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!

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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 – Island County

Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.

To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.

True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList

Cama View
Looking out towards the Olympics from Cama Beach

To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.

As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.

One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.

To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…

If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)

While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:

There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.

During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)

In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)

For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)

Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:

  • Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
  • Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
  • If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
  • Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.

Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.

Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee Grocery and Farms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.

Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…

Island County
Entering Island County! (As seen from Deception Pass Bridge)

If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.

The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.

Since I wanted to drive over Deception Pass (on the National Register of Historic Places) to arrive on Whidbey Island, I took Exit 230 off I-5 North (near Burlington in Skagit County) to access SR-20. (SR-20 is also known as the North Cascades Highway or the spectacular Cascade Loop) Once heading west on SR-20, I followed the road until it turned off to the left, just before Anacortes. If you prefer a more seafaring route, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry or Port Townsend/Coupeville Ferry and avoid the crowds of the I-5 corridor. (For another travel bonus trip, link your Island County adventures with Port Townsend and beautiful Jefferson County)

Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)

In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)

After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.

Naval Base
Just an everyday scene on SR-20 into Oak Harbor…

As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:

  • Stop in at Flyers Restaurant & Brewery for great local beers, tasty burgers and more. Located directly off SR-20.
  • Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
  • The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
  • Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
  • If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
  • During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)

On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)

On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:

  • Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
  • There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)
  • Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront at Whidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
  • Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!
  • I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • On the finer dining side, head to Rustica Café & Wine Bar (Open at noon, 10am on Sundays for brunch), the Terrace Wine Bar and Bistro (3-10pm, closed Sun/Mon) and lovely Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway (Tues – Sat, 4:30 – 9:30pm, closed Sun/Mon) for a tasty day or night on the town.
  • If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
  • If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!

Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…

In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.

Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.

When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…

Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…

The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.

Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Ebey Landing
Looking out towards the water from Ebey Landing

The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.

A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)

Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)

While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)

Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.

Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.

Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)

Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:

  • Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
  • If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
  • For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
  • For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
  • Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
  • Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
  • Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
  • Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
  • Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.

For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…

  • The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
  • Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
  • I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
  • While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
  • Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
  • Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)

The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.

Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.

There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:

  • Celebrate the jewels of the area at the yearly Penn Cove MusselFest (March 7-8, 2020)
  • Celebrate the waters that host the jewels of the area at the annual Penn Cove Water Festival (May 16, 2020)
  • Many artists and craftspeople call the island home and a great place to check out their wares is at the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival (August 8-9, 2020)
  • Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
  • Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
  • For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)

Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)

In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.

Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:

  • It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)
  • The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
  • Great wine, beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere can be found at Holmes Harbor Cellars in the Honeymoon Bay area. (Check website for hours) They are also part of the Whidbey Island Wine & Spirits Trail and annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour.
  • Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)

A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!

Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:

  • If you’re up for a truly epic thrift store outing, don’t miss a stop at Senior Thrift, located just off SR-525. It’s remarkable what they’ve packed inside that building! Mutiny Bay Antiques and Red Rooster Antique Mall are both chock full of excellent finds and the Habitat for Humanity Store has amazing bargains to cover your home project needs and more. (Also in Oak Harbor)
  • For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
  • Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
  • Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
  • Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
  • Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
  • Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.
Country Roads
Country roads stretching out for miles…

Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.

Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)

Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:

  • On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…
  • The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
  • Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
  • Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.
  • Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)
  • Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
  • In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)

In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:

  • If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
  • In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
  • Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
  • If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop it at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
  • Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
  • For the caffeine lovers in the bunch, Whidbey Island has no shortage of great options. Head to Useless Bay Coffee in the downtown area or Mukilteo Coffee Roasters located near Whidbey Airpark for a delicious cup o’ joe and tasty eats.
Mukilteo Coffee
Excellent coffee from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters!

It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:

  • Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
  • Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
  • Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtown Saltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
  • If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
  • I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)

Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.

Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:

  • Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
  • Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
  • Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
  • If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annual Mystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
  • If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
  • Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!

To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:

  • While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
  • Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
  • If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.
Ferry
The Clinton ferry arriving in Mukilteo

I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…

Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.

There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:

  • Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
  • Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
  • Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
  • Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
  • Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
  • If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.

As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)

Happy New Year – and GO EAT THE STATE!

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Check out my Island County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Here and Whole – Joan Shelly (from Cost of the Cold b/w Here and Whole)
  • This Sky – The Derek Trucks Band (from Songlines)
  • The Last Drive – Michel Bisceglia (from Bluebird)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Radka Toneff (from Some Time Ago (A Collection of Her Finest Moments))
  • Around and Around – Mountain Man (from Sings John Denver)
  • Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding – Jesse Winchester (from Love Filling Station)
  • The Carnival of the Animals, R.125: The Swan – Camille Saint-Saëns, Lucille Clifton, Bill Murray, Jan Vogler (from New Worlds)
  • On A Marché Sur la Lune – Anthony Strong (from Me and My Radio)
  • The Fear – Los Lobos (from The Fear)
  • I Forgive It All – Mudcrutch (from 2)
  • Short Trip Home – Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Joshua Bell (from The Essential Joshua Bell)
  • Putty Boy Strut – Anat Cohen, Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (from Luminosa)
  • Unconditional Waltz – Calexico (from The Thread that Keeps Us – Deluxe Edition)
  • The Fox – Laura Veirs (from Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith (from Blind Faith)
  • Everyone Knows – Mipso (from Old Time Reverie)
  • It’s Hard to Be Humble – Willie Nelson w/Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson (from Ride Me Back Home)
  • As – Becca Stevens (from Regina)
  • Roll On – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Beautiful That Way – Noa (from Beautiful That Way)
  • I Don’t Worry About A Thing – Most Allison (from I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
  • All Some Kind of A Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of A Dream)
  • Tempelhof – Yann Tiersen (from All)
  • Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time – Gene Austin (from The Best of Gene Austin)
  • An Old Guitar and An Old Refrain – Roger Wolfe Kahn (from Collection: 1925 – 1932)
  • Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn (from Grace & Danger)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)
West Beach
A beautiful coastal view from West Beach at Deception Pass State Park

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional routes to Victoria include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butchart Gardens
Hello there, Butchart Gardens!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasty treats
Tasty treats from Canada and beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

~A celebration of Canadian Musicians and Song~

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

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 Quick links to more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State: Thurston County

Greetings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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