She’s always been my favorite travel partner.
We’ve traversed Europe via Eurail, posed with showgirls in Las Vegas and restaurant-hopped across New York City.
So when I recently realized it had been years since I’d traveled anywhere with my friend Keri, in part due to COVID and in part due to life, I knew we needed to book a trip.
We wanted a place that had beautiful scenery, delicious food and a few surprises. As we discovered in late September, Washington state most definitely fit the bill. Here are four can’t-miss spots to check out when visiting Washington.
Maybe it’s the vampires. Maybe it’s the werewolves. Or maybe it’s the love triangle that left the entire tween world split between #teamedward and #teamjacob. Whatever it is, when Stephanie Meyer’s book “Twilight” was first released in 2005, it sent shockwaves through the young-adult book market and instantly put a certain small town on the map: Forks, Washington.
When doing research on the setting of her book, which she knew she needed to be “ridiculously rainy,” Meyer did a Google search for the place with the highest rainfall in the U.S and found that the answer was the Olympic Peninsula. Within that area, she discovered a small town called Forks and booked a scouting trip with her sister to see if it could in fact be the perfect place to set her story.
“Walking down Main Street, shopping at the Thriftway, driving up side streets until we found a house that could have been Charlie’s (lead character Bella’s father in the book), and then turning the car around only to find a beat-up, once-red, early ‘50s Chevy truck parked across the road. … The word surreal gets overused a lot, but this really was like walking around inside of a dream,” Meyer recalls in a pamphlet that’s proudly distributed by the Forks Chamber of Commerce.
The sun was shining brilliantly on the day that we pulled up to the Forks Visitor Center, where two versions of Bella’s iconic truck await eager shutterbugs. It’s worth noting that while Forks is the setting of the Twilight book storylines, the movies themselves featuring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner were shot predominantly in Oregon and Vancouver.
No matter to Twihards, who every year make the pilgrimage to little Forks, Washington, population 4,000, in droves. A representative at the visitor center said that the books put the town on the map, driving annual visitation numbers up from 4,000 pre-“Twilight” to more than 75,000 during the books’ peak. These days, the town averages 40,000 visitors per year.
Although I was in my twenties when the books were released, I’ll admit to having been an avid fan. I’m not sure if it was nostalgia, the joy of a free afternoon or a pandemic that had reframed the importance of spending time with dear friends, but Keri and I undertook the task of spotting every location on the visitor center’s “‘Twilight’ Points of Interest” map with the zeal of 13-year-olds in search of selfies with Taylor Lautner.
After checking off every location, including the Forks Police Station, Forks High School, Bella’s House and the Cullen House (which doubles as a bed and breakfast called the Miller Tree Inn and was recently purchased by a couple from Austin), we rounded out our trip with a little souvenir shopping, because if you’re in Forks, Washington, and you’re not purchasing a mug that reads “Jacob makes me howl!” are you even a true “Twilight” fan?
Olympic National Park
The sign in our room at Kalaloch Lodge was admittedly jarring: “Beach logs kill.”
“Every year people get killed on our ocean beaches by surf-tossed logs,” the sign continued. “Even on calm days, the ocean surf is powerful and can be dangerous, suddenly moving or tossing a piece of driftwood or log. Enjoy our Washington beaches and visit us often, but please stay away from those logs near the surf.”
To visit Olympic National Park is to be instantly reminded of the stunning and massive power of Mother Nature.
Perched on a 50-foot bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the lodge offers easy access to many of the things that make Olympic National Park special, including the fact that it includes numerous ecosystems ranging from glacier-capped mountains to rainforest and 70 miles of wild coastline.
During our early-morning hike near the lodge, we sampled the park’s fascinating diversity, traipsing first along a trail flanked by hulking ancient cedar trees, then minutes later finding ourselves on the seashell-dotted beach. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Big Cedar tree, which is nearly a thousand years old.
Less than an hour from Seattle by ferry and en route to Olympic National Park lies the harborside town of Bremerton, where we stopped by in part to see my friend Manu Alfau. Alfau grew up in Austin and is now an acclaimed Seattle chef who has helmed a variety of restaurant concepts, from street tacos to Latin American comfort food.
Now he’s set his sights on Bremerton, where he lives, opening Evergreen Pizza Co. and its downstairs little sister, Sapling Gelato, earlier this year with the intention of offering “a big dining experience with a small-town approach.”
Menu items include a variety of wood-fired pizzas ranging from meatball (sliced meatballs, spicy marinara, smoked mozzarella and Calabrian chilis) to prosciutto and arugula (aged San Daniele prosciutto, mozzarella, garlic, arugula and oregano). Appetizers include burrata and heirloom tomato salad, marinated olives and wood-fired Brussels sprouts.
Evergreen Pizza Co., which sits next to Evergreen Rotary Park, was four years in the making, Alfau said, with one of those years being added on due to COVID. Eventually, Alfau would like to expand the restaurant’s offerings to include items such as handmade pasta and homemade mozzarella.
During our visit, groups of friends noshed on slices and mingled over glasses of wine on the outdoor patio while young families stopped in for a scoop or two of gelato downstairs. Even the mayor stopped in. Alfau said that’s his primary mission with Evergreen Pizza Co. — to bring all types of people together in the name of great food.
“That’s the ultimate goal — connecting with the community,” he said.
Side note: If you’re heading to a Seattle Seahawks game while you’re in town, you can also sample Alfau’s food there –– he operates a Manu’s Tacos stand and street cart at Lumen Field.
Mount Rainier National Park
The evergreens stood tall and proud alongside the flower-fringed, lake-hugging trail as Mount Rainier glittered like a hulking diamond in the background. To hike through Mount Rainier National Park is to experience natural beauty that’s so incredible that you almost forget that you’re traversing an area that contains the tallest peak, at 14,410, in the Cascade Range. Almost.
The nation’s fifth national park, Mount Rainier, annually draws two million people from across the world who crave its versatile landscape, which ranges from alpine, glacier-clad slopes to subalpine meadows.
Our main goal was to do a several-hour hike at Mount Rainier, and the 7-mile, 1,800-foot-elevation-gain Palisades Lake Trail – accessible from the Sunrise Visitor Center – perfectly fit the bill. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and stay alert; we spied a bear during our journey.
As an alternative to booking a stay within the park, we opted for an Airbnb in nearby Enumclaw. Our lakeside cabin with a sprawling back deck proved the ideal place for resting aching feet, playing card games and talking well into the night.
If You Go
Daily direct flights are available from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Seattle Tacoma International Airport.