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Seattle's Wonk Concierge

Even the weather down here is none too balmy. It's barely 60 degrees and raining. Or is it?

"We don't acknowledge rain," Kinsley says. "Here, you stand in the parking lot getting wet and you don't even stop your conversation."

We're traveling now with Bill Barnes, who is himself an example of the Seattle phenomenon -- a Microsoft millionaire. Barnes recently retired at age 30 with a fat portfolio and a lot of free time. He's trying to launch a second career as a cartoonist, but he's also one of Kinsley's irregular camping partners. If it's hard to reconcile Kinsley the Harvard grad of wonky wit and fondness for the tax code with Kinsley the outdoorsman, Barnes says such conversions are typical of transplanted Easterners.

"Mike's embraced it even more than a lot of other people who have moved out here," Barnes says. "He does a lot of typical adventurous Seattle things.I do a lot more because of him."

A few minutes later, as we approach Olympic National Park, it begins to pour in a way that even the Seattleites have to acknowledge. "Okay," admits Kinsley. "These are showers. Rain on the Olympic Peninsula; who would have predicted it?"

The wet may not be a surprise, but it does force us to reconsider our plans for a night on the trail. Plan B: We head for Lake Crescent Lodge, a comely set of porched cottages surrounding a vintage log lodge on the lakeshore. We check into a double cottage and spend the rest of the day getting soaked on the surrounding trails. The paths wind through the old-growth woods to waterfalls and overlooks where the view is little more than ghostly glimpses of trees through wraiths of gray mist.

But a wet day makes for a delightful cocktail hour around the lodge's massive fireplace, and for a deeper relishing of the ensuing broiled halibut with crab and mango salsa, brie on garlic toast, raspberry sorbet and local wines.

Finally, stupefied, through the dining room window we watch a mist ice the surface of Lake Crescent during the evening calm. The rain has stopped for now. Coffee is served.

"We start out going camping and end up having a gourmet meal," says Kinsley. "That's classic Seattle."

Details: Michael Kinsley's Seattle

GETTING THERE: Numerous airlines fly from the Washington area to Seattle; fares start at $171 round trip, with restrictions.

TWO DAYS IN SEATTLE: A Kinsleyian weekend begins -- and sometimes ends -- with dinner or brunch or both at Etta's (2020 Western Ave.), the flagship seafood eatery of noted Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas. Etta's simple preparation of quality fish is one of the best reasons to visit the tourist environs of Pike Place Market.

Just around the corner, Wild Ginger (140 Third Street) lives up to its near iconic status as the best satay and pan-Asian food in Seattle. Reservations accepted; Gore-Tex welcomed. And if you need to buy a new parka for the occasion -- or a pair of crampons or a killer water bottle -- Seattle's REI (222 Yale Ave. North, 206-223-1944) is a gearhead's fantasyland, complete with indoor climbing wall, on-site mountain bike trail, cafe and coffee bar.

After dinner, head to Benaroya Hall (206-215-4747, www.benaroyahall.com), downtown's new arts venue. The smartly designed home of the Seattle Symphony offers a full calendar of music, film and live performances.

For a weekend away from the weekend, hop a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula. The hour-long Seattle-Bremerton ferry (206-464-6400, www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries) is really a commuter route, but these commuters demand good coffee and muffins, so the ride is perfectly pleasant for peninsula-bound tourists. On the far side of Puget Sound, a dense maritime rain forest makes for endless hiking and backpacking. Most of the Olympic National Park is designated wilderness, from forest to glaciers to Pacific coastline. Details: 360-565-3130, www.nps.gov/olym. But there are pockets of civilization if the weather drives you out of your tent. The Lake Crescent Lodge (360-928-3211, www.olypen.com/lakecrescentlodge) is a comfortable collection of cabins around a lakeside inn, a massive fireplace and a memorable restaurant. The lodge reopens in April; rooms start at $106.

INFORMATION: Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 206-461-5800, www.seeseattle.org.


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