Day tripping through Puget Sound

Thirty-five miles north of Seattle is Mukilteo, a classic coastal town where you can get a latte and buy fish bait in the same cafe. Add a small lighthouse, a decent seafood restaurant called Arnies and the ability to ferry over to Whidbey Island, and you realize you’re at the golden crossroads of Washington State and Puget Sound.

After getting a look at the lighthouse, walking the rocky beach and stopping at Mukilteo Landing for fish and chips, prawns and chips or halibut and chips, go back up the hill to wait in line for the ferry. The line will feel like it’s 10 miles long, but be patient. The line goes quickly and you usually sit in your car no more than 15 minutes.

Once aboard the ferry, go up top for a view of Clinton, the town just three miles across the harbor where you will set foot on Whidbey Island from the ship. You can even grab another latte in the coffee shop onboard if you need a pick-me-up for the drive north. Just don’t expect to linger long. The mother whale ship moves faster than you would think, putting you on land in less than 10 minutes.

When we hit Whidbey Island we cruised through several towns with the destination of Greenbank Farm on our radar. The brochure promised dark red fields of loganberrys and old barns from 1904. What we found were fields out of season and a parking lot full of tourists visiting the wine and cheese shop, and having a piece of pie at the on site cafe. If you need a place to tire your children out, Greenbank has acres of open paths where kids can run. If you are looking for the quiet, natural side of the Pacific Northwest, keep moving.

Driving past yellow hay fields and only-one-stoplight towns, Whidbey Island suddenly felt familiar. While not exact, the landscape had the look and feel of Prince Edward Island, especially from a peak when you could spot the sea in the distance. I wanted to see more.

Past the halfway point of the island we came upon Fort Casey or Camp Casey as it is commonly known today, a restored Army camp built in 1890 to protect the entrance to Puget Sound. Each year Camp Casey hosts a kite flying festival on its expansive grounds, which is now part of Fort Casey State park. In addition to World War II canons and bunkers, Admiralty Head Lighthouse is a sparkling white structure that graces the grounds, guiding ships nearly 20 years prior to Fort Casey’s development.

While Camp Casey and the lighthouse grounds were perfectly lovely on the warm 72 degree day we were there, I couldn’t wait for the Big Kahuna – the place that I wanted to visit the most during this day trip. And we had to get moving because the sun was starting to dip. Car packed back up, windows down, we drove toward Deception Pass.

If you are driving north from Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island and want to see the Deception Pass Bridge, I’ll save you a little pain. Take a left into Deception Pass State Park. We weren’t sure where we would have the best view and got lucky by guessing. Drive down to the beach parking lot, grab your camera and anything else you want to take because once you see this, you won’t want to return for awhile.

Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it? I just stood on the beach for about 30 minutes, watching children play and old men fish. The photograph at the top of this post is also from Deception Pass, snapped as the sun was setting. More than a quarter of a mile long, the bridge is even more thrilling once you are driving over it.

Our day was ending and we wound up blowing through Fidalgo Island much too quickly. I can actually see this being a better day trip entrance, driving from Seattle to Fidalgo Island first, and then passing south into Whidbey, strictly for the views of Fidalgo alone.

But this was our day trip, and there were definite missteps. You have to take it as it comes. I’m always looking for the “untouched” in my travels, but I’ve come to realize that is hard to find. There is a gift shop attached to pretty much anything remotely interesting along the way. I have to remind myself of the old adage that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Do I think travelers should see Puget Sound if they have the chance? You betcha. Even with the gift shops and tourists, it’s still a beautiful place, with raw and wonderful views. Make it your own journey.



Sleepy in Seattle

Maybe it was the cool, misty air. Maybe it was a full day spent outdoors at a music festival. Or maybe it was the lunch burrito the size of a newborn baby. Whatever it was, I slept like a rock every night I was in Seattle. For a person who finds slumber in strange beds difficult, it was just one of many, many good things about the Pacific Northwest city.

This was the second trip to Seattle in two years. Husband and I didn’t want to do anything that we had done in the past. We walked right past Pike Place Market down to the piers on the shoreline. We were here to see something new.

For someone who likes an authentic experience, the piers below Pike Place Market are the last place you get authenticity. Swimming with tourists, there are enough souvenir and fish shops for everyone. But we were hungry and needed dinner. Stat.

The restaurant we focused on had a great, pre-World War II sign. There were black and white photos in the windows of waiters circa 1946. What we later discovered was the McDonald’s of seafood, the place won us over with proof that it had been around a long time. Plus, how can you not be won over by a place called Ivar’s Acres of Clams?

Ivar’s walk-up windows and sit-down restaurants are sprinkled throughout Seattle. We were at the original, on pier 54. Dark wood and a sizable menu impressed from the start. But what won us over was happy hour. Served every day from 3:00 p.m. until close, you can eat and drink from a special discounted menu in the large bar. Between the two of us we had a strawberry spinach salad, Ivar’s famous clam chowder, six oyster shots and a olive and veggie hummus plate, plus drinks from local breweries and wineries for about $20. Solid food with ambiance on a budget gets a thumbs up, no matter how touristy the locale.

With a reported 114 microbreweries in Washington state, it’s tough to find a really bad beer, even at a franchise like Ivar’s. If you are looking to experience a really good beer unknown outside of the tri-state area, sample Mac & Jacks. Located in the northeast suburb of Redmond, brewery tours in the strip-mall-office-park are Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Unfortunately our arrival on a Friday meant we were left with looking over t-shirts and beer glasses in the tiny retail store. However, Mac & Jacks was a recommendation from a trusted beer connoisseur, and husband was able to enjoy a pint later that evening. His review? Two thumbs up. Way up.

Day two in Seattle consisted of an early morning photo shoot, which didn’t produce much due to clouds, wind and mist. But it was fun to explore those unknown parts of the city, including Gas Works Park and the University of Washington.

Our beer connoisseur friend had come through with Mac & Jacks, so we decided to indulge on his second recommendation – Gorditos – a Mexican restaurant on North 85th Street in the Greenwood neighborhood. Advertised as a healthy, all natural Mexican restaurant, Gorditos is about burritos. They have dry and wet burritos, the wet being a sauce of salsa, melted cheese and sour cream poured over the top and browned until bubbling. They also provide fresh chips and homemade salsa with every order, and even have a salsa bar. Its house salsa is medium, with a delicious smoky spice and chunks of green onion.

You can order your burrtio’s heat as well, so I stuck with a veggie, veggie burrtio, medium, with no cheese or sour cream, and husband ordered the famous burrito grande mild.

The pictures hanging on the wall of newborn babies lying next to plates of Gorditos burritos should have been a warning, but we were willing to take the plunge. The burritos did not disappoint. My burrito was the size of two Chipotle burritos and husband’s grande burrito was the size of – you guessed it – a baby. I suddenly felt like Adam Richman from Man vs. Food. We ate to our fill and grabbed a takeaway box for the road.

Next stop on our Seattle tour de force? Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival. In addition to seeing family and friends, our trip to Seattle was part of a larger plan to visit one of the nation’s premier festivals, and Bumbershoot didn’t disappoint. The big acts of the night were all good – The Decemberists, Neko Case and Bob Dylan all flexed their musical muscle for thousands at the main stage. But the little finds were groups like The Constellations that proved to be a band to reckon with, and Justin Townes Earle, the son of legendary Steve Earle.

Looking back, it was an exhausting 48-hours, but memorable since everything we saw was new to our eyes. I didn’t want to sleep just because there was so much to do. So, I got myself another large latte with soy.