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.

Prescott Round-Up: 3 days of fun and adventure

I spent 3 incredibly fun days exploring the Prescott area and covered a fair amount of ground on foot and on bike sampling the local trails.

Downtown, historic Prescott, Arizona is charming, clean, friendly and fun. Lots of historic buildings, galleries, shops, restaurants, hotels and old-time saloons. I’m sure glad my road trip took me here. I had a blast exploring the area—hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Prescott National Forest by day and kicking up my heels on the saloon dance floors by night. As a solo woman traveler, I felt completely safe my entire trip. Nightlife – yes! Live music – yes! Dancing – yes!

Downtown Prescott
Whiskey Row at Dawn

WHAT I DID

Hiking:

Granite Basin

Spruce Mountain

Constellation Trails

Mountain Biking:

Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Goldwater Lake

Roadtrip to Jerome

WHERE I ATE

Restaurants: 

The Barley Hound Gastropub

Farm Provisions

WHERE I STAYED

Good night’s sleep on the “cheap” – basic, clean, quiet accommodations

Got into town late the first night and just needed a clean, quiet, safe place to stay. Here at the Rodeway Inn, I found friendly staff, a clean room, and comfy bed. Just basic was just right for that night for me. I left before the complimentary continental breakfast, but nice that they offer it.

Prescott Resort and Conference Center

Not quite on the same scale as a California “resort’, but nice enough. It certainly has stunning sunrise and sunset views across Prescott and a wonderful patio where you can enjoy them with a cocktail if you’re so inclined. The rooms were cozy, comfortable and clean and I’m guessing that most have great views too. I ate a decent, inexpensive meal in the casino and was pleasantly surprised by the quality. (The casino restaurant has daily specials so it’s worth checking out the restaurant there compared to the “resort restaurant” if you don’t care about ambiance.) I was traveling solo and had been hiking all day so it was just fine with me.

Sunset from the Prescott Resort and Conference Center Patio with Thumb Butte in the Distance

Hotel Saint Michael, Downtown/ Whiskey Row, Prescott, AZ

Location, location, location. On my final night in Prescott, I kicked up my heels and checked out the live music and saloon scene on Whiskey Row. If it’s a busy weekend you might need to pick your poison – some interior rooms with a super noisy generator or exterior room with rowdy crowds. Yes, the rooms and bathrooms are super dated – this is a historic (and word has it, haunted hotel – I expected that much. I didn’t expect the roar of the generator. Disclaimer, I’m a “sensitive sleeper”. But the noise was so LOUD, putting pillow over my head didn’t help. They should probably hand out earplugs here. Maybe they’re hoping you’ll come back from Whiskey Row so sloshed that you won’t hear a thing.

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The Lobby of the Hotel Saint Michael

Much left to explore. I’ll be back!

Top Pick: Farm Provisions, Prescott AZ – this foodie’s delight.

Over the 4 days I was in Prescott, I went to this restaurant not 1ce, not 2ce, but 3 times. Once you find perfection, it’s difficult to stray. (Also, it’s one of the few spots with outside seating and I like eating and being al fresco – in case you haven’t figured that out by now.)

I ordered a simple Caesar salad topped with salmon. Just realized that this farm to table restaurant’s tagline is “Simple Food Elevated”. Well yes, I’d say so. I’ve eaten a fishload of salmon in my life, and this was by far the most perfectly cooked salmon I’ve ever had. (You see, I’m using that word perfect again, and it’s not for lack of imagination.)  I took my friend from Phoenix to lunch here, and starting salivating over his scallop beet salad. He was nice enough to give me a bite, which of course, only made me salivate more.

salmon saladscallop beet salad

Farmer Provisions is one of the best restaurants in the area and, as such, they are also one of the busiest so reservations are advised.

It appears that I have a discriminating palate; it turns out that Chef & Co-owner Ryan Peters graduated from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute/ Le Cordon Bleu rand his impressive resume includes working and managing restaurants in three different 5 star, 5 diamond resorts.

I had the pleasure of meeting co-owner, Brittany Peters, on 2 of my 3 visits. She made me feel welcome  as a “party of 1”, went out of her way to accommodate me despite a full house, and gave me some tips about things to do in the area. If it weren’t for her, I might not have had that lovely afternoon in Jerome.

And guess what? If I ever make it Prescott again, one of my first stops will be Farmer Provisions , and I highly recommend that you make it one of yours too.

Hours          11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Wednesday – Sunday   Closed Monday & Tuesday

Location     148 N. Montezuma St.  Prescott, AZ 86301

Reservations            Lunch reservations for groups of 6 or more. Dinner reservations                                              begin at 4:00  for groups of any size.

Phone                          (928) 776-3001

Top pick for dog-friendly dining and imbibing:Barley Hound Gastropub, Prescott, AZ

To say this place is dog friendly is an understatement. You could say the aptly named, Barley Hound, caters to canines.

Harley Hound dog menue

In fact, the dog menu looked quite enticing—steak & rice, chicken & rice served on a Frisbee. How cool is that?

I stopped in for some afternoon refreshments after a full day on the trails (Goldwater Lake MTB and Granite Basin hike). It seems they take care of their human patrons too—the salmon lavash and margie did not disappoint. I’ll have to return with a canine companion for a full meal sometime soon.

Harley Hound refreshments3

The Barley Hound Gastropub is near courthouse square at 234 S. Cortez Street, Prescott, AZ. Check it out when you’re out and about in Prescott.

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking : Thumb Butte

Granite Basin

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Goldwater Lake

 

For Prescott Hospitality at Its Best: Stop in at Gas Plus and Let Betty Fill Your Tank

So I pull up to Gas Plus in Prescott and am rummaging through my pockets for some cash when a sprightly woman approaches, wearing a sunhat and sporting a long, blonde braid down her back. She asks me, how much, and I hand her a 20 as I get out of my car to pump my gas. Well, she’s having none of that, and she insists that I get right back in my car while she pumps my gas for me.

Betty Pumping Gas

And when Betty insists, the only polite thing to do is to concede, and so I did, albeit feeling a bit sheepish. We chatted after she finished.

With her welcoming smile, twinkle in her eye, and lively step, Betty is the proprietress of Gas Plus and she pumps gas for her customers all day long. Did I mention that Betty is 83 years old? Quite an inspiration, I’d say.

Betty is a people person and a retired flight attendant from the Bay Area. She purchased Gas Plus when she retired. She’s a mother of a veteran and wounded warriors and veteran causes are near and dear to her heart. She finds the music of Johann Strauss, especially Vienna Woods, enchanting. Betty, herself, is quite enchanting.

Fill your tank with a dose of inspiration on living an active, engaged life into your eighties and experience some down-home Prescott hospitality, visit Betty at Gas Plus and fill up.  

Betty

Betty is waiting for you at Gas Plus, 421 E Sheldon St, Prescott, AZ 86301

1 Day. 2 Epic Bike Rides: Monterey Bay’s Coastal Recreational Trail & Pebble Beach’s 17-Miler

I’m crushing big on Monterey right now. Got back last night from a magnificent adventure, which included cycling two of Monterey’s top 10 rides – the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail and Pebble Beach’s famous 17 Mile Drive. (In 1 day.) I did both routes in one day because I was running out of days. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because these views are made for savoring, stopping, having lunch and general leisure enjoyment. But if you’re into distance and running out of vaca time, just do it. If you only have time for one, take the 17 Mile Drive / Ride.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail (paved bike path) runs from Pacific Grove to Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, following the route of the old Southern Pacific Railway. Except for a few minor exceptions in Marina –it’s nearly 100% car free, which means absolutely carefree cycling with spectacular dunes and coastline views along the way. And, when you head north to Castroville, you practically have it all to yourself.  Biker’s bliss for sure. (Except for the couple mile section between Marina & Castrovile where you share a frontage road with some 18-wheelers…) Easy to cut out this section, but then you’ll miss out on the “Choke Coach” – see below.

Length: 18 miles, 1 way  (36 miles total) – or any distance you like (many just do the a short ride 2.8 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey to Lovers Point, Pacific Grove).

Difficulty: This is a beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s flat for the most part, rolling for the other part with really only 1 “hill” of note.

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Looking up the Coast Near Sand City

 

 

 

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Never let them see you sweat? No, lol, windy day, holding my hair out of my face.
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Old Fort Ord, Firing Range
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Views of Monterey From the Highest Point on the Bike Path

 

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Rolling Farmland, Near Marina
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River View in Marina

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Artichoke Food Truck in Castroville  – good spot for a bite at the 18 mile turn around. I passed it up in the interest of getting both rides done.

 

 

 

 

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Start or end point in Pacific Grove, unless you’re doing 17 Mile Drive too

 

Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive

It’s just a couple miles to get to the start of the 17 Mile Drive  from Lover’s Cove in Pacific Grove. You’ll cruise through beautiful Asilomar State Beach and follow the signs to stunning 17-Mile Drive – view spectacular seascapes and mansions, along one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. By Cypress point, the bike lane ends so you have to share the road for a bit. The driver’s here are very respectful of bikers. How refreshing!

Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s mostly flat with a couple climbs.

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Pebble Beach’s Iconic Lone Cypress
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Still smiling despite going up a hill I didn’t need to at mile 50ish.

(I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I’m guessing my day’s total was between 60-70 miles, counting taking the local “bike route” up to Spyglass Hill and back down instead of staying on the 17 mile drive bike lane. I was getting a little giddy at that point. The bad news is, I ran out of battery on my phone so my pictures are limited. The good news is you get to discover it for yourself.

I worked up quite an appetite and thirst on my back-to-back bike adventure, which I sated at Domenicos on the Wharf. I was a little skeptical of heading into the tourist zone here, but it proved to be the right call and the perfect finale to my day. Great happy hour, service and food. I slurped down a refreshing margie and devoured a splendid house salad (best I’ve seen) and grilled artichoke – all of which were wonderful. Cheers to a beautiful day in Monterey. (No pics because my phone was charging.)

Bike Rental: Adventures by the Sea

Hybrid bikes are $25 half day, $35 whole day. Road bikes, $35 half day, $65 whole day.  (If you’re going further than 20 miles, I’d recommend going with the road bike.) They also have kayak rentals and SUP for more fun in the sun.

 

 

Hike & Soak in Serenity, Kibune to Kurama, Northeastern Kyoto

I’ve always been captivated by the idea of hiking from village to village – anywhere. When I was researching things to do near Kyoto before my trip, I learned of the short hike from Kibune village to Kurama village and decided it was a must do.

It was so much of a “must do” squeezed into my tight itinerary that I went ahead with my plans despite the downpour that day. Who knows when, if ever, I’ll return to Japan. (I was prepared with rain gear and warm clothes and no doubt the conditions would make the reward of the soaking in the Kurama Onsen even more decadent – it did.) Perhaps the title of this post should be : “Hike, get soaked and then soak.”

It didn’t take me long to explore the quaint, tiny hamlet of Kibune. In the heavy rain, few people were out and all the buildings seemed sealed tight against the elements. The only exception was the Kibune-jinja Shrine on the left hillside near the road.

I believe a wedding was taking place…

 

Apparently there are some amazing restaurants in Kibune with open dining platforms that extend over the rushing river below. Sadly, not today. After I checked the shrine out, I walked down steps, crossed the street, and walked over the river on the vermilion bridge to the trail head.

After paying the ~$3 entrance fee to the attendant in the little gate house and being warned of treacherous, muddy trail conditions, I cinched up my rain jacket hood and set out. (The attendant did not stop me or tell me that the trail was closed so I figured it would just be a muddy, slippery slog that would make me appreciate the onsen at the end even more – it did.) The hike is a mere 3.9km / 2.4 miles, but the mud and slippery conditions made what would have been a 40 min walk, much longer. It’s single track through the forest with Shinto shrines to discover along the way. You’ll know you’ve reached Kurama when you encounter picturesque Kurama dera, Buddhist temple.

Kurama dera, Buddhist Temple

Unfortunately, I have no pictures on the trail as it was raining so hard, I didn’t dare take my camera out. At the trails end, you have just 1 kilometer to go to reach Kurama Onsen.

At the Onsen, you have the option of soaking in an indoor spa or outdoor pool. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. (For scoop on Onsen etiquette, see my previous post on the Fukuzumiro Ryokan.)

I soaked in the serene, lush mountain scenery, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops on the leaves, watching the mist rise from the hot pool as the cool rain kissed my face and shoulders. I was transported to a different time, a different place, a different life. (Calgon eat your heart out.) And no, I don’t have pictures of this incredible setting – no cameras allowed for obvious reasons, but there are a couple of pictures on TripAdvisor

Reluctantly leaving this scene behind, I enjoyed a sumptuous feast at the inn’s restaurant before returning by train to Kyoto.

Delightful Tempura Appetizers

Notes: You can hike the trail in either direction, but Kurama is a preferable end destination because it has more restaurants and is home to the Kurama Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and Onsen (hot spring/ bath house). Apparently, this is the easier direction as well. Highly recommend this as a half day , full day or over-nighter out of Kyoto.

I imagine these villages are even more scenic in the fall with the red maple leaves and in the summer, when everything is green and glimmering.

Festivals:

On October 22, Kurama has a Fire Festival is that involves men and children carrying torches. It is a rite of passage for the town’s youth. I’ve read this is so overrun with tourist now that it’s difficult to see anything due to crowds.

Held in November at various Inari shrines on different days, including Kibune, the Ohitaki rice harvest festival is a thanksgiving event.

Distance: Relatively easy 3.9km / 2.4 miles – not quite as easy when muddy & slippery.

Getting there: It’s just a 30 minute train ride to Kibune via the Eizan Electric Railway from Demachiyanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto (each ~$4 one way).  You can catch the Eizan Electric Railway train back in Kurama.

Top Pick: While I didn’t stay overnight at Kurama Ryokan, I can speak to my Onsen and restaurant experience, both of which were superb.