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    My Favorite Things in Washington State USA

    Location: Washington State USA

    How to talk about my favorite things in Washington State? There is NO WAY I can list all the wonderful things about my home state of Washington. No doubt someone reading this blog will think I have left something out. And so I encourage everyone to comment at the end of this blog with additional FAVORITE things about Washington State.

    Lake Chelan

    I was born in Washington 59 years ago and I know a lot of great places in the Pacific Northwest corner of the USA. As we travel the world I often reminisce about Washington, comparing other places around the world to her. We are about to embark on year number four of our world tour – but before we do I want to write about some of the things we enjoyed during our four-month visit back here in Washington, and during all the years we have lived in this state. My favorite things in Washington State.

    Tacoma

    If you have never visited the Pacific Northwest corner of the USA you are missing out on something pretty special. It is certainly one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. I feel quite qualified to say that, having visited 96 countries myself. Nicknamed the Evergreen State, it has both a very green side (west of the Cascade Mountains) and a gold side (east of the mountains) and I love them equally. Raised on the west side but going to college and spending a great deal of time on the east side, I have learned to appreciate and admire the beauty and diversity of this spectacular little piece of paradise – Washington State.

    Seattle’s Lake Union

    Cities

    Seattle – Washington’s largest city is cosmopolitan, delicious, cultural and ethnically diverse. It is the number one place to visit in Washington.

    Seattle’s Big Wheel

    Spokane – One of my favorite cities in Washington and the largest city on the east side of the state, Spokane has grown from a sleepy agricultural town to a wonderfully diverse and interesting city.

    Boundary Bay Brewery Bellingham

    Bellingham – Tucked in the Northwest corner of Washington State very near the Canadian border, Bellingham offers a waterfront location with wonderful history. Home to Western Washington University, the student life brings a mix of culture and dining to this medium size city.

    Tacoma – the second largest city in the state, Tacoma has long battled a poor reputation. But today’s Tacoma is a far cry from that of yesteryear. A cleaned up downtown and port area, multiple first class museums and a great selection of parks and restaurants makes T-town one of my favorites.

    Small Towns

    Gig Harbor – I lived in Gig Harbor for 25 years and watched it grow. And despite the traffic I still love this maritime village that has the single most beautiful view in the entire state.

    Gig Harbor

    Sequim – Much like Gig Harbor but without the traffic, Sequim’s location overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in the shadow of the Olympic mountains makes its temperate climate perfect. Throw in the amazing lavender farms and bike trails there is a lot to love about this town.

    Pullman

    Walla Walla – when I was growing up Walla Walla was just the town with the funny stuttering name. Today it is one of the premier wine regions in the world and has a wonderfully restored downtown.

    Pullman – home to my alma mater Washington State University, Pullman is an upcoming destination even if you don’t say GO COUGS. Today’s Pullman has parks and trails and a much larger selection of dining and hotels than it did forty years ago when I was in school. And I love the weather.

    Hikes

    Lena Lake – One of our favorite hikes in the Olympics, the hike to both Lower Lena and Upper Lena can be done by most hikers with minimal experience.

    Lena Lake

    Skokomish River Lower South Fork – This is always a great hike and mostly flat…easy to reach and makes a great day hike.

    Mount Rainier – If you can catch Mount Rainier on a sunny day any hike will be enjoyable. A wide variety of hike options can be found in the Mount Rainier National Park. This summer I did the Summerland Trail for the first time. I loved it.

    On top of Crystal Mountain
    Hiking the Lower Skokomish

    Crystal Mountain – hike up and ride the gondola down, or ride the gondola up and hike down…either way you will enjoy panoramic views of Rainier and on a good day, you can see four other volcanoes beyond.

    Cycling Trails

    Centennial Trail Spokane

    Olympic Discovery Trail – I love this cycling trail and rode on it twice this summer. The trail runs from Port Townsend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. However from Port Angeles west it is mostly on roads. Since we like to stay on trails, we usually start in Blyn and ride to Port Angeles and back, about 50 miles round trip.

    Centennial Trail – Spokane has several cycling trails and one of our favorites is the Centennial Trail that winds its way from Spokane into Idaho and Coeur d’Alene.

    Chehalis Western – I’ve spent hours and hours training for long rides on the Chehalis Western, located near Olympia. You can start and stop many places on this trail but if you ride the entire trail round trip it’s 90 miles.

    Chehalis Western Trail

    Interurban/Burke Gilman – So many options with this very popular cycling and walking trail. We rode the Burke Gilman this year from Gas Works Park in Seattle to Woodinville (forty miles round trip). If you really want a long and amazing ride start the Interurban in Pacific (near Auburn) and connect in Seattle with the Burke Gilman to Woodinville. This round trip is about 90 miles.

    Water

    Puget Sound – Western Washington’s beauty can be attributed to water, both that which falls from the sky and that which surrounds it as the Puget Sound. With several cities and towns perched on the Sound, access to it is plentiful, and it is certainly one of my favorite things in Washington State.

    Discovery Park Seattle

    Lake Chelan – Washington’s favorite lake is found right in the middle of the state, the 55 mile long, 1500 feet deep natural lake of Chelan. Both a summer and winter playground, Washingtonians from the westside flock to Chelan in the summer.

    Columbia River – Roll on Columbia still rings true, and visiting this amazing river that flows both south and west through the state offers a variety of recreational activities and history lessons along the way.

    Pacific Ocean – spending time enjoying the crashing waves of Washington’s Pacific Coast is a must when visiting the state. My favorite places to access the Pacific Ocean are Neah Bay or Ozette in the far northwest part of the state or Kalaloch or Long Beach further south.

    Green Lake – walking or cycling the 2.8 mile loop around Green Lake is one of my favorite things to do in Seattle. Greenlake is a wonderful little gem of a natural setting right in the heart of north Seattle…treasured by locals.

    San Juan Islands – To really see how glorious the Puget Sound is, taking a ferry to one or more of the San Juan Islands and enjoying a few days island hopping is sublime.

    Gig Harbor Gondola – if you visit tiny and scenic Gig Harbor on the Kitsap Peninsula don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a gondola ride in the harbor in an authentic Italian gondola.

    San Juan Islands

    Snoqualmie Falls – Just about 40 min drive east of Seattle you will find the amazing Snoqualmie Falls….higher than Niagara. Depending on the time year Snoqualmie falls can be a slender and beautiful falls or a thunderous monster of a waterfall. Worth the drive and also if you are fit the hike to the bottom is breathtaking.

    Gig Harbor Gondola
    Kalaloch Beach

    Food Experiences

    Tillicum Village – Visitors and locals should experience Tillicum Village at least once in their lifetime. The getting there is half the fun, but the food and authentic Native American entertainment is incredible.

    My first Geoduck

    Pike Place Market – known for the throwing fish, there is a lot more to enjoy a Seattle’s Pike Place Market, even if you don’t buy a thing it is a not-to-be-missed Seattle institution.

    Harvesting oysters and clams
    Delectable Dungeness Crab

    Geoduck Hunting – I went Geoducking for the first time this year on the Key Peninsula just west of Gig Harbor. If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend it. So much fun.

    Oysters – take the Olympic Peninsula loop drive and stop for oyster at Hama Hama Oyster Company. Or if you can’t drive the loop, pick up fresh oyster or order oyster on the half shell…usually available in a month with an R. Some of the world’s finest oysters come from Washington State.

    Dungeness Crab – If you grew up thinking Maryland Crab was crab you are in for a real shock when you eat Washington’s own world famous Dungeness Crab. Rich, buttery and delicious, Dungeness crab is best without any accoutrements…just eat it like nature intended.

    Boehm’s Chocolates – still hand made daily in Issaquah Washington you can have a taste of old European Swiss Chocolate just like the old country. Boehm’s has locations in Issaquah, Poulsbo and Yakima.

    Cafe Campagne – my favorite Seattle restaurant I go back to again and again with French food as good as any bistro in Paris.

    Steak Tartar at Cafe Campagne
    Scallops at Luna

    Luna – just discovered this Spokane gem this summer and I will certainly be back. Possibly the best meal I had all summer.

    Brix 25 – in my hometown of Gig Harbor, this little gem is always spot on. Try the Beef Bourgignon. You won’t be disappointed.

    Tony’s Fillipis Pizza – growing up in Bremerton this was the place to get pizza, and still today Tony’s Fillipis Pizza is my favorite pizza anywhere in the world.

    The Valley Cafe – tucked into an old drug store in Ellensburg Washington, I stop to eat here anytime I am in this Central Washington Rodeo town. And you should too.

    The Pink Door – my second favorite Seattle restaurant (and just down the alley from my first) I try to visit in the summer and get a table on their deck. I have never had a bad meal at this iconic Seattle restaurant.

    Black Cypress – Pullman isn’t known for fine dining, and yet, the Black Cypress is an absolute find, and a must dine when in the tiny college town of Pullman.

    Wineries and Breweries

    Washington has become an award wining wine producing state over the past several decades as well as one of the launching places for many now famous microbrews. Washingtonians are well-known to be entrepreneurial and creative (think Bill Boeing, Bill Gates, Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos) and this local trait shows in the wide variety of first rate wines and beers. Here is a list of my local favs;

    Jones of Washington from Quincy

    Jones of Washington

    Seven Seas

    Bale Breaker Yakima

    Maryhill

    Gig Harbor Brewing

    Efeste

    Georgetown Brewing

    Resorts

    Since I live in the state part of the year I don’t often stay in local resorts, but over the years I have had the opportunity to visit several. Most resorts here focus on the beauty of the natural surroundings as well as the farm and forage to table dining Washington offers. Here is list of my favorites;

    Campbells Resort at Lake Chelan

    Suncadia Cle Elum

    Campbells Chelan

    Rosario Resort Orcas Island

    Historic Davenport Spokane

    Willows Lodge Woodinville

    Alderbrook Inn Hood Canal

    Gardens

    Point Defiance Rose Garden Tacoma

    I love gardens, and even if you aren’t a gardener yourself, you can’t help but appreciate and admire the beauty of some of these stunning gardens throughout the state of Washington.

    Point Defiance Rose Garden – Tacoma

    Olympic Sculpture Garden – Seattle

    Volunteer Park Conservatory Seattle

    Seattle Arboretum

    Lakewold Gardens -Tacoma/Lakewood

    Ohme Gardens Wenatchee

    Bloedel Reserve- Bainbridge Island

    Nishinomiya Japanese Gardens – Spokane

    Rhododendron Species Garden Federal Way

    Also seasonally don’t miss the blooming Cherry Blossoms at the University of Washington Seattle (spring), the Sequim Lavender Festival (July), Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Woodland (April May) and the Bob’s Pumpkin Farm in Snohomish (October)

    Views

    The Gorge

    Since one of the reasons people LOVE Washington so much is the beauty, finding the best views in the state is something visitors always are looking for. For me personally the list below offers amazing views, history and recreation from ocean beaches to mountain tops and everything in between. These are all great options that fit most, budgets, fitness levels and schedules;

    Green Mountain Kitsap County

    Dry Falls State Park Vista, Coulee City

    Washington State Ferry

    Kerry Park Seattle (cover photo)

    Space Needle Seattle

    Discovery Park Seattle

    Vista House at Crown Point on the Columbia River Gorge (technically in Oregon but with a great view of Washington )

    Dungeness Spit Sequim

    Kamiak Butte Palouse

    North Head Light, Cape Disappointment, Long Beach

    What else?

    Oh my goodness I have so many favorite things in Washington State! I know I have missed some things – I didn’t even touch on museums or tours. I could write an entire blog about festivals, art and music. But the things I have listed here are the things I have experienced and personally enjoy going back to again and again. My Washington from my point of view. Please add your favorites to the list in the comments below. Get out and enjoy surprising, diverse, beautiful, delicious and friendly Washington State. I sure have these past four months. Washington my home.

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    North America Travel

    For Purple Mountains Majesty

    Montana’s Big Sky

    Location: Montana

    It’s a vast state, but one of my favorites. I’d like to spend more time here, and every time I visit I want to see more.

    Montana. Often called the Big Sky Country or the Treasure State both nicknames reflect the vastness and beauty of the United States’ 41st state. Montana joined a wide group of new states in 1889, including my home state of Washington which became the 42nd state three days after Montana.

    Glacier National Parki
    Lake McDonald Lodge

    I’ve mentioned in my blogs before that I wish visitors to the USA would come to places like Montana, instead of Las Vegas or Orlando because in my opinion this is America. America the beautiful. Amber waves of grain. Purple mountains majesty. I love it here. And admittedly there are things about the USA I am not proud of, but the rugged beauty of places like Montana remind me how grateful I am to be an American.

    Glacier National Park
    Deadwood Falls

    Our recent trip was a short one, but an inspiring one. We drove from Spokane Washington on Interstate 90 to Bigfork. The drive takes about four hours from Spokane. You leave Interstate 90 at Saint Regis and head north on 93 to Bigfork. The drive is spectacular and the only way to visit Montana properly is with a car. The last hour of the drive takes you north with Flathead lake on your right. Beautiful views of this enormous lake and the mountains and forests beyond.

    We have friends we were visiting in Bigfork and we wanted to spend a day in Glacier National Park, one of our favorites of the National Parks in the USA. The last time we visited Glacier we stayed three days in October. The park was quiet and we enjoyed having it nearly to ourselves. In July however it was very crowded with tourists from all of the USA and many from around the world.

    The crowds kept us from finding parking at the first two places we wanted to hike, so we continued on to two other hikes, which we enjoyed. The park is big, but there is really only one road “The Going to the Sun Road” so at peak season it can be busy. There is talk of making Going to the Sun a shuttle road (like they do in Zion). During peak season you would leave your vehicle and take a shuttle.

    Flathead Lake Montana
    Historic Ice House, Somers

    There are shuttles available as well as the historic Red Bus Tours. We have not done this but it looks really fun and you get a guide who narrates history, geography and wildlife topics. Worth the money.

    We really enjoyed our full day at Glacier with visits to Lake McDonald Lodge, Logan Pass, Deadwood Falls and Two Medicine.

    Glacier National Park Montana
    Young grizzly, Glacier National Park

    We spent another day in Bigfork, which has grown a lot and offers a variety of restaurants, shops and galleries in what used to be a sleepy cowboy town. Very walkable and beautiful. We took a hike along the Swan River Nature Trail just up the hill from the old town and enjoyed the views from there.

    We also drove to Lakeside on Flathead Lake, where families were swimming and sunning themselves in a lovely public park. The resort town offers many hotels and restaurants. We made a stop in Somers and visited the historic train station and ice house and learned some history of the region.

    Bigfork Montana
    The American, Bigfork Montana

    I’d like to go back next summer and head south and stop in Missoula, Butte and Bozeman…maybe go as far as Yellowstone. It’s a large state, worth the time it takes to see it, worth it whether you are from Montana or Morocco, Washington or Wales.

    Montana Wildlife
    Big Horn Ram, Glacier National Park

    Big Sky Country. Purple Mountains Majesty. Montana.

    Glacier National Park

    Where to stay?

    We recommend The American right in downtown Bigfork. Eight miles south try Sterling Ranch Airbnb.

    Where to eat?

    We recommend Rileys Pub and Flathead Lake Brewery. Outside of Bigfork in Esex we enjoyed dinner at The Isaac Walton Inn.

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    North America Travel

    Woodland Park Zoo – A Seattle Treasure

    Location: Seattle Washington USA

    I have so many wonderful childhood memories of Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. I spent a lot of time there as a child, as my grandparents lived close by and we went there often. I loved it so much, especially the gorillas known as Bobo and Fifi.

    When my son Dane was a baby at Woodland Park Zoo

    Fast forward more than fifty years. Here I am again enjoying this beautiful park and zoo in the north Seattle Green Lake neighborhood because my oldest son now works there. Lucky me. I get to go visit the animals and my son at the same time!

    With my son Dane today at the Woodland Park Zoo

    Woodland Park Zoo has changed a great deal over the years. All for the better. The history of the zoo goes all the way back to 1893 when millionaire Guy Phinney passed away and his English estate complete with deer park near Green Lake became a public park. Through dozens of iterations this property would become the Woodland Park Zoo we know today.

    As a child I remember the zoo as very large, although I know now it wasn’t. The animals were all “caged” and you would walk from the lion cage around the corner to the monkey cage around the corner to the bear cage.

    Kids enjoying the otters at Woodland Park Zoo

    In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s interest in the zoo expanded as well as interest in creating a more sustainable and authentic environment for the animals. After several bond failures a Forward Thrust bond was approved in 1968 and a new future for the zoo was born. Re-visioning the zoo continued into the 2000’s with Asian Elephant Forest exhibit, Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, Education Center, ZooStore, Animal Health Complex, Northern Trail exhibit and Trail of Vines exhibit being constructed between 1987 and 1996. From 2001-2015 the newly developed Woodland Park Zoological Society raised private donations for the African Village, Jaguar Cove, Zoomazium, Humboldt penguin exhibit and Banyan Wilds as well as the restoration of the historic carousel.

    The majestic silverback gorilla today at The Woodland Park Zoo

    Today the zoo is home to 1098 animals from 300 species including 35 endangered and 5 threatened. The animals are in beautifully laid out exhibits that emulate the native environment of the species all while allowing visitors to feel up close and personal with these well cared for and beautiful creatures. Just two months ago a baby giraffe was born after much excitement and anticipation and is now available for visitors to view.

    Up close and personal at The Woodland Park Zoo

    Woodland Park Zoo is also home to a beautiful rose garden where weddings are frequent in the summer. Zoo Tunes is a very popular outdoor concert series and one of the many events my son works on. Throughout the year other events take place including a wine event, a beer event, WildLights Christmas display, a bunny hop at Easter and many more family friendly activities for the community.

    Lucinda Williams in concert at Zoo Tunes at Woodland Park Zoo

    Personally for me I couldn’t be happier that my son is a part of this wonderful place and the organization tasked with maintaining it for future generations. I love how it is today, and I loved how it was when I was a child. So few things in our society get better and better. Woodland Park Zoo is one of those.

    Big Grizzly at The Woodland Park Zoo

    Visit again or for the first time. You will love it.

    Learn more about visiting here. Learn more about the history of the zoo here. And learn more about the sustainable wildlife efforts here.

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    Cover photo – my husband and son Dane, 1987 at Woodland Park Zoo

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    Adventure Travel  --  North America Travel

    On the Geoduck Trail – Quintessential Puget Sound

    Summer in Washington State

    Location: Key Peninsula Washington USA

    Growing up on and frankly IN the Puget Sound, I’m very aware and appreciative of the unique, beautiful and delicious bounty this body of water provides. A true Washingtonian loves seafood of all kinds from clams to salmon, oysters to Dungeness crab. Don’t ever try to tell me East Coast crab is better. Delusional.

    Geoduck harvesting
    Low summer tide in the Puget Sound

    As you know if you follow this blog I eat just about anything, and I’m not afraid of seafood or shellfish. When I was a child we dug steamer clams right in my front yard. We traveled to Ocean Shores to dig razor clams every spring. And each summer we harvested dozens of Dungeness crabs from the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

    geoduck harvest
    Huge monster clams

    But for some reason, despite how delicious it is, I had never harvested geoduck, the giant, funny and phallic looking clam unique to this part of the world.

    geoduck harvest
    That’s a big boy

    Until now. Thanks to our friends who invited us, along with several other couples to try our hand at geoducking during a recent extreme low-tide (Puget Sound experiences extreme low-tides in the summer creating a perfect opportunity to hunt the giant clam that usually bores into the sand in deep water.)

    geoduck mouth in the sand
    Finding the mouth peeking out of the sand

    Geoducks can be found buried very deep in the sand, as much as four or more feet deep. At low tide, you can carefully walk around the beach and look for a tiny “mouth” sticking out of the sand, usually less than an inch. Depending on how long the geoduck’s neck is, the body of the beast will be found deep in the sand below where you spot the mouth. A geoduck neck can be four feet long. They can live more than 150 years.

    geoduck harvest
    Working the tube down into the sand

    Non-commercial harvesters will dig deep after spotting the mouth. Our friends used a large metal tube placed over where the mouth was found. Digging down inside the tube to locate the body of the geoduck, increasing the depth of the tube into the sand as you dig. Commercial geoduck harvesters have other methods (a very lucrative commercial market serves the Chinese insatiable appetite for geoduck). Read about it here.

    how to harvest geoduck
    The ungraceful grab of the geoduck deep in the mud

    As soon as you start digging the geoduck will pull its very long neck back down from the surface. But, despite what some people think, the geoduck cannot “run”. It can only retract the neck but its body will stay in place. Digging dip to find the body without hitting the body with the shovel makes for a delicate process. But the next part is neither delicate or graceful.

    On the hunt for the Pacific Northwest geoduck
    Our hosts Jeff and Dayl know how and where to harvest the geoduck

    Lying on your stomach you must reach deep into the muck inside the hole and grasp the giant clam by the shell….not the neck or you might pull the neck off. Loosening the clam from the deep mud where it has embedded itself securely takes some strength (and a few choice words). With luck you will come up with a giant geoduck weighing anywhere from one pound to as much as four pounds!

    crazy and funny looking geoduck
    Watch out for the squirt

    The next step is to take lots of funny pictures of these decidedly phallic looking creatures and spend some time wondering about Mother Nature and her sense of humor.

    Our harvest

    Then it’s time to clean them. First rinse of all visible mud and sand. Next they need to be dipped in boiling water for about 30 seconds. This loosens the outer skin (sometimes referred to as the condom) around the neck. It’s not edible until that skin is removed. Next clean the guts and stomach and rinse again. See a video here.

    how to clean geoduck
    Remove the tough membrane from the neck after a quick blanche in boiling water

    Finally it’s time to eat. Our friends prepared an amazing geoduck sashimi with three dipping sauces. Eating the sweet and fresh as it gets delicacy couldn’t have been more delicious. Our efforts rewarded.

    Sashimi, as fresh as it gets

    After our wonderful day on the beach with friends we brought home three good size geoducks. I prepared geoduck ceviche – a perfect way to serve the fresh uncooked, tender body meat. I highly recommend this recipe I found on Pinterest. I used Mango in place of Papaya and it was amazing. See it here.

    Geoduck Ceviche

    Next I used my food processor to grind the necks (which are tougher and more chewy than the body). Grind in small batches so it doesn’t get too mushy. I used the ground meat to make geoduck fritters served with a delicious dipping sauce of siracha, mayo and lemon. I found a recipe for Conch fritters that I adapted easily. See the fritter recipe here.

    Geoduck Fritters

    Finally I put the rest of the ground geoduck in a freezer bag and put it in my freezer. A week later it was used in a delicious geoduck chowder. When making chowder with geoduck you can use about half the usual amount of meat ratio to potatoes and other ingredients. I used both clam juice and chicken stock as my base instead of just clam as mentioned in this recipe. It was delicious.

    The geoduck team
    Everyone had a great time!

    To harvest any shellfish in the Pacific Northwest you need to have a shellfish license. See the rules here. It’s important not to over harvest, so that these delicious Puget Sound creatures will be around for generations to come, just like they have been for generations in the past. The name geoduck is derived from a a local Native American word from the Lushootseed (Nisqually) people gʷídəq. Puget Sound Native American’s harvested local shellfish and seafood long before any of us were here.

    Don’t fear the Geoduck despite it’s unusual look. Respect and enjoy this delicate, sweet, not fishy tasting and delicious giant clam of the Puget Sound.

    Summer in Washington State – Fabulous!

    Sincere thanks to Kameron Minch for many of these photos in this blog and to our friends Jeff and Dayl Minch for such a fun day.

    From Bloomberg News – Geoduck facts

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    At Home  --  North America Travel

    Review of McMenamins Elks Temple, Tacoma WA

    Summer in Washington State

    McMenains Tacoma

    Location: Tacoma Washington USA

    My Fab Fifties Life is enjoying a summer in Washington State, USA, where I was born and raised.  As much as I love my life of full-time travel, coming home to familiar ground where my family is brings a sense of stability to our nomad world.

    When we return to the USA most summers, my focus is always family, but we also get out at least once a week and play tourists in our own backyard.  And that is what we did this past weekend in celebration of both Father’s Day and my husband’s birthday.

    McMenamins Elks Lodge

    McMenamins Elks Lodge Tacoma

    Growing up in the Pacific Northwest the blue-collar town of Tacoma always had a bit of a “smelly” reputation because of the pulp and paper mill that cast an odor over the town for several generations.  Today however Tacoma has become a renaissance town, with gorgeous views, multiple incredible museums, beautiful parks, and delicious dining.

    And the newest little gem to open in Tacoma is the McMenamins franchise masterpiece in the historic and beautifully restored Elks Temple in downtown Tacoma.

    If you aren’t from around these parts you might not be familiar with the vision of Mike and Brian McMenamin, Oregon brothers who have built a legendary business of turning historic and dilapidated properties into spectacularly quirky and fun hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries,

    Many pubs at McMenamins

    Elks Lodge Pub & Restaurant

    and event venues. For the past 20 years my husband and I, (on many occasions with our kids in tow), have made one of the dozens of McMenamins properties a destination weekend.

    The latest addition to the McMenamins dynasty is the opening of the Tacoma Elks Temple after several years of extensive restoration. The building had sat abandoned for thirty-five years, and time, weather and graffiti all had taken a toll.

    And yet, this is what McMenamins does best – breathe life into old structures all while digging deep into the silent history of a building to awaken both the known and unknown stories of the people and events that were there.  The Elks Temple does just that.

    Reflecting Tacoma's history

    Art everywhere you look

    Built in 1916 for the Fraternal Order of Elks, the building was home to one of the nation’s largest Elks organizations until the 1960’s.  It was then used as an event venue and, unlike the all-white Elks organization, the building welcomed anyone of any race and held many of the local African-American Rose Cotillion Balls for several years.  But times changed and so did the building as it fell into disrepair for 33 years until the visionary McMenamins saw its potential.

    We arrived in the afternoon on a very crowded Father’s Day and proceeded to taste our way through all of the properties five bars.  Each bar named appropriately, decorated with fun and interesting relics including menu’s that reflect the individual personality of each bar.  For instance in

    Tacoma's Spanish Steps

    Hand crafted beer and tapas at the Spanish Steps Bar

    the Spanish Steps bar (named for Tacoma’s beautiful Spanish Steps that run along the south edge of the building) Tapas are featured on the menu, while in The Old Hangout, a throwback to Trader Vic’s style 1950’s Tiki Bar serves everything from Mai Tai to Singapore Sling, grilled Pineapple Sundae or Salt and Pepper Squid.u

    True to the McMenamins model, guests must try to find the “hidden” bar called The Vault. We found it, actually cheated a little because someone was coming out…and I don’t think we would have found it otherwise.  Cleverly disguised. That’s all I’m gonna say.

    We had both dinner and breakfast in the Elks Pub and Restaurant where we enjoyed pizza, salad and soup for dinner with more McMenamin

    McMenamins Bars

    The Old Hang Out Bar throwback to old style Tiki

    hand-crafted beer.  For breakfast I had an amazing Eggs Benedict that included artichoke hearts and spinach and included cheese jalapeño grits.  Wow.

    The Elks Lodge now has 45 rooms, each and every one named for a person or group of persons who had something to do with the building or the surrounding area.  Everyone from Robert Cray (musician) to Bill Baarsma (former mayor) to Hattie Lund (no relation to me but a long-time Tacoma philanthropist) to the Puyallup Native American Tribe.

    I have two small complaints about our visit.  Our room which opened to

    McMenamins Elks Lodge

    Our room

    an atrium and did not have an outside window, was a bit stuffy and I wished for a window.  If I return I’ll pay a little more for a room on the perimeter of the building.  My other complaint is that although the wifi worked great throughout the building in bars and public spaces, it was non-existent in our room.

    Rooms start around $140 per night.  Food and beverage is very reasonably priced.  If you come, allow plenty of time to just explore…it’s like a museum of both art and history as well as a wonderful place to people watch Tacoma’s eclectic and proud residents.  So much fun.  We will be back.

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    North America Travel

    What to do in Scottsdale Arizona

    My Fab Favorite Things

    Location: Scottsdale Arizona

    I just visited Scottsdale Arizona for the third time.  I really love this little town because it has so much to offer; great weather, spectacular scenery, interesting history, great outdoor activities and delicious restaurants.  In fact Scottsdale seems to have the highest concentration of dining options of just about anywhere I have every been…all of them delicious.

    During my various visits to Scottsdale area I have created a short list of my favorite things to do while in Scottsdale Arizona.  This list is certainly not complete, because the wide variety of activities ranges from  visits to the Grand Canyon to Food Tours on a Segway, from gambling all night long to lounging by the pool all day.  I myself am not a golfer, but certainly golf is one of the biggest things that draw visitors to this area.  Scottsdale definitely has something for everyone.

    As you plan your visit to the beautiful Scottsdale Arizona area, perhaps this list of what to do in Scottsdale Arizona – my fab favorite things, will be of use. I hope it is.

    Accommodations

    Vacation Rental Kierland Commons

    A wide range of accommodations are available in the area from camping in beautiful state and national parks to budget hotels, high-end resorts and gorgeous yet affordable vacation rentals.

    Food

    You will never go hungry in Scottsdale.  Oh my goodness no.  I could go on and on with the recommendations, but I’ll just list my current favorites; Bowl of GreensOlive & Ivy, Roaring Fork, Postino, Hula Tiki Bar, Snooze, The Mission, The Breakfast Club, Blanco, La Bocca, and Los Olivos 

    Shopping

    Postino

    I’m not actually a big shopper, but while in Scottsdale this past weekend I took advantage of the great shopping to begin to rebuild my travel wardrobe for the continuation of the Grand Adventure.  I spent a couple of hours at the Scottsdale Fashion Square and picked up a couple of things at the Kierland Commons.  Additional options for shopping in the area include Old Town Scottsdale, The Promenade and Scottsdale Quarter.

    The Desert Botanical Gardens

    One thing I can always shop for is plants and garden related items and my visit to the stunning Desert Botanical Gardens gave me so much inspiration for bringing a wee bit of the Southwest into my Pacific Northwest Garden. I spent about two and half hours here one morning by myself enjoying the gorgeous gardens and the interesting interpretive signage about local flora & fauna as well as indigenous people. During my visit I walked more than three miles around the stunning gardens.  Entry fee is $25 and worth every penny.

    Taliesin West

    Taliesin West is a National Historic Landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, AZ.  It is also the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin.

    Wright’s beloved winter home and the bustling headquarters of the Taliesin Fellowship, was established in 1937 and diligently handcrafted over many years into a world unto itself. Deeply connected to the desert from which it belongs.

    Desert Botanical Gardens

    Tickets are $25 and reservations are highly recommended.  One of my favorite tours in all of the USA. Don’t miss it.  Learn more at Taliesin West.

    Hiking

    Climbing the dry and difficult trail to the top of Camelback Mountain is one of my favorite things to do in Scottsdale Arizona…but it’s not for everyone.  You need to be in good physical condition and carry lots of water, but the effort is worth it.  Pinnacle Peak is another great climb in the area or take a day trip (on your own or with a tour) to the Sonoran Desert for a spectacular hike where you can enjoy the desert scenery to the maximum.

     

    Nightlife

    Handlebar Js

    Everything you can think of is available for nightlight in Scottsdale from casinos and concerts to comedy and festivals.  Cowboy bars, upscale nightclubs, roof top bars and Bodegas are available all around Scottsdale. You can also find a variety of improv clubs, piano bars and dance clubs. Talking Stick is a popular casino with a famous rooftop bar.

    With my high school friends last weekend in Scottsdale

    Or go more “Arizona Country” at the famous Rusty Spur or Handlbar J’s.  For something that will really tickle your funny bone, check out The House of Comedy.

    These are just a handful of suggestions of what to do in Scottsdale Arizona –  the always interesting Southwest USA town.  Not as crazy as Las Vegas, and not as expensive either…Scottsdale offers a wonderful get-away with a warm and inviting climate most of the year.

    Don’t forget your swimsuit!

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    North America Travel

    Charleston South Carolina – Southern Charm and Hospitality

    Location: Charleston South Carolina

    We were so lucky to spend a few lovely days visiting friends in Charleston South Carolina.  It’s a bonus when friends live in cities worth visiting and Charleston is definitely one of those.  Charleston South Carolina oozes southern charm and hospitality – you just want to eat it up.

    We had visited Charleston years ago, in fact about 27 years ago.  Boy time does fly.  And although the surrounding areas of Charleston proper including the town of Mount Pleasant where we were staying, have grown exponentially, historic Charleston has stayed much the same.

    The oldest town in the American south, Charleston dates to 1718 and is named for King Charles II of England.  Originally located north and founded in 1680 (location now known as Charles Town Landing), the town moved south to the strategic location where the confluence of the Wando and the Ashleigh Rivers meet Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean.

    The city today (population of the greater Charleston area about 775,000) is well-known for its beauty, colonial history, hospitality, exceptional restaurants, and surrounding recreational opportunities.

    We spent our short time in the area enjoying the company of our friends, and several sites around the region.  We did not go out to Fort Sumter, because we did that long ago.  Instead we walked more than eight miles all over historic Charleston.  Although the horse-drawn carriages are fun, Charleston is a pedestrian friendly town.  It’s perfect for walking; flat, safe and beautiful.  On our walk we enjoyed the magnificent historic churches (Charleston is nicknamed the Holy City because it has so many church spires) and cemeteries. The colonial historic homes are enchanting, each so perfectly coiffed and dressed as if going to a ball.  The week we were visiting was the peak of the jasmine bloom – literally millions of jasmine blossoms on nearly every beautiful home, perfumed the air for miles around.  We visited Battery Park where the herons were nesting in the giant oak trees overlooking Charleston Harbor.  Of course we stopped for photos at Rainbow Row, the original commercial district and now the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the USA.  Our walk took us to The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston dated 1674.

    I really enjoyed the Historic Charleston Market, stretching for four blocks it has been a market of one sort or another since 1790 and operates in the beautiful and historic market hall.  Today the market is almost all arts and crafts, showcasing the region’s blend of Southern US, English, French and West African cultures.  My favorite was the spectacular handmade reed baskets known as Sweetgrass Baskets.  Made still today in the traditional manner by the descendants of West Africans, the baskets are works of art and sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Shem Creek Park north of historic Charleston, has a lovely park and nature preserve made for walking and enjoying the birds and beauty of the area.  This is also where you can see all the shrimp boats and pick up some fresh shrimp for dinner, which we did! Another beautiful walk is out the former bridge to Sullivan’s Island.  When the new bridge opened the old bridge found new purpose as a wonderful pedestrian park across the estuary and perfect for kayak launching, bird watching, fishing and picnicking.

    Boone Hall Plantation is definitely worth a visit even with the $25 entrance fee.  Boone Hall has been a working plantation for more than 350 years.  Although the current main house is not original (dates to 1936), it is beautiful and keeps to the authentic time period.  The row of brick slave cabins were really interesting, with each one focusing on interpretive information about the slave life.  Local docents offer short talks about the plantation and slavery, and a half an hour storytelling and singing presentation by a local Gullah woman was first-rate.  I am so glad we visited beautiful Boone Hall.

    I could write another entire blog about the delicious food of this region…but I’ll just end the post today with a shout out to pimento cheese and  pork rinds, cheeseburger with fried green tomato, BBQ Brisket and coleslaw, scallops with pesto and mushrooms and fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. It’s a delicious city, one of its many, many charms.

    Charleston South Carolina, a perfect little package of southern charm tied pretty with a hospitality bow.  Visit soon.

     

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