Editor’s note: TravelQ, a series that documents travel through the eyes of stylish queers, returns this week with a new feature by Caroline and Erin, web designers, freelance photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville. This post is a follow up to part one of a two part epic road trip through the Pacific Northwest.
Part Two of our Pacific Northwest road trip had us exploring the state of Washington. Like we did with Oregon, we chose to avoid major cities (we do love Seattle, though) and adventure off the well-trodden path. We visited Snohomish County, Bellingham, and the San Juan Islands. We spent three nights in Snohomish County, two in Bellingham, and four in the San Juans and already can’t wait to return. Below are some of our top picks for things to see, do and eat as well as recommendations on where to stay!
Tucked in between Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains and twelve miles north of Seattle is Snohomish County. It’s got tons of outdoor activities for you to choose from (whale watching anyone?!), is home to great food and, of course, incredible coffee. Pronounced Snuh-HO-mish, this is an area that’s growing fast and is a place that we think should be on everyone’s list of places to visit.
WHERE WE STAYED
Paca Pride | www.pacapride.com | 28311 Mountain Loop Hwy, Granite Falls, WA
Have you ever wanted to stay in a yurt? Now’s your chance. This one-of-a-kind permaculture homestead is also a demo farm meaning it’s more than just a place to stay, it’s a place to learn. David encourages guests to join him on a tour of his place and you can partake in as many (or as few) of the chores around Paca Pride as you like, most of which involve the herd of curious and calm alpacas. Located on the scenic Mountain Loop Highway, it’s about 55 miles from downtown Seattle and a nice retreat if you’re looking to go “off the grid” a bit and step outside your comfort zone.
Embassy Suites | http://embassysuites3.hilton.com/en/hotels/washington/embassy-suites-by-hilton-seattle-north-lynnwood-SEALWES/index.html | 20610 44th Ave West, Lynnwood, WA
We stayed here the evening before our whale watch (more on that below) and it proved to be the perfect spot for a mid-morning departure (far enough outside the city to avoid Seattle traffic) and close enough to the dock that we didn’t have to rush. Guests are treated to a free, made to order breakfast that includes pancakes, eggs, omelets as well as an Evening Reception that includes complimentary snacks and drinks. They also have a nice workout room and a super friendly staff.
WHERE WE ATE
Bluewater Distilling | www.bluewaterdistilling.com | 1205 Craftsman Way Ste. 109 Everett, WA
Both the food and spirits at this small-batch distillery are excellent. Go for the Halcyon Days (halcyon gin, kina tonic [on tap], fresh grapefruit and rosemary) and the Cedar Gimlet (halcyon gin, cedar tincture and simple, fresh lime). Both are delicious and refreshing without being overly sweet. We had a hard time deciding on what to order because everything looked and smelled great but eventually decided on the Caesar salad, fish tacos and the special which was a homemade pappardelle with sauteed mushrooms in a pecorino sauce. We nearly licked our plates clean. If you go, ask for John and tell him we sent ya!
Narrative Coffee | http://narrative.coffee | 2927 Wetmore Ave, Everett, WA
We love coffee and Narrative is easily one of our favorite coffee shops. They’re on a mission to serve you in a way that is “hospitable, friendly, non-judgmental, and encouraging” and we think they’re doing a great job. Their baristas can field just about any coffee question you throw at them and yet they’re extremely approachable and down to earth. Their latte art is on-point and the granola, kefir and waffles are so good you’ll wish you lived in Everett just so you could be a regular. As for the space, it’s super Instagram-y: clean, minimalist, rich wood, pretty tile, succulents…you know the deal. It was literally love at first sight for us. Check out their feed and see for yourself.
Snohomish Pie Co | https://snohomishpieco.com | 915 1st St C, Snohomish, WA
If the smells don’t draw you inside, the sight of the cookies in the window will. At least that’s what happened to us. Their pies have been ranked by BuzzFeed as one of the 24 best pies to try before you die. We went for the oatmeal cookie and it was full of chunky oats, cinnamon, and raisins that left us licking our lips to get every last crumb.
WHERE WE DRANK
At Large Brewing Company | http://www.atlargebrewing.com | 2730 W. Marine Drive, Everett, WA
We ordered a flight of their IPA’s, danced to the music they were playing and even learned how to play shuffleboard (Caroline’s a natural!) Soccer was on the TV and the vibe was chill. We’d hang out here again … seems like the perfect place to stop after a long day at work.
Looking Glass Coffee | http://www.lookingglasscoffee.com | 801 1st St, Ste 201, Snohomish, WA
Located right in the heart of downtown, we stopped here for a cup of coffee and to catch up on emails. Go for the blueberry muffin, it’s as good as it looks.
WHAT WE DID
Puget Sound Express | https://www.pugetsoundexpress.com | 500 Admiral Way, Edmonds, WA
We had a blast on this four-hour whale watch boat tour! The boat is comfortable and fast (it got up to speeds of 40 miles per hour) and the windows inside are big for viewing the sea without being exposed to the elements. The warm blueberry buckle they sell at sea is mouth-watering; there’s a good chance you’ll want seconds. We saw some seals, several beautiful islands and learned a bunch of new whale facts from the two naturalists on-board but we didn’t actually see whales. We were super disappointed but they gave everyone a voucher to come back again for free. Would we go again? Absolutely, it was fun.
Explore the Outdoors | https://snohomishcountywa.gov/1182/Trails
We barely scratched the surface of the outdoor activities available in Snohomish County (sixty-eight percent of the county land area is forest land) but what we did see was enough to make us hungry for more. We drove several back roads and found gorgeous mossy-covered trees that felt like something straight out of a fairy tale. We were also able to get out for a run on the Interurban Trail that follows the route once used by the Interurban Trolley that ran from downtown Seattle to Everett. One place we didn’t have a chance to get to but are super stoked to visit in the future is the Big Four Ice Caves in Granite Falls. Do a Google search and see if it doesn’t blow your mind like it did ours. We will definitely be going back.
Snohomish County is situated just south of Bellingham. If you’re departing from Everett, the drive to Bellingham along I-5 will take you about an hour.
This city felt good to us almost as soon as we arrived. In some ways it reminded us of our home in Asheville: artsy, liberal, similar in population size, lots of great places to eat and drink and of course tons of outdoor options. This too, was a place we had a hard time leaving.
WHERE WE STAYED
SpringHill Suites | http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/blish-springhill-suites-bellingham | 4040 Northwest Ave, Bellingham, WA
This hotel is very clean, the rooms are spacious and bright, the wifi and breakfast are free and pets are allowed! It also has a 24 hour complimentary shuttle that will transport you to and from the Bellingham International Airport.
WHERE WE ATE
Camber | https://cambercoffee.com/location | 221 W Holly St, Bellingham, WA
Love at first sip. Really. The cappuccino, made with a shot of their Big Joy espresso, is smooth and flawless. Their pourover coffees are equally as impressive. The Guatemala Santa Isabel was excellent (notes of apple butter, marzipan and clementine!). We loved it so much we bought some beans to take with us on the road. Also noteworthy was the Kenya Karumandi AA. We’ve never had a coffee quite like it; it’s easily one of the most unique coffees we’ve ever tried: fruity and bright and yet balanced. All that said, though, this is more than just a coffee shop. This is a place that takes its food just as seriously as it does it’s drinks. We started with their soft cheese plate (double cream Brie, crostini, preserves, fruit, and candied nuts) and the roasted brussel sprouts and then continued on with their Vegetable Sandwich (roasted yam, garlic chard, herbed chevre, crispy onion, sprouts) and Rosemary Lamb Burger (Twin Sisters cheddar, apples and garlic aioli). The sandwich came with chips and the lamb burger with a side salad. It was all perfect. If we lived in Bellingham, we would most definitely be dropping by several times a week. Oh! And if you go, ask for Hayley. She gives great descriptions of everything on the menu and asks questions about your palate that are guaranteed to help you pick the perfect meal.
Cosmos Bistro | https://www.bellinghamcosmosbistro.com | 1151 N State St, Bellingham, WA
Bring a book and dine alone or come with a group and settle in for a long evening of fun and laughter. Cosmos is the kind of place where both kinds of dining experiences are valued. They have a bunch of options to choose from such as local grass-fed beef burgers, tofu adobo, a salmon bowl and even meatloaf. They also have a happy hour from 3 – 5 on Tuesday’s – Saturday’s!
The Temple Bar | http://www.templebarbellingham.com | 306 W Champion St, Bellingham, WA
Fine wine, beer, craft cocktails and local fare? Um, yes please. Happy hour is 3 – 7 every day and all day on Sundays. We sat at a cozy little table in the window, ordered a couple of local IPA’s and savored each bite of the mushroom polenta with whipped feta, grilled cheese with warm tomato jam, and arugula salad full of delicata squash, grilled halloumi cheese, pomegranate seeds and pepitas that came our way. We somehow managed to save room for dessert and finished up a wonderful meal with a slice of chocolate torte.
WHERE WE DRANK
Redlight | http://www.redlightbellingham.com | 1017 N State St., Bellingham, WA
Great cocktails and cheap canned beer. What more could you ask for? Happy hour, you say? They have that, too: $3 well drinks, $5 off bottled wine, $1 off everything and free bar snacks if you’re drinking. We grabbed a round with an old friend amid a happy, open and friendly bar crowd that lacked the ego and aggressiveness of some other “hip” and “trendy” spots. In other words, it was the perfect place for catching up.
Aslan Brewing Co. | http://www.aslanbrewing.com | 1330 N Forest St., Bellingham, WA
Their Flagship beers, like the Batch 15 that we tried (flavorful and balanced without a lot of bitterness – basically amazing), are available year-round while their seasonal beers (we ordered an entire flight of IPA’s – equally as awesome) are constantly rotating. All of their beers are certified organic, many of them unfiltered and all of them as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate. This is more than just a brewery, though. They have a bunch of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items. We recommend any and all of the tacos. Aslan’s come as you are attitude reminded us of Asheville where you’re just as likely to see muddy mountain bikers as you are families, hipsters and couples on a date.
THINGS TO DO
Whatcom Falls Park | http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/whatcom-creek | 1401 Electric Ave., Bellingham, WA
If you want to see a beautiful waterfall but are short on time (or don’t want to go for a long hike), head on over to Whatcom Falls State Park. You can see a beautiful waterfall without much effort. The park itself is only about 2.5 miles away from downtown Bellingham and gives you access to 241 acres of forest and trails.
Chuckanut Drive | https://www.bellingham.org/activities/scenic-drives
Turn the radio up, roll the windows down and from Bellingham, head south along Chuckanut Drive (aka as State Highway 11). For about 21 miles you’ll be treated to stunning views of the coastline backed by mountains with rugged islands in the distance. We did the drive as the sun was setting and found several places to pull over and snap photos. At milepost 14, look for signs pointing to Larrabee State Park, the first state park in all of Washington. There’s a boat ramp, trails, beaches and tidepools there for you to explore as well as some beautiful backdrops for you to snap some photos.
Fairhaven Bicycles | www.fairhavenbicycles.com | 1108 11th Street, Bellingham
This is a really cool local shop that was actually the first to introduce Bellingham to mountain bikes! We met one of the co-owners, Amy Campbell, who recently purchased the shop in June of 2017. She was really friendly and helpful and though we didn’t rent bikes while we were in town, if you decide to do so, head to Fairhaven Bicycles. They have everything from mountain bikes to road bikes to around-town bikes for you to choose from and rentals can be for a half day or a full day.
From Bellingham, head south again, this time to Anacortes. From Anacortes, a small town on the water, you can take a ferry (which you’ll want to book ahead of time) to get to the San Juan Islands.
THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS
If you want equal doses of relaxation and adventure, head to the San Juan Islands. There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County however the ferry only allows you access to four: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island. We visited San Juan and Orcas! There are tons of different activities to choose from and each island is unique.
SAN JUAN ISLAND
A morning at the spa followed by a dock stroll with a cup of fresh brewed coffee sound good to you? No problem, you can do all that and more on San Juan Island. Follow it up with some shopping and a stop at the Whale Museum and of course happy hour and dinner and then repeat the next day. Or, choose your own adventure and go for run around the island in the morning, paddle a kayak mid-day and look for orca whales and then zipline in the afternoon. Your options are seemingly endless here. Needless to say it’s one of our new favorite destinations. Oh and did I mention it’s beautiful here?
WHERE WE STAYED
Island Inn at 123 West | http://123west.com | 123 West, PO Box 2346, Friday Harbor (San Juan Island)
If you’ve taken the ferry over on-foot, the Island Inn is just steps away once you get off the boat. If you’ve driven over, you’re in luck, there will be a parking space waiting with your name on it. Complimentary, too. The parking is just the first of several features that’ll make your stay feel like a deluxe vacation: an incredible view of the harbor, quiet and private though you’re in the heart of downtown, fresh fruit, freshly ground coffee and granola that’s re-stocked each day, plush bathrobes and a contemporary interior that makes you feel at once home in your surroundings. It was so hard to leave this place and can’t recommend it enough.
WHERE WE ATE
Mike’s Café and Wine Bar | https://mikescafeandwinebar.com | 135 2nd St S, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
Any and all of the rice bowls get two thumbs up. We devoured both of ours. They give you a hearty helping and the ingredients are so fresh! You also can’t go wrong with their choice of local wine. Located right in the heart of downtown, this is a must-try for those who are vegan and also a safe bet for those who aren’t!
Downriggers | http://www.downriggerssanjuan.com | 10 Front St. N, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
We ate the Caesar salad with crab meat and I swear we have been thinking about it ever since! They gave us a giant helping of greens with an equally generous portion of lumpy, tender and slightly sweet crab meat. We also ate the spicy prawn mac and cheese made with oyster mushrooms, arugula, three kinds of cheese and bacon vinaigrette and it was the perfect savory dish to cap off a day spent by the sea. The atmosphere is cozy and warm, in a great location down by the water and with a staff that’s extremely welcoming and friendly. If you happen to see the owner, Debbie, say hey for us!
WHERE WE DRANK
San Juan Island Brewing Co. | http://www.sanjuanbrew.com | 410 A Street, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
We had an hour to sip away before dinner and so we chose to spend the time sipping on our favorite beverage, second only to coffee, of course: beer. San Juan Island Brewing Co. feels familiar and welcoming the moment you walk in the door. It’s big and airy, with a tall barn-like ceiling. In the mood to order a little differently than we normally do, we chose the Black Bear Porter (dark, delicious, not too sweet) and the Festbier (smooth and toasty). Both of them were well-balanced beers and left us wishing we had time to try some of their others (as well as their food!)
THINGS TO DO
Serendipity Used Books | https://www.facebook.com/pages/Serendipity-The-Used-Book-Place/111587075548451 | 223 A St, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
This bookstore is about a block from the ferry and the woman in there knew her inventory so well that we were in and out in less than 5 minutes which was important because we had a ferry to catch. (We asked about a book that a local author, Barbara Marrett, had written about sailing!) It’s stocked from floor to ceiling, so stop in if you’re needing a quick fix before your own boat ride.
San Juan Island National Historic Park | https://www.nps.gov/sajh/planyourvisit/beaches.htm | Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
Go explore as much of this park as you can but if you’re short on time, head on down to South Beach. The views are simply amazing. If you’re lucky you might just see an orca whale. Plus, it’s free!
The Whale Museum | https://whalemuseum.org | 62 1st Street, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
We couldn’t believe how much we learned by visiting The Whale Museum! The museum is fairly small but chock full of information, videos, and whale skeletons. You really get the sense of scale of these beautiful and massive animals. Some of the history on harvesting and the deteriorating health of whales can be a bit sobering, but certainly worth learning about.
San Juan Islands Museum of Art (IMA) | https://sjima.org | 540 Spring Street, Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)
We didn’t get a chance to visit the museum but we have a feeling it would be more than worth it. They feature 8-10 exhibits a year as well as a lecture series. Next time, hopefully!
Drive the Coast
Try to save a little time for exploring the roads along the coast. It’s lovely, especially as the sun is rising and setting. Grab a map before you go as there is often no cell service, go slow and bring a camera!
Orcas Island is the largest of all the San Juan Islands but it isn’t quite as developed as San Juan. Like San Juan, it has a number of great spots to eat and drink as well as explore. Pack your bags, your ferry is departing!
WHERE WE STAYED
Pebble Cove Farm | http://pebblecovefarm.com | 3341 Deer Harbor Rd, Eastsound (Orcas Island)
An organic farm on an island with private beach access? And a miniature horse and pony? And pigs and chickens and goats?! Pebble Cove Farm is almost too good to be true. We stayed in one of their suites and were blown away by the view, the comfort (there’s fresh, organic coffee and granola, your choice of soy or coconut milk, tea and a bunch of organic snacks for you to snack on), their easy check-in policy (there is none, you just go straight to your room) and all of the adventure right at our fingertips.
WHERE WE ATE
The Barnacle | https://www.facebook.com/BarnacleBar | 249 Prune Alley, Eastsound, WA (Orcas Island)
We had dinner here on Sushi Night (Wednesdays) and it was awesome. We could tell upon arrival that it was our kind of place. It glowed from the outside with warm lights that beckoned us in. Music and warm air tumbled out of the door as we entered the space and we were immediately greeted with the kind of hello usually reserved for old friends. The sushi was fresh, tasty and went perfectly with the creative cocktails that the bartender, Kai, was crafting. We think The Barnacle is the perfect cozy corner to take a date. Who do you want to huddle with over hand-crafted, creative cocktails?
The Kitchen | http://www.thekitchenorcas.com | 233 Prune Alley, Eastsound, WA (Orcas Island)
Right behind The Barnacle, basically in their backyard, is this sunny spot called The Kitchen. It’s been open for a whopping 18 years and Jasmine and her partner, Charles, have been running it for the last 8. They just added on a greenhouse-like room in order to expand their kitchen a tad and provide all-weather seating. We suggest eating in! The menu focuses on Thai flavors and their vegetables were treated with a reverence usually reserved for caviar. We ordered the chicken, rice, and veggies with citrus garlic sauce and the rice cakes with a half dozen chicken potstickers. We painstakingly picked up every single morsel of food with our chopsticks until there was nothing left, it was THAT good. We also recommend you start out with the fruit/vinegar sodas and end with the peanut butter sesame cookies.
Brown Bear Baking | https://www.facebook.com/BrownBearBaking/ | Main Street & N. Beach Road, Eastsound, WA (Orcas Island)
We heard about Brown Bear Baking when were staying in Friday Harbor and walked over after lunch at The Kitchen for a cup of coffee and something to satisfy our relentless sweet tooth. Their display was so delicious looking that we literally stood there for minutes trying to make a decision. We finally chose the roasted pumpkin muffin with cream cheese in the center and pepitas all over the top. Erin, who is skeptical of pumpkin as a food as well as vegetables in desserts, polished off the muffin! How’s that for a valuable review?!
THINGS TO DO
Moran State Park | http://moranstatepark.com/park-map/ | 3572 Olga Road
Olga, WA (Orcas Island)
We went for a run around Cascade Lake on two different days, it was just that beautiful. The trail is about 2.7 miles long and is lush with rolling hills that aren’t too steep but are fairly rocky and rooty. You’ll be treated to absolutely gorgeous lake views most of the way but keep your eyes on the trail because it’ll get ya if you’re not paying attention! Pro tip: Park your car at the Cascade Lake Day Use Area and bring $10 to pay for the day use fee. Bring exact change! Also, keep your eyes peeled for the wooden bridge that’s near the halfway point for those of you who love to Instagram.
Eastsound Waterfront | http://sjclandbank.org/eastsound-waterfront-park-orcas-island/ | Orcas Road + Main Street (the entrance to Eastsound Village on Orcas Island) The shops and restaurants in Eastsound are worth visiting but so too is this beautiful waterfront area. The 2.5 acre park itself is free as is the curbside parking so grab a lunch from one of the nearby restaurants and sit by the sea for a while and relax. Note: It’s only available for day use.
To get to the islands, we recommend calling the ferry to make a reservation at 1-888-808-7977 or jumping online at www.takeaferry.com. Though we had no problem catching a boat at any point in our trip, keep in mind that we were traveling in the off-season. We’ve heard from locals that it can be VERY difficult to schedule a sail during the summer so know before you go! Also, if you’re planning on taking your vehicle on the ferry, fill-up before you go as gas was more expensive (and for good reason) on the island than on the mainland.
Have you visited any of these places? Do you have any must-do recommendations of your own? If so, we’d love to hear about them!
About the authors: Caroline and Erin are freelance web designers, photographers and writers for the travel blog Authentic Asheville. When they’re not on the road, they hang their hats in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow their adventures on Instagram at @e.mcgrady + @carolineperdue + @authenticasheville
Thanks for the beautiful pictures and shout out to the quiet season in the San Juan Islands! Lots of beaches and shoreline parks to explore all on your own. Happy Trails and glad you found that book you were looking for.
Nice over view of this part of the world. Thanks for dropping by Snohomish County! It is too bad you were not able to find the independent hotels that are in the area, but the other local spots were appreciated!
Great travel summary. Blue Water Distilling is a favorite haunt. Next trip you might consider the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas and the small, quaint towns of Poulsbo (Viking village, Sluys Bakery for great pecan rolls) and Port Townsend. Chief Seattle grave site is at Suguamish Tribal Center for a bit of history, then take the ferry back to mainland at Edmunds ( nice walking town, lunch at Rory’s Pub). If time allows and it’s not Winter, travel east across the Cascades to the vast array of wineries near Yakima, Walla Walla, and along the Columbia River.