A tourist in your own town (Battle Ground, Washington)

Old Town Battle Grounds set in 85 year old church

Old Town Battle Grounds set in 85 year old church

I have a friend who’s lived in New York City for years and yet, on a recent visit, my husband and I raved about frozen hot chocolate we were served at the world-renowned Serendipity 3 and she had never heard of it much less been there. Which leads me to my point; it’s worth it to take a day to be a tourist in your own town. Something wonderful could be right under your nose.

Battle Ground has a terrific coffee shop tucked into an 85 year old church called Old Town Battle Grounds. Order a breakfast burrito to pair with your Americano and you have a great start to a perfect day.

Five minutes north on SR 503 is Lewisville Park. Set along the banks of the Lewis River, this parks’ trail system meanders through 154 acres of tall timbers and expansive lawns. With the main trail measuring three miles, it’s an excellent opportunity for some fresh air and exercise in a beautiful setting.

As long as you’re up this way, why not drive another 25 minutes northeast to Moulton Falls Winery. Surrounded by impressive woodwork, a tasting here can be coupled by a picnic brought from home in a leisurely, unhurried atmosphere. If you choose to come a little later, food is available after 5pm.

Moulton Falls Winery tasting room

Moulton Falls Winery tasting room

Speaking of food, have you checked out Pasta Gigi’s in the Battle Ground Village or Battle Ground Produce at the end of Old Town? We are so fortunate to have these two gourmet markets in a city our size. They each have more to offer than meets the eye so stop in and be inspired.

Still not ready to call it a day? A two minute drive east on 219th Street takes you to Rusty Grape Vineyards. With live music every evening they’re open and a friendly set of owners, they’re quickly becoming the “Cheers” of Battle Ground.


A Day up the Columbia River Gorge – Washington State

Looking for an adventure where you can really stretch your legs? Look no further than The Columbia River Gorge. Thirty five miles east of Vancouver off Hwy 14 is the renowned Beacon Rock. More than a regional landmark, this rock is a moderate one mile hike up traversing switch backs with ample places to stop for a breath and incredible views. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more challenging, 18 miles east just after milepost 53 is the trailhead for Dog Mountain. With a 2,948’ elevation gain over three miles and a meadow blanketed with wildflowers in the spring, you will be rewarded by stunning scenery on the mountain as well as up and down the Gorge. Bring a snack and enjoy the splendor of the vistas before making your way back down.

Wild flowers and happy hikers on Dog Mountain

Wild flowers and happy hikers on Dog Mountain

 After all that exertion, you may be interested to know you passed Carson Hot Springs Spa. Their bathhouse has been around since 1923 so they can easily boast being the first hot springs spa in the area. Enjoy a massage (reservations recommended) and well deserved soak in your own antique claw foot tub. There is an on-site restaurant serving breakfast and lunch seven days a week or you can opt for another adventure.

The town of Stevenson is less than five miles west of Carson and offers some worthwhile store fronts as well as being home to Walking Man Brew Pub and the Big River Grill.

Galaxy at Skamania Port Waterfront

Galaxy at Skamania Port Waterfront

If you choose lunch at the Big River Grill, you can have a Walking Man beer and enjoy the food that’s been keeping locals and day trippers coming back since 1993. Being a true Northwest girl, I have a fondness for salmon that is satiated here. From appetizer to salad to entrée, I‘m covered. Taste the organic wines of Klickitat Canyon Winery in their Tasting Room at the entrance of town which is adjacent to Vibe Café & Espresso. Be sure to walk down toward the river and check out Galaxy, an art installation gracing the Skamania Port Waterfront. Its whimsical nature makes it extremely popular to photograph.


Day trip out of Portland, Oregon

Driving across the Glenn Jackson bridge, I am filled with anticipation about the day. The sun hitting my windshield helps me pretend it’s July even as the snow-capped backdrop of Mt Hood to the east, as stunning as it is, reminds me that it‘s not. With time on my side, I take the Airport Way exit so I can meander the seven miles along Marine Drive on my way to Troutdale. I’ve never gone this way; always opting for the ‘faster’ route of I-84 which, it turns out, isn’t any faster. With nothing between me and the Gorge, however, I can really feel the wind gusts. I can also enjoy the scenery of the Columbia River, whitecaps brushing against float homes, the crispness of a dry, sunny day in the Northwest.

Pulling into the Columbia Gorge Outlet Stores, I am rewarded with a relatively empty parking lot and enjoy browsing familiar haunts at several stores for the next couple hours.

Historic Troutdale

Historic Troutdale

A left out of the Outlet Stores puts me minutes away from Historic Oldtown Troutdale. Turning onto the shop-lined Columbia River Hwy, I’m already anticipating a perfect cup of coffee and pastry at the Troutdale General Store. Seated at the nostalgic lunch counter, I savor my Americano and pastry with unhurried bliss. I’m surrounded by 7,000 square feet of fantastic buys from home décor to candies to toys to candles. Troutdale General Store is always a plethora of ideas. Poking along the street, I wander into antique stores, art galleries, specialty shops. It’s one of my favorite Portland area streets to lose myself on.

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and I’m ready so I head to McMenamin’s Edgefield Tasting Room.

McMenamin's Edgefield vines and lodging

McMenamin’s Edgefield vines and lodging

One could easily spend a day just at Edgefield comprised of 74 acres filled with whimsical décor, a brewery, winery, restaurants, movie theatre, live entertainment, glass blowing, a spa, gift shop and so much more. In the Tasting Room, my job is to decide which of the 20+ current releases I’d like to try or what the repercussions would be if I taste them all! In the midst of this votive-lit cellar, sipping a fine 2010 Primitivo, I feel spoiled and decadent. With three of their restaurants open today, I decide to have dinner at the more casual Power Station Pub though the Chili-Spiced Ruby Trout being served at the Black Rabbit Restaurant is tempting.

Due to its proximity to Portland proper (less than 20 miles), Troutdale makes a wonderful day trip for out-of-towners and locals alike.


St. Augustine: Diverse enough for couples or families

My husband and I traveled to St Augustine for the first time in the fall of 2007 and have been twice more since. The beaches are pristine. The water is warm. The people are friendly. Our lodging of choice is on Crescent Beach and is perfect for couples and families alike. We can hang out on the island all day long, cross the Bridge of the Lions into historic St Augustine, drive a little farther south to Daytona Beach or an hour north to Jacksonville. The restaurants in the area are varied and affordable, unlike so many other tourist destinations. That’s what we so enjoy about St Augustine. It’s a college town, a retirement town, a tourist town and a work-a-day town all rolled together. It’s real and I like real.

Sunrise on Crescent Beach – St. Augustine, FL.

On Anastasia Island, we’ve enjoyed watching dolphins play with their trainers at Marineland, spent a cozy afternoon sipping wine and eating cheese while playing checkers tucked into Hammock Wine & Cheese, walked around the diverse grounds of Washington Oaks State Park, and been entertained by forest rangers dressed in period garb at Ft Matanzas as they shoot cannons and describe life stationed there in 1742. St Augustine Lighthouse has the best lighthouse museum on its grounds that I’ve ever been to with eyewitness accounts of German submarines surfacing right off Crescent Beach and what it was like being a young person sharing rides to dances due to gas shortages during that time. The Alligator Farm is much more than that and, if animals aren’t your thing, you can even zip line over them though this writers’ guts stop at zip lining over forests in the Caribbean. One of our lazy day favorites is buying some of the best deli sandwiches we’ve had at The Black Knight Deli on the A1A and lounging around the pool or playing in the ocean.

Historic Aviles Street

Historic Aviles Street

If the island has all this and more to offer, imagine crossing the Bridge of the Lions into historic St. Augustine. This place does lay claim to being the oldest continuously populated city in the United States. The Lightner Museum (formerly Hotel Alcazar), and Flagler College (formerly Hotel Ponce de Leon) both date back to 1887 and 1888 respectively and were financed by Henry Flagler to be luxury hotels. For a more intimate view, there are student-led tours of Flagler College whose interior designer was Louis Comfort Tiffany. Think breathtaking stained glass all around you. Additionally, there’s the Oldest Schoolhouse, the Fountain of Youth, the Castillo de San Marcos, cobbled streets with shops and cafes. It’s all there for you to explore. A perfect day could be an Americano at Crucial Coffee, exploring the circa 1672 Castillo, wandering the narrow streets and their abundance of shops, ordering sandwiches from Ann O‘Mally‘s and picnicking on the Castillo grounds overlooking the Matanzas River, touring the archaeological site that is the Fountain of Youth, wine tasting at The Gifted Cork, dinner at The Floridian with their amazingly creative entrees, and dancing on the rooftop of the San Sebastian Winery with the twinkling lights of this magical city spread out before you. Another, more family-friendly, ending to this day would be a historically entertaining walking tour. Walking St Augustine by night is akin to being in a quiet Italian hill town after the crowds have cleared.

Before you think even this is all there is, as the infomercials famously say: But wait, there’s more. Driving a bit north takes you to the Vilano Beach boat ramp. From here, you can slip a kayak into the water and paddle to your heart’s content exploring groves that end about where the Mission de Nombre de Dios begins. You’ve seen the 400’ tall cross and the Castillo from land. Enjoying the St Augustine approach from the water gives you the perspective of many a marine discoverer. If you hit the island early enough, Vilano Beach is a terrific shelling beach. I found a hand-sized conch shell in pristine condition on my first trip here that took my breath away! There’s also an ocean-facing restaurant called The Reef with stunning views that’s perfect for lunch. Adorned with white linen table cloths, they appreciate their more dressed down, casual customers as well so don’t feel shy about sauntering in here after a morning of shelling. For a truly local and inspiring sunset, Caps on the Water is a must. Caps faces the Tolomato River and if you happen to pull in during one of their torrential downpour periods (It’s a tropical climate. Expect it from time to time.), hunker under the thatched-roof bar to be dazzled with the friendly wait staff.

One of the most memorable experiences we’ve had to date in St Augustine is touring the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. The volunteers here are truly passionate about what they’re doing and that is providing homes to more than 30 big cats ranging from white Bengal tigers to Asian leopards to a Barbary Coast lioness, extinct in the wild since 1922. If you like rescue stories, happy endings and heroes in general, you won’t want to miss this two hour tour.

From romantic restaurants to picturesque beaches to water sports of every kind to historic attractions, St. Augustine makes a perfect family or couples only retreat. I’m already looking forward to our next visit.