Our third and final close-to-home Sanity Staycation for summer 2020 had us searching for new hiking adventures south of Mount Rainier. And we found what we were looking for by discovering Packwood, Washington and the surrounding area.
The tiny town of Packwood, founded in the early 1800’s, has long been a jumping off point for Mount Rainier National Park. The first National Forest Service Ranger Station was here, and today most people make their living from summer tourists and winter skiers. But Packwood also was a logging community back in the day, and neighboring towns of Morton and Randle still serve in this capacity.
We loved the little cabin we rented at Moon Mountain Lodging, a collection of four cabins on a quiet and beautifully wooded piece of property about a mile from the town of Packwood. We stayed in the one bedroom Cedar Cabin and because of Covid, we used the small but efficient kitchen for all of our meals in the cabin. See this lovely spot here.
We got takeout one night at the White Pass Taqueria and it was amazing. And we visited the Packwood Brewing Company where social distancing was really easy on a week night. The beer was excellent and we played Scrabble while we drank our beer, and watched the giant elk walk right through the outdoor beer garden.
We have good friends who have a home in Packwood and we enjoyed one evening with them, and also played nine-holes with them at the members only High Valley Golf Course. Cutest little golf course I ever played at.
We enjoyed four different hikes during our visit to the area and I recommend all of them;
SNOW LAKE – a beautiful hike with a bit of elevation but only about 4 miles round trip, the hike to Snow Lake just inside Mount Rainier National Park near Paradise takes you to a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by forests and hills.
GROVE OF THE PATRIARCHS – anyone can do this easy and flat 1.5 mile loop trail within the National Park where 1000 year-old old-growth trees are a sight to behold. I’ve done this hike many times and every time I am dazzled by the majesty of it.
LAKE PACKWOOD – unfortunately we did this 9 mile round trip hike on a very wet and cold day, but we persevered through a beautiful forest trail that is well maintained. The lake used to house many Forest Service cabins and a handful still remain.
SHEEP LAKE – the trail to Sheep Lake is easy and it’s about 4 miles round trip. The lake is stunning and we visited on a fall day when the colors were at their best. The trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail and continues on past the lake for many miles to Sourdough Gap and eventually Crystal Lake. You can make this hike a full day or just a short hike.
We did not continue up to White Pass Ski Area but it is about 20 minutes from Packwood and is a wonderful winter playground. Packwood is home to a handful of restaurants, bars, a wonderful bakery and one grocery store. There are many lodging options too. Learn more about visiting Packwood here.
Discovering Packwood Washington and the surrounding area turned out to be a perfect Staycation for us. I learned a lot about this area and hope to return again.
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.
I was born in Washington 60 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. I’m looking forward to getting back there, and once again enjoying my favorite things in Washington State.
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 110 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 – Washington’s largest city is cosmopolitan, delicious, cultural and ethnically diverse. It is the number one place to visit in Washington.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Olympic Discovery Trail – I love this cycling trail and rode on it twice this past 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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;
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
It’s been three years since John Synco realized his dream of starting his own Gondola business, Gig Harbor Gondola. But John isn’t Italian. Nor does he live in Italy. He is just another amazing entrepreneur in the small town of Gig Harbor Washington who made his dreams come true.
John had been a professional Gondolier in Southern California for several years starting in 2002. He had traveled to Venice
several times and loved the beautiful boats and the life of the Gondolier.
A friend of John’s purchased two authentic Venetian Gondolas a few years back. At the time John was living with his wife and young daughter in Edmonds, having recently left California for Washington. John wanted one of the gondolas, but knew the waters in Edmonds wouldn’t be conducive to a peaceful gondola ride.
Peacefully slicing through the water
So after searching the area, the family moved to Gig Harbor, with its peaceful small harbor, to start Gig Harbor Gondola. His new Venetian Gondola christened Nellie. A dream realized. Three years later John’s business is his full-time, year-around job. And he is so good at it.
I took my Mom on the gondola for an evening one-hour tour of the beautiful Gig Harbor Bay. The $85 one hour tour is for two people. You can add up to four more people for $20 each. You can also do a one and half hour tour for $115 for two people and again each additional person is $20 up to six people maximum.
My Mom and I enjoying the ride
The Gig Harbor Gondola price includes appetizers (meats, cheese, grapes and crackers) and you are welcome to bring additional food and drinks.
John has done his research, and even though he is a relative newcomer to Gig Harbor he really knows the history of the town. His tour provides lots of fun information, history and insight into this tiny community on the bay, nestled so peacefully in the shadow of Mount Rainer.
The night we toured was calm with little wind and though a bit chilly, the sun was shining. The gondola includes blankets though just in case. Through out our tour one harbor seal followed the gondola around the bay, curiously watching us and
The mouth of Gig Harbor Bay and it’s welcoming lighthouse
keeping just to the right of John’s oar. Speaking of John’s oar, he has learned the craft of being a gondolier perfectly. The rowing oar, which is not attached to the boat, is used to both propel the boat and as a rudder. Our ride was smooth and silent and safe.
After learning and chatting as we calmly sliced through the water, John took a moment to serenade us with a beautiful Italian ballad. I have no idea what he was singing about – but it was lovely. I’m sure people on shore could hear his crisp tenor voice across the water.
The sun sets on our tour
Spending time on Gig Harbor bay with Gig Harbor Gondola is always a treat. Seeing this lovely town from the water gives you such a different perspective. And now I’ve seen it through new eyes, the eyes of John and Nellie the Gondola. Bellissimo!
Grazie John! What a lovely, relaxing excursion.
Make your reservation to enjoy Gig Harbor Gondola today! Click here!
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