In this latest installment of I Ate the State, I visit the lovely and scenic, Mason County. Situated in the northwestern part of the state, Mason County is a relatively accessible area to most of Western Washington. Olympic National Park /Olympic National Forest withstanding, there are several routes in and out of the area, all involving very breathtaking countryside. (Olympic National Park/Forest accounts for a large part of the northwestern corner of the county and has limited accessibility and thoroughfares.) Because Mason County contains a sizable portion of the Olympics, the county itself seems expansive, but the population is only around 63k. The Hood Canal and Lake Cushman areas can get crowded in the summer months, but my springtime travels presented me with miles and miles of wide open, uncrowded roads. Couple that with an unexpected sunny day and it was truly a beautiful outing.
For this particular journey, I chose to hop the Bremerton ferry from the Alaskan Way Pier in downtown Seattle. It was a little foggy that morning, but things were just starting to clear as I boarded. Once underway, I enjoyed my coffee and the glassy calm of the Puget Sound as the ferry glided through the water. The calm perfection of the morning added an extra bit of magic as I stared out from the deck, daydreaming about owning one of the swanky mansions dotting the shores. For the money and time, taking the ferry is always a great way to start any adventure and the 60-minute crossing to the Bremerton terminal allows for the additional fueling of caffeine and formulating of travel plans. A fine way to spend an hour, in my opinion.
After disembarking from the ferry, I headed towards Belfair, gateway to the Hood Canal area. I’d initially thought of heading towards the county seat of Shelton and nearby costal inlets, but instead decided to go north and follow the coastline of Hood Canal, back around to the Kingston area. I’d heard great things about the route as well as the Lake Cushman and Staircase areas of Olympic National Park, so towards Belfair I did go.
While driving down Highway 3 outside of Bremerton, I was very excited to spot a drive-in movie theatre just off the road. It’s been ages since I’ve enjoyed a movie in the car – while wearing pajamas and eating popcorn. (That’s some old-skool glory, right there!) As it looks like they show first-run movies, I think I might need to make a pilgrimage back to the area and revisit those by-gone days of the mobile cinema experience. (Rodeo Drive-in, between Bremerton and Belfair)
Once past Belfair – a good place to fuel up, by the way – I turned off towards SR 106 and Union. Hood Canal begins at the tip of 106 and the road hugs the shore as you wind along the 2-lane highway. There are beautiful homes and cottages gracing the shoreline all along the drive and great views of the water to behold. This road was great from the driver’s seat of my trusty Sportage, but I think it’d be even better in a convertible or on a motorcycle. I’m sure the road gets a little slow-going during the busy summer months, but as there’s such an abundance of great scenery, it can’t be all that bad.
Nearing Union, I came upon the Alderbrook Resort and Spa. Set along the shores of Hood Canal, this is definitely a destination-location sort of affair. Beautifully manicured grounds, spacious lodging, dining and recreational areas as well as a nice spa, adjoining golf course and good moorage on their docks. I could have easily spent the entire day there, wandering around the grounds, enjoying brunch and a mimosa in the restaurant and maybe renting a kayak (or a PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT) and tooling around the canal. (Or maybe just enjoying another mimosa on the deck… or on the PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT) I fully intend to return to the Alderbrook for a nice weekend getaway in the near future. (With my friends, so we can rent the PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOAT.)
Just past the Alderbrook Resort, heading west on 106, keep your eye out on the left for the Dalby Waterwheel. It’s definitely worth pulling over to check out and you can do so just past the Alderbrook Resort. It’s a still-functioning water wheel brought over from Seattle in 1924 and creates quite a mesmerizing, idyllic scene. I could spent hours just hanging out beside the little cabin, listening to and watching the water fall over the wheel. It was a scene right out of Little House on the Prairie, ala the Northwest. Quite charming. (Although, maybe not as peaceful during the busy summer months as it is right off the road.)
Just around the bend from the Dalby Waterwheel, I happened upon the very cute, Cameo Boutique and Wine Shop. Stopping in for a quick browse, I found a few tasty treats to take home with me and some lovely soap. There is also a nice selection of gifts and resort wear to tide you over during your local stay, along with a great selection of wine. Before I left the parking lot, I walked around the side of the shop and back towards the small cove directly behind. There’s a camping area and a couple of cottages, but also an incredibly interesting, old paddlewheel boat beached on the shore. I’d love to know more of the story behind the boat and learn what brought it to its lonely beach home. On my next visit, I’ll have to check in with the locals and see if anyone has the scoop.
Perhaps they might know something across the way at the Robin Hood Village Resort. The restaurant and front cottages were built in 1934 by Hollywood set designer, Don Beckman, who also designed the set for the classic, Errol Flynn Robin Hood epic. Over the years, cottages have been added and it is now a cheerful, village-style resort set back amongst the trees. I took a lovely walk by the creek which flows along the backside of the restaurant and it looked like they also host weddings and events in the area. It definitely seems like a fun and whimsical place for an outdoor summer soiree.
By this point in the morning, I was becoming pretty peckish. I thought about heading back to the Alderbrook Resort, but decided to keep heading further into Union, on what then becomes US Route 101. A few miles down the road, the Union City Market (at the Hood Canal Marina) popped up on my right and I pulled over to take a look. I’m very glad I did as it was chock full of wonderful local foods, gifts and specialty items. They also have a great coffee bar and a freezer full of some very tasty, handmade popsicles. Granted, popsicles aren’t really the first thing I think of upon waking up, but the carrot, ginger and turmeric one I purchased seemed the perfect way to start the day. It was particularly enjoyable while sitting at a picnic table on the shore, watching a boat crew load oysters out of the canal directly to the back of the store. Fresh!
While chatting with the very amiable staff at the Union City Market, I learned of some tasty breakfast selections across the way at the Union Country Store. I’m glad I took their advice as the Crab Eggs Benedict I ordered was absolutely delicious. Set in a small grocery store, the diner-style setup offers home-style meals, great coffee and local ice cream. It’s a quirky, welcoming spot and I’m very happy I stopped in to fuel my adventures.
After finishing all of my breakfast and feeling ridiculously (and unrepentantly) full, I took off down the road for the Hoodsport area. I’d heard about the Hardware Distillery and wanted to check it out. Along the way, I also noticed the Hoodsport Winery and decided to give it a whirl. Admittedly, I almost didn’t stop as it looked a little questionable with the bars on the windows, but I’d heard good things about the wine, so I decided to go in. It was a good decision as the wine was lovely and I had a great conversation with the woman running the shop and tastings. After walking out with a couple of nice bottles, I continued my path into Hoodsport and the Hardware Distillery.
Set within a cute row of shops in the middle of Hoodsport (still on US 101), the Hardware Distillery was well worth the stop. Not only was the shop cozy and welcoming, the owner was completely knowledgeable and I had quite a great time discussing recipes and drink ideas with him. I also walked away with a very entertaining gift for my dad and a much-coveted dill aquavit. (I’d been looking for one! Now I just need a turmeric vodka and I’m on my way to hopefully recreating the delicious Hanoi Rocks from Capitol Hill’s, dreamy Foreign National.)
I would’ve liked to have sampled more of the offerings at Hardware Distillery, but as I was driving, I needed to be responsible and move on to the next destination. (A drawback about doing solo adventures and stopping in for any type of tastings…) Additionally, as my next stop was Lake Cushman and the Staircase area of Olympic National Park, I needed my bearings and wits about me. And score one for responsibility as I did indeed end up needing my navigational skills further up the road…
From Hoodsport, I turned onto SR 119 and followed the signs towards Lake Cushman. I hadn’t visited the Park from this direction before, so I was excited to explore the scene. Suffice it to say, I was in no way disappointed with the area. Lake Cushman is a beautiful lake with deep blue water and expansive shorelines. Most of the campgrounds and lodging areas were still closed for the season on this visit, but I’ll definitely be back to explore in the summer months. That said, even just pulling over and taking in the vistas from the viewpoints along the way was worth the drive. Such stunning scenery we have in Washington State…
A little further up, I pulled over at Big Creek Campground to take a look around. It was also still closed for the season, but you could park in the lot just off the road and head in to access the local hiking trails. Since it was a beautiful spring day and I really wanted to stretch my legs and check out the scenery, I happily donned my backpack and head off into the woods. Score another one for always taking the 10 Essentials as I did actually end up needing some extra resources that afternoon…
After walking around the campsite area a little, I noticed a trailhead and decided to investigate. It was a beautiful trail, flanked by moss-draped trees and mysterious thickets with an ambling creek off to the side. (Fun fact: It’s pronounced “crEEk”, not “crick” – Dad and Skoczen, I’m lookin’ at you…) About a quarter-mile in, I noticed a detour sign and thought I’d taken the correct fork, but apparently, I did not. It wasn’t until I’d gone another half-mile or so that I realized I’d taken a wrong turn (a couple by that point, in fact) and was completely turned around. AND I had no cell service, so the GPS on my phone was no longer an option – and no one was around in the closed-for-the-season campsite. Dun-dun-dunnnnnn – Time to take out the ol’ compass and map.
Granted, even if I didn’t have a compass and map, I could’ve likely just followed along the creek (not crick) and it would’ve eventually led to or close to a road. Luckily, however, I didn’t have to investigate that option and was able to get back on track. It did serve as a reminder on how quickly things can escalate in the woods and if you’re not prepared, how quickly things can go horribly wrong. It was also a reminder to always tell someone where you’re going when solo traveling – especially if you plan on traipsing off into closed areas with no cell reception…
As the Staircase area was closed for the season and there were road issues up into the area – and I’d wasted at least a good half hour being lost in the woods – I decided to head back down towards Hoodsport and off to my next destination: The Hama Hama Oyster Saloon. Mmmmm…
Hama Hama, located in the Lilliwaup area, is a family-run shellfish farm, restaurant and store and has been serving the area for nearly 100 years. This experience is greatly showcased in the quality and presentation of the shellfish as well as through a devoted customer base, both in and out of Washington State. (They ship nationally to chefs and shellfish-craving consumers.) It is truly one of the most enjoyable culinary experiences I’ve had in the Northwest and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of hanging out and taking in the scene. Even if you’re not a fan of oysters or clams, there’s something to enjoy. (Try the grilled cheese!) You won’t regret your visit to Hama Hama. (Also, please pick up a bag of oysters and a tub of the Chipotle Bourbon Butter for me. Thanks!)
After stuffing myself with oysters and delicious bread, it was time to consider meandering back towards Seattle. (After a quick stop into the Hama Hama store to pick up some smoked oysters and some of that delicious Chipotle Bourbon Butter… Sigh…) Since I’d already enjoyed the Bremerton ferry route, I decided to make a grand loop of things and return home via the Kingston Ferry. There was a bit of traffic in the ferry queue once I arrived near the terminal and I just missed the ferry crossing I wanted, but it wasn’t too bad a wait. I took a nice walk around the marina area and enjoyed some of my earlier-procured treats – not too shabby an end to my Mason County adventure…
I have to say, while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the counties I’ve visited so far, Mason County has definitely gone to the top of the list. Just this short day trip was full of varied and excellent scenery, food, conversations, etc. I can’t wait to spend a little more time in the area and explore things more deeply. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed. And maybe rent one of those PARTY BARGE PONTOON BOATS!!
Cheers – and happy travels!
Mason County Playlist
I was on a bit of a musical binge that weekend, so my playlist pretty much reflects only that… MUSICALS!
- My Shot – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- You’ll Be Back – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- Wait For It – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- What Comes Next – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- Fame – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
- Out Here On My Own – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
- Never Alone – Fame (The Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
- Dentist! – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Feed Me (Git It) – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Suddenly Seymour – Little Shop of Horrors (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Dammit Janet – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Original Soundtrack)
- Time Warp – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Original Soundtrack)
- Cabaret – Cabaret (Original Soundtrack)
- I Dreamed A Dream – Les Miserables (Original London Cast Recording)
- One Day More – Les Miserables (Original London Cast Recording)
- Pure Imagination – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Original Soundtrack Recording – 1971)
- Consider Yourself – Oliver! (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
- God, That’s Good! – Sweeny Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Original Broadway Cast)
- Think of Me – The Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast)
- Music of the Night – The Phantom of the Opera (Original London Cast)
- Nessum Dorma – Turandot, ACT III (*Luciano Pavarotti, The Three Tenors in Concert – Rome 1990) *This particular recording slays me every time. And it’s embarrassing to be crying alone in the Sportage while in the ferry line, but whatever…