Vashon Island. Heard of it? We have. Every Sunday we head over to our local Ballard Farmers Market (Ballard is a neighborhood in Seattle) and buy our meat from the Vashon Island butcher there. The legend is that his animals are raised on a beautiful & quaint island just a 20 minute ferry ride from West Seattle. An island we've always known about but have never visited. This island must be farmy - the Sea Breeze Farm
produces eggs, meat, & milk that is sold year round at the University & Ballard farmers markets here in the city.
I imagined farms and trees. Maybe some hills? A lot of my cyclist friends speak of riding the ferry over to Vashon (that's the pretty part) then biking up a giant hill that leads to town (that's the sweaty part).
Well, we explored the island last weekend in the winter sun (remember the sunny Saturday?). We found farms, hills, lighthouses, coffee roasters, exercise bikes, marinas, lots of kayak put-ins…but no UFOs (that's a different Vashon legend we'll talk about later).
Town is cool. Lots of restaurants, some of them a little wacky. A local movie theater, a music store, hardware store…lots of shopping. Restaurants for breakfast, lunch & dinner, coffee. Spend some time walking around with coffee in hand - make sure to check out the Treasure Island consignment shop
- it's awesome and full of every vintage thing you could imagine.
Other notable stores? We like Island Quilter
…my wife loves it because she's a quilter and loves to browse fabric (Katie from Sewkatiedid
was there!). I also found it intriguing due to the Luke Haynes
feature - I was pulled in by his giant Kanye/Jay-Z quilt in the window. I'll say that again - Jay-Z on a quilt…in a quilt store.
We grabbed a quick bite in town at Pure Organic Cafe
. I had a coconut smoothie, my wife had some warm Ginger Tea, and we shared a giant piece of leafy pizza.
Just down the road a mile from the shopping district is a historic coffee roaster with tons of Northwest history. Long story short - this used to be Seattle's Best Coffee but now it's independent…and yummy. It's the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie
. You can spend time here browsing the mini-museum scattered around the cafe and shop, shop for tea, herbs, groceries, beer, and of course, coffee. It is a great pit-stop for cyclists or for anyone who loves a good cup of Joe. Next door is a little grocery shop (Minglement
- pictured below) with gifts, oils, food, and other goodies.
Keep driving south from the coffee & you'll hit Quartermaster Harbor. We went left over the portage, towards Maury Island & Dockton. At the intersection of Dockton Rd SW & Portage Way SW you'll find one of the many mysteries on the island…the abandoned exercise bikes on Tramp Harbor.
From there we continued onto Maury Island (not really an island anymore since the Army Corps of Engineers filled in the bridge connecting it to Vashon back in the day). It's absolutely worth stopping by the Point Robinson Lighthouse, pictured below, and we also found a nice kayak put-in at the Dockton Marina.
Maury Island has some fun history too - my favorite is the 1947 alleged UFO sighting. The Maury Island incident as it's called, created a lot of buzz in the media and was one of the first UFO/Flying Saucer sightings (it was even before Roswell)…It was also one of the first mentions of the Men in Black…read more here
…Some folks are even making a movie about the incident! Support that project and learn more here
...and remember, you didn't hear it from me:)
Heading back over the portage leads you towards the other side of Quartermaster Harbor to the community of Burton. They also have a marina and a nice little marina-grocery store with boaty provisions. Jensen Point is the best kayak launch-site over here, and in the summer you can even rent boats for the hour, day, or longer. Look for full-moon paddles on Quartermaster Harbor in the summer months, 5 days each month around the full-moon.
Worth a day trip from Seattle? Yes! Did we even see every park and kayak put-in on the island? No! Will we be back to paddle? For sure.
~Paul & Amber ETC
The preparations have begun! We've decided to start exploring the San Juan Islands, a little groundwork for an upcoming summer multi-day paddle (a.k.a. ETC paddles the San Juan Islands!). We started by visiting the most populous and second largest of the islands - San Juan Island. It's the offseason - a perfect for time for exploration. We dined, stayed at a nice little hotel in Friday Harbor (review here
), shopped, and crisscrossed the island looking for kayak put-ins and other interesting sites. While driving around to the west side of the island we stumbled upon Lime Kiln Point State Park.
Before we get into all that, a little about the islands. The San Juans are an archipelago in the NW corner of our state of Washington. They're kinda like cold water Virgin Islands
- hilly, some close to each other, some far, some big, some small, some inhabited, some not, a great place for sailing and anchoring in protective coves.
They're boxed in by a bunch of straits - Juan de Fuca to the south, Haro to the west, Rosario to the east, and Boundary Pass (and eventually the Strait of Georgia) to the north. If you live in Seattle and have a boat (like us), the Shilshole to San Juan trip in the summer is the thing to do.
Since we were visiting by land this time we took the car from Seattle north to Anacortes and ferried over to San Juan Island. We highly recommend checking the ferry schedule
before you go, that is the trickiest part to getting here. I'm sure the summer ferries are packed…heck, we even left on a Monday afternoon and still almost missed the boat because it was crowded. Also, on your return, if your boat is coming from Canada and picking you up in Friday Harbor you'll have to go through a border crossing once you get to Anacortes (even though you didn't even leave the ol' USA).
We arrived at the town of Friday Harbor after about an hour boat ride. We drove right through and set out to explore the island. We saw signs for Lime Kiln Point State Park and decided to park and check the place out.
We were glad we stopped! It was Veterans Day weekend so admission was free (otherwise you'd have to have a Discover Pass to park). We set off down the shoreline trail & explored the Lime Kiln Point lighthouse - a favorite destination for tourists & whale watchers (check the board up front for listings of the most recent whale sightings). It overlooks the Haro Strait and that's Canada in the distance!
Then it gets interesting. Leave it to this guy to set out exploring Lime Kiln Point State Park without really knowing what a lime kiln is in the first place. I do, however, follow directions pretty well and noticed the signs leading to the kiln. A loop trail connects the shoreline trail (lighthouse) to the upland trail (kiln).
Holy lime kiln batman! Long story short - limestone is a rock & is partly formed of marine skeletons…yep, that's right…skeletons. Limestone can be baked down to pure lime.
When you clearcut the forests of San Juan island, as they did back in the day, and stoke a super hot fire in a stone kiln (the tall stone thing in all of these pictures), you can heat limestone up to a point where it separates (from impurities and the other stuff it's made of).
The separated pure lime from here was, in the early 1900s, some of the purest lime in the world…why did that matter? Well steel, among other things like plaster, cement, & paper are made using lime. Steel made from NW lime was actually used to rebuild buildings in San Francisco after their great earthquake/fire of 1906!
So basically it was - mine the lime, transfer down to the top of the kiln with cable cars (sounds like a great Indiana Jones cable-car scene here), cut down almost every tree on the island, stoke the fire, bake & separate the lime, toss lime that didn't properly separate over your shoulder, move the lime into barrels onto boats & move onto nearby ships in Friday Harbor, then ship the product to warehouses in Seattle/Vancouver/Portland. Eventually some of this lime was then shipped south, made into steel, & used to rebuild San Fran…crazy NW fun-facts!
P.S. - the wood frame is a new addition here - holding up the stone so it doesn't collapse!
That's not bird poo. No seriously, I thought it was bird poo. We have some giant birds and bird migrations in Washington and I thought they may have all congregated on this one rock.
Turns out that those historical workers we were talking about only liked to use a certain size of limestone. They broke it up, blew it up, and discarded the little sizes they couldn't use. Remember that unseparated limestone they tossed over their shoulders? To this day - lime leftovers are all over the place near the kiln (like the giant white rock pictured above).
As you can see - Lime Kiln Point State Park is definitely worth the time. Downside? Well, if you came to San Juan Island as a passenger (to avoid the crowded summer car ferries) it would be quite a trek across the island to get to the park.
Upsides? The shoreline and upland trails are pretty short and easy (although there is a little staircase of doom by the kiln), the sights are historic and amazing, there's a lighthouse, & you have a great chance to see some the orca pods cruising just off the point. Cool stuff.
~Paul & Amber ETC
Looking to paddle in Seattle? Everyone's Travel Club is here for you and we've put together a quick Seattle paddling top ten! Whether you plan to stand up paddle board, canoe, or kayak, these destinations are sure to please. Need more info? All of the linked words in the paragraphs below take you directly to an ETC post or video related to the destination. Enjoy!
If you have only a few days to paddle in Seattle, the most bang for your buck is exploring the Washington Park Arboretum
near Seattle's University District (go Huskies!). In this still-water wildlife refuge you'll paddle through narrow, peaceful waterways, trees overhead, and feel like you're in the jungle. It's the urban Everglades. Need a boat? Rent it from the UW WAC boat house nearby.
2. Shilshole Bay/Golden Gardens
A golden sunset at Shilshole Marina
A Shilshole Bay
paddle surrounds you with some of the best parts of Seattle - mountains, beach, the Puget Sound, sailboats, sea-life, and a great neighborhood nearby. Golden Gardens is the place to be for beach goers once the sun finally comes out in the summer. Sailboats fill the docks at Shilshole Marina. After a paddle exploring sea-life close-up at low tide, head into the nearby hood (called Ballard) for food, shopping, concerts, and sight-seeing. Use the public parking and boat ramp at the North end of the marina to launch. Check the tides/weather before you go and watch out for boat traffic. Make sure to spy dead Leif and the sea serpent
chillin' on the breakwater!
3. Lake Union
Gasworks Park on Lake Union
Tour some Sleepless in Seattle
houseboats and enjoy great city views. Pull your boat up on the dock at Ivar's Seafood house for some local seafood. Watch seaplanes land and take off, heading to the San Juan Islands and beyond. Parking can be tricky at the south end of the lake, although there is a great launch site
. We prefer the sunnyside boat ramp
on the north end. Need a boat? Aqua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club is the place to rent kayaks (and eat burritos) in this area.
4. Lake Washington, North
Landing across the pond at St Edward Park
Nothing beats the feel of paddling on Lake Washington. After trips in the saltwater, the no-tides freshwater here is always a welcoming change. On the north end of the lake, Matthews Beach
Park is a great place to launch with Sand Point to the south and St. Edward Park
across the lake to the East. Like we said, no tides to worry about here, just watch out for wind & boat traffic and bring your bathing suit in the summer.
5. Lake Washington, South
Paddling in Andrews Bay
Our favorite place to paddle and launch in the south is Andrews Bay, right next to Seward Park
. A favorite anchorage for sailboats overnighting on the lake, Andrews Bay is the perfect launch site with concrete steps right down to the water. From there, paddle around the sizable old growth forest park peninsula that is Seward Park. When you get to the other side to take out - you're pretty much back where you started!
6. Alki Beach/West Seattle
A view towards Alki & downtown from the lighthouse
Talk about city views. Launch near Salty's seafood restaurant (maybe hit their great happy hour first). Paddling north from there, turn the corner and cruise the Southern California- like Alki Beach. Restaurants, boat rental places, and shopping line the street, often crowded with skateboarders, beach goers, and rollerbladers. For a longer paddle, keep going and you'll pass the Alki Point lighthouse
and eventually hit the heavily wooded Lincoln Park to the south. Watch the tides/weather and don't let the summer vibe cloud common sense - the water you're paddling in is chilly all year!
7. The Ship Canal - Fremont/U-District
Checking out house boats, paddling to the Montlake Cut
The Lake Washington ship canal connects the freshwater lakes of Lake Washington and Lake Union to the saltwater Puget Sound. The Fremont/U District portion takes you through the historic Montlake Cut, the finish-line for the nationally known Husky crew teams. It also gives you access to the Arboretum (to the east), Ivar's Seafood restaurant
, downtown views on Lake Union, Gasworks Park on the north end of the lake, and you're close to the self- proclaimed "Center of the Universe" - the quirky village-like neighborhood of Fremont. A good launch site for a full-day paddle is the 14th Ave boat ramp
in Ballard, kinda between the Ballard Fred Meyer and Trader Joe's. Park for free, launch, and head east.
8. The Ship Canal - Ballard/Fishermen's Terminal
Kayaks resting on the public dock while we eat breakfast nearby!
Launching from the 14th Ave. boat ramp and heading west takes you towards the Fishermen's Terminal
and the Ballard Locks. Paddle next to giants at the Terminal - some of the fishing boats and their crews here are the stars of the popular television show "Deadliest Catch". Pull over at the public dock on the west end of the marina and enjoy breakfast at the popular Bay Cafe. Leave the Terminal heading west a little more and you'll get a view of boats leaving and entering the freshwater through the Ballard Locks. Don't get too close, it's a busy place for boats of all sizes. Want to kayak to a spa? Try the "Habitude launch site
9. Discovery Park
The Beach at Discovery Park
The largest city park in Seattle also happens to be surrounded by water. If you are lucky enough to score a parking spot close to the West Point lighthouse
, you can launch from there. Carrying an inflatable? Hike through the woods
to multiple beaches. A better idea? Launch from the Point Shilshole "surfer beach"
- across the water on the Ballard side, just south of the Shilshole Marina and across from Paseo (great Caribbean sandwiches).
Journey to Seattle's central park to soak up the rays (in the summer at least!) and paddle a few laps around Greenlake. Parking, equipment rental in the summer, and possible launch sites are on almost all sides of the lake. Look for some more secluded spots on the west side of the lake where there is also a nice kayak dock at the rowing center (and parking close to launch).
A quick little paddle from Port Townsend lands you at Point Wilson and Fort Worden State Park. Fort Worden helps form the historical 'Triangle of Fire' (sometimes called the 'Triangle of Death'), the triangular location of Forts guarding the entrance of the Admiralty Inlet/Puget Sound - once meant to protect the US during a WW naval invasion.
We left from the Point Hudson Marina, they have a nice little launch (and low to the water) and free parking close by. Pygmy Kayaks
is also nearby, they make the fancy wooden kayaks you see in the photo above.
The paddle is pretty much Northward toward the point you see on the map above.
It took us about 45 mins (fighting a little wind and waves) to reach the lighthouse at Point Wilson. We kayak-sailed back (pictured below), which actually took about the same amount of time but without any paddling, just steering with our foot-rudder. I'm not sure if Captain Wifey's Kindle reading helped at all, but who knows:)
Tides and wind can make or break this trip so pay attention, pack a lunch, and give yourself about a good 3 hours plus to paddle, picnic, and explore the lighthouse!
~Paul & Amber ETC
On a recent trip to the Olympic peninsula we decided to pull off from our normal drive (Bainbridge or Kingston ferry then up and over) and check out the Point No Point lighthouse. I had sailed by it many times before so I thought it'd be nice to see it from the land...and it was!
We toured the mini-museum and gift shop, checking out the old lights that used to be in the lighthouse (it's owned by the park & rec now). We also noticed you can rent out the old Lighthouse society headquarters building next-door...sweet.
Afterwards we hiked a little on some trails in the nearby woods and on the sandy beach at low tide. There is a little bit of a sandy spit here that jets out into the water - early (white) explorers thought it was more of a point than it turned out to be...a-hem...Point No Point. To top it off - it was sunny...in the Northwest!
~Paul & Amber ETC