Beating the Heat in Washington State: Sights and Bites from Vacation

Flowers in Anacortes, WA

We are experiencing miserable heat in Houston right now. It’s August and we really can’t expect much more. I’d like to mention that while we are seasoned Okies, used to scorching summers, we are not used to the still, unmoving air that makes being outside here truly unbearable. We’ve been eating ice cream, swimming, and laying under the fan as a way to combat the heat. Today, I’d like to share a few images and moments from our trip to cool, clean, shady, 60-degrees-every-morning Washington state.

Mountains on the way to Anacortes

Washington is a great place to visit– there are too many things to do and see in one trip and it is so beautiful you’re almost guaranteed to come back. Washington is a kind of sweet paradise for me. I visited with family a few times during my childhood and then worked at a Girl Scout camp there for two summers during college. I used to wake up every morning at Camp River Ranch, walk out of my cabin, and literally give thanks for being in such a naturally beautiful place. If heaven is anywhere, it might as well be Washington for me. Our choice to visit this year was influenced by a few factors, but two major ones were that 1. We wanted a stress-free vacation and since we know Washington, it was easier to de-stress there, and 2. Roundtrip tickets were phenomenally cheap from Houston. Something else we took into consideration: we are not laid back, sleep on the beach vacationers. We need plenty to do but with the option for rest, naps, and laziness. Washington can be as full of activity or rest as you want.

Tomcat from Top Gun

Day 1 We arrived in Seattle in the morning with an ambitious itinerary: visit the Museum of Flight, shop for groceries at Trader Joes, drive to Anacortes, and eat dinner. I’m glad to say we accomplished it all and felt pretty good afterward! The Museum was interesting and full of restored WWI and WWII planes. J really got into it and I was happy to tag along and read and look. We walked through an 80’s Air Force One and got to see a lot of other, more modern planes in the main display room. Before driving out, we stopped at Trader Joe’s near the University of Washington and nearly died of envy. It was full of so much good stuff (I didn’t take photos of our purchases). We got wine, fruit, cheese, and trail mix and peanut butter filled pretzels for hiking and kayaking later. I would like to note, however, that “Two Buck Chuck” (Charles Shaw wine) is now $2.99 Chuck. I guess the economy has effected everyone.

Two Buck Chuck

Food in tow, we drove the 2 hours to Anacortes. We went to Anacortes because I wanted to go sea-kayaking and look for Orca whales. The Orcas spend their summers in the San Juan Islands to which Anacortes is the port town. We stayed at the reasonable and homey San Juan Motel. Some of you will shudder at the images of this hotel room but I would like to say it was clean, comfortable, and suited our needs just fine– and it was retro and unromantic in the most hilarious way!

Motel Sign

Wood paneling to match the bedspread

Nevertheless, we were totally charmed by Anacortes. It’s an adorable town that thrives on tourism and an oil refinery. We actually stayed in the old part of town and were able to walk to dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. We ate at the nearby Rockfish Grill, recommended to us at the hotel. We sat in their lovely beer garden and enjoyed the thrill of being in a completely new place, sipping homebrewed beer, counting ourselves lucky. As we ate, we heard violin music playing and after dinner went to investigate. It turns out that a hotel was hosting a summer concert series in their garden and cooking up barbecue. We stayed and listened to Swil Kanim, Native American musician and storyteller. I could have listened to him for hours– his music was meditative and interesting and each song had a story to go with it. We walked around a little afterward in the cool dusk and looked at charming homes and little shops. It was a great first day.

Dinner at Rockfish

Swil Kanim spinning stories

Day 2 The morning of our Kayaking trip we wanted a hearty, stick to your guts breakfast to help us make it through 5 hours of paddling around on the ocean. We ate at Mary Ann’s Kitchen, recommended by our waitress. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch in a converted house. We woke up early and tottered down the street,  commenting that we could see our breath. In July. True to small town American fashion, we immediately made friends with the local who was also waiting on the kitchen to open. He ushered us inside, helped the waitress post the menu, and then sat down to a table nearby, opening his paper and idly chatting with us as we ordered and waited on food. Mary Ann’s breakfast was really yummy and hearty. While the food won’t get any Michelin stars, the feeling of being in a beloved restaurant and eating food made with care was priceless.

Deception Pass Bridge

When we got done it was still nearly three hours before we were to meet the kayak outfitters, so we took a 10 minute drive out to Deception Pass State Park and Deception Pass Bridge. Wow. and Whoa. and Wow. The images here don’t really capture the height of the bridge (which you can walk or bike over–shudder) or the noise of the churning waters below. The pass is a very narrow channel and when the tide is coming or going the speed of the water rushing in or out gets fairly fast. We walked down the steep trail to the shore and enjoyed the view for a while. I’d love to go camping at this park. It’s amazingly beautiful and right on the water.

walking down to the shore

J tangles with kelp

By 11 am we had been to the outfitters and were meeting our tour guide and fellow kayakers at the dock. It turned out there were only four of us kayaking–so while the trip was pricey, it was practically a private tour. After getting into our dork-tastic gear (kayak skirts and life vests) and into our two-man boats, we set out on a five hour paddle that took us west out of the bay past Washington Park, around the west side of Burrows island, around the west of Allen island, out around the wildlife refuge rock and back along the east sides of both Allen and Burrows islands. Map of the area here. We stopped for lunch on Burrows island near the lighthouse and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the bay.

Overlook Lunch

The highlight of the day was making it out to the wildlife refuge rock where pods of seals were sunning. They jumped into the water when we came about, probably out of cautiousness and curiosity. They followed us as we rounded the rock. We even had a seal pup come up and say hello right next to our kayaks. It came up right next to J and looked at him before swimming back to it’s mom. WOW. We didn’t need to see orcas after that, and good thing, because we didn’t. The tour was thoroughly enjoyable, not too hot or cold or strenuous. As we headed back, we spotted the co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen’s yacht, “Arctic Wolf.” We had a good chuckle over whether or not to join him for a barbecue and stared a little jealously as he docked on his private island. Although, I think overall, we had the better day.

Seal in on the rock in the middle--about the fall in

Day 3 We planned to go to Pike Place Market. We did. But as we drove towards Seattle after bidding farewell to lovely Anacortes, we decided to do something a little more low-key the first day in the city. So we ended up going to the zoo. J and I are zoo lovers. We’ve been to the zoo in nearly every city we’ve visited and last summer we went to the best zoo in the country, San Diego. Woodland Park Zoo was beautiful and a lot of fun. Many of the animals were up and about, which I love because as a child I felt like I never saw the cats or the bears or really most animals doing anything! The zoo is a little like a walk down memory lane and we enjoyed our detour there very much. Like every day we spent in Washington, it was gray and cloudy until about 1:00 and then the sun came out and wherever we were would absolutely sparkle under the light (maybe that’s what Stephanie Meyer was attempting to convey).

Up close and personal

Grizzly

After the zoo we checked into an inexpensive hotel we found online near Kirkland. While the hotel was entirely unremarkable, it should be noted that those who want a Seattle experience don’t need to stay in the city proper itself. Compared to Houston, Seattle is incredibly drivable and easy to navigate (at least for me it is). Staying in Kirkland gave us the chance to drive over Lake Washington twice a day and to see more natural areas we might have missed if we had stayed downtown. For dinner, we met up with a friend of mine from high school and his fiance. They took us out for a great sushi dinner at Kisaku and to see Inception. It was nice to meet up with old friends and feel a little more at home, the great thing about Oklahomans is that we’re usually hospitable and friendly, no matter where we are.

Homes along Lake Washington

Sushi at Kisaku

"Meet the Producer" on a sign to the right

Day 4 We did make it out to Pike Place Market on Sunday. The Market is really about sights, sounds, and smells. The stalls and restaurants may change, the customers may be more local or touristy, the live bands better or worse, but Pike Place Market is always interesting, colorful, delicious, and overwhelming. Here’s hoping it never changes. I’m just going to put in some images from our visit there and leave it at that. What more can I say? You have to go.

Produce Stand

Pike Place Fish

Flower Stall

Band outside the original Starbucks

Forgive me chocolate, for I have sinned...

After wandering for several hours eating, buying cheese and pasta and desserts, we needed to sit down and eat some real lunch. even though I was loathe to leave the market, I wanted chowder. The best place to get real clam chowder is at Iver’s Acres of Clams down on the Pier. We happened into the restaurant during Sunday brunch, but passed it up for something more simple and hearty. We got a window seat and watched kids feed begging seagulls while we ate. It was great to put our feet up for a minute and get away from the bustle.

Clam Chowder

As we ate, we eavesdropped on the conversation  behind me. Two women had been to Bite of Seattle at different times during the weekend and were catching one another up. Apparently, we chose wisely not to go. According to these ladies, the lines were long, much of the food was cold, and it was a bit pricey to go hang out in a park eating fast food with everyone else in Seattle. I felt a little better about our choice not to go. I had wanted to, but was worried about the crowd and the pitfalls of choosing a bad food stall. I smiled and dug into my soup.

Island and cherry orchard on the far shore

We headed back to our hotel around 2:00, but before our afternoon nap (a vacation ritual) we stopped by the Japanese Gardens in the Washington Park Arboretum. I went to the Gardens once with my mother when I was young, but barely remember them. They’re really beautiful and well-curated. I can only imagine how it must look in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Everything in the garden is symbolic of at least one, sometimes two or three, elements of nature and Japanese culture. It was a lovely, quiet respite after the market.

Garden overlook

Snow melt, lower Denny Creek

Day 5 On our final day in Washington, we went for a walk in the woods. After much discussion about which woods to go to, I decided a familiar area was best and we headed out along Hwy 90 into Snoqualmie National Forest. I’ve been out hiking here before and even camped on Lake Kachess one fateful summer. After stopping by the ranger station and learning that our ranger had not been into the woods herself in quite a while, we chose to hike out to Denny Creek, a natural rock slide and popular swimming hole in the summer and then continue up to a lake at the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, J and I were not dressed in the best hiking gear. Sneakers, no sunscreen, not enough water, and jeans instead of shorts sealed our fate long before we would ever have seen that mountain lake. We did have a sunshiney 3.5 hour hike and made it up to a beautiful waterfall before turning around, so all in all, not bad for some flatlanders.

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen...

Waterfall

Strange flowers

When we got back from the mountain, I wanted to go raspberry picking. Unfortunately, we drove too far out of our way for no raspberries and I felt kind of cranky and ready to go home. Thankfully, we had planned to have dinner with the lovely M. from Austin and her friend. We met at our VERY FAVORITE Italian restaurant EVER in Redmond, WA. Tropea Ristorante Italiano is a highly reviewed hole-in-the-wall, family owned eatery. I discovered it by accident the first time J came to see me in Washington and I wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner. This restaurant may have played a key role in J’s later decision to marry me. The food is made out of cream and butter and tomatoes and fresh, fresh, fresh meat and vegetables. It is heaven on a plate and there are no words to describe how much I love it there.

Shellfish medley

hand drawn dessert menu 3 pages long

limoncello gelato, I kid you not

It was a lovely, lovely evening and a great close to our vacation. Washington gave us everything we could have hoped for, we had adventures, we stretched and rested our brains, we reconnected as a couple, we ate, we laughed, we enjoyed. Thank goodness here will always be Washington state.

At Deception Pass

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Beating the Heat in Washington State: Sights and Bites from Vacation

  1. Mindy

    I really enjoyed reading about your trip to WA. In fact, I think y’all were there the same time my Mom & I were there! She grew up in Mt. Vernon and Anacortes, and we went to visit some of her cousins and have our first ever mother-daughter get-away. We stayed in Seattle a couple of days and did the Seattle Bites http://www.seattlebitesfoodtours.com/aboutus/ food tour, which I highly recommend, even if you’ve been to Pike Place Market before. Lot of fun! I also recommend trying Pike Place Chowder while you’re there (national chowder award winners). Delish!

    Your pics of Deception Pass brought back a lot of good memories. I go there every time I visit the area, and took my husband there when we visited back in 2008. It really does take one’s breath away. Also, if you get a chance next time you go, take the drive up Mt. Baker Hwy 542, all the way to the top…it’s gorgeous! And be sure to stop at North Fork Brewery & Pizzaria outside of Deming on the way. It’s one of our best finds from that trip!

    I’m intrigued by all the places you’ve mentioned that I didn’t know about, including the Italian restaurant in Redmond, and will make sure to put them on our itinerary for next time! Oh, and btw, I discovered your great blog site when I was doing a search for some info on Debbie’s Garden & Farmer’s Market. I’ve read a couple of your blog posts about your culinary adventures 😉 and plan to continue checking back now & then for a fun read.

    Take care,
    Mindy

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