Travel: Perfection in the PNW
I was seeking a funky 70s vibe imbued with the essence of an upscale 21st century Santa Cruz when I stumbled upon Port Townsend, Washington. Turns out, it’s the perfect jumping-off point to explore Puget Sound. Along with an elaborately carved 20-foot totem pole, this hip town features trendy boutiques, boat crafting, and farm-to-table eateries. Though I’m here to catch the car ferry to Whidbey Island, I stay longer to purchase my first leather cowboy hat and caress the cashmere sweaters on display at Mad Hatter. I catch the next ferry instead.
The ride over to Whidbey, one of the largest islands on the Salish Sea, is exquisite. On the twenty-minute ride, the calm waters almost rock you to sleep, and if you’re lucky you may just spot a pod of porpoises, seals and even a sea otter or two. Whidbey is packed with “Seattleites” during the summer, but during the off-season, it turns into a quiet enclave reminiscent of Martha’s Vineyard, with converted barns turned into mom-and-pop cheese shops and fresh pie and homemade ice cream emporiums. One of my favorites is Greenbank Farm, which also offers up beautiful gardens to stroll through. And be sure to try the blackberry lavender handcrafted ice cream at K&R Farm. On this island are farmsteads, u-picks, and farmers markets galore.
Just a few miles' drive from the Coupeville Ferry you will come to the town of Langley. With cute stores, microbreweries (try Double Bluff Brewing Co.), and art galleries/gardens it’s a good starting location for your island adventures. Langley also has a lovely park with statues facing the sea, and if you spot a whale, ring the “whale bell” to encourage others to view these magnificent creatures. Tucked five miles away on Penn Cove is a wonderful, 100-year-old cabin lodge and restaurant called Captain Whidbey. Meander along the dock, drink in hand, as you wait for a dinner that is sure to be flavorful and fresh caught. In Oak Harbor, The Riverside Cafe has standing-spoon-thick chowder and the best fish and chips you will ever eat.
There are many state parks dotting the island, some with camping facilities. Fort Casey with its gunnery and lighthouse is a favorite. But it is Deception Pass, the most visited Washington State Park, that captivates. Take the time to park and walk over the double-arch steel bridge and marvel at the beauty around you, including a never-disappointing, perfect sunset. If you are lucky enough to be visiting in May, the Meerkerk Gardens is a must see. Every variety of rhododendron is planted along carefully groomed trails with a gazebo that overlooks the island’s coastal waters.
Another locale to check out is Anacortes—it’s a little more rough and tumble than Langley, but still manages to hold its own. Rent a bike and follow the Tommy Thompson Trail. The former railroad track has been turned into a beautiful bikeway that runs 6.6 miles both through and out of town. We saw seals and otters while crossing over the bay during our ride, too. The trail is also a great place for bird watching. Catch a meal at Anthony’s, served with waterfront views before you embark for several of the smaller islands.
This is a vacation worth taking and a place you will want to explore again and again.
We ferried to San Juan Island for a great day trip. The Whale Museum here has interpretive exhibits about whale families that make their home in the area. The Sculpture Park is also a good bet, as are any of the whale-watching tours. The island is packed with hotels and in the summer, you can expect to pay a pretty penny. But if downtime is what you’re after, then book a couple of nights at the Hotel De Haro, which overlooks the marina.
After a week in the islands, we headed back to the mainland, where we ventured north to Lake Crescent, staying at the Lake Crescent Lodge, a magnificent historic National Park lodge. It was here that President Franklin Roosevelt, after visiting, decided to establish Olympic National Park to preserve this scenic wonder for future generations. You can choose a modern room with all the amenities, but we decided to stay upstairs and experience bygone days while sharing a bathroom with other guests. Open the shutters, and the lake unfolds with the deepest and clearest waters I have ever seen. Canoes are also available for rent. Another option is taking a short hike through the rainforest up to Marymere Falls, where the flora and fauna are lush as velvet. After the hike, drinks on the hotel’s lanai are in order. It’s a great way to spend the late afternoon while waiting for the dining room to open for dinner.
After leaving Lake Crescent we headed to Hoh Rain Forest. Be prepared for a wait of thirty minutes or more to get into this National Park. I recommend taking a hike with a forest ranger in order to optimize the expense and make learning about the rainforest fun—no matter your age.
Northwest Washington is an area that stays with you long after you leave. With spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and charming towns that welcome you with open arms, this is a vacation worth taking and a place you will want to explore again and again.