Seattle: From Pike Place to Paradise

Rise to the top of the Space Needle.   Catch a flying fish.  Be a mountain climber.  These are just a small number of the amazing experiences you can have on a trip to Seattle, Washington.  Whether you are at the site of the World’s Fair in downtown Seattle or watching the fish fly at Pike Place Market, Seattle has something for everyone.  Looking to get away from the city for a day?  From excursions on the historic Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad to visits to multiple National Parks, you’ll find that the geographic landscape surrounding Seattle is just as unique as the people who live here.  For those who embrace the culinary scene, you’ll find everything from fine seafood dining on the wharf at Ivar’s to the best Mac ‘n Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop near Pike Place Market.  Seattle, Washington is not your run-of-the-mill city.  It’s an eclectic mix of old and new, always offering something for everyone.  So grab your bags and hop on a flight to SEA-TAC.  There’s a world of adventure awaiting you!

The first time I set foot on Washington state soil, I was awestruck by the beauty of the surroundings, and especially the refreshing scent of evergreen trees.  No, it wasn’t Christmas time.  These trees grow wild here, sending off a pleasant scent that virtually masks every other smell.  Needless to say, it is a welcome break from the ever-present smell of exhaust fumes, garbage, and the like.  We rented a car at the airport, drove to our hotel, the Best Western in Federal Way, a suburb of Seattle.  This was the perfect place to stay, as it is less expensive than downtown hotels, yet a great location for driving into the city or taking side trips away from the city.  Plus, this hotel provided a nice complimentary hot breakfast prepared by the staff from their on-site restaurant.  It really depends on your budget and what you plan to do during your stay in the Seattle area.

A visit to Seattle would not be complete without a visit to Pike Place Market.  Home of the world-famous flying fish, this market boasts multiple levels of vendors, selling everything from fresh fish and produce to crafts, jewelry, and antiques.  One of my favorite things to purchase is the bouquets of fresh flowers sold here in the summer months.  Very inexpensive, yet beautifully arranged bouquets, filled with traditional flowers such as carnations, daises, and roses, as well as more exotic ones.  The only problem is deciding which one to choose, as there are literally hundreds to choose from!  The smoked salmon is tasty enough to snack on by itself standing right in the middle of the aisle.  Take a jaunt across the street to pick up some fresh baked cookies at Three Girls Bakery.  Or visit Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for their famous Macaroni and Cheese.  For coffee lovers, it is a short jaunt to the first-ever Starbucks Coffee Shop.  One word of advice, don’t eat before you come to Pike Place.  Once you finish grazing through the many delectable offerings, you’ll have had your fill!

While in the downtown area, you’ll definitely want to visit the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, complete with a few midway rides, a children’s science museum, and the iconic Space Needle.  While there is an admission fee and a long line to match, the Space Needle is a must-do on your first visit.  Let’s face it.  When you go home, the first question you will hear is, did you see the Space Needle?  It is the icon of Seattle, memorialized in photographs of the city skyline, standing 605 feet tall as the tallest observation tower in Washington State.  After all of that standing and waiting, rest your feet and take a ride on the monorail, another historic piece that remains from the World’s Fair.

Getting hungry?  Head to The Old Spaghetti Factory for a delicious meal that is sure to alleviate your hunger pains.  Their Italian cuisine is just like “Mama used to make.”  The well-seasoned dishes and al dente pasta will make you think you have been transported to an Italian grandmother’s home, enjoying a comforting meal that could only be had in the heart of Italy.  You’ll delight as each meal ends with a sweet note, a scoop of their homemade spumoni, a special Italian ice cream that is sure to make your sweet tooth happy.

Looking to escape the concrete jungle for a day and enjoy the beauty and sounds of nature?  Head to Mount Rainier National Park.  Established in 1899, this National Park encompasses more than 235,000 acres of natural beauty.  Situated in the midst of the Cascade Range, the tallest peak is the gargantuan volcanic mountain known as Mount Rainier, rising 14,410 feet above sea level.  Drive up to Sunrise for a breathtaking view, the highest point accessible by car.  Be sure to have your camera in hand for the many mountain vistas and glaciers you will see along the way.  Go cross-country skiing in the colder months or take a walk on one of the many trails, enjoying the wildflowers in the spring.  Whatever you do, you’ll be surrounded by the serene beauty of the wilderness, a welcome retreat from city life.

Finally, head over to Paradise.  This location not only bears the name Paradise, but it truly feels like a mountain paradise.  Enjoy a visit to the visitor center with informative displays and a movie about the history of the Park.  Then, venture over to Paradise Inn, a historic landmark built in 1916.  Enjoy a delicious meal at their dining hall.  All of their menu items are delicious, but my personal favorite is their venison stew paired with garlic mashed potatoes.  The venison is cooked to perfection, smothered in caramelized gravy that is bursting with flavor.  In the evenings, a gentleman plays familiar tunes on the antique piano in the lobby.  Before you leave, grab a brochure listing their room rates.  You’ll need that to book a stay here for your return trip!  It is an experience that you will always remember!

If you’re still looking for adventures in nature, plan an excursion on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, perfect for rail enthusiasts and those seeking adventure.  Marvel at their vast array of steam and diesel-electric locomotives and enjoy the ride through the beautiful countryside.  Or you can take a day and go volcano watching in Mount Helens National Park, a National Monument.  Of course, you may have the desire to get away from it all for more than a day.  Embark a cruise ship bound for the inside passage of Alaska, where you can fly over a glacier in a floatplane, partake in a bountiful buffet of freshly caught salmon, or travel into the Yukon territory aboard the White Pass & Yukon Railroad.  If that’s not enough to spark your interest, why not go whale watching, explore a genuine gold mine, or venture into Anchorage for a visit to the Anchorage Museum.

Whatever you choose to do during your stay in this Pacific Northwest paradise, it is certain that you will quickly make plans to return.  From the rugged outdoors to the intriguing cityscape, Seattle is the perfect vacation destination for those who want it all.  And don’t worry, after all of the adventures you’ll have in this amazing locale, you will not find yourself sleepless in Seattle!

May you always have joyful journeys!

Jennifer Campbell

Key West: The Keys Are Calling!

Stroll along the same streets where Thomas Edison, Harry Truman, Tennessee Williams, and Jimmy Buffet once walked.  Take a ride on the famous Conch Train.  Taste the creamiest, tangiest, and sweetest key lime pie you’ll ever put in your mouth.  From the southernmost point in the continental United States to the six- and seven-toed polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House, Key West is overflowing with sun-drenched adventures for young and old alike.  One visit to this laidback island getaway will make you second-guess your landlubber life and consider a residence on the sparkling waters surrounding this island paradise!

The minute you set foot in this tropical oasis, hop aboard the Conch Train.  This “train” is iconic to the Keys and is the perfect way to gain an overview of the island, all while allowing you to enjoy the gentle breezes and radiant sunshine that grace the Keys almost daily.  You’ll be able to hop on and hop off at prominent sights, including the southernmost point.  This stop is a must for first time visitors to capture that perfect “prove you were here” photograph to send to your friends and family back home.  With the ocean landscape directly behind you, it is a picture that is definitely worth more than a thousand words.

If classic literature is your cup of tea, be sure to tour Ernest Hemingway’s house.  Marvel at the beautiful gardens.  Stroke the back of one of the ancestors to Hemingway’s infamous polydactyl felines.  Visit the house where many of his beloved literary works were written.  Looking for more historic sights?  Key West has several top-notch museums documenting everything from treasure hunters to the artwork of James Audubon.  The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, the only fully accredited museum in the Keys, is a must-see, filled to the brim with gold bars and countless artifacts from their 1622 Fleet exhibit of Spanish galleons.  Pick up a few replica coins as a souvenir; perfect for tricking your coworkers into thinking you discovered sunken treasure!

While a visit to the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. is the ultimate choice for dessert, there are other culinary delights on this island as well.  Swing by Sloppy Joe’s Bar & Grill for one of the best Sloppy Joes you will ever sink your teeth into.  Imagine a soft sesame seed bun topped with an overflowing amount of spicy Sloppy Joe filling that has a kick to it, paired with well-seasoned fries and a slice of pickle.  It’s enough to make your mouth water just thinking about it!  Of course, Key West is the perfect place to get your conch fritter fix, one of their most popular culinary offerings.  Let’s face it, with all of the fresh seafood found in the waters of the Keys, there will nary be a seafood dish that is not succulently prepared on this island oasis.

Once you’ve satisfied your taste buds, you’ll likely want to take a stroll on the beach or just lie in a hammock, enjoying the cool breeze coming off of the water.  Once you’re ready for some more island action, strap on some diving gear and head to the open waters for some diving, deep sea fishing, or snorkeling.  Rent a yacht, ride a banana boat, paddle a kayak, or just sunbathe on the deck of a catamaran.  No matter what you choose to do, it is certain that the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico will take your breath away!

Are you ready to shop ‘till you drop?  Key West has a myriad of boutiques and shops for every budget.  From island fashion and fine jewelry to traditional souvenir t-shirts and postcards, Key West has it all.  Look for unique items made with conch shells and sponges and of course, key lime taffy and key lime soda!  You may even want to pick up a Conch Republic souvenir, commemorating the time when Key West briefly declared its independence from the U.S. in 1982.  Even if you don’t want to purchase anything, perusing through the interesting shops is definitely worth the time.  You’ll be bewildered and entertained by the wide array of items on display, so why not take a look?  You’ll be glad you did!

As the sun goes down, head down to the Sunset Party, held every night in this island getaway.  It is the perfect way to reflect on your stay in Key West.  Filled with street performers, food vendors, and other unexpected surprises, this nightcap will solidify the fact that you need to return.  Whatever you choose to do in Key West, it is certain that your stay will leave you wanting to stay forever or at least wanting to come back for more.  From the bottom of the sea to the sunshine in the sky, Key West provides a picturesque setting that seems like it was built by Hollywood.  But every palm tree and every grain of sand is real, which makes Key West the ultimate island paradise.  Close to home for Americans, yet a location that seems so far, far away.  What are you waiting for?  Pack your bags and head to Key West.  The Keys are calling!

May you always have joyful journeys!

Jennifer Campbell