I Ate the State: Wahkiakum County

Greetings!

For such a tiny area, Wahkiakum County packs quite a punch. Located in the bottom southwest corner of the state, this small swatch of Washington has been key to pivotal moments in not only the history of the state, but of the country. For its part in the iconic journey of Lewis and Clark, Wahkiakum County provided the first views of the Pacific Ocean to the weary explorers. Also indispensable to their expedition was the mighty Columbia River, which flows all the along the county’s border with Oregon. Most importantly, had the area and its native peoples not been helpful and accommodating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the United States might not have the same layout as it does today.

Named for Chief Wakaiyakam of the Chinook Tribe, Wahkiakum County is the second least populated county in the state and the third smallest by land area. With its lush, fertile farmland and foothills fed by the Columbia River, the area has long supported local residents with its bounty. The first salmon cannery along the Columbia River sprang up around 1865 and inspired many similar operations. Life on the river has always been vibrant and the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has provided a strategic location for trade and exploration through the ages.

Altoona View
The gorgeous Columbia River as viewed from Altoona-Pillar Rock Road

There are many scenic routes in and out of the Wahkiakum area. Since I was traveling from the Seattle area, I took Interstate-5 southbound and got off on Exit 39, near Kelso and Longview. From there, I hooked up with the beautiful Ocean Beach Highway. (AKA: SR-4, a designated State Scenic Byway and part of the Lewis & Clark Trail Scenic Byway and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail) Once on SR-4, I drove along the Columbia River, through Cowlitz County until I crossed into Wahkiakum County around the Eagle Cliff area.

Just across the county border lies the appropriately named County Line Park. Situated directly along the Columbia River, it provides a nice rest stop and picnic location for a day visit as well as overnight RV camping. On a clear day, Mount St. Helens can be seen in the distance and the views of the river are outstanding. Having grown up mere blocks from the Columbia River as it flows through the Tri-Cities, I have a special place in my heart for its waters. I was incredibly happy to make my first stop in Wahkiakum County along its beautiful shores.

Traveling further west along SR-4, the road continues to wind along the river, but slowly gains a small bit of elevation. Perched along the resulting bluffs and overlooking the river, beautiful homes with private driveways peak through the trees. Not much further, the lovely river town of Cathlamet awaits visitors to both Wahkiakum County and nearby Oregon alike.

While it might not seem very big, Cathlamet is the largest town in Wahkiakum County and serves as the county seat. It is a hub to the area and host to the Wahkiakum County Courthouse and K-12 school district for the entire county as well as a WSU Extension campus. The area has long been home to the Kathlamet and Chinook Peoples and what was once a large village, was visited by Lewis and Clark during their travels. Chief Wakaiyakam, the county’s namesake, is buried in the Cathlamet Cemetery.

Not only is Cathlamet the heart of the county, it is also an inspiration to many artists and artistic endeavors. Films such as Snow Falling on Cedars (1999 – starring Ethan Hawke) and Men of Honor (2000 – starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.) have taken advantage of the beautiful surroundings. Local Tsuga Gallery features beautiful work from local artists and musicians and well-known Jazz musician Hadley Caliman called Cathlamet home for many years. He loved the area so much, in fact, he was willing to commute to his faculty position at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts during his long tenure at the school. (I had the pleasure of studying with him during my own time at Cornish!)

The history and beauty of the Cathlamet area runs deep and there are many ways in which to experience it. Simply walking around the quaint downtown area is a great way to start and can provide a great afternoon of exploration. If you happen to be in town on the weekend between May and October, stop by the Wahkiakum Historical Society Museum to investigate the county’s rich heritage. Admire the river view from the steps of the beautiful Pioneer Church (c. 1895 – On the National Register of Historic Places) and walk down to the waterfront area to enjoy the river up close. The area is particularly beautiful in the spring and summer, but Cathlamet is a charming place to explore any time of year.

For shopping opportunities stop in at Daisy Chain Floral for lovely flower arrangements and unique gifts. If you’re in the area around the holidays, head to the Lighted Christmas Parade & Holiday Market at Mile 38 Brewery and stock up on goods from the talented local artisans. (Dec 14, 3-9pm)

Since I’d left early in the morning to make a good day of it down in Wahkiakum, I’d skipped breakfast in my rush. (I did stop for coffee, however. I’m not a monster.) By the time I made it to Cathlamet, I was feeling pretty challenged and a good breakfast sounded fabulous. I was in great luck when I walked into Patty Cakes Café & Roasting, located on Main Street. I enjoyed a couple cups of their great coffee as well as a delicious scramble with bacon, Italian-blend cheese and mushrooms. To top it off, I splurged and tried one of their Patty-cakes. I’m not normally a pancake fan (unless they’re Swedish with lingonberries and butter), but the menu mentioned a 100-year old sourdough starter in their pancakes and I was intrigued. For the record, I’m very glad I tried them as they were delicious!

Cathlamet is a fairly small area, but they do have a few tasty food options. Some of the possibilities for your next Cathlamet visit:

  • Maria’s Place, located on Main Street offers scratch-made Mexican cuisine as well as a full bar and early morning breakfast every day. (Open daily at 7am)
  • Not just for pizza, The Pizza Mill serves great pizza along with burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. (Closed Sundays)
  • Stop in at the Mile 38 Brewery if you’re in the market for a great pint or two. (They also have house-made root beer!) If you happen to be moored at the nearby marina or staying at the campsite, they’re perfectly located for a relaxing break. Bring your own food or arrange for delivery from a local restaurant. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-9pm and Sundays, 2-6pm – Family and dog friendly)

If you’re thinking of staying in the Cathlamet area or perhaps stopping in during your next river expedition, check out these great options:

  • The downtown Hotel Cathlamet (c. 1926) features comfortable rooms and a lovely lobby and tavern in this historic building. They also offer a continental breakfast, a large patio and a freezer to store all of those fish you just caught!
  • If you’d prefer to stay on your boat with all those fish you just caught, cruise into the charming Elochoman Marina and enjoy an idyllic riverside stay. They also have great cabins, yurts, tent sites and restrooms/showers. I have the fondest memories of boating along the Columbia River with my Uncle Ron when I was young. We pulled into similar marinas along the river and I always dreamed of owning my own boat someday. It’s STILL ON MY LIST. Soon…

After my lovely breakfast and jaunt around downtown Cathlamet, it was time to check out the wilds of nearby Puget Island. Actually a series of islands, including the fittingly named Little Island, the area can be reached from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge via SR-409. The islands are a goldmine of gorgeous country roads and farmland. I had a mission to check out the entire county that day, but I could’ve happily spent all day on the tiny island, aimlessly driving around and taking in the scenery.

There are indeed many farms in the area and it’s an important part of the Wahkiakum County agricultural scene, but the island also fulfills another important purpose. Traveling south on SR-409 will quickly bring you to the Wahkiakum County Ferry, located on the south side of the island. The last ferry operating on the lower Columbia, this tiny gem ferries passengers and vehicles across the river to nearby Westport, Oregon 365 days a year, all day long. Should you arrive early to the Cathlamet side, grab a spot in adjacent Buffington Park and Heritage Area for a picnic and information about the area’s history and contributions. (Note: No debit or credit cards accepted for ferry – cash/check only)

Heading back towards Cathlamet, I randomly took a few of the backroads around the island. Amazing views, sweeping farmland, hidden sloughs and beautiful scenery greeted me around every turn in the road. I initially took a right on East Little Island Road off of SR-409 and drove around the eastern tip of the island until it brought be back around to SR-409. Lovely! Puget Island is one of the most peaceful, tranquil areas I’ve visited and I fully intend on returning for further exploration.

More places to explore on Puget Island for my – and your – next journey:

  • Located off the lovely East Little Island Road, Little Island Creamery produces delicious artisan cheese and butter out of their beautifully restored dairy farm. (10am to 4pm, daily – Self-serve fridge available)
  • If you’re looking for a cozy place to stay while exploring Puget Island, check out Stockhouse’s Farm & Rog’s Retreat Guest Cottage. As part of their farm operation, they also host a weekly farm market on Fridays from 3pm – 6pm. (May – October)
  • Should you feel like pitching a tent or lying out on the deck of your boat and stargazing, head to South Welcome Slough Campground & Moorage for a peaceful stay on a beautiful river slough. They also have a cozy lodge available should you want to take your adventure indoors.

Heading west on SR-4, the road winds and meanders inland of the river as it flows towards the Pacific Ocean. The drive is gorgeous and there are more than a few photo ops to be enjoyed. Along the way, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge can be found off of SR-4 and Steamboat Slough Road. (Note: The refuge extends across the river into Oregon.) There isn’t a lot of hiking due to marshes, but you can boat around the islands. An amazing ecosystem awaits your exploration along with the opportunity to travel in the “steps” of Lewis and Clark. A few words of caution from the website: If your boat gets stuck in the mud, you’ll have to wait for the tides to return to loosen it. (Eeesh!)

Just a little further west on SR-4 will bring you to the sprawling Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (It also extends across the river into Oregon) It is a huge ecosystem of birds, fish, deer, marshlands, river sloughs and more and is absolutely worth a visit. Any of the viewing areas are great for a quick visit, but check out the White Tail Trail and connecting Steamboat Slough Road for a beautiful and serene afternoon.

After taking in the lovely scene at the wildlife refuge, I continued on SR-4 towards the bucolic, riverside town of Skamokawa. (Pronounced SKA-MA-KA-WAY and means ‘Smoke on the water’ in Chinook.) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Skamokawa has long been an important outpost in the area. Until 1917, there were no roads to the area and travel was made primarily by boat using the river and connecting sloughs. The majority of homes were built on or facing the water and had docks and boardwalks connecting them to other parts of the village. Steamboats and tugboats were common in the area and greatly contributed to the local salmon fishing and logging commerce. It was quite a bustling area in its heyday.

For a great overview of the town and its history, don’t miss a stop at the Riverlife Interpretive Center and museum. (c. 1894 – Originally known as the Central School) The displays are well-curated and showcase many examples of life in early Skamokawa as well as spectacular views of the town and river. On my recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Pam Emery, the president of the Friends of Skamokawa historical society. She graciously shared with me much about the town’s history along with giving me great dining and tourist recommendations for the surrounding areas. The center also features local artisan wares and I was happy to pick up a jar of delicious caramel apple butter from Island’s End Farm and a lovely bar of soap from Elochoman Valley Soapworks. Check out the center’s upcoming Deck the Hall Christmas and Holiday Open House for even more local goodies. (Nov 29 – Dec 15, check website for hours)

After learning about the area at the interpretive center, do a little exploring on your own and imagine what life on the river might’ve been like all those years ago. A few places to help you with your Skamokawa adventuring:

  • Situated on an inlet of the Columbia River, the Skamokawa Resort features lodging, conference facilities, a dock, wonderful water views and a nice little general store. It is now on my bucket list to return to the area for a few days of kayaking and general relaxation. I’m sure a few hours sitting in the gazebo and taking in the view will also be a part of my plan…
  • Just up the road from the Skamokawa Resort, The Duck Inn offers classic pub and diner specialties with great views of the Columbia River.
  • Part of my bucket list planning will most certainly involve Columbia River Kayaking. Featuring instruction and guide services in the area, they’ve been outfitting adventures since 2003. I’m very much looking forward to gliding through the waters of the Columbia as they head out to sea…
  • For amazing views of the river with awesome sandy beaches and wildlife, head to Vista Park, just past the center of Skamokawa. They have great camping spots and also feature yurts and tepee rentals! In June, take advantage of the gusty river winds and check out the Skamokawa Kite Festival. (June 28-29)
  • Just a little further west on SR-4, stop by the Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery to enjoy a bit of delicious goat cheese and visit with the resident goats.

Continuing west on SR-4, keep an eye out for the Loop Road turn-off to the Grays River Covered Bridge. Located in the beautiful Grays River area, the iconic bridge is the last covered bridge in service in Washington State. Built in 1905 and on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is a picturesque tribute to days gone by. The surrounding Ahlberg Park and farmlands are stunning and the feeling of peace in the area is transcendent. For a gorgeous look at the countryside, cross back over the bridge and take the Loop Road side route out of the area. (It connects back to SR-4 a little further west) Once back on SR-4 stop in at Duffy’s Irish Pub for a tasty, traditional pub-style meal and a pint. You can’t miss its quirky, entirely unique exterior!

Nearing the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties as well as the bridge from Washington to Oregon, I wanted to stop at a few more Lewis and Clark checkpoints before my Wahkiakum County adventure came to an end. I’d always been curious about Pillar Rock in the Altoona area, so when I saw the turn-off signs in the Rosburg area, off I went! (Pro tip: If you happen to be hungry, the Rosburg Store at the turn-off for Altoona-Pillar Rock Road offers very tasty burgers, sandwiches, pizza and soup – along with all the standard convenience store fare.)

The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road is a beautiful drive, but very winding; especially once it begins to hug the shores of the river. It’s all worth it, however. To say the views of the Columbia were stunning would be an understatement and each time I stopped to admire the view, it was hard to get back in the car.

Along the way, I stopped to investigate the Lewis and Clark road markers and learned the area was an important part of the final days of their journey. It was only a few miles up the river where on November 7th, 1805 they first spotted the Pacific Ocean and William Clark famously recorded in his journal, “Ocian in view! O! The Joy!” (His spelling, not mine) It would require several more days of stormy weather and setbacks around the nearby Dismal Nitch area, but two weeks later, the Lewis and Clark expedition miraculously and finally reached the glorious Pacific Ocean. The anticipated Northwest Passage was not to be found, but the eventual expansion of the US was due largely to all that Lewis and Clark discovered in its pursuit.

If you’d like to further take in the scene of the final days of Lewis and Clark’s trek to the ocean, there are various bed and breakfasts to be found in and around the Altoona area. (Check out VRBO or Airbnb for options) There is also the charming Rose Creek Retreat which features private campsites along the Columbia, surrounded by beautiful gardens and native plants. (April to December – No RVs or large campers)

Note: The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road culminates in a dead end on private property. The owner of the property and his dog are very nice, but I’m fairly certain they appreciate their privacy and would prefer to keep said property private. I’d recommend turning around before the road ends.

I don’t believe I spotted the actual Pillar Rock during my explorations, but I did take in some pretty amazing views. As it was a clear day, I could also see the spectacular Astoria-Megler Bridge off in the distance, heralding views of the joyous Pacific Ocean just beyond. Had I more time during my adventure, I would have taken the bridge over to nearby Astoria, Oregon; gateway to the amazing Oregon Coast as well as setting for the classic Spielberg film, Goonies. Check out the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria for more info about Goonies and other films made in the area. (And remember: Goonies never say die!)

Wrapping up my time in Wahkiakum County brought me to a place which spoke deeply to my own history and roots. Even though many of the Finnish immigrants of the late 1800s settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and surrounding areas (my grandmother’s family included), a large group of immigrants found their way to Washington State’s Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties. One such community is Deep River, located just near the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties.

They were drawn to the area for its rich salmon fishing and timber industries, both of which were mainstays in their native Finland. (I knew there was a reason I love salmon so much – it’s in my DNA. Science!) The Finnish immigrants thrived in the area and felt a kinship with the wilds of the Northwest and its familiar bounty. While the area’s salmon and logging industries have greatly declined over the years, many families of these immigrants still call the Deep River area home. The Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church, on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed by Finnish immigrants in 1902 and is open during the bi-annual Finnish American Folk Festival, held in the neighboring Finnish community of Naselle. (July 24-26, 2020)

On my way out of Wahkiakum County, I was tinkering with my road trip playlist when I came across a new album by Deep River resident, Krist Novoselic. Living on a farm in the area seems to have really inspired his art as Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole is a unique and interesting homage to the area’s flora and fauna. (And a definite departure from his Nirvana days) After having spent only a short time in the area, it’s easy to see how such a peaceful and historically rich setting can inspire such tribute.

Native Americans, explorers, farmers, fishermen, Finns and famous Grunge artists have all called the Wahkiakum area home over the years and it is certain to attract many more adventurous souls in years to come. I know I’m happy to have spent only a day exploring its treasures – and I intend to spend many more in the future. It may indeed be one of the smallest counties in the state, but it is filled with adventure and ever so big in heart.

Until next time, eat the state!!

Cheers!

Farmland
Come visit the beautiful backroads of Wahkiakum County! (Taken on Loop Road near the Grays River Covered Bridge)

 

Check out my Wahkiakum County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Nick of Time – Bonnie Raitt (from Nick of Time)
  • Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon (from Paul Simon)
  • My Favorite Picture of You – Guy Clark (from My Favorite Picture of You)
  • Nostalgia – Wallander Version – Emily Barker, The Red Clay Halo (from Despite the Sun)
  • Look What I Found – Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile (from Bass & Mandolin)
  • Ashokan Farewell – Jay Ungar, Nashville Chamber Orchestra (from Harvest Home)
  • Harvest Moon – Neil Young (from Harvest Moon)
  • Hard Times Come Again No More – Edgar Meyer, James Taylor, Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma (from Appalachian Journey)
  • Lullaby – Frantz Casseus (from Haitian Dances)
  • Ada Plays – Gabriel Yared (from Cold Mountain: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture)
  • Plus tôt – Alexandra Stréliski (from INSCAPE)
  • Sound and Vision – David Bowie (from Sound and Vision 2013)
  • Cathlamet – Hadley Caliman (from Straight Ahead)
  • Your Own Sweet Way – The Notting Hillbillies (from Missing… Presumed Having A Good Time)
  • Come on Up to the House – Sarah Jarosz (from Song Up in Her Head)
  • Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole – Robert Michael Pyle, Krist Novoselic, Ray Prestegard (from Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole)
  • Cut Me Some Slack – Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear (from Cut Me Some Slack)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)
  • Pretty Things – Gretchen Peters (from Blackbirds (Deluxe Version))
  • All Some Kind of Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of Dream)
  • Dandelion – Kacey Musgraves (from Same Trailer, Different Park)

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

Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional routes to Victoria include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butchart Gardens
Hello there, Butchart Gardens!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasty treats
Tasty treats from Canada and beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

~A celebration of Canadian Musicians and Song~

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

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

 Quick links to more I Ate the State adventures:

I Ate the State: Thurston County

Greetings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • There are several great food vendors to try, but since Dingey’s Puget Sound Cuisine had homemade crab cakes on the menu, how could I say no? Since I knew I’d be sampling more cuisine that day, I ordered the small plate and as soon as I dug in, I regretted not getting the bigger one. Next visit!
  • The jerky at Stewart’s Meats was fabulous and the cuts of meat in their butcher case looked very tasty. Next time I’ll be bringing home some steaks as well as more of their maple beef jerky (Located inside the Market and at their main location in nearby Yelm)
  • The cheddar and chive cheese curds at TUNaWERTH Creamery were delicious. Next time I plan on bringing home some of their fresh cottage cheese. Mini cheese curds!
  • Directly across from the market, hit up the Dancing Goat Coffee Bar (also in Lacey) for a great cup of locally roasted coffee. Their flagship coffeehouse, the Batdorf & Bronson Coffeehouse is located in nearby downtown Olympia and well worth seeking out and if you consider yourself a coffee aficionado, head to the nearby Batdorf & Bronson Tasting Room to sample coffees from growing regions around the globe. (Located a couple blocks from the Farmers Market)
  • Let it be stated for the record that I have a weakness for macarons. If you suffer the same affliction, stop in at Macarons by Mel, located across from the Market and enjoy macaron greatness.
Macarons By Mel
Achieve Macaron greatness at Macarons By Mel!
  • Located a few blocks down from the market, Olympia Seafood Co. sells the freshest of fresh seafood out of their warehouse shop. The list of fish they carry is impressive and their clam chowder and smoked salmon spread are absolutely delicious. I’m pretty sure I’d put that spread on anything!

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

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

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

  • Classic Olympia dining spot, Budd Bay Café overlooks the West Bay of Budd Inlet and sits next to the historic Fiddlehead Marina. (Note to self: They do have limited live-aboard slips available…) The seafood is delicious and watching the sailboats and my future yacht tool around the bay is an excellent way to pass the time. After your meal, take a stroll over to Percival Landing and check out the 100-year old Sand Man Tugboat and floating museum. (Open to the public and free to visit – On the National Register of Historic Places.)
  • The Dockside Bistro & Wine Bar features locally sourced ingredients in a delicious fusion of European and Southeast Asian styles. The wine selection is great and they also feature a full bar with craft cocktails. Open for lunch and dinner.
  • A local Olympia favorite since 1924 and recently revamped, the Olympia Oyster House serves up several varieties and preparations of delicious, local oysters and shellfish. Try any of the baked oyster dishes! Located near Percival Landing and the Sand Man Tugboat. Open for lunch and dinner and featuring great outdoor seating.
  • If you’re looking to keep it casual, stop by the Oly Taproom for a great local brew and a view of the bay from their outdoor seating area. They also offer a limited pizza menu.
  • NW favorite, Anthony’s Homeport is just across from the market on Budd Inlet with views of the marina and the Port Plaza (Port Plaza has a public dock and offers short term moorage) After a delicious meal of perhaps pan-fried oysters or Dungeness crab cakes, be sure to climb the steps of the viewing tower located near the docks. The view is wonderful!

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

  • Olympia’s oldest brewpub (since 1993), the Fish Tale Brewpub is an excellent place to visit for pub fare and tasty brews from nearby Fish Brewing Company. (Or cider from their sister cider-brewing company, Spire Mountain.) Featuring great burgers, pub favorites like shepherd’s pie and delicious local seafood, they’re a perfect stop along your downtown tour. They also have a taproom in the Woodinville area.
Fish Tale Brew Pub
Drink a tasty brew, sit outside and enjoy the sun…
  • Housed inside the historic 222 Market on Capitol Way North are a very cool collection of shops and restaurants. Hit up the Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar for all variety of oysters along with fresh chowder, shrimp and grits, craft cocktails and more – And then head directly across the hall and sample the excellent offerings from local distillery, Shoebox Spirits. (While there, I picked up a delicious bloody Mary mix from The Real Dill to go with their excellent, Single Malt Vodka. The staff is also fabulous! HOT UPDATE: I stopped by the other day and they’re moving the entire operation to Tumwater! Stay tuned to their Facebook Page for updates.) For dessert, consider a homemade scoop from Sofie’s Scoops Gelateria, located just around the hallway. And a must-try for any visit to the 222 Market are any of the offerings from French-style bakery and café, The Bread Peddler. Also part of the Bread Peddler family and located in 222 Market is the Peddler Bistro. (Check Bread Peddler website as hours/days vary for each spot)
  • The appropriately named Well 80 Artesian Brewing sits atop one of Olympia’s famous artesian wells by the name of… Well 80. Paying homage to the great brewing tradition of the Olympia and Tumwater areas, Well 80 brews craft beers in the tradition of Olympia Beer founder, Leopold Schmidt. So much so, one of their recent small-batch brews goes by the name of ‘Leopold’s #1 Lager’ and follows a recipe from one of Leopold’s recently discovered, handwritten notebooks. (Translated from German!) It was also created in partnership with a former brewmaster from Olympia Beer, Paul Knight. (Brewmaster from 1974 – 1997. That’s a lot of brewing!) Stop in and try this tribute to the origins of now famous, Olympia Beer before it’s gone – and grab one of their delicious burgers (w/tots!) or pizzas to enjoy with it! The lager truly is delicious and won’t be around long as they only produced a relatively small batch. Don’t miss out on tasting a bit of brewing history!
  • On the topic of artesian wells (and the mysterious Artesians who make the water), the Jefferson Street Well, located near a parking lot just off the Corner of Jefferson Street and 4th Avenue, is an awesome and publicly accessible artesian well. Fill up your water bottle and bask in the pristine freshness of ancient waters bubbling up from deep below the surface. And keep an eye out for Artesians…

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

  • The McMenamins Spar Café is another beer-brewing establishment making great use of an onsite artesian well. (Well water estimated to be about 3,300 years old, according to hydrology studies) The Spar Café is a long time fixture of the downtown Olympia area and is now owned by the northwest McMenamin family. They specialize in restoring and renovating beloved NW sites into restaurants and cool inns. The Spar Café is no exception and is a great place to stop for a meal and an artesian brew. Located on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia.
  • Three Magnets Brewing Co. is a great local brewpub with a creative menu including scratch pimento cheese dip, pork belly sliders, lamb burgers and more. Located about a block behind Fish Tale Brewing on Franklin Street.
  • Over a few blocks from downtown and overlooking the lovely Capitol Lake, Swing Wine Bar serves small plates and full dinners along with a nice selection of wines, cocktails and local beers. (Closed Sundays)
  • Serving diner-style delicacies to Olympians for generations, King Solomon’s Reef offers delicious food, kitsch and cocktails from their “Breakfast in the front, party in the back!” location on 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia.
  • Just down from King Solomon’s Reef is the Octapas Café, serving inventive, small-plate tapas dishes, house specialties, tasty beverages and regular live music.
  • Rush in Alaskan Dumplings was closed on my recent visit, but I’ll be back. If there’s any type of dumpling involved, I need to try it. It’s just a part of my foodie makeup. Furthermore, they serve my favorite type of dumplings, pelmeni. Oh, I’ll definitely be back…
  • Housed in the beautiful old Security Building (c. 1927) in downtown Olympia, Dillinger’s Cocktails & Kitchen is an excellent night out. Serving old school cocktails as well as new creations, this is definitely the cool place to imbibe in Olympia. Their food menu echoes the ‘old-school meets new’ vibe and features locally sourced ingredients – and they feature a Sunday evening special prix-fixe meal for $35. You can even hold a private party in the bank’s old vault! Live music on Monday nights.
  • If you’re looking for a cool club with regular great music, head to Rhythm and Rye in the downtown corridor and stay out late! Come on – all the cool kids are doin’ it… If a little ivory tickling is more your fancy, stop in at Tipsy Piano Bar and enjoy a few Jazz and Pop standards along with dinner and cocktails. Brunch on the weekends.
  • There’s a lot to learn during a trip to downtown or to the Capitol and the Bigalow House Museum can help further your education. Said to be the oldest residence in Olympia (c. 1850s and occupied by generations of the Bigalow family up until 2005), it’s open for tours and is an excellent peek into the lives of one of Olympia’s most influential families. Check out the Olympia Historical Society Events page for tour info.

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

  • There are so many excellent local shopping opportunities in the core of downtown Olympia. Hot Toddy features quirky, vintage-inspired clothing and accessories as well as a few pairs of shoes I know I need… The dangerously cool, modern Compass Rose is a lovely gift shop with at least 372 items I really needed. Last Word, a great independent book store with friendly staff and books stuffed into every corner and piled to the ceiling, is somewhere I could get happily lost for hours. Serving Olympia for the past 80 years, Browsers Bookshop is another gem of independent book-selling, set in a beautiful old building with a wrap-around upper floor. The Mouse Trap features delicious cheese and wines and is located next door to Dillinger’s Cocktails. Peacock Vintage on 4th Avenue carries both quirky and elegant antiques – and a very cool collection of owl kitsch. My friend, Emily picked up a very cool vintage map of Chicago on our recent visit. The Archibald Sisters gift shop is an excellent spot to stop if you’re in need of any number of hilarious gifts, funky socks, greeting cards and much more.
  • The Chehalis Western Trail is an easy-going, 22-mile (round trip) trail running from Olympia and into rural Thurston County areas. It’s easy to pop on and off, but a good entrance is on 14th Avenue SE, near Chambers Lake in SE Olympia.
  • Columbus Park at Black Lake offers great camping, swimming, fishing and boating opportunities in West Olympia. An oasis in the city, the park has been operating since 1926 and is a very popular site for year-round recreation.
  • If you’d like to upgrade from the tent or camper, check out the lovely Swantown Inn & Spa located in a quiet neighborhood in SE Olympia. Built in 1887 and on city and state historical registers, it offers bed and breakfast along with several day spa services. #Dreamy
  • It is no secret that I love boats. It’s an even lesser guarded secret that I want to own a boat… In the meantime, I’m considering living out my nautical fantasies on one of the Mystic Journeys Sailboat Charter I’m presently eyeing the “Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival Cruise” 6-day tour. I’m not attracted to the big cruise ship shenanigans, but this is a cruise I could get on board with… literally. Ba-doom-ching! Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week! Or at least for a few more paragraphs… Try the artesian beers!
  • Priest Point Park is a large park in NE Olympia with saltwater shoreline at Ellis Cove, several miles of hiking trails and day-use activities. Long a part of the indigenous peoples’ lives, the area was also once a church and a mission in the mid-1800s.
  • The campus at nearby Evergreen College is just as the name describes: Evergreen. Beautiful trees everywhere, plenty of trails, a private beach and even an organic farm are all features of the campus grounds. Offering customizable Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, it’s a very unique school with a unique approach to teaching and learning. Even if your studies are behind you, it’s a beautiful place to explore, any time of year.

Just southwest of the Olympia core lies the small city of Tumwater. Often considered part of Olympia, it is a fully functioning and very important city, all on its own. Situated where the Deschutes River flows into Budd Inlet, it has long been a pivotal area for trade and commerce for both Native Americans and western settlers.

One of the most important residents of the Tumwater area – and of Washington State altogether – was George Washington Bush. (No relation to the former Bush presidents) Had this man and his family not traveled (and largely funded) an expedition on the Oregon Trail from Missouri, Washington might not be the state it is today.

Bush, whose father was of African descent and mother, an Irish-American servant, was one of the first multiracial settlers in the northwest. In 1844, he and the white families he was traveling with – all friends and neighbors from Missouri – had initially planned to settle in Oregon. However, due to racial prejudices barring settlements of African-Americans, they were forced to alter their plans. The families didn’t want to separate so Bush and Michael Simmons, another incredibly instrumental person in the story of Washington State, moved the entire party and eventually settled in the Puget Sound area, near Deschutes Falls in 1845.

Along the way to the Olympia area, they also spent time north of the Columbia River in what is now Clark County. South of the river was considered Oregon County and was under joint US and British control. North of the river was controlled by the British-run Hudson’s Bay Company who didn’t discriminate against Bush and his family. The men worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company during this time and it became a valuable connection when navigating the tough times to come.

Bush and his family had settled further up the Deschutes River in prairie land they named Bush Prairie. During their time in the area, he and his wife, Isabella, were instrumental in helping their neighbors through tough winters and forging relationships between the Nisqually Tribe and the Hudson’s Bay Company. They also offered free lodging to travelers and immigrants coming through the area and regularly gave away free grain and food to neighbors. Through their relationship with the Nisqually tribe and Chief Leschi, they learned the Nisqually language and the Nisqually taught them about local plants, seafood and more. These relationships and their generosity to friends and local residents were key in the community growing and beginning to thrive; key to the community gaining the strength to grow into a state. Had Bush and his family not given so freely, we very well might not have the Washington State we enjoy today.

After the 1846 Oregon Treaty brought the Washington Territory into Oregon, there was worry that Bush and his family would be unable to keep their land due to Oregon’s discriminatory laws. However, after the Washington Territory was separated from Oregon in 1853, the many people Bush had helped through the years, some of whom had become very influential, helped to get an exception via Congress to ensure his family would retain the Bush Prairie land and property. Unfortunately, the fight wasn’t over and early Washington State leaders wanted to ban non-whites from the area. It was then that Bush’s longtime friend and supporter, Michael Simmons, led a strong opposition and ensured the state did not adopt the exclusionary laws.

George Bush and his wife, Isabella are now buried in Tumwater at the Bush/Union/Pioneer/Calvary Cemetery. The cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a fine place to pay tribute to Bush and all of the Washingtonians who made this state into the wonderful place it is today.

The many artesian wells in the greater Olympia and Tumwater areas have long supplied water to local residents. As previously described, they’re still providing water – and in turn, delicious beer – to the area. Beer was first brewed in Tumwater in 1896 at the Olympia Brewing Company, founded by Leopold Schmidt. (Originally named ‘Capital Brewing Company’) The brewery is said to have drawn their famous waters from a series of 26 artesian wells located below the brewery. That’s a lot of water! Sadly, the brewery closed in 2003, but you can still visit adjacent Tumwater Falls Park and beautiful Deschutes River. From this location, you can see not only the Old Brewhouse, but are able to stand front and center before the epic Tumwater falls as they cascade into the river. Cheers to those Artesians! (Click HERE for a great video tour of the Old Brewhouse and interview with the last Olympia Brewery brewmaster, Paul Knight.)

After enjoying the beautiful falls and taking in the scene, be sure to check out the park. Walk through the well-manicured native plants garden and stroll alongside the Deschutes River on the beautiful riverside path. Also be sure to locate the Leopold Schmidt monument which pays tribute to Tumwater and Olympia’s first western settlers, including the remarkable, George Washington Bush. To further your knowledge of Tumwater’s history, make a visit to the nearby Schmidt House and check out the Schmidt House tour. (On the National Register of Historic Places)

Just outside the downtown Tumwater area and close to the very interesting Olympic Flight Museum at the Olympia Regional Airport, lies the Tumwater Warehouse District and Deschutes Landing. There are several beverage and foodie stops to make in the Warehouse District area and it makes for a unique day out. A few great spots to add to your outing:

  • Tart Cider and tasting room features delicious hard cider varieties made from Washington State apples and fruit juices. Kid and dog friendly. Open Thursday – Sunday. Check website for hours.
  • Matchless Brewing is a very cool taproom and brewery featuring rotating taps and all things hoppy. Kid and dog friendly with food trucks providing sustenance. (Open Wednesday – Sunday, with a 7pm curfew for kids)
  • Add to your Warehouse District taproom crawl and stop by Triceratops Brewing Company and enjoy their Pennsyltucky Lagers or Sammy IPA. (Closed Monday – Wednesday)
  • Located across from the airport, Spuds Produce features local gourmet and specialty wares along with fresh produce, an excellent craft beer section, meats and cheeses. On my last visit, I picked up some excellent smoked albacore tuna from Tumwater’s Briney Sea Delicaseas. Yum! (Check out the original Spuds Produce location in Olympia, too!)

To investigate one of the state’s more mysterious features, head south on I-5 towards the Capitol State Forest and the ever-intriguing, grassy prairie lands of the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve. (A National Natural Landmark, along with the nearby Nisqually River Delta.) Off of I-5, take Exit 95 and turn west onto SR-121. (Maytown Road SW) toward Littlerock. After a lovely meander through the back-roads, you’ll arrive at a landscape that has long puzzled scientists and amazed visitors.

Many theories as to the nature of the mounds have been entertained for generations. Burial mounds, earthquakes, flood sediments, pocket gophers excavating nest chambers and the most popular theory, glacial melt-water causing erosion between the trees and shrubs, have all been explored. What scientists do know is the mounds were somehow formed when ice-age glaciers began receding 16,500 years ago. At any rate, they’re fascinating and just a little bit eerie to take in as you look out over the prairie.

Visiting the Mima Mounds is quite an experience. Trails wind in and around the mounds and there are observations decks which allow you to look out over the landscape and marvel at the formations. The area is open from 8:30 to 5:30pm, October to March and until 8:30pm from April to September. A Discover Pass is required. (Note: Don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshot when first arriving in the parking area. There is an outdoor gun range on the opposite side of the mounds. It’s a good distance away and they’re shooting in the opposite direction, but there can be a bit of an echo. Head to the left after entering the prairie area and you’ll get mostly out of earshot.)

If you’re looking to make a longer trip of your Mima Mound investigations, a great place to camp and further investigate the area is nearby Millersylvania State Park. Largely built by the CCCs in the 1930’s, it’s a step back in time with its log-constructed kitchen shelters, summertime snack bar and tree-lined shorelines. (On the National Register of Historic Places) There’s a non-motorized boat launch, kayak and canoe rentals, swimming, camping, great hiking paths through the neighboring wetlands – so many things to do! (Discover pass required)

If the family isn’t down with the camping plan, check out the Great Wolf Lodge in neighboring Grand Mound. Offering overnight stays as well as limited day-passes, the lodge features an indoor waterpark, an outdoor ropes course, activities for the whole family and many dining and shopping options. And if you’re up for a little geo-cache style adventure, head over to nearby Tenino Grand Mound Road SW (Old Hwy 99) and look for an Oregon Trail marker placed by the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution in 1916.

Continuing on Old Hwy 99 will bring you to the charming town of Tenino. On the National Register of Historic Places, the downtown core quaintly represents and celebrates the many generations of residents. There is a good variety of commerce and modern convenience, but it effortlessly exists amongst turn of the (last) century buildings and design sense. On my most recent visit, there were both cars and horses parked in the downtown area. Both kinds of horse power! Tenino certainly understands the ‘best of both worlds’ concept.

Tenino Transportation
Both kinds of horse power!

It would be entirely easy to spend the day enjoying the downtown Tenino scene. A few places to consider as you plan your visit:

  • Start your Tenino tour by getting acquainted with the town’s history at the Tenino Depot Museum. Located at Tenino City Park, the museum is housed in what used to be the local train depot building. (c. 1914) They have great displays representing the town’s history, but they also have a cool virtual tour available online.
  • The aforementioned Tenino City Park and its very unique Quarry Pool are an absolute must when visiting the area. The park offers camping, hiking and picnicking opportunities, but the coolest feature is the quarry pool. Originally the town’s sandstone quarry in the late 1800s before they struck a spring and it filled up with water, now serves as the community swimming hole. (Pool is open Wednesday – Sunday, noon to 6pm from the end of June through September 1st)
  • If you happen to be in Tenino on a summer Saturday, head to the Tenino Farmers Market for all the best of local produce and artisan goods. (Saturdays, May through September, 10am – 3pm – on Olympia Street, near the park)
  • The Tenino Antique Mall features a very eclectic array of antiques and vintage wear. There was a little bit of everything tucked into the many stalls. There were SO many things I wanted, but I played it cool. However, I could not say no to a screamin’ deal on a vintage clarinet. That one’s for you, Grandpa Smith! And I promise, I will start playing again…

I’m guessing all the exploring and swimming in quarry pools might make one hungry – and thirsty. I know it did me! (Disclaimer: I didn’t actually swim in the quarry pool. I was very busy buying vintage clarinets… Next time!) Here are a few excellent spots to help curb your appetite:

  • Located conveniently next door to a dentist’s office, Aunt Kate’s Chocolates offers a lovely selection of handcrafted chocolates and treats. A section of the shop is also dedicated to tea parties and special tasting events and they carry a nice selection of teas for the occasion. Located on Sussex Avenue in the historic downtown area.
  • Just across the street from Aunt Kate’s, grab a cup of coffee and a cupcake at Western Coffee Company & Café. Serving breakfast and lunch, they offer a great menu of classic comfort food, baked goods and great coffee.
  • Also serving breakfast and lunch and just down from Western Coffee Co., Sandstone Café serves up great, diner-style fare in a well-loved, old Tenino setting.
  • Located in the heart of historic downtown Tenino on Sussex Avenue, Scatter Creek Winery & Brewery offers wine and craft beer in a beautiful, sandstone-walled tasting room. I was in a wine sort of mood the day I visited, but the list of brews was intriguing. Beer will be on my agenda for the next Tenino visit! I did, however, enjoy a great wine-tasting and chat with the very friendly owners. I happily took home bottles of their Valley de Bon Blanco and The Big Jake (Cabernet) and am looking forward to grabbing more on my next visit.
  • On your way into Tenino, off of Old Hwy 99 and Tilly Rd SW, stop in at Sandstone Distillery and enjoy a sampling of their handcrafted whiskies, gins and vodkas. (They have a bacon whiskey!) Small-batch distilling in a laid back locale – a great afternoon! They also make Wild Heart sipping vinegars (shrubs) for all of your creative cocktail needs.
  • Mentioned earlier in the article and found at the Olympia Farmers Market, TUNaWERTH Creamery is located just before you get to Tenino, off of Old Hwy 99 SE and Melville Street SE. Stop in for their delicious cheeses, yogurts and milk. And those delicious garlic and chives cheddar curds…

Since I was ultimately heading back to the Seattle area, I decided to take Old Hwy 99 back towards Olympia and I-5. Another nice route is to take SR-507 out of Tenino, heading towards Yelm and then SR-510 back to I-5. If you happen to opt for the Old Hwy 99 route, there are a few great places to stop along the way:

  • Located off Old Hwy 99 on Offut Road SE, non-profit Wolf Haven International is an amazing place to visit. Reservations are required for a guided, 50-min tour of this sanctuary for captive-born and displaced wolves. They have a ‘Wolves and Wine’ fundraising event coming up on September 28th at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. (Closed Tues – Thurs)
  • If you’re looking for local fishing opportunities, Offutt Lake, located just up the road from Wolf Haven International has a good trout population. And if you don’t happen to catch your dinner, stop in at the nearby Lady of the Lake Public House for some fish and chips, the easy way. The pub is part of the Offut Lake Resort, which offers camping and lodging on the lake.
Farmland
Beautiful farmland along the drive to Yelm

Should you decide upon the Yelm route, via SR-507, enjoy the scenic pastures and stunning views of Mt. Rainier as you head northwest. Once you arrive in Yelm, there are several great options for food, drink and more in this tiny yet influential town.

  • If you’re looking for tasty BBQ, along with delicious breakfast, burgers and more, stop in at The Cattleman and fill up. I recommend their pulled pork and coleslaw. I can’t remember the name of the dish I ordered, but the pulled pork came served on a cornbread base, topped with baked beans and coleslaw – and tots! It was incredibly tasty and very I had plenty left over for lunch the next day!
  • Located in historic downtown Yelm, the Masonry Café offers tasty soups, sandwiches, baked goods and more as well as local catering services.
  • Burn off the barbecue on the nearby Yelm-Tenino Trail. Once a local railroad line, it boasts 14.5 miles of great walking and biking trail and intersects w/the Chehalis Western Trail out of Olympia.
  • If you’re looking for a cool place to stay in Yelm, check out the Prairie Hotel on Prairie Park Lane. Modern rooms with an urban flair. The hotel is right down the street from the comfortable Yelm Cinemas and the funky Uptown Lounge, a 21+ lounge featuring great food, cocktails and live music.
  • Featuring a parade, street dance, pie baking contest, food vendors and more, the annual Prairie Days Festival is a great way to celebrate the community with the whole family. (End of June at Yelm City Park)
  • Head to Yelm City Park during the warmer months and visit the Yelm Farmers Market. Check out what the local farmers and artisans have to offer. (Saturdays, 10am – 3pm, May 25th – October 26th)
  • The Yelm Historical Museum is a fine place to learn about the town’s past as well as that of surrounding areas. After NW explorer, James Longmire settled in the Yelm Prairie area, he set his sights on nearby Mount Rainier. As he carried out his now well-known exploration into the area, Yelm became known as the gateway to Mount Rainier. Learn about this and more of Yelm’s important contributions to the history of the Washington Territory at the museum. (Open noon to 4pm, Wednesday – Saturday, mid-March through mid-November)
  • Heading out of Yelm, follow Bald Hill Road from the intersection of SR-507 and SR-510 and head to beautiful Deschutes Falls Park. Enjoy the stunning falls and beautiful surroundings of this tucked-away gem of a park.
  • If you’re feeling lucky as you head back up SR-510 towards the I-5 corridor, stop in at Nisqually Red Wind Casino and try your hand at their slots or table games. Or, play it tasty and simply grab a bite at one of their onsite restaurants or lounges.