A great place to go for gifts.
We got on the road, making one last stop in Forks for gas and beer. We couldn’t help but notice that Forks is still desperately clinging to the Twilight phenomenon, with Twilight tours advertised and “Twilight” inserted into the names of a couple stores and restaurants.
After a short drive south of Forks, we arrived at our friends’ property on the Hoh River off of Oil City Road. We set up our spot right along the river.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with our friends. Late in the afternoon Paddy and I explored Oil City Road a bit and found that the end of the road is an entrance to an Olympic National Park trail through the Hoh Rainforest to the beach. It is also an access to the western-most portion of the Pacific Northwest Trail, which extends all the way from Glacier National Park in Montana. We walked part way down the trail along the river until we could see the ocean, but didn’t want to get too far out as everyone was getting dinner started. Next time we come here, we plan on following the trail at least to the ocean.
Back at camp, our friends were making some BBQ pulled chicken and baking biscuits in some camping Dutch ovens. Hot coals from a coal starter in the campfire were set underneath and on top of the ovens on the ground, baking the biscuits. The biscuits turned out perfect, and now we both think we need to invest in a camping Dutch oven. Paddy had brought a pasta salad he made to share, and some other friends heated up a foil pan of their homemade mac and cheese. I must say we ate extremely well on this trip.
That evening many drinks were consumed and a tribute was done to our friend’s grandfather, the previous owner of the property. This weekend would have been his 100th birthday. Words of appreciation were shouted, a horn was blown, and scotch was poured in the river.
The next morning we made some coffee on our Coleman stove with a tea kettle and french press, ate some granola and hard boiled eggs, and set out to explore. We drove back to the highway and headed a short ways north back towards Forks to the Hoh Rainforest National Park entrance road. On the way from our campsite to the highway on Oil City Road, we passed a family of cows lazing away the morning. It must be good to be a rainforest cow.
About halfway down the National Park entrance road we reached the fee station and paid our fee. The fee for a one-week pass to any area of the Olympic National Park is $15.00 per vehicle, or $30.00 for an annual pass.
At the end of the road is the Hoh Rainforest Campground and Visitor’s Center. We camped there 11 years ago for a night, and the sites were a little open but it was a nice campground. It is first come first served, with 88 sites total. According to the ranger I talked to a couple years back, it is the largest campground in the Olympic National Park and the last to fill up on summer weekends.
There are two extremely easy walking trails (I’d hesitate to even call them hikes) that are great for families with kids or people who are not super in-shape. The shortest is the Hall of Mosses Trail, which is .8 miles, and the Spruce Nature Trail, which is 1.2 miles. If you are up for some serious Hoh Rainforest exploration, there is the Hoh River Trail, which is about 18 miles one way.
We opted for the two easy ones, starting with the Spruce Nature Trail.
The Hoh Rainforest truly is a magical place. The moss hanging from the trees, the ferns and vines, mushrooms and green life growing out of every place in the forest all gives me a sense of peace when I’m there. You almost expect to see faeries and elves dart away when you peer closely at a fallen tree along the path.
Of the two trails, the Hall of Mosses trail is my favorite. It is the shortest, but I feel it is also the most scenic. I love all the hanging furry moss in the rainforest.
There is a portion of the trail that is actually called the Hall of Mosses. It is a large clearing with tall spruce trees and moss hanging from every branch. When we approached it there were several people in the clearing all being very quiet. We walked in and saw a large elk to our right, munching on the vegetation and paying no mind to all the paparazzi snapping pictures of him.
At the end of the trail is a gigantic fallen Sitka Spruce tree that is 190 feet long bordering the trail. It is impressive to see, and even more impressive to know that it isn’t the largest tree in the forest–many Sitka Spruces in the rainforest are over 300 feet tall.
We finished our hike and stopped by the two small stores on the road back to the highway in hopes of picking up some ice. It was the weekend before Memorial Day weekend, and the Hard Rain Cafe told us their ice machine wasn’t in business yet, but would be by afternoon. I’m assuming their business is seasonal Memorial Day through Labor Day. It also looked like they were still stocking the souvenir shelves. The Peak 6 Adventure Store didn’t have any ice either, but they had just about everything for camping and hiking you could need if you forgot something–including rain gear and hiking shoes. We had enough ice to last until morning, so we figured we’d be fine.
**Note–you will need to drive back to Forks for most of your groceries and supplies if you are camping in the Hoh Rainforest.
Back at camp we relaxed a while longer, and then Paddy helped with dinner. Our contribution was baked potatoes, which we cooked on the grill over the campfire. Our friends had made the genius discovery that welder’s gloves are perfect for cooking on the campfire, and are a fraction of the price of camping or oven gloves. We have added welder’s gloves to our camping supplies shopping list.
Our friend Scott had brought a deep-fryer and was deep frying steaks for everyone up on the road. Our friend with the Dutch ovens was baking a chocolate cake (which turned out amazing by the way), and another friend made some fabulous baked beans by adding bourbon, bacon, and other ingredients to a giant can of Bush’s which she heated in a cast iron pot over the campfire.
It was another great evening with amazing food and good company.
On Sunday we packed up our campsite and headed back towards Kingston to catch the ferry. We made a quick stop at A Shot in the Dark Espresso stand in Forks for coffee. The coffee was great and came with chocolate espresso beans.
About 45 minutes outside of Kingston we pulled over and stopped for lunch at the Snug Harbor Cafe on Discovery Bay. It was a seafood basket and chowder type of place. I had the oyster sandwich and Paddy had the fish sandwich with a side of coleslaw. Both sandwiches were great but the tempura battered fries were really bland. Service was good–we’d stop here again. It looked like they had a nice outdoor patio and they advertised live music in on Friday and Saturday evenings.
When you approach Kingston, there is a lane on the right for the ferry, which you need to get into as soon as you see it. You inch through with the other cars until you reach a ferry worker who gives you a ticket, and then you follow the ferry signs through town. This process appears to ensure that people don’t cut into the ferry queue from town. You give your ticket to the ferry toll booth when you get there.
The wait for the ferry wasn’t too bad. We missed the one that left a few minutes after we arrived but made the next one an hour later. It was a nice afternoon for a short ferry ride.
I always leave the Olympic National Park wishing we had more time to explore it. There is so much to see in each part of the park. The next time we make it out to the Hoh Rainforest, we’d like to walk the trail at the end of Oil City Road out to the ocean and possibly up the coast a little ways. I love to be out in the Hoh Rainforestany time of the year, it is so peaceful and a bit magical. Rain gear recommended, but the rain isn’t too bad.
Whale watching in the San Juan Islands, WA with Legacy Charters. A day tour with fantastic guides, lots of wildlife, and a rare humpback whale sighting
Orca whales are one of the main attractions of the San Juan Islands in Washington. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the islands and go on whale watch tours in hopes of catching a glimpse of these beautiful and often playful creatures in the wild. Paddy and I had been out whale watching in the San Juan Islands on a small boat whale watch tour about 10 years ago, and it was an amazing experience to see them so close. A huge male swam right under the boat, humbling us with a close look at his enormous size.
Summer is the peak time for whale watching in the San Juan Islands. Aside from having the best weather of the year, in summer the salmon come through the San Juans on their way to the Frazier River to spawn, increasing the food supply in the area for the southern resident orcas. Transient and resident orcas can be seen year round, but the increased population of orcas in the summer increases the chances of a sighting, and is usually the best time to go whale watching.
I was invited out on a whale watch tour in the spring with a good friend of mine, Rachel, and her husband Spencer with their tour company, Legacy Charters. Most whale watch tours only operate in the summer, but Legacy Charters operates all year long. They see plenty of orcas and wildlife in the winter as well as summer. Even if you don’t get to see whales, there are lots of other birds and marine animals to see, as well as the beautiful island scenery that you won’t see on a ferry. Tours last about 2.5 to 3 hours.
It was April, and rain was predicted all day. In addition, no Orca whales had been sighted in several days. While whales are the main attraction, I was hopeful that we might catch a glimpse of some other wildlife such as porpoises, harbor seals, bald eagles, and sea lions.
I met up with Rachel and Spencer at Snug Harbor, a quiet little harbor with a resort on the north west side of San Juan Island. Legacy Charter’s tours depart from the west side of the island, which is where the whales are usually sighted. It ended up being a magical afternoon. The sun came out (contrary to the dreary weather report), and the water was as calm as it could possibly get. I took my motion sickness medicine just in case, and we set out.
As we departed, naturalist Heather showed us some miniature model whales and gave a quick presentation on the types of whales that can be seen in Puget Sound, and a little bit about each of them.
The types of whales you can find in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are the orca whale, gray whale, minke whale, and the humpback whale. The humpback whales spend the winter in warmer waters and only migrate to Puget Sound in the summer season. Humpback whale sightings are rare, but Rachel and Spencer had word that “Big Mama,” a female humpback who summers in the San Juans, was back earlier than usual and making an appearance that day in the waters just over the Canadian border.
Hopeful, we sped across the calm water to the area Big Mama was reportedly swimming. The sun was warm, but I was glad I had brought a hat and hooded rain coat, as the wind was cold while we traveled.
It wasn’t too long before we reached the area where Big Mama had been reported. Captain Spencer slowed the engine, and we waited. Within several minutes we saw her surface and blow water from her blowhole. Everyone was excited.
Spencer got a little closer, still keeping a safe distance. The fine for getting too close to a whale is pretty steep, and it is important to give the animals plenty of space for their safety. We watched her surface every few minutes for a little while, as she glided around in the water.
At one point we were all staring off the side of the boat, waiting for Big Mama to come up again, and she seemed to be down a little longer than usual. Suddenly she surfaced right near the back of the boat, spouting water from her blow hole and startling us all. It was so exciting to see her so close. She must have been a bit curious about our boat. Rachel and Spencer were really excited–they said they’ve never seen a humpback that close before in all their tours whale watching in the San Juan Islands.
We watched her for a bit longer, she swam further away but I managed a good zoom shot of her tail on one of the few times she did a deep dive and showed it to us.
Seeing Big Mama was definitely the highlight of the trip, but Captain Spencer was ready to see what other kinds of wild life we could find before the tour was over. We saw a couple of porpoises from a distance, but they were pretty far away. We passed a couple bald eagles sitting in the setting sun on the hills and trees of the islands we passed.
Pretty soon we reached what Captain Spencer called a “sea lion bachelor party” on Spieden Island. It was a congregation of stoic and blubbery steller sea lion males, sunning themselves proudly on the rocks while another group swam leisurely just off the shore. Rachel said they do this a lot, leave all the females and have some guy time. They were noisy, grunting and barking at each other over who got which spots on the rocks.
As we got closer to the rock, a horrendous smell wafted through the air. I asked Rachel if they were farting. “No,” she said. “That’s their breath.” Fortunately, the breeze shifted.
We watched the sea lions for a bit. They were aware of us, but seemed more interested in barking at each other.
We then continued back towards San Juan, passing two separate rocky outcroppings full of harbor seals sunning themselves, or as Captain Spencer calls them, “rock sausages.” They reminded me of our cats on a warm summer day on the patio.
They are very sausage-like, but the nickname also comes from the harbor seal being a favorite food for transient orcas. Resident orcas only eat salmon, while the transient orcas eat seals, porpoises, sea lions, and other marine mammals.
I asked Spencer and Rachel why the two groups of whales eat different cuisine. Spencer said it was cultural, kind of like how people in China eat rice, and people in Italy eat pasta. The two groups of orcas don’t interact with each other at all. Spencer has seen resident and transient pods swim right by each other with no interaction. No interbreeding has ever been documented. It is almost like they are a separate species. Aside from having separate cultures, biologists have also noted different “languages” between the two groups. Spencer says he hears a difference in the calls of the resident whales vs the transients.
The tour ended at sunset, and it was a great time. I’d recommend Legacy Charters for whale watching in the San Juan Islands over many other tour groups due to the small boat experience. Going in a small boat with a maximum of around six passengers gives you a more intimate experience with the whales, and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more from the guides. Also, the large boat tours leave out of Friday Harbor on the east side of San Juan Island, and the whales are normally seen on the west side. Leaving from the west side at Snug Harbor gives you more tour time and more wildlife viewing opportunities. I would strongly recommend bringing a car to San Juan Island, however if you don’t have a car with you Legacy Charters can help arrange transportation from Friday Harbor to Snug Harbor and back.
I would also recommend a visit to the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor before you go whale watching in the San Juan Islands if time allows. It is a great museum with tons of information on the whales in the area and will help you understand more about these beautiful creatures before you see them in the wild.
Also, don’t forget to make your ferry reservations in advance!
Our quick day hike from Seattle to Franklin Falls at Snoqualmie Pass: An easy hike with beautiful forest and a gorgeous waterfall.
A little Google searching on Washington waterfall hikes brought me to discover Franklin Falls, a picturesque waterfall at Snoqualmie Pass just an hour outside of Seattle. An easy 2 mile round trip out-and-back hike, it sounded perfect for a quick day trip.
We read that this trail is very popular, and that we should get there early to get a parking spot. We purchased a Northwest Forest day pass online (you can purchase and print at home now!) and left Seattle at about 8:00 AM. Day passes or annual forest passes are required to park at the trail head, and are $5.00 for the day or $30.00 for a year.
It was a beautiful August morning and we made good time with no traffic. The trail is off I-90 exit 47 just past Denny Creek Campground. When we arrived, the parking area was already filling up, but we got a spot. The parking lot is for Franklin Falls as well as Melaka Lake— a more difficult 8.5 mile hike.
There weren’t a lot of people on the trail when we started, which was nice. The trail is very well maintained and follows the Snoqualmie River for a ways, gradually ascending through the forest.
The trail has many log-bordered steps built into it, and is popular with families. The total elevation gain is 400 ft, dispersed gradually over a mile. Closer to the falls, the trail runs close to Forest Road 58.
After a quiet and serene walk through the shady forest (there is mostly shade along the way, so this is also a great hike for a hot day), you reach the falls. To get to the bottom of the falls, you walk along a rocky ledge and over some wet rocks. The rocks looked more slippery than they were, but proceed with caution.
To get close to the falls pool you will need water shoes, and there is substantial mist off the falls so plan on getting sprayed. We didn’t get that close. There weren’t many places to sit and enjoy the falls that weren’t wet–you might consider bringing a rain poncho or something to sit on if you plan on picnicking or staying awhile.
After a little rest and some admiration of the falls, we headed back. The way back was all gradual downhill, and went by fast.
We encountered a lot more families on the way back, and were glad we got an early start. When we reached the parking lot, it was packed, and more cars were circling around every minute looking for a parking space. We were ready to give up our space to them and head home, when Paddy reached into his pocket for the car key and found a big hole in his pocket…..and no car key.
Paddy went back to the trail to look for it, and I stayed behind with our stuff and tried not to panic. Fortunately, there was cell service and he called me from the trail a few minutes later telling me that someone said they had seen the key at the beginning of the trail. I went over to look some more and a guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was looking for a key–which was in his hand. He said that he had seen it earlier, and then saw that someone had put it on top of the trail post when he returned from the falls. We were relieved and extremely grateful.
I called Paddy and let him know that I had it, and shortly after we were on our way back towards Seattle. Crisis averted. Moral of the story: Don’t trust the pocket seam integrity of $11.00 shorts purchased at a market in Thailand.
We stopped for lunch just outside of North Bend at the Riverbend Cafe. It is a little cafe next to the Cascade Golf Course, with a nice patio as well as comfortable indoor seating. The menu is typical diner fare–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had a tuna melt and fries, and Paddy had the Italian panini sandwich and fries. The sandwiches were good and the ice tea tasted home brewed.
I would recommend Franklin Fallsto anyone looking for an easy day hike with a big scenic payoff. I would also recommend checking your pockets for holes before you put your car key in them.
Our Fall getaway to Grayland, WA: A cranberry harvest festival, a crusty old beach town, delicious oysters, and a pumpkin patch.
We wanted a relaxing and fun fall getaway in October, 2013. Our last trip to the Washington coast was Ocean Shores, which left much to be desired (in our opinion). We opted for the lesser-visited Grayland, a tiny beach town just south of Westport.
I looked on the map and found an old hotel on the beach (the closest one to the actual beach that I could see) called the Walsh Motel. There wasn’t much about it on Tripadvisor yet, and their website didn’t have a ton of photos. The price was right at $95 a night for a room with a kitchen, fireplace, ocean view and king sized bed, so we went for it. We expected old and outdated, but were hoping for charm. The website doesn’t take reservations, so we called and did it the old fashioned way. The man on the phone was super friendly and suggested room 26, that was one of the best ones. We booked it.
The Walsh Motel has two kinds of accommodations–the beach front hotel part, which is non smoking, no pets, and no kids (great find for the childfree set!) and cabins that are not beachfront that allow smoking, pets, and kids. From the few reviews we read, the cabins are a very cheap, family friendly way to go…..but are pretty old and run down.
We left Seattle in the afternoon on a Friday, and traffic wasn’t too bad, it was around a 3 hour drive. We arrived in Grayland starving and ready to go get some dinner. Check in was easy, we pulled into the Walsh Motel office and a friendly, laid-back woman checked us in (I’m guessing the co-owner, it seems like a couple owns it and lives in the house attached to the office). We pre-paid, were given a key and directions to the hotel at the end of the drive, and went to check in.
The room was older for sure, as expected. It was very clean, however and a bundle of wood was included for the fireplace. The kitchen had just about everything we needed, although we brought a few pans and utensils just in case.
We quickly unloaded our car and then drove down the road to Bennett’s Restaurant for dinner. It was completely packed with a wait at the door. The staff was doing a great job, and while it took us a little while for the host to get us on the list they kept track of who was next very well. Unfortunately there were a lot of rude customers and we felt bad for the staff. We’ve worked in restaurants in a tourist town, and we sympathize. The host brought drinks to anyone who wanted them. We had some wine while we waited, which was nice.
We were finally seated around 8:30, and ordered some food. They have a lot of seafood options, and I decided to go for the captain’s platter of fried clam strips, fish, and shrimp. It came with a salad, sauteed vegetables, bread, and a baked potato. Paddy had a steak which came with the same sides. It was a little pricey, but all really good and at that point, we were famished. I had to take some of my captain’s platter with us, it was so huge.
After dinner we went back to the room and attempted a fire in the fireplace. There was only a small stack of newspaper, and no kindling. We couldn’t get it going. We made a note to buy some fire starter sticks the next day.
The TV was small, and kind of in an awkward spot at the side of the bed. We tried moving it, but it didn’t work out. There was a small dresser near it, however and we moved that to the foot of the bed and put our laptop on it to watch a spooky movie. It worked out fine.
We’ve always kind of dreamed about buying an old hotel or resort and making it over. Since the owners were about our age, I’m guessing that is what they are doing. We looked at the room and thought about what we would do with it if it was our place.
The first thing we’d do is put new mattresses, the mattress was pretty old and creaky and my back wasn’t so happy by the time we left. I’d also get rid of the 1980’s polyester floral hotel bedspreads and trade them in for down comforters and duvet covers. Huge upgrade right there. Some flat screen TVs and DVD players would be a good addition, and after that–just some cosmetic upgrades. My mind gets all craftsy….adirondack chairs on the deck? An end table made from driftwood? Fishing nets and bouys strung over the deck railing? Maybe someday we’ll buy a small resort and re-vamp it.
The next morning we slept in a bit, and then I baked off some homemade cheddar biscuits using the ingredients and recipes we brought. Paddy made a chicken sausage gravy and scrambled eggs and we had breakfast with an ocean view.
One of our reasons for choosing Grayland this particular weekend in October was the Grayland Cranberry Harvest Festival. Washington State grows so many cranberries on the coast (Ocean Spray is located here) and I have never in my life seen a cranberry bog or where they come from. We also happen to love all things cranberry, and I have recently become a novice canner and wanted to get some cranberries to can homemade cranberry sauce for the holidays.
Our first stop was the community hall in Grayland, where the “festival” was going on. It was a small town community festival, with cranberry products being sold–bath products, baked goods, jams and jellies, etc. There were some people setting up food stands outside for later.
They were also offering bog tours for $7.50 per person. The tours left several times during the day in a small school bus to a bog down the road. We were wondering if we could see a bog on our own, without a long tour. We left and drove down the road, seeing the school bus tour group getting an explanation of the cranberry picking machine that was invented by a farmer in Graylandin the 1930’s. We quickly realized that every block was a bog, and you can walk right up to them and take a look at the berries yourself. It was pretty interesting.
After we marveled at the cranberries (Paddy sampled one raw, he doesn’t recommend it), we continued driving up a big hill out of curiosity about the area. We found a plot of land that was recently cleared for building with a fantastic view of the bogs, which made for a great photo opportunity.
After taking in the view, we drove back to the main road and continued south to Tokeland. On the way, we pulled into the Nelson Crab Company to check out the seafood selection for dinner that night. We didn’t purchase any seafood but we did buy two lbs of cranberries for canning.
It being October and all, the month with the best holiday of the year, we followed a friend’s suggestion of visiting the supposedly haunted Tokeland Hotel. There are stories of ghost sightings, dinner plates in the restaurant spinning in the air on their own, and a supposed murder of a prostitute that occurred in room number 7 in the early 1900’s, which is related to the haunting.
We walked in, expecting to be greeted or shown a menu, but no staff members were at the front desk or paid us any mind. We wandered around the creepy living room with a skeleton lounging in a chair, and took a look at the antiques on display. No one came out to talk to us, so we left.
Near the hotel was a house with one of the most magnificent driftwood sculptures of a horse I’ve ever seen, and some little shacks selling seafood.
Next, we continued out tour back north past Graylandto the neighboring town of Westport. Paddy and I had been to Westport before years ago, and I have to say I do like it better than Ocean Shores. There is some meager attempts at tourism in the town, with a tiny aquarium and a few boardwalk souvenir and saltwater taffy shops. Overall though, it is a crusty old fishing town that time forgot. It has lots of local color without the big hotels and family fun time obnoxiousness of Ocean Shores. It is what it is, without apology. And we kind of love it that way.
We stopped at the local grocery store in Westport (there isn’t one in Grayland) and picked up some ingredients for dinner that night. On the way back towards Grayland, we made a stop at the Cranberry Road Winery. They produce two types of cranberry wine–a regular cranberry wine and a cranberry cinnamon wine. Both were very good and we bought a bottle of the cinnamon wine to enjoy with our families at Christmas. They do sell the wine in stores in Seattle as well.
After wine tasting, we took one last detour to Brady’s Oysters to pick up some oysters for oyster stew. Brady’s Oysters is a little family-owned roadside oyster farm and cannery, just outside of Grayland. We purchased some fresh oysters and smoked oysters for dinner, and a can of smoked oysters to take home. If you like oysters and seafood, Brady’s is definitely worth a stop.
We were hungry and felt like relaxing awhile. so I re-heated my dinner leftovers in the oven and made us some bloody marys.
We read books for a little while (I was reading the original Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in honor of my favorite holiday of the year). After a little rest and some damn fine bloody marys, we went out for a walk on the beach.
They don’t call it Grayland for nothing. In the winter the gray sky, sand, and ocean all meld together into one big black and white photograph of a landscape. It is beautiful in it’s own humble way.
Grayland is also a great spot for clamming, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve never tried it, but a friend of mine has all the gear and loves digging for razor clams on the coast in the winter. The season is winter only, and you have to get an inexpensive permit. The Walsh Motel has an outdoor shellfish cleaning sink for guest use as well. I think we may have to come back and try it sometime.
In the evening, Paddy made some oyster stew from a recipe that he modified a bit. We used smoked oysters and regular, and it turned out really good. (**Tip: a little beer in oyster stew really brings out the flavor as well). The sun came out a bit and I went back to the beach to catch a few sunset photos.
We sat and ate our oyster stew and watched the brilliant fall sunset from the window. It was a perfect cozy fall evening.
We had remembered the fire starter sticks for the fire, and we got one going no problem. We set the laptop up on the dresser at the end of the bed again and watched a bunch of episodes of American Horror Story with only the firelight. It was a spooky good time.
In the morning we ate some leftover biscuits and gravy, packed up, left Graylandand drove half an hour east to Aberdeen, WA. We’d been through Aberdeen many times but never drove by Kurt Cobain’s childhood home, so we thought we’d stop off for a quick view. There it was, 1210 E First Street. Not much else to report.
We continued east about 15 minutes to Montesano and made a stop at the Shaffner Farms Pumpkin Patch to pick up pumpkins for our annual pumpkin carving party the following weekend. I’m a sucker for all that cutsey poo fall stuff like pumpkins and cider. Paddy is a good sport about it.
It was a spooky foggy fall morning, perfect setting for pumpkin picking. We were some of the first visitors to arrive, and we were loaded onto a tractor and driven a short ways out to the pumpkin field to find our pumpkins.
After pumpkins were selectively chosen, we were trekked back to the farm where other vegetables, gourds, and pumpkin carving accessories were for sale. We purchased our pumpkins and hot cider and got back on the road back to Seattle.
Overall, we had a really good time in Grayland. There’s not a lot of stuff to do there, but we would go back. It’s not as nice as Cannon Beach, Oregon, but it’s also way less expensive. If you like cranberries, fresh seafood, beaches, and relaxing, it’s a good Northwest getaway. Grayland and Westport still retain their local, crusty old beach town character, and we’re all about that.