Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Glance at Seattle's Magnificent Magnolia

Every neighborhood in Seattle has its own vibe. Magnolia, just north of downtown, kinda feels like a small town that somebody just threw into a bigger city. The traffic here is minimal, the local businesses are fun to check out, and natural beauty abounds. Here are some of my favorite things about this Seattle sweet spot.

Discovery Park

Image via Flickr by La.Catholique

Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle, featuring more than 500 acres of natural beauty. I love to walk the 2.9-mile trail that takes you past gorgeous sound views as well as through peaceful open green spaces and tree-sheltered path. You can pick up a map when you arrive so you  know exactly where to find the visitors' center and the bathrooms.

The site is that of the former Fort Lawton, so there is some history involved here, too. It house artillery and other such ugly thing. It even served as a POW camp during WWII.

The Walkability

Even if you don't take Discovery Park into account, Magnolia is still a great place to take a stroll. The exhaust from passing cars won't choke you, and some of the houses are older and have charm oozing from their orifices. Plus, the views are great. There are a few places, like Ursula Judkins viewpoint, that offer up a stunning view of downtown.

Finn's Bakery & Cafe

The reviews on this place are mixed, but I can't help but throw my two cents into the bucket. The coffee--delicious. Worth losing a battle in my war against caffeine addiction. They sell Stumptown Coffee, a local brand that will make you wonder how the Starbucks down the street stays in business.

The baked goods are a dream. The selection changes from day to day, but from the few things I've tried, I'm convinced that everything there is delicious. Sure the prices are little steep, but if you have to, you can always sell a kidney to buy something at Finn's.

Where to find Finn's: 3204 W McGraw St Seattle, WA 98199

The bottom line on Magnolia? It's magnificent!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Score Sweet Deals at Ski Spots Across the US

Hi there! Sometimes I do contract writing for travel websites, including Hipmunk. Here is a link to a piece I wrote as part of one of those campaigns:


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Happened in Wenatchee

Washington state is kinda two different worlds. On the west side of the mountains, you have trees that never end, rain that never ends, and traffic that never ends. It is beautiful and frustrating and possibly one of the most gorgeous places on the planet if I do say so myself. On the east side of the mountains, there are tons of small towns, less traffic, fewer trees, and a different kind of breathtaking scenery.

I recently visited Wenatchee, a town that is about a two and a half hour drive from Seattle. I enjoyed my sojourn there. Here are a few highlights.

The View

Image via Flickr by ebis50

Wenatchee is in a valley, so everywhere you look there are mountains. When I visited, some had a lovely dusting of snow while others were bare but still beautiful. Honestly, I couldn't stop staring. Plus, the weather was pretty much perfect when I went -- warmer than usual for this time of year and packed with sunshine.

Outdoor lovers can't get enough of central Washington. You can go skiing at Mission Ridge, take an exhilarating hike on Saddle Rock, or just find a nice place to sit and take in the tranquil view.

The Food

Wenatchee is a small city; about 30,000 people live in the area. As such, you might not expect it to have the best dining options, but there is plenty here to delight the palate. I visited Carlos1800. It's a Mexican restaurant--and I usually avoid Mexican food if I can--but I was pleasantly surprised with the fare there.

I dug the vibe at Cafe Mela. It's a Starbucks-esque cafe, but with tons more charm than your typical corporate coffee shop. The brick walls, cool ambiance, and great coffee make the place worth a visit. Sometimes they even have live music there.

Cafe Mela is right downtown, which is a thriving part of town that is nowhere near as overwhelming or scary-people-ridden as downtown Seattle. There are cool vintage shops and quaint botiques that are worth a look. I didn't have the time to fully explore downtown Wenatchee, but that is something I'd like to do on my next visit.

Also on the subject of food, Glaze. It's a donut shop. Go there.

The Drive

Getting to and from Wenatchee was an experience in itself. I wasn't driving, so I could gaze out my window at the snow-dusted trees, waterfalls, and cool rock formations that adorn the path to Wenatchee.

A Very Mini Mini Mart

Oritenal Mini Mart on South Mission Street is possibly the smallest Asian grocery store in existence. Well, okay, it isn't really a grocery store. it's more like a collection of comestibles stuffed into a tiny room run by a friendly and outspoken Filipino lady. If you're in the mood for a snack -- or you just want to see what is possibly the world's miniest mini mart, stop by.

For Next Time

I was only in Wenatchee for a couple of days, and I know I didn't get to see all the best of what the town offers. I would like to to go there during harvest season so I can sample the area's famous fruit. I'd also like to check out the outdoor recreation options because, well, I just need to spend more time outdoors in general.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Traveling Is Good For You!

I'll admit that I'm not the world's most outstanding health fanatic; I love sweets far too much. However, I do try to make decisions that are good for me and, as it turns out, traveling is healthy! For now let's ignore the terrifying reports you hear about strange parasites and kidnappings. We're talking about the act of going places and the effect it has on health.

The Los Angeles Times points out some interesting statistics on the issue:

  • Women who vacationed every six years or less had a significantly higher risk of developing a heart attack or coronary death compared with women who vacationed at least twice a year.
  • Men who did not take an annual vacation were shown to have a 20% higher risk of death and about a 30% greater risk of death from heart disease.
  • Benefits of travel are almost immediate. After only a day or two, 89% of respondents saw significant drops in stress.
  • The study also noted that 59% of Americans dream of traveling during their retirement, and that the most impactful trips are those spent with family and friends.
I'm quite broke at the moment, but I definitely planning on exploring the world (and hopefully it won't wait until I retire). I have my sights set on Asia. I'm going for my health--and for other reasons, too, of course!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sweet Seattle Views

Seattle is a gorgeous city if you can see past the seemingly perpetual gray. It boasts the breathtaking beauty of the nearby mountains, the sparkling if somewhat polluted waters of Puget Sound, no shortage of greenery, and a character-rich skyline. When I first moved to the Seattle area a couple of years ago, I lived in Seatac. Every time I hopped in my car and made my way to the big scary city, I couldn't help but smile when downtown came into view. Because it is just that good-looking (from a distance, that is. Up close, downtown is a tad on the terrifying side but still fun). What are some of the best places to soak up a city view?

Kerry Park

There isn't a lot to Kerry Park. It's a small neighborhood park in Queen Anne that has a bland statue, some kids' play equipment, and a few other nonremarkable amenities. What really sets Kerry Park apart is the view. I've only been there in the fog, as evidenced by the photograph below, but I was still impressed by the view. The other photograph is from Flickr. Kerry Park address: 211 W Highland Drive Seattle, WA 98119.

image via Flickr by tiffany98101

The Alaskan Way Viaduct

While I recognize that I should keep my eyes on the road and not goggle at the city while I'm driving, sometimes it's hard to resist. If you're heading north, this stretch of Highway 99 gives you a great look at the Great Wheel, Eliot Bay, and the mountains on the left while downtown's architecture towers above you on the right.

I'm a little sad that the Alaskan Way Viaduct is in its waning days, soon to be replaced by a dreary and depressing tunnel. That is, if they ever finish building the tunnel. We'll see.

Ursula Judkins Viewpoint

I drive by this one almost every day (another reason to get distracted--yikes!). The view takes in the water as well as downtown. While it isn't the best-beyond-best view of the city, it still has a touch of that essential breathtaking quality. I want to get a picture from here, but by the time I remember, I'm usually way beyond my opportunity to pull over. It's on W Galer Street just off the Magnolia Bridge.

West Seattle

West Seattle has a quirky vibe all its own, but one of its best traits is the scenery. Whether you stop at Admiral Viewpoint, Hamilton Viewpoint Park, or Jack Block Park, you're in for a treat. Alki Beach also gives an unforgettable perspective on the Seattle skyline.

Sky View Observatory

The observation deck of the Columbia Center in downtown is the highest public observation deck west of the Mississippi River. Personally, this does not appeal to me as much as admiring Seattle architecture from afar, but I think it's worth a go (of course, when I wanted to go, it was foggy out so I didn't bother to spend the money. But someday...)

Seattle is a treat to see and explore. Know of any good places from which to take in the view? Please share!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Travel Throwback: NYC

New York City is dirty, noisy, crowded, and overwhelming. But I love it! The thriving metropolis is far from perfect, but its charm is in its energy, its architecture, and that undefinable feeling you get when you're standing in the middle of Times Square. I haven't said hello in person to NYC in a few years, but I keep dreaming of going back. Here are some of the highlights from my last trip.

Times Square

Times Square is the perfect place to soak up the sensations of New York. Breathe deep of the polluted air, be blinded by a barrage of advertisements, and get your kicks while you watch the people roam about.

Times Square has some practical value, too. The myriad of merchants that haunt the area sell everything you might need and tons of stuff that you might buy just because it's there. There are grocery stores, toy stores, clothing stores, candy stores, and tons more. Plus, there are several banks that offer currency exchange services so foreign visitors aren't left out of the loop.

Perhaps the best thing about Times Square is TKTS. They sell discount tickets to Broadway shows -- and you can't say you've experienced New York unless you've seen a Broadway show (well, sort of. I didn't actually see a Broadway show when I was there, but I sure wanted to!).

The Empire State Building

I went to the top of the Empire State Building on a Sunday evening. It was crazy crowded, and it took approximately a million years to get back down from the observatory. Whew! Also, the experience is overpriced.

Despite that, I must say that I did enjoy taking in the unique view from the iconic building. However, if I ever go again, I will try to go first thing in the morning in the middle of the week; maybe then my space bubble won't feel so beaten up afterwards.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I took a tour at the famous museum, and it gave me a fascinating new perspective on Greek and Roman culture. However, I feel like the tour wasn't enough time at the museum. It's a universe of amazing artifacts. I'm not exactly an art connoisseur, but I think I could have spent days taking in The Met.

The Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall

As you may have guessed, the Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall isn't technically in New York City. It's about 20 minutes away in Elizabeth, right across the street from the hotel where I stayed during my visit. Before I went to this shopping gem, I had no idea what a real, big mall was actually like. I'm from a small town, and this place absolutely blew my mind. The best part? There is no sales tax on clothing in New Jersey. 

The People Make the Trip

I went to New York with a tour group--without anyone that I had met beforehand. I'm not averse to solo travel, but the people I met were really the highlight of my New York trip. It seems unlikely that I'll see any of those people again anytime soon, but I appreciated having some like-minded tourists to share the experience with. I felt less shy than my nature when I went to New York.

Of course, the people who actually live in New York are a tad on the scary side.

I'm a little bit dying to go to New York again, but I have other plans that have to put NYC on the back burner. Someday, though...someday...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reasons Not to Let the Rain Stop You in Seattle

Joke as much as you want about the ever-dreary Seattle, but honestly, it isn't that bad! In fact, compared to places on the Washington coast and even Astoria, Seattle is relatively dry. The bad rap comes from skies that always seem gray. Still, if you're a fraidy cat who doesn't like our liquid sunshine, take heart! There are plenty of reasons that the rain shouldn't hold you back when you're in the Emerald City.

The Rain Is Friendlier than the People

You've heard of the "Seattle freeze?" Well, I don't think people here are really that cold, but that's beside the point. The point is that the rain isn't the sort of rain that leaves you running and crying for your mommy. The rain is usually gentle. It's almost refreshing--and everything looks absolutely gorgeous the first day after the rain goes away because the air is so clear.

Bella Umbrella

No, "Bella Umbrella" isn't some sort of weird incantation. It's an umbrella shop at Pike Place Market that has umbrellas for every taste. There are aerodynamic umbrellas (yes, that's a thing), wind-resistant umbrellas, umbrellas that you'd have to get a small personal loan to afford, cool vintage umbrellas that you can rent for any occasion, and eye-catching Pagoda umbrellas. Some of these stunning water-warders even come with a lifetime warranty.

A lot of Pacific Northwesterners choose to tough it out without an umbrella, but if you really feel the need for an umbrella when you're in Seattle, Bella Umbrella is where it's at.

Avoid the Crowds

Seattle's most fascinating places draw people from all over the place--except when it rains. Going when the weather is a degree short of ideal will give you a little extra shoulder room when you're exploring downtown and the Seattle Center attractions.


Coffee, I think, is one of the best things in the universe. I don't drink it much anymore because I like it too much, but what better excuse is there to take in a warm caffeinated beverage than that you got soaked out in the rain? There are about a gazillion coffee shops in Seattle, so there is always a place nearby where you can go inside, dry off, and listen to hipsters argue while you savor some java goodness.

Indoor Attractions

This is kind of a "duh" reason, but if you really don't want to ruin your hairstyle by venturing into the downpour, stay indoors! There is tons of cool stuff you can door without taking an outdoor shower in Seattle. Check out the Seattle Public Library, take the Underground Tour, stop by the Seattle Art Museum, or rock out at Experience Music Project.

Rain is kind of a Seattle trademark, and it shouldn't repel anyone from enjoying the charms of the city.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Lake Quinault Lodge: A Cozy Escape

Lake Quinault Lodge--not to be confused with Quinault Resort and Casino--almost screams relaxation. There is a cozy fireplace room with a tranquil view of the lake, calming music in the background, and a smell in the air that tries to snatch the tension right out of you. It's a cool place to visit.

The Tours

The lodge arranges for a few types of tours. I've been on the van tour and the boat tour, both of which are worth a smidgen of time. The boat tour takes you out on the lake, where a knowledgeable guide regales guests with the history of the lodge and its surroundings. The van tour features some tree-filled scenery around gives you some interesting facts about the lake and the forest. (Unfortunately, the tours aren't available year round.)

Fun facts:

  • The lodge took only ten weeks to build.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the lodge in 1937, shortly after which the Olympic National Park was created.
  • During prohibition, the site had a floating dancefloor on the lake where partyers could get their hands on booze.

The Rooms

The room you should choose at the lodge depends on the purpose of your visit. I spoke to the front desk manager, and she gave me a few pointers:

  • The Lakeside rooms are the best for families.
  • Couples will feel cozy in the fireplace rooms.
  • If you just want to soak in the experience of the lodge, stay in the main building.
  • Four-legged friends are only allowed in the boathouse.
Keep in mind that the experience at the lodge is pretty old school, and you won't find all the amenities you would expect at a modern hotel. For example, TVs and phones aren't in most of the rooms. Also, the building is old, so you might encounter some unexpected maintenance programs. Don't let those things stop you from going, though; treat it all as part of the experience!

The Service

The staff members at the lodge are for the most part friendly and eager to do what they can for you (my big brother works as a front desk supervisor there, and he is the best). They're also a great place to go for advice on getting the most out of the area. Most of them have explored the lake and the surrounding area and can point you toward the best hiking trails and scenic points.

When to Score the Best Rates

Can't wait to give Lake Quinault Lodge a try? Room rates hit the sky in the summer, so visit in the rainy season. Sure, you'll get wet, but you'll have the place practically to yourself and you'll save a bazillion dollars. Sometimes the lodge even has a two nights for the price of one special. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Escape From City Life in Quinault, WA

Nature makes me sneeze, but that doesn't mean I don’t appreciate tall trees, star-filled skies, and the quietude that comes with middle-of-nowhere locales. One of my favorite nature-rich places in Washington is Lake Quinault and the surrounding area. Here’s why:

It Isn't too Far From Home

Traffic gets me down, but once I get out of the chaos of city streets, I like road trips, and a three and a half hour drive from Seattle isn't too far for comfort. Plus, once you get off I5, the scenery becomes gorgeous. You drive through idyllic farmlands and lush stands of trees. Of course, the drive has a few ugly spots, too—like Hoquiam. I grew up in Hoquiam, but it is an overall unattractive little blip on the map with few merits.

It’s the Rain Forest!

No, it isn't a tropical rain forest like the Amazon, but the diversity of life is still mind-boggling. Keep your eyes open for black bears, cougars, black-tailed deer, coyotes, and many smaller mammals such as bobcat, beaver, river otter, and raccoons as you’re meandering about on the muddied trails (http://www.quinaultrainforest.com/pages/rainforest.html). And yes, it probably will be muddy, especially if you want to avoid the summer crowds and go in the off-season. The rain forest gets between 10 and 15 feet of rain every year. Bring your boots!

Another plus that goes along with visiting the rain forest is the trees themselves. I’m no expert on our tall wooden friends, but I do appreciate good old fashioned majesty. The towering tops of the evergreen trees could inspire any poet. Want to see some record breakers? The Quinault Rain Forest is home to the largest yellow cedar in the United States, the largest western hemlock in the world, the largest Sitka spruce in the world, the largest Douglas fir in the world, and the largest western red cedar in the world. If you want to check out the giants for yourself, you can pick up a map that shows their locations at the Lake Quinault Lodge.

Lake Quinault

The word “Quinault” literally means “wide spot in the river,” but this body of water is so much more than that. It is flanked by forest-carpeted mountains. In the summer you can swim in the lake, but I prefer to just look at it. It’s particularly breathtaking around sunset.

The Hiking

I’m not much of a hiker, but I could be convinced to become one. There are oodles of trails in the Quinault area, and I've only traversed a few, but I recommend the Pony Bridge Trail. It’s about two and half miles long and is a nice hike for people who don’t want a trail that is too hard. Be warned, though; to get to the trailhead, you have to brave a narrow road (which isn't always open) that has potholes for every occasion.

The Food

No, I’m not talking about scavenging for berries and nuts in the wilderness here. One of my favorite restaurants is right on the shore of the lake. Don’t hold back from visiting just because you notice the moment you step inside that the place smells old. The Salmon House serves up (you guessed it) salmon dishes along with other seafood and pastas. The blackened salmon is always a smart choice for your entree.

Save room for dessert. The chocolate tuxedo cake is pretty much bliss on a plate. Seriously. Try it.

Quinault is gorgeous, quiet, and a great getaway if city life is getting on your nerves. Enjoy!