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Caitlin Travels: West Coast Recap

Welcome to a new section of the blog! This is where you can find my travel adventures, where I’ve been, and of course, pretty photos.

Last summer, I found out that my closest friend was going on a trip with her family that included touring the entire West Coast. She was ok with me tagging along. My entire year was made when I found out I was invited. Waiting almost a full year for this trip was… fun? It definitely had me burning with anticipation. Especially considering the fact that the farthest west I’ve been is Texas. (Impressive, right??)

Our agenda was to leave Friday afternoon, July 30th to drive to Rogers, Ar. where we would spend the night. The next day would include driving across Oklahoma and Texas, and stopping halfway through New Mexico to spend the night at Albuquerque.

In between morning and evening worship services on Sunday we kept chugging along, eating up the miles. Our only problem was the scarcity of towns and civilization in the midst of Arizona desert. The hotels there are few and far in between. The first exit we saw had several hotels and we stopped at every single one. Why? Because they were all full. So, back on the road again and we drive to the next exit. Have I mentioned it’s 12 am by this point? We finally found a hotel that had room for us, and we crashed for a few hours before heading back on the road.

Monday had us reaching our destination of Long Beach, California by 12 pm. The view coming into California was beautiful, with mountains rising up before us continually.

First view of California mountains!

We unpacked and visited with the family we were staying with for the next 3 days and then we headed out to Hollywood for the day! I have never seen so many people in one spot in my life. Once we got into LA, the smog was so bad it was positively dreary. No mountains, no clouds, nothing. But that didn’t matter. I was in Hollywood! We stopped in the Ghiradelli store, had some sweets, went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and had some good food. I rode the subway for the first time, and learned that California really does get cold after the sun goes down. I also learned that I had to ignore my Southern upbringing and refuse to let people go in front of me, or I would lose my group.
Another first for me was riding the subway. Definitely an experience. Those doors don’t wait for anyone! I totally felt like I was in the Narnia movie, “Prince Caspian” whenever the subway started coming through the tunnel. I halfway expected to feel something pinch me and then for the bricks to start flying off the wall around me.
We also stopped at The Last Bookstore. Originally a bank, this was the coolest bookstore I had ever set foot in before. If you’re into books, this is a must stop for you. They have books as old as the McGuffy readers in their antique section all the way up to the newest releases. The coolest part? They decorate with books. They even had a book tunnel to walk through just for fun. But as much as I love books, I think I was most enthused about the small shop up on the second floor that had old cameras for sale.

Visiting a west coast beach has been on my bucket list for FOREVER, and we managed to fit a beach day in during our short stay. This was the only thing I had asked to do on this entire trip. And Oh My. It was worth it. We drove an hour to Corona del Mar and walked among the rocks, saw lots of crabs, and then ventured out in the waves to do some boogie boarding. Afterwards, we had fun simply jumping over the huge waves, and even ducking under a couple because they were a bit too big to go over. The seaweed was insane, and it felt quite gross. The waves brought enormous patches of it over and we constantly found ourselves in the middle of a seaweed jungle, franctically trying to get ourselves out of it before it wrapped our legs up completely.

All too soon our stay in California was at an end and we headed out on Thursday. But before hitting the road, we had a few stops on the way out. Our first stop was IKEA. Is it sad that the only thing I was tempted to buy in IKEA was this succulent??

We grabbed some quick lunch at In-and-Out Burger, a first for all of us, and a Western staple according to some, and then it was off to the Americana at Broad Mall, where we went down from a 6 story parking garage in a glass elevator that finished it’s descent in an outdoor lobby of the fanciest hotel I’ve ever seen. (The bathrooms had their own personal maid where one of her only jobs was to fold your paper towel into a triangle and lay it on top of the pile. And repeat as soon as that one was grabbed. They also had mini size mouthwash, soaps, and lotion for guests to take if they needed some.) This map was one of the fancy fixtures in the lobby, and of course, we had to get a treat to tide us over until our next meal.

Our next destination? Seattle, Washington. Once again we were winging our hotel for the night, and once again most were already full or smelled of smoke.  But, the drive the next day was breathtaking.

One thing we learned quickly about Seattle and the surrounding areas was that everything closes really early. We arrived at our hotel at 9:30 pm, and after unloading tried to find a quick place to eat. The only thing that was open was a Jack in the Box. But we were extremely hungry so we made do.

Saturday was our first full day in Seattle, and our original plan was to tour the Seahawks stadium. But guess what? We got last minute tickets to the Seattle Sounders soccer game. I’ve never been into soccer, never seen it played (besides flipping through the channels on tv), but I was excited to see the World Cup winning team play in the famous stadium. Plus, we got pretty good seats!

After the game, we went to Pike Place Market, which was rated at one of the top things to do in Seattle. My impression? Too many people. I personally couldn’t even enjoy it because you are constantly in someone’s way. But the fresh food, fresh flowers, and homemade, local items being sold all around you was super cool. The fresh fish everywhere? Not so much. But I had some amazing iced apple cider.

Traveler Inside Tip: If you go to Seattle and plan to walk along the piers, but park away from the piers? Plan to do lots of hill climbing on the way back. Seattle is nothing but uphill or downhill the closer you get to the water. But the view is incredible. Spending the whole day by the pier means you get midday and sunset shots of the Great Wheel of Seattle, with Mt. Ranier in the distance.

The next thing I was most excited about on this trip was going into Canada. We had an entire day devoted to an out of the country experience. We woke up at 5 am on Monday morning to drive an hour to Anacordes, Washington. From there, we would take a 3 hour ferry trip to Sydney, BC., then take a bus down to Victoria. The ferry trip was unanimously decided as one of the highlights of the entire trip. We were able to walk the deck and watch the islands outside pass by, go in and work on puzzles that were left out for passengers to work on, or take a nap on the long benches located on the second deck. I thought they were quite comfortable, and apparently so did everyone else in our party, because all but one of us took naps during our ride across the water. Once we felt hungry, we hiked up a level and visited the cafeteria that stays stocked with food for ferry travelers.

After arriving and going through customs, we found ourselves in the company of some fellow Americans who were visiting from Arizona. We helped each other navigate to the nearest bank, which is where we had to get some Canadian currency, seeing as the buses only accepted cash.

Waiting on the bus to arrive, we were greeted by a nice elderly man who proceeded to give us Canadian history, travel tips, and friendly conversation. Our bus (a double decker!) pulled up and since it didn’t have enough room for all of us, we had to get back off and wait 15 minutes for the next one. We were able to get on the next one, (and yes, we sat on the upper level) but we found out it was the longer, scenic route that would take us by the airport and through the country. Which cut us down on the time we had to spend in Victoria… Our main destination for the day was Cragdarroch Castle. We got off the bus early before our stop because honestly we were tired of sitting and we wanted to explore a little bit more. So we walked about 2 miles and wondered when we were ever going to find this castle. We ended up stopping in at a veterinary clinic to ask directions, only to find out our castle was just around the next block. We came during a time of renovation and in the middle of building a welcome center, so while the outside wasn’t as impressive at first, the inside made up for it. The self-guided tour told us all about the family that built the house. The original owner, Robert Dunsmuir, a wealthy coal baron, wasn’t even able to see his completed work because he died before it was finished in 1890. The four story castle has been used as a home, a college, and even a war hospital during WWI. After finishing our tour, we headed back to a bus stop so we could make it back to the ferry in time for our 5:45 pm departure time.
One of my favorite things was seeing all of the old buildings everywhere as we walked our ~3 miles round trip from the bus stop to the castle. Then our bus ride back to the ferry took us through the farm lands of Sydney.

Canada had us ready for our beds that night, but we had tickets for the Space Needle back in Seattle for the next morning at 9:30. The view from 605 feet in the air is quite impressive, let me tell you. We saw whale watching boats going out and apparently there was even a whale sighting by one in our party, but I didn’t see it. We thought about eating up in the Space Needle restaurant (which, by the way, is held on a slowly rotating disk so that you can experience the entire 360 view while dining), but after seeing it was $53 per person for brunch, we decided looking was enough.

The rest of the day was touring the downtown area of Seattle, and ate some of the best food on the entire trip. I bought a corn on the cob from a street vendor and it was the best corn I’d ever had. Partly because they had several different seasonings out to sprinkle your cob with, and after eating cajun garlic corn on the cob, I’m never going back. Plus, an ice cream stop. Because it’s an essential to any foodie day. We saw someone walk by us with a personal pizza bigger than her face and it looked delicious. So the hunt was on. We were determined to find where she had come from. Our  noses led us to Mod Pizza, which is now our favorite pizza place. It’s a build your own pizza restaurant that offered gluten-free crust, so I was thrilled with my creation.

Also, if you ever find yourself in the Bothell, WA area, (just outside of Seattle) stop at Julio’s Restaurant. Hands-down one of the best Mexican places I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t get a picture because it was so good, it was gone before I thought about it. The prices are great, the food tastes authentic, and none of the cheap Mexican food that leaves a fake, fresh-out-of-the-can feeling in your mouth. They kept our starving table fully supplied with fresh, still warm chips and salsa. I mean, they refilled our salsa and chips three times in the 10 minute wait for our food. We kept complimenting the food every time our waitress came by, and after the third or fourth time the waitress simply said, “Yes, I know” from then on. They know their food is good, and aren’t afraid to claim it. 😉

We also rode the monorail during our day spent around the Space Needle. We were probably the craziest tourists the monorail driver had ever seen. Why? Well, we were content to pay $4.50 for a 2 minute monorail ride that went to one stop, and then went right back the other direction. Pretty ridiculous, right? 😉 In our defense, we had no idea. We were under the impression that it went through Downtown Seattle and back again in a big circle. Well, it did go partly into Downtown. But just 1 minute into Downtown. 😉 We didn’t even get off the monorail. And yes, we were the only people that didn’t get off. But it’s ok. We can now say we have ridden the monorail!

We were already almost halfway done with our vacation, but there was still so much left to see. We basically had finished our big city touring and now we were ready to begin our nature part of the vacation. Our next stops were in Oregon and Montana.

Want to read the rest of the adventures? Read on in Part 2. 🙂

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