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Amtrak Coast Starlight: Portland to Los Angeles

Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train...
Enjoying the morning light on my overnight train…
The first time I can remember catching a real train (the Sugar Cane Train and the Pearlridge Monorail don’t count) was the summer after I graduated from high school, when I spent three months backpacking around Europe before heading off to college. My friend Meghan and I bought the Europass option that allowed us 8 days of train travel over a 2 month period and we made use of it by visiting France, Spain, Italy, plus a last minute addition of Prague when we gained one extra leg where the conductor forgot to punch our passes.

I loved it even more than I loved airplane travel, simply because it allowed us so much more room, huge viewing windows and freedom to walk through the cars. Growing up in Hawaii, we have no need for a long-distance train, so I find that in my adult life – whenever the routing allows – I try to book train travel to get me at least part of the way to my destination.


Since that summer in Europe, I’ve also taken trains in the Northeast US – I remember heading from NYC to West Point one autumn when the leaves were changing color because I sat glued to the window in awe. (Leaves don’t change in Hawaii either.) In 2008 when we traveled in Asia, I frequently caught the overnight train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, enjoying the ride even when I was squished up in my sleeper bunk, rolling around and hoping I wouldn’t fall out in the night. One particularly memorable train ride came in 2011, when I’d talked Jess, Eric and Edwin into coming with me from Seattle to Vancouver for my TBEX Conference. On the way back to Seattle, Eric got down on one knee and – with the help of Edwin and I (and the train crew) – shocked Jess by proposing while he played “their song”.

Portland to LA on the Amtrak Coast Starlight

This trip, I had the chance to piece together trips on an Amtrak route that I’ve always been curious about. The Amtrak Coast Starlight actually starts in Seattle and runs all the way to LA, but I opted to catch it from Portland. This portion of the route takes a whopping 30 hours because of the stops, but it really didn’t feel that long until maybe the last couple of hours once the sun had set. It was also one of the most productive trips I’ve had. There is no wifi available yet on this route, which I at first thought would be a hindrance but was really a blessing in disguise. Without constant connection to the internet, I was able to slow down, unplug and to really soak in the experience.

We left just around 2:30pm from Portland and arrived in Los Angeles about an hour ahead of the posted schedule, at 8:15pm the following day. The best part of the trip was watching the scenery change as you head south.

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Things to Do in Seattle: An Afternoon in Fremont

The 2014 AWP Conference took place this year in Downtown Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. It was a great location, just minutes from the Pike Place Market and with easy access to public transportation to take you elsewhere if you desire. We were fortunate to have great weather the first day or so, but as the forecast for the weekend called for rain and lower temperatures, I decided to skip a few of the sessions one day in order to take an excursion to see a different part of town.

Usually when I’m creating my own little detour, I like to set out with a point of interest or two in mind and to see what develops from there. Unless I’m really short on time, I prefer to slow down and travel via public transportation because the people watching is better and sometimes you get great travel tips from locals this way. So I got myself an Orca Card (Seattle’s stored value rider card) which allowed me to blend in a bit better and to not need to bother with digging out exact change. And where better to set off to than “the center of the Universe”, or as it’s better known, the neighborhood of Fremont.

>> Read more about Orca Card official website.

How to Get to the Fremont Troll

Luckily, I found a group of girls who could snap a photo for me with Mr. Troll!
Luckily, I found a group of girls who could snap a photo for me with Mr. Troll!

From Downtown Seattle, catch the #5 bus at 3rd & Pike Street towards Shoreline / Greenwood and ask the bus driver to warn you at the stop for the troll under the Aurora Bridge at 36th. Here, you’ll come face to face with the troll himself.

If you’d like to climb up over him go ahead! Of course, it makes for a good photo op, but it’s a shame when people leave trash or graffiti behind on this public work of art, as you can see in the photo I got.

>> Read more about the Fremont Troll’s History.

Here’s a Google Map so you can plug in your own starting point:

Where to Drink in Seattle: Fremont Brewing Co.

Lots of choices to sample at Fremont Brewing Co.
Lots of choices to sample at Fremont Brewing Co.

After you’ve gotten your quality time with the troll, head down towards the water and turn left on N. 34th Street. A couple of blocks down and you’ll find Fremont Brewing Co. where you can sample the beers on tap or purchase a pint to enjoy at the picnic tables outside (if the weather is nice) or a growler to take home. The staff is friendly and knowledgable. They have to be, as their slogan is “Because Beer Matters.” Nice! I particularly enjoyed the Proletariat Porter.

Fremont Brewing Co.
1050 N 34th Street
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 420-2407

Must Eat in Fremont: Paseo

Carribean Roast Pork Plate from Paseo ($12.50)
Carribean Roast Pork Plate from Paseo ($12.50)

I was urged by multiple people to try to find this little hole-in-the-wall to try one of their famous sandwiches. I didn’t think I had time, but when I stopped at Fremont Brewing, a group of people to the left of me unwrapped Paseo sandwiches to go along with their beers and I about died of jealousy. The smell was intoxicating, and not because we were in a brewery! In fact, the family to my right caught a whiff and instantly said “oh god, that must be from Paseo.” That sealed the deal – I was done fooling around with the bus and caught a cab directly there to try for myself. (It’s less than a mile away, little did I know!) I got a plate instead of a sandwich and the portion was huge. The Carribean pulled pork came with beans and rice, corn on the cob, and a tasty cabbage salad with fresh cilantro and beets to brighten it up.

4225 Fremont Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 545-7440

>> Tip: Paseo is CASH ONLY and there’s always a line, though it moves quickly. There is very limited seating available, so you may opt to make this your first stop in Fremont (here’s a map), then visit the troll, then head to Fremont Brewing to enjoy your sandwiches. (Wish I had done it in that order – learn from my mistake and thank me later!)

One Last Look: Gasworks Park

Still toting my Paseo leftovers, and starting to feel the chill as the sun was beginning to set, I caught the bus back to my hotel at this point, but if you have planned better and have time, I suggest you end your visit to Fremont with a stop at Gasworks Park. Here you will find a beautiful view of the Seattle skyline across Lake Union, with the sun going down behind it.

Enter the park via the Burke-Gilman Trail that runs along the water, a public walking and biking path and find a spot to take a rest and watch the kite-flyers or stop for a picnic (if you haven’t inhaled your Paseo goodies by now!) Bask in the view and congratulate yourself from getting out of downtown and into the Center of the Universe, Fremont.

>> If you’re heading back downtown, you might enjoy this list of Where to Eat in Downtown Seattle.

>> Did you enjoy your time in Fremont? Know of something else to do, see, or eat there that I missed? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Where to Eat in Downtown Seattle


For me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Seattle – no, not Nirvana, grunge, or even good beer – is fresh seafood. Sure, it’s a bit corny that the fishmongers in Pike Place Market still put on their show for the tourists where they toss around huge salmon like a football, however it still a great place for a stroll. It is also a working market and you can find great deals on seasonal produce, craft items, and of course seafood in the area around Downtown Seattle. This trip, I was mostly near the Washington State Convention Center area, so I wanted to share a few spots that we enjoyed relatively close to that area.

>> If you have a bit more time and inclination, I also highly recommend a trip out to Fremont for an alternative view of the Seattle skyline. If for nothing else, you MUST stop at Paseo for a sandwich, but if you have a few hours to kill, I’d recommend to make an afternoon of it.

Toulouse Petit (Lower Queen Anne)

Crabcake Benedict at Toulouse Petit
Crabcake Benedict at Toulouse Petit

When I asked for Seattle recommendations, my Instagram friend, Mark (chef/owner at Full Moon Cafe in Hilo) recommended I try a restaurant called Toulouse Petit in Lower Queen Anne. I didn’t realize it until my last day but the restaurant was only blocks from my hotel! Luckily, a fellow AWP attendee from Hawaii, Brenda, was down to meet up there for brunch before I had to catch my train for Portland.

I’m so thankful that we made it, although I wish I had time to go back for happy hour! First, their menu is enormous. We went with the two most popular items recommended by our server – Dungeness Crab Benedict for me and Duck Confit Hash for Brenda. An Instagram post of the benedict got over 60 likes within the first three hours, and it tasted just as good (if not better) than it looked!

Weekday mornings they have a breakfast happy hour where you can save $3-5 per plate on most breakfast items. Their regular happy hour boasts a small plates menu with over 50 items ranging from $4 to $8. A full bar with great food makes it a popular spot, and even at 10am there was a 20 minute wait. We had to speak a bit louder to hear each other over the lively conversations going on all around us, but overall the atmosphere was lively and fun. Highly recommended.

Toulouse Petit
601 Queen Anne Avenue N
Seattle, WA
(206) 432-9069

Plum Bistro (Capitol Hill)

Mushroom & Sweet Pepper Skillet at Plum Bistro
Mushroom & Sweet Pepper Skillet at Plum Bistro

Obviously, I’m an omnivore, but once in awhile I’m veg-curious so it was a good opportunity to head out for lunch with my friend Kim to a vegan restaurant in the Capitol Hill area to celebrate both her birthday and our time at AWP.

I ordered a breakfast skillet with panko-crusted seitan, umami-rich mushrooms and sweet red peppers, grits and a biscuit with mushroom gravy. Although the size was on the small side for its $16 price tag, it was hearty and flavorful and I did not miss the meat. We also split their signature “Mac n ‘Yease” which is made with nutritional yeast, which gives it a savory, almost nutty flavor (sort of reminds me of how you’d add nutmeg to mac & cheese) and a bit of spice to give it a kick. Yum!

Plum Bistro
1429 12th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 838-5333

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Hitting the Road

A few weeks ago as I struggled to determine what direction my life would take next, I had absolutely no travel plans on the horizon. Yet as always seems to be the case in times like these, somehow the stars aligned so perfectly that even I was amazed.

In less than a week, I pieced together what will turn out to be a month-long trip halfway around the globe and back, beginning with the AWP Annual Conference in Seattle. After a few days there, I’ll be catching a train to Portland to visit my cousin and to check out the famous food trucks and local beer, wine and cocktails. I love trains, so next will be a 30 hour trip from Portland down to LA to visit Jess before heading to Ireland to celebrate the wedding of one of my best friends.


Every year, my friends and I choose a word for the year and my word for 2014 was Passion. In the past few years I felt like I’ve gotten further from myself and things that really inspire me. So this year I’ve resolved to get back to those passions. Anyone who knows me could say that my three biggest passions are food, travel, and writing. So this impromptu trip seemed the perfect way to combine the three.

Feel free to check out the pages that I’ve created to keep together recommendations for Seattle, Portland, LA, and Ireland. If you see anything I’m missing, please feel free to leave your tips in the comments so that I can add them! I’ll be blogging along the way and you can also keep up via Instagram and Twitter for the latest photos and videos from the road.

Here we go again… =)