I Ate the State – Special Edition: I Ate the Neighborhood

Greetings from my office/living/entertainment/multi-purpose room! I hope this installment finds you well and safe in whatever room of the house you’re currently exploring. I was just in the spare bedroom a little while ago – what an adventure! Don’t worry. I brought snacks… And wine.

One of the main reasons I began I Ate the State was to highlight areas of the state I hadn’t visited. I grew up in Washington and thought I knew my state, but when breaking it down by county, I realized just how many areas I’d not yet explored; how many Washington State adventures were still lying in wait. There is so much unique beauty and culinary genius to enjoy in this state, but I know even after visiting every county, there will still be new adventures to experience. I’m willing to do the work…

In the meantime, however, I’ve been enjoying the state from a slightly smaller perspective. I’ve really missed getting out and exploring on a grander scale, but switching focus to the microcosm of my Bothell neighborhood has definitely been rewarding. Granted, my walking excursions and take-out from local restaurants don’t always match the grandeur of a good day or weekend trip, but they’re not a bad compromise. And just like I thought I knew my state, I also thought I knew my neighborhood… Seems regardless of the scale, there’s always something to explore; always something surprising to enjoy.

Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. It can pop out of cracks in the sidewalks, wander across the sky in the movement of lazy clouds or burst into view with the blossoms of spring. It’s in the joy of little bunnies popping out of nowhere, making tracks down the road and in the sound of the ice cream truck rolling through the neighborhood. (ICE CREAM TRUCK!!! RUUUUUNNN!!!) There’s something to be said for beauty being in the eye of the beholder. One can behold it anywhere and in any capacity – You just need to keep your eyes open to its many charms. I’m working daily on keeping mine open during this very… unique and challenging time.

When I’m not busy chasing down the ice cream truck, I’ve been hitting up some of my favorite neighborhood spots for take-out and more. (Seriously – Can anyone deny the siren call of the ice cream truck? Is anyone not immediately reduced to a crazed 5-year old??) Here’s a short list of the awesome spots in old town Bothell I’ve been enjoying over the years as well as during the past couple months:

  • A long-time favorite of Bothell residents is the Ranch Drive-in on Bothell Way NE, in the heart of old town Bothell. (Since 1959!) I’ve been a devotee since moving to the area several years ago and hope to be a patron for many years to come. The menu is filled with classic treats, but my favorites are the Ranch Burger with cheese and the CRINKLE FRIES with their homemade tartar sauce. (#CRINKLEFRIES4LIFE) I’m also quite fond of their grilled hotdogs and fish sandwiches. Mmmm… Their walk-up window is currently open daily. Check website for hours. I LOVE YOU, RANCH DRIVE-IN.
  • The Hillcrest Bakery has been serving Bothell since 1934, with current family operation since 1965. It’s no wonder they’ve become such a mainstay in the community as their baked goods are I’ve ordered many cakes over the years and absolutely swear by their sausage rolls. (Phone in order and pick up around the back – Open until 6pm)
  • The classic Countryside Donut House off Main Street in old town Bothell has been enticing locals with their donuty goodness for many a year. I’m a big fan of their delectable maple bars and custard filled donuts. YUM!! Cash and check only. (Current hours: 5am – 3pm daily)
  • Alexa’s Café on Main Street in old town Bothell is actually the last dining room I visited before the statewide lock-down. Sigh… While I await the reopening of the restaurant in full, I’ll be ordering their delicious Eggs Benny for take-away. Great for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Alexa’s features dishes made with local ingredients in their cozy dining room. (Current take-out for Breakfast/Lunch only – 8:30am – 2pm, Wed-Sun)
Alexa's Cafe
The Eggs Benny at Alexa’s is delicious!!
  • Revolve Food & Wine is somewhat new to the Main Street scene in old town Bothell, but they’ve been making a delicious case to become part of the area staples. They are currently open for take-out and delivery from 4-7pm and specialize in gluten, grain, preservative and refined sugar-free dishes featuring high-quality local ingredients. They also have an excellent wine selection, along with cocktails and beer available for take-away.
  • I have two very important words for you: Truffle Popcorn. Everything I’ve tried at The Bine has been consistently delicious, but that truffle popcorn… DREAMY. I would eat it every day… And as surprising as it is to me, I’d also say the same about their Brussels sprouts. The rest of the menu is excellent, but I’d also like to personally recommend the Pho’rench Dip and either the bacon or veggie grilled cheese sandwiches. (Get both!) Their awesome beer and wine selection is also available for take-away. (Open daily, Noon – 8pm)
  • Teriyaki Best has been my local go-to teriyaki spot for many years. It’s a tiny place off Main Street in old town Bothell, but very big on flavor. The dishes are always tasty, the portions satisfying and the service great. I love the salmon teriyaki and the Katsu chicken. (Open for take-out at 11am – 8:30pm during week, Noon – 8pm Saturday. Closed Sunday.)
  • I’m a frequenter of their conveyor-belt operation, but have recently been enjoying the take-out options at Sushi Zone on Main Street in old town Bothell. I’m addicted to the Bothell and UW rolls as well as many other tasty items. Sesame balls!! (Order online and pick-up. No delivery. Check online for hours.)
Sushi Zone
DELICIOUS!
  • Located in old town Bothell on NE 183rd Street, The Cottage offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner in a cozy atmosphere. (Outdoor seating, curbside pickup and free delivery currently available.) In addition to single portions, they’re also presently offering family-style brunch and dinners along with date-night specials, a great coffee menu and adult beverages. They regularly host live music and during the lock-down are featuring online performances via Facebook. (Currently open 8am – 8pm, Mon-Fri, 9am – 8pm, Saturday and 9am – 3pm on Sunday)
  • I very much miss their original location (RIP Country Village), but I’m so happy Cranberry Cottage has found a new home in the old town Bothell area. It was dangerous enough when they were a 5-minute drive away, but now they’re a one-block walk DANGER! Chances are, if you’re a friend or family member, you’ve received a super-cool gift found over the years at Cranberry Cottage. And you probably will again!! (Currently open for limited curbside pick-up – order online.)
Cranberry Cottage
Curbside pick-up is available at the charming Cranberry Cottage

While I’m incredibly grateful for the excellent dining options within a few blocks of my home, I’m also working on keeping things interesting in my own kitchen. For the past two years, during spring, I’ve made treks down to beautiful Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been missing the sun and day-dreaming about the beach these past couple months, so I decided to try and recreate one of the dishes from my recent visit. The Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas Louie from Joe Jack’s Fish Shack are delicious and though I’m still fine-tuning the details, I’m pretty happy with my copycat results. YUM! I made some scratch hibiscus margaritas to go along with the tostadas and those, coupled with a sunny afternoon on the patio, were a much needed distraction from the office/living/entertainment/multi-purpose room setup.

I’ve also been exploring recipes online and found a great one for Chicken Pot Pie Biscuits on the lovely In Diane’s Kitchen website. They were delicious and reheated nicely in the oven throughout the week. In addition, I’ve been pretty happy with my various curry experiments and will be trying out a pulled ham Instant Pot dish later this week. Just trying to keep things tasty and interesting in the ol’ Quarantine Kitchen… And when all else fails, I’ve always got tater tots to fall back on… #TATERTOTS4LIFE

I have indeed been enjoying my neighborhood deep-dive, but am very much looking forward to the days of again branching out to the rest of the state. I love my neighborhood and it has a lot to offer, but it’s always fun to explore what other neighborhoods – and their neighbors – have to share. I’m also very much looking forward to exploring the state with friends and family. In the same vehicle. Less than 6-feet apart… But in the meantime, I’m happy to keep things safe and sound in my little corner of the world. I hope you are equally safe and sound – and staying sane – in your corner of the world as well.

Support your local businesses, support your neighbors – Eat the neighborhood! (But don’t eat your neighbors. That’s not right.)

Cheers!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To help you enjoy your own explorations, I’ve curated a special list of happy, neighborhood strollin’ tunes. Check out the playlist on SPOTIFY. I guarantee these songs will make you smile!

  • Keep on Truckin’ – Eddie Kendricks (from Eddie Kendricks)
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor – Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) (from You Are Special)
  • Traveling Without Moving – Jamiroquai (from Traveling Without Moving)
  • Come and get Your Love – Redbone (from Wovoka)
  • Time to Move On – Tom Petty (from Wildflowers)
  • Mah Na Mah Na – Sesame Street (from A Sesame Street Celebration)
  • Lovely Day – Bill Withers (from Menagerie)
  • Getaway – Earth, Wind & Fire (from Spirit)
  • Gone At Last – Paul Simon w/Phoebe Snow & The Jessy Dixon Singers (from Still Crazy After All These Years)
  • As – Stevie Wonder (from Songs in the Key of Life)
  • Beautiful World – Colin Hay (from Going Somewhere)
  • The Rainbow Connection – The Muppets (from The Muppets Original Soundtrack)
  • Mo’ Better Blues (feat. Terence Blanchard) – Branford Marsalis Quartet (from Mo’ Better Blues)
  • Billy Boy (1959 Take) – Ahmad Jamal (from Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis Play Ahmad Jamal)
  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher – Jackie Wilson (from Higher and Higher)
  • The Rubberband Man – The Spinners (from Happiness Is Being with The Spinners)
  • Freedom – Pharrell Williams (from Freedom)
  • Keep Your Head Up – Preservation Hall Jazz Band (from A Tuba to Cuba)
  • Just Around the Corner – Herbie Hancock (from Hands)
  • Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters (from The Pointer Sisters)
  • I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino (from Fats Domino Swings)
  • Be Brave, Be Strong – Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) (from It’s Such A Good Feeling)
Lilacs
Lilacs are pretty. I promise to not steal them from your yard.

 

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)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Quick links to more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State Special Edition – Puerto Vallarta: THE RETURN

¡Hola!

About a year ago, I visited sunny Puerto Vallarta and it was amazing. The landscapes, the culture, the food – everything was spectacular and I was looking forward to returning someday. I wasn’t planning on returning quite this soon, but when the opportunity arose, who was I to ignore it? My friend had been planning on visiting the area with her sister, but since she was unable to get away, I joined the adventure in her place. Sun-soaked beaches, art-packed streets and delicious margaritas? Bring it on!

~ For a look at last year’s Puerto Vallarta trip – my first ever to Mexico – check out the adventures HERE. ~

The View
Not a bad sight to greet the weary traveler…

Getting an incredibly early start on our day of departure (5:45am!) put us in Puerto Vallarta around 2:30pm. It was perfect as it allowed for a solid amount of time to check into our condo and take care of the necessary “errands” for the week. (i.e. Purchasing tequila, snacks, ice, coffee, etc. You know – The necessities.) That said, getting to the airport in time for a 5:45am flight wasn’t conducive to any sort of worthwhile, preparatory rest. I was fighting off yet another cold (still lingering from my recent Scottish holiday adventures) and my two hours of sleep didn’t really cut the mustard. To say I arrived in Puerto Vallarta a little out of sorts was an understatement.

Bloody Mary
The customary Bloody Mary Kick-off!

Lack of sleep is detrimental to many things; cognitive skills and memory being two such items. These abilities are required for activities such as filling out important immigration forms, carrying on intelligible conversations with foreign officials and remembering ATM pin numbers. Luckily, I was able to successfully navigate the first two obstacles, lack of sleep be damned. The swift recollection of my ATM pin, however, was an entirely different and sad matter…

As was the case with our last adventure, we waited to procure our Mexican pesos until arrival in Puerto Vallarta. While waiting in line to use the ATM, patting myself on the back for appearing mostly composed while entering the country, a thought suddenly struck; like a bolt of lightning, in fact. OMG – WHAT IS MY PIN NUMBER??

For the record, I have never forgotten my pin number. Additionally, I know my debit card and several credit card numbers by heart. The card I’d planned on using was the one I use every day – with my pin number. EVERY. DAY. Yet, as I stood there, mind blank and fuzzy, I couldn’t be exactly sure of the precise collection of pin numbers or their order. I totally panicked.

Still panicking, it was my turn at the ATM. I approached, palms sweating (which could’ve just been the crazy, afternoon heat) and pulled out my debit card. My mind was racing with possible number combinations and my hand was attempting to auto-recall the pattern on the number pad. While I was fairly certain I remembered the numbers, I couldn’t be entirely sure. To quote Pee-Wee Herman in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, “The mind plays tricks on you – You play tricks back…”

After two failed attempts, I stepped away from the ATM. I knew I only had a limited number of tries before the bank blocked my card, so I thought I’d let things settle for a while. Perhaps a bit of rest, reflection and beach gazing would do the trick. Thankfully, my friend knew I was good for it and since she had apparently remembered her pin number, we were able to pay for the taxi to our condo. We were both convinced I’d be able to sort this out later in the afternoon and off to enjoy the day we went.

After a fairly short cab ride to our condo, La Palapa, in the heart of Old Town Puerto Vallarta (aka: the Romantic Zone), we checked in and surveyed the scene. Last year, we stayed a little closer to the main part of the Malecon, but this time we were more in the center of the Old Town and directly on the expansive Los Muertos Beach. I loved where we stayed last year and would probably choose it for my next stay, but being directly on the beach and all of its activity was really quite lovely. (In all fairness, last year’s spot was also close to the beach, but you had to walk all the way across a 10-foot wide walkway (the Malecon) to get there. The horror.)

After we each claimed our respective rooms in the condo and got the lay of things, we set out to take care of important errands. Since I wasn’t feeling quite up to “adventure mode,” my main plans were to spend time resting and relaxing, living out my foodie dreams and maybe getting in a bit of writing. I’d been envisioning myself, ala Hemingway, enjoying the tranquil grace of the Old Town and soaking up the Arts scene. Throw in a spa treatment or two, some good tequila and a few beautiful sunsets and my time in Puerto Vallarta would be perfect. (All of which gloriously transpired.)

Procuring the essentials is of the utmost importance for a well-enjoyed holiday. A few places to help pave the way towards a relaxing and rejuvenating stay in Puerto Vallarta:

  • First things, first. Tequila is important. Good tequila is even more important. Don’t get caught in the tourist-trap tequila shops on and around the Malecon. Instead, head to Vinos América where the prices and selection are much better – and there’s air-conditioning! We visited the location in the Old Town area. A few times… We also found a pre-mixed tamarind margarita mix which was fantastic! I’ve always loved the flavor of tamarind, but had never tried it in a margarita. I’ve been unable to find it at home, but will be buying some tamarind concentrate in the near future to try and recreate the magic.
First margs!
Tamarind margaritas! Just required a quick trip to the store…
  • Just as good tequila is important, good coffee holds equal status. (In my world, anyway.) There are several coffee shops in the Old Town area, but being able to make a great cup of coffee first thing in the morning is an absolute requirement. Sitting out on the deck, watching the ocean, contemplating life… what a way to start the day. Vallarta Factory not only has delicious food, but they carry a great selection of ground and whole bean coffee, sourced from the local mountains. And if that weren’t enough, the adjacent chocolate shop also carries one of the most delicious creations known to the planet: Caramel-coated, roasted cacao beans. I became hooked on them after my last trip and have been dreaming about them ever since. Suffice to say, I brought back SEVERAL bags…
  • The Farmacia Guadalajara in the Old Town is a large drug store and has everything you need in the way of snacks, sundries and more. I’m still excited about my Frida Kahlo Aqua Net score from last year’s trip…
  • Keeping a bag of ice in the freezer is important for so many hot-weather reasons. OXXO mini-marts are virtually everywhere in Puerto Vallarta and it’s likely one will be located close to wherever you’re staying. Stop by for bagged ice, sodas, chips, ice cream bars and more!
  • Pedicures are good for what ails the tired, airport-dashing feet and a fine addition to any restful vacation. The staff at the Wow! Facial Bar, just up from our condo, was very accommodating and gave me an excellent pedicure. (They had a very interesting facial masque treatment I might try next time…) I did have to return the next day for a touch-up, buy they very graciously took care of everything. They didn’t even want me to pay for the touch-up!
  • If you were stuck with someone reclining their seat in front of you for the entire flight, work out your stress at Spa Holistic. Located directly on the beach/Malecon, their staff is excellent and the prices were amazing. You could also go the cheaper route and hit up the roaming foot massage troop working the beach, but an actual spa massage seemed like a better idea to me…
View from the Rooftop
A pretty amazing view from the rooftop

After stocking up on essentials and enjoying a couple of very tasty tamarind margaritas on the deck, it was time to think about dinner. Located downstairs in our condo and directly on the beach was the famous La Palapa restaurant and bar. Built in 1957 and the first restaurant on the beach, La Palapa is still owned by the same family and remains an icon in the Romantic Zone. If you’re looking for fancier dining, directly on the beach, check out the scene at La Palapa. They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner in their dining room or directly on the beach in their private seating area. They also host weddings and events and we watched them set up at least two beach weddings during our stay. Granted, there were only a few nights with sunsets, but the weather cooperated during the ceremonies and no one was rained out. Dreamy.

Since we weren’t feeling terribly fancy after our long travel day and running of errands, we decided to keep it casual that first night. (And most nights thereafter) Since it was Restaurant Week during our visit, we’d put together a list of potential eateries to investigate. (Note: Restaurant week is always longer than a week and this year ran from May 15th thru June 10th) Many cities feature restaurant weeks, but if you haven’t had the opportunity to participate, they’re a great way to enjoy pricier restaurants for more a reasonable cost. They usually feature a few prix fixe meals which offer a good overview of their full menu. On the list was Joe Jack’s Fish Shack, located a few blocks from our condo. Their menu looked tasty and it was a short walk for weary travelers… Perfect combo! The even bigger bonus was just how tasty the menu was. Everything we tried was delicious. The passion fruit margaritas were amazing and I would eat the Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas Louie every day of my life. Every day! We definitely returned for more during our stay…

There are so many stellar restaurants to try in Puerto Vallarta. The list is impressive and you’d need a very long stay to make your way through it, but it sure would be a delicious journey. We didn’t visit nearly as many spots as I’d hoped, but we made a noble effort. I guess the eyes of vacation planning are sometimes bigger than the stomach of time…

Here’s a short list of the places we visited and hoped to visit on this adventure. I suppose the good thing about not hitting every spot is having something to look forward to on the next trip! Because there will definitely be another trip…

  • We visited renowned chef, Thierry Blouet’s Café des Artistes during our stay and it was spectacular. The atmosphere and service were excellent – minus a small banana allergy mix-up – and the food was truly delicious. Their famous Cream of Prawn and Pumpkin soup (ladled from a carved out pumpkin) was fantastic and the ‘Catch of the Day’ was wonderful. (And I am kicking myself for not writing down the fish. It was delicate, white, flaky… Sigh…) And the desserts – Yowsa!
  • Directly next door to La Palapa, you’ll find Si Senor Beach. Quite handy to have great dining options just downstairs. The regular menu was somewhat pricey, but we opted for the Restaurant Week selections and weren’t disappointed. Interestingly, the margaritas we ordered ending up being the same price as our entire meal! (Pro tip: Don’t worry about getting the fancy tequila unless you’re going to sip it. Mid-shelf tequila for margaritas is absolutely acceptable.)
  • Situated on the Cuale River and featuring regular Jazz shows, Le Bistro has been high on my list on both visits – and it remains! They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and feature fresh seafood along with pasta and pizza on their dinner menu.
Le Bistro Cafe
Lovely riverside dining at Le Bistro Cafe
  • Appropriately perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean, Le Kliff features an amazing menu and is one of Puerto Vallarta’s most exclusive dining locales. While we didn’t get to visit on this excursion, my friend has dined there on past visits and speaks very highly of the experience.
  • Di Vino Dante features local cuisine with Mexican wine pairings. Born and raised in Puerto Vallarta, the owner was studying Fine Art in Vancouver B.C. when she also began studying wine. She returned home to showcase her knowledge and has been featuring Mexican and Latin American wines and cuisine at her intimate wine bar in the Old Town.
  • Nicksan features the very cool fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisine. Sashimi tostadas? They’ve got ‘em! Chiles stuffed with spicy crab and sesame sauce? Bring it on!!
  • Renowned local chef, Joel Ornelas, whose resume includes apprenticeships at Café des Artistes and Le Bistro as well as several well-reviewed European restaurants, puts his own touch on the classics at Tintoque. Their “Creative Menu” features fresh seafood and local produce and changes daily. Located at Vallarta Marina, near the Hotel Zone.
  • Tucked in along a side street near the Malecon, Florios specializes in a tasty blend of Italian and Argentinian inspired cuisines. Pasta and meat – together forever!
Florios
Italian and Argentinian dining at Florios near the Malecon
  • La Bodeguita del Medio was very crowded when we stopped by, but we stood outside and listened to the live Cuban music and I promised myself to try again next time. The Puerto Vallarta location is an offshoot of the same club Hemingway spent so much time at in Havana. (Which is still there!) Located at the heart of the Malecon.
  • Barcelona Tapas was on our list as my friend had visited before and raved about it. I love a good tapas. Who doesn’t?? We didn’t make it there together, but I will definitely be stopping in on my next visit.
  • Jorge’s Hideaway Shrimp Shack is as advertised, most definitely “hidden.” Tucked back into an Old Town neighborhood, you could easily mistake it for a small home. (Which it used to be!) My friend was on a quest for the best coconut shrimp and Jorge’s did not disappoint. Everything we had was fresh and delicious and I’ll definitely return on my next visit.
  • We were feeling peckish after a hot day of walking around and arrived a little early for dinner hours at The Swedes Bar & Bistro. They were very accommodating, however, and we ended up with the whole place to ourselves for dinner! Featuring local ingredients prepared with a European flare, everything we tried was delicious. The lobster bisque was a standout highlight for me. YUM!
  • Tucked into a tiny spot in the Old Town, Tacos Revolucion serves delicious tacos of all varieties and absolutely delicious tortas. They also have “Volcanoes” and “Cakes” – both savory dishes – which I will absolutely be trying on my next visit. I also didn’t get to try the “Meat in Your Juice,” which is described as Beef cooked in its juice with bacon, green sauce, scallion, beans from the pot and handmade tortillas. Guadalajara style. WHAT??? #Heavenly
Tacos Revolucion
I was pretty much full after the guacamole…

And just a few more places that will remain on my list until next visit:

  • Blanca Blue – Contemporary Mexican cuisine and stunning ocean views. Located at the Garza Blanca Preserve Resort and Spa.
  • El Arrayan – Traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine in the heart of the Malecon scene.
  • El Dorado­ – Located directly on the beach in the Old Town/Romantic Zone area, featuring modern Mexican cuisine.
  • Located at the Grand Miramar resort with a striking, panoramic view of the city, Eugenia features local seafood and produce in an upscale presentation.
  • Perched high in the hills above the Old Town, Hacienda San Angel Gourmet features elevated Mexican cuisine and an amazing view. It is also high on my list to actually stay in one of the dreamy suites at Hacienda San Angel, once owned by Richard Burton. (Note: Due to kitchen maintenance, there is no dinner service for August and September, 2019)
  • Meridia Grill features contemporary Mexican cuisine in the heart of traditional Old Town. Duck tacos!
  • I attempted to visit the trendy La Romantica Churros & Café Bar a couple of times during my visit. It was right around the corner from the condo and featured delicious churros, Mexican hot chocolate and coffee. What more could a girl need? Sadly, on the first attempt, they weren’t opening for another hour and on the second try, they were closed for a two-week vacation! Alas, it just wasn’t in the cards and I’ll have to hit them up next time. If I have to camp out in front, I will…
Cafe des Artistes
Sometimes you just need to get fancy…

And not to be forgotten, here are a few favorites from my last Puerto Vallarta visit:

  • Featuring family recipes, El Mole de Jovita is a must-stop if you’re looking for the rich, addictive flavors of authentic mole. My favorites were the Mole Jovita, pumpkin and green moles. I’ll be back!
  • Pancho’s Takos is amazing. Serving slow-roasted meats, prepared on flame-licked spits, Pancho’s is a must for any taco lover. And don’t forget to add their spectacular sauces and accompaniments to your meal. (Pro tip: Get there early. The line at Pancho’s gets crazy long in the evening!)
  • For the record, I still can’t believe I didn’t make it to Mariscos Cisneros on this trip. This place is delicious and I can’t count the number of times I’ve daydreamed of their fish tacos and deep-fried, cheese-stuffed jalapenos. Whhhyyyyy???

In keeping with one of my major vacation objectives, alarm clocks had NO place in my morning and getting up when I felt like getting up was paramount. Enjoying coffee on the deck, watching the day come alive at the Pier at Los Muertos and knowing I had many more days of this was a completely sublime feeling. Most of the mornings during our stay were overcast, but as I make my home in Seattle, what’s a little cloud cover? Good coffee and knowing I have no commitments for the day is more than enough to make me shout a very happy GOOD MORNING to the world. To make things even more enjoyable, my wacky lovely friend decided she didn’t want the room with the amazing ocean view – complete with the soothing sound of waves. I guess the waves don’t lull everyone to sleep like they do me… I’ll take that ocean view room – no problem! Add in that I was able to eventually work out the forgotten PIN situation and my vacation mode officially set in. (Granted, it required a few long phone calls to my bank and a bit of logistical finagling, but whatever – cold hard cash was mine to spend! And a hearty thanks to my travel buddy for humoring the situation and helping out…)

My Yacht
Now that I had my PIN sorted out, I could buy that yacht…

I don’t often have the chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, but vacation is the perfect time to live out such fantasies. There are so many fabulous breakfast and brunch spots in Puerto Vallarta, it was hard to decide where to start the day. It’s a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it. You’re welcome. A few of the delicious early morning (more like noonish) spots we hit up:

  • The aforementioned Vallarta Factory was our first stop on the vacation breakfast train. I was excited to return and had vowed to try something new on this visit, but I failed. The menu is great, but the Poblano omelet I had on the last trip was loudly calling my name – and I listened. SO good!
  • The Pancake House is pretty spectacular and they do indeed serve delicious pancakes and French toast. That said, their Chilaquiles with Verde sauce was out of this world! We came back a couple times during our stay.
  • Barra Light offers delicious breakfast and lunch dishes featuring organic and locally sourced ingredients – and some pretty great cappuccinos. As they were located just around the corner from our condo, we stopped in quite a few times for both breakfast and lunch.
  • Salud Superfood is a standout in the area for organic and vegetarian dishes. We visited on our last trip and the food was excellent. I will be back on my next visit as well!
  • Café San Angel was also a feature of my last visit, but as their migas were so delicious, there was no way I was missing a repeat engagement. They didn’t fail to impress and maybe next time I’ll branch out and try something new. Maybe.
  • Located a block off the Malecon, the Coexist Bistro was the last stop on our vacation breakfast train and positively delicious – And air-conditioned! Set on the ground floor of the very cool Hotel Rio, the dishes were imaginative and well-prepared. I’ll definitely be hitting them up on my next visit. Also, did I mention they have air-conditioning?? #Luxurious

On my last visit, I was so impressed and inspired by the amazing artwork and music all around the city and vowed to more deeply experience the scene during this stay. Every day, after fortifying ourselves with a delicious breakfast, we wandered around, taking it all in, experiencing the vibrancy of the city. Everywhere we looked were beautifully handcrafted arts and crafts and everywhere we listened, strains of live music. It was a feast for the eyes, ears and soul, to be sure. I can’t imagine the creative spirit ever at a loss for inspiration in this city.

The list of artistic possibilities in Puerto Vallarta is expansive and full of variety. What I’ve experienced thus far is just a small cross-section of what can be found. I look forward to continuing my artistic adventures on future trips. In the meantime, a few of the spots we were able to enjoy on this visit:

  • My friend introduced me to Enrique on our last visit and I was happy to again visit him at the shop he manages, Muy Guapo. Located in the Old Town, Muy Guapo features unique antiques and quirky, funky art and jewelry from around Mexico. Enrique is also a fantastic artist and occasionally has some of his own work at the shop.
  • Enrique’s sister, Marisa, is also an artist and regularly displays her paintings at the Cuale Island Flea Market. She features lovely scenes of local life and I was happy to return home with a couple of her miniatures featuring nearby Yelapa. (Marisa’s stall is located in the shade of the Insurgentes Street Bridge pedestrian underpass) Walking along the peaceful Cuale River and winding in and out of the artist stalls and banyan trees is an excellent way to spend the afternoon.
  • My friend was trying to track down a local marionette artist while we were in town, but was sadly unsuccessful. We were, however, able to successfully add to our glassware collections with a stop at Mundo de Cristal in the Old Town. They only had a few pieces left of the pattern I’d brought back on my last trip, but I snatched them up and my collection grows. I can now serve even more tamarind margaritas at my next party!
Tequila and Glasses
You can’t bring back glasses without something to put in them! I’m not a monster.
  • We also returned to spectacular tile and ceramics shop, Mundo de Azulejos in the Old Town. My friend wanted to custom order an address plaque for her home. Since her home is blue, she decided on “La Casa Azul” with lettering appropriately in blue. Unfortunately, after they fired the plaque, the paint looked green. Something on the list for her next visit to Puerto Vallarta, I guess…
  • On my last visit, I brought back a beautiful hand-blown glass miniature of my bass guitar. On this visit, we again hit up Carlos Rosas with a few more requests. Additionally, due to a freak dusting accident, the neck of my bass broke! (Broken bass necks are actually a bit of a personal curse. Two actual bass necks and now a glass one… Eeesh.) Through our email communications and pictures being sent, Carlos came up with amazing renditions of both mine and my friend’s dogs as well as a new rendition of my bass and the most spectacular Hammond organ piece for my friend, Joe’s birthday. And he very kindly fixed my broken bass, which I’d brought along just in case it was repairable… Now I have a backup! Carlos is no longer located in the Old Town and now sets up shop on Wednesdays near the cruise ship harbor with many of the local artists. (Our friend, Marisa included.) Definitely make the effort to find his booth!
  • On my last visit, I found a couple of musical notes created in the Huichol tradition. I love them and was hoping to find a couple more, but none of the shops I investigated had them. Luckily, my friend happened upon Colores Magicos in her own shopping excursions and got their email for me. Through a series of emails and a visit to the shop, they graciously arranged for a local artist to make me a couple of notes during my stay. Cool!! I left it up to the artist to come up with the designs and I picked them up on my last day in town. (After the artist raced into town to get them to me before I left!) I love them! If you stop by, ask for Carlos or Olga and tell them the lady with the musical notes sent you – they’re awesome!
Musical Notes
Two new notes to add to my song!
  • I have a weakness for chunky rings and found the most beautiful larimar ring at the Cassandra Shaw gallery in the Old Town. She is also a painter and animal lover and features many of her paintings in the shop. I love the llama!
  • As my friends are aware (especially those who’ve helped me pack to move), I have a nerdy weakness for glassware, mugs, teacups, shot glasses, etc. If you can drink out of it, I probably have one. On a related note, I’m particularly fond of the You Are Here and Been There series from Starbucks. I have several from around the world and now I have one from Puerto Vallarta. Hooray!
Been There Series
My morning joe with scenes from PV!
  • There is much music to be found around the city. Live music in restaurants and theatres, dance music in the Malecon and Old Town night clubs and scores of roaming musicians around town and on the Malecon. Stop and listen, go inside and enjoy a set – Take in all the amazing sounds the city has to offer. And keep an eye out for seasoned bassists roaming the beach, waiting to play you a tune…

You never know what you’re going to find or what amazing piece of art will call to you as you wander the cobblestone streets and artist stalls along the Cuale. Allow plenty of time to investigate the shops and talk to the artists – and be sure to stay hydrated. There’s nothing wrong with soaking in the sun for a couple hours and returning to the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel room to cool off and get rejuvenated. Of course, it’s also a good idea to throw in a couple of margaritas on the deck and maybe a bit of homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and chips… That’s just good sense. And then resume your meandering, refueled and ready to explore!

When not wandering aimlessly around town, there are many places to add to your sightseeing list. Stick around Puerto Vallarta proper or hop on a tour bus or water taxi to the outlying areas of the city. There are so many amazing places to see and things to do. A mere week or so isn’t nearly enough, but you’ll have an excellent excuse to come back soon. Perhaps the following year! Some of my favorite places to visit so far:

  • Last visit, we took a water taxi from the Pier at Los Muertos to visit the neighboring village of Yelapa. We’d planned on making another trip, but as the weather was sometimes a bit grey and misty, we decided against a choppy boat ride. I fell in love with Yelapa and would love to return for a stay in the sleepy coastal burb, but will have to wait until next time. The water taxis also stop at other villages along the way and I plan to investigate those on my next journey as well.
  • On the way to Yelapa, look out for the rocky arches at Los Arcos Marine Park. I’d love to do some snorkeling in the area and get closer to the arches. Next time!
  • If you’d like to admire the beautiful architecture of Puerto Vallarta’s local parishes, two beautiful examples to seek out while walking around the Malecon are the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a little further down, the Church of Our Lady of the Refuge. Both hold regular services and are open to visit during the day.
  • While wandering around the banyan lined banks of the Cuale, we happened upon the Cuale Cultural Center. A beautiful group of buildings with lovely landscaping and scenery, it serves as a center for all manner of Arts workshops and hosts showings and performances. There was nothing going on the day we visited, but I look forward to checking out the scene on future visits. (Note: When we visited the area, it looked like they were still in operation, but their website doesn’t look current. I hope they’re still holding events…)
  • There are many outdoor markets selling a variety of food and goods running throughout the year and all around town. As we did last year, one of the first places we hit up was the Mercado Emiliano Zapata produce stand were we bought fresh vegetables, dried hibiscus flowers, hot sauces and more. (Pro tip: Wash all of the produce off as soon as you bring it back to wherever you’re staying. If you don’t, you’re likely to wake up to an army of tiny gnats marching around your counter-tops. Very common, but easily addressed by a thorough washing.)
  • There are a couple other outdoor markets we attempted to visit, but were sad to learn were closed for the season. The Olas Atlas Farmers Market, also known as the Old Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from November through April and is very worth getting up early to investigate. (9:30am to 2pm)
  • Since we were unable to visit the Saturday market in the Old Town, we decide to walk over to the Saturday Market. Maybe walking on a sweltering hot day wasn’t the greatest of plans as it ended up being closer to the Hotel Zone and what felt like 327 miles away. At least. That said, it was a very interesting walk through the local neighborhoods and we ended up getting to experience a very local market scene. Clothing, both new and used, tools, produce, baked goods, little taco stands – you name it, it was at the market. However, as interesting as it was to walk through the neighborhoods, it was just as interesting to take an air-conditioned cab ride back to the Old Town. But for the record, I got in A LOT of steps that day on the ol’ Fitbit – and probably sweated out a few pounds on top of it. SCORE!
Saturday Market
A true local market – and a long walk from the Old Town!

One of the things we’d been planning on checking out were the local foodie tours and maybe a tequila tour or two. However, since we were both feeling pretty exhausted from all that wandering around town and walking on the beaches… and making deck margaritas… it never really worked out. Oops. That said, I am confident I’ll be returning soon and it gives me more foodie adventures to look forward to in the future. Some of the tours that intrigued me:

There is no one way to visit or enjoy Puerto Vallarta. Lounge on the beach every day and make homemade guacamole and pico de gallo to enjoy with scratch margaritas on your deck. Eat at all the amazing restaurants and imbibe on elaborate craft cocktails. Hit up the night clubs and late-night Malecon scene and dance into the night. Take a water taxi to the tiny inlets outside of the city and enjoy a burro ride around the village. Get daring and go diving – either in the sea or sky! (Well, parasailing anyway…) Write, dream, contemplate the world and what you can do to make it better… There are so many amazing adventures to be experienced in this beautiful city.

Whenever I think of Puerto Vallarta, I recall the spectacular sunsets, the leisurely walks on the beach, the charm of watching the nightly dinner service under the lantern-lit beach umbrellas and the absolute come-as-you-are ease of the Old Town. (Unless it’s Café Des Artistes or one of the upscale hotels, where I recommend kicking it up a fancy notch…) In the years to come, I will always keep a bit of Puerto Vallarta warmth and sunshine tucked away to pull out on those grey Seattle days. This city is now a part of my soul and I hope to experience many more beautiful moments within its borders, whether experienced a year from now or ten.

In closing, if you’re thinking of visiting Mexico, I highly recommend checking out this absolutely lovely city. It’s full of beauty, the locals are welcoming, the Arts scene is rich and vibrant – and there are an unbelievable bounty of tastes, sounds and experiences to sample. It’s a paradise on so many levels! Hey, and no one got pooped on by a Magnificent Frigatebird this time, so that was an extra vacation win!

Until next time – Eat the state!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I Ate the State SPECIAL EDITION: Puerto Vallarta – The Return! Click HERE to check out the Spotify playlist.

  • Escape (The Pina Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes (from Partners in Crime)
  • Steal Away – Robbie Dupree (from Robbie Dupree)
  • Tequila Sunrise – Eagles (from Desperado)
  • Batida Diferente – Herbie Mann (from Latin Forever)
  • A Horse with No Name – America (from America)
  • Do It Again – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)
  • Coconut – Harry Nilsson (from Nilsson Schmilsson)
  • Mambo Sangria – Caj Tjader (from Too Late Now)
  • Sicily – Chick Corea (from Friends)
  • Biggest Part of Me – Ambrosia (from One Eighty)
  • The Boys of Summer – Don Henley (from Building the Perfect Beast)
  • Hold the Line – Toto (from Toto)
  • Love Will Find A Way – Pablo Cruise (from Worlds Away)
  • Danza de Gardenias – Natalia Lafourcade (from Danza de Gardenias)
  • Dreamers – Judy Collins (from Dreamers)
  • Águas de Março – Antônio Carlos Jobim (from Antônio Carlos Jobim: Finest Hour)
  • Come Sail Away – Styx (from The Grand Illusion)
  • Still the One – Orleans (from Waking and Dreaming)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Corcovado – Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars – Stan Getz, João Gilberto (from Getz/Gilberto)
  • Drift Away – Dobie Gray (from Dobie Gray – His Very Best)
  • Babylon Sisters – Steely Dan (from Gaucho)
  • Samba De Orfeu – Cal Tjader (from Soul Sauce)
  • Ride Like the Wind – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan (from Can’t Buy A Thrill)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Check out more I Ate the State Adventures:

I Ate the State – Skagit County

I love flowers. I love them in gardens, in markets and in vases on my table. I love them on a train, I love them in the rain… Their colors, shapes and endless varieties never fail to make me happy. Throw in thousands of acres of flowers along with beautiful shorelines, stunning mountain ranges and fruitful farmlands and I’m never leaving! All of these things – and much more – are what amazing Skagit County brings to this edition of I Ate the State. Let’s go!

Similar to the surrounds of recently covered, Snohomish County, the Skagit County area is generally comprised of two, fairly distinct sides. The coastal area showcases lovely inlets and islands while the mountainous region takes on the North Cascades and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Both join together in cradling the amazing agricultural bounty in the middle section of the county. Skagit County is another one of Washington State’s great microcosms and a fully-stocked vacation destination for the ages. It was an absolute pleasure to explore the area and I was continually amazed by the near limitless diversity packed into its borders.

Absolutely lovely
Celebrating two beauties of the Skagit Valley: Tulips and Daffodils!

As I live in western Washington, getting to Skagit County is relatively easy. Interstate-5 provides a main route through the county with many side routes running parallel. Taking SR-9 up through Arlington to SR-20 or Pioneer Highway from Snohomish County to Conway are both great alternatives – as is SR-530 to SR-20 if you’re coming up from Darrington. In the summer months, it’s a beautiful drive from the eastern side of the state over either SR-20 (North Cascades Scenic Byway – part of the Cascade Loop) or US-2. There are indeed many beautiful options available for your journey into Skagit County.

One thing I try not to take for granted as I zip my way up the main thoroughfare of I-5 are all of the options just off the freeway. Often times I’m single-mindedly heading for a particular destination and don’t pay heed to all of the great places along the way. The I-5 corridor as it heads up to and through Skagit County is certainly no exception – along with the various side routes. A few options to explore as you begin your Skagit County adventure:

  • As agriculture is the #1 industry in Skagit County, there are an appropriately large variety of farms to visit, with many being located close to the I-5 corridor. The Festival of Family Farms (Oct 5 – 6) is a great way to check out the bounty. Many of the farms also have seasonal stands and barns located just off I-5. If they’re open, don’t be afraid to stop. You never know what variety of amazingly fresh and inexpensive produce you’ll find. (Not to mention fresh cider, honey, etc.) For restaurateurs wanting to take advantage of the expansive boon, the Puget Sound Food Hub Farmers Cooperative is an excellent way to purchase fresh goods directly from the growers.
  • If you’re like me and have a strange obsession with taking photos of old barns, hit up the Heritage Barn Mobile Tour and Map for a fun, self-guided tour. Skagit County is a gold mine of beautiful old barns, farm equipment and scenery.
  • Keeping with the agricultural vibe, take Exit 218 off I-5 and stop in at Bertelsen Winery. (You can see it from I-5!) They’re open Wednesdays thru Sundays for tastings and regularly host music and events.

While Skagit County falls only 21st out of 39 counties as ranked by size, it packs quite a punch with its list of things to see and do. Since there was no way I could fit everything I wanted to see into a weekend, I took a few beautiful weekend days to experience the area. I still found it difficult to see everything on my list, but I feel pretty good about the breadth and variety of my adventures. Let’s get things started in the lovely, western section of Skagit County on Fidalgo Island, in the coastal town of Anacortes.

While still allowing time for random ramblings, I took I-5 to get to the Anacortes area in the timeliest manner. It was a beautiful morning and perfect for the beginnings of a road trip. I had my coffee, my Skagit County playlist and was ready to make tracks for Anacortes. Did I get caught up along the way, distracted by shiny, roadside attractions? Of course I did… As I said, don’t be afraid to stop as you just never know what delicious treat you might find – or how much money you’ll win to fund your trip!

Off of I-5, I took Exit 230 and headed west on SR-20. This takes you through the Whitney area and on towards Anacortes. If you head in the opposite direction, you’ll be venturing into the mountainous part of the county and into the North Cascades. (We’ll get there a little later in the article.) It’s also the best exit to take for least crowded treks into the daffodil and tulip fields. Seriously, this little exit off I-5 deserves a medal for all the greatness it heralds.

Almost directly off the exit, as you’re heading west on SR-20, look for Skagit’s Own Fish Market on your left. Don’t miss this place! I’ve driven by it so many times over the years and have always wanted to stop – I’m so sad I waited this long! Not only do they have an amazing fresh seafood selection, along with all the desirable accoutrements, they have an excellent offering of seafood cocktails, seafood sandwiches, fresh chowder and more. I hereby swear to stop by this place every time I’m entering or exiting the area. Crab cocktail and lobster rolls WILL be mine!

Shortly before you enter Anacortes proper, you’ll come upon the Swinomish Casino & Lodge, owned and operated by the Swinomish Tribe. The lodge has beautiful views including the Padilla Bay Reserve, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker and is a great base from which to explore the area. My first port of call that day was supposed to be Anacortes, but since I’d already altered my timeline by stopping at the fish market, I figured why not check out the casino?

I hadn’t budgeted to lose any money at the casino that day, so I was a bit leery of strolling around the place. However, after rationalizing to myself I was only visiting to do some hard-hitting, journalistic research, I peeled out a twenty dollar bill from my wallet and committed to probably losing said twenty dollars.

As I walked around, the flashy slot-machines were doing their best to lure me in, but it wasn’t until I spotted a row of video poker machines that I felt the pull. It is true, I’m a total sucker for video poker machines and I will stop every time I see one, especially since I rarely see them in casinos these days. That said, I also have a limit and if I meet that limit, I must walk away. And in a related fashion, if I double my original investment, I walk away. I will admit to having learned my lesson over the years…

Imagine my glee (and relief) when after playing for only a few minutes, I scored a straight flush and was up fifty dollars! I got a few good pictures, used the loo, and more than doubled my money – all in less than twenty minutes! And with that, I wisely cashed out my winnings and made a beeline for Sporty Spice. (My trusty KIA Sportage) With that short, unplanned visit, I’d funded much of my trip and accomplished some deeply investigative travel journalism. You just never know what you’re going to find when you make a random road-trip stop. Sure, there was a bit of luck involved and I easily could’ve ended up twenty dollars the poorer, but I didn’t. HA! And down the road to Anacortes I continued, fifty dollars the richer…

Swinomish Casino
I’ll be back Swinomish Casino… Me and my $50!

Also in the vicinity of the Swinomish Casino & Lodge and well worth checking out:

  • If you’re up for a little light hiking/walking, check out the Padilla Bay shore trail – where the Skagit River meets the Salish Sea. It looks over towards Lummi Island and is a serene way to spend a couple of hours, year-round. Be sure to bring binoculars to get an up-close view of all the birds in the area. (I’ll be covering Lummi Island in my upcoming Whatcom County article – stay tuned!)
  • Located next to the beautiful Padilla Bay Reserve is Bayview State Park. They have rental cabins, camping spots, boating, saltwater fishing and excellent views of the nearby San Juan Islands. (Coming soon in my San Juan County article!)
Anacortes
Beautiful water views from the Anacortes area. Dreamy! (Photo credit: B. Skoczen)

Heading into Anacortes proper, you’ll drive past the turnoff towards Deception Pass. If you’ve never been – and even if you have – it’s an area not to be missed.  But we’ll be back around this way shortly – time to check out the lovely coastal town of Anacortes in the meantime.

After turning onto Commercial Avenue, the main drag through downtown Anacortes, I headed towards Cap Sante Marina and the Port of Anacortes. Given my enduring dream to own and live on a boat, I always like to wistfully check out the marina scene. (Cap Sante indeed has live-aboard moorage. #LifeGoals) Upon driving into the parking lot, I noted it looked like an event was going on – complete with food trucks and music. Score! The day just kept getting better…

Walking towards the marina, it looked like the festivities were being sponsored by Anthony’s at Cap Sante Marina and Anthony’s – The Cabana. They were giving away free chowder and ice cream and the waterfront area was festive with face-painting, balloons and music. Local favorite, Lopez Island Creamery also had a food truck set up for more ice cream options. It was a glorious sunny morning, but not too hot – and not too early to sit at one of the tables lining the waterfront walkway and enjoy my free clam chowder and ice cream. But I still had that fifty dollars burning a hole in my pocket… (As my mom always liked to point out, whenever I had any extra money.) I’d seen signs for the Anacortes Farmers Market while at the Marina and arrows pointing down the walking path… Why not? There’s always something delicious to be found at a farmers market…

Walking north down the waterfront path, I first came upon the spectacular and well-preserved W.T. Preston, part of the Maritime Heritage Center. The W.T. Preston was a steam-powered, hazard-clearing “snagboat” operational in local waters from 1929 through 1981. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. Both the W.T. Preston and the heritage center are well worth a look and provide a great view into earlier maritime work in the area. (Open April thru October – Check website for tour hours.)

Visiting the Anacortes Farmers Market was a great way to spend a sunny Saturday at lunchtime. Live music, great local produce, artisan crafts, handmade food items – you name it, the market had it. While I still had that hole burning through my pocket, I played it cool and walked away with a very reasonable haul of produce from the Frog Song Farm stand and some amazing baked goods from the stellar Breadfarm. The waterfront area was filled with so much to see and do – it would be easy to make it a regular trek if I lived in the area. The market is open year-round with seasonal hours – and they even have a pie festival in September and a holiday market around Thanksgiving. (Did I mention the PIE FESTIVAL!?)

If you’re hanging out in the waterfront / farmers market area, consider adding these spots to your agenda:

  • Mad Hatter Ice Cream was voted Best of Skagit 2019 for desserts and it’s well-deserved. They serve both hard ice cream and soft serve in many different flavors and create several ice cream inspired masterpieces. Yum!
  • Dockside Dogs can be found as you drive into the parking lot area for Cap Sante Marina. They’re hard to miss, in fact – but who would want to? Housed in a small, quirky hut, they serve delicious dogs, chili and beverages.
  • Grab a dog and go for a walk along the Tommy Thompson Trail. It starts at the marina and heads south. Walk across Fidalgo Bay on an abandoned train trestle. Cool!
  • Head north from the waterfront and arrive at Cap Sante Park. (At the end of Commercial Ave.) There are great walking trails and beautiful views of the neighboring San Juan Islands.
  • Check out the Waterfront Festival (Jun 1-2) for two days of art, music, a lot of food, a car show and an excellent take on the relaxed vibe of Anacortes.

Anacortes suffers no shortage of great places to dine – especially if you’re down for excellent seafood. If you’re not sure what sounds good, it’s as easy as taking a cruise up Commercial Avenue to peruse the many options.

  • I love kippers (smoked trout) for breakfast and if you do, too, Adrift has your number. They serve tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner in a great location directly on Commercial Avenue – with outdoor seating for the sunny days. All locally sourced ingredients!
  • Just down from Adrift, Gere-A-Deli serves up tasty deli fare and sandwiches with classics like the Ruben – or maybe you fancy liverwurst? Voted 2019 Best of Skagit – Deli.
  • Greek Islands Restaurant offers up Greek favorites for your lunch and dinner needs – located directly on Commercial Avenue. (Closed Sunday / Monday)
  • For all things seafood, check out Bob’s Chowder Bar. Featuring BBQ salmon, chowder (obviously), fish tacos, FRIED PICKLES and more. Very tasty! They also have a location in nearby La Conner.
  • Should you be in the market for a donut bacon cheeseburger – and WHO ISN’T? – check out the funky Vagabond Station on Commercial Avenue. Serving great burgers and more, they’re definitely worth a stop.
  • Should you be interested in a classic diner experience, head to Island Café – Also on Commercial Avenue. They serve breakfast all day along with lunch and dinner. Their raspberry French toast stuffed with cream cheese is divine.
  • A great charcuterie plate and a delicious glass of wine on a sunny day? Yes, please! Check out Salt & Vine, located just off Commercial Avenue for a delicious and refined stop on your Anacortes adventure. And if you appreciate a good glass of wine like I do, be sure to visit Anacortes in April for the Anacortes Spring Wine Festival.
  • For a great cup of coffee in a comfy, art-friendly scene, stop in at Johnny Picasso’s on Commercial Avenue. Also through the same entrance, be sure to peruse the goods at The Red Snapper Gift Shop – ‘lots of cool, funny items for all.
  • If you’d like to extend your awesome day-trip, check in at the Majestic Inn & Spa (c. 1890), located in the center of historic downtown on Commercial Avenue. It was renovated in 2013, features a beautiful rooftop lounge and is home to the elegant and delicious, 5th Street Bistro.

Something I’m always on the lookout for is a great brewery. Skagit County understands my needs and meets them in excellent fashion. In fact, they make it pretty easy to map out your brewery strategy when planning your next Skagit County adventure. Hit up the Skagit Farm to Pint site for a list of all the Skagit Breweries and information on following the very cool Passport & Ale Trail.

To fulfill your Anacortes brewery desires, you needn’t look far. Check out these options for a tall, cold one:

  • Located in the heart of historic downtown Anacortes on Commercial Avenue, head to Anacortes Brewery and Rockfish Grill for a great local beer and excellent seafood, burgers and wood-fired pizzas. I’m particularly fond of their Cream Bee and Tripel Vision
  • Do an Anacortes pub crawl and head directly across the street from the Anacortes Brewery to the Brown Lantern Ale House. Great food, beer and live music – you can’t go wrong!
  • Heading into Anacortes on SR-20, look for Bastion Brewing Co. (Very close to SR-20 turnoff towards Deception pass) Stop in for a tasty pint of their on-tap beers or ciders and a meal before heading on to the majesty of Deception Pass.
  • If you’d like to celebrate Skagit County beer in all its glory, add the Anacortes Bier on the Pier festival to your calendar. (Oct 4-5) Featuring 30 breweries and 10 cideries, it will be a fine way to spend a crisp fall weekend.

If you’re looking to walk off all the delicious food and drink you’ve sampled on your Anacortes trip, be sure to investigate the great Arts and shopping opportunities in the area.

  • Two wonderful book shops in Anacortes are the Watermark Book Company and Pelican Bay Books & Coffee Shop. Both charmingly represent the classic bookstore and are located appropriately in downtown historic Anacortes on Commercial Avenue.
  • Visit the Scott Milo Gallery on Commercial Avenue and enjoy what the local artists have to share. For further celebration of the Arts, check out the annual Anacortes Art Festival (Aug 2-4) for a great display of fine art, music and delicious food.
  • Anacortes has a great selection of antique shops. Two of my favorites are Alley Cat Antiques and Home Sweet Home Antiques, both on Commercial Avenue. An excellent way to take in the Antiques scene is with a visit to the Anacortes Vintage Market for their annual spring and fall markets.
  • To investigate how those antiques might’ve been applied, make a visit to the Anacortes History Museum for a look into Anacortes days gone by. Located in the historic Carnegie Library building on 8th Street in downtown Anacortes.

I wanted to make a point to mention the San Juan ferry route at the end of the Anacortes section. Not because it’s lacking importance, but because often times – and I’m personally guilty – it’s the only reason I’m actually in Anacortes. The San Juan Islands are simply amazing and I don’t think I’d ever tire of visiting them and enjoying the awesome ferry ride along the way. That said, Anacortes, all on its own, is a marvelous place to visit and merits serious attention any time of the year.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny the awesomeness of the ferry routes to both the San Juan Islands and Sidney, BC. My pro-tip suggestion is to add a solid visit to Anacortes before or after any trip to the San Juans. You won’t be sorry. (More Pro Tips: Be sure to make ferry reservations ahead of time – especially in the busy summer months.)

In addition to the entertaining and delicious downtown core, Anacortes has many things to offer in the way of outdoors activities. You can hike – or drive – to the highest point on Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie Park and take in the magnificent views. Or stop in at Washington Park for great camping, boating and hiking opportunities. (Near the ferry terminal at the west end of Anacortes)

Another great adventure spot in the area, just north of Anacortes and across the Guemes Channel is the lovely Guemes Island. Accessed by its very own ferry line, the Guemes Island Ferry, the 5-minute crossing brings you to a peaceful, largely untouched island of relaxation and beauty. The local hiking trails and beaches are wonderful and the island feels much removed from the hectic pace of the mainland. (Although Anacortes is actually pretty laid back…)

Guemes Island isn’t where you’d head for big-box shopping or multiple entertainment options, but the tiny island certainly has its charms. Check out these areas on your next Guemes Island visit:

  • Enjoy great views, beautiful coastal flora and fauna and easy-going hiking on the Guemes Mountain Trail. A beautiful way to spend a peaceful afternoon.
  • Hit up the Peach Preserve for excellent coastal views, bird and wildlife viewing, hiking and general enjoyment of the coastal scene.
  • Don’t let the name deceive you, the Guemes Island General Store is not only a general store, but so much more. They have a full menu, serve beer and wine and regularly host live music events. The General Store is a must stop for any Guemes Island visit. If you’re around the area in June, be sure to check out their Summer Solstice Music Fest.
  • Since 1947, the Guemes Island Resort has been hosting visitors to the area. Outfitted with cabins, yurts and houses, it’s a wonderful retreat from the city. They also have boat rentals, a sauna, a massage therapist, gift shop, rec room and hot tubs. (Wood-fired and saltwater!) Dog friendly!
Lilacs
Gratuitous Anacortes lilac shot. Because I love lilacs.

Just before you reach Anacortes, the main route of SR-20 turns southwest towards the glorious Deception Pass and the Deception Pass bridges. (The bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places) Of all the many amazing Washington State destinations, Deception Pass positively deserves to be on the best-of list. Not only is the area absolutely spectacular, the drive there is gorgeous and there are countless places to stop and enjoy along the way.

Some of the worthwhile spots to investigate on your way to Deception Pass:

  • On the left side of the road, just after you turn onto SR-20 towards Deception Pass, check out the very unique Anacortes Flea Market. Chock-full of interesting finds, this is a great place to investigate. You never know what amazing treasure you might find! They also feature local produce and seafood.
  • You will very likely have to wait in a long line, but I assure you it’s worth it. Stop by the Shrimp Shack located directly off SR-20 and indulge in all things shrimp and seafood. They even sell freshly caught shrimp by the bag! (Pro tip: They have two lines – one for cold food and one for grilled/hot food. Make sure you’re getting in the right line from the start!)
Shrimp Shack
Make sure you get in the correct line!
  • You can’t miss Lake Campbell as you’re heading towards Deception Pass. (Located close to the Shrimp Shack!) There are several lakes in the area, but Lake Campbell is the largest. There are a lot of great boating activities and fishing in the area and if you’re looking for someplace cozy to stay, check out Lake Campbell Lodging, just across from the lake.
  • A little further up the road towards Deception Pass, you’ll come to Pass Lake. (Turn onto Rosario Road off SR-20. It’s just across from Deception Pass State Park – Bowman Bay entrance) It’s a little smaller than Lake Campbell, but also has its fair share of great boating and fishing. (Note: Fly-fishing only, catch and release only and non-motorized boats only) Check out the Pass Lake hike for a great round-trip hike up into the forest with great views overlooking the lake.

Just across from the Pass Lake parking lot, you’ll see the Bowman Bay entrance to Deception Pass State Park. The park is quite large (3854 acres!), spanning two counties and Bowman Bay is a great way to get oriented to the scope and scale of all the park has to offer. Bowman Bay also plays host to the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center. The CCCs largely built all of the US state and national parks and the interpretive center is an excellent look into the depth of hard work they accomplished.

As one would imagine with the impressive amount of available shoreline in the park (77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline!), all manner of boating is popular and Bowman Bay gets things started with kayak rentals and tours. They also have a single-lane boat launch area for motorized vehicles. (As is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for parking and water-access, but there’s also the option to pay $10 for day-use of WA State Park areas.) There are also many hiking options in the Bowman Bay area such as Lottie Bay and the trail to Rosario Beach.

If you don’t feel like hiking or boating to Rosario Beach, jump back in your vehicle and head up Rosario Road to Cougar Gap Road and the Rosario Beach entrance. Deception Pass State Park is the most visited park in the state and it’s easy to see why. Rosario Beach is stunning and often quite busy because of this fact. It is, however, very much worth a visit. The views are amazing, there are excellent tide pools to explore and 38 miles of trails, including bike and horse, to enjoy. Throw in boating, docks to tie up to, fishing (saltwater and freshwater) and great shoreline access and it’s a stellar time to be had.

One thing not to miss while visiting Rosario Beach is a visit to The Maiden of Deception Pass. It’s a beautiful Native American story pole based on a Samish legend, perched just above the beach. Also be sure to take the short trail up to Rosario Head. (Just past the Maiden) The view of the surrounding islands and the windswept bend of the trees at the top are truly spectacular. Check out the Headlands / Rosario Head / Lighthouse Point trail if you’d like a greatest-hits look at the surrounding areas.

Should you want to extend your stay in the park – and there are plenty of reasons to stay – the Bowman Bay, Cranberry Lake and Quarry Pond areas offer camping. Cranberry Lake and Quarry Pond are actually situated on Whidbey Island and in Island County, but it’s just a quick trip across the Deception Pass Bridges to arrive at this section of the park. (Stay tuned for my Island County article – coming soon!)

As if Deception Pass State Park wasn’t enough majesty and glory, just wait until you get to the actual bridges. They are one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the state, whether you’re driving, riding or walking across and worth a trip all by themselves. Sunrises and sunsets are particularly gorgeous from the bridges, but to get the most out of an investigative walk under the bridges, I’d advise making your trek during full daylight hours.