Posts Tagged ‘beaches’

coupeville washCoupeville, Washington, is quintessential small-town America. I half-expect to see Sheriff Andy and little Opie come whistling around the corner (TV’s Mayberry will be in re-runs for years). But Coupeville, in central Whidbey Island, has its own Pacific Northwest nautical flavor. It overlooks Penn Cove, where boats dot the waves and mountains rise in the distance. A long pier juts into the cove, and at the end, the red building that used to hold supplies and produce now has a nifty display of marine life, plus an underwater camera so you can see what’s going onpenn cove mussels beneath the wharf. There’s a cafe, too, selling chowder and best-in-the-world Penn Cove mussels.

The mussels are known for their incredible flavor, which apparently comes from water that isn’t too brackish, because it’s fed by the Skagit River flowing into the cove.  Whatever the reason, those shellfish are special enough to have their own festival. This year’s was held this past weekend.

Strolling along Front and Main streets, I’m charmed by the way history has been preserved, with Victorian houses and shops with Old West fronts and flower boxes. More than 100 buildings are on the National Historic Register. Coupeville isn’t stuck in the past, though. It’s busy with bicyclists, kayakers, hikers, sailors and beachcombers, and tourists like me poking into cute places such as Coupeville Yarns, A Touch of Dutch (get your Delftware and wooden clogs here), Aqua Gifts, and Sally’s Garden. Sally’s is a browser’s dream, with pottery, orchids, glassware, exotic candles and a lot more.

Those friendly Coupevilleans (Coupevillers?) love a festival. After the notable Penn Cove Mussel Festival comes the everything-green St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and  in May, the Water Festival, with traditional canoe races and stalls where Native Americans from regional tribes sell artworks and food.  Next is the Memorial Day Parade, when flags fly and music plays for proud marchers. Those are just a few of Coupeville’s celebrations I plan to return for.  This would be a fun place to live.

It’s also a great town for eating.  Front Street Grill serves a good Asian salad, which I enjoy along with the water view. Probably the best known high-end restaurant is Christopher’s on Whidbey, a tad expensive but famed for its Northwest cuisine and local wines. Examples: salmon in raspberry sauce, port tenderloin with mushrooms, and Penn Cove mussels in wine and garlic. Snazzy desserts, too. Or you can go for cookies and milk for $3.95.

Oystercatcher is also noted for good seafood. And I might stop in Toby’s Tavern, next to the water, for down-home atmosphere and, need I add,  terrific mussels. For something quite different, I’ll cross the street to Tea & Treasure and sip a cup of pomegranate-pear tea.  I can buy any of dozens of flavors of tea, along with a pretty cup to drink them from. knead & feed, coupeville, wash Then there’s Knead & Feed, where the tuna salad sandwiches are hearty and the bread and berry pies come fresh from the oven. Andy and Opie and Aunt Bee would love it.

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Artist in ZihuaZihuatanejo is a bustling town of 120,000 in the state of Guerrero on Mexico’s southwest coast. It started as a sleepy fishing village, but it’s been discovered by tourism and sports fishing, and now it’s a lively spot, at least in the sunny winter months.  Here are my top ten favorite activities there (other than basking on the sand), recommended though not necessarily in order of preference:

1. Stroll the walkway on the marina, where fishermen display the morning catch, restaurants serve grilled seafood on the beach, and shops sell a thousand kinds of souvenirs, not all of them tacky.

2. Browse the Mercado Central off Avenue Juarez. It’s a huge covered market selling fruits, vegetables, honey, vanilla, meats, cheese, chicken feet, purses, shoes, clothing and much more. This is a glimpse of local life. Look for the Virgin of Guadalupe statue, and the tree growing through the ceiling. The nearby outdoor stalls along Los Mangos and Los Tamarindos are interesting, too.

3. Buy a fresh, sweet papaya the size of 2 footballs, right off the truck.

waterfront walk, Zihuatanejo to Playa la Madera4. Walk the curving waterside stone path between town and the next beach, Playa La Madera. It’s lighted and has inset benches along the way. There are lovely views of the bay and even a mermaid on a rock.

5. On Playa La Madera, sit at an umbrella table on the sand at La Bocana, formerly M.J. and Richie’s, and munch on their good guacamole and chips. Maybe include a cold beer with lime and salt, perfect in 80-degree weather.

6. Borrow, buy or rent a boogie board and ride the mostly gentle waves.

7. Dine well at Bistro del Mar on Playa La Madera. The food is expensive for this area but excellent, and the service top-notch.

8. Hang out on Playa La Ropa, the much bigger beach beyond.Zihuatanejo beaches This is the place for parasailing, jetskiing, and other water sports, and there are numerous hotels and worthy restaurants. The Tides and Club Intrawest are pricey, but the food is worth it.

9. Buy a souvenir from one of the vendors in the myriad stalls on Cinco de Mayo, at the north end of town. Mingled with a lot of junk and t-shirts are some beautiful things; I’m partial to the painted plates. It’s fun just to gawk at the array.

Eric Reid  guitarist, Zihuatanejo10. Learn where Eric Reid is playing guitar in or near Zihuatanejo and go to hear him. He is a terrific musician, a virtuoso.

A final extra: tip generously. These are hard-working people, and the economy is tough here, too. They appreciate it.

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Zihuatanejo Bay, on Mexico’s west coast, is scalloped with beaches.  Ours, Playa La Madera, is so small I can walk its distance, from one rocky outcropping to another, in less than 5 minutes. But it’s big enough to have clusters of busy hotels and 3 restaurants, and luckily for us, one is outstanding.

La Bocana, MJ & Richie's, Playa la Madera

Starting at the north end, we have our old hangout, MJ & Richie’s, now called La Bocana (still has the MJ & R sign though). Rafael, who ran the place for years, has left, which we lament because that sweet, friendly man always had something from his great jazz collection playing. The food is still good, though not as good as when Rafael was here (or maybe it was the music and his charm that made it so). The tortilla soup is bland unless you pour hot chili sauce into it, but chicken fajitas and grilled mahimahi are just right with a frosty beer. We sit at an umbrella table on the sand and lazily watch the beach action while we enjoy a Mexican lunch at a reasonable price. Plus the service is ultra-quick.

At the south end of Playa La Madera is La Rena Rene, serving tortillas, tacos, grilled shrimp, quesadillas–a full menu of decent, unexceptional Mexican food, in my opinion.  You’re right on the beach, though, so the setting and view are perfect.

Between the two is Bistro del Mar, connected to Hotel Brisas del Mar.  This is where we go when we want something special and are prepared to pay accordingly. The tortilla soup, served in a large, tilted bowl, is a rich red broth with crisp tortilla strips, avocado slices, cheese, onions, and sour cream. Mahimahi with shrimp sauce, Caesar salad, sweet-and-sour jumbo shrimp in tequila–they’re all wonderful.  This is as close as La Madera gets to elegance. We dine on linen-covered, candlelit tables under a swooping, tent-like roof, drink sauvignon blanc wine from Chile, and are served by expert waiters.  And because this is a beach, after, all, we have first stepped out of our flip-flops and washed our feet in the little pool set into the entrance steps.

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view from Pacifica Grande resortJose greets us with a smile after we’ve gone through the Immigration and Customs routine in the airport. We’re headed for a taxi to our hotel when he says, “Hola, amigos!” and offers to reimburse the cab cost and give us a free brunch if we’ll visit his resort. Jose has that friendly Mexican charm, the authentic kind, and we say sure, why not. Then he tells us he needs $10 to reserve our table.

In times past, we’d have said no thanks and shrugged it off as another scam, an easy way to lose ten dollars. But now, after a great many travels, we’ve grown more trusting. You might think it would be the opposite because there are lots of scammers in the world, but we have learned that most people aren’t out to cheat us. And experience has taught us to trust our instincts.  So John gives Jose a ten-dollar bill and he hands us a piece of paper and says he’ll pick us up on Tuesday morning. Adios, Jose. We’ll see what Tuesday brings.

Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s west coast, was once a sleepy fishing village and now is a sizable town that caters to tourists but retains its own character and busy life. Fishermen still bring the catch of the day to the beach for their customers to inspect.  We’re staying above a beach south of town, Playa la Madera, in a pleasant room with a kitchen on the terrace and a partial view of Zihuatanejo Bay. We’ve left the cold gray drizzle for a sunny beach and fresh papayas every morning. Perfection.

 It’s Tuesday. John and I go down to the road and see no sign of Jose.  But I know he’ll be there, and sure enough, a few minutes later he rolls up in a white van and drives us to the far arm of the bay, where a new resort sits against a high hill. Jose’s English is better than many Americans’–he lived in the U.S. for awhile, he says.  In the resort’s restaurant we’re seated with another affable guy who tells us of the wonders of the place and then says, “Let’s go for the important stuff. The buffet.” So we eat an excellent breakfast as we gaze over the lovely bay, sparkling in the sun, dotted with sailboats.

We knew this jaunt would come with a tour and a sales pitch; that’s always part of a time-share promo. No problemo. I’m a travel writer and always interested in seeing what’s new. The rooms are well-designed, the architecture striking, the views outstanding.  The place is only partially finished, but it’s beautiful.  They’ll make us a great deal if we buy a week a year for 30 years (not that I’ll be around in 30 years, but they’ll negotiate). No? How about an even better deal, one we couldn’t possibly pass up?

Zihua streetThe one thing the genuinely nice salesman can’t understand is that it’s not about the money. Sorry, it’s just not our style, we say, thinking of our little place where laundry hangs on the roof across the street and the Virgin of Guadalupe stands in a niche surrounded by Christmas lights. Beer bottles and plastic flowers are close by a riot of red and white bougainvillea cascading over a wall, and the dusty shop on the corner sells neatly wrapped garlic heads for 80 cents apiece. And we’re a 3-minute walk from the beach. No contest.

Unfailingly polite, they give us back our $10, plus the $36 we paid for the taxi from the airport, playa la maderathank us for coming and wish us well. They are puzzled though: why don’t these crazy Americans want luxury like this at a good price? Isn’t it always about money? We don’t see Jose again. Maybe we’ll pass him in the airport and say “hola.”

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A gingerbread village is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of  Waikiki Beach.  There it is, though, an incredibly detailed medieval/German/fantasy gingerbread village Hyatt Regency Honoluluvillage that includes Honolulu’s intricate Iolani Palace.  This amazing creation stands in the lobby of the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, one of Waikiki’s enormous high-rise hotels, and was constructed by Chef Ralf Bauer. He does this every December, each time adding to the scene.  There are churches, train stations–yes, a train circles the whole thing–a carousel, quaint houses, and the palace.  It took 250 hours to build it from 60 pounds of dark chocolate, 20 pounds of white chocolate, 120 gallons of icing, and who knows how much gingerbread and powdered sugar.   

The chestnuts are roasting on an open fire only in song, as far as I know, but you can’t get away from the holiday tunes in December, when shoppers are out in full force. But they always are in Waikiki. The displays of shell leis, jewelry, t-shirts, trinkets, and flipflops (“slippahs”) are never-ending, and tourists are happy to buy. 

waikiki beachThen there’s the famous beach, where hundreds of bodies bake in the winter sun. How can you not love a wide stretch of golden sand, swaying palms, a gentle breeze, and surfers riding the waves?  Despite the crowds it’s a mellow scene, and the aloha spirit prevails, most of the time.   It’s not my scene for long, though (20 minutes, max); so we hop the #2 bus to Chinatown. (Tip:  Take the B Express instead, which makes only a few stops.)  Ambling among the shops selling fresh papaya and bananas, pigs’ feet and vegetables I don’t recognize, feels like a visit to China–or San Francisco, Hawaii-style. 

After a stop in the beautiful Kwan Yin temple and a tour of exotic Foster Botanical Garden, we have lunch at Legend Seafood Restaurant. The dim sum here gets rave reviews for good reason; it’s excellent. Tourists are in the minority in this busy place. Servers wheel carts carrying baskets of hot tidbits: shrimp-stuffed rolls, fried buns with chives, duck slices in sweet sauce, and dozens more. Choose what you want and it’s added to the bill. Prices are reasonable and the experience is fun. 

Then it’s back to the tourist world, and maybe a sunset drink at the Hau Tree hau tree barBar, our long-time favorite at the far end of the beach, away from the chaos, at the  New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.  A mai-tai and some salty pupus at a table under the huge old tree makes a fine ending to the day.

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tiger lily, Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City OregonA few blocks west of busy Highway 101, at the north end of Lincoln City on the Oregon coast, I step from the car and suddenly I’m in an oasis of calm. It’s the Connie Hansen Garden, a lush hideaway I go to when I want a quiet moment, or to check again which plants grow happily near the ocean, where the climate is cool (usually) and the air salty and damp.

The 1-1/3 acre garden isn’t exactly a secret, but you have to watch for it, tucked into a residential neighborhood behind shrubs and trees. To get there, I turn west from Highway 101 on NW 33rd and find the entrance gate half a block down the road. There’s a donation box, a stack of brochures, and a table with a few plants for sale, and then paths winding through grassy gardens with more than 300 rhododendrons and azaleas. In spring, it’s an overflowing bouquet of red, pink and purple. Every season has its blooms, from splashes of primrose and purple iris to pink cyclamen, sweet-scented lilies, and a patch of multi-colored heather. Magnolias and maples archheather Connie Hansen Garden LIncoln City Oregon above them.  Wooden bridges cross a stream, and benches are strategically located for stopping to admire the scene.

Connie Hansen moved to the coast and started gardening here in the early 1970s. She was a botanist and expert gardener, interested in rare plants, who dedicated herself to creating a place of beauty. After her death in 1993, a conservancy took over to keep the place vibrant, and now a host of gardeners continues Connie’s legacy. They operate a shop where you can buy seeds, plants, t-shirts, notecards, even hand creams, and every June they host a festival that draws garden-lovers from near and far. I’ll be back to admire the rhodies next spring and maybe purchase an exotic plant or two.

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beach at Lincoln City, with Cascade HeadCasinos, outlet stores, heavy traffic–that’s how I pictured Lincoln City, on the Oregon coast, and it’s not what I look for in a vacation. But I’m singing a different tune now, and it’s “Here be treasures, me hearties.”

The treasures start with a wide, sandy beach, rocky tidepools, and a rolling surf. Of course, you get those everywhere on Oregon’s coastline, which is totally open to the public (thanks to Governor Oswald West, who declared it so in 1913.) In town, I start with the remarkable Jennifer Sears Art Studio. From the sidewalk I can see someone with gloved hands holding a long tube with hot molten glass at the end, turning it in an open, roaring furnace. An expert glass blower? tourist glass blowing in lincoln cityNo, it’s a tourist, creating his own glass float. For $65, anyone can, with the help of an artist, make a piece of glass art to take home. The studio also sells artists’ glass creations.

Next I drop anchor at the Historic Anchor Inn, another offbeat place of charm. historic anchor inn lincoln cityTo say this little inn has a sense of nostalgia doesn’t begin to describe it. The front porch holds maritime memorabilia and a diver mannequin with a welcome sign; inside, dozens of posters of 1940s movie stars grace the walls. From the lounge ceiling hangs a life raft, a canoe, and an upside-down bicycle, along with a few hundred other things. Books cram the shelves, copper pots glint on the fireplace. I’d stay here just to soak up the atmosphere.  However, we’re lodging at the cozy Sands Condos, on the north end of town. The rooms are clean and comfortable, we have a fine ocean view, and we’re welcomed by cheerful, smiling Lynn, the capable manager.

Lincoln City has some good restaurants. I’m told that Mo’s is still serving classic chowder, and for the best in the sausage realm go to Beach Dog Cafe. For me, the top two spots are Blackfish Cafe and Fathoms.

We start at Blackfish for lunch with a generous plate of delicate, crispy calamari and move on the clam chowder and perfectly cooked fish and chips. Delicious. Later, as the sun lowers over the Pacific, we head for Fathoms. This 10th floor restaurant in the Inn at Spanish Head gives a whole new meaning to oceanview dining. While we watch the evening sky turn red in the west, we feast on great food, served by a fast and helpful waitress (thanks, Pam). Garlic shrimp with pilaf, medium-rare blackened ahi tuna, grilled prawns on mandarin orange and arugula salad  . . . beach food isn’t supposed to be this good. Dessert is a cappuccino mousse thing on a chocolate brownie with nuts, and a scoop of ice cream on top.  (Fathoms is expensive, for the coast, but serves cheaper Early Bird dinners.)

These, plus some intriguing gift shops along Highway 101, are all good reasons to visit Lincoln City. But the final piece that changes my outdated tune for good is Robert’s. Robert's book shop, lincoln city oregonThis book shop, in an unassuming blue building on the south end of town, is heaven for readers looking for used, rare, and out-of-print books. “How many?” I ask, after browsing among the filled floor-to-ceiling shelves, the stacks on the floor, the warren of nooks and crannies. “Not sure,” says the clerk. “Maybe 200,000? That’s probably about right.”

Needless to say, I’ll be back to Lincoln City. This is the stuff that keeps Oregon unique.

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Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OregonCannon Beach, on the northern Oregon coast, is tourist heaven.  Happily, this sweet town has a lot more than souvenir and ice cream shops. Who wouldn’t love the wide, sandy beach, with Haystack Rock rising 235 feet just offshore? At low tide I walk the wet sand to this seabird sanctuary and look for the sea stars and anemones that live in the tidepools. (Keeping an eye on the tide, of course–don’t want to get stuck on Haystack with waves rushing in around me.)

Some people build sandcastles, fly kites or go surfing or boogy boarding (brrr, that Pacific water is cold). I prefer hiking the woodsy trails of Ecola State Park, on the north end of town, with the roar of the rolling surf never far away. Then I window-shop with everyone else. The last time I counted, Cannon Beach had some 60 shops and galleries: gifts, cards, candy, fine art, photography, wines, handblown glass, you name it.  It has an active theater and at least 30 places to eat, from pizza parlors to high cuisine restaurants. Good bakeries, too. All this in a town with a population under 2,000.

I always head for two places. First, Cannon Beach Book Company, a 30-year-old bookstore with great reading choices. I browse for hours and invariably find something I’ve got to read. This time it’s The Mine, by Daniel Cobb, an Oregon science and technology writer. His thriller is the story of a young biologist who discovers fraud, corruption and murder in a mining company, and the disaster that follows. It’s a page-turner and a must-read for anyone concerned about the environment.

My other favorite is a restaurant, Newmans at 988, restaurant, Cannon BeachNewmans at 988. Dinner is expensive, and it’s worth it. I’m not going out on a limb here; almost everyone is wowed by Chef John Newman’s fantastic way with French-Italian food. A few have complained about the service, but I find it just right, attentive but not hovering. Newmans is small, in an unassuming yellow house on Hemlock Street. Its carpeting and low ceiling keep the noise level at a pleasant hum, and the background music (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett–old standards, but stil the best) goes well with white linens and candlelight.

The seared scallops appetizer is melt-in-the-mouth wonderful. It’s served with sweetseared scallops, Newmans at 988, Cannon Beach, Oregon corn, mushrooms, and a parsley/carrot reduction, with a touch of truffle oil to add a light smokiness.  Delicious. The duck trio entree has duck in 3 ways: delicate liver in a light crust along with slices of dark and light meat and served with perfectly cooked polenta and vegetables. There’s a balanced wine list, with a number of Pacific Northwest wines, and delectable desserts created by pastry chef Nancy Williams.

Chef John has won a number of awards and will be a part of the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction, Nov. 10, 2010. These auctions, held in about 200 U.S. cities, have raised more that $132 million for the March of Dimes effort to save babies. The Portland auction will be held at the Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront hotel.

The final touch, after my excellent dinner, is a stroll around Cannon Beach with the festive crowd. With maybe just a taste of chocolate and a sip of espresso to end a fine day at the beach.  See you at the tidepools.

For more of the world’s interesting beaches, try Flightster and Travel Channel Beaches. 

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When it rains day after day in western Oregon, everybody complains. We’re not fish, we’re tired of living in an aquarium. Then you take a trip to Silver Falls State Park, where all that water has made the falls even more dramatic, and all you can do is South Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Oregongaze in wonder and forgive the rain gods for their deluges.

If the Trail of Ten Falls were anywhere except Oregon, where gorgeous scenery is taken for granted, it would be high on the list of world-famed must-sees. Silver Creek Canyon and its waterfalls, lush greenery, and tall firs and cedars, is spectacular. I know I’m gushing as much as the falls are, but this is a place worth gushing over. I’m not the only one; it can get crowded here in summer.

The sun is shining, for a change, when we arrive at Oregon’s largest state park, a 1.5 hour’s drive south from Portland. We pay an entrance fee, park the car, and hike the trail down into the canyon, where we’re immediately mesmerized by South Falls, thundering 184 feet over the cliff to Silver Creek. Then we walk behind the falls, where the trail widens, and look out through the cascade at the wavery forest.

The park’s foundation began 15 million years ago with lava flows that hardened into basalt. That was topped by 1500 feet of volcanic ash and debris, and water did the rest, gradually eating away soil and rock and creating a steep canyon and stream with waterfalls.

waterfall, Silver FAlls State Park, OregonThe trail continues from South Falls on to Lower South Falls, Double Falls, Drake, Middle North, and Winter Falls, every one of them a roaring plunge into the stream. It’s a loop trip that takes about 3 hours, with stops to dabble our fingers in the cold water and picnic beside a log bridge. We could take the full loop that goes to Twin, North, and Upper North Falls, but that’s almost 7 miles, more than we have time for, so we cut back on the trail through the forest and ferns to the South Falls parking area.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the foot trail, part of it stairs and bridges, in the South Falls Lodge, Silver Falls State Park, Oregon1930s. In the ’40s they constructed a stone and wood lodge. There are picnic tables and benches scattered throughout the grassy upper level, and clean restrooms and camping areas. Also a nice little gift shop in a log cabin that looks like a movie version of a pioneer homestead.  No bikes and no dogs are allowed on the trail.

If you’ve been to Silver Falls, what part do you like the most? Don’t you think it’s one of the marvels of the Pacific Northwest?

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MJ&Ritchies, Playa Madera, Zihuatanejo, MexicoBoogie boarding, Playa Madera, MexicoTucked into the northeast corner of warm, blue Zihuatanejo Bay, Playa Madera is a curving quarter-mile of white & gray sand. The surf is easy enough for kids of all ages to boogie board.  There are a few places to eat; our favorites are MJ & Ritchie’s for lunch and Bistro del Mar for fine dining under the stars.

Local families and Mexican tourists help keep the beach relaxed and low-key.  Morning joggers can run into town and back along a half-mile path cut through the rocks to the west. During the day, little kids, old folks, and lovers on holiday play in the 80-degree water.  In the evening, before sunset, teenaged guys play soccer with spirit, but no yelling. Claro, it’s Mexico.

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