I Ate the State – Pacific County

Welcome back! It’s been far too long… I know we’re not running at full-capacity yet, in so many ways, but it feels like things are starting to look up again. Similar to spring flowers seeking the sun, I feel us starting to stretch our limbs, looking hopefully to the parting clouds. And to perhaps begin thinking about adventuring beyond our neighborhoods again…

It’s been an incredibly challenging time for the world – and it’s not over. There has been much loss, heartbreak and discord, but there has also been hope – and it’s growing. Neighbors have reached out to each other. Local businesses have done their best, against great hardship, to continue to serve their communities. The medical community, scientists, teachers, grocery store workers, restaurant staff, postal workers… SO many heroes have worked tirelessly to keep us safe, nourished and healthy. 

I actually visited Pacific County and started writing this article a little over a year ago, just before we all went into hibernation. I have very recently returned to Pacific County and have to say it was amazing. Yes, masks, outdoor dining and social distancing were definitely in rightful play, but to be able to walk along the beach and gaze out at the ocean was so very welcome and rejuvenating.

Aside from masked visits to local shops and take-away from local restaurants, I’ve been pretty sequestered within my two-bedroom apartment for the past year. Granted, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to work from home, but I’m looking forward to a time when a trip to the grocery store isn’t my big social outing. I’m excited to hang out with my friends and family somewhere other than on a Zoom call. I’m dreaming of seeing someone smile at me and being able to smile back, unmasked. I’m looking forward to hugs…

I know many of these cherished activities will be making a comeback, but in the meantime, I plan to continue to mask up, frequently wash my hands and do my best to be respectful and thankful to everyone who is working so hard to bring us back to some point of normalcy. We are all in this together and will persevere only by working together, respecting one another and honoring all of the hard work of our heroes.

COVID-19 Travel Advisory: Please review COVID-19 alerts and regulations ahead of your travels. Refer to CDC guidelines along with local and state guidelines and wear a mask whenever suggested or required.

Me and Sporty Spice, enjoying the sunset on Long Beach

And now, without further ado, onward to beautiful Pacific County!

There are very few beaches on the planet long enough and wide enough to easily accommodate beach-combing, horseback riding and an actual state (sand) highway, but Pacific County in southwestern Washington covers the bill. Add in shorelines brimming with some of the country’s most delicious seafood, lovely coastal wetlands and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and you won’t want to leave. Pacific County is a veritable treasure trove of delicious fare and unique adventure opportunities.

Established as one of the state’s oldest counties in 1851 and integral to Native American life for millennia prior, Pacific County holds a key place in the development of the United States. It was at Cape Disappointment, where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, the Lewis and Clark Expedition finally completed its mission in the fall of 1805. Originally part of the Oregon Territory, Pacific County found itself carved out of nearby Lewis County to officially become part of the Washington Territory. Even though it maintains a relatively small population in present day, the impact and continuing contributions of this tiny county cannot be underestimated in the grand scheme of the present-day United States.

While Pacific County is somewhat tucked away along the southwestern coast of the state, it is still fairly accessible. The route I typically favor takes me south on I-5 to US-101 (Exit 104, in Olympia) and on towards Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County via SR-8 and US-12. Once in Aberdeen, I head further southwest on SR-105 towards Grayland and North Cove. (With stops at Westport Winery and Cranberry Road Winery on the way out of Grays Harbor County. I mean, they’re right there, conveniently along the way…)

In general, I-5 accommodates the main arterials into Pacific County. It’s possible to hook up with US-101 further north near Olympic National Park and enjoy a beautiful drive down the coast. (All the way into the Los Angeles area, in fact!) Additional routes off of I-5 include US-12 (Exit 88 near Tenino), SR-6 (Exit 77 in Chehalis) and SR-4 (Exit 40 in Kelso). Any route you choose will inevitably feature mile after mile of beautiful scenery as you make your way to the coast. You can’t go wrong!

Driving south along SR-105 is an excellent example of the extensive, beautiful scenery, but as every rose has its thorn, the Pacific County coast has its battle with erosion. Portions of SR-105 have had to be relocated further inland over the years, along with many residences, buildings and a lighthouse being lost to the encroaching waters. It is quite appropriate the area has earned the nickname of Washaway Beach. The erosion is particularly visible driving through the North Cove area where the tiny North Cove Pioneer Cemetery had to be moved across the highway in 1977 due to erosion.

Not too far past North Cove on SR-105 is the exit to Tokeland Road and its namesake, the coastal community of Tokeland. Named for Chief Toke, the area maintains its strong connection to the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. A few miles down Tokeland Road, the Shoalwater Bay Casino (Daily, 10am – 12am; 2am Friday/Saturday) greets visitors with food and gaming as well as lodging at the adjacent Tradewinds on the Bay. Directly across the street lie more food options at the North Cove Bar & Grill (Currently Friday – Sunday, noon – 8pm; 7pm on Sunday) along with gas, food and conveniences at Georgetown Gas Station.

One place not to miss in the Tokeland area is the historic Tokeland Hotel and Restaurant. (On the National Register of Historic Places) Built in 1885 and the oldest hotel in the state, they regularly feature events such as Clam Jam, Oysterfest, Tokefest and more. In early May, along with local galleries and businesses, they host the popular Tokeland North Cove Art Studio Tour. Many of the local events were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, but will hopefully return in 2021. (Note: The Tokeland Hotel is reopening 6/1/21. Restaurant currently open for take-out, Friday – Sunday, 4-6pm.)

Situated on Willapa Bay, Tokeland is well-known for its contribution to the country’s seafood supply. Nearby Nelson Crab Inc. was in fact the first cannery on the west coast to can crab beginning in 1934 and continues the practice today. Operating out of a new building at the Port of Willapa Harbor and Tokeland Marina, they also feature a seafood counter, coffee service, ample seating and a fun gift shop featuring local artists and goods. (Daily, 9am – 5pm) If you happen to arrive via boat, public moorage is available as well as a RV park and boat ramp – and you can throw your own crab pots off of the public fishing pier!

Back on SR-105, my next destination was Raymond, the largest town in Pacific County. Along the way, I was drawn in by the beautiful scenery of the Smith Creek State Wildlife Recreation Area. Located across the bay from Tokeland, the area sports beautiful views and sweeping wetlands with great fishing and bird-watching opportunities. I was truly mesmerized by the views looking out over Willapa Bay and very glad I made time to take in the scene. 

While Raymond holds court as Pacific County’s largest town, it maintains a very homey, small-town vibe. Nestled just inland of Willapa Bay on the Willapa River, it enjoys rolling foothills as well as the coastal flavor of nearby waterways. When driving around the Raymond area, keep an eye out for the many steel statues along US-101, SR-6 and strategically placed throughout town. Made to depict local wildlife and Raymond residents, some of them are strikingly life-like; especially as seen around dusk. (I could’ve sworn those deer were real!)

Historically known for its lumber industry, Raymond also has an interesting artistic past. Northwest grunge gods, Nirvana, played their first gig at a Raymond house party in 1987. Additionally, my very favorite holiday tune, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on An Open Fire) was co-written by Raymond-born, award-winning composer, writer and producer, Robert Wells along with prolific musician, Mel Tormé. That’s a pretty eclectic and cool mash-up of musical history!

On your next visit to Raymond, take a little time to explore the continuing artistic legacy of the area as well as the beauty of its surroundings:

  • Learn more about Raymond’s history and the popular mode of transportation of days gone by at the well-curated Northwest Carriage Museum. (Open daily, 10am – 4pm) Don’t miss experiencing Raymond’s history of seafaring transportation at the Willapa Seaport Museum located directly next door. (Closed Sunday/Monday) And top it off with a stop at the Willapa Bay Public Market for unique finds from local artisans. (Friday/Saturday, 10am – 4pm)
  • Included on the National Register of Historic Places, the lovely Raymond Theater (c. 1928) is still entertaining Raymond residents and features local theater as well as live music and movies. Just down the street and also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Tudor-style Raymond Timberland Library (c. 1929) is a charming part of the downtown core and a great place to relax with good book.
  • The Raymond area is filled with beautiful river viewing opportunities and the Willapa Hills Trail is an excellent way to enjoy the scene. (Hook up with the 56-mile trail at Riverfront Park near the Northwest Carriage Museum) If you’re up for a bit of kayaking or paddle-boarding action, hit up local Willapa Paddle Adventures for Willapa River escapades. Or shenanigans. Your call.

After your Raymond adventuring, check out the local foodie scene and refuel for continuing exploration. A few ideas to get you started:

  • Not only can you grab a tasty burger and brew – or an insane bloody Mary – at Pitchwood Inn & Alehouse, they also have cozy rooms should you like to extend your Raymond exploits. (Alehouse open from noon to 9pm, 11pm on Friday/Saturday, 8pm on Sunday. Closed Mondays)
  • Featuring classic diner fare along with specialties like their stuffed sandwiches and fresh Willapa Bay oysters, Slater’s Diner is a great local mainstay. (Monday – Thursday, 11am – 7pm, 8pm Friday/Saturday. Noon to 7pm on Sunday)
  • Poutine, tots, brats, hand-dipped corndogs, beer and mead? What?? I’m in! I didn’t get a chance to stop at Wildman Brewing Company, but I’m making a point to visit on my next trip. (Family friendly. Open Tuesday – Thursday, 4pm – 8pm, 9pm on Friday. 11am – 9pm on Saturday, 7pm on Sunday. Closed Mondays.)
  • Drinking delicious wine often makes me say “WooHoo!” so it only seems appropriate a winery should make it their namesake. Check out WooHoo Winery for delicious wine and be sure to try their seasonal Glühwein. (Open Saturdays Noon – 6pm. They also have a tasting room in Leavenworth open Friday – Sunday)
  • If you’re visiting during a summer weekend, head to Smith Creek Blueberry Farm and stock up on u-pick blueberries. (Mmmm… Now I want blueberry pie…) Another great summer event in late August can be found just east on SR-6 in Menlo. Head to the Pacific County Fairgrounds and enjoy all manner of crazy fair food, goods and specialties from all around Pacific County and more. (Hopefully returning in August 2021)

From Raymond, it’s easy to travel southeast on SR-6 to meet back up with I-5 in the Chehalis area in Lewis County. There are a few tiny towns to drive through along the way, but it won’t take long before you meet up with Western Washington’s main arterial. On this journey, however, I chose to hook up with US-101 to head south towards the nearby town of South Bend.  

Billed as the Oyster Capital of the World and now serving as the county seat, South Bend provides 25% of the nation’s oyster harvest out of adjacent Willapa Bay. Oysterville originally served as the county seat until 1893 when disgruntled South Bend residents navigated steam boats up Willapa Bay and absconded with the county records. The pirated records were then relocated to South Bend where they have remained ever since. The scandal! 

For the scoop on Pacific County’s interesting past, stop in at the Pacific County Heritage Museum, located directly off of US-101 in downtown South Bend. (11am – 4pm, March through September and 12pm to 3pm during the winter months.) For more Pacific County information, pay a visit to the historic Pacific County Courthouse and take in the beautiful art glass dome. (c. 1910 and on the National Register of Historic Places)

Even if you are not a lover of oysters, there are many fine meals to be found in South Bend. The scene is a little quieter during the winter months, but there are always great dining options to explore.

  • Head to the casual River View Dining for a nice view of the Willapa River and great food. They do feature the local hero, the Goose Point oyster, but don’t miss their fish-n-chips and burgers. (11am – 8pm daily, 11:30 on Sunday. Closed Mondays.)
  • Oysters are in the name at the Chester Club & Oyster Bar and they represent them well, but they also have several other great dishes on the menu and regularly feature live music. (Daily, 10am – 2am)
  • Take your German specialties to go or grab a spot in the cozy seating area, but do make a stop at Jayden’s German Store & Deli. Featuring a great selection of European sweets, meats and more, they most importantly carry an impressive selection of goods from Germany. Mmmm… (Open daily, 11am – 5pm, 6pm on Friday/Saturday)
  • Newer to the South Bend foodie scene and offering great brew along with hand-tossed pizza and fresh oysters, the Willapa Brewing Company is an excellent addition to the South Bend scene. Check out the Bone River Oyster Stout – made with fresh oysters! (Open daily, noon – 7pm, 8pm on Friday/Saturday. Closed Tuesdays.)
  • I don’t think they have any drinks made with oysters, but you never know. For great, non-oysterfied coffee and beverages, stop in at Elixir Coffee and enjoy a drink, a great river view and something from their tasty menu. (The turmeric latte was particularly lovely! (Daily, 7am – 6pm) In addition to coffee, they also feature event catering and a nice array of handcrafted goods. After enjoying your coffee, stop in at Riverside Gallery next door and enjoy a bit of local artistry and design. (10:30am – 4:30pm, Thursday – Sunday. Closed Monday – Wednesday.)

While it’s possible to get to South Bend via the Willapa Hills Trail from Raymond, I chose to go with four wheels for this adventure. Granted, one might miss a bit in passing, but when there are delicious oyster spots to try and beautiful coastlines to explore, it seems a fair trade-off. Continuing past South Bend on US-101 will definitely lead you to great bounty on both counts. It is a stunning drive filled with twists, turns and gorgeous sloughs and not to be missed. (It also would be pretty amazing on a motorcycle!)

As you get closer towards the coast, you’ll pass through the Bone River Natural Area Preserve and Niawiakum River Natural Area Preserve. Both are protected for their coastal salt marshes, various species of birds and mammals as well as freshwater streams, wetlands and forested areas. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, consider a kayak trip up the Bone River. The Bone River Launch in the nearby Bay Center peninsula area is a popular place to put in. Definitely a bucket list item for a future adventure…

Also located in the Bay Center area and an excellent place to stop for an oyster pilgrimage is the iconic Goose Point Shellfish Farm & Oystery. (Open Friday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm; 5pm during winter) They offer fresh oysters and shellfish to go as well as oysters to enjoy in their picnic area. Grab a round of oysters and a Bone River Oyster Stout and enjoy the Willapa River scene. (They partnered with Willapa Brewing Company in nearby South Bend on the stout.) If you can’t get enough of the oysters – or that very unique stout – consider pitching a tent at nearby Bush Pioneer County Park and making a weekend of it. (Located on the very tip of the Bay Center peninsula and part of the Chinook Nation, where even more oysters can be found close by at the Ekone Oyster Company. Check out their online shop.)

The next stops on my itinerary were two of my very favorite spots in the state, Long Beach and Cape Disappointment. Along the way, however, were some excellent distractions and beautiful areas to explore. Not only is the drive spectacular all on its own, there are many breathtaking spots along the way to stop and commune with nature. If camping, hiking, fishing or just standing still and taking in the scene are your jam, this is the place to be. Just a few of the wonderful options to enjoy on your next Pacific County outing:

  • Out of the Bay Center area, head south on US-101 through the Nemah and Middle Nemah areas towards the gorgeous Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and Long Island coastal areas. The only way to visit Long Island is via private boat, but the bounty is worth it. Shellfish harvesting, hiking, camping and more await you on the island. Long Island has long been a home and point of resource for native tribes and is still used for cultural and spiritual occasions. Be sure to check out the Cedar Grove Trail which features trees over 900 years old. For hiking off-island, check out the Willapa Art Trail and Cutthroat Climb for relatively easy family hikes on a lovely boardwalk through the refuge. (Located at Milepost 24 on US-101. There is also a boat launch for Long Island in this area, across US-101 from the Milepost 24 refuge entrance.)
  • A great way to immerse oneself in the area is with a visit to the Wings Over Willapa festival in the fall. (September 23-26, 2021) It features tours, workshops and classes covering birding, art and a lecture series about the ecology, management and history of Willapa Bay.

Continuing southwest on US-101 will eventually bring you to a junction with SR-103 in the Seaview area. Congratulations – You’ve made it to the Pacific Ocean! And you didn’t have to travel for thousands of miles via horse, wagon or canoe to do it. Thank you, Lewis and Clark!

At this fork in the road, you can opt to go right and head into the bustling town of Long Beach or take a left and head towards Ilwaco and the epic Cape Disappointment. They’re both must-sea destinations and in easy reach of one another. However, since I was in need of some beach action and maybe a tasty treat, I took a right and headed into Seaview and Long Beach, located along the Long Beach Peninsula. We’ll head back towards Cape Disappointment shortly. No need for disappointment…

Before arriving in Long Beach proper, the lovely Seaview area offers several lodging and dining options for the peninsula visitor. Long Beach can get fairly crowded during the summer months and historic Seaview is nice if you’re looking for a little respite. A few spots to explore on your next adventure:

  • If you’re in need of a tasty, local brew, check out North Jetty Brewing for beer, light snacks and maybe even a bit of Bingo. I’m not a huge sour beer fan, but I truly loved their Yara Peach-Passion-fruit Sour as well as their super-drinkable Beach Beer Blonde Ale. They will even fill to-go cans! (Kid friendly (to 6pm), open daily at noon – Closed Tuesdays)
  • Visit local favorite, The Depot Restaurant for delicious farm and ocean-to-table fare served out of the historic Seaview train depot building. (c. 1900) (Open daily, 4:30 – 8:30pm)
  • A stop at the quaint 42nd Street Café & Bistro will yield a hearty breakfast or lunch and tasty bistro fare during the dinner hour. (8am – 12:30pm, 4:30 – 8pm for dinner. Closed Monday/Tuesday.)
  • For the ultimate in hip getaways, check out the historic Sou’Wester Lodge. Stay in the original lodge (c. 1892) or kick back in the adjacent vintage travel trailer resort, cabins or campsite. In addition to cool lodging, they also host various classes, wellness events, live music and artist residencies. Relax further in their Garden Spa and Finnish sauna and check out the goods in at the store in the vintage trailer. 
  • The historic Shelburne Hotel (c. 1896), along with its onsite restaurant and pub, offer trendy lodging, menus and cocktails in a vintage locale. The best of both worlds. (Pub open daily, Noon – 1pm, Monday – Thursday, 11pm on Friday; 8am – 10pm Saturday, 11pm on Sunday.)
  • For an up close and personal look at the history of Seaview, check out the Seaview Walking Tour and enjoy strolling by charming Seaview homes, lodging and more.

Is it maybe a little scary? Yes. Perhaps a little dangerous? Yes. Is it spectacularly beautiful, absolutely unique and full of cool travel cred? Yes, yes and YES! Welcome to Long Beach and the “World’s Longest Beach.” (Drivable. On a peninsula.) The world’s longest beach is actually Praia do Cassino in Brazil with a few beaches in other countries also being longer. But they’re not taking down the sign, so let’s just all be cool…

The scary and potentially dangerous parts come in the form of driving on the 28-mile beach, which is technically considered a state highway. (25 mph. Keep to the right and don’t drive on the dry sand! Seriously.) Of the 28-miles, there are sections closed to vehicles year-round as well areas closed seasonally to vehicles during razor clam season. Follow the general rules-of-the-road in addition to not driving on sand dunes and paying attention to the tides. Check out the Beach Safety and Rules for more information and tips.

If four-wheels on the beach aren’t for you, there are countless other ways to enjoy the day and Long Beach has quite a bit of beach to enjoy. Just a few of the excellent activities to explore during your next beach getaway:

  • Razor clam digging is very popular on Long Beach. Visit the WDFW site for dates, beaches, regulations and more – And don’t forget to procure a Shellfish & Seaweed License before you start digging. They can be purchased online or at one of many local area stores.
  • Horseback riding on the beach is a top item on my Washington State bucket list and my dream shall be realized soon – I know it! Riders can bring their own horses or hit up the outfits offering beach rides. Check out West Coast Horse Rides and The Long Beach Horse Rides for both guided and unguided rides (for the experienced riders) on the beach and the Red Barn Arena and Peninsula Saddle Club for options when bringing your own horses.
  • For an excellent day at the beach and a good bit of exercise, hit up the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail. The trail goes all the way to Ilwaco and Cape Disappointment State Park (8.5 miles one-way) and offers amazing views along the way. Be sure to visit the Long Beach Boardwalk and don’t miss the wooden whale sculptures near the Sid Snyder beach entrance.
  • It might not be Oahu’s North Shore, but you can still get your surf on in the Long Beach area. Head to Skookum Surf Company for gear, instruction and information on the local hot spots.
  • Long Beach takes kite flying to the next level. Bust out your old school diamond kite or grab the newest in kite technology from one of the many local kite shops. Be sure to visit the World Kite Museum near the beach to take in the majesty of riding the breeze and head to the Washington State International Kite Festival for even more majesty.(August 16-22, 2021)

Important note for any beach outing: Never turn your back on the wily ocean. Sneaker waves are REAL.

There are many great places to eat and stay while visiting the Long Beach area. Whether it’s a beach snack, casual meal or fine dining, Long Beach has you covered. There really is nothing finer than picnicking at the beach on a warm, sunny day. Or grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the boardwalk. (But don’t count out those stormy beach days!)

The next time you’re in Long Beach, keep these excellent establishments in mind:

  • The Adrift Distillers (daily, 11am – 5pm) feature delicious spirits and tastings and the adjacent Adrift Hotel features onsite dining at the very hip Pickled Fish restaurant. (Daily, 8am – 10pm; 11pm, Friday/Saturday) Excellent food, cocktails and beach-side lodging in a trendy locale – Score! Reservations recommended for the Pickled Fish. I highly recommend the burrata salad, Dungeness crab cakes and vanilla Pavlova – as well as their Triticale Whiskey. (The Shelburne Hotel in Seaview, the Boardwalk Cottages and the Inn at Discovery Coast are sister establishments and equally cool.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown Long Beach, the Boreas Bed & Breakfast features a lovely handful of suites and a separate beach house. Each stay comes with a tasty breakfast and access to onsite features like their private hot tub and gardens.
  • For a quiet beach cottage setting, check out the Anchorage Cottages and Klipsan Beach Cottages, both located just north of Long Beach. Who doesn’t love waking up to a cup of coffee in a cozy beach cottage?
  • If you’re looking for great fish-n-chips and chowder in the heart of downtown Long Beach, stop by Castaways Seafood Grille. (Daily, 11:30am – 8pm) It’s also across the street from the amusement park and games – something for the whole family! But maybe hit the rides first… (Note: The Rides are currently closed for the season, but will hopefully return for the summer.)
  • Located directly next door to the crazy and amazing Marsh’s Museum on Pacific Ave South, Captain Bob’s Chowder serves delicious chowders, lobster rolls and more. (Daily, 11am – 5pm, closed Monday/Tuesday. Wow. I could really use some of their chowder right now…)
  • I love donuts. True story. And if I’m looking for a delicious donut fix while in Long Beach, I head directly to the Dylan’s Cottage Bakery & Delicatessen. (Try the cream cheese-stuffed croissants!) They also have a great deli with excellent sandwiches, soups, biscuits & gravy and more. Oh, and did I mention their delicious selection of PIES?? (Open daily, 4am – 5pm, 6pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Serving delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner in a cozy, old-school setting, the Drop Anchor Seafood & Grill is a great place to enjoy a meal after a day at the beach. Grab one of their chowder kits to take home and recreate the magic! (Daily, 11am – 7pm, with breakfast at 8am, Saturday/Sunday)
  • While also featuring great local seafood, the Australian-themed Lost Roo also serves up great burgers, sandwiches and drinks. (Fill up your growlers!) Adding to their festive atmosphere, it’s a great place to visit whenever a game is on. (Daily, 11:30am – 9pm, 10pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Feel like channeling your inner pirate? The family-friendly Hungry Harbor Grille features old-fashioned hamburgers and hot dogs, fish-n-chips, chowder and handmade milkshakes. Check out their Sunday Breakfast Buffet from 9-11am. Pet-friendly seating outside! (Daily, 11am – 7pm, 8pm Friday/Saturday)

It’s no secret that 2020 was a dark year. The Arts, festivals, concerts and many of our treasured activities were all put on hold. As things hopefully start to open up in the coming year, we can begin to enjoy artistic gatherings and celebration again. If you happen to be in the Long Beach area, here are a few options to consider:

  • If you are looking for quirky, crazy history and a treasure trove of wacky souvenirs and antiques, Marsh’s Free Museum is hands-down the place to be. Established in 1921, Marsh’s – and Jake the Alligator Man – have been greeting visitors for generations. I always come out of this place with things I never knew I needed. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm, 6pm Friday/Saturday)
  • Operating June through September, the Columbia-Pacific Farmers Market showcases local produce, seafood, flowers, crafts and much more. (Fridays, 12-5pm)
  • Established in 1945, Cranguyma Farms is an important part of the Long Beach agricultural heritage. They specialize in delicious cranberries, blueberries and holly and feature a u-pick blueberry season from late July to September. They also feature beautiful, custom holly wreaths during the holiday season.
  • If you’re a fun-guy, or just really love mushrooms like I do, the Wild Mushroom Celebration is well worth checking out. Many restaurants in the area feature special menus and several local hotels offer lodging specials. (Usually October thru mid-November – Stay tuned for 2021 dates)
  • Should you be wishing for a live soundtrack for your beach adventure, the Water Music Festival features ongoing musical events. Upcoming is the Music in the Gardens (7/1/21) and the Jazz & Oysters event. (8/15/21) Presented by the Water Music Society, these shows are a lovely way to enjoy the beach life.
  • Keep an eye on the Events page for the Peninsula Arts Association. Much hope they will again be featuring gallery tours and events in 2021.
  • Hopefully returning in 2021, the long-running Long Beach Razor Clam Festival is a great way to celebrate the bounty of the area and enjoy A LOT of clams. YUM!
  • Regardless of your age, The Rides (seasonal) and the Funland Family Fun Center are excellent additions to a night on the town. Souvenirs, ice cream, candy and all manner of treats (taffy, fudge, cotton candy, etc.) can be found in abundance. Who doesn’t love saltwater taffy at the beach?? (Located on Pacific Ave S and open daily, 10am – 10pm) And don’t forget to check out the WORLD’S LARGEST FRYING PAN, located next to The Rides! (Come on. There are certain things one just needs to experience in life. The WORLD’S LARGEST FRYING PAN clearly falls into that category.)

Heading north out of Long Beach on SR 103/Pacific Way will take you towards the lovely, coastal hamlets of Ocean Park, Nahcotta and Oysterville. (Note: The entire town of Oysterville is on the National Register of Historic Places!) These communities were important parts of the Clamshell Railroad which ran for decades through the area in the early 1900s. (While the railroad no longer runs, the Nahcotta train car is open twice a year for visitors in nearby Ilwaco.) These communities remain integral parts of the peninsula and have much to offer.

Just shy of the very tip of the peninsula, you’ll find beautiful Leadbetter Point State Park with its coastal trails, seaside forest, fishing and great clamming and crabbing opportunities. (Discover Pass required. Pro tip: The last part of the road to the main parking area for Leadbetter Point trail and beach access is single-lane and not the greatest for larger vehicles such as RVs.)

While making your way to this gorgeous, peaceful park, there are many excellent places to visit and things to do along the way:

  • Do not miss a visit to Jack’s County Store, located on the corner of SR-103 and Bay Avenue in Ocean Park. Established in 1885 when Washington was still a territory, it’s thought to be the oldest, continuously operating retail business in the state. It is full of great deals, an amazing array of goods and quirky awesomeness. (Not to mention, fresh grocery items and take-away!) Open daily, 7am – 8pm.
  • Located just off of SR-103, in the Ocean Park area, the Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post features a great variety of antiques and collectibles. This place is huge and could easily fill an afternoon. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm, closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • Check out Pacific Pines State Park day-park for great clamming, crabbing and picnicking opportunities along the coast. (Discover Pass required)
  • If you’re hoping to catch some Dungeness crab, head to the Port of Peninsula marina in Nahcotta. (Check the WDFW site before going for regulations, dates, etc. – And you’ll need a Shellfish & Seaweed License.) They also have an interpretive center and public boat launch. (Interpretive center open Memorial Day – Labor Day, Friday-Sunday and holidays, 11am – 4pm)
  • There is some amazing history to explore in the area and a walking tour of historic Oysterville is an excellent option. The Oysterville one-room school house and church are still in use and the Oysterville post office is the oldest continually operating post office in the state. It is said that Chief Klickeas of the Chinook Tribe originally introduced early settlers in the 1850s to its future namesake and main export, the oyster. For additional information, check out Sydney of Oysterville to learn more of the deep history of this area. Oysterville is a tiny hamlet indeed, but absolutely worth a look. Charming doesn’t begin to cover it!

If you weren’t able to catch your fill of shellfish or other seafood delicacies, there are several dining options in the area to help you on your way. Consider some delicious take-away to go with your relaxing hang on the beach!

  • Located just past downtown Long Beach, heading north on Pacific Avenue, the old-school burger joint, The Corral Drive-In is a great place to stop for a burger, fish sandwich, crinkle-fries, TOTS and more. Open daily, 11am – 8pm.
  • Grab a tasty sandwich at the Great Day Café (11:30am – 4pm, Tuesday – Saturday) and then head out for a round of golf on the adjoining Surfside Golf Course.
  • Check out Ocean Park’s MyCovio’s for Italian-inspired fare featuring local ingredients in a cozy setting. (Thursday through Sunday, 4-7pm) It’s recommended to call ahead for reservations, but take-out is also available.
  • For a great burger and local seafood specialties, stop in at Sara’s Rusty Spur Bar & Grill for a relaxing meal and frosty pint. (11am – 8pm, daily – 9pm Fri/Sat. Bar open to 11pm – Cash only, ATM inside.) Located on Bay Avenue in Ocean Park. They also have a dog-friendly deck area.
  • For a spot of tasty, Irish comfort food, head to the Crown Alley Irish Pub along Pacific Way in Ocean Park. (Open 4-10pm, Sunday-Thursday, Noon-11pm, Friday/Saturday, closed Tuesday/Wednesday) Hopefully they’ll again be able to host the awesome Coastal Celtic Music Festival in the coming year.
  • Speaking of festivals, the very fragrant and tasty Northwest Garlic Festival is set to tentatively return in September. I have a deep fondness for garlicky goodness and my fingers are crossed – and my garlic bulbs, braided. (September 18-19, 2021 at the Nahcotta Boat Basin)
  • Anita’s Coastal Café in Ocean Park is a cozy spot to stop for breakfast or lunch. Open daily, 8am to 1:45pm. Great local seafood features!
  • Also located in Ocean Park, The Berry Patch features hearty breakfasts and comfort-filled lunch and dinner plates, along with local seafood specialties. Open daily, 7am to 7pm.
  • Stop in at Willapa Oysters / Willapa Artisan Kitchen for fresh oysters, clams and take-away dishes to heat up at home. (Dungeness Crab Mac & Cheese, anyone??) They will also ship around the country. (Open daily, 11am – 6pm, located off SR-103 in the Oysterville area.)
  • If you’re roaming around the peninsula on the weekend, stop in at legendary Oysterville Sea Farms for fresh clam chowder, oysters and clams, wine and beer. There is also public access to Willapa Bay. (Friday – Sunday, 9:30am to 5pm) I’m still dreaming of the oysters and crab I enjoyed on my recent trip. The freshest, most delicious oysters I’ve ever had! WOW!

After taking in all of the sights and making your way to the tip of the peninsula, unless you have an awesome boat, it’s time to head back south. Not to worry, the drive is beautiful and there’s still a great bit of Pacific County to see south of Long Beach. We’re not done yet!

Head back down SR-103 towards Long Beach and continue forward onto US-101, just past Seaview. This will take directly into the little town of Ilwaco, tucked snugly into scenic Baker Bay. Looking out towards Oregon and enjoying the last waters of the Columbia River as they head out to sea, Ilwaco is a great place to spend a relaxing weekend as well as a jumping-off point for river and ocean adventures.

The general vibe in Ilwaco has always been relaxed and fairly chill when I’ve visited, but they do have their days of festivity and celebration. Whether it’s reveling in local waters, bounty or industry, Ilwaco has much to celebrate. Typically occurring during the second weekend of October and sponsored by the Columbia-Pacific Heritage Museum (Temporarily closed – Reopens June 1st), the Cranberrian Fair is a great way to pay homage to one of the area’s most important exports, the cranberry. Also sponsored by the museum is the Clamshell Railroad Days event during the third weekend of July. Hopefully both of these much-loved festivals will return in 2021.

Situated in the center of town, directly on Baker Bay, the Port of Ilwaco is a hub of activity and commerce. Home to local businesses, including great dining and hotel options, it’s a fine place to spend an afternoon or longer. Grab a bite to eat, a tasty beverage and gaze out onto the waterways – or take a strong along the Waterfront Walkway. (Part of the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail) Not a bad way way to spend a day…

Just a few of the excellent options to check out on your next visit to the Port of Ilwaco:

  • Considering Ilwaco’s beautiful location, history and environment, it is no wonder it’s a great spot for artists. The waterfront area features several galleries and it’s easy to spend an afternoon taking it all in. On my most recent visit, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting one of the artists and connecting the dots to a piece of art I’d picked up on my last visit to the area. I stopped in at the Don Nisbett Art Gallery and very quickly realized he was the artist responsible for the awesome 12th Salmon magnet I’d picked up at the Nelson Crab shop in Tokeland. I was so excited to meet the maker, but equally happy to enjoy a much broader view of his work. (And pick up a few more fun pieces, which he kindly autographed!) Dan is also a great resource for local information and stories – be sure to hit him up on your next visit! Should you be in town on the first Friday of the month in June through September, be sure to check out the First Friday art walk from 4-7pm along the waterfront.
  • If you happen to be visiting during late spring or the summer, check out the vibrant Saturday Market at the Port and enjoy local artisan goods, produce and more. (Opening Day, May 1st, 10am. Open May-Sept.)
  • In need of a caffeine boost? Stop by Roots Juice, Java & Salad Bar for a great cup of coffee or fresh juice – and a nice salad. (Open daily, 7am to 1:30pm, 6:30am to 10:30 on Saturdays, closed Sundays.)
  • Located just up from the port, the seasonal Serious Pizza serves up delicious pizza, sandwiches and more. Open during the spring months on Friday – Sunday from 11am – 7pm. During the summer months, they’re open Wednesday – Sunday from 11am – 7pm. (Closed November – February)
  • For a comfortable, but very hip stay in the area, head to the Salt Hotel & Pub, located by the marina and overlooking the port. The newly restored hotel is also host to the Salt Pub with its hearty pub fare and dog-friendly patio. I wanted at least a couple more orders of their clams. Delicious! (Thursday – Monday, 11:30am – 7pm, 8pm on Friday/Saturday. Pub closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • Bringing a little swank to the port area, the At the Helm Hotel & Pub is both comfortable and upscale. Located by the marina, this boutique hotel also features excellent dining at the Waterline Pub. (Open Thursday – Sunday.) In addition to great lodging and delicious local fare, they also host onsite yoga classes (Friday-Sunday), in-house massage and offer cruiser bike rentals. Enjoy a complimentary glass of beer/wine on check-in!
  • I was very excited to pick up some Sturgeon and freshly caught sole on my recent visit to Fish People seafood, located on the Ilwaco waterfront. Great prices, friendly staff and an excellent spot near the water – you can’t go wrong! (Open Thursday – Sunday, 10am – 5:30pm) 
  • For more great lodging in the Ilwaco area, check out the Inn at Harbour Village (c. 1926) in downtown Ilwaco or the relaxing China Beach Retreat, just up the road towards Cape Disappointment State Park.  (Currently under renovation and temporarily closed)

Due to its strategic location near both fresh and salt waters, Ilwaco boasts several fishing charters and opportunities to catch that big one. Let the area experts show you around the area and help you in your quest.

  • Seabreeze Charters offers great fishing tours of area waters. Hit them up during sturgeon season (May 10 – June 5th) and try your hand at reeling in one of the prehistoric-looking monsters. Sturgeon can live for years and easily grow 6 feet and more. Growing up, I often swam in the Columbia and was sincerely hoping to never bump into one. That said, they prefer the deeper water, so that’s good… Seabreeze also features salmon, albacore and halibut fishing when in season.
  • Featuring fishing tours and lodging, the family-run Coho Charters & Motel offers sturgeon and salmon fishing trips on the Columbia River as well as crabbing tours out at sea.
  • Maybe fishing isn’t your bag. Maybe you want to enter your awesome yacht in a marathon race from Ilwaco all the way to Victoria B.C. (Also, can I come along?) Throw your life preserver into the ring and sign up for the yearly Pacific NW Yacht Race and give those sea legs a good stretch. (First week of May) The race didn’t happen in 2020, but hopefully you can bring me along in 2021. I’d even be amenable to 2022… 2023?

One of my very favorite parts of the entire state can be found just up the road from Ilwaco. Set upon windy bluffs, overlooking the merging waters of the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean, Cape Disappointment State Park and its stunning lighthouses are a must-visit in Pacific County. (Discover Pass recommended, but you can purchase day passes on site.) The beauty, historical significance and adventure potential of this area are incomparable. In fact, the entire area is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the area is apparently one of the foggiest places in the US with over 2500 hours a year of fog, the North Head Lighthouse (c. 1898) and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (c. 1856 – Oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific NW) are much needed and appreciated beacons of safety. That said, it’s always been sunny when I’ve visited. (Guess I don’t always bring the grey skies of Seattle with me…) Be sure to bring varied outerwear, plenty of water and a good flashlight or headlamp. (We’ll get to the flashlight part in a bit…)

Stop in at the excellent Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and learn all about the history and beauty of the area. Perched atop a 200-foot high cliff, it offers an amazing view of the North Jetty as it aids passage over the Columbia River Bar and into the Pacific Ocean. (The South Jetty aids passage from the Oregon side of the river) This convergence, also known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific,” hosts the very waters viewed by the Lewis & Clark Corp of Discovery as their 18-month, 3,700-mile journey from Missouri came to its fruition on November 7th, 1805.  

Along with serving as the epic entrance to the Pacific Ocean, the area has been home to the local Chinook Tribe for millennia. Skilled stewards of the land and water, they were instrumental in helping Lewis & Clark and their Corp of Discovery survive the harsh winter in the area and meet their expedition goals. Unfortunately, this friendship was tested when the expedition stole one of the Chinook Tribe’s canoes. It wasn’t until long after the fact that descendants of the Clark family “returned” the canoe to its rightful owners. (The Clark family presented a replica, 36’ seaworthy canoe to the Chinook Tribe in 2011.)

During your visit to the cape, don’t miss out on the many areas to explore. Grab your flashlight and snake in and out of the coastal defense batteries placed strategically throughout the grounds. As early as 1862, the cape has been providing defense for the nation and these batteries were in service throughout WW II. It’s both fascinating and sobering to wander through these narrow passageways and ponder the degree of force Washington State was prepared to release from its shores. (Don’t forget your flashlight!)

If you forgot your flashlight, rest assured there are many other activities to enjoy in the park. Put on your hiking boots and enjoy one of the many trails throughout the park. The Beards Hollow and Bell’s View trails leading up to the North Head Lighthouse are spectacular and the Coastal Forest and Benson Beach trails are also not to be missed. Actually walking to the end of the North Jetty which is just next to Benson Beach was truly awe-inspiring.

Consider extending your stay in the area by taking advantage of the ample camping spots, not to mention the 14 yurts, 3 Cabins and 3 lighthouse keeper’s residences/ vacation homes. This would certainly make hitting up the Lewis & Clark Discovery Trail between Cape Disappointment State and Long Beach much more doable. (8.5 miles one-way. Only trail in park that allows bikes. Rent one in Ilwaco!) Or you can always throw in at the boat launch from Baker Bay on the Columbia River for some crabbing action near the North Jetty or hit up Benson Beach for a bit of clamming. (Shellfish and boat launch permits required.) And hopefully you’ll be able to end your night by taking in a show as part of the Waikiki Beach Concert Series. (June – August, every other Saturday. Cancelled for 2020.)

We’re nearing the end of our Pacific County adventure, but there are still a few great stops to enjoy on your way home. As I’m always up for a bit of meandering, I like to drive towards Chinook on US-101 and then SR-401 up to SR-4 out of the tiny community of Naselle. Heading towards Chinook is also advised if you plan on heading over the Columbia River towards lovely Astoria, Oregon or Wahkiakum County and on to I-5. (Important note: Goonies never say die!) 

Traveler Advisory: SR-401 is presently closed one mile east of US 101 due to roadway settlement. Keep an eye on the WSDOT website for updates on reopening. Use alternate routes.

Following this route will bring you by these great spots:

  • For a great cup of coffee and delicious cookies and pastries, stop in at Chinook Coffee Co. and fuel up for your coastal drive. (Daily, 7am – 3pm. Sometimes 4pm.)
  • For tasty pub fare and a good drink, check out the Columbia River Roadhouse in Chinook. They also feature live music and a casual, sports bar ambiance. (12-7pm, Tuesday – Thursday, 12-9pm Friday/Saturday. Closed Sunday/Monday.)
  • If you’re a history buff, plan a stop at the Fort Columbia Historical State Park just past Chinook and shortly before the bridge to Astoria, along the Columbia River. The area is small as compared to nearby coastal defense sites, but Fort Columbia is considered one of the United States’ most intact coastal defense sites and the Fort Columbia Interpretive Center is filled will artifacts and stories of the area’s history. (Temporarily closed due to Covid-19) In addition to a self-guided interpretive historic walk around the fort, there are a couple miles of hiking trails as well as two, charming vacation houses should you be interested in staying longer in the area.
  • Just before arriving at the bridge to Astoria sits the lovely St. Mary’s Station parish in tiny McGowan. There are nice trails to check out beginning from the parish parking lot and an absolutely beautiful view of the Columbia River. This is also the home of the Chinook Tribe’s Middle Village – Station Camp, an important part of Chinook life and trade and integral to their trade with the Lewis & Clark expedition.
  • Just past the bridge exit, along SR-401 sits the interestingly named spot, Dismal Nitch. It’s now a small rest area along the banks of the Columbia, but bears the historical distinction of hosting the Lewis & Clark expedition while they were riding out a severe winter storm before finally reaching the coast. So close, yet so far… (Travel Advisory: The rest area is presently closed for septic repairs. Keep an eye on the WSDOT website for updates on reopening.)
  • From Dismal Nitch, continue north on SR-401 up to the tiny Finnish community of Naselle. A portion of my family hails from Finland and I was very interested to learn how Finns found their way to this remote part of Washington. I didn’t need to look far as Naselle’s Appelo Archives Center answered many of my questions as I learned about the logging and fishing industries which drew Finnish and Scandinavian immigrants to the area. The museum and bookstore feature interesting exhibits and resources and the onsite café features delicious Finnish pastries and more. They also host the bi-annual Finnish-American Folk Festival which occurs in July. The 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19, so they are now set to return in 2022.
  • For other sightseeing and cultural opportunities in the area, check out the lovely Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church (National Register of Historic Places, c. 1902) and the Knappton Cove Heritage Center (temporarily closed due to Covid-19), formerly known as the historic Columbia River Quarantine Station. (National Register of Historic Places, c. 1899)
  • There aren’t many dining options in the Naselle area, but the low-key Hunters Inn is known for its heart country-cooking and casual atmosphere. (Current hours, daily from 3-9pm)

And with that, it’s time to bring these Pacific County adventures to an end. For now… From Naselle, simply take SR-401 back up to SR-4 and head out to I-5 through Wahkiakum County. As there are so many areas to explore and enjoy in Pacific County, I find myself returning time and again. The beauty of the ocean, the Columbia River, coastal forests and delicious foodie opportunities will never get old. I can’t wait for my next visit – perhaps I’ll see you there. Say, would you happen to have a boat? Asking for a friend…

Until next time, please stay safe, get that vaccine and get ready to eat the state!

Cheers!

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Enjoy the ride with my Pacific County SPOTIFY PLAYLIST!

  • Ventura Highway – America (from Homecoming)
  • Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)
  • Lovely Day – Bill Withers (from Menagerie)
  • I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash (from I Can See Clearly Now)
  • Cool Change  – Little River Band (from First Under the Wire)
  • Feels So Good – Single Version – Chuck Mangione (from Chuck Mangione: A&M Gold Series)
  • Happier than the Morning Sun – Stevie Wonder (from Music of My Mind)
  • You Can Close Your Eyes – James Taylor (from Mud Slide Slim & the Blue Horizon)
  • Angel from Montgomery – Bonnie Raitt (from Streetlights)
  • Light Enough to Travel – The Be Good Tanyas (from Blue Horse)
  • It’s Too Late – Carole King (from Tapestry)
  • Let ‘Em In – Wings (from Wings at the Speed of Sound)
  • Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne (from Jackson Browne – Saturate Before Using)
  • Isis – Live at Montreal Forum, Montreal, Quebec – December 1975 – Bob Dylan (from The Rolling Thunder Review – The 1975 Live Recordings)
  • Find Yourself – Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real)
  • Old Friend – Shooter Jennings (from The Wolf)
  • Long White Line – Sturgill Simpson (from Metamodern Sounds in Country Music)
  • The Life You Choose – Jason Isbell (from Something More than Free)
  • Something to Love – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (from The Nashville Sound)
  • You’ve Got A Friend in Me – From Toy Story – Randy Newman & Lyle Lovett (from Toy Story)
  • A Long Way to Get – Bob Schneider (from I’m Good Now)
  • The Boys of Summer – Don Henley (from Building the Perfect Beast)
  • Clean Getaway – Maria Taylor (from Lynn Teeter Flower)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Ellen McIlwaine (from Up From the Skies: The Polydor Years)
  • Life Is Beautiful – Keb’ Mo’ (from Just Like You/Suitcase)
  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Paolo Nutini & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (from An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program)
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – The Muppet Barbershop Quartet (from The Muppets – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire) – Mel Tormé (from That’s All)

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Victoria B.C.

Welcome to Canada, our lovely neighbor to the north. Sweeping mountain ranges, rugged coastlines, raw wilderness and a lot of snow make Canada a veritable wonderland of adventure. Living in Washington, I feel incredibly lucky to be just a quick drive away from the border and have taken advantage of this convenience many times over the years. One of North America’s premier cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver B.C. is but a *two-hour drive from Seattle and one of the most amazing places to ski in the world, Whistler-Blackcomb, is a couple of hours beyond Vancouver. (*Depending on border waits) As neighbors, we have so much in common and so many similarities to keep us close. However, whenever I cross the border and the traffic signs suddenly go metric – or I pull into the gas station and the prices are by liter (or litre, in Canada) – I feel as if I’ve been magically transported to the other side of the world.

Canada is a powerhouse all on its own – and a sprawling one, at that. It is the second largest country in the world by total area (land and water) and the fourth largest country in the world by land alone. I will never forget the first time I drove past Vancouver B.C. towards Whistler. Well-accustomed to the lofty mountain ranges and open spaces of Washington, I was still not prepared for the epic majesty of the Coast Mountains and the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway (BC Highway 99) which guides you closely along Pacific Ocean inlets and into the vast wilds of the Canadian wilderness. I was simply put, slack-jawed and amazed. The first time I saw the monolithic face of The Stawamus Chief (second-largest granite monolith in the world) or the soaring panorama of endless peaks from atop Blackcomb are visions which shall live forever glorious in my mind’s eye.

Blackcomb
Endless mountain peaks as seen from the top of Blackcomb, above Whistler Village

For this particular Canadian adventure, we kept it closer to the shoreline and fairly close to home. My Scotophile friends, Kristen, Tori and I were in need of whisky, bagpipes and kilts – and maybe a bit of haggis and the tossing of heavy objects. In short, we wanted to find a good Highland games event to attend. There are several great Highland games during the summer in Washington State, but given Canada’s close ties to England, Ireland and Scotland, there are many to be found in Canada as well. Since Victoria, B.C. is just a quick ferry ride away and they’ve been hosting a Highland games for the past 156 years, we figured it would be a great spot to fulfill all of our Scottish dreams. (And my pal Kristen and I are still financially recovering from our recent adventures to the actual Highlands of Scotland)

Combine the welcoming, good nature of Canada with the beautiful wilds of the Pacific Northwest and the pomp and grandeur of Britain and you come close to concocting the unique setting that is Victoria, B.C.  Situated on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and named for Queen Victoria, Victoria is not only an amazing place to visit, it is also the capital of the province of British Columbia. Many important goings-on take place in this quaint city along with the regular flow of tourism.

Parliament
The stately front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in downtown Victoria B.C.

As it is an island, there will be some sort of boat or plane involved in your trek to the area. We hopped the Black Ball Ferry Line (MV Coho) out of Port Angeles in Clallam County and sailed into Victoria’s Inner Harbour. To get to the ferry from the Seattle area, we took the Edmonds to Kingston ferry and headed to Port Angeles via the Hood Canal Bridge. There are several other ways to get to Victoria, but an important thing to note for any route into Canada is the need for a valid passport, passport card, Enhanced Washington State driver’s license/ID or NEXUS card.

Additional routes to Victoria include:

  • Head to the Waterfront in downtown Seattle and sail to Victoria via the passenger-only Victoria Clipper. The journey is a little under three hours and it’s likely you’ll see marine life along the way. They also offer a bevy of hotel, car and sightseeing package deals which are very worth checking out. On a recent trip, just as we were getting close to the Victoria harbor, a pod of orcas was swimming not too far off the port side. To add to the majesty, there was a rainbow perfectly situated over the harbor as we pulled into dock. WOW!
  • If you’re up for a gorgeous bird’s-eye view of the Puget Sound, hop aboard a seaplane flight with Kenmore Air. Many friends have made the journey, but it is still on my travel bucket-list. SOON!
  • If you’re coming from mainland B.C., head through Vancouver and cross to Victoria on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) The crossing time to Swartz Bay is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
  • You can also utilize the Washington State Ferry out of Anacortes in Skagit County. (The ferry accommodates both foot passengers and vehicles) They offer a 3-hour cruise to Sidney B.C. which is a 20-minute drive outside of Victoria. (Pro Tip: If you are driving, reservations are strongly recommended.)

In order to make the most of our few days in Victoria, we had made reservations for the first sailing out of Port Angeles. The morning was crisp and the water smooth; the makings of a beautiful journey! Once aboard, we got the lay of the vintage ship and staked out a few seats with a view out over the bow. (The MV Coho has been in operation since 1959 and they’ve largely kept the vintage décor.) Since it was early and I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep, caffeine was high on the list of things to do. We found our way to the cafeteria, which is adjacent to the tiny, but well-stocked gift shop, and loaded up on breakfast goodies and strong coffee.  There’s something great to be said about warming your hands with a steaming cup of coffee while looking out over the bow of a ship.  Ahhhh….

After fully perusing the ship and refueling with caffeine, we hit up the on-board Tour Desk to find out about special deals for various tours in the Victoria area. It’s definitely worth checking out and not only will you save a few dollars, but you’ll be able to skip the sometimes long ticket lines at the given attraction. We opted for tickets to Butchart Gardens, the Butterfly Gardens and the Royal B.C. Museum. We were all set for our first two days of touring and we hadn’t even docked yet!

As we sailed into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we were met with the beautiful skyline of downtown Victoria. The vibrant Causeway Marina, the glorious Parliament Building and the stunning Empress Hotel were all there to greet us. The scene was bustling with boats coming and going, tourists renting scooters and tour buses shuttling visitors off to neighboring attractions. (There are many bus tours available through the MV Coho and Victoria Clipper tour desks) The area near the stately Steamship Grill & Bar (the old Heritage Steamship Terminal building, c. 1924) is a great pick-up/drop-off point with many excursions taking off from the general vicinity. Not too far from the Inner Harbour, especially if you happen to be entering the area via cruise ship, is Fisherman’s Wharf. Colorful float homes, restaurants, shops, live music and more make this another great waterfront area to explore.

As we’d arrived fairly early on a Thursday morning, we had time to fit in some of the more popular tourist destinations. Since we were only visiting for a few days and it was the very busy Victoria Day 3-day weekend, we wanted to get ahead of the crowds. (Victoria Day celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday and is the unofficial start of summer in Canada. It falls on the last Monday in May, preceding the 25th.)

After switching my GPS over to accommodate the metric system and Canadian byways, we struck out towards the spectacular Butchart Gardens, located about 30 minutes outside of Victoria. It was a grey morning and threatening rain, but we maintained our hope for things to clear up. That said, we’re from the Pacific Northwest and are typically prepared for any type of weather. Most of the time…

Butchart Gardens
Hello there, Butchart Gardens!

To say that the Butchart Gardens are a marvel in horticultural design would be an absurd understatement. They are an amazing display of design, cultivation, whimsy, passion and vision. Originally masterminded by Jennie Butchart beginning in the early 1900s, utilizing the old limestone quarry in her backyard, it has grown (literally) into an absolute national treasure. After being gifted The Gardens in 1939, Jennie’s grandson, Ian Ross has continued to enhance and expand the garden experience into what greets modern-day visitors.

Once we’d gotten past our initial ooo’s and ahhh’s, we formed a strategy to help us both enjoy and see all of the grounds during our brief stay. There is so much to take in and so many garden themes and landscapes to enjoy – we didn’t want to miss anything! As we wound around beautifully manicured trails and flower-filled alcoves, we popped out at the fantastical view overlooking the famous Sunken Gardens. Words can’t fully express the breathtakingly beautiful scene, so please enjoy some pictures!

To be honest, I would’ve probably been fine having only seen the Sunken Gardens. My mind was swimming in a glorious flower explosion and I couldn’t imagine anything could compare. However, since I knew, based on long-ago visits, the rest of the grounds absolutely could compare, off we went to the next amazing scene. (I do wish we could’ve been there on a summer Saturday night to see the excellent fireworks show from the Sunken Gardens, but that will have to wait for another visit.)

Over the course of the next couple of hours, we visited Italy, Japan, the Mediterranean and England, not to mention the beauty of the native Pacific Northwest landscape which brings it all together. It seemed around each corner was a new, mind-boggling panorama to leave us speechless. Again, since words fail me when attempting to fully describe the beauty, here are a few more pictures!

After all of our gallivanting around the flowers, it’s fair to say we’d become a little peckish. Since there are several dining spots on the garden grounds, it wasn’t hard to find something to fulfill our needs. We’d considered afternoon tea at The Dining Room, but since it’s a more leisurely affair, we opted for a less formal and more expedited lunch at the Blue Poppy Restaurant. It was just what we needed and soon enough, we were back to exploring the grounds and finishing it off with a stop into their lovely gift shop. (Because of course we did! Several dainty tea cups were chanting my name and I’d be a monster to not heed their call…) There are also several quick snack spots dotted around grounds for on-the-go occasions. Coffee and ice cream accompaniments for your flower viewing pleasure!

After getting our fill of flowers and teacups, we drove back up the road a few miles to get our fill of butterflies and wine. (As one does…) Since Kristen and Tori were more excited about the Butterfly Gardens and I was more excited about doing some wine tasting, we decided to divide and conquer. Conveniently, since the beautiful vineyards of Church & State Wines were basically next door to the Butterfly Gardens, it all worked out quite nicely. I hear-tell Kristen and Tori very much enjoyed communing with the butterflies. I, too, enjoyed my communing…

Church & State Wine sits overlooking their vineyard and rolling grounds. The main tasting room and restaurant is spacious and there is an outdoor, covered seating area with a great view of the vineyards. Since it was a Thursday afternoon, they weren’t super crowded and I easily found a seat at the tasting bar. Upon learning more about their wine from the well-informed Sommelier, I sampled a few and enjoyed a lovely locally-sourced cheese selection alongside. I very much enjoyed their Trebella and Viognier and opted to bring home a couple bottles of the Trebella. (One of which actually made it home – We enjoyed one that evening at our Airbnb) I guess I’ll have to return to pick up a few more bottles. Oh no!!

Located a few minutes away from Church and State Wines is De Vine Wines & Spirits. They’re not only a winery and vineyard, but also a distillery! I was hoping to visit on this trip, but the afternoon had gotten away from us and it was time to locate our Airbnb. No worries – I’ll be back soon!

After we pulled ourselves away from the butterflies and viognier (sounds like a Hallmark movie), we plotted our course to the Airbnb. It turned out to be the lower-half of a cute home in a Victoria suburb with a private entrance in the back. Sweet! The hosts were a very kind family who had just begun to open their home to Airbnb guests. If you have a car, staying at an Airbnb a little outside of town can save a good chunk of change. We were about 20-minutes away from downtown Victoria and the drive into town was main thoroughfare most of the way. Additionally, we were more centrally located for visiting the surrounding towns. Win-win!

Once we’d settled in at the Airbnb, we took a little bit of time to relax and recharge for a night on the town. (But not too late a night as I’d been up and driving since 4am. We were all a bit tired, suffice to say.) Since we were in town for the Highland games, we decided to look for something along the lines of Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness Stew for dinner… Yes, please! And if I could find a place with a good Scotch egg, all the better!

Enter Irish Times, a traditional Irish pub in the heart of downtown Victoria. Both Kristen and I had been there before and knew they could fulfill at least two of our culinary needs. But did they win the trifecta with an entry of the Scotch egg? Why, YES – yes, they did! If you’ve never had a Scotch egg and you happen to see it on a menu – order it! It’s a soft-boiled egg rolled in crumbled sausage, breaded and fried. How can you go wrong?? Ohhh, delicious Scotch egg, how I love thee so… The only thing I found vaguely off about our Irish Times experience was their inclusion of ice in the cider pints. Why?? I’ve seen it a couple of other times on past Victoria visits. I need to get to the bottom of these icy cider shenanigans…

After our delicious dinner, we were completely full and positively spent. We didn’t have much left to give, but we figured it best to at least walk off a few of the calories we’d just consumed. (Hello there, Scotch egg…) We hit up the fantastic Munro’s Books and found a few great books and generally wandered around the area for a little while. We didn’t have it in us to make it over to nearby Russell Books, but that’s also a great spot for the bookworm. Next time!

If you’re like us and always on the hunt for good pub food and a well-pulled pint, Victoria has so much to offer. It’s like walking down a street in London or Edinburgh – great pubs everywhere! A few of the places we didn’t get to on this visit, but have enjoyed on past stays:

  • The Churchill, located in the downtown area, hosts a modern pub menu and a rather large taps list. Cozy, low-key atmosphere and ‘lots of good beer – Sounds good!
  • The Sticky Wicket is located in downtown and features a modern pub menu, a good drink selection, a games room and hotel lodging.
  • Garrick’s Head Pub has been serving hungry and thirsty Canadians since 1867. They serve classics like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash, but they also feature a more modern side with nods to Pacific Northwest favorites and seafood. They also have a pretty impressive taps selection.
  • Whether it’s poutine, fish & chips or perhaps a duck burger, Swan’s Brewery & Pub has you covered. They also feature an onsite brewery, a liquor store and a hotel. All the things!
  • Spinnakers is Canada’s oldest craft brewpub and a great place to relax out of the downtown hub. They’re located across the Johnson Street Bridge, past Chinatown and also feature guest house lodging. And they have a tea-infused beer – so terribly British!
  • If you happen to be heading back from Butchart Gardens, Todd Creek Craft Cider is a lovely cidery located not too far off of Highway 17.
  • Should you want to venture further north on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cidery & Distillery is about a 45-minute drive out of town. Located in the tiny town of Cobble Hill, they feature cider, spirits and a restaurant and if you get too tired to drive back to Victoria, they have yurts! Keep an eye out for their new location coming to the Victoria Dockside area.

And for a few great festival and tour options to compliment your pub quests:

  • Great Canadian Beer Festival – Check out Canada’s oldest/longest running Brewfest! Happening every Labour Day (First Monday in September in Canada) 90+ craft breweries, cideries and food trucks. Yes, please!
  • West Coast Brewery Tours offers 3-hour tours of many of the local breweries. (Brewery tour lists often changes from day to day – collect them all!) They also offer tours of local distilleries, wineries cideries and food options. What a great way to spend the afternoon!
  • Canadian Craft Tours offer fabulous food, wine, beer, distillery tours and more! Operating out of both British Columbia and Alberta, they cover a lot of amazing territory and delicious treats.

I’m fairly certain none of us had any issues with insomnia that night. After we made it back to the Airbnb, we all promptly retired to our rooms and if Kristen and Tori were anything like me, they were out within minutes of hitting the pillow. Even though we were on vacation, we’d planned a pretty packed itinerary and needed to get up early the next day to fit it all in. There are so many amazing things to see and do in Victoria! Dreams of morning coffee and afternoon tea filled my head as I drifted off to a well-earned sleep…

The next morning came much earlier than felt reasonable, but our itinerary was raring to go. We’d planned to get in some early morning hiking outside of town and what better way to fuel our morning adventure than with some Canadian morning fuel. Enter the Canadian breakfast of champions, Tim Hortons! (Dear Tim Hortons, Please open stores on the US west coast. Thank you! Your Pal, Dayna)

Donuts, great coffee, breakfast sandwiches, donuts, tea, pastries, donuts, donuts, DONUTS!! They’re now also serving delicious Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. You can’t go wrong at Tim Horton’s. I stop at the Squamish location on every Whistler trip and pretty much any other time I see one. That morning, we all enjoyed tasty breakfast sandwiches and I’m fairly certain a few donuts were also involved. Did I mention they have great donuts?

Tim Hortons
Dear Tim Hortons, I love you. Sincerely, Dayna.

With bellies full of coffee and donuts, we made our way north on Highway 17 towards Island View Beach Regional Park. Only 20 minutes out of town, it’s a great place to stroll along the beach and take in the views of Haro Strait, James Island and our own San Juan Island and Mt. Baker. It was a somewhat hazy morning, but things were starting to clear a little as we walked along the water and enjoyed the scene. The park also offers RV and tent camping should you want to get closer to nature and still be close to the city. It was a lovely way to work off a few of those donut calories…

I’d also hoped to visit Coles Bay Regional Park that morning as it’s only about a 20-minute drive from Island View Beach and affords a great view of the water on the Saanich Inlet side of the peninsula. As it’s also located on Inverness Road, I thought it seemed rather appropriate given the purpose of our Victoria visit! But alas, we realized we’d have to cut a few things off the itinerary in order to make it to the places for which we’d already purchased tickets. (The small drawback to purchasing in advance – you need to actually make it to the places to get your money’s worth. Heh.)

As Vancouver Island is a wonderland of outdoor opportunities, I still have many places on my bucket list left to visit. Here are but a few of the spots I’m hoping to soon check off my list:

  • The West Coast Trail is at the top of my ‘Canadian Hikes’ bucket list. It’s an epic 47-mile coastal trail used by the First Nations for hundreds of years before any explorers arrived. From their website: Hikers climb more than 100 ladders with a heavy pack, trudge through deep mud, wade through mountain-fed rivers in fast-flowing hip-deep waters, and push through whatever weather the wild West Coast delivers — often driving wind and rain. YES!! I’m IN!!! (Note: A reservation is needed to make this trek.)
  • Check out Jordan Falls Regional Park for beautiful trails through cedar-filled rainforest. The trails lead down to beaches along the Strait of Juan de Fuca with views of the Olympic Peninsula. Don’t miss the gorgeous Sandcut Beach Waterfalls which fall directly onto the pebbled beach. Camping available.
  • Goldstream Provincial Park is located close to Victoria, but offers all the deep-forest features. BIG trees, hiking trails, waterfalls and camping – All just a 30-minute drive from downtown!
  • The Coast Trail and Aylard Farm area offers both an epic weekend backpacking adventure along with accessible picnic areas for daytrip relaxing. Great views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, including Coast Salish First Nation ancient Petroglyphs found at Alldridge Point.
  • The Juan de Fuca Provincial Trail is yet another epic Vancouver Island trail. Roughly 27-miles along the west coast of the island, it provides great shoreline access and stunning views. China Beach and Mystic Beach are two of the areas I’m really looking forward to checking out.
  • One part of Vancouver Island I’m very excited to investigate is the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and Central Walbran Valley. Beautiful rainforest and some of the world’s largest spruce trees make it one of the more stunning spots on the island – and the grandest, old-growth rainforest in Canada. Also in the area is the Gonzales Hill Observatory at Walbran Park. A perfect spot to check out the night skies.
  • For beautiful rainforest trails close to town, head to Francis King Regional Park. The Centennial Trail basically circles around the park and hooks up with the High Ridge Trail. It begins at the Nature Centre, which is open on weekends until 4pm.

Beautiful shrubbery
Beautiful shrubbery of Vancouver Island

Since we’d worked off a bit of our Tim Horton’s donut feast, it seemed reasonable to consider where we’d be eating lunch; Or at least some sort of tasty snack and maybe a pint of… Cider! Since I’d put nearby Sea Cider on my list of hopefuls for the trip, we struck out to see what kind of sustenance they could provide.

Open daily from 11am to 4pm, Sea Cider, located in the Saanichton community (situated on the Sannich Peninsula), is a quick 25-minute drive from downtown Victoria. The tasting room offers both indoor and outdoor deck seating and is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon. They offer tasty small plates as complement to their delicious ciders and I was particularly impressed with their Rum Runner cider. (Of which I’ve been hoarding at home. One of these days I’m going to give in… Or return for more!)

Other spots in the Saanichton and North Saanich area for tasty food and beverage:

  • On the way to Sea Cider, Victoria Caledonian Distillery and Twa Dogs Brewery offers all the best in beer AND whisky! Run by native Scotsman, Graeme Macaloney, he brings a wee bit of the tasty Highlands to Victoria. Slàinte mhath! (Open daily. Check website for hours.)
  • Symphony Vineyard, located in the Saanichton area, features delicious wine in a beautiful setting. (Open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 5pm.)
  • Located in North Saanich on the Saanich Peninsula, about 16 miles north of Victoria, Muse Winery / Deep Cove Winery offers delicious boutique wines in a beautiful setting. (Open Friday thru Sunday, 12-5pm)
  • Also located in North Saanich, the Roost Bistro & Farm Bakery has a bit of all things good. Great wine, a tasty bistro menu, a farm-style bakery and beautiful grounds. Additionally, they offer several cool tours around the grounds. (Open daily. Check out the website for hours.)

After enjoying our reasonable fill of delicious cider, we were ready to take on some hard-core, downtown Victoria sightseeing. As we’d already purchased tickets for the Royal B.C. Museum, it was first on our list. Along with their stellar, permanent collections, the museum was featuring an exhibit of ancient Mayan artifacts and we were excited to check it out.

I’ve been to the Royal B.C. in the past and I’ve always been impressed with their exhibits. This visit was no exception and the range of the Mayan exhibit was well-curated and fascinating. I particularly love their permanent Indigenous Peoples and Modern History exhibits. They feature full-scale exhibit areas where one is free to walk amongst the artifacts and displays. It’s very easy to get lost in the feeling of the era when visiting the museum and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Located just across the street from the museum is the majestic Parliament Building. (c. 1897) It’s impossible to miss and it regally dominates that end of downtown and the Inner Harbour. It’s regularly in use during the week for official goings-on of the British Columbia parliament, but is also open for public tours. Additionally, they offer breakfast and lunch in the Parliamentary Dining Room. (Open Monday thru Friday, 11am – 1pm – when Legislature is not in session.) If you happen to be in the area at dusk, it is quite a sight to see the outlining lights of the Parliament building turn on. It’s a beautiful scene and not to be missed. (Note: As it is a government building, official ID such as passports are required for security checks upon entrance.)

Just kitty-corner to the Parliament Building sits another icon of the downtown Victoria skyline, the ever-grand, Empress Hotel. (c. 1908) It is truly one of my favorite spots in Victoria and while on the more expensive side, well worth visiting for at least one of your Victoria stays. If anything, book a spot for one of famous, daily high-tea services. Befitting the opulence and grandeur of The Empress, the high tea is an extravagant affair to make Queen Victoria proud. Another alternative to actually staying at The Empress is to visit one of their dining rooms. On one of my last visits, I enjoyed an excellent dinner in the Q at The Empress dining room. (Pro tip: It’s possible to get some fairly decent lodging/travel packages for The Empress via the Victoria Clipper.)

Since we’d done a fair share of walking and perusing, our Sea Cider affair was close to wearing off. One of the areas we really wanted to visit was the famous Fan Tan Alley, located in Chinatown. As the shops in Fan Tan Alley close between 5pm and 6pm, we needed to get moving. There are also several great restaurants in the area, so it just seemed to make sense to head in that direction.

Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest commercial street in North America, is a quirky and mysterious marvel. Once home to gambling parlors and opium dens in the late 1800s, it has gone through several stages of growth and decline over the years. It is now restored, minus the gambling and opium, and is on Canada’s National Historic Register. It hosts an eclectic collection of shops and services and is well worth a visit. It truly did remind me of exploring the winding alleyways and hidden nooks and crannies of Beijing and Shanghai. On your next Victoria visit, be sure to check out Kid Sister Ice Cream for delicious treats and Saltspring Soapworks for some very luxurious soaps and bath products. (I love their Rosemary Mint shampoo!)

Exiting out of the alley onto Fisgard Street brings you into the heart of Victoria’s historic Chinatown district. The oldest of its kind in Canada, there are a lot of stories packed into its establishments. Restaurants, shops, grocers, galleries and even a Buddhist Temple are just a few of the places you’ll find tucked into this small, but vibrant part of town.

There were a few restaurants that caught our eye, but we opted to grab dinner at the aptly-named, Fan Tan Café. (Closed Wednesdays) Classic Chinese-Canadian favorites in a cozy, late-night friendly café and bar. We were all very happy with our orders and leisurely washed everything down with well-steeped pots of tea and quirky drinks featuring grenadine. While we were there during the respectable, early-dinner hours, I could easily imagine enjoying some late-night Beef Chow Funn and a grenadine-laced Tequila Sunrise…

Since we’d gotten up fairly early and had packed in quite a bit of action into our day, we were ready to head back towards the Airbnb. Along the way to the car, we enjoyed the bustling Friday night scene and wandered into a few shops. We contemplated buying lovely sweaters at Out of Ireland, stopped in at Rogers’ Chocolates and grabbed some of their famous candies and I stocked up on my favorites at the local Lush shop. (I’m a longtime addict of their Rockstar soap and I Love Juicy shampoo.) We also thought it prudent to stop at a local grocery store on the way back to stock up on Canadian treats such as Lays Ketchup Potato Chips, dreamy Mackintosh Toffee and Ruby Kit-Kat bars. (It’s possible to get these treats online, but they’re definitely pricier when ordering from within the US.)

Tasty treats
Tasty treats from Canada and beyond!

Since there are only so many hours in the day and we had definitely overloaded our itinerary, a few amazing spots will have to be saved for our next visit. If you make it there before us, here are a few very cool options to consider:

  • I have visited Craigdarroch Castle on past trips, but never get tired of taking in its majestic and storied scenery. Built by local coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir during the late 1800s, it’s now on the Canadian National Register of Historic Places and is quite a look into the luxurious life of the Victorian-era, Victoria elite.
  • In keeping with the castle theme, Hatley Castle is high on my list for the next visit. Built in 1908 and now a part of the Royal Roads University grounds, it is a beautiful turn-of-last-century example of design and opulence. Additionally, it has been the setting for many movies and television shows such as Deadpool, Arrow, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men 2, Smallville, Masterminds (Patrick Stewart) and MACGYVER. (Nerd Alert: These are all some of my favorites! I can’t believe I haven’t visited yet…)
  • Learn about the secrets and shady past of Victoria’s bygone days with the Discover the Past Ghostly Walks I love these type of tours and Victoria definitely has some good tales to tell. The tour starts at 9:30pm from in front of the Empress.
  • Another walking tour outfit, Off the Eaten Track, offers culinary tours featuring adventures such as Gourmet Victoria Dinner & Drinks and Eat Like a Canadian. Sounds good, eh?
  • Located in the downtown area, Axe and Grind features…AXE THROWING! They even have a league. It’s $21.23 CAD for 1 hour session and sounds AWESOME. What could possibly go wrong?? I have to admit to being pretty bummed we didn’t get to check this out. NEXT TIME.
  • If throwing axes isn’t your thing, how about flying through the air on a zipline? Or mastering an aerial obstacle course? Wildplay Element Park is located outside of Victoria and is about a 30-minute drive from downtown.
  • The Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites areas feature secret bunkers to explore, a beautiful lighthouse, rustic camping in their oTENTik tents and beautiful coastal scenery. What’s not to like?
  • I’ve visited the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on past trips and have always enjoyed their featured exhibits as well as their permanent collections. With so much beautiful artwork in a beautiful gallery space, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Vader
Victoria is all about the Arts – and The Force!

After another well-earned sleep, we were up early to take in the highlight of our trip, the 156th annual Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival at Topaz Park. As one of longest running Highland games in Canada, it is quite an affair and we were very excited to enjoy it – Haggis and all! We’d initially thought of stopping in at the Moss Street Farmer’s Market or the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson on our way to the games, but decided to make a beeline for the bagpipes. I love a good farmers market, but I’ll have to save it for next visit.

With events occurring for a week prior to the actual games, you can enjoy several days of Scottish and Celtic celebration. Kicking off with the Tartan Parade through downtown Victoria on the Saturday prior and including the Tilted Kilt Pubcrawl, there are many ways to get excited for the weekend festivities.

As we’d gotten an early start, we were among the first to head through the gates. (Which also allowed for some great parking!) Things were just getting started and as we entered the grounds and we were greeted with a morning fanfare of traditional bagpipe melodies. Everywhere we looked, people were dressed in full kilt regalia, period costume and all things plaid. The morning was brilliantly sunny and it had the makings of a glorious, Scots-filled day. Now to find some tasty Scottish treats!

Walking around the grounds, it was no trouble finding an abundance of Scottish goodies; Not to mention kilts, Scottish clan information, accessories and more. However, since we wanted to catch the opening of the ceremony and the massing of the bands, we temporarily curbed our shopping and found a good viewing spot on the main parade grounds.

You either love bagpipes – or you hate ‘em. I absolutely love them and they never fail to inspire me. Seeing and hearing hundreds of pipers and drummers massing together and marching in time is truly a glorious thing. (Again, I love the bagpipes. I can see how this might not appeal to someone who doesn’t…) The musicians did not disappoint and it was a great start to a sunny, Victoria morning. And even though it was spring in the Pacific Northwest, I was wishing I’d applied more sunscreen…

After enjoying the bands, we did a bit of shopping and browsing. We all found things we couldn’t live without and stocked up on various Scottish treats. While shortbread and toffee can certainly be enjoyed as a meal, it seemed like a good time to check out the more hearty offerings of the food vendors. (And the beer tent!) Kristen and Tori opted for traditional fish & chips, but since there was an actual haggis stand, that’s where I lined up. I know it doesn’t sound immediately appealing and I was skeptical the first time I tried it, but I’ve grown to love haggis; especially when served with whisky gravy, tatties and neeps. (Mashed potatoes and mashed turnips/rutabagas) I’d liken haggis to a cross between sausage and corned beef hash.

In addition to our tasty lunches, we enjoyed a beer along with a demonstration of Scottish dancing on the nearby stage. It’s similar to Irish step dancing and always seems very merry. It was a great accompaniment to our meal and provided a great excuse to sit down and rest for a spell. After we got our fill of the dance, we grabbed another beer and went off to locate what would be a very cool falconry demonstration and then onto the tossing of heavy objects! (And more beer!)

The actual ‘games’ of the Scottish games celebrations involve the tossing of items such as enormous wooden poles called ‘cabers’ and ridiculously heavy weights, shot-puts and hammers. The items are tossed for height or distance and typically involve a lot of grunting and are referred to as the ‘heavy events.’ Both men and women compete and it’s never a dull display. There is also an epic tug-of-war event that blows away any schoolyard completion I could ever recall from grade school. The athletes that participate in these events are incredibly strong and incredibly fun to watch. We were absolutely entertained and it was a great way to wrap up the afternoon.

After all of that traditional Scottish pageantry, we were ready for a traditional dinner at one of Victoria’s coolest pubs, Bard & Banker Public House in the heart of downtown Victoria. I’ve visited on several occasions and I’m never disappointed. This time was no exception and everything we ordered was quite tasty. It’s an expansive pub full of traditional decor and can get quite boisterous on a weekend night – perfect for celebrating after the Highland games! I always try to make it in for at least a pint on any visit. They also have a great whisky, beer and wine list.

Even though we were pretty full after dinner, we were on vacation and decided we needed dessert. Not too far from the Bard & Banker, we ran across one of the most glorious purveyors of dessert glory to be found, Chocolats Flavoris. Bottom line, they serve CHOCOLATE POUTINE. Good lord. Chocolate poutine, I say!

Poutine, a traditional Canadian dish featuring French fries, cheese curds and gravy, is a heart-stopping mound of deliciousness. Their version of poutine, featuring French fry sized pastries, ice cream, marshmallows (for the cheese curds) and chocolate sauce can officially stop my heart anytime! They also serve amazing fondue, chocolate bars, customizable sundaes with one-of-a-kind sauces and more. WOW! I’d be in SO much trouble if there were one of these close to home…

If you’re not in the mood for traditional pub food, there are many options in the downtown area to suit any tastes. A few places to consider:

  • The 10 Acres Bistro and Kitchen are two, separate spots, directly next to each other. Featuring farm-to-table fare made with goods grown on their own farm, they’re a great place to enjoy the fresh flavors of Vancouver Island. Located in downtown Victoria, near the Inner Harbour.
  • Bin 4 Burger Lounge features delicious gourmet burgers and more, made with local ingredients. There are a few locations on Vancouver Island with two being in downtown Victoria and the Westwood areas.
  • For classic Pacific Northwest fare and classic Jazz, check out Herman’s Jazz Club in the downtown area for a great night out. (Note: Reservations for dinner and shows are recommended.)

On the way back to the car, we timed it perfectly and were able to catch the Clan torchlight parade in front of the Parliament building. The lights popped on and the bagpipes began to play. It truly was a lovely way to end the day. The weather was sublime and the sunset over the Inner Harbour in addition to the music was absolutely enchanting. We all agreed it was a pretty fitting end to our first visit to the Victoria Highland Games and definitely plan on returning for future games.

As we’d gotten back to the Airbnb at a fairly reasonable hour the night before, we were feeling relatively refreshed the next morning. We packed up all our things at the Airbnb and resigned ourselves to enjoy one last morning in Victoria. The weather was great and the skies clear; it was going to be a beautiful trip home on the ferry.

But first, we wanted to get in one last jaunt around downtown Victoria. I’d been wanting to locate Mile 0, the genesis of the iconic, near 5000-mile Trans-Canada Highway, so off we went in search of it. (It spans the entire length of Canada!) Located on the hills just past downtown and the Inner Harbour, it’s well worth a visit and the views looking out over the water are beautiful. There are also great trails leading down to the shore and a nice park where you can pull up some grass and enjoy a picnic. (But maybe don’t actually pull up any grass…)

After checking out the highway majesty of Mile-0, we hit up the funky and very delicious, Frankie’s Modern Diner near the Inner Harbour for breakfast. While enjoying our meals, we contemplated what we could possibly fit into the few hours we had left. Since we’d missed seeing the Saturday farmers market, we all agreed the Bastion Square Sunday Market sounded like a great idea.

Turns out it was indeed a good idea and we much enjoyed the artisan scene of the market. Set along the walkways of Bastion Square in downtown Victoria, the market features all sorts of wonderful local arts and crafts. Each of us found several great items and chatted with a few of the artists. It was a great way to bid adieu to the city and all of its artful charms.

Since we needed to get in line for the ferry at 1pm, it was time to head back towards the car. Along the way, however, we made a stop at one of Victoria’s most famous shops, Murchie’s Tea. (Murchie’s founder and Scotsman, John Murchie, learned his trade by delivering tea to Queen Victoria while she was in residence at Balmoral Castle and learned to blend the teas she enjoyed.) Since Victoria is known as the “tea capital of Canada”, it goes without saying this shop helped cultivate that title. (It’s been around since 1894) I go there every time I’m in town and always stock up on their delicious tea blends, my favorites being their Black Currant and Scottish Breakfast teas. (Okay, maybe I often pick up a tea cup or two. This trip was no exception.) They also serve a lovely afternoon tea and feature a deli and sandwich counter I’d compare to my beloved Fortnum & Mason in London. (Same goes for their large tea selection!)

In addition to the excellent scene at Murchie’s, there are many other spots to enjoy tea in the area. A few more places to celebrate with your “pinkies out”:

  • If you’re looking for a lovely guest house and delicious high tea, Pendray Inn & Tea House has you covered. Located just up from the Inner Harbour, they are a beautiful place to rest your head and sip your tea.
  • The Abkhazi Garden &Teahouse serve high tea and light lunch items surrounded by an absolutely beautiful garden setting. Cultivated by the Prince and Princess Abkhazi over the course of 40 years, the house and gardens are a lovely tribute to their story.
  • Located just outside the downtown area, White Heather Tea Room serves traditional high teas as well as light lunch fare. They get great reviews and are high on my list for future visits.
  • Located in Chinatown, La Roux Patisserie is also high on my list for my next visit. Serving French pastries, cakes, coffee and tea, they are well known for their delicious treats.
  • Also in Chinatown, Silk Road Tea features not only delicious teas, but also a skincare line and a day-spa. I am completely on board with spending the afternoon sipping tea and enjoying spa services. Completely.
  • Serving delicious breakfast, lunch and high tea since 1956, Dutch Bakery does not disappoint. They also offer wonderful looking wedding cakes and delicious pastries.
  • Venus Sophia Tea Room & Vegetarian Eatery bill themselves as a ‘modern tearoom’ and feature traditional high tea fare with a twist. Located in downtown Victoria, they are nice respite from the hubbub of the city. Reservations are recommended.
  • Located outside of Victoria, Westholme Tea Company and farm hosts a tea shop, gallery, tours and tearoom. I haven’t visited yet, but it looks like a lovely spot to spend a few peaceful hours. It’s high on my list for my next visit.

Mugs
Okay. Maybe I picked up a few mugs…

And with that, it was time to board the ferry and return to Washington State. A couple of hours back on the MV Coho and we arrived safely on the shores of home. I love Victoria – and I love Canada. To know I can get a shot of Canadian goodness along with a proper spot of tea just a couple of hours from my home is a wonderful thing, indeed. We do have so much in common with our Canadian neighbors, but it is also nice to celebrate what makes us both unique. I think we have a pretty cool partnership. Until next time, Victoria. Take good care, eh?

Butchart Gardens
I infinitely love you, Victoria! (from the Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens)

 

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Victoria B.C. – Click HERE to check out my custom Spotify playlist

~A celebration of Canadian Musicians and Song~

  • Dance Me to the End of Love – Madeline Peyroux (from Careless Love)
  • Harvest Moon – Cassandra Wilson (from New Moon Daughter)
  • Yvette in English – Joni Mitchell (from Turbulent Indigo)
  • The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines – Joni Mitchell (from Mingus)
  • Refuge of the Roads – Joni Mitchell (from Hejira)
  • Beautiful Child – Rufus Wainwright (from Want One)
  • I Don’t Know What It Is – Rufus Wainwright (from Want One)
  • I’m An Errand Girl for Rhythm – Diana Krall (from All for You – A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio)
  • Hit that Jive Jack – Diana Krall (from All for You – A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio)
  • If You Could Read My Mind – Gordon Lightfoot (from If You Could Read My Mind)
  • Luck in My Eyes – K.D. Lang & The Reclines (from Absolute Torch & Twang)
  • Atomic Number – Neko Case, K.D. Lang, Laura Veirs (from case/lang/veirs)
  • Closer to the Heart – Rush (from A Farewell to Kings)
  • Fly By Night – Rush (from Fly By Night)
  • Let Love Reign – Robbie Robertson (from Let Love Reign/I Hear You Paint Houses)
  • Theme from the Last Waltz – Concert Version – The Band (from The Last Waltz)
  • Coyote (feat. Joni Mitchell) – Concert Version – The Band, Joni Mitchell (from The Last Waltz)
  • Marrakesh Night Market – Loreena McKennitt (from The Mask and the Mirror)
  • Bonny Portmore – Loreena McKennitt (from The Visit)
  • Misguided Angel – Cowboy Junkies (from The Trinity Sessions)
  • 1234 – Feist (from The Reminder)
  • Sealion – Feist (from The Reminder)
  • Crabbuckit – K-OS (from Joyful Rebellion)
  • There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back – Shawn Mendes (from Illuminate)

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 Quick links to more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State: Thurston County

Greetings!

Looking for beautiful wildlife habitats, mysterious plains, plentiful outdoor opportunities or perhaps the inner-workings of the state’s legislative process? All of these attractions and more can be found along the highways and byways of scenic Thurston County. Let’s go!

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry blossoms on the grounds of the state capitol.

Since Thurston County is host to the state capitol of Olympia, it’s a fairly accessible county to visit. Interstate-5, US-101/US-12 and SR-507 are all great routes into and through the county. That said, as Olympia plays such an important role in the operations of Washington State, it can sometimes be a bit crowded getting around the area. The keys to successful navigation are avoiding typical rush hours and knowing the back ways. However, if you’re specifically heading into Olympia proper, you might end up waiting in a bit of traffic. No one likes a backup, but since the area has so many great things to see and do, sometimes a little extra wait is worth it.

Since I’m coming from the Seattle area, I typically head south on I-5. When I have extra time, my favorite route is to come down from the north via beautiful US-101. The cross-section of the state you get to see on that highway is breathtaking and well worth the detour. However, since I’m typically heading either into Olympia or further south, I-5 is my regular approach. Other than the aforementioned Olympia traffic, I have no issues with this route as it leads directly through the gorgeous lands of the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, located just off the freeway near the city of Lacey.

For years, I’ve been caught up in the mind-numbing pulse of I-5 traffic. I’ve always made note of how beautiful the areas around Lacey are, but have never really made the effort to investigate. I’ve simply kept up with the flow of traffic and continued on to my destination. But the times, they are a-changin’ and I’m making a concerted effort to stop at all of the roadside attractions and back-road locales I can. Life is just too short to keep to the main roads. And with that in mind, I pulled off of I-5 at Exit 114 and drove towards the most stunning wildlife refuge…

Established in 1974 and located in the Nisqually River Delta, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is an absolutely gorgeous swath of land and habitat types. The freshwater of the Nisqually River and saltwater of Puget Sound combine in this area, resulting in a large variety of plant and animal life. On my recent visit, I saw all manner of birds, including a very majestic Blue Heron as well an amazing microcosm of life in the marshlands. The Visitor Center was unfortunately closed on my visit, but I was still able to hang out on their back observation deck and enjoy the scene. I was there near dusk and the sunset was absolutely peaceful and serene. Sigh… There are several small hikes in the area, but be sure to check out the Twin Barns Loop Trail and its lovely boardwalk. (No dogs allowed.)

After walking along the boardwalk and taking in all the beautiful scenery, I was getting a little hungry. I noticed a few restaurants and shops on the other side of the I-5 exit, so I decided to investigate. As I’m always in the market for an old-school burger, I was happy to come upon the Medicine Creek Café, owned and operated by longtime stewards of the area, the Nisqually Tribe. I’m so glad I stopped in as the burger and accompanying beer were great and they had fried pickles. SCORE! Amazing scenery and a tasty burger, all off of an unassuming highway exit. You just never know what you’re going to find…

For other tasty food options while in the Lacey area, head to Ricardo’s Steak & Seafood for delicious lobster bisque and a juicy steak or NW chain, Hops-n-Drops if you’d like to keep with the tasty burger theme. If you’re in need of tasty beverages, Lacey has a few great spots to check out:

  • If you love wowing your friends with unique drink concoctions, head to Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs and check out their expansive selection of small-batch liqueurs. Made with all organic ingredients, they are delicious on their own or in any number of drink combinations. Additionally, the staff was incredibly cool and happy to chat all things beverage. I brought home the Honeybush, Rose, Lavender and Hibiscus liqueurs and have been mad-sciencing tasty cocktails ever since. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.)
  • If you’re not driving, consider doing a tasting room crawl at Axis Meads, located in the same complex as Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs. They specialize in handcrafted honey meads made with delicious herbs and spices. Try the lavender mead! (Open Fridays and Saturdays)
  • Directly next door to Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs, you’ll find the Stottle Winery tasting room. Featuring delicious wines produced from Washington grapes, they can also be found in Hoodsport, in lovely Mason County. Try their Tempranillo! (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
  • Just a little further south in Lacey, you’ll find Top Rung Brewing. Owned and operated by two local firemen, they offer small-batch craft brews as well as seasonal varieties. Try the Lacey Lager and My Dog Scout Stout! (Tasting room is family and pet friendly. Local food trucks featured. Closed Mondays.)
  • And just a little further still, you’ll find the Madsen Family Cellars tasting room and winery. A local winery featuring Washington-grown grapes, they have wines to suit a variety of palates. The Beri’s Delight Riesling (named after the owner’s mother) and their 2010 Sangiovese are both lovely. (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
  • Not too far from the Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve, look for the Medicine Creek Winery. Located in an idyllic farm setting in the Nisqually Valley, they feature red wines in their very unique 1800s New Orleans brothel-themed barn. (Which includes a dance floor and stagecoach!) (Saturday – Sunday, Noon – 5pm)

Lacey sometimes gets outshined by the glow of its big-time neighbor, Olympia. However, there are many beautiful areas to visit before dipping your toe in the excitement of the state capitol. A few places to enjoy before you head up the Capitol steps:

  • There are five freshwater lakes in Lacey proper and Long Lake Park is a great one to check out. They have a large beach area with swimming and beach volleyball and the park is adjacent to a large, forested area with walking trails.
  • Located directly on Puget Sound, Tolmie State Park offers beautiful forested hikes, salt-water fishing, clamming and crabbing opportunities as well as a serene getaway from the hectic pace of nearby city life. (Discover Pass required)
  • Head to the Lacey Museum to learn about the town, culture and life of local residents from the 1800s and into the present day. And don’t miss their Sasquatch Revealed exhibit taking place from May 31st until September 29th! (Wednesday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm)

I grew up in Washington State and have vivid memories of seeing television ads for Olympia Beer with the ever-present “It’s the water” voice-over. Granted, Olympia Beer was technically produced in neighboring Tumwater, but it will always be synonymous with Olympia for me. (Same goes for Rainier Beer and Mt. Rainier.) Yes, Olympia also happens to be the state capitol and the area boasts a rich history for both Native American and western settlement. These are kind of important points and worthy of exploration and contemplation for any Washingtonian, including myself. That said, after my recent trek through Olympia and Thurston County, it’ll always be about the water, but now so much more…

It's the Water
Olympia Brewing may be closed, but the love lives on. (Taken at Well 80 in downtown Olympia)

You can’t miss Olympia as you’re driving along the I-5 corridor. The freeway cuts directly through the city and the state capitol can easily be seen, rising stately above the downtown area. (The Legislature Building is 287 feet tall and the tallest free-standing masonry dome in the country!) There are so many things to see and do in Olympia, but a fine place to start is indeed at the capitol.

The Washington State Capitol, with its beautifully manicured grounds, is a great place to visit any time of the year. (On the National Register of Historic Places) If you’re there late morning or early afternoon, bone up on your governmental knowledge and take a guided tour of the beautiful Legislative Building – Or enjoy the tour from the comfort of your desktop with their virtual tour. If you’re curious of how the Washington Supreme Court operates, you can view oral arguments in the courtroom of the imposing Temple of Justice building, located directly across from the Legislative Building. (The sessions are also broadcast live on Washington’s Public Affairs Station, TVW.) Legislative Building tours run on the hour from 10am to 3pm during the week and 11am to 3pm on weekends. The Temple of Justice is open on weekdays from 8am to 5pm. It is also possible to tour the oldest building on the capitol grounds, the Governor’s Mansion (c. 1909) on most Wednesdays.

If you happen to be visiting outside of regular business hours, there is still much to see and do. Check out the beautiful campus grounds, which are especially lovely in the spring with a large variety of flowering trees. The campus is also much less crowded after regular hours and you’ll have plenty of time to view the many monuments, memorials and art installations, not to mention the sweeping views of Capitol Lake and the West Bay of Budd Inlet from the majestic Capitol Steps. There is also access to beautiful walking and hiking paths leading down to Capitol Lake and around adjacent Heritage Park.

Not too far from the Capitol and on the West Bay of Budd Inlet, you’ll find Percival Landing. It’s one of three waterfront parks and conveniently close to the stellar Olympia Farmers Market. (Thurs – Sun, 10am – 3pm – April to Oct) The market and its surrounding areas are a goldmine of great shops, restaurants, waterfront access and an overall excellent way to spend a day. A permanent structure housing bakers, farmers, artists, butchers and more makes even rainy-day shopping fun and it’s hard to walk away without a big bag of goodies. They also have a covered stage with regular live music, several food vendors with outdoor seating and a very lovely manicured garden. Some of the spots I enjoyed on my recent visit:

  • There are several great food vendors to try, but since Dingey’s Puget Sound Cuisine had homemade crab cakes on the menu, how could I say no? Since I knew I’d be sampling more cuisine that day, I ordered the small plate and as soon as I dug in, I regretted not getting the bigger one. Next visit!

  • The jerky at Stewart’s Meats was fabulous and the cuts of meat in their butcher case looked very tasty. Next time I’ll be bringing home some steaks as well as more of their maple beef jerky (Located inside the Market and at their main location in nearby Yelm)

  • The cheddar and chive cheese curds at TUNaWERTH Creamery were delicious. Next time I plan on bringing home some of their fresh cottage cheese. Mini cheese curds!
  • Directly across from the market, hit up the Dancing Goat Coffee Bar (also in Lacey) for a great cup of locally roasted coffee. Their flagship coffeehouse, the Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse is located in nearby downtown Olympia and well worth seeking out and if you consider yourself a coffee aficionado, head to the nearby Batdorf & Bronson Tasting Room to sample coffees from growing regions around the globe. (Located a couple blocks from the Farmers Market)
  • Let it be stated for the record that I have a weakness for macarons. If you suffer the same affliction, stop in at Macarons by Mel, located across from the Market and enjoy macaron greatness.

Macarons By Mel
Achieve Macaron greatness at Macarons By Mel!

  • Located a few blocks down from the market, Olympia Seafood Co. sells the freshest of fresh seafood out of their warehouse shop. The list of fish they carry is impressive and their clam chowder and smoked salmon spread are absolutely delicious. I’m pretty sure I’d put that spread on anything!

If you’re interested in checking out the farmers in their home setting, these farms are all located in close proximity of the Olympia area and offer a fun day of exploring:

  • The Johnson Berry Farm Stand sells their delicious wares online and at the Olympia Farmers Market, but you can stop by their farm stand and enjoy the freshest of the fresh berries when in season. (Check website for hours and dates) They can also be found at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the Puyallup Farmers Market and the Ballard Farmers Market.
  • Evergreen Valley Lavender Farm is open during the harvest season from mid-June through mid-August. (Check website for hours and dates) They offer many products in the gift shop featuring their lavender and are a very fragrant stop to make on a warm summer day.
  • Three artesian wells on the property feed the creek for which Ashley Creek Farm is named. Specializing in garlic, squash, pumpkins, corn, flowers and more, the farm is a great place to visit any time of year. Their store is open every day from 9am to 6pm, year-round and they regularly have events to suit the season.
  • The Schilter Family Farm features a fall festival with corn mazes and pumpkin patches as well as a Christmas tree farm beginning in late November. They’re located off of Exit 114, on the other side of I-5 and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Lacey.

Market Apples
Delicious produce to be found at the market!

Olympia has no shortage of great restaurants and several of them are very close to the Farmers Market. If you’d like to enjoy a delicious meal and possibly a great view of the water, these fine options are within walking distance – or a very quick drive – of the market:

  • Classic Olympia dining spot, Budd Bay Café overlooks the West Bay of Budd Inlet and sits next to the historic Fiddlehead Marina. (Note to self: They do have limited live-aboard slips available…) The seafood is delicious and watching the sailboats and my future yacht tool around the bay is an excellent way to pass the time. After your meal, take a stroll over to Percival Landing and check out the 100-year old Sand Man Tugboat and floating museum. (Open to the public and free to visit – On the National Register of Historic Places.)

  • The Dockside Bistro & Wine Bar features locally sourced ingredients in a delicious fusion of European and Southeast Asian styles. The wine selection is great and they also feature a full bar with craft cocktails. Open for lunch and dinner.
  • A local Olympia favorite since 1924 and recently revamped, the Olympia Oyster House serves up several varieties and preparations of delicious, local oysters and shellfish. Try any of the baked oyster dishes! Located near Percival Landing and the Sand Man Tugboat. Open for lunch and dinner and featuring great outdoor seating.
  • If you’re looking to keep it casual, stop by the Oly Taproom for a great local brew and a view of the bay from their outdoor seating area. They also offer a limited pizza menu.
  • NW favorite, Anthony’s Homeport is just across from the market on Budd Inlet with views of the marina and the Port Plaza (Port Plaza has a public dock and offers short term moorage) After a delicious meal of perhaps pan-fried oysters or Dungeness crab cakes, be sure to climb the steps of the viewing tower located near the docks. The view is wonderful!

The historic, downtown core of Olympia is a great place to visit, filled with funky shops, clubs, restaurants, murals, artesian wells and more. (The historic downtown area is on the National Register of Historic Places) It’s an incredibly eclectic mix of history and commerce and is a must for experiencing the full flavor of the area. Here’s a small handful of the many cool spots in the downtown area:

  • Olympia’s oldest brewpub (since 1993), the Fish Tale Brewpub is an excellent place to visit for pub fare and tasty brews from nearby Fish Brewing Company. (Or cider from their sister cider-brewing company, Spire Mountain.) Featuring great burgers, pub favorites like shepherd’s pie and delicious local seafood, they’re a perfect stop along your downtown tour. They also have a taproom in the Woodinville area.

Fish Tale Brew Pub
Drink a tasty brew, sit outside and enjoy the sun…

  • Housed inside the historic 222 Market on Capitol Way North are a very cool collection of shops and restaurants. Hit up the Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar for all variety of oysters along with fresh chowder, shrimp and grits, craft cocktails and more – And then head directly across the hall and sample the excellent offerings from local distillery, Shoebox Spirits. (While there, I picked up a delicious bloody Mary mix from The Real Dill to go with their excellent, Single Malt Vodka. The staff is also fabulous! HOT UPDATE: I stopped by the other day and they’re moving the entire operation to Tumwater! Stay tuned to their Facebook Page for updates.) For dessert, consider a homemade scoop from Sofie’s Scoops Gelateria, located just around the hallway. And a must-try for any visit to the 222 Market are any of the offerings from French-style bakery and café, The Bread Peddler. Also part of the Bread Peddler family and located in 222 Market is the Peddler Bistro. (Check Bread Peddler website as hours/days vary for each spot)

  • The appropriately named Well 80 Artesian Brewing sits atop one of Olympia’s famous artesian wells by the name of… Well 80. Paying homage to the great brewing tradition of the Olympia and Tumwater areas, Well 80 brews craft beers in the tradition of Olympia Beer founder, Leopold Schmidt. So much so, one of their recent small-batch brews goes by the name of ‘Leopold’s #1 Lager’ and follows a recipe from one of Leopold’s recently discovered, handwritten notebooks. (Translated from German!) It was also created in partnership with a former brewmaster from Olympia Beer, Paul Knight. (Brewmaster from 1974 – 1997. That’s a lot of brewing!) Stop in and try this tribute to the origins of now famous, Olympia Beer before it’s gone – and grab one of their delicious burgers (w/tots!) or pizzas to enjoy with it! The lager truly is delicious and won’t be around long as they only produced a relatively small batch. Don’t miss out on tasting a bit of brewing history!

  • On the topic of artesian wells (and the mysterious Artesians who make the water), the Jefferson Street Well, located near a parking lot just off the Corner of Jefferson Street and 4th Avenue, is an awesome and publicly accessible artesian well. Fill up your water bottle and bask in the pristine freshness of ancient waters bubbling up from deep below the surface. And keep an eye out for Artesians…

If all that looking for Artesians has made you hungry – and thirsty – there are many more places in the downtown area to check out:

  • The McMenamins Spar Café is another beer-brewing establishment making great use of an onsite artesian well. (Well water estimated to be about 3,300 years old, according to hydrology studies) The Spar Café is a long time fixture of the downtown Olympia area and is now owned by the northwest McMenamin family. They specialize in restoring and renovating beloved NW sites into restaurants and cool inns. The Spar Café is no exception and is a great place to stop for a meal and an artesian brew. Located on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia.
  • Three Magnets Brewing Co. is a great local brewpub with a creative menu including scratch pimento cheese dip, pork belly sliders, lamb burgers and more. Located about a block behind Fish Tale Brewing on Franklin Street.
  • Over a few blocks from downtown and overlooking the lovely Capitol Lake, Swing Wine Bar serves small plates and full dinners along with a nice selection of wines, cocktails and local beers. (Closed Sundays)
  • Serving diner-style delicacies to Olympians for generations, King Solomon’s Reef offers delicious food, kitsch and cocktails from their “Breakfast in the front, party in the back!” location on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia.
  • Just down from King Solomon’s Reef is the Octapas Café, serving inventive, small-plate tapas dishes, house specialties, tasty beverages and regular live music.
  • Rush in Alaskan Dumplings was closed on my recent visit, but I’ll be back. If there’s any type of dumpling involved, I need to try it. It’s just a part of my foodie makeup. Furthermore, they serve my favorite type of dumplings, pelmeni. Oh, I’ll definitely be back…
  • Housed in the beautiful old Security Building (c. 1927) in downtown Olympia, Dillinger’s Cocktails & Kitchen is an excellent night out. Serving old school cocktails as well as new creations, this is definitely the cool place to imbibe in Olympia. Their food menu echoes the ‘old-school meets new’ vibe and features locally sourced ingredients – and they feature a Sunday evening special prix-fixe meal for $35. You can even hold a private party in the bank’s old vault! Live music on Monday nights.
  • If you’re looking for a cool club with regular great music, head to Rhythm and Rye in the downtown corridor and stay out late! Come on – all the cool kids are doin’ it… If a little ivory tickling is more your fancy, stop in at Tipsy Piano Bar and enjoy a few Jazz and Pop standards along with dinner and cocktails. Brunch on the weekends.

  • There’s a lot to learn during a trip to downtown or to the Capitol and the Bigalow House Museum can help further your education. Said to be the oldest residence in Olympia (c. 1850s and occupied by generations of the Bigalow family up until 2005), it’s open for tours and is an excellent peek into the lives of one of Olympia’s most influential families. Check out the Olympia Historical Society Events page for tour info.

While there are many fabulous dining and drinking establishments in Olympia, there are also many excellent shops, outdoor activities and cool locales to explore. A handy counterpart to any celebratory pounds one might gain during their Olympia gorge-fest culinary explorations… In addition to the beautiful strolls around the capitol and its surrounds, take a stroll around downtown and take in the scene.