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FAMILY TIME: Kirkland Serves as a Fine Base for a Fun-Filled "Staycation"

Need to Get Away in a Hurry? Look No Further than Your Own Backyard.

WE REALLY needed a vacation.

It was Wednesday night and we finally knew for sure we were actually going to be able to wriggle free of commitments – work and other – and enjoy a long weekend as a family. The problem was, it’s peak season here in the Pacific Northwest, and we weren’t the only ones with the idea to get away.

Where could we go to get away from it all on hardly any notice? After hours of online researching fond resorts booked throughout the state, we came to the conclusion that our best choice was to stay right here.

Kirkland is an ideal vacationing homebase. With easy access to the city, lake, mountains and everything in between, we couldn’t ask for a destination with a better rate, easier access, more comfortable amenities or a more diverse variety of activities nearby.

We’d have a “staycation” right here in our backyard!

While my husband researched and ordered a tent, I did a bit of research and put together an itinerary. Then we agreed on some ground rules:

  1. We must act like we’re on vacation. No housework, no honey-do lists. If we want to rest or play instead of straightening up, we will.
  2. We will eat what sounds good and takes the least effort – if that means a restaurant, great. If that means something yummy on
    the grill, fantastic. Dishes would be minimal.

We went to bed excited to begin. Here is how everything worked out:

Thursday

As it turned out, my husband had to work the first part of Thursday, so the kids and I kicked off our staycation by meeting friends at . The kids had a blast playing on the pirate ship playground, then we headed to the sand and set up camp. The moms and little ones chilled on the beach blanket while the preschoolers got busy in the sand. They made castles, cakes and soup and managed to scatter their sand toys across the beach.

The sun was bright. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. The kids were amazingly self-sufficient. Vacation had begun.

We headed over to the Agua Verde taco stand right there at the beach and enjoyed excellent Mexican fare – a cheese quesadilla for the kids and a chicken burrito for me – on a sunny little picnic table nearby.

After lunch, we zipped home for rest time. During the blessed quiet, I made dinner reservations and then took some time to shower, dress and get ready -- what a luxury!

I had been craving that oh-so-vacationesque seafood dining experience where you sit in the sun on a deck overlooking the water and enjoy fabulous seafood in a relaxed, yet classy atmosphere. And, it had to be parent-friendly. We found exactly that experience at Ray’s Café in Ballard.

It was a challenge – especially at rush hour. But we’d made 5:30 reservations, so we plodded through the traffic and enjoyed the sights of a new route through Seattle. We lucked out. An outdoor table (which cannot be reserved) opened just as we arrived, so we were led immediately to a perfect table against the deck railing overlooking Puget Sound. My husband and I enjoyed cocktails while the girls pointed to boats and paddleboarders. There were plenty of kids, which was just fine given the low roar of the vacation-like crowd. The kids enjoyed burgers and pasta while we adults ate salads and fish.

After our idyllic dining experience, we loaded back in the car and stopped in Wallingford for fabulous waffle cones at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. My salted caramel ice cream was the family favorite, but we all enjoyed a sweet treat to cap off our first staycation day.

Friday

Friday morning, we grabbed the dog, kids, backpack, water and wallets, got in the car and headed east.  On our way, we stopped for some yummy coffee to go at , then weaved over to SR202 for a scenic trip to the mountains.

First stop: Snoqualmie Falls. We’d been told to check out the Falls, but hadn’t gotten around to it. So this was a perfect start to our outdoor adventure day. The magnificent falling water of the Snoqualmie River
plunges 268 feet onto huge boulders below, giving off a fine misty spray that leaves everyone just a little bit touched. We’d hoped to hike the mile down to the bottom – a family-friendly hike we’d read about – but the trail is closed until March 2013. So, we walked the boardwalk along the western side of the falls marveling at the natural wonder of such a tremendous waterfall (we hadn’t realized…), took all of the requisite pictures, oohed and ahhed and vowed to buy a better camera soon.

Then, we loaded back into the car and headed just a bit further east to Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend. As we drove through the small
town of North Bend, we decided to go old school and buy burgers and shakes at the Dairy Freeze. I ran in and returned with two white sacks of decadent, fast food. However, with the dog, there didn’t seem to be a good place to eat right there, so we set the food down and headed to the lake to eat our burgers at the beach.

Rattlesnake Lake is beautiful. Surrounded by mountains in all directions, the deep green water beckons. We were there to hike, though, so after lunch we loaded the baby on my back and started the trail. There is a nice, flat, wide trail looping the entire lake – perfect for hardy strollers, young kids and kid-toting parents. However, if we were going to hike, we were going to hike, so we opted for the more challenging of the family-possible hikes and turned off the flat trail to take the Rattlesnake Mountain Ledge Trail – 1.9 miles up to a rocky bluff overlooking the lake and 270 degrees of panoramic splendor.

Had we realized what a “great” hike it was, we may not have attempted it with the whole family. With a baby on your back, and halfway through, a preschooler on my husband's shoulders (with a dog pulling), it’s a true weekend warrior workout. But the scenery was breathtaking and the while the grade and terrain were enough to keep our heart pumping, it wasn’t too steep for occasional hikers like ourselves to power through and succeed. More than two hours after we started, we reached the summit – and what a reward the view provided! The view in all directions was breathtaking and the rocky ledge provided a perfect place to stop, sit and enjoy a snack with a couple otherdozen hikers who were also reaping the rewards of their work. It was dangerous, though. It was a steep, rocky, bluff with no guardrails. We kept our crew close and safe and enjoyed a brief, yet spectacular, break.

The way back down took half as long and we pushed it. The baby didn’t find the hike as much fun anymore. She wanted down. Thankfully, the reward after the hours-long hike is the delightful lake, which feels so good on tired feet. Once down, we rolled up our pants and played in the edge of the water for a while then headed for the car.

Not far from the park, we stopped at a store for some drinks (we’d run out of water on the hike – we never found a place to
refill our water bottles at the park, so pack plenty). I also loaded up on s’more supplies. We had more plans for home.

When we arrived at home, it was time for the final part of our adventure day. A camp out! We assembled our new tent while flank stake marinated and the grill heated up. Then, we grilled corn and stake, sliced tomatoes and heated up a loaf of whole grain bread. Rather than sitting at a dining table, we crowded around a low coffee table on the deck as if we were camping and lit candles rather than turning on the deck lights. (Yes, part of camping, we explained to the kids, is staying up late!)

After dinner, we returned to the charcoal grill with sticks in hand and toasted marshmallows for decadent s’mores. We studied the stars. We
took deep breaths of the fresh air. We listened to the sounds of the night. It really felt like we were somewhere else. Then we brushed teeth outside and went to bed.

Saturday

Saturday was our western adventure day and this time, we were island bound. We loaded up and headed downtown to the ferry to
Brainbridge. While we’d spent plenty of time watching the ferries with the girls, this was our first ride, so we were all excited.

As we’d heard, the view of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier were spectacular. We wandered the boat checking out the views, watching
the racing seagulls who so masterfully stop mid-flight, reversed direction and then dive effortlessly for whatever morsel they happened to see mid-flight. We stood in the wind, we hid from it. We discussed why you could see shadows made by the invisible smokestack steam and we watched the island grow larger as we
approached.

Bainbridge’s downtown area is under heavy construction right now, so it’s not at its quaintest. However, we strolled the main drag (Winslow)
looking into shops and reading menus. Finally, we “asked a local” (as their tourist-friendly tee-shirts directed) and were pointed to Doc’s Marina Grill down on Eagle Harbor.  A family-friendly place with a deck overlooking the marina, it was just our speed. We ordered the yummy and surprisingly healthy Greek antipasti plate and an assortment of healthy (and not so healthy)main dishes and enjoyed some local beers.

After our late lunch, we strolled to the town playground near the marina park to let the kids climb and play and mingle with the younger set, then we walked back up to the main drag for some ice cream at Mora Ice Creamery, a local (and tourist) favorite. After ice cream, we did a bit more window shopping and headed for the ferry.

On our way back to Kirkland from the Ferry, we ordered pizza from on 98th. We ate the pizza in the family room and
watched part of a movie, something we never do with the kids, then headed to bed – the tent for Daddy and the oldest, house for baby and mom.

Sunday

Sunday, we “headed home” after a yummy family pancake breakfast. It was a rainy day, so a great opportunity to lay low, relax and try
to regroup for the week ahead.

All in all, it was a fantastic break. We really did feel like we were in vacation mode – doing things differently even if we were in the same surroundings for at least part of each day. We relaxed, we bonded and we “came home” appreciating even more this beautiful place we now call home.

So, next time you want to get away, don’t forget to look

closer to home. You never know what kind of fabulous vacation you can create – in your own backyard.

arlenecain123 August 03, 2011 at 11:24 AM
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Julie Arnan August 04, 2011 at 04:32 AM
Is Ray's Cafe the upstairs part of Ray's Boathouse? Sounds like a fun weekend. I'm tired just reading about it!
Jennifer Armstrong September 20, 2011 at 04:37 PM
It was a great weekend, Julie. Ray's Cafe is indeed the upstairs part of Ray's Boathouse. We've been there twice now and have been thrilled with the food, service and bustling atmosphere both times.

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