Olympic National Park and Seattle

(We’re trying to get back into reno mode, but after two weeks of vacation it’s tough. I’m trying to prolong the trip by drooling over all the pictures and memories: Willamette Valley and Portland/Mt. Rainier)


Olympic National Park
A friend at work went on (and on and on) about the glories of Vancouver Island. Try as I might, I couldn’t fit it into our schedule when we knew we wanted to go as far south as the Willamette Valley. A little investigation led me to believe that we could get the same stunning sights stateside (wow… tongue twister much?) on the Olympic peninsula.

The plan: Hike beaches and the rainforest, take lots of pictures.

The lodging: It was hard to know where to launch our ONP adventure from, but Forks won out when we found this awesome, modern VRBO. Plus it put us the closest to the beach (!!) and in easy distance of the rainforest. 2 Things: 1. No, I’m not a Twilight fan. 2. I had no idea the novel was set there when we booked this. I figured I had to get that out of the way because we’ve been asked A LOT. The Twilight craze seems to have calmed down in this one stoplight town save for some random stores like “Indian to Twilight” and “Twilight Firewood.”



Rialto Beach: On our transition day from Mt. Rainier to the Olympic peninsula we grabbed lunch in Port Angeles and decided to check out Rialto Beach before check in at the VRBO. I didn’t realize at the time, but this foggy, rocky beach would totally steal my heart. From the parking lot, you weave through a pile of white washed logs, tossed ashore like Lincoln logs onto the rocky beach. It was foggy when we went and that seemed perfect. We walked two miles north to Hole in the Wall and arrived at low tide, allowing us to climb out and explore the tide pools. This place was pure serenity.

Shi Shi Beach: One hike stood out among the rest when I was planning this trip: Shi Shi Beach. Revered in the guidebook and online as THE BEST BEACH IN WASHINGTON, it instantly jumped to the top of my list. But it wasn’t going to be easy. Getting to the holy land involved a 2-mile trek through a rain forest that created boggy trails and descending something that’s a cross between a hill and cliff (if takes the assistance of a rope to get back up if that helps you understand the incline) before you hit the beach. Then it’s another 2 miles down the sand to some gorgeous sea stacks. So said the book. So said everything.

Here’s what really happened: We had to drive 90 minutes, which I spent blissfully dreaming of the beauty of Shi Shi Beach. The last bit of that drive is through an Indian reservation, which creeped me out with its desolate look and “Get off drug” signs at every post. We were diverted around the downtown area due to a parade and couldn’t get our “required” pass. Thankfully, a local at the trailhead said we didn’t need it for a day hike and our car was still there when we returned. Admittedly, not the best start. We tackled the rainforest hike with a spring in our step. Being the somewhat dry season, we were able to easily navigate the huge bogs in the trail and going down the cliff/hill wasn’t too bad. We sprung out from the treeline to find a beach… a sand beach – no perfectly smooth stones from Rialto, no line of white driftwood protecting the shore… just a beach. So we started south… and walked… and walked… and walked down this sandy, unimpressive, cloudy (but in a sad way) beach for two more miles.

In case you’re not keeping track, by the time we reached the sea stacks we were 4 miles – ONLY HALF WAY – in. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. We had some lunch and took some pictures. Aaron is still optimistic that we’ll love the images, but he agrees that the 8 mile slog was not worth it. It was the biggest (really the only) disappointment of the whole trip. Is it pretty? Sure. Is the MOST GORGEOUS BEACH ever and worth an 8 mile hike? No.




We approached the last day of hiking with very weary legs. We knew the Shi Shi slog would be our last long hike. So we scaled back our rainforest tromp to some easy 1 mi loops near the visitor center. It was pretty, but we’ve seen the redwoods in California and they totally win in the “big tree” category.

Ruby beach: We decided to end this leg of the trip with lunch and a covert bottle of wine on Ruby beach. I doubt there is a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than drinking red wine on the beach. We had some sandwiches, picked up too many rocks/souvenirs (can we blame the midday wine buzz?) and watched the tide roll out and the fog roll in. It was one of those moments you just want to soak in and save away to remember on a day that’s gone to hell.





Our direct flights (seriously, I never want to have a connecting flight ever again) brought us in and out of Seattle so it seemed like a natural way to end our trip.

The plan: Bring on the seafood! Bring on the sights! Bring on clothes that aren’t meant for hiking!

The lodging: We scored a sweet VRBO with the view below and direct access to Pike Place Market. It included free parking and owners that sent the most helpful guide to the condo and the area. They even let us check in early!


The food: We took full advantage of the Market and our proximity to Belltown in order to enjoy some delicious food. On our first day we popped into Beecher’s for cheese and Piroshky Piroshky just because the smell was enchanting (we walked out with breakfast rolls.) We also grabbed lunch at Three Girls Bakery. (Get the reuben.) For our last night, we grabbed fresh seafood to grill and enjoyed a lovely dinner at the condo.



List: We also enjoyed a few restaurants outside the Market. Aaron found List and we took full advantage of their happy hour menu – ordering 5 plates of food and a bottle of wine for just $50. (Dear St. Louis – Please take a note from Seattle, because your happy hours blow.) Everything was outstanding. The spicy meatballs were actually really spicy! The grilled romaine salad was perfect and the lemon arugula salad is going into permanent rotation at our house.

Bathtub Gin: We met a college friend for drinks at Bathtub Gin (his suggestion) and loved the ambiance!


The sights:
Chihuly Garden and Glass: We’ve been lovers of Chihuly since his exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Gardens so we strolled around his gorgeous museum for a few hours.

The Original Starbucks: We couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market and buy mugs that you can ONLY GET at the original Starbucks. Clearly, we are huge nerds.


Boeing tour: Aaron is a fan of all things air and space travel so our original plan was to visit the Museum of Flight in Seattle. But when we discovered that Boeing offered tours at their plant north of Seattle, I gave him the choice and he opted for the Boeing tour. I have zero pictures of this place because they literally make you lock your purse and cell phones in a locker before taking the tour. I’m not huge into science, but this was pretty cool! You get to go in the biggest building in the world (by volume) and see lots of planes being assembled. It was totally worth the admission price and short drive from downtown.

After that we headed back to the Lou, picked up a very excited Dane from my parents house and spent the weekend recouping and starting to think about work/renovations. (Note to self: Always come home on a Thursday and take the Friday off.)

So that was our summer vacation. Did you head anywhere exciting or new this summer? I will admit that while hiking in Rainier we were already discussing our next trip. (Is that like cheating on your current vacation?) Our 10 year anniversary is next year and we’re totally up in the air on where to celebrate. Thoughts? Suggestions?


Portland and Mt Rainier

(No projects this week. Just a jealousy inducing recap of our Pacific Northwest trip. Check out our picks for Willamette Valley.)

After doing a bit of research for our trip, we scaled back our Portland time. I knew we could eat in this city for two weeks straight, but I was worried we would get bored and all “what do I do with my hands” if we stayed longer than that. So we popped into this quirky town for just two days.

The plan: Eat as much amazing food as possible and enjoy some luxury accommodations before heading into the wilderness.

The lodging: We scored a room at The Nines using Amex points (yay!) and would highly recommend it. The staff is amazing, and the location put us in easy walking distance of food carts, great restaurants and awesome shopping.


The food: We packed as much food into our Portland time as possible. Honestly, we didn’t have a bad meal. Here were some of the stand outs.

Tasty and Sons: We actually stopped on our drive from Seattle to McMinnville just to add another famous Portland brunch spot to our trip. Tasty and Sons is widely acclaimed and rightfully so. Breakfast Tapas may be my new obsession. We ordered WAY too much food. My favorite was the breakfast board, which had little bites of everything you could want at breakfast: tart cheese, berries, bread, bacon, a 6-minute egg, duck pate and jerky (the jerky seemed odd, but it totally worked.)

Drinks at Urban Farmer: This might be the coolest hotel bar (it was in the lobby of The Nines) I’ve ever seen. We took full advantage of the happy hour specials before heading out to dinner.


Lardo: The sandwiches here are top notch, but what stood out the most was the awesome kale salad.

Picnic House: Picnic House made our roster when we decided that walking to dinner was much better than pulling the car out. Yelp reviews guided us to this hip, delicious spot. We opted to share a few small plates and fell in love with with butter lettuce salad, which was like their take on a cobb, but with bacon bits the size of croutons. The charcuterie plate was the biggest we’ve ever seen and we could have made a meal out of just that and the salad.


Sweedeedee: Sweedeedee is THE brunch spot in Portland and I can see why. The food was amazing. The dishes sound deceptively simple, but they pack in the flavor.

Food carts: It seemed hard to go wrong at the food carts (we hit up the pod at 9th and Alder a few times.) I did some due diligence and decided months before the trip that I had to get the chicken and rice from Nong’s Khao Man Gai. This dish gets raves throughout the interwebs and I’m happy to count myself among the legion of fans. The dish is perfect. Fluffy rice, succulent chicken, flavorful broth. I would eat this again and again.


What else: We did a little shopping in Portland. I basically want to live at Powell’s Books. We snagged a hefty photo book of one of Aaron’s favorite photographers as a souvenir. We also stumbled across a cute hat store and Aaron scored three new ones for his collection. Hat stores (especially of the male variety) are basically non-existent in the Midwest so this was a happy discovery. Thanks to Instagram, I realized our friends Derren and Lisa happened to be in Portland at the same time so we spent a few hours catching up with them. It was a nice surprise addition to our trip!

Mt. Rainier
Our original plan for the trip was to hang in Portland and do some hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. But we both got really distracted with the idea of Mt Rainier after several friends extolled its virtues. We carved out 2 1/2 days to explore the park, and it did not disappoint.

The plan: Hike gorgeous trails and take lots of pictures (NOTE: Once we get the film back, I’ll post those pictures as well. They’re probably much better than these.)


Carter Falls: Our first trek in Mt Rainier was up to Carter Falls. I chose this from the guidebook because it was short and “easy.” I also learned an important lesson about choosing hikes: look at the elevation gain. After crossing through the Nisqually River (below) it was basically up, up, up to a few ok waterfalls. The best part of the hike was definitely the river bed and the peeks of Rainier. If we went back, we’d spend more time ¬†exploring the river bed and eschew the hike to the falls.



Paradise Glacier: On our first full day in the park, we decided to undertake the hike to Paradise Glacier. The guidebook was spot on about the beauty of this hike. Starting from the visitors center we walked through a foggy valley and marveled at ALL THE WILDFLOWERS before ascending into moon-like terrain. Everything was gray and foggy and amazing. It was hard to capture in pictures. Hopefully our shots on film will do it justice.




Not the glacier – just a cool shot of melted snow.


I would disagree with the book on the difficulty and time on this trail. The elevation gain was pretty severe at points (“gentle switchbacks” is a generous description) and we moved slowly on account of the picture taking. By the time we made it back to the car for lunch we were both exhausted and very happy. This was one of the best hikes we’ve ever done. We decided to call it a day and crossed our fingers for non-foggy weather on our last day.

Nisqually Vista: The guidebook totally paid off when it steered us to an easy, 5-star view of Rainier on the Nisqually Vista trail. It’s one we probably wouldn’t have found on our own, but on a clear day it has to be one of the best views in the park. Case in point:





Following the glacier trek, our legs were a bit weary so after the short Nisqually Vista trail, we wanted something easy and relatively flat. We opted for the Lakes Loop. Starting at Reflection lakes we, once again, climbed up, up, up. The fields of wildflowers were pretty, but the entire hike didn’t hold a candle to anything we already viewed. We snapped very few pictures, except for this panorama at a lookout point at Faraway Rock.


Overall Mt. Rainier park is gorgeous. The Sunrise (Northeast) side of the park is already on our “next time” list.

Next up: Olympic National Park and Seattle!

Surprise! We’ve been on vacation

A few weeks ago, I explained our lack of firehouse progress due to the fact that we were recovering from the carport wrap and Aaron was working like mad to finish wedding portfolios. That was mostly true.

The whole truth is that we have been long overdue for a proper vacation (because, firehouse.) Over a year ago we helped Kim and Scott at Yellow Brick Home keep their blog active during their vacation. When a fellow guest blogger detailed the wonders of Portland (a city we’ve always heard good things about) we were sold by the promise of good food and good hiking. We looked up the prime time to visit the Pacific Northwest and opted to book two full weeks in late August. We locked in our airline tickets (thanks American Express rewards points!) and spent the next year researching. Our final itinerary mixed wine tasting, city exploration and lots of hiking/photographing.

In mid-August, we hopped a direct flight (Omg! I’m in love) to Seattle and started a relaxed trek that took us through the Willamette Valley, Portland, Mt. Rainier, Olympic National Park and Seattle. While we get back into the work groove (on all fronts… painting is progressing in the stairwell), I’m dedicating this week to a vacation recap with so so iPhone pictures. We are anxiously awaiting our film to be processed so we can start picking out some art for the living room.


Willamette Valley
Wine collecting is a huge hobby of ours. If you’ve seen our basement you know we have an extensive collection that is just awaiting a proper wine cellar. Ergo wine tasting in the Willamette Valley seemed like the perfect way to unwind and kick off our vacation.

The plan: Taste and take home some awesome pinot noir (which the region is known for)

The lodging: For most of the trip, we stayed in vacation rentals, which feel a bit more comfy to us. We like having the option to cook (or at least make snacks) and would rather curl up on a couch than a hotel bed (because if I’m horizontal I’m very likely to fall asleep. I’ve very good at sleeping.) We booked this bungalow, which had it’s pros and cons. It was a great location with easy access to wineries and walking distance to McMinnville’s uber cute downtown. We also liked that it had a washer and dryer. The downside is that the kitchen looked great, but didn’t have a lot of the necessary tools to really cook. Because it was the start of our vacation we had limited plans to cook, so it didn’t cause a huge problem.


The highlights:
Rather than give you an extensive rundown (like I did following our trip to Napa on my in hiatus food blog), I wanted to focus on this highlights of this wine area. Here are the wineries we enjoyed the most (and the ones I would send you to if you asked for my opinion.)

Brick House Vineyards – Brick House kept coming up in my research so I finally caved and made a reservation. We enjoyed a lovely, private tasting in the barrel room. This small producer has a gorgeous plot of land and they make excellent wine.

Beaux Freres – A reservation is required. Make one. They have delicious wine and major street cred. When we were asked what wineries we were visiting a mention of Beaux Freres always induced an “Oh, these people know what they’re doing” reaction.

Chehalm – Situated at the north end of wine country, Chehalm was positioned as a great first stop for our wine country tour. Their tasting room is intimate and manned by very friendly folks. There was zero pretension and good wine. We took home a few delicious whites.


Eyrie Vineyards – Eyrie had a lot of good wines, including some pinot noir that we plan to cellar for a few years. But the biggest surprise was a light and fruity pinot gris that was a steal at $16.50 a bottle.

Trisaetum – They have a great portfolio and gorgeous tasting room. We were particularly impressed with the French style rose.

Seufert Winery – We came to Seufert as the last stop of the last day of our time in Willamette. Truthfully, we were a little worn out. We spent the morning visiting some large scale producers that left a bad taste in our mouth (in every sense of the phrase.) We were tired of wine that was clearly too young and clearly overpriced. A “meh” lunch in Dundee didn’t help our mood. We agreed to make one more stop, and I picked Seufert because it was out of the way compared to the other places we had been. Unlike the other wineries on my list, I had zero notes about this place. I’m not sure where I found it, but I’m so glad I did.

We walked into a release party for wine club members and were instantly invited to partake. The winemaker was grilling up small bites to accompany the new wine releases. We were basically treated to a delicious, fresh (second) lunch and an extensive tasting of delicious, aged pinot noir. We spent two hours there and basically fell in love. The food was amazing. The staff was super friendly. And the wine was exactly what we had been looking for – better, even, because of the price. It was the perfect way to end this part of the trip.


The food: McMinnville has some seriously delicious dining. Thanks to Yelp and some local recommendations we enjoyed bites at Community Plate (the tuna melt was so, so good), La Rambla (fantastic happy hour), and Thai Country Restaurant. Our favorite, even though it was all good, was Crescent Cafe, which serves up made-from-scratch breakfast and is SO, SO worth the wait. Their elevated, but still home-style breakfast food was amazing.


Next stop: Portland and hiking around Mt. Rainier. Then on to Olympic National Park and Seattle.