A Victorian getaway

Walkies. Tea. Places to see. Victoria is a very beautiful—and very walkable—city in British Columbia. Located on the southeast tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria shares the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Washington State as a natural border between Canada and the US.

Getting there is half the fun when you travel aboard the Victoria Clipper. And if you book your trip through Clipper Vacations (like we did), your transportation and hotel—even afternoon tea, and other events or tours—can be bundled together.

Going for walks

The Clipper docked at 254 Belleville Street on Victoria’s Inner Harbour a little after 10:30 am. From there, we rolled our suitcases just 800 ft. along the street to 463 Belleville: the Hotel Grand Pacific.

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Conveniently our room was ready at this pre-check-in hour (most likely due to our mid-week arrival), so we were able to unpack our bags and relax a bit before venturing out. Shopping, restaurants, attractions—all just down the street! So, where to first?

Seeing the sights

When was the last time you saw a Woolly mammoth? Okay, to be fair, when was the first time? If you don’t possess a working time machine and have yet to see such a mammal up close, visit the Royal BC Museum. Continuing along to 675 Belleville, the museum was a short but scenic walk from our hotel.

The mammoth—think ginormous stuffed teddy bear—resides in the museum’s Natural History exhibit. Items from our more recent history, like that of Captain George Vancouver, his discovery of this corner of the world and its native people (while he searched for the Northwest Passage), can be seen and explored in the walk-through Human History exhibit. An old west harbour town brought to life. Very cool!

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Our first stop inside, however, was the IMAX Victoria Theatre’s show “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs” (Amazing!), followed by a walk through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. Truly breathtaking images! I enjoy museums, and this happens to be one of my favorites.

Up for a slightly more ambitious walk, we made our way 1.6 miles from our hotel and the Inner Harbour along Government and then Fort Streets to a cozy manor at the top of the hill: Craigdarroch Castle.

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Built during the Victorian era, this National Historic Site was first home to the coal-wealthy Dunsmuir family. It has since served Victoria in many capacities, but today its rooms feature furnishings and amenities that were part of everyday life for the Dunsmuir clan.

If only the walls could talk! Listening to Darren—a castle guide—entertain questions about the colorful history of each family member, I began to visualize their very Victorian day-to-day life inside these beautiful rooms.

Wealth has a way of building castles and legacies. Or in some cases, a worked-out limestone quarry. But combine the empty quarry with a clever green thumb’s idea—financed by her family—and voila! The Butchart Gardens were born.

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In 1904, Jennie Butchart turned her husband’s old quarry and cement plant into the Sunken Garden. She soon added other gardens, all featuring many plants, flowers, and other delights that Jennie and her husband Robert brought home from their many travels abroad. The Butchart family loved to entertain visitors, naming their vast estate “Benvenuto”—“Welcome” in Italian. Today, the Butchart Gardens are a National Historic Site, seen by almost one million people each year.

Nearly 20 miles from downtown Victoria, these lovely gardens were a bit out of our desired walking range, but the desk for CVS Tours, located at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, was rather convenient—just a few minutes on foot for us.

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For the price of admission, CVS Tours provided transportation to the gardens, fun history told to us passengers by our driver, a map of the grounds, and a flower and plant guide. Admission even included a 45-minute stop at the fun-meets-fascinating Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Birds, bees, flowers and trees! And a few other critters too. Between the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens, we enjoyed them all throughout this tour.

If you have room in your suitcase for a little local jewelry, stop by Jade (911 Government Street). Mined in upper British Columbia, this beautiful gemstone is crafted in very wearable ways. My weakness? The earrings. Gorgeous!

Stopping for tea

Walking along Government Street, just a little over half a mile from our hotel, we discovered Canada’s oldest Chinatown. And then we wandered into a fantastic tea experience: the Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. We enjoyed sampling Happy Tea (wonderful stuff!), and talking with the very knowledgeable and friendly tea-expert employees. And of course—making a purchase.

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A little closer to our hotel, we found Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government Street), which just happens to sell lots of other goodies too: breakfast and lunch items, pastries, cakes, souvenirs, tea sets and accessories, and of course, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Established 1894, this shop’s founder—John Murchie—had delivered tea to none other than Queen Victoria herself. He learned firsthand the kind of tea his monarch preferred, as well as invaluable knowledge of the tea trade. When he immigrated to Canada, his put his tea and business smarts to the test, launching a successful company that still thrives today.

We managed to swing by for breakfast, and for an afternoon break or two. And yes, returned yet again for some shopping. There is always a line from the door to the counter, but it moves rather quickly. Finding a table can be tricky (unless placing an order to go), so I suggest stopping by between the breakfast and lunch rushes.

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A trip to Victoria is not complete without afternoon tea at the Empress. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a true icon of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Residing at 721 Government Street, this was another easy walk for us.

The tea room is beautiful, and the service is excellent. These are simple requirements of this famous place, which help remove any nervousness one might have when in the presence of elegant table settings. The Royal China collection used exclusively at The Empress has its own fascinating history, dating back to 1939 as a gift from the visiting King George VI.

Our choices of tea were presented to us as a book of samples. We could actually see the colorful ingredients for each blend! (The Empress gift shop features many of the hotel’s exclusive blends, along with its own line of honey products—from its own bee hives.)

The towers of treats were mini works of tasty art. We added glasses of prosecco to round out our indulgent event. Also, The Empress very kindly and deliciously accommodated our lactose intolerant family members, so no one went without.

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When the Far East meets a former British outpost on an island in the beautiful, bountiful, great Pacific Northwest, the resulting jewel for us is…? Westcoast Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific. Keeping in step with my walking references, this location was just an elevator ride and a lobby crossing away from our room.

Our server, Tim, shared with us his wonderfully vast knowledge of tea—knowledge he credits to his server training, and attendance at several tea courses given by… wait for it… Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. Yes! The very store we happened upon during our walkabout in Chinatown. It is also the very company that provides this hotel’s restaurant with its delicious—and now newly familiar—afternoon tea selection.

Are you aware of the color known as auspicious yellow? If so, then you just might understand why all of their teapots enjoy this happy hue. The tower of treats were Northwest delicious, and the teas (and prosecco!) absolutely hit the spot. And the chef substituted goat cheese for my lactose intolerant family members, which made our party immensely happy.

I always appreciate the pride and effort people put into creating quality products such as organic, authentic and traditional teas, then crafting time-honored and new experiences from these qualities to share in celebration with their patrons. Hats off to these merchants and restaurants of Victoria for exceeding our tea-time expectations.

Dining out

If you’re in the mood for Italian, I suggest a stroll to one of Victoria’s quiet neighborhoods where you’ll find Il Covo Trattoria (106 Superior Street). At just a half mile from our hotel, the distance was perfectly walkable.

We chose an early time slot, but the restaurant quickly filled up. Given this was a midweek evening, we guessed the locals were enjoying their favorite dinner place. Excellent food! The mushroom risotto was the best I’ve ever had. Wonderful and attentive service truly made our meal a great experience.

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Hungry for seafood? The Steamship Grill & Bar—directly across the street from our hotel—has you covered. Delicious cuisine and local wines (and great service too), this was the perfect way for us to end our last full day in town.


The Victoria Clipper took us back to Seattle the next day, carrying us, our overstuffed souvenir tote bags and a wealth of new and wonderful memories.

Along with being very walkable, Victoria is a very friendly city too. Even the crosswalk signs allow ample time for pedestrians, and drivers keep their cars well behind the white line. Their kindness is a reminder to me to always be a good neighbor. After all, we’d love to visit again. And again. J 🇨🇦

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Bridges, bites & bars

San Francisco. I absolutely love this place. Bridges connecting cities and counties, cable cars connecting districts, and old prison bars connecting the past with the present.

Back in the day, I had the pleasure of living in the Bay Area for a couple of years, and spent most of my days off getting to know—as best I could—this town. Fast forward to today, I recently rediscovered my fondness for SF by discovering something(s) new.

The Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s infamous Golden Gate Bridge

Bridges

Ready for a little fill-in-the-blanks? 1) The Golden Gate Bridge takes its name from:
A) the strait that passes under the bridge
B) the official name of its paint
C) the naval ship that first entered San Francisco Bay

Answer: A! The Golden Gate Strait, so named by an army captain in the mid 1800s, became the name for this famous landmark.

I’ve driven over the Golden Gate Bridge a handful of times, stopping at one end or the other to record photographic evidence—my “proof I was there” shot. My something-new discovery on this trip? When one of my travel companions suggested we walk it. Whoa. I love to walk—what a great idea!

Everyone was onboard. Even the weather agreed, providing ample sunshine and just a hint of a breeze. Not bad for winter. And the view! So much easier to enjoy while walking.

The Bay Bridge visible to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. And the spectacular view of The city itself. Ahhhhh… wonderful!

Another fun bridge—albeit a much shorter one—the Drum Bridge. We found this enchanting structure in the Japanese Tea Garden, located inside Golden Gate Park.

All that walking made me feel a lot less guilty about enjoying great food, beverages and desserts. The new restaurant discoveries for me?

Bites

Staying at the Argonaut provided us with more than just an excellent location, wonderfully appointed rooms and great service, it also gave us a terrific bite to eat at its own Blue Mermaid Restaurant.

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We enjoyed the atmosphere of their patio as we nibbled on tasty appetizers and wet our whistles on custom beverages. The service was wonderful! They very kindly crafted the drinks we described to them.

The Commissary.  Fresh and delicious, the food was unique, celebrating both Spanish influence and local ingredients. The menu featured so many one-of-a-kind creations, our server deserved a gold star just for patiently (and happily!) answering all our questions.

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Although not a new discovery for me, The Stinking Rose was new to our companions. Located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, this garlic restaurant is in good company with many Italian restaurants, but has a way of standing out. Vampires beware! If you love garlic, you owe it to yourself to dine here.

After a wonderful but breezy-chilly tour through the east side of Golden Gate Park, it was time to warm up at the Japanese Tea Garden. What wonderful service and treats—and tea! And the setting couldn’t be more perfect. We scored a great table (open seating, so we put on our eagle eyes) next to the pond. We warmed up instantly.

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Later, we ventured to Chinatown to enjoy the shops and decor, and to warm up a bit (again) with more hot tea and noodles. We chose the Utopia Cafe on Waverly Place. Authentic and unpretentious, this place really hit the spot.

Bars

Our breezy-chilly wonderful tour through the east side of Golden Gate Park involved handlebars. No, not on a bike, although we did encounter several. If you’re looking for a different set of wheels to carry you around, I suggest a Segway.

This was my first time on such a device, but it only took a few minutes of instruction and practice to be ready. What a blast! And what a fantastic tour too. Our expert guide, Johannes, took us through the grounds, sharing with us how it all came to be.

Ghirardelli Square neighbors the Argonaut, so picking up souvenir chocolate bars—squares—was very convenient. Talk about a lively corner of town! We quickly learned that the best time for shopping here is early in the day—right when the stores open. (Shopping here later in the day equates to loooong lines out the door.)

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In my blog post “Wave meets rock,” I shared my bucket list—just a few locations for starters—of places I’d like to visit in the near future. Enter Alcatraz, the second item on that list.

For all my curiosity about this infamously historical island, I was surprised by its beauty. And how peaceful it was, despite the groups of tourists. I was equally surprised by what quickly became my favorite part of this visit: the audio tour.

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Narrated by former prison guards and inmates, this feature really helped us understand what it was like to live and work and experience “The Rock” by those who were employed and their families—and those who were imprisoned.

As each day became evening, I was privileged to share my favorite watering hole with my companions: the Buena Vista. It soon became their favorite too.

Finding room at the bar or a table any time of day requires watchful eyes and quick reflexes, but once you’re seated, the service is fast. And what is everyone ordering? The Buena Vista’s signature menu item: Irish Coffee.

If you manage to secure a place at the bar, then you’re in for a show. They receive so many Irish Coffee orders at a time, the bartenders create this drink in assembly line fashion. Quickly. So delicious! I added a bread pudding to my order, which made my taste buds do backflips. Goooood stuff!

My connection to this town is a fun one, and it’s always tough to leave. But I take away the bonus of new discoveries (including a bucket list item!) balanced with the happiness of revisiting old favorites. Is San Francisco on your bucket list? I highly recommend it.

Until next time, wishing you safe and pleasant travels. J 🌉

 

Art of arts

What is art? To me, art is something that assembles lines, patterns and designs of colors, sounds and elements, organizing these would-be ingredients into something that captures our attention. Something that wows us, stops us in our tracks and causes us to feel. Emotions generated by our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste—just because we experienced art.

Artists are those who dare to share such creations with others, hoping to evoke reactions of enjoyment, or maybe to bring about awareness and change. And oftentimes, to make a living by sharing their passion via their work.

Performing arts

Here in Seattle, we’re fortunate to have all shapes and sizes of art to enjoy. And for my family on a recent Saturday, we experienced the fine art of dance—specifically the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s mesmerizing version of Swan Lake.

Seattle Center just happens to be home to a large concentration of the arts for the city. And McCaw Hall—home to PNB and the Seattle Opera—is one of Seattle Center’s largest facilities.

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We arrived early enough to enjoy the lobby and gift shops, as well as place our drink order for one of the intermissions. Settling into our seats, anticipating the curtain’s rise, I couldn’t help but wonder what would wow me. We are big fans of PNB’s ballets, but this four-act story is one of our favorites.

I must say, this company wove all its storytelling threads together flawlessly, giving us goosebumps, and leaving us with a sense of awe. It’s tough to choose only one “wow” element, but I’ll highlight the dancers themselves. They conveyed all the essential emotions necessary to make us believe. Their performance—dancing in beautiful costumes against fascinating sets to the orchestra’s superb rendition of this Tchaikovsky classic—earns a collective wow.

Contemporary arts

After the final curtain, we had a couple of hours before dinner; this was just enough time to take in the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery.

Aside from the breathtaking glass structures, what really captured my attention was the brilliance of color. Impressive without being too much. Equally impressive are the number of glass works in the garden that are literally exposed to the elements. Fascinating! Kudos to the caretakers of the special place for keeping all glass pieces clean and shining like new.

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Also fascinating is how life is depicted in each piece. Life–the land, the seas, evidence of animals and people–the environment of all living things and more–captured in beautiful glass. Glass placed harmoniously within industrial and natural surroundings.

Culinary arts

Earlier in the day—before the ballet—we stopped at Caffe Zingaro for a latte. What a fun coffee house! The walls featured fun paintings—pattern-focused and colorful. The staff was friendly and very helpful when it came to answering questions about their unique menu. I selected a Cubano latte (featuring cinnamon and raw sugar steamed and blended into the coffee drink). Delicious! I plan on trying the Broken Umbrella next time (featuring vanilla and honey).

To end our day, we enjoyed yummy Irish Soda Bread—and a few other Irish dinner items—at near by T.S. McHugh’s. This fun pub-style restaurant showcases Irish nostalgia, and is a favorite way for us to round out our day of events at Seattle Center.

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What is your favorite way to enjoy the arts? Is there one that stands out as your favorite? It was fun for us to enjoy familiar favs like the ballet and the restaurant, but equally fun to discover a different coffee place and the gallery showcasing Chihuly’s glass works.

Whatever you choose to do—enjoy fantastic favorites or discover something exciting, you owe it to yourself to experience the art of artists who dare to share.

J 🎨

 

Freeze-frame

A trail up high in the mountains is one thing, but a trail up high in the mountains—two yards off the ground—is something else. Like no other season, winter has a way of transforming a landscape. On a recent visit to Snoqualmie Pass, we discovered more than a new hiking trail; we discovered that trail elevation can be a seasonal thing.

The Ugly Scarf near Snoqualmie Pass
Me wearing The Ugly Scarf–putting it to conventional use–near Snoqualmie Pass

The snow

Part of the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, the Franklin Falls Trail (#1036) is accessible year-around, accommodating all skill levels. Beautiful any season, I’ve always wanted to visit this place, especially under facades of snow and ice. And now just happens to be the best time of year for such conditions, so, time to bundle up and head for the hills!

Our GPS options—always helpful—made sure we were there. And we were there. Well, close. We just couldn’t see the route to the trail’s parking lot—not even the trail head itself. A wall of plowed snow at least seven feet tall stood between our makeshift parking spot, us, and the way to #1036. Eventually we noticed a path of sorts (forged by ambitious snowshoers and other hikers earlier that morning) weaving its way up and over the icy wall. A starting point! So up and over we went.

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As the path continued, the compacted snow made for stable walking conditions, despite the fact we were several feet off the actual ground. As we walked, fluffy flakes quietly floated down around us, decorating the evergreens, contributing to this already beautiful wonderland.

The water

Running roughly parallel to our snowy trail, water flowed actively in the creeks. We could hear the Falls, even though they remained out of sight for the time being. Eventually our path reached ground level as we made our way under the sloping canopy of trees. Here we crossed small foot bridges over steady streams of moving water. Active despite the freezing temperature, the creeks went about their business, competing with the Falls—and falling snow—for our attention.

Arriving at the end of the trail (a little rocky and slippery the last ten yards), Franklin Falls was there to greet us in all its glory. Water pounded down, as snowflakes continued to do the same. And there was just enough level ground for us and about 20 other hikers to take it all in, as well as take photos without having to take turns.

The ice

What a beautiful site! But what truly fascinated me about the face of the Falls was observing the water that wasn’t moving at all: the ice. Like icicles that form on the eves of homes and buildings, water found a way to camp out for the season along sections of the rock wall. The freezing temps fluctuate in this part of the world just enough to allow Mother Nature the opportunity to treat the cliff face like a canvas, painting various rocks with broad brushstrokes of ice.

Heading back up the trail, we encountered more evidence of ice finding a place in the scenery. Exposed root systems of large trees near creek beds allowed for mini stalactite formations of frozen water—water that will need to wait a month or two for warmer weather before it can reach the creek. A true freeze-frame shot of stillness.

Nearing the elevated part of the trail —close to our starting point—we noticed evidence of human interaction with the landscape we didn’t see before: a solar panel secured to a tree, graffiti on a freeway pillar and a road sign that barely cleared the snow drift. But thankfully not litter.

Lots of people visit this trail throughout the year, and for us, all were friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy sharing this winter wonderland experience as we passed each other coming and going along the trail.

I look forward to visiting this place again, perhaps in the summer or fall. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine the landscape as it would look like without its winter blanket. J ❄️

 

Odd things chocolate

Are you ready for some chocolate!?! It’s February, and that means two foodie-frenzy celebration days: Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day. And while chocolate will play a minor roll on the menu of most Super Bowl parties, chocolate will enjoy center stage come February 14.

So, time to visit a market! But for me, not just any market will do. When I’m looking for something unique from the world of chocolate, I head to the market: Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Piggy banks

A city icon since 1907, the Pike Place Market receives over 10 million visitors per year, and is Seattle’s number one tourist attraction. Here you can find anything from produce to baked goods, fresh cut flowers to hand-crafted leather journals, even flying fish and giant piggy banks. Oh, and odd things chocolate.

Recently one Tuesday morning, I walked from Rachel the Piggy Bank to Billie the Piggy Bank (both located on the market’s main arcade level), then went in search of something different to enjoy at dinner time—a variation of chocolate not found on your average supermarket shelf: chocolate pasta.

Papperdelle’s Pasta of Pike Place Market was just setting up their selection of pastas for the day when I found the exact flavor I was looking for. I picked up both the gemelli and the linguine noodles—one pound each. And a friendly, helpful employee at Papperdelle’s made sure I had recipes to go with each type of noodle.

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By the way, it’s exciting to watch the market come to life. Shops and stands were preparing for the day, and the number of visitors was well under crowd level—for the moment.

Charms

Making my way to the north end of the market (near Billie), I found something else on my list: Market Charms. Specifically the panel featuring my family’s charm. (The market’s information booth employee kindly helped me with its location.)

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Very exciting! Part of the new MarketFront area, the charms face Elliott Bay, escorting visitors as they make their way through the stands of local artists and down the stairs to lower levels. It was there I discovered my next chocolate stop: Indi Chocolate.

Have you ever tried chocolate orange tea? After paying a visit to this heavenly smelling shop, I can say I have. Delicious! Perfect for a slightly chilly morning in Seattle as the weather was making up its mind, switching from rain to sunshine.

Alleys

If you’re done chewing your gum and wish to contribute to the artistry of the market, you owe it to yourself to swing by the Gum Wall of Post Alley.

You’ll find it just below the market’s main entrance, near Ghost Alley Espresso. While I don’t consider gum—chewed gum, no less—to be a common ingredient in works of art (especially when I step in it or grab the wrong spot on the railing for the subway stairs), this alley’s decorated brick walls are a thing of beauty. Oddly so.

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From the Gum Wall, Post Alley weaves its way along the east side of the market, cutting through streets and stands, a bit hidden, but not too difficult to find. Making my way north along the alleys, I found Gosanko Chocolate. A shop very near The Pink Door, I wandered in just to see what fun chocolate treasures I could discover.

And there it was. Chocolate on a stick, just waiting for a mug of hot milk! I picked up three flavors: peppermint, salted caramel and French truffle. (I couldn’t decide on just one…)

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As morning switched over to noon, it was time for me to make my way home. I always appreciate this special place, every time I visit. The Pike Place Market is a vibrant community with a rich history and an exciting future. Lots of oddly wonderful and yummy discoveries await.

Whatever you need for your Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day cuisine, you’ll find it here. For now, I wish you safe and pleasant travels, and all the odd chocolate you can enjoy.

J 😎🍫

On the lake

At the lake. By the lake. Along the lake. Lake shores offer us many ways to enjoy the day: parks for picnics and barbecues, soccer and softball games, family reunions and birthday parties, swimming, jogging and walking—with or without pets—and bird watching (along with watching other assorted critters). Lakeside restaurants offer spectacular views for the dining pleasure of their guests.

But what about on the lake?

The vessel

Marinas—many of them—offer more than just moorage. During boating season, you can rent anything from a canoe to a houseboat. And depending on the lake, many a watercraft are available to rent year around. If you or someone you know utter the words, “It’s a great day for boating!” On a semi regular basis, then you owe it to yourself (and your crew) to give it a try. And if you happen to own some form of water transportation, check the weather forecast and plan your outing!

The journey

On a very recent sunny day, we awakened our boat from its winter nap, fired up the engines and took it for a drive on Lake Washington. It’s like we had the lake to ourselves! January is decidedly the off season for boating, but it’s not off limits. So off we went. The lake, the bridges, the skyscrapers, the waterfront estates—and the mountains. All willing participants in the ever changing scenery surrounding us as we made our way to the southern part of the lake. Our destination? Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park.

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The destination

Established 1982, this beautiful waterfront park remains an exciting discovery for us: four-hour guest moorage, docks, sidewalks, restaurants, a covered open-air pavilion—even an interpretive walk that identifies various species of plants. All about a stone’s throw from the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington, Boeing and The Landing at Renton.

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The afternoon

Arriving about lunchtime, we parked our boat in guest moorage and made our way to Ivar’s Seafood Bar. Order in hand, we found a table just outside the restaurant facing the water. As we ate, seagulls cried, hoping for someone to share a bite. Students learning to sail practiced in the cove—their boat a rental from nearby. Families, joggers, walkers, and others taking a lunch break meandered throughout the park. We truly enjoyed our post-lunch walk. Time flew as it always does, which meant it was time for us to make our way home. Taking in the progressive scenery once more, I realized that it always makes me smile. I never tire of how Mount Rainier—its colors changing with the dipping sun—jumps out from behind the local hills, or how the buildings, homes and bridges are mirrored in the calm water of the lake.

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Do you know the difference between a boat and a ship? A ship can carry boats, but a boat cannot carry ships. To be honest, my favorite form of boating is a cruise ship. (So many ports of call, yet I only unpack once!) But for something less involved and more intimate, it’s tough to beat your own little vessel when it’s a great day for boating. J 😎⚓️

 

Wave meets rock

The melodic notes of wind chimes, the heart pounding roar of the Blue Angels flying over head, rain tap dancing on the pavement–all sounds that are music to my ears. But the one that always tops my list? When ocean waves meet the shoreline. Pounding against sand and rocks, waves crash like symbols in an orchestra, creating an odd combination of excitement and calm as I take it all in. The sound–and the view. I will never tire of this wonder. Sooooooo many places in the world can grant this amazing experience, but one location in particular has captured our hearts: the Oregon Coast. And one town in particular has become our favorite: Yachats.

My Zen place

Pronounced “YA-hots” we trek to this small town about once a year to take it all in. Oddly enough, winter is our first choice of seasons for such a visit. The Pacific Ocean delivers storm after storm, and the storms in turn deliver spectacular wave activity. Wind is a constant, but the rain is not. The weather can change here as often as the tides. We end up wearing our sunglasses more often than our rain gear. The coastline is rugged, but the trails are very walkable. Our daughter refers to Yachats as “my Zen place.” As a family, we’ve come to think of it as our Zen place too.

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Our return trips offer us the chance to enjoy familiar places, but we always look forward to discovering something new–something we didn’t get around to doing on our last trip.

Interested? Here are some of our favorite discoveries to date.

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For accommodations, the Overleaf Lodge & Spa is woooooooooonderful. This location commands one of the best ocean views in town. And each room at Overleaf enjoys this spectacular vantage point. Breakfast is included for all guests, and when you return from your day’s adventures, the spa is waiting to pamper. Just remember to make a reservation–both the lodge and spa are very popular.

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Hungry? Thirsty? Not to worry! For a small town (and even compared to large cities), Yachats offers some of the best eateries on our best-places-to-eat-anywhere list. Allow me to highlight just a few locations.

Seafood is a must when enjoying the coast–any coast. And here, you’ve gotta try Luna Sea Fish House. Not only is the food fresh, it’s excellent! So very tasty. I love the steamers (clams) and Dungeness crab, but everything on the menu is fresh and delicious. They also feature Oregon beer and wine–just enough choices to wet your whistle.

Still hungry, any maybe for something other than seafood? Yachats Brewing. Definitely more beer than wine options (as the name implies), but the menu! Wow–truly some of the best food we’ve had anywhere. Recently I enjoyed a butternut squash and feta cheese risotto that is at the top of my list of “best restaurant risotto ever.”

But what about coffee or tea? I would not go a day without my fix. Not willingly, anyway. Green Salmon to the rescue! The coffee, and tea, and hot cocoa/chocolate drinks are out of this world. Although their menu names call out several places in this world–places that have inspired the very tasty beverage options that take up the entire wall behind the register. Well, almost the entire wall. The menu features breakfast and lunch options too–locally sourced–that are just as tasty and wonderful as the exotic beverages.

Normally I choose a blended coffee or tea drink, but I did venture over to the cocoa side our last two days there. So glad I did–another “Wow!” rating from me. I truly enjoyed the Mayan hot chocolate. It reminded me of the hot chocolate scene in the movie, “Chocolat”. (And for the record, no, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate, even when used multiple times in one sentence…)

On the go, and in need of a very good drive-up coffee/tea/cocoa place? The Village Bean will help you out with that request.

We always have a tough time saying goodbye to our Zen place. Sooooo… what helps to ease the sadness? Planning our next vacation! And in the first month of this new year, it’s time for me to look ahead to upcoming trips, and to include a few bucket list items in our travels–a few places I’ve always wanted to visit, but just haven’t been. Yet.

My bucket list

  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Alcatraz Island (no, really!), National Park Service, San Francisco, California
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Carnevale, Venice Italy
  • The fjords of Norway

Yes, I have many more bucket list items then you see here, but I’d like to focus on these places for now.

New Orleans:

I’d like to have a drink at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar, and a beignet at the Cafe Du Monde. And enjoy this historic place, a southern melting pot.

Alcatraz Island:

I lived in the Bay Area for two years, but never made it there. Time to go back, and learn a little more about this infamous former prison for the infamously notorious. Oh, and enjoy a little more of San Francisco while I’m there…

Arches National Park:

Having driven by this park not one, not two, not three but four times, it’s time to head up the hill and see–with my own eyes–the symbol that makes this national park so famous.

Carnevale, Venice:

There are many famous cities around the world that celebrate Fat Tuesday, but only one place where the masks and costumes are so elaborate–from head to toe. Add to that the lovely backdrop of canals in a fantastically walkable city, well… it’s time to officially add this one to my list.

The fjords of Norway:

By sea and by land, I would really like to take in the rugged beauty of this Scandinavian land-and-seascape.

What famous places and hidden gems are on your bucket list? Time to call out a few, and make your plans! Yes, schedules and budgets can (and do) play a somewhat limiting role, but with a little work, we can check a few of our items off the list. For now, I wish you safe and plesent travels! J 🗺