Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skagit Valley Revisited

Last year in mid-April, my husband and I made our first trip up to Skagit Valley for their annual tulip festival. Alas, our late winter meant that there were few tulips to be seen.

Things are different this year. We didn't really have a winter at all. And though the tulip festival doesn't start for another few days yet, the tulips are already blooming. My friend Lisa and I decided to go up today to try and beat the bulk of the crowds. We could not have had a better day.

On the road towards La Conner, we stopped at Snow Goose Produce. I had seen this place last year, but we didn't stop. Today, we did. And I'm so glad. This place is a paradise for foodies and flower lovers. You can get wine, produce, seafood, jams, pickled veggies, condiments, cheeses...all sorts of gourmet treats from around the area. But perhaps Snow Goose is more famous for their self-proclaimed "immodest" ice cream cones, which are every bit as immodest they claim. Served in a freshly made waffle cone, the ice cream is a delicious treat even at 10:30 in the morning.

After spending a bit of time there, we moved on to La Conner. Lisa had only passed through there before and never took the time to explore. So I insisted that we had to. We got there early enough to find a prime parking spot and started our exploration. I love this town just as much now as I did a year ago, if not more. When Lance and I were there last year, there were a lot of empty businesses. Well, things are starting to pick up, and there were new businesses to explore.

So we poked around in shops, galleries and enchanting courtyards. We bought homemade toffee from a new toffee shop and fresh scratch-made lefse from The Norse Pantry. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration. We soaked up the charm.

Shortly before 1, even though we were still a bit full from the ice cream, we decided to have a bite. So we went to Hellams Vineyard - a wine shop on the riverfront. There, we ordered a plate of salami, olives, bread, cheese and crackers. Lisa got a glass of red wine. I got a glass of a delicious Riesling/Viognier blend. We sat out on a deck overlooking the Skagit River and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. It hit the spot.

After that, it was time for tulips! Instead of heading to Tulip Town or Roozen Gaarde, we went to the other fields. I cannot properly do the colors justice with words. You just have to see my pictures.

Once we spent an hour or so exploring the tulip fields (and what was left of the fading daffodils), we headed back toward Seattle, stopping at Snow Goose Produce once again for a few souvenirs before hitting the highway (the line for the ice cream at this point was ridiculously long).

The weather was really nice, and it was pretty much a perfect day.

See my pictures from today.

Snow Goose Produce
Hellams Vineyard

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Northern California

Two weeks ago, I went to Northern California. It wasn't so much a touristy trip as it was a family visit. My brother and his family just moved from Guam to Northern California in December. My two nieces were both born in Guam, so I hadn't had the opportunity to meet them until this trip.

So I'm not going to go into any details about my family visit. I doubt anybody cares about that. We did a couple of touristy things, which I will talk about. As much as I had hoped for a day trip to San Francisco or a Napa winery tour (both were nearby), it wasn't to be (maybe next time). But we went to two places in Sacramento: the zoo and Fairytale Town. I'm going to talk about both as family destinations, even though I generally don't focus on that.

When we got to William Land Park, where Sacramento Zoo is located, we noticed that there is a lot going on. This is a mecca for families. It has a golf course, Funderland (a small amusement part for very young kids), Fairytale Town and the zoo. There were also picnic tables scattered about. You could easily spend an entire day here.

Fairytale Town in particular caught my eye. If you want to do both that and the zoo, you can pay one fee for admission to both parks (at least you can at the zoo...I didn't see this when we got to Fairytale Town).

The verdict on the zoo: I've been to a lot of zoos in my life. This wasn't the best one I've ever visited, but it's nicely landscaped and has a train and a carousel.

Highlights for us were the red panda exhibit, the giraffe exhibit, the orangutans and the chimpanzees, who screeched and screamed a lot and got the gibbons excited.

I think the adults enjoyed it a bit more than the kids (mostly because my 2-year old niece couldn't ride the carousel - it only operates once every hour).

When my niece was obviously getting antsy and bored, we left. I think we saw pretty much everything, anyway. I don't think we were there more than 2 hours, and that included time in the souvenir shop and at concessions.

Then we went to Fairytale Town.

Fairytale Town is essentially a giant playground themed around fairy tales, fables and nursery rhymes.

My niece LOVED it (and yes, I mentioned 2 nieces earlier, but one is still a baby and can't walk yet, let alone play on a playground). Admission was really inexpensive and I think we all had a little fun here, even if it was just watching the kids play.

(Yeah...Mother Goose looks like she's been hitting the sauce. She has kids climbing all over her all day...can you blame her?)

Just a word of caution for adults: almost everything here is pint-sized. There are low doorways, so make sure to duck. There are even kid-sized toilets...but thankfully, there are adult-sized ones too.

Fairytale Town also has a petting zoo. There were sheep and goats. There was also a donkey and a bull, although I don't think you're allowed to pet them.

So...that was the extent of tourist activities on my trip. Maybe I'll have more to offer next time, but I still had fun, and it was really lovely to spend time with my family. Also, Northern California is beautiful. I came in via the Oakland Airport (saw some of San Francisco from the plane, at least) and the drive from Oakland to Fairfield (where my brother lives) and back was mostly scenic.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anthony's in Gig Harbor

We went to dinner with friends last night at Anthony's in Gig Harbor, just one of several Anthony's locations. The weather was perfection, and we asked to be seated outside on their patio that overlooks the harbor. We were the only people who wanted to sit outside. This was our view.

I mean, who WOULDN'T want to sit outside and enjoy this view, especially with the weather being so fine? (And if you look closely, you can see Mt. Rainier peeking above the trees.)

Anyway, I'm hesitant to say anything else about our dining experience, because it wasn't great. I'm happy to say that Anthony's righted the wrong, however. Our entrees were ridiculously late. Over an hour, by my estimation (although I was enjoying the company and conversation, so I wasn't keeping close track of the time, but we saw one of the tables inside seat 2 separate parties between the time we were seated and the time our main courses finally arrived). My husband's food was cold when he got it (and his food was even later than the rest of ours) and his order wasn't even correct.

But to Anthony's credit, they comped our entire bill. They couldn't possibly have done more to make things right. And I have to give them props for that. There's a reason why they're so well-known in the area and they lived up to their reputation when they realized that we weren't happy. Thank you, Anthony's.

Our food was good. I got the 4-course dinner special (available between 4 & 6 pm). I had baked Dungeness crab, shrimp and artichoke dip as my starter. A bleu cheese salad with shrimp. The main course was smoked salmon fettuccine. And I had Bailey's Irish Cream chocolate mousse for dessert. The portions were smaller (which is good, because I couldn't have eaten a full-size appetizer or dessert with the salad and main course).

My friend Christy also enjoyed her food quite a bit. She said their burned cream dessert (creme brulee) was the best she ever had.

So despite the flaws, I would give Anthony's in Gig Harbor another chance. Our dinner took so long that we didn't have time to do or see anything else before we had to leave (and I want to go back, because Gig Harbor is so beautiful). But, as I said before, they couldn't possibly have done any more than they did to try and retain our business.