My PNW Explorations: Looking promising, Port Angeles!

 

Driving over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angeles, the shimmering water and port in the distance. My first impressions? Wow! Clean, wide roads, nice sidewalks, historic buildings, art installations everywhere you look and great views. From what I’d heard from the Port Townsend and Sequim “ambassadors”, I expected to see a smaller version of skid row—homeless people and druggies panhandling on every corner, litter in the streets and on the sidewalks, dilapidated buildings and overt grime, crime and grit. Not so—quite the opposite. In many ways, Port Angeles has more character, art and scenic appeal than either Port Townsend or Sequim. And my taste tests attest to the fact that Port A has much better restaurants too.

 

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Over the course of my PNW adventure, I spent a total of 3 nights in Port Angeles and thoroughly explored the town and its neighborhoods. Yes, eventually, I saw some homeless people. I have no doubt there are “issues”, but every community has issues and more and more have issues of this type. (For the record, Sequim is not immune – recall the panhandler at the Village Marketplace. No doubt they would say he was just on his way to Port Angeles.)

My first stop, and an easy one as its right on the main drag as you come into town, was Sound Bikes & Kayaks, 120 E. Front Street. My last chance for mountain bike rentals before I headed up the coast. I was so relieved when I opened the door and saw plenty of quality mountain bikes to rent. (And they even have an in-store rock climbing wall there too.) The friendly team at Sound Bikes & kayaks gave me the local scoop on the top mountain bike rides and hikes in the area. I shared my encounters with the Port Angeles and Sequim gloom and doomers and they just shrugged their shoulders. (Tourist dollars are hard to come by, especially in the off-season, perhaps that was what it was all about.)

Lodging was easy to find, I just walked across the street and rented a room in the historic Downtown Hotel. Now it was time to grab a bite with a view at Downriggers at the Landing and plan my active adventures.

Its close proximity to Lake Crescent and Hurricane Ridge / Olympic National Park and its gateway position to adventures farther afield made Port Angeles a great basecamp for my PNW explorations coming and going.  Here’s my sampler for ya:

Port Angeles Lodging

Downtown Hotel – great rates, views and old-school charm

Built in 1916 and renovated in 2003 after a fire, the Downtown Hotel has lots of character. This place made me nostalgic for the old hotel from my childhood. (My family was in the hotel and restaurant business in New Hampshire.) The Downtown Hotel is historic, quaint and clean—and full of old-school charm. You can choose from kitchenette suites, apartment suites, private baths or “European style with a shared hallway bathroom. I picked a suite with a view of the harbor. The bed was a bit small for a queen and the wifi was a bit spotty in the room so I had to take my work conference call in the lobby. Other than that, I loved it. The reading material in the lobby was great. They subscribe to the New Yorker, one of my favorite magazines – another feather to put in the artsy / cultural hat of Port Angeles. It’s a cool, centrally located spot within the heart of Port Angeles. I would stay here again and consider it for a long-term stay. The general manager, Tim, is a bit of a vintage bike nut. If you are too, you might ask him to show you his extensive collection. Notes: no pets allowed and no wheelchair access. The entrance staircase leads from street level to the lobby and rooms are on the second and third floors.

The Red Lion Hotel  221 N. Lincoln St.

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The waterfront Red Lion with its Olympic Mountain backdrop

Treat yourself to a great night’s sleep and a spectacular sunrise with a water view room. Extremely comfy bed with a room large enough for a happy dance. (I think it was an ADA room, not sure if they are all like that or If I just got lucky.)

Super 8 by Wyndham, 2104 E 1st St

Clean, comfy, convenient and budget friendly. This place has been renovated recently and is downright decent. Wifi and free breakfast are included. Be sure to pay your respects to the resident feline, Douglas. Drop into the locals’ bar, Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge, next door for a quick bite or nightcap if you’re so inclined. This is where I got the insider tip from locals Kristin and Chef Matt Colony to visit them at First Street Haven for breakfast (see review below).

The Landing & Downriggers

The Landing mall and the restaurant Downriggers is right on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It features spectacular water, city and Olympic Mountain views and and is home to galleries, restaurants, offices, a co-working space, a rowing club and more.  I ate a salmon salad at Downriggers my first night. Perhaps not as good as the view, but  as good or better than Sirens in Port Townsend. Not that it’s a contest or anything, but if you read my previous post, you’ll understand why I’m making all the comparisons.

 

Great Restaurants

Next Door Gastropub—Not to be missed!

The line out the door is a good indication that this is the “go to” spot in Port Angeles for great grub. In general, I avoid meat. Once I caught sight of the burgers here, I caved. Delicious! For those with stronger willpower than mine, there are delectable vegetarian options as well. Whether you’re a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore, you can’t go wrong here. The outdoor seating is limited, but always my happy preference so I’m glad they have some.

 

First Street Haven, Heaven for foodies 107 E 1st St

Had some drinks and great conversation with the chef and a waitress from First Street Haven at Joshua’s Restaurant and Lounge the night before. The chef was from Oceanside, CA – small world. (My home base is next door to Oside, Carlsbad.) They said their establishment had the best breakfast in town. After sampling it, I’m inclined to believe them. Crazy delish cinnamon rolls, banging eggs Benedict, and so on…We even scored some local mushrooms. (No, not that kind, come on now!) Excellent cuisine (Chef Matt Colony) and service (Kristin).  They are at the top of my list for a return trip.

Coffee

BADA NW is gooda 118 W 1st St, Port Angeles, WA 98362

This is one of the coolest coffee shops with a great PNW vibe. It’s up there with Woody’s in Hakone, Japan for great atmosphere and quality coffee. They serve food and beer and wine too. (As did Woody’s, coincidentally.) Bold, Ambitious, Dedicated and Authentic (BADA) is gooda.

 

So Port Angeles, you won me over, 3 days – not only did you not disappoint, you exceeded all expectations. All the locals here I talked to were super friendly and helpful.

Stay tuned for my active adventures in the epic PNW, including Hurricane Ridge, and points beyond.

Pacific Northwest Explorations: Ferry Ride & Road Trip Part 1 Port Townsend & Sequim

Day 1

I’ve been wanting to return to and explore Washington State again ever since I spent a whirlwind week there on the back of boyfriend’s motorcycle nearly two decades ago. I recall that it rained nearly every day and was quite chilly, but somehow that didn’t dampen my spirits or my impression of the area. My boyfriend, a New Zealander, was quite fond of Washington because it reminded him of home—pristine, fresh and relatively underpopulated. Certainly, it was worlds away from the congestion, crowds and plastic vanity of Orange County, California where we both lived at the time. (Not that there aren’t gorgeous natural areas to enjoy in OC.)

I’ve been in Southern California for half my life and San Diego for nearly a decade. Yes, I live in one of the most beautiful, desirable areas in the country, (some would say, in the world), but that’s just the problem. Everyone is here and more are on their way. Don’t get me wrong, Cali-life has been very good to me. And it’s true, you can’t beat the weather, unless you go to Hawaii. I do love my warm, sunshiny days, but I also love mountains and time away from “civilization”. To feed my need for total nature immersion, I have to drive 8 hours to the Eastern Sierras—far too far for me. I’m craving a simpler life, closer to the nature, farther from the crowds, strip malls, traffic—you get the idea. If I could move to New Zealand, I’d do it in a minute, but unfortunately, that ship has sailed. While I’m going to pack my usual active adventures (hiking, biking) into this trip, it’s also a scouting mission for me. (As was my Prescott, AZ, trip. The trouble with these areas, a gallery owner in Prescott told me, is that too many Californians are moving into them, buying everything up, inflating housing values and creating traffic. She was a transplant from California to Prescott herself and she maintains that it has changed so much in ten years that she’s thinking of moving, but where to next?)

Where to next, indeed – that’s the conundrum. We can’t seem to escape ourselves, can we? In any case, I’m ready to escape, if only for a week or so.

First by plane, then by Bainbridge Ferry to the first stop on my PNW tour, Port Townsend.

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Vistas from the Bainbridge Ferry
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Golden light on the bluffs of Bainbridge Island

 

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Mountains on the horizon

 

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A road trip with promising views

In Search of the Rain Shadow

Another reason, I’m targeting the Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles areas is because of the rain shadow phenomenon known as the orographic effect. Basically, as air is forced up the SW slopes of the Olympic mountains it condenses and vaporizes, resulting in copious amounts of rain. As the air descends the other side of the mountain, it warms and  evaporates, yielding dryer and sunnier climates than anywhere else in Washington State. Read more about this phenomenon and get the average rainfall of various PNW towns here.

Revisiting Port Townsend—somewhat disappointing

This little “artsy’ town has a certain rugged coastal charm, but I must admit that I didn’t find it quite as charming the second-time around. Famished from a long travel day, it was difficult to find an open restaurant at 7PM on a Monday. I walked in and ran out of a Mexican restaurant that had a terrible smell, filthy carpeting and grimy walls and counters. (Tip: Avoid Fiesta.) Settled on Sirens, a bar and restaurant with a great view from its outdoor deck. I’d been here many years ago. My salmon sandwich (just average) was delivered by a surly waitress who was obviously annoyed at the prospect of serving customers. The only other restaurant that was open other than fast food was a Thai restaurant. Next time, I’ll give it a try – heard good things about it. Lodging at the Port Townsend Inn was a disappointment as well. I went with “budget” because I got in late and wanted to walk to town. Rooms were dated and dingy. The mattress was lumpy and sagging. Camping would have been preferable. The indoor pool and jacuzzi looked decent and might be a draw for some. Many moons ago, I enjoyed a stay at the Swan Inn. and I see they’re still getting good reviews.

Day 2

After a poor night’s sleep, I went for a morning stroll and had a cup of Joe at Living Better Through Coffee, where I enjoyed spectacular views of the Puget Sound. Things were looking up.

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Port Townsend Town Crier
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Port Townsend, the Silent Type

Next, I stopped into PT Cyclery to check into the bike rentals and decide if I wanted to cycle a portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT) starting in Port T or continue driving through Sequim and Port Angeles. If you’re into vintage bikes, this is the shop for you. If you want to rent a bike – road or mtb, this isn’t the shop – very poor selection. After discussing various options, the gearhead at the counter asked where I was going next. I mentioned Port Angeles. He immediately started bad mouthing it. “Why go there? It’s a dump.” He relayed a story about how he stayed in hotel there and put his chair up against the room’s door handle for extra safety at night. Wow, that bad, really? (Yikes, I’m thinking.)

 Fort Worden Historical State Park       

Fun Fact: Officer and a Gentleman was filmed here.

I made a brief stop at Fort Worden Historical State Park, a former military base on the Puget Sound shoreline that offers hiking, 2 miles of beachcombing, a lighthouse, a conference center, camping and house rentals. There’s also a marine discovery center (limited off-season hours – was closed when I visited) and WWI-era bunkers to explore. I took in the coastal views and foraged for wild raspberries, before continuing on to Sequim.

 

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Yum-wild raspberries!

Sequim

I stopped in the Chamber of Commerce / Visitor Center first and spoke with the older clerk there. She asked what my plans were. Again, the minute I mentioned Port Angeles, she began to bad mouth it, suggested that I skip it. “What’s so bad?” I asked. She replied, “It’s the drugs and the homeless.” Yes, I’m getting that message loud and clear. After listening to her brag about the safety and desirability of Sequim, I headed over to Ben’s Bike Shop to check out their bike rentals. When I pulled into the Sequim Village Marketplace, a strip mall that could be anywhere in the US, I noticed a homeless person panhandling at the entrance. (Hmm, seems the problem is not limited to Port Angeles.) Since it was off season, the clerk at Ben’s Bike told me that they’d sold all their rental bikes and had none to rent. Interesting policy. Second strike out for bike rentals.

 Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

The day was slipping by and I hadn’t had my nature fix yet. Luckily, the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge was on my way to Port Angeles. Extending five miles into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the US. Its various habitats are home to 244 bird species, 18 types of land mammals, and 11 marine mammal species. Lots of opportunities to stretch the legs, take in some fresh air and perhaps get a glimpse of some wildlife. While I’d been here on my previous PNW tour (saw deer frolicking on the shore), it was worth revisiting. I have yet to make the 10-mile round trip trek to the Dungeness Lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you love this spot, you can apply to be the resident light house keeper for a week . How cool is that? May have to consider that for another trip. If you’re just visiting for the day, you’ll need $3 per car for the entrance fee.

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Illuminating reading on the trail, Dungeness  National Wildlife Refuge #hemigram

Back in the car, I braced myself for the squalor of “frightful” Port Angeles. Given my early conversations in Port Townsend and Sequim, my expectations were now rock bottom. I’d heard that Port Angles was a diamond in the rough – had no idea just how rough. I’d read about the drug abuse, associated crime and a growing homeless population and its lackluster reputation. (It didn’t make my previous tour, but it was high on my list for this one.) The draw, of course, is the incredible natural beauty that surrounds the town – this area is pure Pacific Northwest Wonderland as they say. It is the gateway to Hurricane Ridge and Olympic National Park, the Elwha River, Lake Crescent, Lake Quinault, rain forests, and a plethora of PNW adventures. Road cyclists may be familiar with the annual Hurricane bike ride in late August inside Olympic National Park, One of the most scenic bikes rides in the country, this 18.6-mile bike ride has over 5,000-feet of elevation gain at an average grade of 5 percent and is not is not for those faint of heart or knee (me – though I might be tempted to give it go one day. The descent scares me more). At the base of the Olympic Mountains and on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Angeles offers breathtaking views out to Victoria Island, Canada (a 90 minute ferry ride away) and flip-side views of the Olympic mountain range. With a population of about 20k, Port Angeles was hit hard by the recession and its economy continues to struggle. The timber industry was its original focus and it’s been a bit shifty ever since. As a deep-water port, Port Angeles continues to attract marine trades companies and the hope is that outdoor tourism will define its future. (If you’d like more than my opinion on Port Angeles, here’s a great Seattle Time’s article.)

Rolling over the crest of a hill, I caught my first glimpse of downtown Port Angles and its port in the distance. My first impressions were…To Be Continued…

Washington’s Beacon Rock Trail: a shortie with sweet views

Geological origins

According to some experts, Beacon Rock or  Che-Che-op-tin, which means the navel of the world, is the second largest, free-standing monolith in North America.  (Supposedly approaching the ranks of El Capitan, Devils Tower, Uluru/Ayers Rock, and other notables.) Composed of Basalt, it is the core of an ancient volcano. Through the ages, massive floods carved their way through the Columbia River Gorge and through the volcano, leaving only the core of Beacon Rock in their wake.

The trail

The Beacon Rock Trail was built directly onto the side of the rock, and ascends to the top of the rock (850’ elevation) by way of 52 switchbacks. Along the way there are sparkling panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge, the Bonneville Dam, and the Pierce Wildlife Refuge. The “peak” area is small and doesn’t offer much in the way of scenery. It’s a short and relatively easy ~1.6 mile out and back with a 680 foot elevation gain. There’s  a fair amount of traffic as it’s right off Highway 14, perfect for a quick run up and down. (Of course, I happened to hit it at high noon on Washington’s hottest day in a record-breaking heat wave. Dangerous for pets or anyone not up to extreme temps.)

The story behind the trail

The story goes that the United States Army Corps was going to cannibalize the rock for material to build a jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. In 1915, philanthropist, Henry Biddle, bought the rock for $1, and together with Charles Johnson, built the trail over the next 3 years. After Biddle’s death, the family offered to make it a state park. Washington initially declined, but accepted the offer after Oregon expressed interest.

 

Details

Located near Stevenson, WA off of Highway 14

Discover Pass must be purchased and displayed in your car.