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Exploring: Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington

Welcome! For future readers, I’ll go ahead and offer a reminder that 2020 and 2021 have been challenging years. As of this writing, in 2021, many of us in the USA (but not enough) have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. There’s been way too much posturing from politicians, and for many, our personal routines remain stymied. For Janine and me, one thing that’s gone missing is our summertime, restorative escape from L.A. Often, those trips mean visiting other countries, so we’ve gotten really eager to get out and just go somewhere… but let’s not do anything too crazy too soon.

For a while now, Oregon and Washington have been on our list of curiosities so, earlier this year, we started considering a weeklong trip to Portland and Seattle. As COVID infection rates were declining and vaccination rates were rising, we started getting into the specifics: fly into Seattle and explore, rent a car, drive to Portland, explore, check out the Willamette Valley wine region, tour the Spruce Goose in McMinnville (purely my interest only), then fly back home. Considering some of the rental car agencies sold off a portion of their fleets last year during lockdown, in current times, renting a car for 3 days and returning it in another state would have cost $1,200. Nope! Instead, renting in Seattle and returning it to the same place would be a few hundred bucks, so we started planning with that in mind.

One destination on my long, long bucket list has been the Hoh Rain Forest, near Washington’s west coast, so that was a consideration when trying to figure out what the heck we were going to do. Ultimately, this is the plan we came up with: fly into Seattle, rent a car, drive west and check out the rain forest, drive back to Seattle, check out the Woodinville wine country nearby, return the car, explore Seattle, then head home. The travel journal follows...


Table Of Contents:


Day 0 (JUNE 20): TRAVEL


Before we can even begin, vacation is off to a rough start. We just got word this morning our afternoon flight from Burbank has been canceled and rescheduled for tomorrow. We’ve been itching for a getaway, so of course it is! Somehow, traveling from our preferred, local airport never seems to come without any complications. Beyond the canceled flight, we have a nonrefundable hotel room for tonight because, let’s face it, paying extra “just in case” is almost never worth it.

By the time we reach someone from the airline’s Customer Service team, any remaining seats today out of Burbank have been snatched up. We jointly look up flights at other airports. The agent on the phone says “No, sorry, we don’t have any seats available in your area until tomorrow morning.” Well, well, well: Janine just found us two seats in our area, on a flight out of LAX tonight. Those are our tickets out of here, so we hightail it to L.A. International.

The rideshare to LAX ends up costing double what it would have been getting to BUR, but it’s still better than not having an unused hotel room at our destination. At the airport, yup, the screening process is still confusing. Do I still need to remove my belt? Yes. Did I fully empty my pockets? I think…. oh yeah, there’s a cotton mask in my back pocket. Is that going to be a problem? We’ll see… Oops, my baggie with liquids is still in my backpack. Can’t do anything about it now… I’m told I need to put my tablet and shoes in separate bins. That wasn’t the case last time. Do we still need to take off our shoes? Yes. Fortunately, the attempted “Underwear Bomber” didn’t have the same affect on travel the attempted “Shoe Bomber” did.

The Los Angeles to Seattle flight takes a few hours. It’s uneventful, except a few snow-capped volcanos along the way look really amazing under the moonlight.

The shuttle from SeaTac Airport (a portmanteau of Seattle and Tacoma, I just found out) to the hotel takes a quick 5 minutes. The hotel is fine, except for the flattened cockroach near the bed. It almost blends in with the dark carpet, so maybe the cleaning crew didn’t see it… or maybe they smashed it and forgot to pick up the remains… Whatever the case, at least it’s definitely dead.


Day 1 (JUNE 21): Western Washington Drive, Aberdeen, Rainforest Hike


After the basic, included breakfast, we hail a ride to Boeing Field airport, in order to pick up the rental car. The trip is about 10 miles and costs us $34. Along the way, I can’t help but wonder how reliable these personal vehicles are; this car and the one that took us to the airport yesterday both showed “Maintenance Required” next to the speedometer.

Renting a car sure has changed over the years. Checking in basically went like this: “Do you want extra insurance? No, you don’t, okay. Do you want to fill up the tank, or do you want us to take care of it? Yes, you do, okay. Here’s the key. Have a good trip. Goodbye.” Yet the experience still somehow takes 20 minutes.

We load up our scratch-and-dent Kia and start the drive to western Washington, which should take a few hours. Just out of the parking lot, I see The Museum of Flight on the other side of the airport. From here, a legendary Concorde jet and a propeller-era Super Constellation airliner are visible. If you saw “The Aviator,” you might recall Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) was credited with influencing the design of that latter plane and ordered a fleet of them. Today, just two Constellations remain airworthy. It crosses my mind to try the ol’ “too much coffee, there has to be a bathroom over there” line, but neither of us want to make the car ride much longer than it needs to be.

Along the way, and about two hours into the road trip, we do make a couple planned stops. First up, for my photo library, I get some shots of the “Welcome to Aberdeen” sign, which quotes the Nirvana song “Come As You Are.” Some of you will know all these names already, but the band’s singer/guitarist, Kurt Cobain, and bassist, Krist Novoselic, are from here. After Kurt’s death in 1994, their drummer, Dave Grohl, went to on to form Foo Fighters and is now one of those rare people that have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

Welcome to Aberdeen, Come As You Are sign in Washington state - photo by KilmerMedia

After the Aberdeen sign, we stop by Cobains’s childhood home. It’s definitely modest, just as everything seems to be in this old, small city built around the lumber industry. A park just down the street was dedicated to the singer, but we skip it. We’re ready to get this drive finished up.

So far, the relatively light traffic in this area is wonderful. Living in L.A., I don’t recommend that particular city to anyone… and if you do live there, I would like you to at least entertain the idea of finding a place more like this. More evergreens, less traffic, and “good” air quality (compared to “moderate” or worse we are accustomed to) are great for the psyche. As the COVID-19 pandemic started worsening last year, Janine and I seriously considered moving to a less-urban location… a place with more rain and more trees, a few thousand miles away from SoCal. That area is cleaner, cheaper, and projected to resist the major effects of climate change for longer. We’ll tell you all about it once we buy a B&B one day, since we’re staying put for now. My work became remote last year, but a recent promotion means I will need to visit the office a time or two every week. Relocating would have really, really complicated things but seriously, thank God we’ve made it this far.

As we reach our destination – the community of Amanda Park – I’m thinking about how our plan for Washington’s west coast really isn’t much of a plan at all. As mentioned, Hoh Rain Forest is on this side of the state, but the Quinault Rain Forest is literally 2 miles away. Our inn is right next to glacier-fed Lake Quinault, so maybe, just maybe, we’ll take a dip in the frigid water. Also, it’s just so hard to stay still these days, so maybe not having much of a plan should be the plan.

We drop off the luggage in our room, then head to the rainforest. The main trail is a loop and a little less than a mile. It’s beautiful and lush and not so different from some of the hikes in Hawaii (especially Kauai). This place might be magical on a misty day, when the path is a little muddy and the words “rain” and “forest” are deserving of each other. As for today, it’s the second day of summer, and whew, it’s sure feeling like it.

This trail system is confusing. After the loop, we walk part of the same path again, to reach another trailhead we passed earlier. That takes us close to Lake Quinault. All is fine until the dirt path ends at a narrow, paved road going through the campground area. A map posted nearby seems to indicate the road is part of the trail, but is it a “trail” if it’s paved? Whether we missed a parallel path or not, we only wanted to do a short hike for now, so we simply backtrack from here.

Back in the car, we drive northeast, along the southern part of the lake, and stop at a beautiful waterfall. It’s soothing, and a crowd soon joins us, so we move along. Further up the road, the pavement gives way to gravel, so it’s time to turn around.

For dinner, we go into “town” (Amanda Park has a gas station, two restaurants, and a general store) and order pizza and beer. It’s still hot out, and hot inside the restaurant, despite all the fans running at full-speed. We sit next to an open window, and the breeze blowing in offers no relief. The cold pitcher of beer helps, although the pizza tastes like it’s from a skating rink.

I pass some time by watching a long, winged ant walking back and forth along the window sill just to my left. Suddenly, the ant sheds a wing, which catches the breeze and lands on my hand. Nasty! I shake it off, scoot a little further from the window, and the ant sheds its other wing. What an odd sight.

Two men in their 50s or 60s sit nearby. One is at a table in the middle of the room, and the other is at the bar. Since they’re 15 feet apart, we can hear everything they’re saying. The men are farmers by day and one is, evidently, a self-trained epidemiologist by night. Just like it does so often these days, the conversation shifts to politics and vaccinations. The man at the table reveals he hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 and has no plans to do so, ever. Further, he complains about some looks he got recently when he was somewhere and chose to not wear a mask. His conviction seems to have fizzled out by the time he wonders aloud, after “Already having gotten so many vaccines throughout my life, why do I need another one?” The farmer seated at the bar, with his chin resting on his fist, turns to look at the man at the table, offers an uninspired shrug and a quiet “I don’t know.”

After dinner, we decide to wind down the night by the campfire in front of the inn. The only other people we’ve seen coming and going during the day are the same two people sitting by the fire right now. We get settled in and strike up a conversation with Jeremy and Taylor from Tennessee.

The time flies by as we knock back some beers and wine. We talk about our respective travel plans, and the couple convinces us to drive further up the peninsula and around Olympic National Park, then back to Seattle, rather than backtracking. The change would tack on at least another couple hours to the drive tomorrow, but this is vacation and we have no urgent plans, so why not?

Eventually, the fire is about out and so is the wood supply. It’s getting late so we say our goodbyes for the night and stumble back to the room.


Day 2 (June 22): Sick But Can't Miss The Sights, Car Ferry, Seattle Rush Hour


Uh-oh. This isn’t good. I’m burning up, and my skin looks ashen. I feel awful. We have to check out this morning, but I’d be better off staying in bed… and that’s not an option. I sip some water and nibble on a granola bar. Not feeling well has turned into being physically sick. I take a short nap while Janine walks up the hill and brings us back some fresh breakfast. I would love to eat the biscuits and gravy, but my body isn’t accepting any food at the moment.

We slowly pack and load up the car, then pick up some Gatorade for the road. So far, so good… until about 20 minutes into the trip. I’m feeling awful again, so Janine pulls over. The Gatorade didn’t stay down long. I. AM. MISERABLE.

I take a couple power naps and, in between, keep trying to replenish my fluids. A little bit of water, a little bit of Gatorade, repeat, then back to sleep….

Ruby Beach is one of those recommended spots along the coast, and I wake up again when we start bouncing along the gravel road that leads to the parking lot. Ohhh boy, I can see the beach down below, so that means some hiking is ahead. We get out, head to the trailhead and see a few people huffing and puffing their way back up to the parking lot. The way this morning has started out, I’m probably going to be struggling on this hike.

Ruby Beach along the west coast of Washington state, USA during the morning - photo by KilmerMedia

On the way down to the beach, I actually feel pretty good – tired but without at all feeling like I was physically ill a mere 30 minutes ago. So far, so good!

We’ve seen a lot of beaches in our time, and this one is unique. The shoreline is thick with gray and bluish river rocks, partly obstructed with driftwood and lined with a tall, even stand of evergreens that runs parallel to the ocean. There’s a mist in the cool air this morning, and the chill is rejuvenating. Photos don’t capture the beauty and serenity of this place.

Ruby Beach along the Washington state coastline during a foggy morning - photo by KilmerMedia

Back up the trail, I’m actually still feeling fine. We continue the drive and soon pass through the town of Forks, which is where the “Twilight” movies were based. Bella’s (the main character, played by Kristen Stewart) truck is permanently parked outside the small visitor’s center. Further into town, we see a large sign saying “No vampires beyond this point.” The last movie came out nearly a decade ago, and the franchise seems to still bring in a lot of business here.

Up next is Rialto Beach. We don’t know much about it, other than the “you really shouldn’t miss it” review we heard around the campfire last night. The overflow, gravel parking lot is located between a river and the beach. The river seems like a prime spot to see an American bald eagle swooping down to catch a fish, but there isn't a bird in sight. An otter peeks out of the water, but seeing such a bald eagle continues to be an unfulfilled item on my bucket list.

Turning around, we head towards the sound of the crashing waves. In front of us is a jungle of white, dead, ghostly-looking driftwood, so we carefully hike up and over the thick logs. Like before, this beach is also made up predominately of grayish-blue river rocks, with orange specs occasionally mixed in. Closer inspection reveals that pop of color to be bits and pieces of crabs that met their ultimate demise here.

Some very brave people are out in the frigid water. It’s worth noting, too, that rip currents are common here, so beware, in case you ever find yourself wanting to take a dip along the Washington coast.

Further down the beach, next to the main parking lot, we spot an opening between the driftwood. We head to the car and continue our journey. The next stop is the small city of Port Angeles.

Along the way, we drive next to Lake Crescent. The sparkling water looks incredibly beautiful and inviting and brings to mind our drive along Loch Ness a few years ago. I’m definitely making a note of this place, since I wish we had time to check it out.

Approaching Port Angeles, I’m mesmerized by the glacier-capped mountain to the right, which is part of Olympic National Park. We make a left, which reveals, like my Ohio hometown, two-story brick buildings that were probably symbolic of a robust local economy a century ago.

For lunch, we pick a Vietnamese restaurant. There isn’t much to say here – the service was really lousy, my lemongrass chicken was damn good, and Janine’s soup (pho) was pretty standard.

I would love to walk around town, but the theme continues: it feels like we have somewhere to be. Our drive to Seattle will take another couple hours, and that includes a car ferry near the halfway point.

Moving along, moving along…. We drive onto the car ferry, and these things always intrigue me. I can’t imagine how much the insurance must cost to transport cars and trucks over the water, and I first had that thought when Janine and I visited Put-in-Bay in Lake Erie back in 2008. I had the same thought in Ireland, too. This boat is even larger than both of those, and it’s an interesting place to walk around during the half-hour trip from Kingston to Edmonds. The deck offers an amazing view of Seattle off in the distance, with Mt. Rainier looming large in the background.

We arrive in Seattle during rush hour. The navigation app has us taking a route that no human would ever devise, but we try to trust that the tech will shave off a couple minutes along these surface streets.

Finding dinner has become a frustrating endeavor. With reduced capacity and reduced hours, there aren’t a whole lot of options available to us at 8 PM. We settle for a sports bar nearby. There’s a special today, so the 15 boneless wings turns into an order of 30. We wait and wait, finally collect the food, then head back to our hotel room.

We open up the 5 boxes, and every single wing is traditional! What the heck? Janine calls the restaurant and talks to the manager, who says “That’s weird. We are completely out of traditional wings, so I don’t know how you even ended up with any!” They are remaking our order and, since these would just go in the trash otherwise, we keep the 30 traditional wings…. SO, the 15 wings we originally wanted has turned into 60 wings! I have a feeling I’m going to end up eating spicy wings for breakfast for a few days.


Day 3 (June 23): Woodinville Wines, Jimi Hendrix, Fremont Troll


Today is our last day with the rental car, so the main objective is to sample some of the prized wines in Woodinville. That city, located about a 20 mi (32 km) drive northeast from Seattle, is home to somewhere between 118-180 wineries. I have no idea why the tally spans such a large range, but the point is, there’s a ton of options. However, considering the current capacity restrictions, we made what reservations we could ahead of time.

Before we get to the fermented grapes, we first navigate south to Renton, to see the Jimi Hendrix memorial and gravesite. When the opportunity presents itself, I can’t help but pay tribute to the dead rock stars I’ve listened to a million times.

Turning into the cemetery, the large memorial is straight ahead. It’s a beautiful design and, as we take a look from all sides, another car pulls up. I chat with the two men who are here for the same sight, and it turns out they’re from Michigan. Since Janine and I are originally from Ohio, the conversation quickly turns to sports and one of the biggest football rivalries – the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines. I apparently struck a nerve, since the man doing most of the talking passionately explains all the reasons Michigan’s coach, Jim Harbaugh, needs to be fired. Among them is that the Buckeyes have won the last 8 times the teams have played each other. May the streak continue – #GoBucks!

Jimi Hendrix memorial and grave site in Renton, Washington - photo by KilmerMedia

We say “goodbye” to Jimi and head north to start the wine trek. We couldn’t get a reservation at Chateau Ste. Michelle and decide to test our luck. The tasting room just opened for the day, so we walk though the well-manicured grounds, speed past some people who probably also don't have reservations, and inquire inside (once we finally figure out which building has regular tastings). We get seated right away.

I’m glad we can safely and responsibly get out and live our lives now, but I’m certainly looking forward to the day we no longer have to consider things like “Since we’re inside, should we take off our masks, now that we have glasses of water? I’m not drinking the water yet, so maybe I keep the mask on for now. How about when the waitress/sommelier comes by?" Being practical and considerate requires a delicate dance sometimes.

We opt for two separate wine flights – Janine gets the standard one, and mine is from the partnership with Seattle’s new hockey team, the Kraken, because “Why not?” They probably make a lot of sales that way, just because it’s something different…. but none of the 4 wines turn out to be enjoyable. On the other hand, 2 of the 4 from Janine’s flight are phenomenal. In fact, we are having some bottles shipped home, and that’s something we’ve never done before, despite having visited soooo many wineries over the years.

The service is really fantastic. Beyond the standard lists, we always seem to find other wines to ask about and often end up trying things that are off-menu. In the gift shop area, we spot a bottle of port and ask if there’s any already open that we can try. There isn’t, so they open a bottle for us and pour a couple samples. It’s realllllly good. Send that home, too!

Asked if we have any questions, we sure do and end up sampling a few more wines. Our tally to ship home quickly turns into four bottles, plus some Bellini jam. We didn’t get to try the latter, but we’re willing to take our chances.

Our first actual reservation of the day is in about 10 minutes, at the Airfield Estates Winery tasting room. We zip that way and apparently drive too far. We do a U-turn somewhere along on a country road and backtrack to…. a strip mall? Oh, I see – almost every single storefront here is a tasting room. That’s…. unusual, and finding a parking spot is a challenge.

Right off the bat, the service is slow, and our host apologizes for being understaffed. We casually work our way through the tasting flight, and nothing really stands out. I find one varietal intriguing, because it’s aged in concrete. That sort of practice goes way back, with ancient winemakers using vats carved into stone outcrops (AKA “palmento”) to crush and store grapes during fermentation.

The sunshine and booze are sapping my energy so, to recharge, we ask the Airfield staff for a lunch recommendation. The consensus from these locals is Hollywood Tavern, located right next to another place we wanted to try, Woodinville Distillery. Even though I’m not driving, at this rate, I think a whiskey flight is off the table. I really don’t want a repeat of the other day. Burgers and fries for lunch it is…. and fried pickles.

On the way back to Seattle, we visit the Fremont Troll. We had plotted out the best way to get here from downtown, using public transit, but since we still have the car, this is really the easiest way. As for the troll, it’s become an iconic sculpture, made of concrete, rebar, and wire, standing (or crouching, rather) at 18 ft. (5.5 m) tall.

The spot is packed, with a few families chewing up everyone’s time by climbing up the sculpture (which is allowed), getting organized, posing, taking turns with the camera, etc. Groups that can’t quickly get organized, take the photo, then move on are THE WORST. What’s funny, though, is that whenever I get out my big camera, someone always asks me to take a photo. I snap a few pics for a young couple, then an older woman that’s been hanging around nearby shyly asks if I would mind taking her photo. Of course that’s fine and is sometimes fun. It’s just the big, slow-moving families that need to #GTFO.

After the troll, we head to another spot that just makes more sense while we have the car – Kerry Park, which offers one of the best views of downtown. The neighborhood park is crowded, and parking on the street is limited, but wow! What a view it is. The Space Needle appears front and center, and that’s what makes this perspective special, since that iconic landmark isn’t really situated among the skyscrapers downtown. We have apparently been lucky, as well, that Mt. Rainier (some 40ish miles away) looks so clear. Someone told us that, when she moved to Seattle years ago, it was during May and she didn’t see the massive stratovolcano for 6 months. By “massive,” I mean it – this thing has the 3rd tallest peak of any free-standing mountain the U.S. (behind Denali in Alaska and Mauna Kea in Hawaii), with a summit of 14,411 ft (4,932 m).

Downtown Seattle view with Mt. Rainier in the distance during the afternoon - photo by KilmerMedia

While taking in this view, Janine finds it to be really familiar. A quick search on her phone reveals her hunch is correct: it’s been featured in Grey’s Anatomy, and Meredith Grey’s (played by Ellen Pompeo) house is literally a block away. We walk over to check it out, and a few women are taking selfies. “Meredith’s house?” Janine asks. They chuckle and say “Yeah, this is it,” and we take some pics of our own. The 4 bed, 2.5 bathroom house is currently estimated to be worth around $2 million. That’s hefty. I wonder if a doctor owns it.

The time has come to return the car. It’s after-hours, so we drop the key in the drop box, then rideshare back to the hotel. The hour is getting late, so we pick a place with plenty of seafood options and head that way. The wait is about 45 minutes. We put in our name, then look around for other options, but the only place we see still open (in the 8 PM hour) is a cantina. We aren’t exactly curious about the Mexican food scene in Seattle, so we practice patience and wait for our table.

When the time comes, Janine orders fish and chips, and I order salmon chowder. Wow, I’ve never had anything quite like this before! It’s a generous portion, with big chunks of salmon on top, plus mushrooms, Fresno chiles, and even thick bacon cubes (AKA lardon), all atop a hidden piece of sourdough. After overindulging on this amazing dinner, I waddle out of the place, and we head back to the hotel and call it a night.


Day 4 (June 24): Downtown, Space Needle, Chihuly Glass


Today is our first full day in the city. To save time in the long run, we have made reservations for as many places as feasible, starting out with the Space Needle this morning.

This is one of those things some people are iffy about, wondering why you would be interested in a view that doesn’t include the primary landmark, because you’re in it. I can now tell you why…

As mentioned earlier, the Space Needle is set away from the cluster of buildings downtown. That provides a great, unobstructed view of the skyscrapers, the nearby bay, seaplanes taking off from Lake Union, and Mt. Rainier in the distance (on clear days). Some people prefer the view from the Columbia Center’s observation deck, which is the highest public viewing area west of the Mississippi River, at 902 ft (274 m). However, viewing hours are currently on Saturdays and Sundays only, and we don’t have any spare time in Seattle on either of those days. Also, there are bundle deals that make the Space Needle experience cheaper, and that’s the approach we took.

The elevator whisks you up to the top in 41 seconds. Stepping out, you’re rewarded with an open-air, gusty, 360 degree view. It’s spectacular. After a few laps around the perimeter, we head inside and down the steps to the level below, which features a rotating glass floor.

Stepping onto the clear floor is nerve-racking, as you look down 500 ft (152 m). The people below look like ants from this height, and the experience is made even more thrilling by the discovery that some glass panes creak as you walk across them.

This death-defying achievement has left us hungry and thirsty, so we both order a drink from the beer and wine bar at the top of the Space Needle and buy a cup of Rainier cherries at probably an 800% markup.

In search of actual sustenance, we descend from the saucer in the sky and head to a nearby cafe/dive bar, recommended to us as a spot locals enjoy (all will be revealed in the upcoming Seattle Travel Guide.)

While waiting for some seats to open up, a homeless man walks up to an outdoor table that hasn’t yet been cleared. He grabs two handfuls of leftover hash browns and shuffles away. The host emerges, and he’s pissed. “Never do that again!” he calls out, and practicing good, professional etiquette in front of waiting customers, after a pause, he tacks on "...please.” As the homeless man shuffles past us, he mumbles, if mostly to himself, “You would have just thrown this all away.”

Now, the host asks who’s next in line. I’m thinking we are, since we’ve been standing closer to the “wait here” sign than anyone else. One of two Middle Eastern men quickly pipes up “We are next.” Janine says “I thought we were, but whatever.” The host takes our names, and tells us all it’ll be about 10-15 minutes.

Sal and his buddy walk away and have a seat by the fountain in the plaza. As Janine and I step aside, so other people can put in their names, the host tells us, regarding Sal, “That guy just straight up lied to me. I saw him get off the bus while you two were standing here. I’m moving you guys to the top of the list, and I hope he complains.” To think, I gave that guy the benefit of the doubt because, you know, sometimes you wait and pace around and people end up asking “Where’s the line?” and you say “Oh, it’s actually behind me.” But the confirmation that it wasn’t actually a matter of us/me not paying attention and just not previously noticing the guy serves as a reminder that some people will take advantage of you over really petty shit. It’s like the woman that shortchanged me on Santorini. She had a weird gleam in her eye and, when I walked outside and counted the coins in my hand, it didn’t add up. My takeaway is that people are normally good and helpful, but don’t let your guard down. We literally have serial killers and con artists hiding among the populace. By the way, I’ve got to give a shoutout to the host for being attentive and taking care of us… Thank you!

So, this cafe definitely has a punk-type vibe to it. Random stickers cover the walls and bras hang down from a stuffed moose head high above. As for the food, I can hardly resist a Thanksgiving meal and end up eating turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. It’s so good and so is the bite I have of Janine’s cheesesteak. Although it was fun at the time, the splurge leaves me feeling miserable.

Our next reservation is for a place nearby, the Chihuly Garden, but our time slot isn’t for another couple hours. We walk back to the hotel, take a power nap, then take the light rail line back to the Seattle Center park.

A little background, since I had no idea about this ahead of time: Chihuly Garden and Glass is a museum exhibiting the work of blown glass artist Dale Chihuly. This man’s art is incredible, and featured here are extravagant glass chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling works representative of the sea, depictions of corals, ice, and even a glasshouse (like a greenhouse but glass instead of plants), with blown glass flowers winding overhead.

large blown glass sculpture exhibited in the Chihuly Garden and Glass art museum - photo by KilmerMedia

This exhibit is truly amazing, and don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, where you can take home a small piece of this art for $6,000-9,000 USD.

As the afternoon turns into evening, we make the most of our City Passes by visiting the Space Needle again. The longest day of the year was just a few days ago, so it’ll be a while before the sun sets. We won’t be waiting around that long, but the golden hour view from here is gorgeous.

photo of your author taking a photo from the Space Needle


Day 5 (June 25): Harbor Cruise, Gum Wall, Pike Place, Aquarium


On this morning’s agenda, we have a harbor cruise of Elliott Bay. As long as the boat keeps moving, I should be fine….

We arrive early, and it’s looking like we are the first visitors here. We check in and are told to walk down a very steep ramp, where we’ll board the boat. Ah, judging by the line at the bottom, it now seems like we’re actually among the last people to show up. As the line creeps forward, I fear the seats on the top deck are going to get snatched up and our cruise is going to be spent peering out a window.

The line snakes through the cabin, to the deck outside, then upstairs to the top. Next to those stairs is an overlooked row of 4 seats. Janine whispers “Maybe we should take those.” She claims a pair of seats while I scope out the top deck. There’s nowhere left to sit up there, so we lucked out snagging the chairs outside on the lower deck.

The boat eases away from the dock, and we head north. The skyline view is awesome. We see Coast Guard divers in wetsuits training by jumping off a pier. We glide by the Edgewater Hotel, which is rich in rock & roll history. The Beatles stayed here in ’64, at the height of Beatlemania. A famous photo of the “Fab Four” is of them fishing from their room. Led Zeppelin also did a lot of fishing from the Edgewater, and their recreational antics got them banned from the hotel. As septuagenarians, I wonder if Jimmy Page and Robert Plant would be allowed back in or if the ban is permanent.

We take a look at a Chinese “bulk carrier” ship (it transports grains), then turn around and view the Olympic Mountains to the west. We glide on by the “bedroom community” of Bainbridge Island, then check out some U.S. Navy ships in dry dock. The neatest of the trio is the littoral combat ship, which has a stealthy look. As modern as they seem, some are already scheduled to be decommissioned, just 13 years after the first one was put into service.

This maritime sightseeing adventure wraps up with a close look at some massive cargo ships, which are currently being stacked with shipping containers. I thought our tour boat is large, but that idea has quickly changed, now that we are literally looking up at these giant ships. The one recently stuck in the Suez Canal is even larger than these, the narrator tells us over the sound system, and that scale is hard to even fathom.

Having worked up an appetite and back on terra firma, we grab lunch at a nearby fish bar. The entrees menu is straightforward – fried fish, clams, shrimp, calamari, oysters, scallops, fries, chicken, and chowder. It’s basically fried something-or-other and soup. More fried food really doesn’t sound appetizing, but this stop was plotted out in advance, so we just stick to the plan.

We place our order and, as we wait, the next 5 people in line order the white chowder. Maybe ordering the salmon version was a mistake. I momentarily consider getting back in line, which has only grown longer than it was when we showed up. But nah, I’m not going to bother, and I try to muster up some excitement for this soup no one else has any interest in.

It turns out this soup is emulsified, except for some intact corn kernels in the mix. It’s good, though way less enjoyable than the salmon chowder with the bacon and mushrooms a couple days ago. I’m just not feeling the corn in this blended version, either.

I switch over to Janine’s fish and chips, which she isn’t particularly enjoying. The fish reminds me of Long John Silver’s, which I grew up eating in the Midwest. This version, though, is less flaky and less greasy. Nothing to write home about here... Onward!

We continue exploring by visiting the gum wall… the famous, nasty gum wall. At least it doesn't smell, but there is nothing else I would like to say about it.

Gum Wall of Post Alley in Seattle - photo by KilmerMedia

This spot connects to the famous Pike Place Farmers Market. We don’t see any large fish being tossed around, like you always see on travel shows, but we do walk around and sample a variety of foods. We buy a cookie and a Greek yogurt dessert (more about that in the detailed Seattle Travel Guide), then walk to the aquarium.

First, we see some really cool jellyfish in a lazy river (of sorts) that’s basically a glass archway you walk under. What an awesome design.

jellyfish - photo by KilmerMedia

Next, I go check out some elevated pools people are sticking their hands in. A couple feet below, in the cold, cold water are urchins and sea cucumbers. The purple urchins make me think of small porcupines, except these marine creatures are receptive to touch and curiously hug your fingers with their spines, trying to figure out what you are. Bear in mind not all urchins are the same, and some species in the wild can really mess you up with their spikes.

your author touching a sea urchin at the Seattle Aquarium

Nearby is an octopus tank. A number of people walk around the enclosure, and it seems to be empty. Finally, Janine spots the solitary animal, blending in with its surroundings right next to the glass, fast asleep. I’ve eaten one of these, and the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” made me question if I’ll ever do that again.

Having grown up in the Midwest, Janine and I tend to compare all wildlife attractions to the Cincinnati Zoo and the Newport Aquarium. Those two are frequently found on “Top 10 in the U.S.” lists in their respective categories. Unfortunately for some of the places we visit, our basis for comparison makes an experience like this just average. Don’t get me wrong, though, as there are still really neat things to see: a frogfish blending in almost perfectly with its surroundings, seahorses wrapping their tails around sticks, a fur seal, a pair of harbor seals swimming together, puffins, and lion fish.

After the aquarium, we wander around town. Downtown Seattle is dirty and stinky, just like downtown Los Angeles. I suppose cleanliness is an uphill battle when there are so many people generating so much trash, and here it’s in the dumpsters, next to the dumpsters, in the streets, and on the sidewalks. It’s still not as bad as Naples, Italy, but it’s definitely bad.

The homeless population is always evident but more obvious in the evening. For some reason, at Pike St. and 2nd Ave., there’s a huge crowd that goes halfway down the city block. It literally looks to be a social gathering. Sure, all types of people are homeless, but in L.A., it feels like this particular population generally stays more isolated.

Right next to this gathering is a Target store. We could use more travel supplies and maybe a bottle of wine, so into the store we go…. Only in we DON’T go. It’s 8:40 PM, the sign on the door clearly says it’s open until 9, and it’s already locked. We see an employee inside. When we tug on the door, he looks our way, then quickly acts like he didn’t notice us. Thanks, dude. A few more potential shoppers try the other doors. Those are locked, as well. Considering the store supposedly doesn’t close for another 20 minutes, someone knocks on the glass, and the guy who saw us pretends the windows are as thick and soundproof as those installed at the White House.

A Korean grocery store is nearby and, having previously lived in L.A.’s Koreatown neighborhood, we aren’t expecting we’ll be able to get everything on our short list…. but we do, and the cashier was so much more friendly and helpful than the “I don’t even see or hear you” Target guy.

After all this time and all these meals, Janine STILL hasn’t found crab cakes on any menu. Are we only dreaming that we’re in the Pacific Northwest or what? We ask the hotel concierge for a recommendation, he asks someone else, and they brainstorm together. They look online, make a call, and confirm: “The Crab Pot” has crab cakes.” Awesome! Thanks!

The line there is long, and the woman standing behind us says to her partner what we are merely thinking: “Maybe I can find some drinks nearby, and we can have those while we stand here.” We take a different approach so, upon submitting our name for the waitlist, we head across the street and up the stairs to a brewery. As essentially aperitifs, sampler flights seem to be the way to go, so we each pick out four weird flavors. Just as we finish up the last of these small glasses, we get a text that the table is ready, head back down the street, and get settled in.

To cut to the chase, our waiter kinda seems to like to hang out with us. As he lingers, and following his eyes, I feel like he’s avoiding the family of four across the room, who look like some people I grew up with in the Midwest, circa 1998. In their oversized t-shirts, light blue denim shorts, and socks with sport sandals, they proudly wear their plastic “Crab Pot” bibs, while hastily devouring any and all food set before them. I could ignore their gluttonous enthusiasm, if it weren’t for the big, metal bowl they’ve set on the ground. It rings likes a bell every time they toss pieces of a crustacean’s exoskeleton into it. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! It brings back memories of the county fair.

We’re running out of time to try all the seafood I swore I’d have on this trip, so my meal ends up being a hodgepodge of appetizers: oysters, clam chowder (finally white this time), and prawns cocktail (or let’s call it what it is: shrimp). Janine gets a salad with blackened chicken, and…. drumroll please…. crab cakes! For now, mission accomplished. In all seriousness, though, except for the sideshow distraction across the room, this place was a great recommendation.


Day 6 (June 26): The Hendrix/Woodstock Strat at MoPOP!, The Wrap Up


This is it, the final day of our short trip. We start at the Museum of Pop Culture (AKA MoPOP and formerly known as the Experience Music Project). For this kind of place, limited capacity is great. I imagined a Saturday morning during summer would be a lot busier, but we just about have the place to ourselves.

I’ll skip on ahead to the apex – standing alone next to the 1968 Olympic White Fender Stratocaster used by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. He played the full set on this, including his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” we’ve all heard so many times. I’ve owned many guitars over the years… old, dead wood that resonates in a certain way and, in some cases, whispers a beautiful song through the amplifier. Never, though, have mine had the feeling of such a presence like this particular Strat. It’s a weird and exciting feeling. The guitar is an amazing piece of history and acquiring it reportedly cost nearly $2 million. I'm going to say a quick prayer here: "Dear Lord, while billionaires buy iconic guitars as investments and statement pieces, please help me find continued motivation with the three guitars I have, and please soon allow me to buy a self-sustaining property with a vegetable garden for much less than $2 million. Thank you, and amen."

Seattle, WA / USA - June 26, 2021: The Fender Stratocaster electric guitar used by Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Arts and Music Festival in 1969 is shown up close, on display at the Museum of Pop Culture (AKA MoPop and formerly known as the Experience Music Project.)

Other awesome sights in this museum are an original lightsaber and Luke’s severed hand from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” the Staff of Ra from “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and a once-temporary Nirvana exhibit that turned permanent. It’s pretty awesome, but the Pearl Jam collection leaves a lot to be desired…

The MoPop website does a poor job of promoting the collections, so I went in only really being interested in the Hendrix artifacts and left feeling pleasantly surprised by the variety of what I saw.

Up next is lunch, then the airport. Our hotel is literally about a block from the subway station. The rail system here is on the small side, so getting around is very clear and easy, unlike the time I went about 8 stops in the wrong direction in New York City. The train cars here are clean and empty on this particular Saturday afternoon, except for the guy across the aisle, who is asleep with a half-smoked joint in his hand.

It’s been so good getting to explore a little bit. It was so good starting the trip among the trees, in clean air. It’s been so good eating local seafood and thinking less about the 25,000 barrels of DDT sludge on the ocean floor just off the California coast.

As the wheels touch down in Los Angeles, it’s time to sign off. It’s been a great trip!


The TL;DR Summary As A Music Video:


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Music: "Library After Hours" by Justin Kilmer

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“Exploring: Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington” Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer

(written in 2021)

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