Things to do in Seattle with guests

Things to do in Seattle with guests

It’s summer in Seattle which can only mean one thing: bring on the guests! When all of your family and friends live on the East Coast – also known as the sticky, humid coast – the Pacific NW can provide a more than welcome summer reprieve, not to mention there are some pretty great people here to see ūüėČ

Total, we have over three weeks of guests this summer – a record for us! It can be easy to fall into your own routine after you live in one place for a few years and you might forget what it’s like to be a visiter.¬†So, what do you do¬†with your friends and family when they come to visit?

Here’s how with my list of top things to do in Seattle with guests:

  • Discover¬†something new: Whether it’s a food tour of Pike’s Place market, a tantalizing walk through Theo’s Chocolates, or up in the trees at the Treehouse Master’s headquarters, a guided tour can show even the most settled Seattle native that there’s always something new to see and learn. You could¬†even take a class, like Issaquah’s Art by Fire’s glass-blowing class, where you’ll not only learn something new, your guests will take home a one-of-a-kind¬†souvenir!
  • Get high: I mean off the ground, not the other way (even though that’s technically legal here). Seattle has the most beautiful backdrop I’ve ever seen and what better way to see it than from high up. From the top of the Space Needle (or the cheaper and taller Columbia Tower), to a lookout¬†on a surrounding mountain (the “Issaquah Alps” offer great views of the Snoqualmie Valley), to up in the air on a scenic flight by seaplane, take your guests breaths away (along with your own) every time.
  • Head¬†out of town: Seattle has a lot to see, but what about all of the great day trips? Especially great for returning visitors! What’s on our list this summer? Bainbridge and Whidbey islands are a short ferry ride away, Mt. Rainier is famous for it’s summer wildflowers and Leavenworth & Wenatchee are full of outdoor adventure and yummy wine.
  • Attend an event: ¬†Summer food and music festivals, outdoor concerts, theatre performances, and even farmer’s markets are a great way to get any visitor out among the locals. This summer, I’m looking forward to taking my parents to see Ringo Starr on the lawn of Chateau Ste. Michelle and seeing¬†The Book of Mormon with my in-laws at the Paramount!
  • Show off the local flavor: Eat, drink, and eat some more of the best food the city has to offer. Seattle is well-known for seafood, so we always plan at least one big seafood dinner with guests. We also just like to take guests to our favorite restaurants like The Pink Door¬†and The Tin Table, not to mention I’m¬†always willing to show off all of the wineries and breweries that call Washington home, like Patterson Cellars and Seapine Brewing Company. Finally, take guests to those little, quirky joints¬†that make your town unique. For us, that means taking my folks to Issaquah’s own¬†Triple XXX for a greasy burger and a big mug of ol’ fashioned root beer. Seriously, check it out, it’s quirky and dang good!
  • Take a hike: To me, the term “hike” can sometimes sound scary, like a 10-mile glute-burning, CamelBak drinking, hot and sweaty trek. Even though the Seattle region has its share of mountains, there are plenty of hikes (aka scenic walks) that are far from arduous. From flat paved paths to rocky uphill climbs, there’s a perfect hike for all of your guests. You can identify which hikes are best for you by using the Washington Trails Association Hiking Guide where you can filter hikes by mileage, difficulty level and trail attractions, and Tmber.com often features a narrated video of the actual trail so you can get a real¬†sense of how tricky¬†or picturesque it may be.

Although I called out many Seattle-specific things to do and see with guests, you can apply all of these activities to any city, anywhere! Basically, entertaining out-of-town guests¬†this summer doesn’t have to be the same ol’ museums and cheesy attractions¬†that trap all the other tourists. You’re a local, give your friends and family the local¬†experience and show off all your home has to offer. Who knows, maybe you’ll even see, learn or do something new along the way!

Top ten Europe trip packing tips

top Europe packing tips

A friend of mine is currently having the time of her life in Paris, making me even more excited for our trip back later this year. On our first trip, we were set to hit four cities in 13 days and I wanted to be uber prepared so I could (try to) stress less and immerse myself more. Turns out, I did pack a few key items, and acquired some others along the way that helped make our trip comfortable, fun and even easy! As we look forward to our next European adventure, here is my list of the top ten items you should pack before your next big trip!

top Europe packing tips items photo

 

My Top 10 Europe Trip Packing Tips:

Good carry-on suitcase:¬†No matter the length of your trip, you want to try to pack everything into one carry-on suitcase. While you might have to do laundry (or have it done by your hotel), you won’t have to worry about losing luggage or trying to manage too many bags as you walk down a narrow busy alleyway to your hotel. One bag, with two sturdy wheels and good pockets, will help you get from point A to point B seamlessly. We bought convertible backpack carry-ons, but not once did we ever use the backpack functionality. Check baggage restrictions for each flight – we found one of our bags was still too big to carry onto an inter-Europe flight.

Collapsible bags:¬†Since you ideally want to travel with carry-on luggage, you have to maximize for space, but what do you do with all of your souvenirs when you’re wandering the city, and how the heck do you get them home? Before our trip, we purchased a collapsible backpack and tote bag that we could cram into any nook or cranny of our suitcase, but when we needed them, ¬†could expand to provide us with extra baggage space. We used the backpack to carry jackets, maps and water bottles during days of sightseeing and used the tote bag to carry large souvenirs home safely.

Guide book:¬†Some travelers like to be completely spontaneous abroad, however in order to get the most out of my trip, I looked to guide books and previous traveler reviews and advice. I absolutely love Rick Steves¬†guide books. All the little nuances of when to go see certain sites, which entrances are less crowded, which sites are must-sees and which ones you can pass on, helped us immensely to plan ahead and maximize our time each day. I wouldn’t travel to Europe without Rick, and neither should you.

Walking shoes:¬†The best thing you can bring on a European vacation is a good pair of walking shoes. American tourists tend to be extra cautious about the shoes we wear in Europe since we hear that Europeans can point out Americans by their sneakers alone. Lies. We walked almost EVERYWHERE in Paris and across Italy, and let me tell you, I would have killed for a pair of sneakers. I kicked myself with my sore booted foot every time we stepped onto the metro and saw French men and women in sneakers. Europeans are more likely able to tell you’re American by your accent and lost expression than what you’re wearing on your feet, so what you have on might as well be comfortable!

Camera:¬†If there was ever a time to take photos, it’s on your European vacation. You cannot take a bad photo. Seriously, try pointing the camera in any direction when you’re walking down the street in Paris – everywhere you look is scenic and just plain different than what you see at home. If you’ve been planning to upgrade your camera for a while, this is the occasion. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist – remember, you stick out anyway with your funny American accent. Take photos so you can remember your adventures, and bring extra batteries/chargers/memory cards, too.

Scarves:¬†The signature European fashion accessory is definitely the scarf. Men, women, children of all ages wear them in all colors, so casually, at all times of day, in all types of weather. It is so dang chic! Scarves are super easy to cram into even the fullest suitcase, and are a great way to stay a little warmer, dress a little fancier, or just look and feel a little more European. They’re also good to have on hand in case you need to dress a little more modestly before entering a church or other religious site with a dress code.

Quick-dry washcloth: Apparently, washcloths are more of an American thing, so they are not often supplied by European hotels. It’s definitely a personal preference, but I just wouldn’t feel clean without one. They’re not luxurious and they can be super thin, but they still lather up well and dry in a few hours. After we spent an entire day walking around Paris in the rain, I definitely appreciated a hot shower with mine.

Euros IN COINS: When out on a day trip to Versailles, we failed to bring change with us thinking euro cash or credit cards would do fine. Wrong! In order to purchase a return train ticket back to Paris using a ticket machine, we found out the hard way (along with all other Americans standing in line) that the machine took coins ONLY. Trust me on experience that the local shopkeepers get super pissed when you ask them to make change. Carry at least 10 euros in coins at all times Рjust in case!

Water bottle: Buying bottled water every day can be expensive. Instead, bring a water bottle that you can fill up at the hotel, museums, shopping malls, and sometimes even at old public water fountains you may find around the city (Italy has a number of old, decorative fountains for public drinking). You never know how water will taste from city to city, or how well a public water fountain is maintained, so we took Brita water bottles with built-in filters. Filtered water on the go!

Wi-fi enabled device: You might not want to pay out the nose for cell phone coverage in Europe, however I’d still bring one cell phone or tablet you can use with wi-fi in your hotel. We were glad when we found out our expected cell phone coverage didn’t work because it gave us a chance to actually unplug and enjoy our trip. We did, however, find the wi-fi helpful in checking train schedules, looking up restaurant and museum hours, and finding directions to our next site. Instead of checking Facebook, get the most out of your vacation by using the internet as a tool for just a few minutes, then getting back to your trip!

And bonus existential item you definitely need to bring: 

General awareness and respect of other cultures:¬†The most important thing to remember is, no matter how hard you try, you are a foreigner in a foreign country, a tourist. As long as you are polite and respect the local laws and culture, you’ll be treated well by the native people you encounter. Mostly, this means refrain from being too loud and drawing too much attention to yourself. It also doesn’t hurt to learn a few basic phrases in the native language (good morning, good evening, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, etc.). We found that a little effort can go a long way in getting someone to help you.

This doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Unfortunately, some of the stories you hear about pickpockets and swindled tourists are true. You can, however, make yourself less of a target (and trust me, once you realize this, you’ll be able to point out those people who make good ones):

  • Carry your personal items securely and close to your body. Carry items in a slash-proof purse (I do), in interior or zippered jacket pockets, or if you absolutely feel like you must, use a money belt. Keep things out of your pants pockets for the most part – thieves are way too good at getting in there.
  • Try to avoid using ATMs or use ones that look and feel secure. We used an ATM in a Venice alley that ended up being rigged with a card reader and camera to catch our pin number. Make sure to tell your bank the specific dates you’ll be traveling so they can help keep an eye on your account. We tried to use our credit card as much as possible.
  • Trust yourself, first. If you think something smells fishy – a price is too high or too low – that designer bag looks fake – this guy is being super creepy – then go with your gut. Unfortunately, there are people out there who target tourists for all sorts of scams. Not everyone you encounter on the street is out to get you, but definitely trust yourself if you feel uncomfortable.
  • And finally, always be aware of your surroundings, your belongings¬†and keep an eye on your fellow travelers, just like they should do for you. Keep your wits about you and enjoy yourself!

Most importantly, have fun because, duh, you’re in Europe! Bon voyage!

Top Weekend in Napa Itinerary Ideas

We just got back from our annual trip to Napa Valley. Even though I came down with one of the worst colds of my life (tissues were worth their weight in gold), we still had an amazing time with good food and good wine. The Seattle rain today really has me missing the warm weather – good thing we have a case of wine shipping up here to last us the rest of winter. This year, we stayed in Yountville, just north of the city of Napa. Here’s what we loved about Napa this time around…and what we’ll definitely pass on next time.

Cheered: 

Bouchon/Bouchon Bakery: ¬†For those of us who can’t (or frankly would never choose to) afford Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Bouchon is a more than adequate alternative, especially for lunch. The steak frites with truffle fries is my favorite Napa meal, while the scallops are the best my husband has ever had. It’s an expensive lunch, but that steak fills me up so much that I skip dinner. Bouchon Bakery next door ALWAYS has a line, but it’s worth the wait. When you walk in, prepare to ‘oo’ and ‘ahh’ at the display case. Oh, you thought you already knew what you wanted? Fugettaboutit! The “Oh-noyoudidn’t” is a chocolate dipped macaron. Enough said.

Napa Weekend Itinerary Bouchon

Bouchon: That’s probably French for ‘yum.’

Ma(i)sonry: Located in in one of the oldest buildings in Yountville, this winery collective and contemporary art gallery looked like the kind of place I’d be intimidated by with its expensive modern art and hipster employees. But our extremely positive experience shattered that expectation! Each host was very friendly (it didn’t hurt that they’re native Marylanders, like us). The tasting experience is unique in that 1) it usually takes place in their sunny sculpture garden surrounded by interesting art, and 2) instead of a set tasting menu, your personal host will bring wines for you to try based on your palette preferences. With wines that range from $12/bottle to $250/bottle, there really is wine for every palette in every price range, and remember, these are wines you really can’t purchase anywhere else ¬†– these boutique wineries don’t even have tasting rooms. The icing on the cake – shipping to Seattle was only $11!

Napa Weekend Itinerary Maisonry

Ma(i)sonry: Beautiful day, beautiful building.

The Vintage Inn: Out of all my travels, this might be my favorite hotel – no kidding. Even though I was pretty sick this whole trip, this Yountville hotel was extremely comfortable. It’s perfectly located, and even if it wasn’t, the grounds of the hotel are beautiful enough, with fountains, flowers, and lux pool, that it’s hard to leave. The second floor rooms have spacious balconies and wood-burning fireplaces that come with Duraflame logs and a bottle of wine. On top of all of that, the complimentary breakfast cannot be beat with mimosas and bloody marys, an omelette bar (the omelette guy is a serious pro), waffle bar, and so many other pastries and traditional breakfast foods. We had a wonderful stay and will definitely be back.

Jeered:

Bottega: Celebrity-chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurant was crazy loud – so loud my husband and I didn’t speak most of dinner because we couldn’t hear one another from across the table! It’s one of those menus where they encourage you to get an appetizer, a “primi” pasta dish and “secondi” main course. You would think the dishes would get better and better with each course, but it was just the opposite. A beautiful, fresh antipasta app, a simple but tasty pasta carbonara, and the just ‘meh’ spare ribs. With so many courses, we were too full, and too put off by the noise, we couldn’t make it to dessert.

Mumm Napa:¬†Mumm is one of our go-to sparkling wines when we stop at Bev-Mo so we thought hey, let’s visit the source. Their tasting room is in a gorgeous location in a valley of grape vines and they have a photography gallery on-site featuring an impressive Ansel Adams collection. Unfortunately, the service was as dry as the wine. Our host did not show any enthusiasm for the wine, or for us. “Take a look at the tasting menu and when I come back, I want to see some ID.” I wonder if he was a police officer or a high school teacher in his previous career? He dropped off the tasting bill without a word. Needless to say, the closest we’ll be to Mumm again will be at our local Bev-Mo where the service is always great!

Napa weekend itinerary mumm

Mumm: Gorgeous grounds, grumpy service.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars:¬†Also known for the “million dollar apostrophe.” I know, I know, this is a Napa Valley legend, but honestly, I was not wowed by the wine or the tasting room experience. I have a feeling this winery is always packed, and our visit was no exception. We were luckily able to get a space standing at the tasting bar with a nice gentleman to pour our wine. For all the hype, the wines just didn’t stick with me the way I thought they would for the cost. Checking it off the Napa Valley bucket list and moving on.

Napa weekend itinerary stag's leap

Stag’s Leap: Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap.

All and all, another great trip to Mecca…I mean, Napa Valley. Now if only I can get rid of this cold, sinus infection, plague, whatever. Looking forward to planning another trip for next year…with less cold medication!

Seattle Summer: The best activities and events of the season

It’s another gray day in Seattle. Even though I’ve lived here for over almost 4 years, I’m still not used to the consistent gloomy weather. No wonder people in this city love their local beer and wine – it’s a survival mechanism to get through the drizzle and cold we typically see November-May/June. ¬†I’ve actually become Vitamin-D deficient. It’s no surprise that I spend the entire rainy season dreaming about Seattle’s perfect summer weather and all its glory.

This summer, I hope my husband and I can take every weekend to catch up on our Vitamin D. If you’ll be in the Seattle area this summer, check out my list of what I’m looking forward to most:

Rattlesnake Lake: ¬†We discovered Rattlesnake Lake through a local hiking guidebook. The hike up to the rocky ledge (Rattlesnake Ledge) overlooking the lake wasn’t too long or intense (be warned if you’re afraid of heights…or falling off a cliff) and the view of the bright blue water and surrounding green mountains is amazing. This year, we hope to make this one of our prime picnic spots but we’ll have to get there early – parking near this North Bend, Wash. lake is limited, overflow cars have to park on the side of the road. We’ll be investing in a rolling cooler so we can easily get our picnic gear the quarter-mile or so from the car to the lake shore.

Seattle summer activities Rattlesnake Lake

View from Rattlesnake Ledge (don’t fall!). Look at that blue water!

Snoqualmie Falls: Another awesome site nearby is Snoqualmie Falls. The Falls can be seen from the upper viewing deck (who doesn’t love a great misty waterfall?). Ever since we moved out to Seattle, the main trail leading to base of the falls has been closed for renovation however it’s just recently reopened and I can’t wait to finally get the chance to take on this easy hike. You can take a virtual tour of the updated trail on the Falls website.

Seattle summer activities Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls: So cool and so close by!

Whitewater rafting: Every year, my husband and I drive a couple hours east to ride the “rapids” of the Wenatchee River. I say “rapids” because we typically wait until late July or early August when only a few big rapids remain (I’m not hardcore enough to go in June when you still have to wear a wetsuit). For someone who is not overly adventurous outdoors, our whitewater rafting experiences have been a blast. We raft with¬†Blue Sky Outfitters¬†and have never had any issues and always a lot of fun. The guides are skilled, passionate about rafting and full of stories about crazy times on the river. Without too many wild rapids, you can spend more time enjoying the scenery around you – bald eagles, beautiful riverside homes, and the occasional modern-day bearded gold miner

Washington Brewer’s Festival: Held Father’s Day weekend each June, the Washington Brewer’s Festival marks my official start of summer. Over 150 breweries from across the state keep a booth at this outdoor beer fest where a token gets you a 3 oz. pour (or a 5 oz. pour if you upgrade – we do every year!). This is a chance to not only taste the beers that are the pride and joy of local breweries but also to try those weird beers with flavors like sour cherry or spicy habanero. Whatever your beer fancy (there’s some wine and cider on hand, too), you’ll definitely find it here. The festival’s annual keg toss competition is really just the manly icing on the cake.

Seattle summer activities beer festival

WA Brewer’s Festival: It’s definitely worth it to upgrade.

Whidbey Island: Accessible by both car and ferry, Whidbey Island is a fun day trip for a couple good hikes and walks along stoney beaches in Deception Pass State Park, followed by lunch with a view further down the island in Coupeville.  For dessert, stop at Whidbey Pies Cafe for a sweet slice, and before the ferry ride home, try some of the wineries found mostly at the far south end of the island.

Seattle summer activities Deception Pass

Deception Pass State Park makes for an amazing day trip!

River tubing: If you miss the rafting boat…er…raft, you can always grab a tube down the river once the rapids die out in August. There’s two types of tubing experiences – a wet one, and a dry one. The first time we went tubing, we went with¬†River Riders¬†just outside of Leavenworth. That tubing course was pretty exciting but you had to be alert since low water meant a few small rapids with made big splashes, large rocks to circumnavigate, and frankly, some bumps on your butt if you weren’t paying attention. Our second tubing experience was much dryer (and less painful on the tush) with the¬†Leavenworth Outdoor Center, where the entire course is flat water with just a couple swift points. Flat water means more opportunities to get out of the river along the way, or simply, just more opportunity to relax. Choose the course that is most comfortable for you – we had fun on both!

Chateau Ste. Michelle: ¬†If you like Rieslings, you might already know Chateau Ste. Michelle. Even though it’s Washington state’s largest and most famous winery, the winery’s main campus and concert grounds in Woodinville, Wash. make this huge company seem much more down to earth. The grounds feature tall trees, a fountain, duck pond, and a few vines actually growing on the property – a perfect picnic setting with a chilled bottle of wine you can purchase, along with picnic supplies and snacks, from the tasting room shop – BYOG (bring your own glass). If you’re lucky, you might even see one of the winery’s wandering peacocks. My most favorite part of the Chateau experience is the summer concert series, where the winery transforms into a rocking outdoor concert venue with plenty of lawn seats. Most of the acts are the “oldies” but oh man, they are the goodies. Next up this year: a return of Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. I can’t wait!

Seattle summer activities Chateau Ste. Michelle

Nothing like an outdoor evening with good music and good wine..

Home DIY: What’s a summer without a little DIY around the house? I’d much rather be working out in the yard on a sunny day than a rainy one, that’s for sure. This summer, I hope we can tackle a few outdoor projects to make our front porch and small backyard seem more like “outdoor living” than “outdoor avoiding.” Our front porch is great, a good size – except for the sun beating down on you in the afternoon until you’re burnt to a crisp. To fix this problem, we’ll install a pull-down sun shade to give us a little more privacy and a little less risk of skin cancer. In the backyard, I hope to use some simple planter boxes and maybe even some creative lighting to make our postage stamp-size backyard feel cozy instead of ¬†dingy. The fence is getting re-stained, too. Basically, stay away from my house this summer or I’ll find something for you to do.¬†You can follow my backyard idea board on¬†Pinterest.

Just 5 more months of the rainy season before these dreams can become a reality. Until then…I’ll be waiting.