Ideas for enjoying the real life of Seattle (that often cost little or nothing).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Follow up on Ballard Past and Present

Yesterday, the Seattle Times published a front page story of the blending and clashing of the old and new Ballard. It also mentioned the Ballard Historical Society. Both the article and the Society's website are good reads.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

A Day (or so) in: Ballard

Note: This post is one of an intermittent series focused on experiencing the full and authentic flavor of specific Seattle neighborhoods. What to do and see, where to eat and drink, and other details are included, with an eye to keeping it affordable.

For a taste of both Old-School and New-School Seattle living in blended harmony, the neighborhood of Ballard is your destination. Situated in Northwest Seattle along the shore of Puget Sound, Ballard is the epicenter of Seattle’s long-standing Scandinavian community. It is also a hub of the fishing trade for the city.

Left: The brick-paved, tree-shaded shopping street of Ballard Ave. on a quiet afternoon.

With a staunch, proudly blue-collar image and long, independent-minded history, Ballard has become a magnet for artists and craftsmen as well as a new generation of fisherpeople and shipbuilders. You will find cafes that still serve up lutefisk (eeesh) and Maxwell House to the older generations of Swedes and Norwegeans and newer restaurants that list Copper River salmon and Café Vita espresso on the menu. The folks here are real, and there’s a wide range.

Right: One of the many funky little car mechanic shops in the 'hood... this one obviously with a sense of humor!

Below: A ship in drydock on the Ballard waterfront.

What to do, What to do….

Get a sense of Ballard Past by visiting the Nordic Heritage Museum. Apparently, it is the only museum in the U.S. to honor the immigrants from the Nordic countries. Here in Seattle, it is a relevant institution. Not only are there historical exhibits, but also ongoing events which are well attended, including a Christmas Pageant, concert series and Scandinavian art exhibitions.

Next Head to the Chittenden Locks to watch ships of all sorts move from the freshwater lakes to the salt water sound. You will see everything from huge container ships to single-person kayaks take the ride up and down. The Locks also host a well used fish ladder where many varieties of salmon can be seen migrating throughout the year. Finally, stroll the botanical gardens and find a nice perch over the locks for a picnic lunch.

Another great picnic spot is Golden Gardens park, just west of downtown ballard. It is a waterfront park with sandy beaches where you will find kids making sandcastles, beach volleyball games, and many, many sunbathers on the warmest days. From Golden Gardens, you can soak in views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and catch a stunning sunset over the water.

If it is art you crave, visit the neighborhood on the second Saturday of the month to participate in the Ballard Art Walk. Galleries stay open late and often showcase new exhibits for this event, sharing wine and appetizers.

If it’s performing arts you crave, visit Live Girls Theater to attend a play, comedy, or poetry reading. This theater supports women artists by showcasing their work.

If it’s music you seek, check out who’s playing at the The Tractor Tavern. A long standing venue for local talent as well as touring bands, the Tractor is a staple in the Seattle music scene (and they serve good beer!)

Shopping in Ballard

There are far too many great shops in Ballard to try to list them. Suffice it to say, perusing Ballard Avenue alone could be a weekend’s project. Market St., which crosses Ballard Ave., is also filled with shops, markets and cafes. Here are a couple resources to get you going:, and

Above: Ballard Ave. is chock-a-block full of fabulous shops from clothing and shoes to home furnishing and pet supplies

Eatin’ & Drinkin’

Right: Portalis is a sweet little wine bar on Ballard Ave.

Hattie’s Hat, a venerable Ballard institution is where you will find old-time Ballard stalwarts and young-folk mixing and matching.

Ray’s Boathouse is another Ballard Tradition, albeit more upscale than Hattie’s Hat. This is where you go to watch that sunset with a cocktail or morsel of salmon in hand.

Restaruante Michoacan, reportedly some of the best Mexican food in Seattle.

Volterra… amaaaaazing Italian.

Dandelion Café… a hip, newer eatery.

Larsen’s Original Bakery is where you will find the real thing when looking for a “Danish”.

Café Besalu, another great bakery that trends more modern than Larsen’s traditional.

Dish D’lish is a casual little eat in/take out joint by Seattle foodie celeb, Kathy Casey.

More Drinks…

More Eats…

Where to Stay???

If anyone knows of a good hotel, inn or B&B in Ballard, please comment! This is the one thing that seems to be missing from the world of Ballard.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Opening Day – Seattle Style

Everywhere else in God’s green America, Opening Day is synonymous with the start of baseball season. Not here. Not in Seattle. In Seattle, Opening Day, always the first Saturday in May, marks the official start of boating season. It is a long-standing tradition, dating back to 1913. The Seattle Yacht Club, which has hosted the event from its inception, has a great history of this big party on the water, which now includes crew races and huge parade of boats, yachts and ships of all kinds.

Above: Opening Day Parade passing through the hoglines of boats. Image from the Seattle Yacht Club website.

The races and parade pass through the “Montlake Cut”, a narrow canal that connects Lake Washington with Lake Union. Spectators-on-foot line both sides of the Cut, and spectators-on-boat create long hoglines that extend the canal up to ¼ mile or more into Lake Washington.

Left: Crew teams recovering at the end of a race. Image from the Husky Crew website.

Opening day is Seattle’s May Day, celebrating the return of warming weather, waxing days, and how we spend them… namely, on the water. Yachts, kayaks, dragon boats, row boats, canoes, sail boats, ski boats, fishing boats, skiffs, and inner tubes with beer holders will all be in attendance on Saturday to watch the races, tag along the end of the parade, and generally make merry.

Here is the schedule of events. Arrive early along the Cut with a picnic blanket and basket to claim a vantage point to cheer on the Husky crew teams.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hidden Treasure – Freeway Park

Tucked behind Seattle’s Convention Center and the Union Square buildings, and over a small cap covering a portion of the I-5 freeway, is Freeway Park, an intricate web of walkways, thick landscaping, and restful cubbyholes hiding in plain sight in the middle of the city's business district. The respite from the downtown streets is over 5 acres in size, but given its inconspicuous location, it is one of those special places in Seattle that you must know about (or be an intrepid and fortunate wanderer) to find.

Above: A bright red information kiosk with map stands among the lush plantings.

The park reflects the highrises of the city by use of a “Brutalist” hardscape using heavy forms of concrete to define the spaces of the park’s many “outdoor rooms.” This architecture is balanced by the dense plantings of evergreens and flowering shrubs, trees and annuals. There are highlights of sculpture and a large waterfall at its south end (only on in the late spring to early fall).

Right: An arbored "hallway" between garden rooms.

The park is strewn with benches and summertime lunch hour finds it packed with office workers reading, napping, or chatting over a brown bag meal. The one drawback of the park is the incessant drone of the freeway traffic. However, it is not overpowering and falls into “white noise” status after a while.

Left and Below: Two sculptures at the north end of the park, near the Convention Center.

Only 4 or 5 blocks from the center of Seattle’s retail district, Freeway Park provides a nice break from the shopping frenzy. To-go lunches can be found in the concourse at nearby Two Union Square.

Left: This Escher-esque edifice is a wall of falling water in the summertime.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Getting to know Seattle through the Eyes of its Bloggers

No better way to learn about the personality of a place than to get to know its people. In the right-hand column you will find a smattering of blogs from the Pacific Northwest with a wide range of voices, topics, and opinions. Most are from the Seattle area. Perusing these is a wonderful way to become acquainted with the interests, politics, and idle thoughts of those who reside in this fair city.

Another great resource is Seattle Blogmob. This is a portal for weblogs located in and around Seattle. It has both a list and a map of Seattle weblogs highlighting the locations of the authors of recent posts. Want to know what Seattlites are thinking RIGHT NOW? Check out Blogmob.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Weekenders: Orcas Island - A Center of the Cascadia Universe

This post is one of an intermittent series on weekend getaway destinations that are 1/2 day or less drive from Seattle. There are so many options: seashore, islands, mountains, countryside, neighboring cities and towns. We will take a look at some of the best examples of each.

About 100 miles north of Seattle, in the most northwest corner of the contiguous US lies a group of craggy, evergreen, windswept islands called the San Juans. They are part of a larger archipelago that reaches north along the BC coast.

Above: A view of the hamlet of Olga on Orcas Island

The San Juan Islands include far over 100 islands. Many are tiny holding, at times, a single tree. Some are completely owned by a single person. Some are entirely state parks, complete with docks, mooring bouys, and basic camping facilities such as water spigots, fire rings, and outhouses. Only four of these islands have sizeable populations: San Juan, Lopez, Shaw and Orcas. These are also the only four islands in San Juan County that are accessible by the Washington State Ferries. As the WSFs are by far the most affordable way to travel to the islands, these four islands have become even more populated and have developed into destinations for travelers.

Left: Riding the Washington State Ferry

Each of the four major islands has its own individual charm and unique landmarks and assets. Each has accommodations and parks and historic sights. Orcas, although not the largest or most populated (San Juan Island is), seems to be the most popular with visitors. It may have to do with the charm of East Sound, the only town on the island. It could be the marketing muscle behind historic Rosario Resort. Or it might be that Orcas has, by far, the highest point in the county, Mount Constitution in Moran State Park, from the top of which on a clear day one can see as far north as Canada and behold breathtaking views of Mt. Baker, the Olympic Peninsula, and nearer bird’s eye views of the islands themselves.

Right: A view southwest toward Lopez Island after sunset from Buck Bay

This mild, sunny region (due to a “rain shadow” created by the Olympic Mountains, the San Juans get about ½ the rainfall of Seattle), is rich in wildlife from eagles, loons and herons, to whales, seals, otters, and deer. Orcas Island, approximately 60 square miles in size and with a year around population of about 5000, is also rich in landscape, arts, and activities. It has such a vast spectrum of things to do and see it’s hard to know where to start in describing Orcas and highlighting the must-see sights. Nonetheless, here is an intrepid attempt:

How To Get There

To drive to Orcas (recommended due to its size and limited rental car service), you must plan ahead, particularly in the summertime. There are a limited number of ferries to Orcas each day. Check the WSF website for the schedule. You cannot reserve a space, and boats fill up in the summertime, so depending on the day and time (Thursdays and Fridays are most popular), you should arrive at the landing between 1 and 3 hours ahead of your intended sailing time.

Left: 90 minutes before the ferry departs on a Friday in April

Directions: From Seattle, drive North on I-5 about 65 miles to exit 230.
At exit 230 head west on highway 20 approximately 15 miles to Anacortes.
Head north on Commercial Ave a little over a mile, then follow signs west to the Washington State Ferry Landing.

Flights are also available through San Juan Airlines and Kenmore Air.


Scenic Drive Destinations

West Sound is a sweet little crossroads on, you guessed it, the western half of the island. There is a small inn and café with a view south to the water. Getting there, you drive through farmland reminiscent of Ireland with its sheep and grassy expanses.
Deer Harbor is a step beyond West Sound, and offers views of a snug little harbor after a trek along a rocky shoreline.
Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park on the east side of the island is a long, windy drive up and up through fir forests breaking open to ever-more breath taking views as you climb.

Above: A summer solstice sunrise from the top of Mt. Constitution, looking across Lummi Island toward Mt. Baker. Photo Credit: Cascadia Dad.

Olga, a couple miles south of Moran Park, is small, quaint and intimate. The Orcas Artworks is there, with Café Olga, and a drive down to the road’s end offers a peek into hamlet life on the island. A dock, gazebo, potter’s workshop, community hall and park, and a post office being the highlights

Above: The public dock in Olga


Moran State Park offers several hiking trails of varying length and difficulty, two beautiful and COLD lakes which are perfect for trout fishing (in season) and non-motorized boating (paddle and row boats can be rented in the summer), and comfortable camping facilities.

Left: Cascadia Falls in Moran State Park

Right: Hiking Mt. Pickett in Moran State Park

Turtleback Mountain, recently saved from the threat of development through the efforts of the San Juan Preservation Trust is another hiking gem of the island, only recently opened to the public for hiking.
Obstruction Pass Park is a locals’ favorite. A short, flat hike through fir and madrona forest and dense salal leads to a beautiful rocky beach. A few campsites are available.
Madrona Point is a small park and sacred Lummi burial site just a few short blocks from “downtown” Eastsound. It offers an easy, short hike to views south out of the Sound. Grab a picnic lunch at Roses Bakery or Island Market and head over.

The Arts
The Orcas Center,hosts local and visiting performances of theater and music. If you see a local group on the calendar, don’t shy away… Orcas is a magnet for artists of all kinds and the talent shows up on stage.
Orcas Grange hosts the occasional dance, which is supposed to be truly a wonderful time.
Orcas Artworks shows and sells fine art and craft only from full-time residents of the island. Membership in the co-op is competitive and prospective members’ work is juried.
Left: A self-serve flower stand across the street from the Artworks. Photo Credit: Cascadia Dad

Howe Art is a magical, kinetic sculpture garden and gallery.
Crow Valley Pottery is both beautiful and historic.
Lamiel Museum is a continuously evolving collection of local art in a private home.
Other Ideas

Orcas History Museum is a sweet little place in Eastsound, comprised of several historic cabins from the island which have been moved and attached. Learn about the Native American tribes and the European pioneers as well as later history through the depression and world wars.
Rosario Resort was originally the private home of Robert Moran, a wealthy Seattle shipbuilder. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is a lovely place to tour. Robert Moran was also a great patron of the island, developing and donating the land that would become Moran State Park to Washington State.

Shopping in Eastsound
Here are a few Cascadia Girl favorites:
Farmer’s Market
Tres Fabu
Darvill’s Bookstore

So Much More
• Kayaking, Whale Watching, Fishing, Spas, Sailing are just a few of the other activities on Orcas. Here is a good resource for finding outfitters, charters, rental companies, etc:

Where To Stay

Inns and B&Bs
Turtleback Farm Inn
Kangaroo House
Buck Bay Farm
Inn at Ship Bay
Outlook Inn
Deer Harbor Inn
Kingfish Inn

There are far more options than the ones listed here, but it is a start. Here is a resource for more ideas:

Camping and Other
Moran State Park Note: Try to reserve a camping spot NOT along the main road.
Vacation Rentals Note: These are for longer stays. Usual minimum rental is 1 week.
Doe Bay Resort Note: Very crunchy-granola funky.
Rosario Resort Note: Very popular due to strong advertising and long history. Some folks love it. Not a Cascadia Girl favorite, however the spa there is said to be very nice.

As with the accommodation list, the array of options for dining is far wider than the list here. However, all those listed below have the “Cascadia Girl Seal of Approval.”

Casual, less expensive, options
Café Olga
Rose’s Bakery
The Kitchen
Portofino Pizzeria
Bilbo’s Festiva
Westsound Café

Fine Dining
Inn at Ship Bay Note: Their scallops are heavenly.
Deer Harbor Inn

Other Information Resources
The list above does not begin to do justice to highlighting all the attractions of Orcas… there is just so much. Therefore, here are a few more resources for research and dreaming:
Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce
Guide to the San Juans

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Knowing Where We Came From to Understand Who We Are:

Want to know more about the Pike Place Market, read Chief Seattle’s 1887 prophetic speech on environmental stewardship, or get a virtual tour of Seattle’s neighborhoods? Check out, an “online encyclopedia of Washington State History.”

“Encyclopedia” does not do the site justice. It offers themed slide shows, covering topics from the 1909 world’s fair, to the Lewis and Clark expedition, to thumbnail photo histories on neighborhoods. There are study aids and bibliographies for students and teachers, a travel section for visitors (and locals), biographies, and a progressive search engine that allows you to drill down on topics. If you search under “art” then “asia”, you will be served articles such as a biography on George Tsutakawa and a timeline of the Nipon Kan Theater.

This is a great way to prepare for a trip to the Northwest, particularly if you have specific interests, or a desire to understand the region's roots and influences.

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