[Seattle Sights] Choose Your Own Adventure at the Washington Park Arboretum

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the most phenomenal things about living in the Pacific North West is the vast variety of accessible nature. From diverse deserts and wanderlust inspiring waterfalls, to rich coastlines and island hopping through the San Juan Islands – Washington has a bit of something for everyone. Seattle and it’s surrounding areas – doubly so. From Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish to the Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountain Ranges and hidden parks in nooks and crannies all over – there’s a reason we call it the Pacific North Wonderland.

When my husband and I first moved up to Seattle, we found ourselves in an living over in the Sand Point area near the University of Washington. At the time, we didn’t know much about Washington or Seattle proper, but the area seemed a keen pivot point for getting to anywhere and everywhere throughout the Sound. Whether we ventured North and East on an adventure to dip our toes in watering holes, or South and West to Seattle proper, we could find ourselves surrounded by a symphony of succulent scenes. To me, the irony always was that our favorite park wasn’t in a far reaching corner of the state – it was actually just a hop, skip and jump around the corner at the University of Washington.

Sitting on land with a complex history, the Arboretum grounds were homebase to the Coast Salish tribes of Washington, with several villages around the area. As time, and colonialism, went on – the area shifted to ownership by the Puget Mill Company which unfortunately logged some of the largest trees in that region. As we shift into the 1900s, the land was transformed into was one of Seattle’s original city parks. In 1903, landscape architects for the region – the Olmsted Brothers – drew up a plan for the Seattle Parks and Parkways, with Lake Washington Boulevard at the crux of their idea. Fast forward to the 1930s, the incredible Washington Park Arboretum boasts an incredible variation in vegetation with one of the largest plant collections in North America.

Spanning over 230 acres of luscious vegetation, you can take the 3.5 mile walking loop around the edge of the park or you can dip the main roads, ebb and flow around the Arboretum Loop Trail and discover your own way through the heart of the park. Just like a choose your own adventure novel of eons past, each time at the Washington Park Arboretum is a unique experience featuring the mercurial nature of our weather, and the chosen blooms of the day.

Playing host to vast collections of rhododendrons, camellias, larches and lindens, oak trees, Japanese Maples, magnolias and azaleas has earned the Arboretum international bragging rights. Open daily from dusk to dawn, the Washington Park Arboretum is workout friendly, run friendly, child friendly and dog friendly. From the northern tip of the park on Union Bay’s southern shoreline and into Foster Island on down through the incredible and everchanging landscapes of the Arboretum, every inch of the park is immaculately drawn together for an unreal experience any time of year.

In the Summer months, bright blue skies overhead and a menagerie of birds grace the scene as the floral aroma wafts from every corner. Head there in September to watch the leaves shift their hues from vibrant greens to magnificent reds, yellows and oranges in what I consider ‘Seattle’s Second Spring.’ In the Winter, if you time your visit just right – you can see the grounds covered with a fairy dust of snow, making it seem like you just walked out of a story book. And Spring – well, Spring is a whole new shade of wonderful at the Arboretum.

My personal favorite spots at the Arboretum are the reflecting ponds during all seasons, the Giant Sequoias and the rhododendron glen in the Springtime. But you honestly can’t go wrong no matter which turns you take. With over 10,000 trees and more than 40,000 plants, each visit truly is it’s own unique and unforgettable journey. For those that simply can’t get enough of the Washington Park Arboretum, try the Seattle Japanese Garden located just across the way for a wonderful experience – more on that in a later post!

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What’s your favorite park in your neck of the woods? I’m always looking for a great adventure – and maybe I’ll pick yours next; drop them some love in the comments below and share some geographical gems of your own!

For more on the Washington Park Arboretum at the University of Washington, scope out the park with an incredible and interactive bird’s eye view, then head to their socials for the full 411.

Website | Arboretum Foundation | Facebook | Twitter | AllTrails

Photo Credit: Daniel Leist Photography

[Oh, Snap] Celebrating the Elements of Winter Solstice in Big Bear

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Perpetually enraptured by the bright lights, booming sounds and the effervescent buzz of humanity within the heart of a giant metropolis like Los Angeles, or San Francisco where I was raised, I’m constantly dazzled, delighted by and devouring each and every detail of my surroundings like a fine wine.  With a step-mother from the North East and a father from Oregon, every now and again they’d toss in a dash of Corvallis countryside, assorted camping trips with my pre-school, some hikes here and there and some family vacations in locations I now wish I could’ve appreciated in their entirety. Almost two decades ago when I was a wee 5th Grader (…at 5’10″…), I accompanied by my Grandmother to an ‘Elderhostel’ in Mount Denali, Alaska over the Summer Solstice.  Sure, I knew that it was the day of the year with the least amount of darkness – but had I understood then what I know now about the solstice, changing of the seasons, position of the stars and angles of the planets, I would’ve had a much deeper, greater appreciation for mother nature and all of it’s offerings.IMG_5202

Yesterday at 3:03 PM Pacific Time, Winter Solstice hit the West Coast – wondrous, wild and incredibly elemental.  Contrary to (my…) popular belief, Solstice doesn’t imply that the sun is setting at it’s earliest for the year – in fact, due to discrepancies between our modern Gregorian calendar and the actual cycle of planets, the majority of the Northern Hemisphere delights in the earliest sunset a few days before and the latest sunrise a few days after Winter Solstice occurs. But, what it does mean is that we’re getting the least amount of sunlight (conversely, the lengthiest amount of darkness) of the whole year as the Sun reaches it’s lowest vertex – around -23.5°.  Often referred to as Yule, December Solstice and the first day of Winter, the Winter Solstice ushers in the new moon in Capricorn.

Be it my love of a man befit for the mountains, a rapidly growing disdain for the ‘fast life’ or my commitment to adventuring through a healthy proportion of our countries National Park system – but I’ve been on a mission to conquer at least one new park a month, if not more.  Our friend’s adorable puppy was having his 3rd (or, 21st) birthday depending on how you look at those types of things and he invited us to tag along up to Big Bear.  As someone who can count the number of times they’ve seen snow fall on one hand – I couldn’t help but squee with glee. We were heading up Sunday and after a few quick calculations, I realized that I’d be truly in the elements for Winter Solstice.  I’ve never skied, gone snowboarding and definitely don’t own many snow appropriate pieces of clothing – but how could I pass up a chance to really welcome Winter and celebrate the Winter Solstice? Of course we were in!

If you’re heading up to Big Bear for the weekend, I vote you check out Air BnB for some gorgeous one night rentals; but if you’re going up for the day, like we did, meet up with your friends in the Stater Brothers parking lot before you head into Redlands.  It’s right between the 38 and the 330, so you can mash the whole mountain – plus, you should probably stock up on some power bars, water, whiskey (don’t forget the whiskey, and a flask…), fruit roll-ups and any other crucial snackables you might want as you gallivant throughout the mountains.   We started at at the Thurman Flats Picnic Area, but seeing as the snow is incredibly frozen – there wasn’t much runoff at the moment.  So, we slowly wound around the mountain – first hitting the Forest Falls Waterfalls which was a beautiful hike off the beaten trail.

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After reviewing the tread on the bottoms of our shoes (aka there wasn’t any), we decided to rent some snow shoes (knock that one off my life bucket list!) and head up to Green Valley Lake. It was definitely a hike, but so worth it. Nature fueled, wonder filled – as I looked into the vast, white beyond I felt humbled and happy, elated and insignificant.

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I absolutely loved spending Winter Solstice fully immersed by Winter: ice, snow, snowmen, children scream laughing while their parents threw snow balls. Not only that, but the drive was gorgeous and the sunset – doubly so.

How to you celebrate the changing of the seasons?

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My Favorite Things: Falling for Autumn

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a little over four years now, and for those of you that have yet to experience our (lack of) seasons – there are really only two to be concerned with.  We have “Summer“, which lasts from about March to the beginning of October, and we have “Not Summer” from mid-October through the end of February. My friends and I have also come to the conclusion that the weather in Los Angeles is taking some heavy meds – in the past, we would go for half the summer with awkward drizzle and clouds, then while the rest of the country was undergoing their Fall transformation – leaves changing color, air becoming brisk – we got a heavy dose of 100+ sunshine.  It’s like the weather was making up for lost time; and we, the people, are forced to endure it’s bipolar tendencies.

On the other hand, if you look at one 24 hour period in Los Angeles – we actually manage to go through all of the seasons in one day! In the mornings lately, it’s been a tad Winter-ey: brisk, cold, overcast and drizzly but by mid morning the clouds in the sky are few and far between, birds are chirping and it feels like Spring.   Over the next few hours, the delightful warmth turns into blistering  Summer heat – reaching well into the 90s, and by dinnertime while the sun is setting over the Pacific, the temperature drops and a pleasant breeze flutters by carrying the few turned leaves, and it actually feels like Fall.

Autumn, Fall – whatever you want to call it, it simply makes me happy.  Back in the Bay Area where I was raised, it was an actual season instead of a hypothetical situation.  It would get blistery cold and a tad rainy; my remedy was to drink lots of peppermint tea and sit firmly on top of the furnace vent with a blanket to trap in the warm air.  In LA, there typically isn’t a noticeable shift from Summer to Fall; Summer wanes and Winter promptly takes its place; this year though – there’s a crispness about the air that’s just enthralling, the cloud porn is fantastic and sunsets burn so beautifully.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I loved those summer nights; it was warm until 2am and I could wear a tank top, shorts and flip flops day in and day out.  But now that Fall has fallen we get to bundle up, curl up and wrap ourselves in warmth, comfort and cute boots.  I couldn’t be more excited!

My unofficial Top 10 list of my favorite things about fall:

  1. Pumpkin everything: pie, scones, waffles, candles, carving and lattes, etc!
  2. Fashion: boots, scarves, tights and leggings
  3. Basketball Season!
  4. Curling up Sake & Stella, a good book and/or movie =)
  5. Dressing Up for Halloween!
  6. Leaves turning and fluttering everywhere
  7. My Birthday!
  8. Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays and Family Time
  9. The sun rising just a little bit later
  10. The pitter patter of rain