I recently posted a year-end roundup of my dozen favorite adventures in 2013. But in between the big trips to such exotic locales as Isla Mujeres and the Adriatic were places closer to home -- destinations where I return again and again. And if you're airport shy, none of them involve getting on a plane -- although you may want to up the adventure factor by taking Kenmore Air to the San Juan Islands. Whether you fly, drive or take a ferry or train, here are five weekend adventures that require no passport and won't put a huge dent in your travel budget.
San Juan Islands.
I enjoy going to the San Juan Islands in the off-season, mainly because there are no ferry lines or crowds. Several winters ago, my husband and I spent Super Bowl weekend celebrating my birthday on San Juan Island. We booked a lovely room in Friday Harbor at the Island Inn, enjoyed dinner next door at the Friday Harbor House and wiled away a sunny afternoon at Roche Harbor and Lime Kiln Point State Park. Lopez and Orcas are equally inviting, with a variety of accommodations and dining options. And winter sunrises and sunsets in the San Juan Islands can be spectacular!
There are two levels to the Victorian town of Port Townsend: the main core along Water Street and Upper PT. My favorite spots in the heart of town include the Northwest Maritime Center and the Rose Theatre. For food, Hanazono Asian Noodle, Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar and Hudson Point Cafe are good choices -- along with Fins Coastal Cuisine (overlooking the water). In Upper PT (take the steps up from the town's oft-decorated Haller Fountain), Sweet Laurette's Cafe & Bistro gets my vote or shop at Aldrich's Grocery -- Washington's oldest grocery store operating under the same name (it burned down twice). A fun place to stay is the Big Red Barn, located near Fort Worden State Park and Centrum's McCurdy Pavilion.
I love ridin' the rails, and a fun one-night getaway is via Amtrak Cascades to Bellingham. A nice place to stay, and just a short walk from the Amtrak Station, is the Fairhaven Village Inn. Located in the heart of the historic district of Fairhaven, the cozy 22-room hotel features spacious rooms -- many with fireplaces and harbor views. On the same street are two of my favorite spots: Daphne's ("drinks and a little food") open from 3PM to midnight and Magdalena's Creperie, for both sweet and savory crepes and handmade Polish pierogi. Nearby are Village Books/Colophon Cafe and Purple Smile Wines, plus blocks chock full of cool cafes and shops.
La Conner was the first established community in Skagit County. Located on the delta near the mouth of the Skagit River, it became an artist's haven in the 1930s. Today, the town's Museum of Northwest Art focuses on the art movement of that time, known as the Northwest School. A cozy place to spend a night or two is the La Conner Channel Lodge, the city's only waterfront hotel. Overlooking the Swinomish Channel, the 40 rooms feature gas fireplaces and jetted tubs, and a complimentary breakfast is served. Dining options include the casual Calico Cupboard and Nell Thorn Restaurant & Pub, my favorite lunch and dinner spot that's moving to its new waterfront location at the end of January 2014. La Conner is known for its colorful tulip fields and festival in springtime, while winter brings the annual migration of 8,400 Snow Geese and Trumpeter Swans to the area.
It's always a bid odd writing about your own hometown, but if I didn't live in Langley on Whidbey Island, I'd surely visit! Since my favorite place on the planet is Ebey's Prairie near Coupeville, I'll start in that area and work my way south. After that big hike on the beach and prairie, stop in at Toby's Tavern for mussels, fish 'n chips and a brew or two. Other dining options include Christopher's and the Front Street Grill. For more outdoorsy stuff, Fort Casey and Joseph Whidbey are state parks located in Central Whidbey, both loaded with history. Further south, stop by the historic Greenbank Farm at the narrowest part of the island, where you can indulge in food and art. Langley is the artistic hub of South Whidbey, with its galleries, shops and home to numerous community theaters and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. My favorite dinner spots are The Inn at Langley, Prima Bistro and Village Pizzeria; breakfast/lunch at The Braeburn and Useless Bay Coffee Company; wine tasting at Ott & Murphy; beer and darts at Mo's Pub; and popcorn and a movie at The Clyde Theatre. And then there's that spectacular view overlooking Saratoga Passage. There's no place like home!