Mount Rainier’s Railroad

Perhaps you’ve heard that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But I never would have guessed it invented time zones.

What began in Ancient Greece as a way for animals to pull heavy items or large quantities with ease, today’s trains move everything from products to people all over the world.

So when the first iron horse rolled across the tracks of Great Britain (way back in 1804), travelers from all over quickly realized one thing: schedules! Yes, crossing vast countryside meant wanting to arrive at a specific time. Hence the creation and unification of time zones.

Catching up to today, my husband and I just had to keep an eye on the time in our zone: an 11:30 am departure with the Mount Rainier Railroad

Elbe’s junction

Thanks to a coworker’s very special birthday gift, we found ourselves looking online at this heritage railroad company’s very seasonal event options. Wine tasting in September, brewing up October…the Great Pumpkin and The Polar Express—goodness! Gotta narrow it down to one. Letting our own existing schedules decide, we chose wine…

Arriving at the train station early, we checked in, then began to look around. One of the smallest churches in the country was tough to miss: the Elbe Lutheran Church—founded by German settlers and on the National Register of Historic Places—shares the same parking lot with Mount Rainier Railroad. And across the street—coffee!

Ready for a little java, we headed over to DeWitt’s Elbe Junction. What a fun store—plenty to peruse here. Lattes and biscotti in hand, we seated ourselves at a small table between two cozy rocking chairs and enjoyed the moment.

Mount Rainier’s RR

Finishing up our late morning treats, we headed back to the train station just in time to watch the beautiful vintage rail cars pull forward. Originally servicing Pacific Northwest logging camps of the early 1900s, this American Heritage Railways member now takes curious travelers to themed events by going back in time…

Boarding our coach, we found our table set and ready for our tasting event: one souvenir wine glass, six drink tickets and a mini meat and cheese tray. Perfect!

Our conductors—dressed in vintage style (complete with pocket watch)—posed for pics and answered my funny questions. Like: which way is the mountain? (In my defense, there was just enough cloud cover combined with a few curves of the track for me to lose sight of the tallest mountain in the state…)

The scenery was stunning—lots of forest and river views with every twist and turn. A staff member poured us a sample from one of the featured wine vendors awaiting our arrival at the tent.

The conductors—eager to share the great vistas with all passengers—invited everyone to make their way to the open air train car. They did not disappoint—plenty of viewing room on both sides of the car. I managed to arrive just in time to cross the Nisqually River with the mountain base making an appearance. Gorgeous!

Mineral’s party

Arriving in style, we stepped down from the train and into Mineral. A former mining town turned logging camp, this small community is now home to Mount Rainier’s logging museum and event locale.

Stretching our legs, we wandered a bit before visiting the wine and food tents. The museum’s featured artifacts are outside: logging equipment, including a very old ski plane. A few vintage steam engines were covered from the elements, but granted access to interested event patrons.

Back to the party! A live band played near the base of a Paul Bunyan statue (absent Babe). Showcasing Pacific Northwest vintners and brewers, five wine tents and one cider tent poured one sample per drink ticket. We chose varietals and vendors that were new to us, and all were delicious.

Shaken Bar Room and Bistro, also local, catered the event, providing finger foods like mini tacos and fresh fruits and cheeses. Very yummy stuff that kept our tummies happy. We headed back to the logging museum/gift shop and purchased a few bottles of the wines we liked best. And before we knew it, the whistle was blowing: time to make our way back…

Waiting for us at our table was a chocolate steam engine. Not too big—just the right amount of sweetness to end our vino focused meal as the train took us back to Elbe.

Truly a fun way to spend a few hours, I recommend you take this train ride back in time. A dose of history and fun near the base of Mount Rainier—in the train inspired time zone called the Pacific. Toot-toot! Just don’t be late… J 🚂

 

Advertisements

Sounders FC pride

Ah, football… there’s really nothing better than a contest between two rivals to excite and unite the fans. From the pre-game events to the post-game victory celebrations (or sorrow-drowning at a local pub), a team’s faithful followers are one. No matter their social class or DNA, togetherness comes from sharing the joy of cheering for the athletes who in turn represent a very special place: the fans’ home town.

Seattle is fortunate enough to host not one but two football teams: American football’s Seattle Seahawks, and soccer’s Seattle Sounders FC. Recently, we had the privilege of attending a very special Sounders match (against local rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps FC) honoring the beloved retiring football club player Chad Marshall, as well as honoring Seattle Pride 2019. And just how do the Sounders roll? In living color…

Assemble

The stadium’s neighborhood is a busy place, but especially so on game days. We arrived early (about 90 minutes before the match) so we could 1) park with ease, 2) visit the Pro Shop for souvenirs, and 3) have time for a drink at The Ninety. Recommended by our daughter’s boyfriend—who kindly took us to the game—this locale is not your average sports pub.

Open to the public only on matchdays, one can see the Sounders trophy case up close, grab a beer (wine for me today!), and even watch MLS matches in progress on the monitors. As a big fan of Dale Chihuly’s art, I especially enjoyed seeing one of his chandeliers here—sporting team colors—in this very special gathering place.

Now revved up and ready to cheer, we headed to the main event…

Unite

Our stadium’s had a few names since opening its doors in 2002, but for the last eight years we know it officially as CenturyLink Field. “The Clink” really is a beautiful structure. Seating 68,740, it also showcases millions of dollars worth of art. Heading to our seats was like passing by museum walls—fun and elaborate artwork everywhere!

Wanting a little something to eat prior to start time, we hit the concourse and found a favorite restaurant of ours: Din Tai Fung—one of 20 concessions inside The Clink. And after picking up an iced tea at the Starbucks Coffee Cart, I was good to go.

The pre-game events were show-worthy on their own. Chad’s smiling face was on the big screens, and literally in everyone’s hands (as a paper mask of sorts). Number 14 and his family were honored center field as his fans cheered their appreciation.

A giant pride flag flew above the scoreboard. Pride colors were featured throughout the stadium reader boards, souvenirs and team jerseys. But the grandest display of the symbolic colors came from the Emerald City Supporterstifo—under the scoreboard and covering the entire width of the field.

And one more honor to share with the fans: the singing of the Canadian and US national anthems while the countries’ respective flags were held outstretched on the field. United in our excitement, we were ready…

Celebrate

The game. Plenty of shots taken from both teams, keeping the goalkeepers busy and the crowd on its feet. But the real excitement came when a goal scored by the Sounders was called back due to the kicker stepping on the keep’s foot. Okay, so I’m not an official, but… where was he supposed to step? He’d just kicked a goal! Ah, but they didn’t ask me…

After that, the fans on both sides were extra vocal, pretty much exploding when the Sounders scored again in the last few seconds of the match. Wowza! The win gave the home team three points toward earning the Cascadia Cup, as well beating their cross-border rivals, thus adding a little sweetness to honoring retiring #14 and Seattle Pride.

As an added bonus, the four of us were able to step onto the field, post game. My first time ever, standing on a professional team’s field! And yes, I felt tiny, and a little in awe. Athletes who put their hearts and souls (and bodies) into playing a very demanding sport—in front of thousands—that’s something. Something worthy of pride. J ⚽️

 

 

Portland’s rosy glow

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s Juliet makes an interesting point when talking about her Romeo. After all, we don’t choose where we’re born—or to whom. And names are something someone chooses for us—or for something—like cities. Take Portland…

Now known as the “City of Roses,” this Oregon town was named by its founding fathers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove on a coin toss. Each wanted to honor their East Coast home towns. Pettygrove won the toss. This means the West Coast almost had a Boston.

Nicknames, on the other hand, are something we have a say in, or something we earn as the result of an event. Portland’s rosy nickname comes from Episcopal Church convention visitors—waaaaay back in 1888—enjoying the gardening skills of the newly formed Portland Rose Society. And now? Time to bring you up to speed on my recent adventures to Almost-Boston…

Rails

Wanting to opt out of a Friday night traffic jam via the freeway, my husband suggested we take the train. Great idea! He booked our tickets on the Amtrak Cascades Seattle-to-Portland route. We boarded at Seattle’s King Street Station, then sat back and watched the scenery while noshing on items from the dining car.

From Portland’s Union Street Station, we took an Uber to the Courtyard Portland City Center, our hotel for the weekend. After checking in, we headed to our room and closed our eyes for the night.

Saturday morning’s light of day revealed a wonderful convenience to our weekend residence: the MAX Yellow Line’s pick-up stop just across the street. Portland’s light rail system made our travels around town super easy, and at very reasonable rates. But one other discovery I made across the street lead to some additional—very rosy—activities for the day…

Roses

What caught my eye, exactly? Colorful roses in beautiful bunches, decorating an antique cart and wooden bench outside the Geranium Lake Florist—just waiting for customers like me to happen by. The gorgeous display did its job, drawing me closer for a better look. So pretty and fragrant! I couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

Inside the shop, Chris very kindly wrapped my selection—what instantly became a gift for my daughter—and asked if we were in town for the festival. Naively, I asked, “What festival…?”

After I let him know we were participating in a 5K event later that day, he let me know that Portland’s Festival of Roses was taking place all weekend. In fact, the Rose Parade was happening one block away. Wait-what? Right now?!

Collecting my family members, we headed up the street to the parade route, and found our vantage point. In addition to cleverly decorated, rose covered floats, we enjoyed the performances of local high school and alumni marching bands, and parade-waved back at dressed up dignitaries, costumed business people, and of course, the royal court.

Soon after, it was time to patronize local businesses by doing a little shopping. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and a city block of books…

Books

Some stores are like giant magnets, pulling you through their doors and lining up your purchases with amazing efficiency. Others fold you into their walls, displays and shelves, giving you lots and lots to peruse while you lose all track of time. And then there’s Powell’s City of Books. Inside its many floors, the world’s largest used and new bookstore manages to accomplish all these shopping options.

Traversing this travel destination’s many nooks and crannies requires stamina. Looking to boost our energy levels, we meandered our way between the bookcases to the World Cup Café. The coffee drinks and baked goods are excellent! And the tables are great for reviewing books while enjoying your chosen treats. This combination makes the café a veeeeeery popular section of the store, any time of day.

Lucky for us, my daughter applied her NYC skills for spotting available seating, and we soon had a place at a shared table. Freshly energized, we continued our bookstore shopping until our time pieces reminded us we needed to get going…

Bites

I’m sure you’re familiar with the word brunch (breakfast-lunch); maybe less so with the word linner (lunch-dinner). Well, you can have them both, along with breakfast, lunch, dinner or nightcaps—at The Original Dinerant.

An upscale diner-restaurant combo attached to our hotel, this eatery quickly became an addition to our list of favorites. Along with great food and excellent service, The Original has a vibe with a pep all its own. Locals and hotel guests alike packed this place.

For our brunch time meal, all of us chose one of the signature house dishes: chicken and waffles. This southern dish features an Oregon spin: the addition of Tillamook cheddar, along with fresh jalapeños, tossed into the waffle batter. Out of this world! The chicken was crispy, flavorful fall-off-the-bone stuff; sooooooo goooooooood!

For our weekend linner option, we went with a friend’s recommendation to try out the iconic Jake’s Famous Crawfish Restaurant. A mainstay in Portland since 1892, this locale has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re looking to sample seafood fresh from the Pacific, you’ll find it here, along with many other delicious options.

It’s a great place to celebrate special occasions too. Warm, friendly, professional service, along with excellent food in a fine dining atmosphere, we vowed we would return dressed at little more formal than we were. You see, we’d already prepped for our 5K. And it was time to head to the race…

Bubbles

Aquariums. Dishes. Bathtubs. Champagne. All see their fair share of bubbles. Sprinklers experience kids running through them, and cannons usually fire ginormously heavy objects, aimed at destroying a target of some sort. So…how is it these items come together? At the FoamGlow 5K of course!

These sudsy run-or-walk events, benefiting various children’s charities, are a blast to experience. Nothing like wading through mountains of foaming bubbles cascading down on your head to put a smile on your glowing face.

Taking MAX to the 5K’s location (Portland International Raceway), we arrived a little early to pick up our registration packets. The crowd gathered as the pre-party began, just before sundown. All of us enjoyed the cannon fire of colorful bubbles raining suds onto our noggins. Many participants accessorized their white T-shirts, adding a little bling or glow paint to their 5K gear.

Once the race began, black lights illuminated the waves of people as they ran or walked by. The foaming stations assured all that the opportunity for head-to-toe bubble coverage was possible. Too fun! Crossing the finish line, we happily received our medals of participatory honor…

While taking MAX back to our hotel, we realized there was just enough time before The Original closed to have a nightcap. Bellies up to the bar, we enjoyed a fancy Bloody Mary, a whiskey on the rocks—or rather one big rock—and for me, my first boozy shake. Yummy stuff!

I always enjoy weekend trips to the City of Roses. Forever something new to discover and something tried and true to revisit. If you plan to spend a little time in Almost-Boston, be sure to try the chicken and waffles, then pick up a bunch of roses. And a good book or two…J🌹

 

COFFEE-wine-CHOCOLATE-bread

Where do vintage typewriters and old metal classroom chairs meet up with handcrafted lattes? It all blends smoothly at VoxxCoffee.

When does a risotto vendor stand next to a hot sauce vendor who’s next to a winemaker sharing a table with a chocolatier? Why, at Enumclaw’s Wine & Chocolate Festival of course!

What do a mountain and a loaf of bread have in common? When you add the name Crystal at the Black Diamond Bakery, everything.

And how did all these items manage to come together? Let’s just say we had a very busy Groundhog Day…

Seattle grounds

Meeting up with friends at a coffee shop is a time honored tradition. Lucky for us latte fanatics living in the Emerald City, such establishments are just about everywhere. Near Lake Union, in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, one of my favorites has to be Voxx. It was the perfect place for us to start our day.

Entering Voxx and discovering the fun retro décor in sync with the vintage pop music, I can’t help but imagine stepping back in time to the 1970s, and finding myself at a coffee shop geared toward office professionals.

After placing our food and beverage orders, we pushed two tables together near a cushy bench, then grabbed a couple of classroom chairs. Soon, we proceeded to enjoy a vicious game of Exploding Kittens while visiting and noshing on our delectable Voxx treats.

Fueled up on great food and java, we hit the road and headed south, eventually trading in the cityscape for a very rural countryside.

Enumclaw shows

Near the base of Mount Rainier rests a small town that knows a thing or two about how to gather crowds—and entertain them. With wine. And chocolate! And as we soon discovered, a whole lot more. The Enumclaw Events Center played host to the town’s 11th annual Wine & Chocolate Festival.

A friend working the event tipped us off to this yearly celebration that takes place the first weekend in February. Since both wine and chocolate are easy sells for us, we eagerly purchased tickets online.

Knowing just a little about Enumclaw’s country charm and small town size, I was curious about what we’d find. As it turns out, plenty: two ginormous tents, over a hundred booths, a wine store, and a whole bunch of vendors. And live music! Two different stages—one in each tent—and food, and crafts, and people! Hundreds of patrons milling about, wine glasses in hand, taking it all in.

The wine vendors (23 in all) were salt-and-peppered throughout the event, in some cases sharing their booths—pairing up—with food vendors. For instance, Patterson Cellars teamed up with Seattle Chocolates and JCOCO, making for a very popular stop. Thoroughly loving both products, we purchased two bottles of Patterson’s Due Anni, and two bars of JCOCO’s dark chocolate flavors: Boharat Middle Eastern Spice, and Arabica Espresso. Amazing!

Before leaving the tents, our little group also managed to purchase risotto, hot sauce, ceramics and (of course) more wine and chocolate. And we’re already looking forward to next year…

Black Diamond treasures

A few dozen years ago when I was a youngster, my friend’s mom would take us to a favorite bakery of ours as a special treat. The trick though, was to arrive before they sold out of their signature item: Crystal Mountain Bread.

Since 1902, the Black Diamond Bakery has faithfully served its patrons this famous loaf, along with countless other delicious treats. They’ve even added a restaurant! Ready for a sit down meal, we left Enumclaw for the short drive to Black Diamond to give my bakery’s dinner menu a try.

Lots of stick-to-your-ribs menu options. Cool! Finding Yankee Pot Roast on the menu, I was set. From start to finish, out table of companions enjoyed each delicious bite. Just for fun, we rounded out our meal sharing two slices of pie for dessert. Great service and wonderful food. Our server even added our bakery purchases to our dinner tab so we only had one transaction! Truly a yummy experience.

Next door to the bakery, there’s a store that offers some very savory take-home treats: Smokehouse and More. Before piling into our car, we stopped by for a few things. The smell alone will draw you in! We left with a small supply of smoked chicken sausage.

A few months ago, I was passing through Black Diamond, of course making time for a quick bakery stop, when I noticed another neighbor on Railroad Avenue: the Black Diamond Museum. Deciding to hang out a bit longer, I paid the museum a visit.

Showcasing its mining history in an old train station, I was impressed with the care and cleverness with which these early 1900s artifacts and personal belongings were displayed. One discovery I made should be no surprise: that it was immigrants who took to the world of coal. Over the course of several decades, it was their efforts in the mines below that ultimately forged the lives and livelihoods of the town and their families above.

Those of you who enjoy the cult movie “Groundhog Day” know that Phil Connors was not terribly happy about reliving this holiday day over and over again. But for me and my carload of companions, we’d be just fine with a repeat of today’s collection of wonderful events. J 🚙

 

Leavenworth: welcoming Christmas

For those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 marks the beginning of winter—a new season—time to celebrate! But. This crisp solstice day leads with the latest sunrise and ends with earliest sunset of any other day on the calendar. So…. how best to be festive at the darkest time of year? Why, with millions of holiday lights, of course!

Nestled in a place of only 2000 residents, the small Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth, Washington plays host to thousands of visitors at its annual Christmas Lighting Festival. For over 50 years, people in search of an invitingly quaint village celebration—set against a snow covered mountain backdrop—come here in droves. Why? This year, we decided to find out for ourselves…

To and from

Parking at such an event can be a bit of a challenge. Wintery weather conditions can make the drive equally challenging. Clipper Vacations to the rescue! Booking our day trip online a few weeks earlier, I selected a charter bus pick-up point just a few miles from our house.

Boarding the bus, each of us received a breakfast goodie bag, a bottle of water and even some cookies for the ride home (assuming the afternoon treats aren’t consumed a little earlier…). Free Wi-Fi allowed our merry group of travelers to “stay connected,” while the TV monitors played a Christmas movie for those willing to look up from their conversations or electronic devices—or away from the increasingly snowy mountain pass scenery outside.

Food and drink

One thing about Leavenworth you’ll discover quickly: the Bavarian style facades, signage and decorations begin to welcome you to the town waaaaaay before you arrive at its center. You won’t wonder if you’re there yet; you’ll know. And as soon as we knew we’d arrived, our taste buds woke up.

So… what to enjoy first? Having snacked during our morning drive, we weren’t starving, but we were up for a little warmth. Vendors set up near the gazebo caught our eyes (and noses), so we made our way there. The winner? Mulled wine!

Glühwein—German mulled wine to be more specific—produced by Washington State’s own WooHoo Winery—was the featured holiday beverage of the day. We entered the alcohol tent and made our purchase. Good stuff! Hot and delicious, it needed no additional spices.

All toasty and ready for the afternoon, we meandered through the streets while doing a little window shopping. Admiring the décor and noting our desired must-visit list of businesses for the day, we found our lunch place: Visconti’s Italian Restaurant. Not that there wasn’t enough Bavarian food stands around, but we’ve been to Visconti’s a few years prior and we’re eager to come back.

Enjoying the great food, service and atmosphere, we were happy to have our return visit exceed our expectations. Also, seated at a table with a view of the street helped us feel connected to the outside festivities.

Downstairs, the restaurant’s walk-in gelato shop, Viadolce, happily handed out samples of their traditional and dairy-free icy goodness. My husband opted for lemon. And yes, I snuck a bite. Yum!

Holding out for a dessert in cookie form, and very ready for my latte, we queued up for entry into our next shop stop: The Gingerbread Factory. The fragrance and appearance in this store is holiday heaven! Plenty of festive décor and souvenirs strategically placed along the path to the bakery counter made shopping all too easy…

Lucky for me, I was in line behind a former Gingerbread Factory employee who gave me an excellent recommendation: the Gingerbread Soft Ice cookie. Thank you, kind stranger! It was the perfect accompaniment to my latte, made by their skillful baristas.

Shop and marvel

Food and beverage stands and stores weren’t the only places enjoying long lines of excited patrons. Many clothing, trinket and specialty shops featured lines curving along the sidewalks for several yards. Everyone maintained good spirits, but this factor did help us determine a few “maybe next time” merchants.

We did, however, manage the queue for one fun store: A Matter of Taste. Lots of funky flavorful stocking stuffers for us to buy. We also made it back to the Glühwein tent to purchase a few bottles of WooHoo’s Red Spiced Wine to take home. And then, it was time to find a perch somewhere around the festival’s main event: the tree lighting ceremony!

Just after dusk, the many visitors began to position themselves all around the gazebo and park that make up the town square. We found an excellent locale kitty-corner to the soon-to-be-very-festive trees.

First the surrounding buildings—the instant illumination of their facades brought a collective cheer from the crowd. And a few minutes later… lights, camera, action! The true height of the town square’s ginormous evergreens was revealed in beautiful, bright strands of white and colorful miniature bulbs. Thousands of them! An impressive sight to behold.

Making our way back to the motor coach, purchases in tow and new memories gelling in our noggins, we were already planning a return visit.

Welcoming this chilly, dark season with Leavenworth’s fantastic festival certainly left us with warm and happy smiles on our faces. And the lights gave us a strong reminder that lighting even one candle can break the darkness in a very cheerful way. J 🎄

 

a-MAiZE-ingly FUNd day!

Harvest time—‘tis the season to be

  1. shopping freshly picked—beautiful—fruits and veggies
  2. falling in love with the red, orange and yellow leaved trees
  3. Getting lost in Bob’s Corn giant 10-acre corn maze

A dear friend of mine, one of Bob’s Corn employees, says that she doesn’t go to work; she goes to play. Driving tractors, giving tours, picking corn and just being outside… it’s too much fun to be called work!

I just had to see this place for myself. Lucky for us, my family and I were able to time our visit to this farm with a very special occasion: the memorial 5K fun run, Adventures of a Lumberjack.

Located in the town of Snohomish, Bob’s Corn honors the memory of Alex, a former employee and local high school athlete, with this annual scholarship fund event.

The course

Because this was our first visit to Bob’s Corn, the 5K gave us an excellent opportunity to take a walking tour (of sorts) around the property.

The start-finish line was just outside the Country Store. Set up to be a little like an obstacle course, our path lead us between the farm’s buildings and around the corn fields, then across the street via an underpass.

Signs and guides were posted along the way, helping us continue on the designated route. Pumpkin patches, wooded trails and sunflower fields provided beautiful backdrops to our course. But the “obstacle” that actually gave me a bit of trouble was the one that got stuck in my hair… 🐝

In the end, my noggin took on three stingers. A friend helped dislodge the flyer still tangled in my ponytail, and the race EMT at the finish line, along with my daughter, removed the mini daggers from my scalp.

Just prior to the race, Alex’s former cross country coach let everyone know that—in the spirit of competition—Alex wouldn’t want the race to be too easy. So, while bees were not an intentional obstacle, they served as an interesting reminder to me that obstacles can pop up anywhere (and any time), falling in the category of “when you least expect it…” 🙃

The fields

  • Not just fields but walls of corn, eight feet tall!
  • Rows and rows and more rows of sunflowers, soaking up rays of light.
  • Or how about a 40-acre u-pick pumpkin patch featuring over 60 types of pumpkins to give your eyes a treat?

Along the race course, I couldn’t help stopping to take a photo or two (or more) of these gorgeous crops.

Also, there’s a fenced-in playground field for the little ones, and a big slide that could take adults. Nothing small about this place.

The store

Open mid-July to the end of October, the Country Store sells the farm’s fresh produce, fresh dairy products, fruit preserves and pickled eggs and veggies. So many different flavors!

Honey items, handmade soaps, tractor toys, even sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring the farm logo. Lots of other specialty items too.

Along with 13 ears of corn, we left with fresh eggs, pickled items, preserves, and yes, a tractor toy…

After the race, The Dancing Wick Candle Company sold their Lumberjack candles, featuring a scent designed especially for this 5K event. Such a wonderful fragrance! I picked up two.

I can see why my friend has so much fun working at Bob’s Corn. I’ve come to think of it as an agricultural playland.

Before the season ends, I’ll be back for Halloween pumpkins, more Country Store items (early holiday shopping!), and a walk through the infamous maze; but maybe this time I’ll wear a hat… 🐝🌽 😁

 

Scenic San Juan

How is it that a popular tourist destination at the height of tourist season can seem so…unpopulated? Welcome to the San Juans.

Enjoying a couple of three-day August weekends here gave me the chance to explore this archipelago’s namesake: the island of San Juan itself.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed prior visits to San Juan, as well as trips to Orcas and Lopez islands too, and I always reach the same conclusion. Once we leave the ferry, where does everyone go?

The town

Inches from the dock, Friday Harbor greets ferry passengers as they disembark, ready to take them into its many unique stores, restaurants, inns and other attractions. And so much can be accessed via colorful, well maintained shop allies.

Pedestrian friendly, even near the dock, this town takes walkable to a whole new level. Plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks accommodate visitors. And the drivers exhibit patience I usually witness only in Canada.

The beaches

When you’re ready to get outta town, you won’t have far to go. Just a few minutes from Friday Harbor, we found ourselves driving along the island’s byways through farmlands, forests and hilly terrain on our way to the not so distant shoreline.

San Juan island is home to several beachfront state and local parks, all very nicely maintained. But if you’re looking for one that features a few extras—like whale watching from rocky cliffs—Lime Kiln Point State Park topped our list.

Truth be told, the Orcas that happened to be swimming by just as we reached the cliffs were the highlight of our park visit. Watching the pod make its way through the channel, so close to the shore, was a treat I’ll remember forever. Lucky for us, we could hear some of their calls too, as well as hear—and see—their blowholes in action. A few of the whales even popped their heads out of the water for a bit, as if to sneak a peek at us too. Talk about cool!

Near the cliffs, we found lots of illustrations and information posted about the Orcas, which was helpful in understanding more about these magnificent marine mammals. Lime Kiln also features an interpretive center near its picturesque lighthouse, and a snack stand.

If you’re looking for a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes, well… we discovered one of those too: Jackson Beach Park. A long stretch of beach, driftwood and sand awaited our arrival. And for anyone who’d like to have a picnic complete with a bonfire, Jackson Beach provides the necessary amenities.

Cattle Point—part of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park—features a little of both: rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. And trails too. Such a pretty place! It’s worth a stop, just for the scenery.

The activities

A little more inland, we found fields of purple at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Approaching the end of the season, their plants still offered plenty of color and fun photo ops. The gift shop and treats counter provided ample shopping and munching opportunities, and the looping video programs and attractive displays made learning all about lavender fun and fragrant.

The winner here for me was the deliciously different lavender ice cream sandwich. Locally made vanilla lavender icy goodness squished between two double chocolate cookies…YUM! 😋

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’re in the mood for cuteness overload, check out the Krystal Acres Alpaca Country Store. Well, the cuteness is actually behind the store, roaming the fields. Alpacas—over 50 of them—didn’t seem to mind being photographed as they grazed, sauntered and otherwise enjoyed the day in their own mellow way. Some even seemed willing to strike a pose for our cameras!

Inside the store, we found beautiful wool garments (many imported from Peru), as well as yarn produced by our wooly photo models out back. As yarn is my weakness, I made a purchase. The yarn’s tags featured the photos and names of the Alpacas who provided the wool—how fun!

When we were ready for a sip of vino, we made our way to San Juan Vineyards. Under new management, this quiet, beautiful location features a brand new wine bar that runs the length of the historic school house—a structure featured on all their wine labels—with several stand up tables to accommodate many patrons.

After completing a wine tasting, my friends selected a bottle of their favorite. San Juan Vineyards also sells their wines on the ferries that service the islands; nice to see the success of their efforts expanding off the island.

Time to stretch our legs! The annual IslandRec 8.8k loop fun run celebrated its 41st year this month! And we were lucky enough to be a part of the event. Also lucky (for me), walking the route was perfectly acceptable. So I did, along with a friend who didn’t mind not competing for a placement ribbon…

A quiet yet well supervised course, water stations and event volunteers greeted us at almost every mile marker. And at the finish line, another annual event awaited our arrival: the San Juan County Fair.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love fairs! The exhibits, the animals, the food—and the competitions. Like chicken races. Nothing more adorable than watching young handlers release their fierce competitors at the words “Ready, set, GO!” Equally adorable is watching said handlers chase down and recapture their feathered friends, post race. (Okay, maybe more amusing than adorable…)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cuisine

Having a total of six days on San Juan allowed me the glorious opportunity to visit several eateries. Here’s a highlight of my favorites:

Vinney’s. When you’re in the mood for Italian food, this place tops my list—as in I wish it were closer to home! Excellent cuisine, great service and very popular with the locals. We dined here twice during one of my weekend trips.

The Cheesecake Café & Bakery. A dangerously delicious place. I enjoyed the ham & cheese croissants, lattes, and Nutella Rice Krispie treats. My friends enjoyed the cheesecakes—two of the many flavors, anyway. Tables available inside and out, in full view of the ferry dock, which just happens to be next door.

The Bean Café. Yummy lattes, cookies and more—just a very short walk from the dock. Seating inside and out, this location also features a TV displaying a live feed of the ferry dock; a noteworthy item for anyone timing an arrival or departure.

Blue Water Bar and Grill. When you’re up for seafood and wine, nachos and beer or something in between—all in full view of the dock—this is a great place to be.

McMillin’s. Located on the other end of the island in Roche Harbor, this place is worth the drive. An extensive menu and a wonderful view of its marina make it a great choice for an upscale lunch or an elegant evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Downriggers. Facing Friday Harbor’s marina, very near the ferry dock, this is one of my favorites for a nice evening out. Excellent food and service; and excellent views too! We enjoyed watching float planes land behind arriving ferries, as well as dining in a lively—but not too loud—atmosphere.

From lively restaurants to quiet beaches, from Orca whales to wooly Alpacas, we enjoyed every inch of San Juan Island. And with plenty of elbow room too.

So are you ready for an island getaway? Come check out San Juan. The Orcas just might wave hello. J 🐳