Wednesday, August 19, 2009

San Juans & more

Another activity-filled weekend has come & gone. The more time I spend in the Pacific Northwest, the more convinced I am that I should live in this general area some time in the future. On Friday afternoon Greg & I took a charter bus service up to Anacortes and then the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We picked up our rental car and dropped off our stuff at Brendan’s house (our gracious host for the night whom I found on Brendan gave us some tips on what to do and where to eat. As it turned out, the San Juan County Fair was in progress so we walked from Brendan’s house to the fairgrounds. We spent the evening observing the locals & livestock and checking out all the exhibitors and noted that the weather felt more like October than August. We got up early Saturday morning and had breakfast in town to fuel up for our whale watching trip with Jim Maya’s Westside Charters. We drove up the west side of the island to Snug Harbor where Jim’s boat was docked. It was a beautiful drive in the morning sunlight and we had nice views of farmland and the coast. Jim proved to be an entertaining host to our group, made up of a couple from Toronto, two women from Florida and Greg & I. Things started out fairly quiet -- there had been no whale sightings at the time we left the dock. But soon enough the calls started coming in and we zipped over to meet up with the orcas of J Pod. We ended up staying with them all morning as they were very active -- spy hopping, jumping, feeding, and generally frolicking in all directions. We also saw a bald eagle, harbor porpoises, and harbor seals. This is my second time to whale watch on a small, private boat (first time was in Icy Strait Point, AK last year) and, compared to the large group tours which I have also done, I highly recommend this more personalized experience. Greg & I spent the early afternoon driving around the north end of the island at Roche Harbor and we stopped at an oyster farm where we shucked and ate fresh European belon and Pacific oysters. Our final island destination was the American Camp, which was established in 1859 when the U.S. and Great Britain jointly occupied the island. It is now a National Park and offers great coastal hiking along with a dose of history. We picked up dinner in Friday Harbor and boarded the ferry back to Anacortes and from there caught the charter bus back to Seattle. All in all it was a great 24 hour getaway! We did not initially have a plan for Sunday other than to sleep in a bit (if you call 8am sleeping in!). But then Greg suggested we check another Man vs. Food restaurant off our list, so we caught a bus up to Green Lake and had breakfast at Beth’s CafĂ©. If you did not happen to see the episode in question on the Travel Channel, Beth’s is famous for being one of the best places in Seattle to nurse a hangover because they offer all you can eat hash browns. But that’s in addition to your choice of a 6 egg or 12 egg omelet! Greg & I wisely opted to split a 6 egg omelet but we did get a second order of hash browns. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was very much informal diner, and despite having to wait 30 minutes for a table, we really enjoyed the experience. Not to mention that Beth’s is ideally located a block from the north end of Green Lake, which has a great walking path around the entire lake -- perfect for burning some calories after a big meal! We did walk the west side of the lake, but then detoured up to Woodland Park Zoo for an afternoon with the animals. It was definitely one of the better zoos I’ve been to, as it has a more open plan with plenty of space for the animals to roam. This also means that visitors often won’t be able to see all the animals as they may be hanging out in an area that’s not visible from the general viewing area. For the most part we got a glimpse of everything we wanted to see with the exception of the tigers, baby snow leopards, and hippos. The weather was absolutely gorgeous -- warm (in the mid-70’s) and clear blue skies. For the first time since we landed in Seattle two weeks ago we were able to see Mt Rainier from the roof deck of our hotel. Not wanting to miss what can be a fleeting opportunity to take pics of the mountain, we used the second voucher from our City Pass (the first was the zoo) and went to the top of the Space Needle for 360° views of the city. As an added bonus, we also enjoyed the most colorful sunset we’ve seen yet. Of course it was back to work at 6am Monday morning, but now that our City Passes are activated (and only good for 9 days), we’ve been spending the late afternoons doing more touristy things. Monday we visited the Seattle Aquarium, which is small compared to some of the other great aquariums I’ve been to like Monterey Bay or the Tennessee Aquarium, but it still had some interesting exhibits and we enjoyed watching the octopus feeding and seeing the harbor seals and otters. Afterwards we sought out an authentic Mexican restaurant below Pike Place Market called El Puerco Lloron. You pick what you want off a handwritten menu on the wall, place your order with the counter staff who prep the food in front of you, and then you take your own tray to your table. The food was delicious and the price was right -- all the entrees were under $9. Yesterday we took the one hour harbor cruise on Argosy Tours’ Spirit of Seattle. But first we enjoyed happy hour at Elliott’s Oyster House, where the price of oysters starts at $0.50 at 3pm and increases by .25 every half hour. And draft beer was only $3! Not to mention we were sitting outside enjoying a view of downtown and the harbor. The cruise was a nice way to see the skyline from the water as well as get an up close look at the shipyard. And Greg was pleased that the boat had a full bar and draft beer was only $5.50. We’ve only got a couple more attractions left on our CityPass which we should be able to knock out in the next two days. The weather continues to be wonderful and is actually getting into the 80’s this week. We’re off to Vancouver & Victoria this weekend, so will update again after that side trip.

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