(Almost) Home for the Holidays: A Chilly Visit to Washington State

If you’ve been following my travels for a while, you probably already know that I grew up in Washington State, near the Seattle area. I try to visit often, and since starting this blog I’ve made a real effort to get out and explore more of my old hometown whenever I’m up north. Over the past couple of years I’ve hiked mountains, discovered new restaurants, gone on day trips, and even had a little girl’s trip to British Columbia. On my most recent visit in December, however, my only plans were to hang out with my family and enjoy the holiday season. Sure, I might post a few snaps on Instagram, but this was a strictly non-blogging trip.

And yet here I am, ready to share with you what I got up to on my latest trip to Washington! It turns out, my trip wound up being just the right amount of downtime with family, and fun little excursions that were meant to be shared. I spent eight full days in the first week of December just lounging, catching up with family and friends, and savoring the cool winter weather. Here’s how it all went down.

I arrived at SeaTac Airport just before midnight on Friday evening, hiding my travel outfit of leggings and workout tank beneath a tan trench coat and trying not to shiver as I waited for my dad to come collect me from the airport. No matter how old I get, I love knowing that my dad will be there to get me, and that he’ll be the first familiar face I see upon arrival.

I got very lucky with the timing of my trip, and was able to see my younger sister Michelle for a few precious hours before she got on a plane to continue her church mission in Florida. I was worried we would just miss each other in transit! The exact date and time of her return flight was still up in the air even as I wrapped up the work week in Florida and packed my things up for Seattle. We ultimately had about eight hours together, from the time I landed in Seattle to the time she left for Florida, and naturally, we spent half that time just catching up rather than sleeping.

Dropping Michelle Off at the Airport
Off she goes!

The next day was pretty laid back, almost exactly what I had imagined when I booked my plane tickets. After a tearful goodbye to Michelle at the airport, I returned home and crashed for a few hours. Once I’d finally caught up on my sleep, we went out as a family to grab lunch at Midori Teriyaki. I still can’t believe that plain old “teriyaki” restaurants have not caught on here in Florida, and I make a point of eating teriyaki at least once every time I am up north! Unlike restaurants that specifically serve Japanese, Chinese or Vietnamese food, teriyaki restaurants specialize in one thing: delicious teriyaki-cooked meat accompanied by rice and a simple salad. Sure, they may sell other items, like gyoza, tofu tempura, and noodles, but the emphasis is always on simple, delicious teriyaki. My favorite dish at Midori is the salmon teriyaki, a perfect example of the Pacific Northwest flavors that I’ve come to miss while living in Florida!

While my family attended church on Sunday morning, I made my way into Seattle with my younger brother Jared for a day of foodie fun at some of Seattle’s award winning restaurants, headed up by award-winning restaurateur Tom Douglas. Douglas owns and operates 16 restaurants in the downtown Seattle area, and is a household name in these parts. He even owns his own farm, which sends fresh produce to the restaurants throughout the year. It’s the ultimate in fresh, sustainable cuisine with a distinctly Pacific Northwest vibe.

Driving Over the Evergreen Point Bridge Into Seattle
Headed into Seattle! Hard to get a good pic on this constantly moving floating bridge, but you get the idea.
Dungeness Crab Cake Sandwich and Deyki's Tibetan Plate at Dahlia Lounge Brunch, Seattle WA
Brunch at Dahlia Lounge: Dungeness crab cakes and Deyki’s Tibetan Plate, accompanied of course by delicious cocktails!
Backside of the Pike Place Market Building in Seattle, Overlooking the Alaskan Way Viaduct
The backside of Pike Place Market. Take the elevator or walk downstairs, and you’ll find even more tasty little shops, along with the beautiful Seattle waterfront!
A Sunny Day at Victor Steinbrueck Park, Next to Pike Place Market in Seattle
A winged sculpture at Victor Steinbrueck Park, next door to Pike Place Market and Tom Douglas’ famous Sea Town and Etta’s restaurants.

This day absolutely deserves a blog post of its own, beginning with a boozy brunch at Tom’s very first restaurant, Dahlia Lounge, and ending hours later with small plates at Lola, a chic restaurant which mingles the classic ingredients of the Pacific Northwest and the cooking styles of Greece. Fine dining and city exploration combine to create my ideal day in the city, and I can’t wait to share all the details with you soon!

Of course, I had plenty of time on this trip to just relax, run some errands, and imagine what life might be like if I ever move back to Washington in the future.

Snapchat Dog Filter With my Actual Dog
Hint: it looks like this. Snapchatting with my dog and siblings and spamming all my friends with cute Snaps.

My mom loves to spoil me when I visit, and justifies it by saying that she only gets to do so once or twice a year when I visit home. Going shopping has become a tradition of ours whenever I’m in town, and I always wind up going home to Florida with a slightly heavier suitcase than the one I’d packed a week before! On Monday, we ran a few errands and did a bit of shopping at the local mall, then had lunch at Sushi Me, a fun casual eatery where sushi rolls, sashimi, and more are delivered directly to diners via a conveyor belt! I’m the type that likes to see my food before committing to it, so I love this hassle-free method of just scoping out the small plates as they pass by, and grabbing anything that looks appetizing. After lunch, I spent a few hours just chilling at home and hanging out with our sweet pup, Dakota, and in the evening, we went out as a family to get ice cream at Cold Stone. I love their banana ice cream with marshmallows and cookie dough!

Family Outing to Cold Stone Creamery at Redmond Town Center
My family enjoying some ice cream to round out the day!

On Tuesday, I did a bit more shopping with Mom, and discovered the magic of Trader Joe’s. I’d heard of the grocery chain, of course, and even have a store close to me back in Florida, but I had never been inside before. Trader Joe’s has the cutest store brand products, like macarons, specialty wines, and all kinds of drool-worthy sauces and seasonings, exactly the kind of items I love to buy and bring home as souvenirs when I travel. Since the chain has stores nationwide, however, these fun goodies are more of an everyday indulgence than souvenirs, and I’m pretty pumped to be able to stock up on tasty mochi and more whenever I like!

Later that afternoon, I went to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with Jared. I’m a longtime fan of the Harry Potter universe, and my love for the stories is actually one of the major reasons I decided to make my move to Orlando in 2007 a permanent relocation. This is one of the few places in the world where you can actually see Hogwarts Castle, visit Gringotts bank, and sip on some sweet, delicious Butterbeer! Seeing a whole new layer of the story brought to life in Fantastic Beasts was an unexpectedly emotional experience, and it left me feeling inspired to have a cold Butterbeer and re-read the original series ASAP.

Related: A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

In the evening I was excited to meet up with some old high school friends at a local British pub for drinks and trivia. If you can believe it, one of those friends is actually the same girl with whom I moved to Orlando in the first place! Taryn booked her trip home to Washington a couple of months before I did. I was so excited when I found out that our separate trips home to visit family would overlap, and a British pub just seemed like the perfect place for our mini reunion with friends Nadya and Lisa. Our trivia team name? Half Blood Prince of Bel Air. You have to admit it’s good…so good, in fact, that we won the whole thing and got a gift card to use on future visits!

Winning Trivia Team at the Three Lions Pub in Redmond, Washington
The Half Blood Prince of Bel Air!

Wednesday marked the halfway point of my trip home, and I treasured the moments spent that day with family. After a morning of even more clothes shopping (I’m not spoiled, am I?), we headed off to the high school to support my younger brother Christopher in his school band performance.

Lake Washington High School Band Concert
Christopher’s high school band in concert

For those of you keeping track, this is the third younger sibling I’ve mentioned thus far. Would you believe me if I told you that I have seven younger siblings!? It was definitely a little bit nuts growing up with all those kids in the house.

On Thursday I met up with Taryn and Nadya to grab breakfast at Brown Bag Cafe in Kirkland. Just look at this French toast!

Epic French Toast at the Brown Bag Cafe in Kirkland, Washington
Epic French Toast at the Brown Bag Cafe in Kirkland, Washington
Kirkland's Brown Bag Cafe Dressed Up for the Holidays
Brown Bag dressed up for the holidays!

Now I know why my dad is always going on about the massive portions and fantastic home-cooked flavors of this, one of his favorite breakfast spots in the area. With Taryn about to be wed the following month, and Nadya in the first few months of a brand new job, we had a lot to talk about as we tried and failed to finish our enormous breakfast platters. I’ve been friends with these two for nearly eighteen years now, as crazy as that sounds, and being able to spend some time all together for the first time in years was a real treat.

After breakfast, I stopped at home to offer up my leftover French toast to my parents, and then hopped on a bus to Seattle with Jared. From there, we took a second bus to visit my sister Jen and her fiancé Gavyn in Tacoma, about 30-45 minutes away. I grew up hearing the name Tacoma thrown about in conversation, but rarely actually visited outside of the occasional school field trip. What better way to be introduced to the city than to be shown around by two locals?

First up, we grabbed tacos and stocked up on beer and cider at Brewer’s Row. Like many of the best restaurants in Washington, this one takes pride in serving locally-sourced meat like Pacific Rockfish and beef raised near Mount St. Helens. The food is fantastic and the sauces are on point, but what really sets Brewer’s Row apart is its rotating collection of draft and bottled beer. We filled to-go growlers with three brews (two ciders and one beer) and made our way back to Jen’s place to eat and make a plan for the rest of the evening.

Beer and Cider Growlers from Brewer's Row in Tacoma, Washington
To quote Bridesmaids, we’re ready to parrrrrty with our growlers from Brewer’s Row!

Turns out, you can see a lot in one evening, even in December when the temps are low and the winds unfriendly. First we drove out to Five Mile Drive, a lovely scenic drive through the Point Defiance area. We passed through quiet woods, stopping a few times to awww over cute little raccoons or take in the views over the Puget Sound.

Cute Racoon on the Five Mile Drive in Tacoma, Washington
Cute little raccoon just hanging out on the side of the road! You’re not supposed to feed the animals here, but based on how many raccoons we saw just hanging out on the road, I’d say they’ve gotten used to being fed by humans.
Viewpoint Over the Puget Sound from the Five Mile Drive in Tacoma, Washington
The view over the Puget Sound
View of the Mountains and Puget Sound from Tacoma's Five Mile Drive
You can even catch a glimpse of some snow-topped mountains in the distance!
Jen and I on the Five Mile Drive in Tacoma, Washington
Jen and I

I really enjoyed the distinctly Pacific Northwestern vibe of this drive, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a little peace and quiet. There are also several walking trails and easy beach access trails in the area, making this a great spot to spend a few hours when the weather is nice.

Next we hit up Titlow Beach, where we clambered over rocks and delighted in the discovery of several little crabs scurrying about. I always hated beaches like this growing up, because they weren’t the sandy, idyllic beaches of the Caribbean. Titlow Beach is definitely not made for laying out in the sun, but it is a pretty place to enjoy nature, take a walk, and even do some fishing.

Water View From Titlow Beach in Tacoma, Washington
The PNW Version of Beach Views
Strolling the Rocky Shores of Titlow Beach in Tacoma, Washington
Keeping an eye out for baby crabs as we explored the beach
Titlow Beach, Tacoma, Washington
Beautiful views across the water
Jen and Gavyn at Titlow Beach in Tacoma, Washington
Jen and her fiance Gavyn

It got cold very quickly as the sun disappeared into the horizon, and I suddenly understood why my three companions were all decked out with gloves, hats and scarves. I hadn’t been home in December in a very long time, and suddenly, my favorite trench coat didn’t cut it anymore!

We went home to warm up, and Jen provided me with some gloves and a scarf before we headed out into the cold to see our final destination of the night: Zoo Lights at the Point Defiance Zoo! I cannot tell you how excited I was for this. Zoo Lights is an annual holiday event in which the zoo is completely decked out in Christmas lights and open after dark for special viewing. I remembered visiting as a child and falling in love with the vibrant colors and the feeling of Christmas all around, and I could not contain my excitement when we arrived at the zoo to find that it was snowing! Not the fake soap snow that gets blasted here in Orlando, but actual fresh snow falling from the sky! It made the whole experience extra magical, and I suddenly didn’t mind how cold it was, or that my feet were very quickly soaked from the snow. Stay tuned for a special post highlighting Zoo Lights in the future. For now, here are a few photos to whet your appetite!

Visiting Zoo Lights at Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo

Real Snow in my Hair at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington
Clearly excited about the snow in my hair!
A Snowy Mount Rainier at the Point Defiance Zoo's Zoo Lights
Local Pride: A snowy Mount Rainier made of Christmas lights!
Snowy Group Selfie at Zoo Lights at the Point Defiance Zoo
Snow selfie at the zoo!

After we’d gotten our fill of sparkling lights and freezing weather, we warmed up at Jen and Gavyn’s place with some pizza, drinks, Cards Against Humanity, and a few episodes of Game of Thrones. Jared and I spent the night at their place, and in the morning, we got on the bus and returned home to my parents.

With just thirty or so hours left in my trip, Mom and I went out to Value Village for one last round of shopping. The Seattle area, as you might expect, has an excellent thrift shop and vintage clothing scene, and I refuse to leave Washington without visiting at least one thrift store each time! Back at home, I started to pack my things and make room for any new purchases, then spent the rest of the day just hanging out with my family and enjoying their company.

On my final day in Washington, I went to my friend Taryn’s bridal shower in Vashon Island. It was so fun getting to see a few familiar childhood faces all grown up, and of course to enjoy some food and drinks and just celebrate the bride to be! I’m so happy that our trips overlapped and that I was able to come to the shower and see everyone.

Celebrating Taryn at her Bridal Shower in Washington
Celebrating the bride-to-be!

I got home in the afternoon and quickly finished packing so that I could enjoy some family time. Those final hours before I head to the airport are always a bit odd. When I visit new destinations, I like to spend my final hours out and about, soaking up the local culture and maybe enjoying a final meal before I head to the airport. When I’m home in Washington, however, all I want to do is sit and relax at home with family before I have to leave again. It really doesn’t get easier to say goodbye, I can tell you that.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to return. While this wraps up my 2016 trip to Washington, I actually was in the area again just a couple of weeks ago! Keep an eye out for those trip recaps, and if you want to get a sneak peek at what I got up to this time around, just pop on over to my Instagram and say hi!

12 thoughts on “(Almost) Home for the Holidays: A Chilly Visit to Washington State”

    • Yep! It’s always muggy here in Florida, so I was actually a bit happy to freeze my butt off for a week.

    • Your brother is a lucky guy! Washington is beautiful. Enjoy your holiday visit! It’s the perfect place to enjoy the holidays, with plenty of twinkling lights, a seasonal chill, and maybe even some snow if you are lucky!

    • Sorry, had to comment again and recommend one more thing. Depending on where your brother is located, you guys should head to Leavenworth and check out their Christmas markets. It’s a Bavarian-style town with plenty of German/Austrian expats, wineries, and authentic European flavors. I haven’t been over the holidays yet, but the Christmas markets are supposed to be very similar to those in Europe. Enjoy!

    • Oh yeah, Washington generally stays pretty cool throughout the year. It’s been warming up lately though! I was just there again a month ago and it felt like Florida in early spring. Not a fan, ha!

    • It’s always nice to go home and let my responsibilities slide for a week! It’s a true vacation, even if all I do is hang out at home with my family.

  • So interesting seeing the Christmas lights and snow – I’ve just been realising how close Christmas is now it’s October already!

    Sounds like you had a really fun trip home! Time with family and friends is the best so it’s great that you were able to spend some time with your sister before she left.

    Hope you are having a really good weekend!

    Away From The Blue Blog

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