As my final weeks in the Pacific Northwest approached I realized that there is always a chance I may not live in Seattle again and that my list of ‘must-sees’ would be challenging to cram in. I made a valiant effort though and for the all the missed items on my list, I’ll be back (whether as a resident or tourist)! Here is the lengthy summary of my last ditch effort to be a PNW tourist:
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Starting in early April I began hawking the bloom website for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. I missed this festival last year, traveling most of April for work, and vowed to not miss it this year as so many people had recommended the event. It didn’t disappoint. The pictures describe this best, but basically endless rows of flowers are planted and as the intent is to harvest the bulbs, the flowers stick around to a full bloom. I actually even made two trips up to Mount Vernon – once for the daffodils and once for the tulips.
San Juan Islands
Another PNW spot that people tended to rave about was the San Juan Islands. They’re a cluster of islands between mainland Washington and Vancouver Island, BC. Many of my colleagues took their motorcycle to one of the six ferry-accesible islands, kayaked or took a whale watching cruise. I was early for whale watching, don’t own/ride motorcycles and took Nala kayaking enough to know it’s a bad idea! Instead we headed up to Anacortes, WA one Saturday morning where I loaded the car onto a WA State ferry bound for Orcas Island. Driving around Orcas Island was relaxing and beautiful. The advantage of going early in the season was the lack of cars and people. The island barely felt inhabited. Saturday afternoon we set up camp near Mountain Lake in Moran State Park, made some camp-stove dinner and then drove the road up to the top of Mt. Constitution (~2400ft). The top of Mt. Constitution is the highest point on the San Juan Islands lending a beautiful 360 degree view for the sunset. There is also an old stone observation tower with the best views of Vancouver, BC and Mt. Baker/Bellingham, WA. Nala still hasn’t embraced camping, but she happily bounded down the trail around Mountain Lake that Sunday. A short, but nice weekend at the San Juans…hiking, camping, some photography…it was easy to see what all the hype was about.
Apparently I’m all about recommendations because positive reviews bumped Victoria, BC onto my list too. I booked a last minute trip for the day after my last day at work (celebrate!). The Clipper Ferry direct from downtown Seattle to Victoria was definitely the way to go. A bit pricey, but this high-speed ferry gets you there in under 3 hours. Pretty hassle free! The ferry arrived there around 11:30a Friday morning and left around 5:30p Saturday. I managed to pack a lot into that limited window and didn’t feel like I was leaving too soon. Friday I took a bus up Butchart Gardens and spent all afternoon photographing blooming flowers and spectacular landscaping. For dinner that night I ended up at Canoe Brew Pub and had an unexpectedly fantastic time as I made friends, enjoyed a local bands’ tunes and consumed a (few) delicious porters! Sunday turned into a chill sightseeing day with several miles of walking. The waterfront was most beautiful to me so that’s where I spent most of the day. Down along the water near Fisherman’s Wharf Park I bumped into some hungry seals; I walked the breakwater at Ogden Point, enjoyed views of Port Angeles across the water, roamed Beacon Hill Park and finally I rested my tired feed at a terrible IMAX at the Royal BC Museum :). If I were to go back, I’d try to explore that museum and the BC Parliament Building (I hear the cafeteria is wonderful…seriously). Overall, it wasn’t the quiet, sleepy old town I pictured in my head, but Victoria was still full of charm and plenty to explore. Oh and a side note, I was a little surprised by the seemingly vast homeless population and drugs…no lie, saw someone shooting up on the sidewalk down from my hostel (doobeedo, not a common sighting for me at least).
The weather turned pretty perfect in Seattle the month before I left. Being a talented procrastinator, I readily put down the box tape and headed outdoors. With limited time, I checked out a few easily accesible local excursions that were Nala-friendly. A gem I wish I had found sooner was Meadowdale Beach Park. Maybe 15 minutes from my house, there’s this secluded trail down to the beach area. You wouldn’t know you’re in a city along the path and the beach is the least crowded of any I’ve seen in the area. I also checked out the Washington Arboretum. This was a great area to stroll through as all the trees were in bloom and plenty of kayakers and boats were out on Lake Washington. And lets not forget the restaurants. I was too busy ‘packing’ to cook! Zab Thai in Everett may top my list…but Paseo in Fremont was delicious, so was In The Bowl Vegetarian Noodle Bistro in Capital Hill. And then there was Agua Verde in the U-District…Molly Moon Ice Cream in Wallingford…ok I’ll stop now. I would be remiss to not add the wonderful farewell meals I had with my new and old friends before leaving too. I’m sure the food was great, but I only remember the company. Thank you for the photography tips, the RTW travel advice, the travel magazines, the years of memories, the promises to meet up with me abroad and the handy water-proof notepads with futuristic pen :)!
Oregon Road Trip (#28!)
Everyone seems to rave about Crater Lake in Oregon (Kristyn!) and seeing as how I was only 8 hours or so away how could I not check this one out?! I dismissed this one initially though as being too far away to cram into my packed last few weeks, but in the spirit of #28 on my 30b30, I planned a crazy 2 day road trip.
Four hours southeast of Seattle, I stopped at Maryhill Museum and Stonehenge along the Columbia Gorge (thanks Auntie for the recommendation!). I’ll spare you the history behind all this, but basically the museum is this beautiful chateau-like structure that stands alone along the Gorge and is full of unique history (ex: Queen Marie of Romania’s personal belongings). Down the road, Stonehenge is a near exact replica of what the one in England would have looked like (read more about it here). There I met this fantastic couple from Oregon who provided me with a road map and a new route (ha!). They sent me along the scenic route, down the Old Columbia River Hwy, then through the Fruit Loop and right along side Mt Hood. That night I enjoyed a Black Butte Porter at Deschutes Brewery in Bend and proceeded to Crater Lake National Park the next day (#4!). This caldera is nearly 2,000ft deep (largest in the US) and up around 6,000 ft altitude. Crater Lake was very blue…it was very large…and it was very breathtaking. (I have a way with words, I know.) There was nearly 12 ft of snow pack still up there and sadly the loop road was still closed, but I walked away glad to have experienced the view. I’d recommend going on a very clear day in the summer. The sunrises and sunsets have to be amazing up there.
Back on the long road home, it was a race against the clock to hit Mount St Helens before it got dark. I made it in the vicinity for sunset, which was gorgeous down the valley where the mudslide remnants from the volcanic eruption were still visible. As I got higher, though, it became socked in. Gorgeous skies all day and clouds right as I get there, go figure :). I wasn’t disappointed though. Leaves me something big to still see in the PNW one day – hopefully from the summit! About 21 hours of driving in 2 days!!! Nala was BEYOND thrilled to be along for this one…(click on the pictures below for a larger slideshow view)