Category Archives: Towns

Individual towns and places in Washington State

My Favorite Trips of 2013

My friend and fellow travel writer, Sue Frause, wrote a summary of where she went in 2013 and what she recommended for the Examiner.com. I thought it was such a good idea that I’m doing it, too. All these trips came about because of writing assignments so most of my lodging and meals were complimentary, but that has not influenced my opinion. Here are some of the places I visited this year:

Alderbrook Resort & Spa (www.alderbrookresort.com)
Union, Washington

As I sat in the lobby by the blazing fire, I couldn’t help but think “what a great place to set a murder mystery.” Probably because I have read ones that have similar scenes. The setting in Union, Washington, is rural, yet serene. The lodge snuggles up against Hood Canal and the experience was almost surreal, it was so pleasant.

An Oregon reporter called Alderbrook the best lodge on the west side of Puget Sound. It’s outfitted with a wonderful spa, a gourmet restaurant and even has its own boat. If you want to rent a cottage, you can. They also have pet-friendly rooms. Whatever you choose to do, I hope you’ll have as memorable a time as I did.

White Pass
Washington

White Pass is one of our smaller places to engage in snow sports, but still beautiful with that crisp, clear mountain air and lots of snow. I attended the White Pass Winter Carnival with two other travel writers and wrote about it here for Northwest Travel Magazine. This event has been going on for years and even though I’m a native Washingtonian, I’d never heard of it before. The centerpiece of the event is a life-sized snow castle you can tour. At night a torchlight parade and fireworks light up the sky.

I also got to snowshoe for the first time on this trip. That’s now my new favorite snow sport. I’m not a skier or a snowboarder, but I do love just being in the mountains.

Sun Valley
Idaho

I had no idea what I’d been missing until this first visit. Sun Valley encompasses all my favorites in a compact little bundle – Lots of boutiques, many of which fall into the thrift category like the Gold Mine; all kinds of restaurants, snow and a Film Festival. Most of it is walkable, but if you’re tired or your destination seems a little far, the bus service is all free. Benches line the streets so you can sit and rest whenever you like.

I got to stay in the beautiful boutique hotel, Knob Hill Inn, a great location just on the edge of town. I woke up each morning to a panoramic view of the mountains. It was also next door to a cemetery, but Ernest Hemingway was buried there making that parcel of land another highlight of the trip.
Vancouver Island
British Columbia

Oh my gosh, I had no idea how gorgeous this locale could be. I’d only set foot in Victoria, the capitol, previously. This time, an individual press trip for a couple of stories I’d been assigned for Northwest Travel, had me taking the B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo. Those vessels don’t have far to go to become cruise-ship size. They even have a gift shop onboard.

The first night I had the rare and unique pleasure of staying in one of the Free Spirit Spheres in Qualicum Beach. These spheres, suspended between trees, literally give you a taste of heaven because you’re right up there next to it. The next day I fell in love with the small seaside town of Cowichan Bay and returned there two more times on this trip.

On my last night I got to sleep in a very well furnished yurt at Merridale Ciderworks. It had a large clawfoot tub not that far from the bed. And the restaurant at Merridale had fantastic food and of course, very tasty cider. I’d return in a heartbeat.

More on my 2013 trips next time.

Have a Blast at Run of the River in Leavenworth

 

This beautiful, luxurious bed and breakfast has to be one of the few places where once you land, you never want to leave. We spent two nights there not long ago and met a guest at breakfast who spent her days reading, sewing and just enjoying all that Run of the River had to offer. She seemed reluctant to leave in the evening to go into town for dinner and to meet family members.

For enjoying the scenery, you have your choice of sitting on your deck or relaxing on deck chairs placed in the grass on the property. Then if you’re patient you’ll spot wildlife. We spent a good part of one evening watching a doe and her two fawns drink from the creek below our balcony. What a pleasure and change from the busyness and traffic congestion most of us experience at home.

 

The next morning we discovered at breakfast that other guests had seen a cougar, a bear and a raccoon picking cherries high up in a cherry tree.

The endless chi cha cha and chirping of various birds, the lush greenery and the creek that reflected mirror stillness all make you feel like you’ve landed in nature’s wonderland. Of course, every once in awhile you need sustenance.

 

That’s what the morning breakfasts provide. Five course meals that nobody can ever finish, but they are filled with healthy, local, tasty ingredients. Everything is made fresh in the morning from the blended fruit juices to the quiches. Then if you need an afternoon snack or a dessert after your dinner, you’ll find something sweet and delicious (and different everyday) in the dining area to take to your room.

 

Run of the River seems perfect for everyone – from those wanting to get away and relax to honeymooners from all over the globe (we met two from London).

Disclaimer:  Run of the River hosted my stay.

Sunshine Mill Now Makes Wine

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of touring the Sunshine Mill Artisan Plaza and Winery in The Dalles, Oregon. Who would have thought a flour mill could have become a luxury wine tasting room and event venue. But it has. The cave-like dining area reminded me of a place where the Bachelorette might dine with one of her chosen men.

Why is this place called the Sunshine Mill?

If you’ve ever eaten Cheez-it crackers, those salty delights came from this very site when the flour mill was operational. Constructed of concrete and rebar, the Sunshine Flour Mill extended to a height of 125 feet, making it the tallest structure in The Dalles. For the most part the exterior remains the same to this day. Eventually cracker production decreased and the mill lost its viability. After closing shop, it stood unused until James and Molly Martin purchased it and converted it to a winery.  

The Martins named their winery, Quenett, which means steelhead. In a short amount of time, it has grown to be the second largest winery in Oregon. Quenett produces 2,500 cases of bottled wine and 125,000 cases of Copa Di Vino a year.

Are you a “Shark Tank” fan? If you watch this Friday night TV show, you may have seen James Martin. On two different occasions he appeared before the millionaires (the Sharks) asking for support for his invention of wine by the glass. Each plastic glass contains a serving of wine and is sealed with foil and a plastic cap. These can be purchased at the winery and in grocery stores. I brought some home and really wish I had more. (I just noticed on the website you can put in your zip code and find the nearest place to buy Copa Di Vino). Excuse me I need to go to the store. 

Copa Di Vino

These little gems make great picnic accompaniments plus the wine tastes divine. Martin’s Copa Di Vino (the wine by the glass) has become one of the fastest growing brands in America. And he turned down the deals the sharks offered him.

The long and cavernous wine tasting room has chandeliers made entirely from wine bottles, a comfy couch or two, tables and more to look at then you’ll find in any other winery. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re near The Dalles.

Keep an eye on Sunshine because plans have been set into motion to make the grain silos into a seven-story hotel. If you think James Martin has unrealistic dreams, check out the photo gallery for the Quaker Square Hotel in Akron, Ohio. Converting grain silos into lavish lodging has already been done.

A Nod to Knob Hill in Ketchum, Idaho

In March I attended the beginning of the Sun Valley Film Festival for a writing assignment. Green Rubino, a public relations firm in Seattle, was kind enough to find me lodging at Knob Hill. Before my flight I checked out Knob Hill Inn on Tripadvisor.com. Almost every reviewer gave the hotel five stars. Everyone, but one gentleman who complained that it was next door to a cemetery. Those people won’t be partying and keep you up at night so I didn’t really understand his objection. Besides it’s a very historic cemetery where Ernest Hemingway is buried.

View from my hotel window in Sun Valley.

 

What a beautiful home away from home. The location, just outside downtown proper, made for quiet nights.

This boutique property houses 29 lovely rooms – all renovated in a chateau-style architecture last November. From the TVs to the bedding and even the custom furniture, everything matched the Sun Valley theme. And do you know how they got rid of the heavy European pieces purchased by the previous owner? They held a yard sale and sold it to the community.

 

And the staff – well if you wore socks, Knob Hill employees would knock them off with their superior service. They call it European charm. I call it rare and wonderful. From housekeeping to the front desk to the shuttle drivers, everyone went out of their way to make all the guests feel special. One afternoon while exploring the downtown shops I heard my name called. It was one of the hotel shuttle drivers asking me if I wanted a ride anywhere. 

I think Rick Steves was on to something when he referred to Idahoans as “freakishly friendly.”

Disclaimer:  Knob Hill hosted my stay.

“Exploring Washington’s Backroads” Paints a Perfect Picture

John Deviny, author of “Exploring Washington’s Backroads,” was kind enough to give me a copy of this most intriguing book. It’s a short, concise volume packed with trips throughout our state that anyone, traveler or local, would enjoy. Photos on every page just make the enticement more alluring. Deviny has divided the state into what her calls “Backroad Trips,” 17 of them to be exact.

View from Skamania Lodge in the Columbia Gorge, which is also mentioned in the book.

Each of the trips describes the general location, “Sights and Scenes” not to miss and a route to follow that truly depicts the culture and personality of the area. For example, “Backroad Trip 2” loops you through the Black Hills of the Puget Sound region in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties. In our Capitol, Olympia, you begin the journey and then drive through forested hills above the Chehalis and Black River plains through old timber towns and quaint businesses. Be sure to investigate the magical Mima Mounds.

You visit towns like McCleary, which actually holds a Bear Festival (July 12-14, 2013), and where the door factory is still in business wafting off the smell of sawdust to remind you it’s a mill town.

Each trip holds surprises and new information (even to me) so when you’re ready to discover small-town Washington, I urge you to order this book, pile the family in your car and head on down the road. You’ll be glad you did.

Deviny advises you to explore on your own, beyond what he describes in his book, “A good road trip is an art form, and the open road is your canvas.”

Soap Lake, also mentioned in the book, has a new sundial.

Walter’s Fruit Ranch: What a Find

Outside of Spokane, in an area called Green Bluff near Mead, you can find produce, cheese, farm animals and more, at more than 40 farms. You can easily spend a day here and not see it all.

An Angeles peach - so juicy you have to tilt your head back to eat it to keep the sweet juice from dripping on your clothes.

If my experience at Walter’s Fruit Ranch in Green Bluff is typical of the other farms, you’re in for a real treat. My day started off with a yummy Greek quiche made with eggs, feta cheese, ham and green olives plus the flakiest, most buttery pastry crust I’ve ever tasted. I couldn’t get enough of the crust, so I ate a slice of apple pie for dessert. Kudos to the pie baker and co-owner Arlene Morrell. At one time or another, the café offers 32 different varieties of Arlene’s pies. Arlene or a baker she has shown the way makes them and freezes them; she says they taste better after freezing.

One of the very vocal sheep at Walter's Fruit Ranch

Fueled for the day, I hopped on the Fruit Loop Express, a tractor-train contraption, and headed for the fruit orchards where I discovered 22 varieties of apples, five varieties of peaches, three of apricots and cherries. When the fruit is in season, you can ride the Express into the orchards where the driver will deposit you in a prime spot and you pick all the fruit you want. The train continuously meanders along the same route through the orchard all day so that when you’re ready to leave, you get on and it takes you back to the farmhouse.

I visited in the fall so owner Mark Morrell who drove the Express that day let me shoot an apple out of an air gun aimed at a pumpkin. If I hit the pumpkin, I got to take another pumpkin home. No worries there – I don’t have very good aim.

My friend, Dana Haynes, aiming for the elusive pumpkin

 

While you’re there don’t forget to visit the gift shop, which sells some already picked produce, plus lovely home décor items.

Explore the Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park

When I visited the place where Dan Klennert creates and displays his artwork, I had no idea that my husband had been there a number of times before and had taken several of his friends and a brother to see this amazing art. It turns out we even had taken some of the very same photos.

Guess who this native Northwesterner is.

Klennert recycles in the broadest definition of the word and what he makes from what most of us would think is junk turns out to be beautiful. He keeps a room full of driftwood and another with 60 tons of horseshoes in it. A larger-than-life thoroughbred he made was created almost entirely out of horseshoes. In another room, he has several piles of “stuff” and he can tell you just what each pile is going to become as soon as he has the right part to complete it or has the time to get to it. A motorcycle, a bird, a sea creature…

His love of art began when he was practicing welding for a job. That welding morphed into artworks and he’s been creating art from recyclables for the past 40 years. He’s shown them around the U.S.

Daniel Klennert, artist extraordinaire.

This amazing four-acre sculpture park is located in Ashford, Washington, on the way to Mount Rainier. Klennert is happy to have you look around, take photos and ask him questions. And he hopes his art will put a smile on your face. It did mine.

While visiting, you're welcome to use this award-winning outhouse.

Get Into Soap Lake

As you might imagine, Soap Lake is a body of water, but it is also a town of 1,500 in Eastern Washington. I’m pretty sure they all know each other, because while we enjoyed a tasty restaurant dinner there at Don’s everybody else in the eatery recognized each other and chatted with them.

Soap Lake and the newly installed sun dial sculpture.

 

Soap Lake was formed by a mammoth waterfall that eroded basalt rock into what is now Dry Falls. When the waters of the last big flood receded, it left the mineral-rich lake. More than 15 minerals fill the lake, some say giving it extraordinary healing powers. Soaking in the lake water and spreading the lake mud over hands, arms and faces to facilitate healing was done by indigenous people, settlers and is still done today.

A list of all the mineral Soap Lake contains.

The name, Soap Lake, seemed appropriate because of the foamy ridges that formed on the beach on windy days. Besides the lake itself, local spas offer a Soap Lake experience where you can soak in lake-filled tubs. (Although a broken pipe has stopped that temporarily, it will soon be fixed.)

From www.soaplakewa.com:  Some day, Soap Lake will be discovered by the rich and famous. They’ll build a fabulous resort and take advantage of this absolutely one-of-a-kind mineral lake. They’ll hear about Soap Lake and its remarkable history. They’ll swim in the water and lie in the sun and know they have found a place that nourishes their soul as well as their bodies. They’ll be drawn back year-after-year until they decide to stay for the rest of their lives.

If you aren’t rich or famous, visit soon, before the price goes up. If you are rich and famous, we’ve been waiting for you.

Notaras Lodge, a very fine place to stay.

Besides relaxing in the sun, Soap Lake has lots of activities throughout the year like Winterfest, the second weekend of December, with a juried art show, art sale, crafts and music. Lava Run to the Sun is a motorcycle rally in late July and the Soap Lake Box Derby takes place over Memorial Day Weekend.

Don’t Overlook Salem

Last week at this time I was touring Oregon’s state capital, Salem. Oftentimes, travelers concentrate on the big city of Portland, the coastal towns or the wine country of Willamette Valley when they consider Oregon as a destination. Consider Salem, also. Here’s why:

 

Just a few miles outside of town sits the lovely Bavarian town of Mount Angel. At the Glockenspiel Restaurant, local ingredients from less than a mile away, are the emphasis. That makes the entrees served taste a lot fresher and really brings something special to the table. Besides the tried and true German recipes like wienerschnitzel, I urge you to try their special cabbage, which takes the chef five hours to make. It will tantalize your palate. Then at the appointed time, go outside and watch the performance of the wooden dolls in the Glockenspiel tower alongside the restaurant.

For a healthy walk after dinner, head up to Mount Angel Abbey. Enjoy the gardens and the peacefulness.

Mount Angel’s largest claim to fame and what the townspeople put the most energy into is their Oktoberfest. This year is the 45th annual and runs from September 13-16. With all kinds of fun for the whole family, Oktoberfest celebrates the harvest and the bounty of the earth through live music, street dancing, a car show and more.

Gallon House Covered Bridge

On the way back to Salem, visit the Gallon House Covered Bridge, Oregon’s oldest covered bridge. It was named for the days when liquor was sold by the gallon or quart in a nearby house.

Gerry Frank’s Konditorei, with more than 40 flavors of cake and pastries, is a must-stop for dessert in Salem. Local favorite cakes include Barney’s Blackout, Chocolate Raspberry and Lemon Cream. I savored the seasonal Marionberry and highly recommend it.

Then for $1.50 you can’t beat the price for a ride on the old world-style carousel housed in a stately building on the banks of the Willamette River.

Salem makes a fabulous family vacation and every year right around this time it hosts the Oregon State Fair. Scones, funnel cakes, food on a stick…

In Cashmere: Mission Square is a Must-Stop

Tucked in between the tourist Mecca of Bavarian-themed Leavenworth and Wenatchee, which boasts a myriad of outdoor recreational opportunities, Cashmere has long been known as the home of the jellied candies, Aplets and Cotlets. Lots of folks frequently stopped at Liberty Orchards to take a tour and buy candy to take home, but then returned to their cars and raced down the freeway leaving the rest of Cashmere unexplored.

Now a variety of tourist-friendly businesses have taken up residence in Mission Square, an old pear packing warehouse in the Mission District.

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere is an artisan craft distillery with a tasting room in Mission Square. They produce 30 gallons of spirits a day. Their spirits are all made by hand using fruits and grains grown in Washington. Their offerings include Moonshine, Sunshine, Wheat Whiskey, Grappa and Brandy. But their most renowned product has got to be their Northwest Dry Gin with a range of botanicals not found in any other gin — star anise, juniper, orange, lemon, coriander and others.

 

Wine Design showcases and sells clocks and tables all made from old wine barrels. Owner and craftsman, Brian Ropp will build anything you like from signs to tables to chairs and more to your specifications.

Besides wine barrels, four wine tasting rooms grace the Square so there are plenty of opportunities to try local wines.

Snapdragon Coffee Café should not be missed whether you stop at the beginning or the end of your visit to the Square. They serve coffee drinks to warm you up and really good, authentic Italian gelato that can be consumed in any weather.

The day I was there, the flavors on tap for both gelato and sorbet included chocolate, chocolate cabernet, blackberry cider, white chocolate raspberry, mango, raspberry cider, lavender, old world cider with Aplets and Cotlets and salted caramel. The cider in the frozen confections is made by the owners of the café who also own the Cashmere Cider Mill. The Greens also have lodging available at the Cider Mill property.

Time it just right in the afternoon and you can imbibe in Snappy Hour at the Snapdragon Café and savor an exotic drink (alcoholic-free) with either a juice base or a coffee base. I highly recommend the piña colada. Very refreshing on a hot day and I’m sure it’s just as tasty on a cool one.

I love it when first-rate businesses band together in one structure.

Do you have a place like this that you love?

Heather Larson writes about the Pacific Northwest from her office in Tacoma, Washington hoping she can entice you to visit or share your own memories of the region. You can reach her at writemix@harbornet.com.