I Ate the State – Chelan County

Hello! And welcome to the latest edition of I Ate the State – Chelan County style!

My biggest takeaway from recent Chelan County adventures is I haven’t spent nearly enough time in the area. I’ve visited many times over the course of my life in Washington State, but now having focused more closely on the area, WOW – there is seemingly limitless possibility for adventure, beauty, deliciousness and more. Mmmmm…

Lake Chelan
Beautiful Lake Chelan

Chelan County is located in the north central part of Washington and is home to some of the most stunning scenery in the state. Surrounded by the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and packed with rivers, lakes and beautiful valleys, Chelan County has breathtaking beauty any direction you look. Add in 300 days of sunshine a year to the many unique, idyllic towns gracing the county and it’s absolutely reasonable to start making plans to run away permanently to the area.  (Come on – VPN is a completely valid way to get the job done… Right??)

This journey actually played out over the course of two separate adventures as the area simply has way too much to pack into one day. (Or several days, for that matter) In fact, I think it’s fair to say one could visit every weekend for a year and still have places to see and cool things to check out. Granted, you’ll need trusty transportation if you’re traveling to the area over any of the mountain passes – or for general north central/eastern Washington winter driving. Just as western Washington gets a lot of rain in the fall and winter months, north central/eastern Washington gets a comparable amount of snow.

Heading from the greater Seattle area, we took US Route 2 towards the mountain pass, Stevens Pass. To be added to the ‘Wow – I didn’t realize that’ file, I was foolishly unaware that US Route 2 goes essentially all the way across the northern part of the United States. (Hence, the “US Route” designation. Duh, Dayna.) Along with swearing to finally drive the entire Cascade Loop, which sweeps gloriously through Chelan County and beyond, I will now be adding US Route 2 (in its entirety) to my road trip ‘to do’ bucket list. The more you know…

Stevens Pass
Highway 2 can be a bit precarious in the winter – drive safely!

At the top of the pass, you’ll come to the beautiful Stevens Pass Ski Area. I will admit to not often stopping during the snowless months, which is sad as there are many excellent outdoor adventures to be had in the area. The ski resort is also open during the summer for mountain biking and often hosts fun summer events. On the hiking side, a section of the multi-state Pacific Crest Trail ambles through the area and scores of other beautiful backpacking, camping and hiking opportunities are close by. A few great options to check out:

 

If you happen to be in the area in the winter and are in need of some exciting vertical challenges, Stevens Pass is a great place to ski and snowboard. Additionally, they have a great Nordic ski and snowshoe area a little further east down the highway. Words of warning: Stevens Pass has a tendency to get incredibly busy on weekends and they have somewhat limited parking which fills up very early. It can be rather frustrating to arrive at 9am and still have to park in the overfill parking well down the road – and then wait a minimum 30 minutes for the shuttle to take you back up to the ski hill.  OR – find that even the overfill parking is full and you have to turn around and go home… There are, however, a few ways to circumvent the parking madness:

  • Leave at an insanely early hour of the morning and get to the hill no later than Glass half full, you’ll likely get in some first tracks.
  • Take a ski bus or shuttle from either the Seattle/Bellevue area or Leavenworth. Several outdoor outfits offer the service as well as many Leavenworth hotels/lodges.
  • Leave at a completely reasonable hour of the morning and get to the ski hill around noon. Some of the hard core, early bird skiers are starting to leave and you’ll very likely get good parking close to the lodge. Then – ski later in the day and into the night skiing hours. The day lodge and dining options are also much less crowded if you start your ski day while everyone else is trying to grab lunch. Same goes for leaving the hill to head home – you will inevitably hit MUCH less traffic the later you leave. As Highway 2 can get incredibly backed up in either direction, especially after a ski day, it’s worth its weight in gold to not get stuck in it. Bah.
  • Ski during the week. Preferably Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Come on – take the day off – all the cool kids are doin’ it!

Heading further east on Highway 2, you’ll pass a few tiny towns with a couple of service options such as The Squirrel Tree lodge, restaurant and lounge in Coles Corner. (Conveniently next to a little market and gas station.) Largely, however, beautiful mountains and the gorgeous, sometimes treacherous Wenatchee River will be accompanying your travels.

The Wenatchee River is an incredibly popular river for rafting and fishing. There are many areas along the river showcasing calm, deep blue-green pools, but equal are the sweeping sections of dangerous rapids and precarious obstacles. Outfitters such as Alpine Adventures are good options to help guide one through the watery maze. I have yet to make the journey, but whitewater rafting down the Wenatchee River has always been on my bucket list. SOON!

Shortly before entering Leavenworth, look for an Alpen-style building just off the side of Highway 2. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, the Alps Candy store is a great place to stop for local specialties, sauces, mustards, pickles, etc. It’s been there since the 60s and is always an interesting place to stop for a snack or just to use the restroom and stretch your legs.

Just as you’re heading into Leavenworth (from the West), you’ll see Icicle Road off to the right. Down this road are great options for lodging, camping, hiking, biking and more. It’s a beautiful road with cool campsites right along the creek. This is also a great road for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling during the winter months. Some great options in the Icicle Road area:

Snowy Trees
Snowy trees on Highway 2

It’s hard not to be charmed as you’re driving into Leavenworth proper. Especially if it’s a sunny day and you’ve just ventured over from a grey, western Washington day. Home to bright blue skies and surrounded by beautiful mountains and the Wenatchee River, Leavenworth is one of the most unique destinations in the state. Leavenworth has been an established town since the early 1900s, but didn’t come into its current, Bavarian-themed incarnation until the mid-60s. Resurrecting the timber town proved a great success and Leavenworth has become an incredibly popular and charming tourist destination year-round.

Leavenworth
Charming downtown Leavenworth

I’ve visited Leavenworth many times over the years and have enjoyed more than a couple raucous Oktoberfest undertakings. For this excursion, however, I was joined by a true Leavenworth aficionado, one of whom I like to refer to as the mayor of Leavenworth. (He’s not really the mayor, but plays one on TV.) (Not really, but maybe he should.) There was definitely an enduring consumption of wine and beer, joined by delicious meats and accompaniments, but this outing was perhaps a little more civilized than past adventures. (Adventures which may or may not have involved my family, ridiculous amounts of beer and a very lethargic, super majestic RV named ‘Lethargo’)

The first point of action on our very civilized adventure was that of meat procurement. For the record, I’ve taken to bringing a mini-cooler and ice-packs along with me on my escapades. Too many times have I come across goods I’d like to bring home which require refrigeration… My trusty cooler did indeed come in handy that day and we returned home with bacon, Currywurst, chocolate, etc. A fine haul for the day! If you’re looking for items to fill your cooler, I highly recommend the following establishments:

  • Cured – Home to all things meat with a nice side of sauces and condiments to help out the party. I love their Currywurst and was happy to take home a tasty package of it. Suffice to say, it’s long gone… I also grabbed a package of their buckboard bacon and am presently formulating recipe plans…
  • Schocolat – Set in the back of the lovely gift shop Ganz Klasse, local chocolatier, Schocolat offers delicious chocolate treats and beyond. (And they give samples!) The chocolates are a great pairing to local wine-tasting endeavors, but do also try their caramel sauces. I took home the Pear Cinnamon Caramel and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t eat with a spoon, late at night in the kitchen. With the lights off. Don’t judge me.
Caramel
Does it look like some is missing? 
  • The Cheesemonger’s Shop – A longtime favorite stop in Leavenworth, The Cheesemonger’s Shop is a must if a) you like cheese (it’s in the name), b) like mustard and c), like good German beer. (Or real-deal German gummy candy – In the form of Smurfs!) They also have great sausage (Currywurst!) and various cuts of meat. And a cheese of the month club! (Shipped to you direct!)

Continuing with the meat procurement theme, it was time for a stop at the delicious München Haus Bavarian Grill & Beer Garden for a quick beer and sausage. This place is insanely busy all day and night, but it’s well worth the wait. They have a good variety of sausages, excellent toppings and cold, local beer. There are two levels of covered seating and the whole place is filled with beautiful, hanging flower planters. An absolutely lovely spot to take a break… This was a great stop as we perhaps needed a bit of fortifying before embarking upon an afternoon of visiting the plentiful wine-tasting opportunities around the downtown area.

Wine tasting in in Leavenworth is a fine way to spend the day – or better yet, several days. There are far too many places to check out in a day and it is very worthwhile to imbibe in all the town has to offer. Chelan County, along with Washington State in general, is world-renowned for its contributions to the wine world. Leavenworth, in particular, is an excellent place to sample a wonderful cross-section of not only Chelan County offerings, but of the greater Washington State. Several wineries based across the eastern part of Washington host tasting rooms in downtown Leavenworth. If you’re looking for a convenient spot to check out Washington vintners, Leavenworth is the place for you. Some of the tasting rooms we visited:

  • Ryan Patrick – The Woodinville location is very conveniently located for me, but a trip to the Leavenworth location is an excellent idea. In the summer months I lean towards the lighter wines and their Rosé is a particular favorite. But who am I kidding, I’d drink it year-round… Their Rock Island Red and 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon are also delicious.
  • Kestrel Vintners – Okay, there was a decent amount of wine involved, but our stop at Kestrel was pretty entertaining. Excellent wine, well-informed hosts and some rather amusing conversation – it was definitely time well-spent. Of equal importance, they have a wine named SUPER YAKIMA. It is indeed super and it has Yakima in the name – how can you go wrong? (Yakima: City of my birth. Represent.) Additional note – they also have a lovely Woodinville tasting room.
  • Kasia Winery – A cozy tasting room located on the second floor of a classic Leavenworth building on the corner of Front Street. I particularly enjoyed the Wander More 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and the excellent view of the downtown area. They also have a tasting room in Snohomish.
  • Obelisco Estate – Spendy, but tasty, Obelisco wines are easy to enjoy in their well-appointed tasting room. Lovely art, deep-set sofas and an elegant atmosphere all add to the experience. They also have a tasting room in the Woodinville warehouse district.

There are many other wine tasting opportunities to be had in the area. If you’re looking for more of a one-stop location, be sure to head downstairs from Obelisco’s tasting room to the Wine Cellar & Tasting Rooms. Home to wineries such as Patterson Cellars and Walla Walla’s Basel Cellars, you won’t have to walk far to enjoy a good assortment of vintner expertise. (Both wineries mentioned also have Woodinville tasting rooms)

Our sausage stop was initially filling, but wasn’t enough to sustain a full afternoon of wine-tasting shenanigans. Along with the chocolate we procured at Schocolat, another stop found us enjoying delicious fried pickles at the Bären Haus Restaurant across the street from Kasia Winery. (So convenient!) Anyone who knows me, is aware of my undying love of fried pickles. I’ll of course take the pickle chip variety, but Bären Haus features the coveted pickle-spear version. (Just like the People’s Pub in Seattle. RIP.) Fried pickles, you say? I’m in!

Rounding off a great day of wine-tasting, food and sunshine, we enjoyed a rather delicious, northwest-inspired dinner at the Watershed Café on 8th Street, near the river. Featuring locally-sourced ingredients, the Watershed does an excellent job of combining a fusion of techniques and cuisine as well as elevating comfort classics such as the humble meatloaf. From starters to dessert, the meal was delicious – and the bread… I’d happily eat a meal of just the bread and butter. With some Washington wine, of course.

Looking for a more classic, Bavarian-themed meal in Leavenworth? Check out these options:

  • Andreas Keller Restaurant – Andreas Keller has been a part of the Leavenworth scene for many years. Schnitzels, sausages and even Schweinshaxe are featured on the menu. I particularly enjoy their cream of weinkraut soup.
  • Rhein Haus – A favorite Seattle and Tacoma destination, now in Leavenworth! (Although, I’m sad to see they don’t have Bocce Ball like they do at the Seattle/Tacoma locations.) But they do have Currywurst and schnitzels, so I’m gonna let it slide… (Related note: They have schnitzel sliders.)

If you’re up for shopping, checking out the Arts scene or enjoying one of the many events occurring in the area, here’s a (very brief) list of highlights:  (Leavenworth really does have something cool happening every week!)

  • Village Art in the Park – Runs early May through mid-October. Local artists’ market in the center of downtown Leavenworth. Meet the artists and stop to listen to the music featured regularly on the town stage. (Often Bavarian-themed – Bring on the accordion!)
  • The Hat Shop (and the Wood Shop) – One of my favorite stops in town. It’s fair to say I’ve purchased quite a few hats at this shop over the years. (Do I really need that many hats? Yes.)
  • Simply Found Boutique – I particularly love this shop for their quirky shoe and boot offering. They carry the Jafa brand which I absolutely love.
  • Leavenworth Community Farmers Market – Thursdays, June – Oct, 4-8pm. Located near the community pool, check out the local vendors and farmers. Create your own farm-to-table scene!
  • Oktoberfest – I could write an entire article about Oktoberfest. Not quite as extensive as events taking place in Germany, but they do a pretty good job of channeling the vibe. And the beer. And the sausage. Two important notes: If you plan on staying the night during Oktoberfest, plan well in advance. If you plan on parking downtown during Oktoberfest, arrive early.
  • Christkindlmarkt (Thanksgiving weekend) – A lovely holiday market that takes place every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve been wanting to go for years and have yet to make it. Maybe this is the year!
  • Christmas tree lighting – A downtown Leavenworth holiday tradition, beginning weekends at the end of November through mid-December. Leavenworth is a winter wonderland this time of year and the town spares no expense in making visitors feel as if they’re walking around in a Christmas tale come to life. Nutcrackers, roasting chestnuts, carolers, St. Nickolaus – all await you during the Leavenworth holiday season. Just as is the case with Oktoberfest, make your arrangements early as things get chaotic this time of year.
  • Leavenworth Snow Train (Alki Tours via Amtrak) – If you’d like to avoid the sometimes dicey drive over the pass, or want to enjoy a nice glass of wine as a train navigates the weather, check out the Leavenworth Snow Train. Note: Get your reservations well in advance. There are very limited offerings and they are quickly reserved.

In addition to the outdoor opportunities mentioned above off of Icicle Road, there are many other options in the area.

  • Leavenworth Ski Hill – Want to check out where the some of the first US ski jumpers trained and competed? The Leavenworth Ski Hill has been in operation since 1928 and is still going strong. It’s a smaller operation with only 2 rope tows, but is certainly a cool bit of Washington State ski history to explore. They also feature Nordic skiing with hiking and biking during the summer months.
  • For more area hiking info, check out the extensive listings HERE.

There are many lodging opportunities in the Leavenworth area. Everything from nice lodges to economy chains are within easy access of the town center. As the area is busy year-round, be sure to make arrangements in advance. There are also many great VRBO and Airbnb options in the area. A few spots to check out:

  • Icicle Village Resort – Nice resort within walking distance of downtown Leavenworth. They have a spa and pool, miniature golf and a game room, regular hotel rooms and condo options for larger parties. Also pet-friendly.
  • Bavarian Ritz Hotel – Located directly in the downtown area, it doesn’t get much more convenient. Stumble back to your room after Oktoberfest… Pet-friendly.
  • Bavarian Lodge – Located directly on Highway 2, in the center of Leavenworth. Nice rooms, outdoor pool and hot tubs and within easy walking distance of downtown.
  • Loge Leavenworth – For the NW outdoor set, the Loge features cool cabins as well as group-style hostel accommodations. I haven’t stayed here yet, but I REALLY want to.
Leavenworth
Bavarian themed lodging in Leavenworth

Just down the road from Leavenworth on Highway 2, you’ll drive through the tiny burg of Peshastin. If you happen to be driving through in the spring, be prepared for a spectacular display of blossoming fruit trees. The scent of blossoms fills the air and it’s quite the dreamy, fragrant experience.

Right along the highway, you’ll come upon the Smallwood’s Harvest fruit stand and country store. This is a great stop for an interesting snack (Cherry flavored pickles, anyone?) as well a great place to stock up on farm-fresh produce or enjoy a quick wine-tasting in their tasting room. Packed inside the quirky store are rooms filled with only taffy or cotton candy, candy and sodas, chickens telling jokes and an impressively large offering of all things pickled. They also have a great outdoor seating area, kettle corn and cotton candy and a COW TRAIN ride for the kids. It’s definitely a worthwhile stop for the whole family.

Not too far from Peshastin, look for signs leading to the small town of Cashmere. I have friends who live a few miles down the road from the area, directly on the Wenatchee River. I love visiting and absolutely envy the quiet calm of life on the river. The glorious weather and quick access to the Applets and Cotlets factory isn’t too shabby a deal, either.

Downtown Cashmere is a picturesque, well-preserved slice of historic Washington. The Wenatchee River runs through the town and longtime businesses such as Liberty Orchard’s Applets & Cotlets factory are featured in the history and industry of the town. (Try the fruit sours – do the factory tour!) Most importantly, in my opinion, they feature a Gnomes of Cashmere walking trail in and around town! (Dad, I’m lookin’ at YOU.) They also feature Cashmere Apple Days in early October, sponsored by the local Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village.

If you’re looking for food and beverage options, check out the following Cashmere favorites:

  • Milepost 111 Brewing Company – Craft brewing and pub-style food in downtown Cashmere.
  • Rusty’s Drive-In – Classic drive-in burger stand right off Highway 2. A fine late-night option when in need of fries and a corn dog…
  • Country Boy’s BBQ – Popular BBQ spot in the heart of Cashmere
  • Cashmere Cider Mill – Artisan (non-alcoholic) cider mill in the beautiful Cashmere valley. Lodging and event space is also available. Stop in for a tasting and snack – or bring in your own apples and have them create your own custom blend!
  • Barns Etc. Hard Cider Shed – Located a couple of miles off Highway 2, stop in for a pint of hard cider.
  • Apple Annie Antique Gallery and 59er Diner – Located directly off Highway 2 and just outside Cashmere, this is a must-stop if you’re in the mood for antiquing. 70,000 square feet, chock full of antiques and collectibles. I’m still lamenting the day I walked away from a mint-condition, full-headed Darth Vader mask. (Complete with breathing FX.) If you need more than a few hours to check out the scene, they have lodging packages

Next destination on the Chelan County docket was the gorgeous town of Lake Chelan and its namesake, 50.5-mile long body of water. Turning off of Highway 2, we followed US Route – Alt 97 towards the south side of the lake. To say this part of the state is magnificently breathtaking would be an absurd understatement altogether…

Following along the Columbia River, past the Rocky Reach Dam and Visitor Center and the tiny town of Entiat, the highway rambles past amazing displays of ice age geology and hints at the force which shaped the area. Also note the turn-off for Ohme Gardens. I haven’t visited yet, but it looks like a lovely spot to explore and I’m looking forward to doing so on my next visit to the area.

As we were initially heading towards local wine-tasting opportunities, we turned off onto SR-971 (S. Lakeshore Drive) to drive along the south side of the lake. It was apparent we were in for a magical day when, just past the turn-off, we encountered a doe and her three little fauns casually grazing on the side of the road. The deer family, the stunning vista of the brilliant blue water and sky as we descended towards the lake and the perfectly puffy clouds dotting the sky signaled we were about to enjoy quite a lovely afternoon.

There are many wineries and tasting rooms in the Lake Chelan area. Since we were only in town for the day, our reach was somewhat limited. (For a good overview of local offerings, check out the Lake Chelan Wine Valley site.) With a loose outline of interesting sounding spots in hand, we headed first towards Karma Vineyards and its onsite restaurant, 18 Brix. I’m so glad this was our first stop as not only was the wine delicious and the food tasty, the grounds were gorgeous, the staff was genuine and the on-premises wine “cave” was truly cool. (Both aesthetically and temperature-wise) It definitely set a high bar for the day and I absolutely could’ve spent the entire day and evening just hanging out on the grounds. For the record, I highly recommend their 2014 Pink Brut and well as their well-represented charcuterie plate.

Next on the list was Tsillan Cellars, located a little before Karma Vineyards off of Alt-97. The grounds were spectacular and wandering around the Italian-themed landscaping is worth a visit in and of itself. The winery and vineyards are perched perfectly, overlooking the south side of the lake and the view itself is noted as award-winning. The tasting room is large and comfortably arranged with a friendly and knowledgeable staff and a good selection of wines to sample. After visiting other Lake Chelan locations, we later returned to their Sorrento’s Ristorante for dinner and a little more wine in their tasting room.

Also to be considered in the realm of liquid refreshments is the vibrant hard cider scene of Lake Chelan. Check out the Lake Chelan Cider Trail for a good representation of what the area has to offer.

If you’d like to explore more than a day-trip’s worth of adventure, there are many great lodging options in and around the Lake Chelan area. Resorts, mountain lodges, cabins, hotels, B&B’s – you name it, Lake Chelan has it. A few good possibilities:

  • Campbell’s Resort and Campbell’s Pub & Veranda – Right on shores of downtown Lake Chelan with a beautiful, sandy beach for guests to enjoy.
  • Darnell’s Lake Resort – It’s in the name – it’s on the lake! Also with sandy beachfront and all the amenities needed for relaxation.
  • Riverwalk Inn & Café – Historic small hotel and café in downtown Chelan.
  • Mountain View Lodge & Resort – Located close to Lake Chelan in the town of Manson, they feature traditional rooms along with suites and townhomes for larger parties.
  • Howard’s on the River – Waterfront hotel located on the beautiful Columbia River in the nearby town of Pateros. Also features the Rivers Restaurant.
  • Watson’s Harverene Resort – Located on the south shore, Watson’s is old-school Lake Chelan. Built between the 30s and 40s on the original Watson homestead, it’s still run by the Watson family today. Lodging includes cabins, lodges and rustic lake front scenery. Located nearby is Watson’s Alpenhorn Café. (Open primarily summer months and serving the area since 1966.)
  • In the category of full-on bucket list lodging needs, check out the Hobbit House, located in the greater Chelan area. It’s an ‘Underground Hygge’ (Earth House) and is modeled after an actual Lord of the Rings hobbit house. I NEED TO STAY HERE.

For additional dining opportunities in the downtown Lake Chelan and surrounding area, consider these establishments:

If you are an outdoor enthusiast of any kind, Lake Chelan can represent – All seasons, all tastes. The lake activities are near limitless and the hiking, biking, skiing, and sightseeing opportunities in the surrounding mountains are amazing.

One of my very favorite things to do in the area is to take the 3-hour boat cruise up Lake Chelan on the Lady of the Lake to the remote village of Stehekin. The only way into Stehekin is by boat, float plane or on foot. There are around 100 year-round residents in the area and it’s one of the most remote zip codes in the state. If you’re lucky enough to visit, be sure to check out the spectacular 312-ft Rainbow Falls. Aside from camping opportunities in the area, there is limited lodging available at the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin and through VRBO and Airbnb. For other lodging and activity ideas, check out the Stehekin Valley site.

Lake Chelan
So many watery opportunities on Lake Chelan

A few great options for hikes in the Stehekin area:

If you’re looking to try any of the summer boating or water sports offerings in the area, here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • A quick camping primer for the area
  • Kelly’s Resort – Rustic lakeside resort and cabins on the south shore of Lake Chelan. Boat, swim, fish – enjoy the lake!
  • Learn about all manner of watersports, etc. available in the Lake Chelan area
  • Slidewaters Waterpark – Get wet while careening down a 75-ft vertical drop! Open during the summer months.

For the hiking set and those seeking winter sport options:

This is all just a small scratch on the surface of the beauty, tastes and adventure the Lake Chelan area has to offer. It’s a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year and if I could possibly work out a way to “work from home”, I very well might consider Lake Chelan the perfect spot to hang my hat(s).

Wrapping up the Chelan County adventures brings us to the Wenatchee area. While we didn’t visit Wenatchee on this particular journey, I’ve spent much time over the years in the area visiting family, enjoying the surrounding areas, skiing and more. Wenatchee is the county seat of Chelan County and a well-established, historic north-central Washington destination. Famous for their immense contributions to the fruit-growing operations of the state (Apple capital of the world!) as well as their important stake in the state’s railway industry, Wenatchee is an integral area to the development of Washington State. Check out the yearly Apple Blossom Festival for a great celebration of all things apple!

Wenatchee enjoys a fertile stretch of valleys and orchards (Fruit stands!) as well as the beauty of the surrounding mountains and rivers. As a child, our close family friends lived in Wenatchee and we visited often. My Uncle Pat had a very cool, beautifully restored Model-T Ford (or possibly a Model-A – I was young…) and he used to take us for rides up into the mountains – complete with rumble seat!

Not only is Wenatchee close to amazing mountains and outdoor pursuits, it has quite a fascinating geological history. In recent decades, much geologic and archaeological work has gone into studying the Ice Age Floods and indigenous people of the area and there are several amazing places to check out in and around the area.

  • The Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail is an ongoing National Park Service project meant to provide insight and education into how the Wenatchee Valley and surrounding areas were formed during the last Ice Age. (Starting from Missoula, Montana and extending all the way down through Washington and into Oregon.) The trail is an extensive auto route, but many of the included areas also feature local hikes. Check out the Ice Age Floods Institute for more info.
  • Not only is the Wenatchee Valley Museum a cool spot to visit, they also host bus tours which will take you to key areas of geologic interest and indigenous history around the greater Wenatchee Valley.

If you are looking for outdoor adventure in the area, Wenatchee doesn’t disappoint. Some of the more popular places to add to your Wenatchee list:

  • At the joining of the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers, Confluence State Park offers camping, hiking and great access to watery pursuits. The Horan Natural Area and hiking trails are in the vicinity and are well worth checking out. (NOTE: Sadly, there is no JIRA park to check out…)
  • For beautiful, close-up views of the Columbia River, the Apple Capitol Loop Trail provides a 10-mile loop trail along the river. (It spans 5 miles on Wenatchee side and 5 miles on Douglas County side)
  • For ski and snowboard enthusiasts, Mission Ridge is a great place to hit up. Tucked away, high on the east side of the Cascade Mountains and about a 30-minute drive from Wenatchee, it is a much less crowded ski hill than Stevens Pass and features high and dry powder and a lot of sunshine. Several Wenatchee and Leavenworth hotels feature ski package deals and there is a FREE, regular shuttle from Wenatchee up to the ski hill. (They also have shuttles from western Washington!) There are also many lodging options on the way up to the ski hill. Check out the Mission Ridge website along with VRBO and Airbnb for good options.

Taking advantage of all the excellent outdoor opportunities can make one hungry. A few Wenatchee eateries and markets that are there to help:

And with that, I shall bring this edition of I Ate the State to a close. (And maybe go get some pie…) I wish very much I’d been able to commit a solid week to tooling around Chelan County and more deeply enjoying its impressive bounty. However, wine glass half-full, I now have so many reasons to return to the area – again and again. It is indeed an expansive county, but to think of all the varied landscapes, history, food, wine, and outdoor opportunities it contains is simply mind-blowing. I can’t wait to uncover more of everything on my next visit!

Until next time – Cheers!

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Chelan County Playlist

Check it out on Spotify 

  • Common Free StyleThe RH Factor, Common (Starting things off funky – we left kind of early…)
  • Crabbuckit K-OS
  • Harry PalmerCorduroy
  • La Coda Del Diavolo – Karminsky RemixNicola Conte
  • Norwegian WoodVictor Wooten
  • You’re All I Need to Get ByAretha Franklin
  • Not Going Anywhere Keren Ann (Moving towards the wine-tasting vibe of the day…)
  • Quelqu’un m’a ditCarla Bruni
  • Les Etoiles (Live)Melody Gardot
  • Non, je ne regrette rienÉdith Piaf
  • La conga bilicotiJosephine Baker
  • Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler)Pink Martini
  • Where or When (from “Babes in Arms”)Lena Horne
  • Nocturnes, Op. 9: No. 2, Andante in E-flat Major Frédéric Chopin (Perf. by Elisabeth Leonskaja)
  • Moonlight SerenadeGlenn Miller Orchestra
  • Hang on Little TomatoPink Martini
  • I Want to Be EvilChiwetel Ejiofor (I love the classic Eartha Kitt version, but this is great, too!)
  • Back in Black AC/DC (And now it’s time to try and stay awake for the drive home…)
  • Paradise By the Dashboard LightMeat Loaf
  • Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham!
  • The Power of LoveHuey Lewis & the News

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Puerto Vallarta

¡Hola!

Welcome to a special edition of I Ate the State: Puerto Vallarta! 

In keeping with my overarching plan to eat North America, I thought it would be a good idea to get started by visiting the southern state of… Jalisco, Mexico, and more specifically, Puerto Vallarta! Being so close to the Canadian border, I regularly get up to the northern areas of the continent, but this was my first time visiting the southern regions of Mexico. (Other than that one time outside of San Diego when I learned I couldn’t take a rental car across the border… gah!) I regret it’s taken me so long to visit as it was truly a spectacular trip filled with wonderful people, amazing food, beautiful scenery and many fine beverages.  (Ohhh, that sweet nectar, tequila… And did I mention the AMAZING FOOD??) Please join me for a little trip across the border and I’ll share with you my adventures!

Traveling from Seattle, the quickest path is obviously by plane. Flights tend to have one layover, but my stop in San Diego was fairly short (both departing and returning) and the overall travel time was only about 6 hours. Not too shabby considering going from rainy-day Seattle to the polar opposite, sweltering heat of Puerto Vallarta. (May was a very nice time of the year to visit. It’s the off-season, but the weather was nice and it wasn’t rainy or overly-humid.) Plus, the layover in San Diego was just long enough to enjoy a rather tasty Bloody Mary in the airport bar. Buenos días, vacaciones!

When vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, many people opt to stay in the resort area in the northern part of the city/coast. There are many great deals at the hotels and all-inclusive resorts in this part of the city, but my travel buddy had visited Puerto Vallarta many times prior and had the lowdown on the slightly less touristy areas to stay.  After arriving at the airport and grabbing a taxi (we caught one around back of the airport and across the foot bridge – away from the throng of tourist-trap cabs), we headed towards Puerto Vallarta’s “Old Town,” also known as the Romantic Zone. It’s still very tourist accessible, but less modern with lovely, traditional architecture and cobblestone streets filled with local artists, shops and wonderful restaurants.

During her recent visits to Puerto Vallarta, my friend discovered a great beach condo in the Los Muertos Beach area. The very spacious (we each had our own gigantic rooms w/private bathrooms!), well-appointed spot we landed in was directly across from the beach on the Malecon and happened to be owned by a farming couple from Indiana. (It’s apparently fairly common in the area for people to own condos on the beach and rent them out when they’re not in town.) My friend found it on VRBO and for the excellent price of $150/night, we were seriously in vacation paradise. Add in a wrap-around deck with pristine views of the ocean and waves lulling me to sleep at night and it was seriously hard to leave. (Pro tip #1: Finding a place with solid air-conditioning is key. Not a lot of the shops and restaurants had AC, so being able to periodically pop back to the condo was a much appreciated respite from the heat.)

Since we arrived fairly early in the day, it was perfect timing to casually acclimate ourselves to the area and do a bit of shopping for the week. As the condo had a great kitchen, we wanted to stock up on the basics like coffee, snacks, ice, etc. and… tequila. (Pro tip #2: Having a bag of ice in the freezer is incredibly important when concocting tasty margaritas.) It was also a great way to initially acquaint ourselves with the lay of the land.

Whenever and wherever I travel, I want to get to know the day-to-day feel of the city and its people. I like to get off the beaten tourist path and experience the actual flow of the city and what makes it unique. Having lived in Seattle for many years, it always makes me sad when visitors only get (or want) to see the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Granted, those are great spots, but there is so much more to experience beyond those confines. I’d like to think that every city has the same story… Puerto Vallarta was certainly no exception.

And with that, I highly recommend the following local spots for stocking up on necessities for your visit:  (Like socks. Because you (or maybe I) forgot them. And tequila.)

  • Pro Tip #3: Buy your tequila away from the tourist traps on the Malecon. We hit up the Vinos América store a few blocks off the Malecon and got two great bottles of tequila for a total of $20 US! WOW!! Nothing like making a scratch margarita and watching the sunset over the ocean – from your deck!
  • Find exceptionally fresh produce and staples at Mercado Emiliano Zapata. I picked up all the fixings to make a huge batch of guacamole for only $2 US! The fresh guac along with the fresh tortilla chips I grabbed from the restaurant downstairs made for quite a pairing with the deck margaritas.
  • You say you forgot to bring hairspray? Maybe you underestimated your need for SPF 1000? There are many local pharmacy options, but we hit up Farmacia Guadalajara and all our drugstore needs were met. (Including the best can of Aqua Net I’ve EVER SEEN! Which I promptly purchased.)
  • Need a quick spot for beer, ice, snacks, etc.? Check out one of the many OXXO Mini Mart locations in the area. Think 7-11.
  • Missing the halcyon days of the candy and ice cream counters at Woolworth? Look no further, Woolworth is still around in Mexico!! I’m not gonna lie – I was very excited about this discovery. It’s been a long time… (And I got an excellent deal on SOCKS! And cookies…)

After spending the day orienting ourselves and doing some random snacking, it was time for an official meal. To say I’d been looking forward to Mexican food in Mexico would be a mighty understatement. Mexican cuisine has been a cherished staple in my life for as long as I can remember. I feel pretty lucky to have always been surrounded by wonderful resources and examples of Mexican food, art and culture, but being able to experience the beauty of Mexico in person was truly a dream come true. Since we still needed to stock up on one of Mexico’s finest treasures, coffee, and my friend knew of an excellent restaurant which also featured fresh roasted coffee and chocolate along with delicious desserts and hand-rolled cigars, off we went to check out Vallarta Factory.  (A few blocks off the Malecon, heading into Old Town)

Oh, man, was that good!! Our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs that night, but it wasn’t too sad an ending as we ended up with a good stash of leftovers for the next couple days. I had to try the Chile Relleno as it is one of my favorite dishes and we also ordered the fried cheese (WOW!), chips and guacamole, a burrito w/home fries (why not?) and several, very tasty margaritas. Everything was delicious! After boxing up our ample leftovers, we stocked up on in-house roasted coffee (beans brought down from the nearby mountains) and practically rolled out the door. Since I knew I wanted to bring home some of the delicious coffee, we came back a couple days later and tried out their breakfast offerings. Again, we weren’t disappointed and the Poblano chile omelet I had was amazing. The topper at the Vallarta Factory, in my opinion, was something I picked up at their adjacent chocolate shop; the caramel coated, in-house roasted cacao beans. (Seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten – Also brought down from local mountains.) OMG NOMNOMNOMNOMNOM! I brought back a couple bags and fully intended to use them as gifts, but must report to have failed miserably at that plan. While I did, however, share a small portion of them, I ate the rest of them all by myself. ALL THE BEANS! ALL BY MYSELF.

Selfishness and personal weakness aside, please hear my plea. Regardless of the fact I callously ate the majority of the beans I brought back and likely didn’t share any with you, PLEASE bring me some back if you happen to go to Puerto Vallarta. I will pay you money. COLD. HARD. CASH.  I’ll be your cash ca-cao!  (Thank you, thank you – I’ll be here all week. Try the cacao!) I need some more of those beans…

Since I was just in Puerto Vallarta for a week, I was only able to take in a small sampling of the amazing culinary options available. I had several great meals, but here’s a quick list of some of my favorite stops:

  • If mole is your thing, it’s a must that you check out El Mole de Jovita. My friend knew the very gracious and gregarious owner, Sergio from her past visits and she strongly advised we make a pilgrimage to his restaurant. As I’ve come to understand, mole recipes are highly regarded, prized and often guarded family secrets and this particular restaurant was featuring Sergio’s mother’s beloved mole recipes. I’m certainly glad we stopped in as all the mole versions we tried were positively delicious and potentially addicting. I’m quite sure if I lived in the area I’d be a regular fixture at El Mole de Jovita. It was also a lovely accompaniment to our meal that a very talented guitarist was performing Jazz standards at the front of the restaurant.
  • I am a great fan of migas and was very happy we stumbled upon Café San Angel one (late) morning. We’d been planning to check out Salud Super Food (see below), but they were apparently closed on Sundays. Our initial misfortune was turned happily around when our breakfast dishes arrived on the table. (preceded by a tasty round of Bloody Marys) The migas was a great combination of fluffiness with the eggs and a chewy-crunch of the hand-cut and fried corn tortilla strips. Throw in the spice of the diced Serrano peppers and a healthy dose of hot sauce and I was in breakfast nirvana. Our meals also included delicious baguette loaves on the side with whipped butter and jam. It was the perfect way to start the day.
Migas
One of the most delicious breakfast dishes EVER – Migas.
  • After initially being shut down on Sunday, we hit up Salud Super Food later in the week and were much appeased by their great rice bowls, wraps, salads and very cheerful setting. I had the Thai Super Bowl and Salud salad and was completely impressed with the freshness, flavor and creativity of the dishes. It was also a good break from the heavier dishes I’d been indulging in throughout the week. I didn’t try the smoothies or coffee, but everything I saw coming to nearby tables looked quite delicious. We even ran into a tourist couple that week who stopped us and asked if we knew where this restaurant was. It’s apparently one of the better known spots for offering great vegetarian and vegan options.
Breakfast
A very healthy and tasty breakfast from Salud Super Food
  • One iconic Mexican food I was very excited to partake of in Mexico was the real-deal, non-crunchy-shelled, good ol’ fashioned taco. For the record, I would eat any of the tacos I tried in Puerto Vallarta every day, for pretty much every meal. (Okay – I might break it up here and there with some Chile Relleno or something, but I digress.)  I tried several varieties of tacos throughout the week at several different places, but here are a few of my favorites:
    • Pancho’s Takos
      • Their tacos al pastor are absolutely delectable. The meat is prepared on a spit, similarly to doner kebabs or gyros and is deliciously rich and spicy. The beef top-round tacos were also particularly tasty. The menu overall is quite extensive and it’s safe to say you could eat many meals here and never have the same order.  All of the accompaniments that come with the tacos are equally delicious and a couple were quite Eat with caution!

        TacosPastor
        Delicious Tacos Pastor from Pancho’s Takos
    • Mariscos Cisneros
      • This place rocked my world, plain and simple. It was recommended to me by a couple I met during my Puerto Vallarta travels and I’m so glad I was able to visit this place. I am a complete sucker for a good fish taco and Mariscos Cisneros had the best I’ve ever had!  On top of that, their shrimp tacos and their deep fried, cheese-stuffed jalapeno taco were to die for!

        FishTacos
        Fish taco, shrimp taco, deep fried & cheese-stuffed jalapeno taco – ALL DELICIOUS!
    • Tacos Robles
      • While we didn’t actually get to eat here, we did try a couple of times! They had already closed for the day on both attempts and we were rather bummed. I’d been given rave reviews by my new friends who said it was a must-try. They’d stopped by while on the Vallarta Eats food tour and loved it. Next time! (SIDE NOTE: When eating in a restaurant and a guy walks up to your table and offers you shots of tequila he and his wife can’t finish as they’ve already had several shots, don’t question the situation – just take the shots. This was the scene one evening early in our trip. Long story short, they were a lovely Canadian couple, Jen and Jorgen from just across the Washington State border. We ended up sharing a couple of shots at the restaurant and then most of a bottle later on that night – along with many stories and the realization we all had several things in common as well as acquaintances. I also ended up hanging out with them throughout the week and will hopefully get to meet up with them this winter. It really is a small world…)
    • Tacos Revolucion
      • I think this is where we met our Canadian friends for the first time. I don’t entirely know, to be honest… that whole night is a little blurry now. Heh… At any rate, I know Jen and Jorgen went here as part of the Vallarta Eats tour and loved it. And whatever food I ate the night we ran into them was delicious, so I’m just going to officially equate the two! Voila!!
    • In general and overall, there were so many amazing looking taco stands and restaurants in the Old Town area. You’d need several weeks to even remotely try them all. In addition, on nearly every corner there are single-vendor, street food opportunities and little mini-carts selling delicious churros, frozen treats, cold drinks, baked goods – you name it! Don’t be afraid to turn your afternoon into a delicious food crawl. And be sure to stop into one of the countless bars along the way to round it off with a cold cerveza or tasty margarita.

A few additional foodie tips:

  • If you’re not quite sure where to start – or maybe you want to go deep into the foodie under stuffed belly, check out the Vallarta Eats food tours. They are quite extensive and offer many options to help one get to know the Puerto Vallarta food scene.
  • If you happen to be in Puerto Vallarta mid-May to mid-June, check out Restaurant Week Puerto Vallarta We have Restaurant Week in Seattle and it’s always a great – and economical – way to check out that fancy place you’ve always wanted to try. Or just stock up on visits to all your favorites!
  • The Romantic Zone / Old Town area of Puerto Vallarta is packed to the brim with cafes, restaurants, bars, beachside dining, street vendors, etc. It is a veritable smorgasbord of foodie opportunity. The main part of the Malecon and the resort end of the beach have all of the chain dining opportunities, but if you want to experience the beating heart of Mexican cuisine at its finest, head directly to this area and ENJOY!
  • Dining out, on any level in Puerto Vallarta is incredibly economical. TRY IT ALL!

Since I’ve mentioned it a few times, let’s talk about the Malecon

The Malecon is a beautiful promenade stretching about a mile along the stunning beaches of Puerto Vallarta. It is lined with wonderful sculptures and statues and is chock-a-block with (sometimes overpriced) shops, restaurants, street vendors, musicians and even Aztec dancers! While I personally prefer the vibe of the Old Town nightlife and restaurant scene, there are numerous spring-breakesque opportunities and general adventure to be had within the main section of the Malecon as well.  They also have a great community amphitheater area with regularly featured local performers. During our visit, the Down Puerto Vallarta bike race was taking place with the end point being directly on the Malecon. (Crazy race with bicyclists and trick riders rocketing down the narrow cobblestone streets towards the Malecon.) On the whole, the Malecon is always a great place for a stroll and the perfect location for people watching. It is also the definitive spot to take in one of the consistently breathtaking sunsets.

Paradise
Pretty sure this is one of my favorite pictures EVER. And it was even better standing there in the moment…
Sunset2
Sigh…

Tucked just behind the length of the Malecon, the cobblestone streets and squares are packed with beautiful examples of classic Mexican architecture and floral-lined, shop-filled adventure. The nearly 100-year old, Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe is about a block off the Malecon and if you’re a fan of neo-classical or renaissance design (it has both!), it’s well worth investigating. Lovely little bridges cross over the Rio Cuale as it winds its way to the nearby ocean and you’ll find many swimmers enjoying the fresh river water before it flows into the ocean. Not to be missed on the Rio Cuale is the Cuale Island Flea Market, an amazing and extensive flea market filled with local artisans and is close to great little restaurants, a museum featuring local artifacts and a network of walkways and suspended foot bridges. And if you happen to be walking across one of the bridges, be sure to check over the side towards the riverbank – you might just see a family of (giant) iguanas!

Pro Tip #4: You will also be treated to a plethora of bird-watching opportunities all along the Malecon. Prehistoric looking Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds are everywhere, but be wary, my friends – these are giant birds and with giant birds, comes giant bird poop. My friend had quite a dive-bomb run-in with a Magnificent Frigatebird and it was *not* a pretty situation. Suffice to say she had to immediately go take a shower to get rid of both the large quantity of poop in her hair as well as the very pungent dead fish smell. Yowsa. Remain vigilant when one of these prehistorically giant poop-wielders is flying overhead…

As is definitely the case while hanging out along the Malecon, there are shopping opportunities aplenty throughout Puerto Vallarta. Even though I was only there for a week, I found a few favorites I will absolutely hit up on my next visit.

  • I found the most amazing and intricately beaded pieces at the Tierra huichol gallery along the Malecon. From tiny pieces beaded and embroidered in the Huichol tradition to life-sized busts and large landscapes, the work is stunning. There are a few spots in Puerto Vallarta featuring this type of artwork, but this was my favorite shop. The staff was very knowledgeable and friendly and there were a wide variety of pieces to enjoy. I picked up two beautifully beaded musical notes depicting various Huichol symbols and a small, embroidered piece representing the union of sun and moon. I would have loved to have taken home one of the larger pieces, but I didn’t have room in my luggage. I do, however, think they will ship internationally.
  • One of my favorite purchases was handcrafted by glass maker, Carlos Rosas. Based out of his shop, Glass Design Gallery on Basilio Badillo in the Old Town, Carlos not only designs beautiful glass figurines and sculptures, but will also craft pieces to your personal specifications. My friend had visited his shop on prior visits and he made her several beautiful and incredibly accurate glass figurines based on her dogs. I brought him a picture of my beloved bass guitar and he completely nailed the scale and features.
  • Running a very close second in favorite purchases, are the ceramic tiles I picked up at Mundo de Azulejos in the Old Town. There were so many unique style and designs – I would LOVE to someday decorate a patio or kitchen with them. In the meantime, I made do with these gems:
  • If you’re in need of some beautiful glassware or glass sculptures, Mundo de Cristal is a must for your list. Because of my purchases at this gallery, I was forced to check my luggage heading home. (I hate checking my luggage.) I have no regrets, however, as I absolutely love my new margarita glasses and tumblers. I’m convinced they make everything taste better. It’s just science. I was also happy to learn you can order online and they will ship internationally. GOOD – I can fill out the rest of my collection!
Tequila_Glasses
I love these glasses! I brought back a couple of matching tumblers as well. Tequila courtesy of the excellent Mr. Tequila tasting room.
  • Wow – I guess I officially can’t decide on my favorite purchase as I LOVE these t-shirts… I found these two beauties at a shop selling Karani-Art, just around the corner from where I was staying. (I believe on Lázaro Cárdenas, across from the lovely square, El Parque de los Azulejos.) Not only did they have a cool selection of custom Star Wars designs, it was a veritable nerd-vana with all sorts of superhero and video game designs to choose from. There were also some very lovely floral-based designs should Star Wars not be your thing. (What?? How can Star Wars not be your thing?? I thought I knew you…)
Star Wars!
There was no way I could say no to these guys. The Force was too strong with them…
  • If you’re in the market for something quirky, antique, unique or lovely, do make a stop into the Muy Guapo gallery in the Old Town. The manager, Enrique Zepeda, is incredibly charming, knowledgeable and happy to hang out and discuss local art and culture for as long you’d like.  I picked up a fantastic “poison ring” while I was there and I’ve been wearing it non-stop.  (Disclaimer: I don’t plan on poisoning anyone.) Enrique is also a talented artist and photographer and he and his sister, Marisa also have a stall in the Cuale Island Flea Market.
  • While this wasn’t really a place to shop, it was indeed interesting – and worth checking out. (If you’re not squeamish.) Hit up the Kai Spa, just down and to the side of the stairs leading into the outdoor market, if you’re looking to have your feet nibbled on by a hungry, toothless school of Garra-rufa fish. I did the package which included a (generous) glass of wine, 15-min of fishy nibbling and a very nice pedicure. The glass of wine definitely improved my willingness to allow fish to nibble on my feet, and when was all said and done, I felt pretty relaxed and ready for some more cobblestone pounding.

If you’re in Puerto Vallarta for more than a few days, I highly recommend exploring the neighboring towns and villages. The mountains and jungles surrounding the area are stunning and many can be reached by a reasonable drive or water taxi. The two areas I was able to visit were the coastal village of, Yelapa and the amazing Eden Canopy area near Mismaloya.

For our visit to Yelapa, we took a very reasonably priced water taxi ($17 RT) from the very cool Pier at Los Muertos just past the Malecon. It’s about a 40-minute ride in a small skiff up the coastline. (Where you will inevitably ride along with supplies heading to local villages.) If you’re not good with small boats and somewhat choppy waters, I’d recommend heading further up the road and taking the water taxi from Boca de Tomatlan as it’s a much shorter boat ride. (There are inexpensive bus and taxi options from Puerto Vallarta to Boca. The water taxis typically make a couple of stops along the way at local village piers.) Along the way, we passed beautiful beaches and smaller coastal villages as well as the stunning rock formations of the Los Arcos Marine Park (Las Peñas). Turning into the small cove that protects Yelapa to see the white sand beaches, beach huts and homes dotting the hills rising up from the village was absolutely striking. As we pulled up to the beach and jumped out of the boat and into the crystal clear water lapping at the shore, I knew we were in for an excellent afternoon adventure.

Since we were only making a short day trip of it and there are limited returns to Puerto Vallarta, we only had about four or so hours to pack in our Yelapa adventure.  We started out by enjoying a tasty beverage at one of the beachside huts and things took off from there. While enjoying our drinks under the shade of the hut, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the famous Yelapa “pie ladies” as she made her way up the beach and purchased a couple of slices to take back with us. (Seriously – try the pies!) We also ended up chatting with Clara, a local jewelry vendor and we both came away with lovely, silver rings. There were a few other local vendors and shops on the beach as well – all with interesting goods to sell and stories to tell. After feeling thoroughly relaxed from our beach sojourn, it was time to go for a little hike up into the hills of the surrounding village and see the view from above.

Taking off into the lower village area, behind the beach huts, we followed a trail leading towards the inlet, through jungle groves and towards the upper village. Should you desire, you can hire one of the three modes of transportation in Yelapa to take you up the hill. You’ve got your burro option, your ATV option and your classic, bipedal option. (There are no vehicles in Yelapa.) We chose Option 3 and began to make our way up the trail. Once we got towards the top, the view opened up over the cove and it was simply breathtaking. (Also, we were somewhat out of breath from walking up the hill.) We wandered around for a short spell and I had a great time looking out over the cove, dreaming of commandeering one of the many sailboats anchored in the cove. Sigh… Someday. Right out of Romancing the Stone, I tell ya. Someday…

In the upper village, there is a small handful of restaurant and lodging opportunities, but as we were only there for a few hours, we were sadly unable to do much investigating. I also would’ve loved to check out the upper waterfall, but I’ll have to save that for next time. (And there was a high probability it was actually dry in May…) We did, however, sweat off at least 5 lbs. while trekking around the village, so I guess that was a spa bonus. Woo – it was HOT! Pro tip #5: Make sure you bring water with you. There are indeed a couple of little stands along the path once you get into the upper village, but even walking a mile uphill in the tropical heat can seriously wear you down. Go prepared!

Since our time was running out and we still wanted to grab a snack before leaving, we headed back down the cobblestone and dirt trails towards the beach. After fording the (not so raging) river, we popped back on the beach and made our way back to the shade of the beach huts. After downing some much needed water, we enjoyed a very delicious shrimp stuffed avocado and a large supply of chips and salsa. And of course, some more margarita action… There’s water in tequila, right? And not long enough after our adventure had begun, we were back on our tiny water chariot to Puerto Vallarta.

For the record, the next time I visit the Puerto Vallarta area, I fully intend on spending several days in Yelapa. I’m quite convinced the serene, lush surroundings would be the perfect backdrop to write that sure-to-be-a-classic novel. Or maybe I’d just read a novel while lounging in my beach hut or while drinking a tasty beverage on the actual beach… Tomato / Tomatoe – I think whatever I ended up doing in Yelapa would be absolutely enjoyable. Maybe not productive, but absolutely enjoyable…

Another adventure I was able to enjoy just outside of Puerto Vallarta was an amazing visit to the Eden Canopy near the Mismaloya area. I’ve always wanted to do a zipline tour and the Eden Canopy seemed to have a pretty cool one through the tree tops of the Sierra Madre Mountains. (Where the movie Predator was filmed!) There was a great deal going with the Puerto Vallarta Tours and I decided to get on board. (They had many other interesting looking tours and I fully intend on exploring more options on my next visit. Very helpful staff as well!)

Just two blocks away from where I was staying, I was picked up in an open-air, military style transport vehicle and shipped up the coast towards the Mismaloya area. I was excited to see a little bit of this area as it is not only a big part of the Puerto Vallarta origin story, it was also where the classic film, Night of the Iguana was filmed, starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. You can still see some of the movie set from the beach. As the road winds along the gorgeous coastline towards the mountains, it was very understandable how the area could inspire so many artists, writers and filmmakers to incorporate the local beauty into their artwork.

Along this road, I passed by the hotel our new Canadian friends were staying at in Boca de Tomatlan. They’d shown us pictures of the private beach and I have to say it was really quite spectacular. I’d planned on stopping by to visit them on my way back from the zipline tour, but I had a minor incident which caused me to head back to the condo instead…

In a nutshell, it’s important to know how to properly slow oneself down when zip-lining/careening through the jungle treetops. For instance, it’s generally inadvisable to accidentally allow one of your hands to slip off the handlebars as you’re coming in hot to the landing area. (Even if it’s by accident.) It just might cause you to slide into the concrete landing pad sideways on your leg and shoulder, thereby resulting in various scrapes and abrasions. And then, even if you are generally okay after said landing and you prematurely pop up and are like, “Heeeey, I’m fine! Nothin’ to see here – Let’s move onto the next, even faster zipline!” (Gulp.) – It’s probably a good thing when the nice zipline attendants cut you off from any further treetop-careening action.  (Yes, it’s true – I got cut off from doing the very last, super-fast zipline at the very end of the tour. I was bummed, but I did get to do nine pretty excellent lines before my crash down. WOO!) (But I was still bummed. And somewhat embarrassed. And really glad I knew NO ONE on the tour.)

Zipline
I was having more fun than I appear to be having – I swear! This was also before I slammed into the landing area. :-}

After traversing back down through the crazy jungle scene where several times I saw the bushes rustling very suspiciously (Gulp.), we ended up back at the main base and I immediately went to the bar/restaurant to heal my wounds with beer and guacamole. And some very delicious shrimp fajitas. And a lovely serenade by a solo bassist/vocalist.  All’s well that ends well, I guess. And while I would totally do the tour again, I think next time I’ll bring gloves so my sweaty jungle hands don’t slip off the stupid handlebars. Accidentally.

After we said goodbye to the guy sweating it out all day long in the Predator costume and boarded our jungle transport vehicle for home, we learned we were making a pit-stop at the Tequila tasting room down the road. Those scrapes and bruises were quickly being forgotten, for sure! About a mile back down the awesomely bumpy road and through tiny, roadside villages, we landed at the Mr. Tequila tasting room. Score! While I’d tried several types of tequila since my arrival in Puerto Vallarta, I was excited to learn more about the tequila making process, especially since it is almost entirely produced in the very state I was visiting, Jalisco.

Featuring El Paseilla Charro tequila, we learned of the entire process of making tequila, a little about the agave farming process (it takes about 8 years for an agave plant to mature!), the different types of tequila and the aging process and a little about the several generations of the family responsible for El Paseilla Charro tequila. We were then treated to an excellent tasting of several different varieties of tequila, from the younger Silver varieties all the way up to the swanky, Extra Añejo style. (Our tasting room guide explained Extra Añejo tequila is usually only brought out for special occasions, such as weddings… and divorces.) I would’ve loved to have brought back a bottle of the swanky stuff, but my wallet assured me I’d be just fine with a bottle of their very tasty Reposado instead. And as I’m planning neither marriage nor divorce in the near future, it should do quite nicely…

Well, I guess that about wraps up my much-too-short attempt to eat the state of Jalisco and the city of Puerto Vallarta. To say I was completely charmed by the loveliness of Puerto Vallarta, its people, culture, food – the list goes on – doesn’t begin to describe it. Traveling somewhere for the first time is always an awakening – that feeling of experiencing something beautiful and amazing for the first time is completely intoxicating. Making new friends (Hello, Jen and Jorgen!), trying new foods, seeing new sights – There really is nothing like it. As we grow older, that sense of wonder seems more and more elusive and just a little harder to come by, but is all the more poignant when we find it. Traveling internationally further extends that sense of wonder as it allows one to take in culture, people, languages and delicious, delicious food you might not be able to authentically experience in your home town. I know I will always treasure my first-visit memories of the lovely city of Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding treasures and will be on a constant hunt to find fish tacos that come even close to the ones I had at Mariscos Cisneros. Sigh…

And on a more specific food note, I did quite a bit of pondering about the significance of food in my life while enjoying my time in Mexico. I leave you with my thoughts…

Food equalizes. We all eat. We all need food to survive. Food is necessity, just as it is family, culture, peace, and at times, sustenance in times of conflict. While it can bring great joy amongst family and friends, breaking bread with someone can also significantly mean the difference between agreement and strife. And as we often acknowledge the importance of taking time to share meals with family, we should also acknowledge the same importance in breaking bread with our neighbors. Be they next door, in the next state or on the other side of the world and of an entirely different culture, lifestyle or doctrine, we can expand our understanding and the greater good if we simply sit down and share a meal. And who knows, maybe you get introduced to that recipe you never you knew you couldn’t live without – or make a friend with whom you’d never have imagined having something in common. Food is a powerful ambassador and can speak to us all on a very fundamental level. If we heed the message and learn to enjoy its bounty, it has the ability to infinitely expand our palates and our overall understanding of the world around us.

Until next time – Cheers!

A list of tunes that kept me company during my Puerto Vallarta stay:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1250493373/playlist/08h8j1TV12JBcyv7aE8yFL 

Madre Tierra (Oye)Chayanne (Three words: Chayanne is dreamy.)

Ay MamaChayanne

Salome (Club Mix-Radio Edit)Chayanne

GauchoSteely Dan (Looking out over the ocean, listening to The Dan. Yes, please.)

Kid CharlemagneSteely Dan

Do It AgainSteely Dan

Amor VerdaderoAfro-Cuban All Stars

Chan ChanBuena Vista Social Club (Grab a mojito and enjoy…)

EsquadrosAdrianna Calcanhotto

El Piragüero – Bio Ritmo

So Much Trouble in the WorldBob Marley & the Wailers (Wise words from Bob…)

Is This LoveBob Marley & the Wailers

Uncle John’s BandGrateful Dead

From John to JohnnyJ.P. Torres

Who’s SmokingJ.P. Torres

For ElsaJ.P. Torres (Sitting on the deck, watching the sunset… Sigh…)

Mi niña LolaBuika

MagalenhaSergio Mendes

Patria Ruben Blades

Mis Tres NotasOmar Sosa

Fiesta Pa’Los RumberosAlbita

Highway to HellAC/DC (The zipline tour guide was playing this on our drive up the mountain. Hmmm.)

Bye Bye Bye*NSYNC (Ummm, this one, too… Eeesh.)

MacarenaLos Del Rio (OMG THEY PLAYED THIS SONG NONSTOP ON THE MALECON IN FRONT OF OUR CONDO THE LAST THREE NIGHTS WE WERE THERE. FOR HOURS ON END. WHHHHHYYY??? Just thought I’d share the joy with you. You’re welcome.)

I Ate the State: Kittitas County

Greetings!

I have the fondest memories of Kittitas County, both past and present. From childhood to teenage years, it was gateway to the magical land of towering mountains and all shades of lush green. Having spent my formative years in the arid and hot, relatively flat expanse of eastern Washington, it was always total nirvana to travel to the “other” side of the state. I perceived it as an absolute divide between east and west. It was a line of demarcation between two very different sides of the state; two environmentally, culturally, and politically different halves of the whole. Now in my adult years, I’ve come to appreciate it as the bridge which brings Washington together. I see it as the part of the state which gloriously blends the beauty, uniqueness, history and future of the state together.

Since I presently live in western Washington, I am all too accustomed to the lush green of the state. (i.e. it rains A LOT in western Washington.) I still love it and will admit to preferring said lushness, but there is a core part of me which yearns for the expansion that occurs once you pass over the Cascades. Beyond any of the mountain passes, once you cross over from western Washington, the sky starts to open up, the landscape widens and the trees begin to grow sparse. The foliage changes, the prairies and brush spread out and the start of sage country begins to unfold around you. The air noticeably becomes less heavy and humid and depending on time of year, the temperature grows either much colder or much, much hotter.  Gone are the relatively mild days of western Washington and its nebulous mash-up of SpringSummerFallWinter. Say hello to four, very distinct seasons with many unique environments and extremes.  Stunning in so many ways, this part of the state is the best of both worlds as well as being a truly distinctive setting all its own. Welcome to Kittitas County!

Canyon Road
The rolling hills of Central WA off of Canyon Road

Kittitas County encompasses a large portion of land from the Cascades and Snoqualmie Pass down to just past its county seat, Ellensburg. The towns are fairly spread out and accommodate upwards of 50,000 members of the state’s population. Settler expansion into this part of Washington State began around the late 1850s with the Native American Yakama Nation having called the land home for many generations prior. Mining, logging, cattle ranching and farming were among the chief draws to the area, bringing people from around the country as well as immigrants from many other countries. Towns such as Ronald, Roslyn and Thorp which may seem fairly sleepy these days, were busy hubs of commerce and activity well into the mid-1900s.

The first stopping point on my Kittitas County tour is the Snoqualmie Pass area, via Interstate-90. Straddling the line between King and Kittitas Counties, The Pass (as it’s often referred to in the Seattle area) is a great day trip option if you’re coming from the Westside. In the winter, you’ve got the allure of the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area with additional tubing, cross-country skiing/snowshoeing and snowmobiling opportunities nearby. In the summer, there are countless hiking, camping and backpacking options as well as it being a good midway stop for travels between western and eastern Washington. (Gas, coffee, bathroom – it has all the things!) Here are a few of my favorite spots and things to do in the Snoqualmie Pass area:

Snoqualmie Pass - Summer
Summer on Snoqualmie Pass

For a quick shot of winter shenanigans, the Summit at Snoqualmie is a relatively painless drive from the greater Seattle area. (Weather depending)  Viewed from the I-90 freeway, it might give the impression of being a smaller ski hill, but the area is actually quite extensive. It contains three, trail-connected ski areas with numerous runs on the backside as well as many trails on the neighboring ski hill, Alpental.  If cross-country skiing or snowshoeing is your thing, check out the scene at the Nordic Center. If you’ve got a group that prefers careening down a hill without something strapped to their feet, hit up the tubing hill across the street from the main ski hill. There is truly an outdoor option for everyone in the family!

For the non-outdoor enthusiasts visiting the area, there are several dining, drinking and general tourist possibilities available. Some are actually part of the ski lodges, but there are additional (and often less hectic) options to be found in near reach of the ski hills. (Year round)

  • If you’re in the market for a good pint and a break from your travels, stop into the Dru Bru brewery just west of the ski area. Super friendly and knowledgeable staff, a great beer selection and conveniently located next door to…
  • A newer addition to the Snoqualmie food scene, (along with neighbor, Dru Bru) The Commonwealth offers a great selection of pub-style food and drink. (Family friendly!) There is something to be said for the convenience of skiing down to the lodge, popping off your skis and quickly grabbing a beer or snack. However, as the lines are often long during the ski season, it’s a nice break to head down the road for a late lunch or dinner on the way home. (Or during any other time of the year!)
  • For the ski and snowboard enthusiasts, be sure to pop into the WA State Ski and Snowboard Museum, located in the same building as The Commonwealth and Dru Bru. It’s a great tribute to the history of downhill snow sports in the state and fun to see how far the pursuit of speeding down snowy hills has come over the last many decades.

In the summertime, there are plenty of snow-free activities to entertain both the nature-lover and just-passing-through traveler alike. Hiking, biking, dining, rest stops, backpacking, camping, swimming – it’s a summer wonderland!

As part of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, there are countless hiking trails to explore in the Snoqualmie Pass area. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness offers many breathtaking views and dreamy mountain lake access. Part of the epic, 2000-mile Pacific Crest Trail ambles through the area and there’s even an amazing, re-purposed train tunnel you can hike or bike through. (Bring headlamps or flashlights – it’s 2.25 miles and the longest trail tunnel in the world!) During the winter months, if you’re parking in areas other than the ski hills or local area commerce, look out for lots requiring a Sno-Park pass. In the summer months, be aware of those requiring a Discover Pass.

If you’re in need of lodging, I’d recommend investigating VRBO or Airbnb as there are many great cabins and cottages to rent in the area. Neighboring towns such as Suncadia, Roslyn, Easton and Cle Elum also have great possibilities and are a fairly quick drive to Snoqualmie Pass. (Weather permitting, of course.)

For the traveler in need of services, The Pass is an easily accessible visit off and back onto the freeway. There are restaurants, gas stations, coffee spots and restroom facilities located along the main road. (Highway 906)  If you’re coming from the west, take Exit 53 off of 1-90 to get to the Central section of the Pass. Take Exit 54 if you’re coming from the east.

One very important thing to note about the Snoqualmie Pass area: ALWAYS check the pass report before heading out on your trip – spring, summer, fall or winter.  I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass has the lowest elevation in the state and is therefore the most popular and accessible route for traveling over the Cascades. In the winter, there are the obvious delays due to snowy conditions, avalanches, accidents, etc.  In the summer, there is a never-ending string of road construction projects with which to contend and it’s not unheard of to get stuck behind a 2-hr delay due to rock blasting, lane reduction, etc. The WSDOT app and website are good about noting any closures, construction delays, etc. ALWAYS check the pass report before you go. It’s also worth noting that traffic coming back from eastern Washington on Sunday afternoons and evenings can often get quite congested. It’s a good idea to allow for a little extra time in your travels if you happen to be returning to the west side.

A little further down I-90, watch for signs leading to the tiny towns of Easton and Ronald and local campgrounds like Lake Easton State Park and Salmon la Sac. They’re relatively tiny blips on the Washington state map, but well worth the investigation. If you’re looking for lodging not involving tents or campers, check out The Last Resort in Ronald. They’ve also got a restaurant, gas station, a RV park and convenience store. For dining options other than The Last Resort or food-on-sticks at your campfire, also check out pub-style, The Old No. 3 in Ronald. (Named after one of the old coal mines in the area.)

Easton and Ronald are great jumping-off areas not only for camping, but other outdoor classics like fishing, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, etc. In addition to ample camping opportunities in the area, there are also many great cabin rentals available through services like VRBO and Airbnb. For an area so easily accessible off one of the state’s main thoroughfares, it’s amazing how secluded and private it seems once you’re just a mile off an exit. It’s one of the things I love most about this area of the state; quick and easy access to wide-open skies and absolute, peaceful solitude.

Should you be looking for a more swanky Kittitas County adventure, take the Suncadia/Roslyn exit off of I-90, just a few miles past the Easton/Ronald area. (Exit 80) Paying further tribute to the mining history of the area, both Suncadia and Roslyn feature areas where time seems to have stood still. Suncadia is actually the newer kid on the block and leans more towards modern creature comforts, but it’s still just as easy to envision horse-drawn carts on the back roads as it is SUVs and snowmobiles. (In the winter months, it’s fairly common to see snowmobiles cruising along the main roads and gassing up at the town pumps.) Roslyn, however, largely maintains its turn-of-the-last-century charm and most of the buildings and homes have proudly been in use for over 100 years.

Tucked in amidst beautiful forest lands with sweeping meadows and gorgeous views, Suncadia is a planned community located a few miles before Roslyn, off of Bullfrog Road. It plays host to The Lodge at Suncadia and Swiftwater Cellars Winery, the Hoist House restaurant, additional restaurants and lodging, a spa, three golf courses, private residences and various year-round recreational opportunities. Whew! Suncadia is a great spot for a romantic weekend getaway, a golf outing or a family vacation – it has something for everyone. It’s also quite a nice locale for celebrating occasions such as Father’s Day. Which is exactly what we did this year!

On said Father’s Day visit, we checked out Swiftwater Cellars Winery and their featured restaurant, the Hoist House. The lodge itself is very inviting and well-designed and we enjoyed a very tasty lunch in their spacious dining room. Set next to the entrance to the Old No. 9 mining shaft, the lodge features dining, wine tasting, plenty of indoor and outdoor lounge areas, a lovely gift shop and a golf pro shop. It would be an easy place to relax for the day, sipping a glass of their No. 9 Red on the patio, taking in the stunning views… Sign me up!

Next stop down the road (State Route 903) takes us to not only one of my favorite places in the state, but a favorite spot all-around – the ever-idyllic, Roslyn, Washington.

I visit Roslyn often. I come for the charm, I come for the history and I come for the meat. (Mmmm… Carek’s Meats – we’ll get to that in a second.) It’s also a pretty convenient half-way point for meet-ups between members of the western Washington and eastern Washington Smith family. It’s a very reasonable 90-minute drive from the Seattle/Tacoma area and an equally doable drive from the Tri-Cities and Yakima areas. In addition to my own regular visits to the area, my family tries to meet up for mini-reunions at least a couple times a year. (And meat gathering…)

Roslyn is one of the oldest established communities in the state with much of its town center included on the National Register of Historic Places. Even considering the shut-down of the town’s mining mainstay, the area has stuck it out and is enjoying a much-deserved revival. Mining may not be in the future plans for Roslyn, but the television and film industries, outdoor enthusiasts, distillery and artisan markets have all come to know Roslyn for its lovely, bucolic settings. Most recently, the Amazon Studio series, The Man in the High Castle has shot scenes in the area.

Some of my favorite places to visit and things to do in the Roslyn area:

  • One of the spots that keeps me coming back to the Roslyn area is Carek’s Meats. Carek’s has been in business just over 100 years for a very good reason – Their meats are delicious. It’s a tiny shop, frozen in time, but they serve up all the greatest hits as well as making some of the most amazing beef jerky, Landjäger and meat sticks known to the world. Not only are various members of my family now super-fans, I’ve successfully gotten a few of my meat-loving friends addicted as well. I’m regularly given sizable sums of cash to procure ‘meat babies’ when visiting the Roslyn area. (Fact: Several pounds of Landjäger wrapped up in Carek’s butcher paper looks strikingly like a swaddled baby.) Try their old fashioned frankfurters. Try their smoked ribs. Try it ALL!
  • If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, a delicious light meal or snack and a good book to cozy up to, stop by Basecamp Books & Bites in the center of town. Not only a great hub for food and drink, they support local outdoor pursuits and also regularly feature local events in their downstairs space.
  • In need of a tasty meal? Check out The Roslyn Café for a delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner. They’ve always got a great special on the menu and feature several great local beers. The Northern Exposure mural on the side of the building is also a great photo op. (Note: The mural was there before the show, but they added an apostrophe S to the sign during filming. The S is now gone.)
  • I’ve been monitoring the progress on this for a couple of years and I’m SO excited they’ve finally opened – The Heritage Distillery, set inside the historic Northwestern Improvement Company Store building is not to be missed. Joining the various shops and galleries already housed in the building, Heritage Distillery is an excellent addition to the local scene. Stop in for a very tasty craft cocktail and delicious samples of their vodkas, whiskies, gins, etc. The space is quite large and multi-tiered and can also host private events. It’s also family friendly!
  • One of the most iconic establishments in the town is the vibrant Brick Saloon. Laying claim to title, ‘Longest continually operating tavern in the state’, the Brick is a must-stop destination for any visit to Roslyn. Good pub food, a wonderful vintage, saloon-style bar complete with spittoon trough, live bands and family-friendly to boot, the Brick is never dull. I’ve had the pleasure of performing there on a few occasions and have always had a great time. (Minus maybe the time part of the ceiling dropped on my head while standing in the audience… But whatever – it’s an old building.) It also has some great history which is unfortunately not open to the public. (I was able to check it out one time I was performing there…) As you walk in the front door, notice a narrow stairway off to the left. At the bottom of the stairway is an entrance to the sub-basement of not only the Brick, but an area extending beneath most of the city block. There’s an original, dirt-floor jail cell and a fascinating hodgepodge of Roslyn history lying around. I hope someday they’ll consider opening it up as an underground tour of sorts.
  • If you’d like to dive into the history of area, be sure to pop into the Roslyn Museum. This tiny gem is filled to the brim with fascinating artifacts and treasures from the town beginnings and into more modern times. I’ve visited the museum several times over the years and I always seem to find something new packed into its corners. There is also a great display of mining equipment in the field next to the museum. Like time has stood still…
  • Equally fascinating, but slightly more somber, the Roslyn Cemetery is an interesting look into the very diverse group of immigrants who came to Roslyn to work the mines and helped shape the culture and story of Washington State. The cemetery is actually divided into sections based on nationality and represents over 20 countries including Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Scotland and many more.
  • Featuring a wonderful cross-section of goods from local farmers, artisans, vintners, etc. the Roslyn Farmer’s Market operates on Sundays from June through September. (10am – 2pm) The weather is often so beautiful this time of year and it’s a great day trip destination coming from eastern or western Washington.
  • For great camping, hiking, snowmobiling, fishing, etc. options, head up the road, past Roslyn to Lake Cle Elum. There are also local area cabins for rent – check out VRBO or Airbnb for availability.

A few more lovely places to check out in Roslyn:

  • Redbird Café & Bakery – Charming little café with outdoor seating. Also home to the lovely Spruce Moose Inn.
  • Roots BBQ – Excellent BBQ located in the courtyard behind the Roslyn Café.
  • The Roslyn Theatre – First run movies in this recently restored movie house. Two screens, real butter on the popcorn – Cash/CHECK only! (When was the last time you wrote a check for the movies?!)
  • Roslyn Arts Festival – August 3-5 – Check it out!
  • Gypsi & James – Reimagined Furniture and Home Décor – ‘Lots of very cute things I really need!
  • Roslyn Brewing Company – Cool taproom and (weather permitting) beer garden open Friday – Sunday

Heading a few miles further east on SR 903, you’ll arrive at the quaint little town of Cle Elum. It has advertised itself as having ‘easy through access’, but there really is a little more to the area than being a one-street town. (They have multiple streets!!) Although a little larger than Roslyn, it features a similar ‘lost in time’ feel and depending on the age of vehicles on the road, you could easily imagine yourself in the 30s or 40s. Many of the buildings on and around the main street are also included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Continuing on the quest for delicious meats, I made a stop at the iconic Owen’s Meats in the center of town. (Located on East First Street, the ‘easy through access’ street.)  Owen’s has been in business for over 125 years (one of the oldest operating businesses in the state) and has an impressive selection of meats, cheeses and a remarkable array of condiments.  All those delicious facts aside, I’d like to pay tribute to one of their most impressive attributes – They have a meat vending machine! True story. You say you’re craving a beefy T-bone at two in the morning? Maybe you need an addition for your charcuterie plate and it’s eight in the evening?  NEVER FEAR – The Owen’s Meats vending machine is on the job! Located directly outside their front entrance and in glorious operation 24/7, their proprietary vending machine features great cuts of meat as well as cheese, meat sticks and whatever else they choose to fit in. They’ve also graciously set up additional vending machines in key locations around the state. (The Filson flagship store in Seattle and the Mt. Si Shell Station in North Bend to name a couple.)

Rounding out the meaty hub that is the Roslyn/Cle Elum area, Glondo’s Sausage Co. and Italian Market is also not to be missed. In operation since the mid-80s, they’re still the young buck in town, but their expertise and quality of product is definitely in the same storied class as Carek’s and Owen’s. Their sausages are delicious and are featured at various local restaurants. I had a chance to sample their brats at the Iron Horse Brew Pub in Ellensburg and they were fabulous. I was sad when I came back through town that day as they’d closed for the day. Not to worry, I’ll be back!

If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee and an even tastier pastry or pie, stop by the town classic, Cle Elum Bakery. In operation since 1906, the Cle Elum Bakery has been waking up with many generations of townsfolk and shows no sign of slowing down.  The staff is very friendly, there’s a great selection of items in addition to fresh bakery goods and the atmosphere warmly invites you in for a relaxing break, whatever the time of day. I’m particularly in love with both their classic maple bars and custard-filled donuts.

In addition to the various cute shops, restaurants and conveniences lining the main route through town, here are a few more noteworthy spots:

  • New to the Cle Elum restaurant scene, Orchard is located on East First Street. It comes highly recommended to me by the Dru Bru staff and is next on my list of places to try in the area.
  • The Twin Pines Drive-In is a Cle Elum classic and a great place to grab a burger, shake or malt.
  • Happen to be really into the history of the telephone? The North Kittitas County Telephone museum is the place for you!

If you’re in need of lodging, check out these local options:

  • Stewart Lodge – Cozy local lodge. Great spot year around and close to local recreational activities.
  • Ironhorse Bed and Breakfast – Formerly known as the Milwaukee Road Bunkhouse, people have been checking in since 1909. You can stay in a railway caboose car!
  • Flying Horseshoe Ranch – Super cozy cabins, horseback riding, horse boarding and an events space – open year round!
  • Check out this great resource for local camping options

Heading further east is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community of Thorp. Many driving through the area via I-90 will know Thorp for its giant fruit stand located directly off the freeway. While that fruit stand is indeed one of my favorite spots in all of Washington State, I prefer to arrive in Thorp via the scenic back way, starting with State Route 10 out of Cle Elum. Once east of Cle Elum, take a right onto SR 10. Follow the road as it winds up and down through a beautiful river-lined valley filled with pastures and farms. About 9 miles up the road, near the wind turbine farm, take a right onto N. Thorp Highway and wind your way down towards Thorp.  And then a little further on to the… Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall!

But first, be sure to stop off and visit the fascinating and remarkably well-preserved and restored, Thorp Mill Museum and Thorp Mill Town Historical Preservation Society located directly off the N. Thorp Highway. The hours of operation are somewhat limited, but it is well worth the effort to stop. I’ve been curious about it for years and had been under the false impression it was some sort of lumber mill. I’m glad I was finally able to investigate as I was completely mistaken! It wasn’t a lumber mill, but was instead one of the first – and largest – flour mills in this part of the country. In its heyday, they were sending bags of flour as far away as China! They also hosted a 23-acre ice pond that provided refrigeration to the local railroad as well as ice for nearby towns. (Interesting note for Tri-Citians: The ice making facilities were later moved to nearby Pasco in 1913. Pasco represent! Go Bulldogs!) Be sure to take the guided tour inside the mill itself. The volunteer staff is incredibly friendly, very knowledgeable and happy to show you around the mill and all its amazing equipment.

As alluded to above, no visit to Thorp, around Thorp or driving by Thorp on I-90 is – or should ever be considered – complete without stopping in at the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. Enter a world where you can score a box of apples, an iced mocha, a hand-crafted jar of pickles, a good bottle of wine, some saltwater taffy, a 1920s china teapot and… Two vintage Goonies glasses, circa 1985. YES!! This place is an absolute dream and I always seem to find something tucked away in its packed aisles of cubbies and displays that I REALLY need. Like, really, seriously, I can’t-live-without-it NEED. It’s also a great place to hit up if you happen to have forgotten something for your nearby campsite. Or you’re in need of gas or ice from the gas station next door… Don’t forget to stop at the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. It has all the things you need. NEED!! (I swear I’m not a paid agent for the Thorp Fruit & Antique Mall. Unless it were to get me the remaining two glasses in my Goonies set… Just sayin’.)

Other areas to visit in the Thorp vicinity:

  • Iron Horse Trail (Used to be John Wayne Trail and is now officially known as the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail) A 212-mile trail which traverses through the beautiful and diverse lands of the Palouse area in SE Washington through the central part of the state (Kittitas County!) and on towards North Bend. This trail also includes the train/trail tunnel mentioned earlier in the Snoqualmie Pass section. It is a bucket-list goal of mine to conquer this trail at some point in the next few years.
  • Icewater Creek Campground – This is a favorite camping area of the Smith brood. I’d recommend finding trails further up in the Cascades if you’re looking for a backpacking adventure, but this area is great for car, camper and tent camping – especially if your family has some dirt bike shenanigans to embark upon.

Next up on the tour is a town known for many things – It has one of the state’s main universities, hosts a nationally known rodeo, boasts a charming downtown area included on the National Register of Historic Places, features sweeping farmlands and pastures… So much excellence! But to any of us who’ve spent countless days and nights traveling back and forth across the state, it’s known quite poignantly for another very important feature: It’s pretty much dead-center in the state, especially when traveling on I-90. Are you in need of gas and SOON? Do you need another latte and bag of donuts to keep you going on that late night drive? Do you really have to pee – and RIGHT NOW?? What goldmine of a town is this, you ask? Ellensburg, Washington, of course! Yep – Ellensburg’s got everything you need. Ellensburg is the ONE STOP TO RULE THEM ALL. (Seriously – take Exit 109 off I-90. You’ll find what you need.)

Not, of course, to distract from the fact that Ellensburg is a great place to visit overall – even if you don’t have to use the restroom. It’s a welcoming town year ‘round and has a breadth of things to entertain the passer-through and tourist alike. Some of my favorite spots for dining and adventure:

  • For a completely charming meal, anytime of the day, check out The Yellow Church Café in the downtown area. Delicious scratch baked goods, hearty home cooking and a good wine and beer selection, all set inside a reappointed, old neighborhood church.
  • Just down the block from The Yellow Church Café, you’ll come across a very distinct looking house with surrounding “gardens.” I wasn’t looking for this place, but I’m very happy to have found it. I immediately pulled over and had to see what it was all about. For a completely unique and absolutely interesting shot of local art, definitely check out Dick and Jane’s Spot. The couple that owns the home, Dick and Jane, have been creating and collecting local art for the past 40 years. It’s an amazing display of creativity, whimsy and charm. Don’t miss it!
  • If you’re up for a tasty beer and a really tasty pub-style meal, head over to the Iron Horse Brewery Pub in the heart of downtown Ellensburg. It’s got a nice casual vibe, the staff is easy-going and helpful and the beer is delicious. I’m particularly enamored by their Life Behind Bars Kolsch and their very popular, Irish Death. Their website, along with their onsite marketing and PR is also pretty entertaining. Well played, Iron Horse Brewery. Well played.
  • Looking for a bit of relaxing wine-tasting in the Ellensburg area? Head into the Gard Vinters tasting room in the center of downtown. (They also have tasting rooms in the Woodinville and Walla Walla areas.)
  • Love museums as much as I do? Be sure to stop in at the Kittitas Co. Museum, located downtown in the classic Caldwell Building. Learn all about the history of the greater Kittitas County area! Free admission!
  • Another classic dining experience in downtown Ellensburg can be found at The Palace Café. In operation since 1892, this is one of the oldest operating restaurants in the state.

In addition to more lovely shops, lodging and dining opportunities in downtown Ellensburg, there are many other local options available to keep the visitor busy:

Wrapping up my tour of Kittitas County, let’s take a journey down one of my favorite roads in the state, Canyon Road. (State Route 821) I’d originally considered it as part of my Yakima County piece, but lo and behold, a good portion of this road is actually in Kittitas County. Who knew? (Well, probably the fine folks of Kittitas County…) In addition, one of the stops I’d been wanting to make for a while is conveniently located on the Kittitas County side…

Before Interstate-82 and the pass over Manastash Ridge were constructed, Canyon Road was one of the main routes between Ellensburg and Yakima. It winds along the beautiful Yakima River Canyon, carved out by the equally beautiful and meandering, Yakima River. Take Exit 109 off of I-90 and make a left onto Canyon Road to head into the canyon. During the winter months, this route is quite popular for trucks looking to avoid the long grade of the passes through Manastash Ridge.

If you happen to be traveling through the canyon during the summer months, keep an eye out on the river for flotillas of people leisurely floating downstream – Often with inner tubes containing a cooler somehow rigged to the center of their flotilla. After all, you don’t want your tasty beverages floating away from you while trying to enjoy the afternoon.

About 20 minute or so into the drive, you’ll come upon the Canyon River Ranch and Red’s Fly Shop. I’ve been wanting to stop here for quite a while and am so glad it finally worked out! It was lunchtime when we arrived and their covered patio area made for quite an enjoyable break on the sunny afternoon. From the patio, there’s a great view of the river and the rolling hills sheltering the valley. There are train tracks lining the opposite shore and a train rambled by as we were enjoying our meal. Something about the valley seems timeless and the addition of the train coming through added to that feeling of a bygone era. I’m interested in going back for a longer stay as the lodge looked inviting and the area has such a quiet, peaceful feeling to it. Be sure to walk down along the riverbank and take in the scenery as the river moseys by. And if you have any fishing enthusiasts in your life, be sure to step into Red’s – they have a pretty cool selection of goods and a lot of pertinent local knowledge.

In conjunction with the wonderful fishing, wildlife viewing and river float opportunities, there are several great camping sites as well as boat launches along the canyon. The Roza Dam is a particularly cool spot to spend the afternoon or set up camp. I have very fond memories of water-skiing escapades near the Roza Dam as a child. (I’m pretty sure I was an amazing water-skier. Almost positive…)

And with that triumphant mental image, I shall wrap up my adventures. Kittitas County gathers together so many of the most amazing features of Washington State into an easily explorable package. It spans the beautiful stretch of state from the Cascades down to the Columbia River as it casually winds through the Columbia Gorge at Vantage. With such iconic imagery and landscapes, how could you go wrong? (I must restate, however, to CHECK THE PASS REPORT before you venture out.)

I will always return to this part of the state. Its beauty is etched indelibly upon my soul, forever reminding me of why I love Washington State so much. With environmental, cultural, political and trailblazing diversity brimming across its borders, Kittitas County is an area not to be missed. There is something for everyone – Go eat up Kittitas County!

Until next time –

Cheers!

Kittitas County Playlist 

I was feeling fairly reflective during the bulk of this adventure. Always seems to happen in this part of the state when the sky spreads out and the road opens up in front of me… I brought the groove back towards the end, however.  😉 

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1250493373/playlist/37PEgiwiDrmgi09PcvLZzN  

  • Hejira – Joni Mitchell (The lyrics and Jaco’s bass playing – Dreamy…)
  • Cactus Tree – Joni Mitchell (This one’s long been on my adventure playlists…)
  • Lucky One – Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Daylight – Alison Krauss & Union Station
  • Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton
  • A Long Way to Get – Bob Schneider (I love Bob. I love this song.)
  • 40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet) – Bob Schneider (I love Bob. I love this song.)
  • Between the Bars – Madeline Peyroux
  • Dis, Quand Reviendras-Tu? – Martha Wainwright
  • Us – Regina Spektor
  • Alaska – Maggie Rogers
  • Heartbeats– José González
  • Come Away with Me – Norah Jones
  • Gymnopedie – Erik Satie (performed by Emile Pandolfi) (Always reminds me of my friend, Emily…)
  • American Beauty – Thomas Newman (American Beauty Film Score)
  • Song for Bob – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (From the soundtrack The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)
  • Bad Bad News – Leon Bridges
  • If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be) – Leon Bridges
  • Gwan – The Suffers

I Ate the State – Mason County

Greetings!

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.

SeattleEye
Pulling out on the ferry from the Alaskan Way Pier. The start of a beautiful morning!

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.)

ForeignNat
The most delicious drink ever made, The Hanoi Rocks from Foreign National on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Granted, not from Mason County, but I’m going to use my newly acquired Dill Aquavit to give it a whirl.

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…

Cushman1
View from one of the roadside stops along Lake Cushman

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!

Kingston
Checking out the marina while waiting for the Kingston ferry. Sigh…

 

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…

I Ate the State – Jefferson County

Greetings!

In my recent travels for I Ate the State, I took a visit to Jefferson County in NW Washington. Home to beautiful Pacific Ocean coastlines, towering mountain peaks and a UNESCO designated rain-forest, Jefferson County is not only one of the most stunning areas in the state, it is a defining jewel in the North American crown. (I’ll also add it is one of my favorite places in the world…) It is incredibly diverse in its offerings and well worth the exploration.

As I am currently based in North Seattle, I took the Edmonds/Kingston ferry and made my way up Highway 104, across the Hood Canal Bridge. (For more info on local ferry travel, check out my previous entry for Kitsap County.) I was ultimately headed towards the largest town in Jefferson County, Port Townsend, but planned on taking several detours along the way. Jefferson County boasts many tucked-away inlets, tiny hamlets and areas of rolling farmland and I wanted to explore as much as possible. That said, not too long after crossing the bridge, I headed up Highway 19 towards Port Ludlow and Marrowstone Island.

I’d never actually visited this area of the state before and I’m glad I finally did! Not only was it a beautiful, crisp sunny day, but it had recently snowed and there was still a bit on the ground – including the shorelines. Absolutely breathtaking! It is also a much lesser-traveled part of the state, so I felt very much at my leisure to casually peruse the surroundings as I drove through. My first detour from said perusal was to check out the Port Ludlow Resort and Marina area.  (Take a right off of Highway 19 onto Oak Bay Road.  OR – take the first right after crossing the Hood Canal Bridge onto Paradise Bay Road.)

Port Ludlow
Port Ludlow Resort
Port Ludlow Marina
Lovely Port Ludlow Marina

While driving down towards the resort area, I noticed many homes tucked away by the water and mused at how lovely it would be to have a home near the water. Sigh… Especially in such a nice little inlet like Port Ludlow. The 37-room inn/resort is perched on a small spit of land next to the marina and features a nice restaurant (The Fireside), spa services and adjoining golf course. It would be the perfect base for exploring the surrounding areas as well as a great place to spend a relaxing weekend.

A little further up the very scenic Oak Bay Road, I took a right onto Highway 19 to head further north towards Marrowstone Island and Fort Flagler State Park. Along the way, I noted a sign for wine tasting at the Marrowstone Vineyards and took a quick turn in that direction. Just a short way up a very quaint road, I came upon the vineyard proper. Adding to the beauty of the sunny winter settings, the main building sits aside a lovely vineyard, sprawling its way down towards the water. There’s a charming deck and outdoor fire pit as you head towards the winery entrance which I’m told plays host to many events in the summer, both public and private. (Weddings, concerts, etc.) Inside, you can view areas of the winemaking process as well as enjoy a tasting in their cozy tasting room. The staff is incredibly friendly and well-versed in their wines and gave me a very detailed and tasty walk through a few of their offerings. Additionally, unbeknownst to me, I happened to be there on the Olympic Peninsula Red Wine, Cider and Chocolate tour and was also treated to various chocolate pairings. Score! I would’ve loved to have walked away with a case that day, but was conservative and took home a bottle of their delicious Island Blend. No matter, I’ll be returning soon to further exploit their catalog.

Before I continued on my journey, I took a trip upstairs to visit their gallery. It’s a beautiful, wood-planked loft featuring local artists and craftspeople and had the most peaceful feeling about it. I would absolutely love to have an event in that room, drinking wine and chatting with guests as we look out over the water.  Something about that gallery was just magical. I will definitely be back soon and hope to check out some of their summer events.

Back on Highway 19, I continued further up the island towards Fort Flagler State Park. It was a very pretty trek and I even stopped along the way to allow a few deer to saunter across the road. (On a general note, there are a lot of deer in Jefferson County. Be aware as you’re driving along the winding roads as they often meander about.) The sun was beautiful as it streamed onto the tree-lined road and quite awe-inspiring as the road opened up onto the Fort Flagler grounds and the coastal tip of the county.

Similar to nearby Forts Worden and Casey, Flagler was constructed in the early 1900s to help protect the coastlines and was in use until the 1950s. Today it is a state park and the old barracks, officer’s quarters and surrounding buildings are open to the public. You can rent them as vacation homes or for event/retreat sites or pitch a tent or trailer in the campgrounds. There are also many beautiful trails and coastline areas to explore, complete with remaining defense bunkers and battlements. I love walking around the old bunkers and exploring inside, but it’s important to bring a good flashlight or headlamp. Some of them are quite dark inside and there are many narrow, twisting corridors. Spooky!

In a continuing vein, the next stop on my journey was Fort Worden, just past nearby Port Townsend. The Fort Worden area is quite large and is still largely in use today. (Albeit not militarily – the area was decommissioned in the 60s and opened in the 70s as a state park with lodging, museums and a large arts community.) Like Flagler, you can rent vacation homes, host events and participate in the ongoing events offered by local Worden residents such as the Centrum Foundation and Copper Canyon Press. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to participate in the week-long Centrum Jazz Workshop and have been a huge fan of the area ever since. Bring a camper or tent and set up in the beach campground to explore the expansive coastline and 100 year old bunkers. (Bring flashlights!) Even better, be sure to head for the large trail network found atop the bluffs overlooking the beach. It’s completely amazing – and chilling – to be hiking through old growth forest and suddenly come upon a perfectly disguised defense bunker overlooking the water.

Since I fully intended on hiking through some of the bunkers and had again forgotten to purchase a new WA State Parks Discover Pass, I headed to the Coast Artillery Museum to buy a new one.  (Very convenient!) And since I love museums and hadn’t visited this one yet, I did a quick tour through the military history of the area. The museum name is slightly misleading as it features much more than artillery and shares quite a bit about life in the fort throughout its military history. Definitely worth checking out and well worth the $4 admission fee.

After I became versed in the history of the fort, it was time to head down to the beach and check out the bunkers and do a little beach hiking. It was starting to get cloudy and rain seemed imminent, so mucking around in the bunkers seemed like a good idea. As many times as I’ve visited Fort Worden and hiked around the area, I still seem to find a new perspective and discover new (to me) areas tucked away along the shore. This day was no exception and I stumbled upon a few bunker areas I hadn’t previously explored. And with the greyness rolling in, the relatively deserted beach and the still in the air, it reminded me of the look of the movie, The Road.  (Part of which was filmed in WA state near Mount St. Helens.) Eeesh. 

In need of a feel-good pick-me-up, I abandoned the bunker scene and headed back to the main grounds in search of Fort Worden restaurant, Taps at the Guardhouse. However, since this is a former military installation, I shouldn’t have been surprised to go from bunker to brig. Set inside the former guardhouse and jail, the restaurant hosts a nice bar and dining area where you can actually eat in jail! Granted, you can enjoy a nice ploughman’s plate and a glass of Domaine Vetriccie IGP Ile de Beauté White 2015 while you do it, but it certainly makes for an entertainingly foreboding dining experience. Since I successfully made bail/paid my tab, I’m looking forward to further exploring their food and drink offerings on my next visit.

For more information on artistic partnerships Fort Worden hosts, visit HERE. It truly is an amazing area and a great asset to the artistic communities of the Pacific NW.

Since Fort Worden is located just past Port Townsend, I headed back towards town to investigate the area. Port Townsend, founded in 1851, is the only incorporated city in Jefferson County as well as being its county seat. It is filled with a beautiful array of Victorian architecture and style and is a must visit for any fan of the era. (It is one of only three Victorian Seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.) The Arts community thrives in the area, there is a bevy of shops, antiquing opportunities, restaurants, galleries, wine, cider and beer tasting – the list goes on. It also has a ferry terminal which connects to Whidbey Island, making travel around the Sound more convenient. I always find something lovely in Port Townsend and this visit was no exception.  Here are a few of my top picks for the downtown area:

  • Waterfront Pizza
    • When I told my friend, Joe what town I was going to visit, he INSISTED I check out Waterfront Pizza. He also said, and I quote, “God rolls the dough and makes the sauce…” Well, with such heavenly reviews, I had no choice but to check it out. Turns out Joe was right! Their pizza is AMAZING! And as anyone who knows me will confirm, I’m not actually a big pizza fan. For the record, this place pretty much turned me around and put me back on the pizza-loving track. The sauce and dough were indeed god-like, the toppings tasty and plentiful and the place was packed the entire time I was there – in the middle of the day. NOTE: There is a very small walk-in section of the restaurant with an entrance off the street. Go there if you want slices or something to go. Head up the staircase to the right of that entrance if you want to sit down and order a whole pie and drink a glass of wine. I almost missed the experience as I didn’t initially notice the staircase to the upstairs section – and the street-entrance portion of the restaurant was continually standing room only.
  • Bubble n Squeak
    • This is one of new favorite stores! Quirky and eclectic selections of British antiques as well as current goods and sundries. There were sooooo many things I would’ve loved to have taken home, but I settled for some toffees and Turkish Delight. I’ll be back – possibly to purchase the amazing antique whisky dispenser they had. ($500! Eeek!) (But I want it…)
  • Mad Hatter & Co
    • Great hat store with ‘lots of options. Scarves, too! They even had some terribly (in a good way) British top hats and tweed golf caps which made me want to sprint to the nearest polo match or putting green. (And I play neither sport. Details.)
  • About Time
    • Super cool clothing and shoe store that happens to carry a brand of Israeli-made Jafa brand boots I absolutely covet. I will be back.
  • Wandering Angus
    • Quaint shop covering all things Irish, English and Scottish. Perfect shop to visit around St. Patrick’s Day.
  • What’s Cookin’
    • Local kitchen supply store, jam-packed with wonderful books, gadgets, cookware, tea and coffee making supplies, knives, bar supplies, etc. I only allowed myself a brief visit as I would’ve walked out with a giant box of goods otherwise. As it was, I made it out with only a respectably sized shopping bag. Respectable, I say!
  • Rose Theatre
    • An absolute gem of a classic movie house showing current-run films on their main screen with the addition of current-run and classic films in their upstairs 21+ Starlight Room. (Serving food and cocktails from the Silverwater Café)
  • Port Townsend Antique Mall
    • Antiques galore! They were just closing as I drove up for this visit, but I’ll hit them up next time. I could browse through that place for hours!
  • Vintage Hardware & Lighting
    • Ditto with this place! A very cool mix of items and if you happen to be looking for old lighting fixtures…
  • Port Townsend Vineyards
    • Lovely vineyard and winery just outside of Port Townsend. I much enjoy their Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • Downtown Tasting Room
      • Just next door to the Rose Theatre. Small plates and a cozy setting make for a nice wine tasting outing.
    • Port Townsend Brewing Co
      • They have a great selection of ales and it’s a cool place to hang out and have a beer. They do close somewhat early, but they’re open ‘till 9pm on Fridays. (7pm all other days) I’m particularly happy they make an ale called Red Barchetta Red Ale. It’s made with a “power trio of hops!”  Insert major air-drum solo <HERE>
    • And scores of other great shops, bookstores, restaurants, etc.!

 Looking for a place to stay in Port Townsend?

Check out one of Port Townsend’s lovely Victorian era hotels located in the old town area:

And for lodging closer to the beach:

FW_Beach
Camp near the beaches at Fort Worden
FW_Deer
Commune with local wildlife while staying at Fort Worden

Festivals and Events to Check Out in Port Townsend: 

Throughout the year, Port Townsend features many cool festivals, concerts and art shows.  A few worthy of note:

  • Port Townsend Jazz Festival (July)
    • The whole town as well as Fort Worden takes a week to celebrate America’s original art form, Jazz. Local, national and international artists participate – it’s a great time to visit the area!
  • Strange Brewfest (January)
    • Enjoy beer? Enjoy weird beers and exotic beer concoctions? This is the event for you! Sample eclectic brews from around the NW while enjoying unique entertainment – You can’t go wrong! And while it’s a little chilly, it’s fun to get a bunch of people together to camp over at Fort Worden. All you need is a solid tent, a good coat and a toasty campfire. And more beer.
  • Steampunk Hootenanny (June)
    • I haven’t actually been to this one, but I’m intrigued! I definitely plan on checking this one out as they advertise the following very titillating features:
      • A “Den of Iniquity!” (Who doesn’t love some good ol’ fashion iniquity??)
      • An absinthe bar! (Yes, please.)

Next stop on my Jefferson County tour brought me to the Chimacum area. It’s not far from Port Townsend and features some of the most idyllic landscapes and farmland in the state. Over the course of my two days around the area, I was lucky enough to see it both blanketed in snow and alive with green hills and sunshine. There are so many stops to make throughout the area and it would be very easy to spend a quiet weekend just exploring this small area of the county.

In the summer, there are numerous farm stands to visit and a few great farmers markets. The Chimacum Corner Farmstand is a particularly cool one. As it operates officially between June and October, it wasn’t open, but it’s a great place to stop by during the summer and early harvest months. There is also a great fall Chimacum farm tour and even a cider tour you can take in and around the area.

On the topic of cider, I took a visit to one of the coolest places ever, Finnriver Farm & Cidery. This is one of my very favorite stops in the area! The cider is delicious, the staff is knowledgeable and friendly, they have great food onsite (local bratwurst, wood-fired pizza and crepes!), regular live music and great tasting events. It’s an impressive, fully-working farm, but has a great cozy, intimate feel throughout their tasting room, gift shop and public grounds. I’m also now a member of their cider club, so I’ll be going back a few times a year to pick up featured ciders and goods. What a burden!

I also had the pleasure of picking up a bag of peanut brittle from Sugar Hill Old Fashion Confections while browsing the Finnriver gift shop. This is a local favorite which has very recently opened a shop in the Chimacum area. Great family-run candy company using great local ingredients. (Including recently visited CB Nuts!) I will admit to being a bit of a peanut brittle snob as my grandmother made an AMAZING version. That said – and please don’t be mad at me, Grandma – the Sugar Hill recipe is simply outstanding and some of the best I’ve ever had.

Rounding out my Jefferson County adventure is one of the most stunning areas in the country, the Olympic National Park and the drive along the Pacific Ocean on Highway 101. For this visit, I came up Highway 104 and connected to Highway 101 around the Discovery Bay area. As there is no direct route through the park to get to the ocean, you’ll need to drive around the park boundaries and up through neighboring Clallam County before dropping back into Jefferson. (Or alternately, up through Olympia, and Aberdeen and up the coast from the South.) Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest are enormous areas and comprise not only a huge chunk of Jefferson County, but reach into surrounding counties, Grays Harbor and Mason as well.

One of my favorite areas to visit in the park is the Hoh Rainforest and the Hall of Mosses trail. To say it’s like walking into a fantasy-land is a complete understatement. It’s right out of a Tolkien adventure with lush moss dripping off towering trees, hidden ponds and streams, moss covered rocks and stumps and an easily managed rambling trail. The hiking and backpacking opportunities are near limitless in the park, but if you’re down a quick shot of majesty, this is a great pick. And don’t forget to pack your rain gear – it is one of the most rain-drenched areas in the United States. There are certainly beautiful, sunny days to be enjoyed during the summer, but the area receives between 100-170 inches of rain a year and is always somewhat damp. Be prepared for weather conditions to change on a dime and always pack extra supplies when hiking in any wilderness area. (The 10 Essentials)

Back out on Highway 101, heading south, I made a stop at the very beautiful Ruby Beach. A fairly easy hike down from the (sometimes crowded) parking area leads to long stretches of sandy beach, amazing driftwood displays and gorgeous haystack rock formations along the shoreline.  Bring a picnic, sit on the beach and just take some time to relax and watch the ocean – and some of the most exquisite sunsets you’ll ever see.

Just a little further south on Highway 101, you’ll come to another must-see stop in the area, Kalaloch Lodge and beach area. There are a few nice campgrounds in the area as well as a beautiful, classic lodge and surrounding cabins, but definitely plan in advance as everything books up quickly – especially in the summer months.  That said, I love to come to the area in the winter months when tourism is a little quieter. Granted, there are quite a few rainy, gusty days, but the storm-watching opportunities are amazing and there’s nothing like trying to walk against the winds down on Kalaloch beach. Good luck! It’s also especially cozy if you’re lucky enough to score one of the cabins perched on the bluff overlooking the beach. Put a few logs in the fireplace, fix yourself a hot toddy and stare out into the blustery seas. Another nice option is to head over from your campsite or cabin to the main lodge and grab a nice meal in the The Creekside dining room.  Adjacent to the lodge is the Kalaloch Mercantile, which is a great place to grab extra supplies, a good cup of coffee or some soft-serve ice cream.

After visiting Kalaloch, it was time to return home. Rather than going back towards the Kingston ferry, I headed south down Highway 101, up through Aberdeen, into Olympia and onto I-5 North. A lovely roundtrip tour and a few hours later, I arrived back in Seattle. My adventure was certainly action-packed, but I still only got to see a portion of what I’d planned. I fully plan on returning to Jefferson County again and again and I’m quite positive there will always be something new to check out and a gorgeous vista to behold.

I hope you enjoyed the ride and are inspired to check out all Jefferson County has to offer. It truly is one of my favorite parts of the state.

Until next time!

My Jefferson County Playlist 

I was going for an Americana sort of feel to accompany the rolling farmland and quiet, winding roads.

  • Last of My Kind Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Formerly of The Drive-by Truckers – Jason Isbell is one of my favorites)
  • If We Were Vampires Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
  • Something to Love Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
  • FlagshipJason Isbell (solo)
  • Look At Miss OhioGillian Welch (Also happened to be playing in the Finnriver tasting room!)
  • Wayside/Back in Time Gillian Welch
  • One Little Song Gillian Welch
  • Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams (w/Emmylou Harris)
  • To Be Without You – Ryan Adams
  • All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
  • To Be Completely Honest – Dawes
  • Beyond This Moment – Patrick O’Hearn (Lovely w/the snowy shorelines and pastures)
  • Northwest Passage – Patrick O’Hearn
  • My Shot – Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording (I’d recently gotten to see Hamilton and was binging on the soundtrack. Come on – Thomas Jefferson was a big part of it. Seemed appropriate enough.)

I Ate the State – Kitsap County

Greetings!

For this installment of I Ate the State, I’ll be featuring the coastal areas of Kitsap County and Kitsap Peninsula.  Home to beautiful shorelines, towering forestland and ridiculously quaint towns and attractions, Kitsap County is definitely worth the trip.

There are few ways to get to the Kitsap Peninsula and all involve some impressive views of the Puget Sound and inland waterways. While I’d love to have my own boat and cruise into the various harbors and marinas at my own leisure, it will probably be a few more years before that’s an option. (I am getting a boat. #Goals.) In the meantime, I’m content to either travel from the Tacoma area over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and WA-16/WA-3 or via the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry route. Another popular option is to take the Seattle/Bremerton Ferry from the Seattle Waterfront ferry terminal.

A note about the Washington State Ferry system:  It’s the largest ferry system in the country and third largest in the world! (I also mention this in an earlier I Ate the State – Clallum County post.  After traveling through Kitsap County’s neighbor, Jefferson County, Clallum County is next and is the westernmost county and point in the United States.) I love taking the ferry anytime I can. You can head to Vancouver Island, B.C. and Victoria, B.C., Bremerton and Bainbridge Island (also in Kitsap County), Whidbey Island, the San Juan Islands, etc. The routes are extensive and beautiful.  When I was a kid, my family would take mini-breaks over in the Seattle area and we’d always take a round-trip ferry trip to Bremerton and back – just to ride the boat. I have so many fond memories of riding the Washington State Ferries.

For this jaunt, I chose to take the Edmonds/Kingston ferry route both to and from Kitsap County.  As I’d formulated my travel plans very last minute, I didn’t really take into account the ferry schedule. Suffice it to say, I got ready very quickly that morning and made a mad dash out the door. I’m happy and impressed to report I was the second-to-last car to make it on the ferry both departing and returning. It prompted an earworm courtesy of The Beatles to play through my brain for a good portion of the day.

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.

Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat…

Excerpt from A Day in the Life – by The Beatles

Regarding music, it is my opinion that a good road trip must always be accompanied by a good soundtrack. The music helps set the mood of the journey – and the journey can help set the mood of the music. I can’t imagine traveling anywhere without music playing a part. It helps me slip into the surroundings and add my own little stories to the scenery as it passes. It sparks my imagination and inspires me to push a little further to see what’s up around the next bend. There are so many songs indelibly etched in my memory, reminding me of specific road trips and amazing adventures through the years. I’ve always been grateful for the easy recall of those adventures at just the mention of a song or from hearing a few notes in passing.

That said, there’s also something to be said for a quiet journey down a lonely back road.  I do absolutely understand the allure. And sometimes, maybe you never want music while traveling. For instance, my grandfather was a musician and actually took the stereos out of his vehicles because he used driving as a break from the music. He heard and played music all day, every day – very understandable he might want to take a break. But I digress…

After just making it onto the ferry, I felt it necessary to finally get that cup of coffee I’d neglected to grab as I raced out the door.  A quick visit to the ferry galley did the trick and I spent the next 20 minutes staring blissfully out the window onto the grey waters and rainy morning shorelines. No whale sightings this time, but they’re definitely something to watch out for during ferry crossings in and around the Puget Sound.

Back on land in Kingston, I headed towards Port Gamble. (Head west on Hwy 104 NE) The town of Kingston is a nice little harbor town and there are definitely some good spots to stop and get a meal or snack (or beer) as you’re waiting to get back on the ferry. The lines can definitely get long – be sure to check the ferry schedule and plan accordingly. Or just wing it… It’s all good. Even though I was just passing through Kingston this trip, there are a couple of spots I’d like to check out in the future. The Grub Hut and Downpour Brewing are two places I was particularly intrigued by. Next time!

Port Gamble is a fairly short drive from Kingston, so it was only a few songs into my road trip soundtrack before I arrived in town. (Check out the album Red Bird, by Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and Peter Mulvey – 2005. ‘Lots of moody, seafaring Americana for a rainy-day, coastal jaunt.) As it was a relatively gloomy day in January and mostly out of the typical range of tourism, there were plenty of parking spots right in the main street area. (Okay, there’s really only one main street in Port Gamble, other than the highway; which does actually slow down to 25 mph through the town…) Rockstar parking all around! (It does get pretty crowded in the summer months, but there are a few parking lots in and around the general area to accommodate visitors.)

GenStore
The Port Gamble General Store

Since I’d only had a cup of coffee for sustenance, I was indeed a little peckish. However, as I wasn’t quite yet to the hangry stage, I thought I should at least do a little sightseeing before I settled down for lunch. As I was parked just in front of the rather enchanting, Port Gamble General Store, I decided to start there. I’m glad I did. It provides an excellent peek into the past of Port Gamble and the vibrant milling community it supported as well as its modern day incarnation. (Founded in 1853 by William Talbot and Andrew Pope, the Puget Mill Company was the longest continually operating mill in the United States up until its closure in 1995. The town has been a national historic landmark since 1966.)

Inside, the General Store was chock full of interesting gift items, sundries, novelties, home goods, etc. and in the back was a very  quaint sandwich and coffee shop. They also have a fairly nice selection of beer, wine and sodas should you feel like packing up an impromptu picnic to enjoy while looking out over the water. (There are various picnic tables and nice vistas just past the General Store.) In the upstairs area, there was a very unexpected and excellent “Sea and Shore” museum. Not only were there a wide variety of seashells and sea creatures from the Pacific NW, there were examples of all sorts of sea life from around the world. It was definitely worth a small donation into the donation box atop the stairs as you walk in. It also provided a great view down onto the main floor of the shop. I love older buildings that have a walkway all around the upper floor which looks down onto the ground floor. You don’t see as much of that design in modern buildings and homes… What I loved even more was seeing the pictures of the same building earlier in the last century and how much of the store layout remained similar. And on that note…

GenStoreCafe
Nice little sandwich and coffee shop at the back of the General Store

The Port Gamble Historic Museum is downstairs and around the back of the General Store. It is absolutely worth the four dollar admission fee. Even more so if the lovely Pat is working at the front desk. She gave me a very knowledgeable, personal breakdown of the area’s history and was completely charming and helpful. The displays were very well put together, informative and gave a great glimpse into life in the earlier days of Washington State, highlighting both settlers to the area and the local Native American tribes. There were full-size dioramas of shop, home and ship interiors along with a well-preserved array of period pieces and photographs; including a great photo of the General Store in the early 1900s.

As I am a bit of a museum nerd, I try to visit every museum, big or small, in all the towns I explore; especially towards the beginning of my visit. I love getting the back story and learning about the (possible) seedy underbelly of a town’s upbringing. And since I often do my adventuring solo, it serves to give me a sense of belonging and family to the area I’m exploring – as if maybe I’m not such an outsider after all. Visiting the Port Gamble Historic Museum indeed gave me a good understanding of the area and a nice sense of belonging. (Thanks, Pat!)

After immersing myself in the town’s history, I visited a few more shops on my way to find something tasty for lunch.  Along my path, I visited the intriguing Mrs. Muir’s Tea House where they have a great selection of British goods, including a room dedicated to Harry Potter novelties and a very nice tea menu. (Formerly known as Mrs. Muir’s House of Ghosts and Magic, purported to be haunted and host to séances and tarot readings. Spooky!) I picked up a bottle of one of favorite beverages, Irn-Bru and a nice packet of Licorice Allsorts for the ride home. And I may have snapped a picture of the dreamy Outlander, Jamie Fraser cutout they had in the main room. Don’t judge.

Next up, it was high time for lunch. Across the street/highway from the main part of town sits the old gas station and repair shop. These days they offer a different type of fuel, as provided by Butcher & Baker Provisions. Stepping inside, there’s an open-air feeling complete with long, communal style tables and tidy displays of local area specialty foods and beverages. The entire back area of the restaurant boasts a long counter and display cases where you can peruse the delicious house-cured meats and decadent dessert selections. The menu had many interesting offerings, including Bibimbap and a Roasted Cauliflower Agnolotti, but since they are a butcher shop which cures their own meats, I decided to give the charcuterie board a try. And a nice glass of wine to go with it… Several very tasty meat selections later along with perfectly grilled bread and a nice side of olives and pickled veggies, I felt any hangry feelings float merrily off into the distance. Since I was really quite full, I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the desserts. I’ll be back…

ButcherBaker
Old Port Gamble Automotive Repair – Now Butcher & Baker Provisions
Charcuterie
All the meats!

In order to avoid slipping into a blissful food coma, I headed out towards my next destination. Where that was exactly, I hadn’t actually planned, but since there was a rare break in the clouds, I figured it was a good sign something cool was around the corner.  Sure enough, I literally turned the corner and there was a sign for the Hood Canal Brewery.  Why not?? I’d heard good things about it, so I followed the sign and drove off in that direction.  Did I make it? Did I enjoy some beerly delights? NO. I somehow got turned around and ended up in… Poulsbo! And that’s quite alright as I’d visited there recently and had planned on stopping by again soon. No better time like the present, I guess! (But I will be back over to visit that brewery soon! And will pay closer attention to the road signs…)

Velkommen til Poulsbo! (Sign greeting guests as they enter Poulsbo, AKA “Little Norway”) I guess I didn’t think of visiting Poulsbo from this direction as I’ve only approached from the Tacoma area, but there I was heading into downtown Poulsbo, driving past a giant Viking statue known as ‘The Norseman.’ Even though it had started to rain again, I couldn’t help but be cheerful about my surroundings. In any weather, Poulsbo is warm and welcoming with a wealth of shops and restaurants to enjoy. The old town area of Poulsbo has quite a Scandinavian flair and is great to visit any time of the year, but becomes especially festive during the winter holidays. (And during the yearly Viking Festival) During my recent visits, I’ve gotten the chance to visit several great spots.  A few of my favorites:

Valhöll Brewing – Very cool little brewery and tasting room on the hill overlooking Front Street. They have a good variety of brews, the staff is cool and it’s a great place to take a quick break from the bustle of Front Street. And beer is always a good idea.

Valholl
Tasty brews for all!

Sluys’ Bakery – There’s been a bakery in this building since the early 1900s. The Sluys’ took over in 1966 and it’s been in the family ever since. They are the original creators of the famous, ‘Poulsbo Bread.’ I love that bread, but even more I love their amazing Viking Cups. They were OUT of them on this particular visit (the horror!), but I was able to pick up a few other tasty treats in their place. This place gets insanely busy, so be prepared to wait. It’s worth it.

VikingCups
Insanely delicious Viking Cups from Sluys’ Bakery

Marina Market – One of the coolest, quirkiest little markets I’ve ever visited with a totally unassuming storefront. The first time I noticed it, I genuinely thought it was a marine market – as in it catered to boating needs. I’m very glad I investigated further as I was pretty impressed to see the sheer amount of international foods, beverages, gifts, etc. packed into such a small place. (With an obvious focus on Scandinavian items) And the freakish amount and variety of black licorice they carried was amazing! (Black licorice beats red licorice ANY day. True story.) They also have a great website, so if you can’t make it to the store, order online!

MarinaMkt
Has an amazing selection of licorice, but does *not* sell boating items.

Truelux Candles – I love candles, but I never thought I’d add a candle store to my list of destination locations. This place is great! They of course have a lovely selection of the Truelux lotion candles (dreamy!), but they also feature many unique home décor items and more. In addition, they have a baby grand piano in the front and regularly feature music and the first time I visited the shop, they had a champagne bucket on the front counter, chillin’ some tall boy PBRs. Hilarious! (And much appreciated) The shop owners and their very sweet dog are also very cool.

Slippery Pig Brewery – Tasty pub and brewery down by the marina. They regularly feature live music, have a decent arcade and game room and a very friendly staff. They’re also family friendly. All I know is I want to try their ‘Loaded Bloody Mary’ the next time I visit. And someone else needs to drive…

Tizley’s Euro Pub – Cool restaurant located upstairs and next door to Sluys’ Bakery. They have a pretty interesting Scandinavian and Bavarian menu and I can guarantee you they pound out their own schnitzel. How and why do I know this? On my last visit, I was sitting in the bar with my family, which was in good range of the kitchen. The food was good and the beer selection was on point, but the entire time we were there, the chef was in the kitchen pounding away on the day’s schnitzel offerings. Pounding, pounding, pounding! It was a bit distracting, but I suppose it’s good to know the schnitzel was definitely house-made. Maybe visit later in the day when the schnitzel prep is finished… (Bonus tip: If you go out the back entrance, take the little walkway out to the road behind the building. BAM! You’re at Valhöll Brewing and you don’t have to walk all the way around. You’re welcome.)

Sluys
Tizley’s Euro Pub and Sluys’ Bakery

Boehm’s Chocolates – I usually visit the original Boehm’s Chocolates in Issaquah, but I was happy to find a shop in Poulsbo as well. My family has been visiting Boehm’s as long as I can remember and it was always a special treat to stop on the way home from one of our ‘Seattle weekends’ while growing up. Their sea-salt caramels are absolutely deeeee-licious.

Boehms

MORA Ice Cream – Uhhh, if you are at all a fan of ice cream, VISIT MORA.  Amazing flavors with unique ingredients and delicious combinations. GO THERE NOW! (Oh wow. I just noticed on their website they’ll ship right to your doorstep. DANGER!)

Poulsbo Maritime and Poulsbo Heritage Museums – Two very nice museums featuring the local maritime and heritage histories of the area. Friendly staff, interesting displays and a good overview of the area in general. Definitely worth investigating.

While I could’ve spent much longer in Poulsbo, there were still some areas I wanted to check out before heading back to the ferry. So, with some delicious Sluys’ baked goods and Boehm’s chocolates in tow, I drove back towards Kingston. There was one more area I wanted to check out…

On the ferry ride over, I’d grabbed a few travel brochures from the local tourism cubbies. I always feel like a dork grabbing tourism brochures from my own state, but do I usually learn something new every time, so what the heck! Today was no exception as I learned of a cool lighthouse out on a little tip of the peninsula called, Point No Point Light House. It’s located in a little town called Hansville and was established in 1879. Hansville isn’t very far from Kingston and is a nice drive through farmlands, forest and finally out to the Puget Sound. I was thwarted from my path, however, by large areas of water over the light house access road and had to turn around. There was no one around and I didn’t think cruising the Sportage into waters unknown by myself was a great idea.  I guess I’ll have to visit the light house another day. Glass half full (and road), I did get to see a house made out of the front half of an old ferry along the road to the light house. Very cool!

Since my light house dreams had been crushed, I decided to head in the opposite direction down Twin Spits Road to see if I could maybe find a beach to watch the sunset. (Sidebar – I’m very curious how Twin Spits got its name…) After driving by many enchanting beach front homes and side roads leading off towards what I’m sure were equally enchanting beach cabins and cottages, I came to the end of the road. It was a private cul-de-sac, but there were a few public parking spots along the sides. (With a sign noting to be courteous of local homes and residents) I took the small path leading out onto a beach next to a private pier and got there just in time to see the beginnings of a pretty sunset. I walked around the beach for a few minutes taking it all in and enjoyed the fresh breeze off the water. Ahhh…

TwinSpits
Lovely start to the sunset on a beach at the end of Twin Spits Road

As it was getting dark and I still had a few things to take care of at home, I decided to head back towards Kingston – And with any luck, make the 5:30pm ferry. After a quick visit to the delicious CB’s Nuts shop on the way back (Soooo good!), fast-forward to 5:29pm and I was the second-to-last car to make it on the ferry back to Seattle. Victory!  Back on the ferry, enjoying a piece of Boehm’s sea-salt caramel, I looked out towards the advancing lights of Seattle and thought about all the Kitsap County goodness I’d packed into a few hours. (Full disclosure: In the spirit of packing a lot into a little bit of time, maybe I had two caramels… or three…) I’m already looking forward to my next visit to the Kitsap County area.

CBsNuts
The sign says it all…

 

Join me next time when I visit… Jefferson County. Hopefully I’ll get to see some good winter beach storms!

Cheers!

A quick Playlist from my Kitsap County journey:

  • A Day in the Life – The Beatles
  • Ships – Redbird
  • Buckets of Rain – Redbird
  • The Whole World Round – Redbird
  • Moonshiner – Redbird
  • Lullaby 101 – Redbird
  • Lighthouse Light – Redbird
  • Hold On – Redbird
  • A Day in the Life – The Beatles

Other great places to visit in Kitsap County:

Bainbridge Island

Blake Island and Tillicum Village

Port Orchard