Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Bday Ed., cont’d

Brandon turned 30 and it was a thing that needed to be celebrated, celebrated with all the fun things and adventures that could possibly fit into a single week. And so I planned and obsessed and refined and expanded. The end result was an incredible week in Washington.

I previously shared the places we stayed, but that was only the beginning, the background against which all the other pieces could fall into place. And oh what pieces they were.

To begin, skydiving.  You may remember that the details of this trip were a complete surprise to Brandon, who discovered what was next as we went along. That was how we found ourselves having this conversation over a lovely breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning in Olympia:

Me: So you’re probably wondering what we are doing in Olympia.

B: Well, yeah. I can’t remember ever mentioning a desire to come to Olympia.

Me: It’s more about the proximity to what we are doing today than actually being in Olympia. You remember that time you said you wanted to go skydiving? (picture a slightly maniacal smile slowly forming on my face)

B: (worried silence)

Me: Yeah, I think it was when we were in Hawaii or something. You said you really wanted to go skydiving. So you’re going skydiving today. I have reservations for you this morning.

B: You keep saying “you’re going skydiving.” Don’t you mean “we’re going skydiving.”

Me: (worried silence)

B: I’m not going to go skydiving by myself! I only want to go if you go with me. If we die, we die together!

Me: Ummm…. I hadn’t really planned on joining you. I mean, the cost is so much more for two people.

After several minutes of somewhat tense negotiation, it was determined that if, in fact, Brandon was going skydiving today, so was I. As we discussed the impending “fun” we would be having, we halfheartedly bemoaned the weather and “worried” that perhaps the rainy day would prevent us from jumping.

As we both kept pretending that we actually really wanted to skydive, we made our way toward Skydive Kapowsin. I think we were both secretly relieved when the worsening weather meant that it was not a good day to jump out of an airplane.

Hiding our relief, we began forming a Plan B. Fortunately, it just happened to be the weekend for Bainbridge Island’s Wine on the Rock. The weekend event is a coordinated effort among the handful of wineries on the island featuring tastings and charcuterie at each stop. We bought our tickets at the first vineyard we visited, Eleven Winery.

After enjoying the wine and live music offered there, we took our souvenir wine glasses and the handy event map and began making our way down the island, stopping at several vineyards and wineries along the way.

Not only were the wine and food fantastic, we got to learn about the unique wine industry and culture of the island, which is shaped by the rainy and cool weather (read: we drank lots of white wine).

Our favorite was a perfectly tart raspberry dessert wine we purchased at Perennial Vintners. In fact, as I type this, we are planning to open it up tonight to serve along side creme brûlée (I am weirdly excited about breaking in the kitchen mini torch) to celebrate Brandon’s hard work refinishing the original hardwood floors in my house. Seems like a worthy event for the wine! We did not quite make it to all the vineyards, one of us had to drive after all, but it was the perfect way to spend our first day of vacation. And I think we both enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed skydiving.

Good thing Sunday was such a relaxing day. Because the following day was anything but, in the best way possible. Monday was Seattle day. With our VRBO chosen partly for location, we were able to get an early start that day with a brisk walk to the ferry. We spent the day exploring Seattle by foot, as evidenced by the new record I would set for steps according to my FitBit.

We began our day in Pike Place Market, stopping by some of my favorite spots.

Which pretty much means we spent the morning eating food. Lots of food.

After thoroughly enjoying the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the market, we made our way toward the Pacific Science Center.

Unfortunately we did not have time to see the entire museum, but Brandon was especially interested in the special Sherlock Holmes Exhibit. The exhibit provided a history of the Sherlock Holmes series, including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original manuscripts. There was information on the science of crime solving during this point in history and on the fascination with crime present culturally that provided a background for the novels.

The central part of the exhibit was the opportunity to solve your own crime using the tools of the time. Although probably not targeted entirely toward adults, we both had fun following the clues and solving the mystery.

From there, we made our way to Orfeo, the meeting place for our Savor Seattle Gourmet Seattle Tour. This would be my third tour with Savor Seattle and like the previous two, it did not disappoint.

But first, we had to stop for cupcakes. We arrived just a bit early for the tour, so when we asked about somewhere nearby to grab a quick drink, our guide recommend Yellow Leaf Cupcakes. Because if you’re going to drink water, you might as well have a pancakes and bacon cupcake to go with it.

Back at Orfeo, our tour began. The focus of the Gourmet Tour is the food culture of Seattle – the focus on fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable foods. At each stop of the tour, we got to sample varying ways that Seattle restaurants live out these goals with a selection of small plates and Washington wine pairings. And it was delicious!

Wild Boar Polenta
One of the interesting things about Orfeo, in addition to the food, was the art. All of the art in the restaurant is a derivative of a single painting. For instance, in the picture below, the decor along the wall is enlarged pieces of the painting.

The second stop was a kitchen table at Serious Pie for some of the best pizza in Seattle

Then it was Cutter’s Crab House for crab stuffed prawns

And then La Buona Tavola, aka the truffle store, aka the most delicious place on earth

Then it was on to the Steelhead Diner for to-die-for razor clam chowder

And we still weren’t finished. Our next to last stop was Von’s Gustrobistro, famous for their collection of well over 1,000 spirits and their sourdough based breads and pasta
Here we were treated to an unbelievably delicious salmon sourdough pasta
The final stop of the walking tour was the iconic Fran’s Chocolates where we got to enjoy a variety of chocolate tastings that beautifully rounded out the tour

Following the tour, we were somehow hungry for dinner. We returned to Brandon’s favorite stop from the tour, Von’s, for more of that sourdough pasta. And more drinks. When it’s your birthday trip, you get to do what you want.

We started with sourdough bread with mozzarella
This time, we ordered the pork belly and brussel sprout pasta
The real highlight was the drinks. With fantastic ingredients and unique presentations, the drinks were hard to beat.

For further proof, here is a video, yes a video, of the coolest drink ever: video_31093318625

Our last major stop of the day was the Space Needle. Finally ready for a break from all of the eating, the Seattle icon was the perfect spot to finally put our feet up for a bit. With an unbeatable view of the city, we suddenly became the obnoxious couple kissing at a landmark. I know, I know, but there was Brandon and the romance of the city lights and the relaxed satisfaction of a day spent enjoying delicious food and drinks. I couldn’t not make out with him.

After that, we slowly made our way back to the ferry. We stopped at a bar or brewery here or there as caught our fancy. By the time we made it back to the ferry, it was late and we were exhausted. Which probably explains (some of) the following pictures.

It is hard to beat this view of Seattle at night

It was one of my favorite days ever.

Oh, and my new FitBit record

Tuesday was Brandon’s birthday. We used his birthday as an excuse to be lazy. To relax. To enjoy the hot tub to soothe our aching feet. We checked into the Inn at Pleasant Beach and simply enjoyed the beauty of the day and each other’s company. I know taking a day to relax can seem like a waste while on vacation, but I’ve learned that a day like this makes the rest of the trip so much better. We ended the day with an unparalleled birthday dinner at Manor House (more on that to come).

Wednesday was sadly our last day on Bainbridge Island.

We made the most of our last morning before heading toward Portland. While our time in Washington may have been about new experiences, we used our time in Portland to revisit some of our favorites. Dinner at Le Chon is always a highlight. And one of Brandon’s favorite spots is Ground Kontrol – arcade by day and arcade and bar by night. He usually beats me at everything. Except Tetris, I dominate at Tetris. And a late night in Portland is not quite complete without a stop by Voodoo Donut. Because it was a weeknight, there was hardly a line at all!

And then came Thursday. The last day is always the hardest, especially when the days ends with your love flying away for work. But we made the most of it. After breakfast, we spent a leisurely morning at the Japanese Gardens, lovely despite the ongoing construction.

I love this picture of Brandon

Our last stop of the day and the vacation was McMenamin’s Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. We booked massages for the afternoon at Ruby’s Spa and spent the time before and after in the warm soaking pool. It was the perfect end to a perfect week together.

But I’m not done, yet. I have more to share about food and the places you should definitely eat should you find yourself in Bainbridge or Portland. Because I have not already talked enough about food.

Brandon’s Birthday Break, 30th Birthday Edition

Sometimes I can be a teensy bit of a perfectionist. Like when I’m deciding upon the layout for my master bathroom addition (just ask Brandon) or when I am creating a menu plan for the week. But none of that compares to how obsessive I can become when planning a trip. Recently that was taken to a whole new level. I was not planning just any trip; I was planning Brandon’s 30th birthday. It had to be perfect.

Because if it were perfect he would know just how much I love him. Because I wanted him to begin the next decade of his life knowing that the best is yet to come. Because if I’m going to take an entire week off work it better be awesome.

After considering the countless options of where to go, I eventually settled upon Washington. I know, I know. It’s hardly my usual far flung destination. And it was, after all, Brandon’s 30th birthday. But this ended up being the perfect option for several reasons.

First, there were no airplanes involved. It had not been my year for airplanes. With delays and misplaced luggage and looooong days of rescheduled and redirected flights the norm over the previous months, I did not want to risk the stress of that for this particular trip. That, obviously, meant going somewhere within driving distance.

Second, Seattle is one of my absolute favorite cities and I wanted to share it with one of my absolute favorite people.

Third, Brandon loves the people in his life with a generosity and loyalty I admire daily. Choosing Washington as our destination allowed us to fit in time with friends and family, without which Brandon’s 30th birthday could not have been perfect.

So Washington it was. Specifically Bainbridge Island.

I had found the perfect location to celebrate Brandon’s new decade of life. What next? This really gets at my planning process. Typically, when determining where to go, I either jump on a good travel deal or, if I have somewhere specific in mind, I book airfare first because this is often the most expensive and/or least flexible aspect of the trip. On the one hand, wanting to go everywhere can be challenging because, well, everywhere is a big place. On the other hand, when the right opportunity comes along, it is easy to say yes. All that aside, not having to worry about airfare (thank goodness) on this particular adventure (see above), I was on to my (usual) next step – where to stay.

There are generally two approaches to booking a place or places to stay on a trip – either it is a central part of the vacation experience and thus choosing a beautiful or unique, and often more expensive, property with amenities is a priority or it is simply a home base from which to explore, often meaning that nondescript but affordable lodgings in convenient locations become most important. In short, either the hotel matters or it does not matter. Generally, I lean somewhat toward the former approach, although spending hours of research in order to find the little known budget hotel or rental option in a great location with some character is my idea of a good time. For this particular trip, I wanted everything to be flawless and that included the places we stayed.

I knew I wanted to spend at least one night at the Inn at Pleasant Beach. In fact, this inn is overwhelmingly the reason why I settled upon Bainbridge Island rather than Seattle as our primary destination.

You may recall that I stayed there once before and absolutely fell in love. It is, hands down, one of the loveliest and most comfortable places I have ever stayed. It seemed like the ideal place to stay for Brandon’s actual birthday. But only for one night because the inn is rather expensive and I am not a “real” doctor and don’t make real doctor money! Don’t get me wrong though; staying there is worth every penny. The Inn at Pleasant Beach has everything one could want – a gorgeous location on the water, beautiful and cozy rooms with unbeatable attention to detail, and a friendly staff.

Those chairs are seriously the most comfortable ever. I’m pretty sure I spent the better part of the afternoon in that chair by that fire staring at the view.

No part of me regrets splurging on a night here. And let’s be honest, I say it was for Brandon, but really, it was for me. Although this was his favorite spot, too.

With one night of the trip taken care of, I needed to find another place to stay on Bainbridge Island for a night or two. I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the ferry (so that we could come back from Seattle without worrying too much about how many glasses of wine we enjoyed with dinner), something affordable, and, preferably, somewhere with style. Little Rabbit Studio, which can be booked through VRBO, fit the bill exactly.

An impeccably decorated studio next to the owner’s home, we both loved our stay here. Again, it was all about the details – the bottle of wine and sweet bread left for us to enjoy, the weather forecast written on the chalkboard, the umbrella to borrow, the books and pamphlets of local attractions. It was such an easy place to stay.

The details reflected how much everything else about the studio was carefully curated and on point. We loved the hot tub, the perfectly outfitted small kitchen, and the location.

A small, private courtyard with a hot tub. There was also a fire pit in front of the house.

I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

That was initially the plan – a couple of nights in Little Rabbit Studio and perhaps a couple of nights at the Inn. But of course, plans evolve. Because I love Brandon and wanted his birthday trip to reflect that love. Not at all because I am an obsessive perfectionist who sometimes gets out of control and starts making plans bigger and bigger.

I decided that I wanted to add a night in Portland so that we could eat at our favorite restaurant. Plus, Brandon gets a little stir crazy in the car and this would break up the drive from Seattle to home. In a super complicated decision-making process, I chose the subtly wine-themed Hotel Vintage because I love Kimpton Hotels and we had not stayed there before. Like I said, super complicated.

This was another absolutely perfect stay. From the gorgeous lobby bar to the slightly edgy décor to the birthday gift greeting us in the upgraded room to the complimentary wine hour, we enjoyed every minute of our stay.

The wine hour was great. And we could go upstairs to the game room where there was a pool table and shuffleboard.

Can you tell that I love the details?

And then, there was my last edition to the itinerary. After decided that Brandon really needed to go skydiving for his birthday, I booked a night at the RL Hotel Olympia. This was a night when location and a good price were my priorities, but the recently remodeled hotel was a nice bonus. Despite a late arrival, it was a nice, quick stay that put us in the perfect spot for the plans of the following day.

The lobby was very trendy with a morning coffee bar with complimentary coffee and that also served made to order drinks

I know not everyone sees hotels as a splurge-worthy aspect of a trip. And honestly, if it were between not going somewhere because I could not afford a nice hotel and going somewhere and staying somewhere less than luxurious, the latter option wins every time. Assuming it is clean and safe. Those are my minimum criteria (ask anyone who has ever stayed in a less than clean hotel with me, I don’t do well). But sometimes it is fun to live it up a little and enjoy a fancy hotel, especially to celebrate a special occasion.

With the hotel situation mostly settled, I could move on to the details – what to do and, perhaps my favorite, where to eat. More on that to come.

For those considering a similar trip, our itinerary ended up looking like this:

Day 1: Drive to Portland. Have a birthday party in Portland at Brandon’s mother’s house with friends and family who live in the area. Drive to Olympia, Washington, getting in really late and slightly irritable (just keeping it real).

Day 2: Wake up. Inform Brandon that he is going skydiving. Have Brandon insist that if he is, I am to. Feel secretly relieved when we are unable to skydive because of weather. Drive to Bainbridge Island and move on the Plan B for the day. Check into Little Rabbit Studio.

Day 3: Spend the day exploring Seattle and spend our second night at the studio.

Day 4: Happy Birthday Brandon!! Welcome to the thirties, which has, thus far, been the best decade yet of my life. I can only hope the same for him. Reluctantly check out of our rental and feel quickly consoled after checking into the lovely perfection that is Inn at Pleasant Beach. Spend the afternoon relaxing before a delicious birthday dinner.

Day 5: Drive back to Portland, where we stayed at Hotel Vintage. Have a fun evening in Portland that included dinner at our favorite spot.

Day 6: More Portland fun before I had to drive home and Brandon had to fly out for work.

Day 7: Enter into post-vacation blues.