Experiencing Seattle and the Great Northwest
Bob and Terry on Tour 2013, with Kris
Days Three, Four and Five


Terry and I are headed out… to the San Juan Islands for two nights. Kris is lending us her car for the drive, and we have a ferry ride ahead of us. It’s going to be a busy run over forty-eight or so hours from the time we leave Kris until we return (about forty on the island).

But first… some breakfast…

Day Three – Monday, August 19, 2013

We stop into 5 Spot for breakfast with Kris, and this is a fantastic restaurant.

5 Spot is a great diner, and one that never fails to provide a unique experience. Kris explains that the place takes a theme—usually based on something like a city or region—and reinvents itself accordingly. New pictures on the walls. New menu.

On this visit, Tigg embraces the vacation experience and goes with a sundae creation offering toffee whiskey base. Kris goes for gingerbread waffles, which I immediately regret not ordering. But I’m focused on an omelet with hash browns that ends up being outstanding.

We are off pretty quickly following our meal to catch a ferry. The boat running from Anacortes to Friday Harbor that we’re shooting to board leaves at 2pm. We arrive at 1:45pm, drive onto the ferry, and we are barely in seats before the ferry is off on the route that ultimately arrives about an hour later at the dock on the San Juan Island of the San Juan Islands.

During our ride, I’m finding myself fascinated by the currents in the water. I’ve been around boats before… not with an amazing frequency, but I’ve seen several different bodies of water and settings… but the clarity here of where different flows and tides and such are meeting is almost staggering.

We arrive and immediately head over to The Orca Inn, our home during the stay on the island. And, I get treated to something that I would have placed been quite literally next to impossible.

Decades ago… literally decades, as in the 1970s… my parents set out with me to replace the bed in my room, and we moved on to a complete overhaul that involved new furniture. It was part of a set that for me included a bed frame, dresser, desk with a shelf and chair.

As we walk into our room at The Orca Inn, the furniture inside is from that very set. In fact, one pairing of pieces is the desk and chair. It is a striking feeling of nostalgia for me.

We have the rest of the day free. The reservation we have for a charter boat cruise is tomorrow afternoon. So, we decide to drive around the island a bit and get some familiarity with where things are located and the overall size.

Our day on the water is based out of Snug Harbor. So, we plan this excursion to check out the route we’ll need tomorrow, and head off to explore a bit of the areas around Snug Harbor and Roche Harbor.

As we drive around, the map we’re using is showing the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm is going to be virtually in the middle of our journey. It’s on West Valley Road, more or less just outside of Snug Harbor, and we’ve heard some tremendous things about it. We stop in, and it really is a fun place.

We meander around the grounds a bit, see some of the alpacas in their pens, and we’re having some goofy fun. I’ll say it… they’re both fascinating and funny. Plus, it just so happens that no one else is really around, so we get to stop and look at our own pace. Incredibly hard to stop watching them, even though the alpacas are just milling about and doing nothing much special other than being alpacas.

There is a country store on the farm, and it is neat and different. Obviously, it’s alpaca focused… with sweaters and socks and shawls and throws. More or less exactly what you probably would have come up with had I asked. But would you have been prepared for a wide selection of yarns? Ok… maybe… so, how about alpaca fur toys?

We drive a bit around the Snug Harbor section, and feel good about getting back here for our whale watching trip. For now, we find we’re getting hungry, so instead of heading further in an attempt to loop around the entire island, we turn back toward Friday Harbor, which we are finding is the central spot of overall activity on San Juan Island.

I need to hit pause here for a moment. Just called Friday Harbor the center of activity. And I want to expand on that a bit.

As we’ll cover in our travels, there is A LOT on San Juan Island. Heck, given the orcas and charter boats, there is a ton of stuff in the water surrounding this island and even more throughout the San Juan Islands.

Friday Harbor though… if you should ever have the pleasure of visiting, you will likely understand what I am trying to say. The ferry landing… most of the restaurants… a movie theater… bars and entertainment and shopping… Friday Harbor has a bit of everything. It is the center of activity. And yet….

Chances are very good that if you did come to San Juan Island, any of the attractions that brought you here are based in another part of the island.

It’s not an overly big island or that imposing. It’s not difficult to navigate. If you’re here for more than day… if you brought your own car… grab a map, hit the road, and things will begin to connect fairly quickly. (I’m exaggerating when I say this next part, but not by much. There are five major roads on the island. Four that lead you around the edges—sure, again an exaggeration, but take the right, take the next right, take the next right, and when you take the fourth right you’ll have gone around San Juan Island and be back where you started. The exaggerations? There are actually a few offshoot roads in Friday Harbor, as well as some in a other gathering spots. And, there is a road (a combination of West Valley Road and Beaverton Valley Road) that runs across the middle. Plus, it’s not four turns to complete a loop. But with some twists and turns tossed in, this road connects to that, and some of those offshoots become the major streets. It is honestly so straightforward and basic that it will have you doubting yourself because it couldn’t possibly be that straightforward and basic. Ok… we’ve arrived back in Friday Harbor and it’s time for dinner…)

We stop in a place called Rumor Mill to eat. Good food, and evidently the place also features a variety of entertainment. Given our desire to skip around a bit and enjoy different things during a really too short stay on San Juan Island, even with a fun night here we don’t end up returning.

Spring Street is one of the main roads for getting through Friday Harbor. In fact… honestly… if you had never set foot on San Juan Island previously, were getting off the ferry and moved into town, you would identify Spring Street as THE main road. There would be no second choice.

Along this route that I’ve appropriated to work as Main Street Friday Harbor sits the Palace Theater. And it is… well… small and brilliant and… it is a perfect little theater for this perfect little island. You will never mistake it for the gargantuan megascreen gonzogulp concession places the usually offer up first-run films. Here on San Juan Island though, you wouldn’t want to be one.

The Palace Theater is a quiet, relaxed place to catch a movie. It is located on an island filled with friends and neighbors and businesses and tourists that are all looking for quiet and relaxed. It hangs its marque on Spring Street, turns over the titles being shown somewhat frequently, and actually seems to do a very respectable job at balancing its presentations to cater both to island residents and visiting vacationers. (Think about that for a few moments. It’s not an easy trick.)

After a drive from Seattle, a ferry ride, a basic ride around the island and a nice meal, we’re looking for a quiet and relaxing end to the day. We’ve selected Elysium, and it’s… well… it’s ok. Because we went in not knowing what to expect from it, there were some surprises and decent performances, though I don’t think well-balanced-do-not-miss would be a worthy description of it.

We leave the theater and head back to The Orca Inn.

Day Four – Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Last summer, my parents went out to Seattle to visit Kris. Like we are doing now, they made a trip to San Juan Island. And, as we have planned for later today, they headed out on the water with Legacy Charters. It’s our big event for the day… but it’s in the afternoon… and we’ve got some places to see and things to do along the way to Snug Harbor.

The day begins with a drive out to the Cattle Point Lighthouse. The area is a really interesting part of the island, in a section known as the San Juan Island National Historical Park. Turns out to be a fantastic starting point for us. The views are outstanding, and the location is actually a branch and slight bit of a ride outside of that connection of roads I mentioned yesterday.

San Juan Island has some remarkable history. Roughly one-hundred and fifty years ago, the governments of Great Britain and America agreed to jointly occupy the island while some boundary disputes and issues were dealt with. As a result, on opposite sides of the island are locations that are still designated as “English Camp” and “American Camp” areas. Our morning drive here has brought us to the southern end of the island, and near the American Camp.

From here we move a bit closer to the center of the island and visit the Pelindaba Lavender Farm on Hawthorne Lane. In a strange way, it’s much like Krystal Acres and the alpacas yesterday. A unique theme we haven’t encountered over the years, gift store featuring a really great variety of products built on that theme, and grounds surrounding the primary building.

On the way in and out of Pelindaba, we spot an amazing house. The only way to describe it would be to make a comment about Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter world. Striking.

Having visited one lighthouse in the morning, we’ve set off for another. This time, it’s the Lime Kiln Lighthouse, which is located on the western coast of the island. It oversees the Haro Strait, along with looking out toward an interesting twist in the separation between the United States and Canada.

At this point, we’ve arrived at midday hours and begin thinking about lunch. We head back in to Friday Harbor and pull on to Spring Street. We had spotted a place called Haley’s Sports Bar during our travels around, and decide to check it out.

We tried the New England clam chowder and their crab tater tots. For our meals, Terry went with a shrimp and chips platter, and I tried their sriracha chicken bites. Here’s what I can tell you about our meal…

  • The chowder was ok. Nothing spectacular, nothing amazing or even truly memorable, but definitely better than some “New England clam chowder” recipes we’ve had. One thing I can absolutely tell you about New England clam chowders… if you’re not physically in New England, never never NEVER order the dish with expectations of getting anything even remotely resembling a great and authentic New England clam chowder. Just doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes very good. But you really need to keep in mind that you aren’t getting the legendary dish. We knew this… wanted a soup… and were drawn in by the description on the menu of it being their own traditional recipe and the recommendation of our waitress. Again… it was fine.
  • The crab tater tots were the star of the meal. Different and not truly the pure crab cake they describe it as being, with a different take of saucing that really worked.
  • Shrimp and chip platter? Another fine.
  • Sriracha chicken bites? Pretty good. Menu mentions a sriracha coating, and that was where I found the spice in the dish. The sauce was good, but not really hot (which was fine with me).
  • I have a note telling me to let you know that you should order the sweet chili sauce. What I don’t have is a note as to whether I used it on the chicken bites, or, if it was for the tater tots. So… yeah.
After lunch, we begin to head toward Snug Harbor. Legacy Charters is based here, and we have an afternoon excursion booked. (Officially, the group is known as Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching now.) We’re a bit early, and we grab some lemonade and cookies as we sit down to wait for everyone to gather.

We’re hitting the water with Spencer as our captain for the day, along with three other people (including Anne and Sarah Ann).

I’ll spoil the whole thing now… no orcas.

My parents saw what they described as hundreds of them. I know it wasn’t hundreds… and you know it wasn’t hundreds… but… I saw their pictures, and I’m going to pilfer the foundation of an old joke and say it sure looked like they could have walked along the backs, orca to orca, from San Juan Island to the Canadian coast and their feet wouldn’t have been wet when they arrived.

What did we see?

Seagulls. Lots of seagulls. A bald eagle, sea lions, minke whales and porpoises. In passing a rock formation, we were introduced to Steller sea lions, and they are huge.

As some of the fun sightings, we were treated to rhinoceros auklets.

I’m going to be honest with you, our trip on the water was a bit of a mixed bag. I think a portion of the problem resides with my parents… meaning their experience and amazing day really elevated our hopes for seeing some of the orca pods. So, emotionally we felt a letdown when we didn’t see any orcas.

But… Spencer and our companions on the trip were great, and we did enjoy ourselves overall. I would encourage anyone heading to the area not only to get out on the water, but also to contact Legacy.

It’s been an eventful day, especially when you toss in the travel yesterday and a decent two days of go-go-go. We decide to stop in Kings Market to pick up a few items and then head back to our room for the night.

Day Five – Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This was designed to be a fairly quick trip… drive in… whale watching… drive out. And while that obviously isn’t true of what we expected or what we did, as a basic framework it does cover it. Today we’re checking out of The Orca Inn and heading toward the docks to catch the ferry around 11am.

We park our car in line just before 9:30 and head to a general store to grab breakfast sandwiches. After that, it’s on to the Hyak and over to Anacortes. Then, the drive back to Seattle and meeting up with Kris.

San Juan Island was incredible. An amazing time, and it’s mind-boggling to think about the places we saw considering we were really only on the island for about forty hours. It is absolutely one of those places where you can get lost and overwhelmed by how interesting it is and unlike any other place you have ever been. It is beautiful and friendly and paced just right. It feels wonderfully familiar and excitingly new.

Kris has a relaxed sight-seeing approach planned for our evening, and honestly it is a night that can never be repeated. We start things out by heading to Paseo for sandwiches. These sandwiches are the stuff of legend, and turn out to be even more delicious than anyone could describe.

Unfortunately, it is here that the foundation of never repeated is built. About two months after our visit, Paseo closed. There are incredible swirling stories involved in this… from Paseo reopening under new management, and although the new ownership group got the name they didn’t get the recipes, but they hired several former employees and recreated the menu in a way many say is fantastic and possibly even better… to the sons of the original owner opening a restaurant of their own, using their experiences with their father supposedly off to the side and not involved.

If you do some research, you’ll find both places easily enough just by looking for a combination of “Seattle Paseo sandwich” in your favorite search engine. You’ll also see plenty of superlatives for the old start of this sandwich craze as well as both of the current restaurants. But, folks I reached out to say it’s fine but not quite the same, even though the exact reasons might not be easy to describe.

Out next stop is dessert, and that becomes another fantastic treat as we stop at Hot Cakes.

By now we’re getting our feet beneath us as far as the Seattle experience, and a few things about how different the northwest can be are coming in to focus. Part of it started for us with 5 Spot the other morning, and Hot Cakes is continuing it. I really haven’t experienced a quick dessert shop like this elsewhere, where fresh bakery delicacies are mixed in on the menu with cocktails, wines, and items like shakes with whiskey.

Want a fun twist? Terry and I don’t usually drink much, but Kris asks if I think Terry would like a port with her dessert and orders two. As we are paying our tab, the bill for desserts and two ports is more than $20 higher than our full dinner bill at Paseo. So… yeah… that generates some perspective for you, and honestly captures a lot of the Seattle we’re finding. Fun… delicious… different… and wallet breaking when you aren’t expecting it.

From our dinner stops, we begin driving to see a few places of interest. We head toward Fremont and the Waiting for the Interurban statue. Then it’s around a couple of corners, a nice effort to park the car, and over to The Fremont Troll. We even see the Statue of Lenin.

After jumping in and out and in and out of the car repeatedly and getting plenty of pictures, Kris navigates toward an overlook location. Here, we have a gorgeous view of the main Seattle skyline, at sunset, and it is stunning.

One funny thing we notice is the lawns. There aren’t any. At least not grass. In many places it’s all shrubs and plants. Interesting.

We’ve got a lot coming up, but a long day for us is at an end.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com