A refreshing, quick escape from Seattle
by Jessica Price -
SGN A&E Writer
At 166 miles, a road trip to Lake Chelan is close enough for an impromptu weekend getaway, while just far enough for a drastic change of scenery. Once you pass Leavenworth and Stevens Pass on Highway 2 (or Snoqualmie Pass and Ellensburg if you're taking I-90), the terrain quickly transitions to dry and dramatic, bringing to mind the understated beauty of the Texas hill country or New Mexico. Scenic roads cut through canyons of sagebrush and basalt; scrubby vegetation and long grasses gently wave as the Columbia River winds in and out of view. Orchards and vineyards dot the hillsides continuing into the small town of Chelan and up to nearby Manson (the Lake Chelan Valley is home to nearly 20 wineries and counting).
As you turn onto Lakeshore Road, the picturesque waters of Lake Chelan's southern tip slide into view. The largest natural lake in the state, Lake Chelan begins in the desert and ends in the middle of the Cascades, 55 miles north. In summer, Chelan enjoys plentiful sun and clear blue skies, while in winter the small town lights up, transitioning from lakeside vacation mecca to cozy seasonal getaway minus the ever-present gray of Seattle. Chelan boasts 300 days of sunshine per year, a tantalizing prospect for those of us who prefer our off-seasons to be a little brighter.
At the heart of Chelan's unique charm is a thriving and exceptionally friendly town center. Dating back to the 1880s, Chelan's main thoroughfare, Woodin Avenue, was recently designated an accredited 'National Main Street,' and residents take pride in their close-knit community inclusive of artisans and family-owned farms. You won't find chain stores along Woodin (though there are two large grocery stores and one Starbucks in town), and residents prefer to get coffee or healthy groceries from shops on the main street. As Chelan is surrounded by natural beauty, it is known for a multitude of outdoor recreational activities in both summer and winter. When snow blankets the valley, skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling are available on forest trails not far away. If outdoor sports aren't for you, Chelan's year-long events calendar has something for everyone, including wineries, music, art festivals, harvest and winter festivals, and shopping.
WHERE TO STAY
The 170-room, Gay-friendly Campbell's Resort (104 W. Woodin Ave., 1-800-553-8225, www.campbellsresort.com) is the oldest, best-known resort in Chelan, situated right on the shore of the lake. Campbell's is family-owned and operated - five generations have extended their hospitality in Chelan since 1901. Six major renovations have kept the resort updated with all the best travel amenities, including pools, hot tubs, beach bar, fitness center, and boat moorage. The clean and comfortable rooms are designed to resemble personal vacation cottages with hand-carved driftwood chairs and lake memorabilia in each room. Lake-facing rooms have spectacular views no matter the season - you can watch the sun set over the water from your private patio while mountains loom in the distance.
The exceptionally friendly staff is happy to make reservations for dinner at the popular, moderately upscale 2nd Floor Pub & Veranda or for a relaxing massage at the River Room Spa just across the street. A longtime pillar of Chelan tourism, the River Room offers a tantalizing array of body treatments and services, as well as private yoga instruction for parties of four or more. The welcoming staff strives to see to every guest's needs and will happily answer any question about the town's history.
Though without direct beach access, the Gay-friendly Lake House (407 N. Lake St., 1-877-293-5982, www.lakehousechelan.com) is another option, featuring stylish one- and three-room condo rentals with perks to sweeten the deal such as full kitchens, king-size beds, flat-screen TVs, electric fireplaces, and private decks. During the off-season, many accommodations offer discounted rates and winter packages with added perks such as winery tours or customized outdoor activities.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
At the heart of Chelan's main street is a multi-purpose coffee house, The Vogue (117 E. Woodin Ave., www.thevoguelounge.com). In the morning you can find a fresh-baked pastry and latte worthy of any Seattle coffee connoisseur, while perusing the Vogue's selection of house-made sauces and pickled vegetables. Bottles of regional wines fill baskets, and shelves are stocked with olives, chocolates, and a selection of microbrews. A notice board features flyers for local art shows and community events. By night, The Vogue transforms into a wine bar buzzing with activity and often featuring local music. The atmosphere is laid-back, slow-paced, and welcoming.
A few steps from Woodin Avenue is Local Myth Pizza (122 S. Emerson St., http://localmythpizza.com). The fresh green salad (which comes with a bite-sized 'mini-calzone') was dressed with delectable house-made balsamic vinaigrette, and the thin-crust pizzas are healthy or indulgent, depending on your preference. The pies are just the right size for sustaining yourself after a quick stroll around the riverwalk. Local Myth has served Chelan for over 15 years, and it's no mystery why they are a favorite of visitors and locals alike.
Other foodie stops include Lake Chelan Cheese at Lake Chelan Winery in nearby Manson (224 E. Wapato Way, www.lakechelancheese.com) and the charming Sunshine Farm Market, which you'll notice as you drive into town. The market features an extensive array of organic fruits and vegetables grown on the farm, various kinds of local honey (the lavender was my favorite), plus lotions, soaps, and handmade gifts. Seasonal 'you pick' schedules for cherries, peaches, apples, and pumpkins are available - just ask. If you're in Chelan for more than a day or two, or are perhaps renting a condo for an extended stay, Bear Foods (125 E. Woodin Ave.), a natural market and creperie, is a one-stop shop for healthy groceries.
Vin du Lac Winery (105 Hwy 150, www.vindulac.com) and its tasting room and bistro are well-known and were named 'Northwest Winery of the Year' in 2010 by Wine Press Northwest. The bistro offers full-service lunch and dinner under the direction of Chef Francis St. Dennis, and the view is sublime from the patio tables. Like everyone in Chelan, the staff takes pride in the natural beauty of their surroundings and provides many locally sourced foods and beverages. Stop by for a tasting or a souvenir bottle (I'd recommend the affordable 2010 Barrel Select Cuvee Rouge or the award-winning 2007 Barrel Select Merlot). Wineries are plentiful in the valley - there are no fewer than 10 within the city itself, all following the lake's southern tip. A walking tour takes you to a few others, such as Nefarious Cellars (www.nefariouscellars.com), Tunnel Hill Winery (www.tunnelhillwinery.com), and Tsillan Cellars Winery (www.tsillancellars.com). These three are situated in a row as you approach downtown Chelan, so walking back to your hotel after a little refined indulgence won't be a problem.
SHOPPING & ENTERTAINMENT
Rediscovering small-town life is easy in Chelan. Quaint boutiques and galleries feature works by local artisans and craftsmen. Bon Sejour Home (210 E. Woodin Ave.) is bursting with irresistible finds that make you want to revitalize your living space - everything smells divine and looks impeccable. Textiles, candles, fragrance diffusers, and other home décor items are well-stocked and moderately priced. If you're fantasizing about redecorating back home, the lifestyle store Columbia Furniture (216 E. Woodin Ave.) carries modern furnishings not unlike Crate and Barrel, and is well worth a visit.
Browse current titles at Riverwalk Books (116 E. Woodin Ave.), a small shop whose mission statement is 'to be the quintessential community bookstore.' The staff believes that where you spend your money affects the community you live in, and they strive to offer service and selection putting their love of reading and community before anything else. Bestsellers, independent titles, and specialty books are carefully chosen for discerning readers.
Another hub of Chelan life is the historic Ruby Theatre (135 E. Woodin Ave.), believed to be the oldest-running cinema in Washington State. The movies are refreshingly inexpensive (adults $8), and usually there is just one feature film daily at 7 p.m., with movies switching out weekly.
This year's Lake Chelan Crush (www.lakechelanwinevalley.com) takes place over two weekends, October 6-7 and October 13-14. The wineries of the Lake Chelan Wine Growers Association come together to offer short trips between their locations, allowing the curious to witness the process of grape harvesting. Tastings and food pairings are on offer while you mingle with winemakers. It's rumored that a little grape-stomping a la I Love Lucy is sometimes encouraged. Just in time to break up the post-holiday doldrums, the annual Lake Chelan Winterfest (www.lakechelanwinterfest.com) takes place over two weekends in January. The valley is transformed into a festive winter celebration featuring ice artwork, the annual Fire and Ice torchlight parade, sleigh rides, and many other snow-inspired activities. Warm up in the Ice Lounge with music, a bowl of chili, and drinks by the fire.
Check the Washington Department of Transportation for information on traveling through the passes (www.wsdot.wa.gov), keeping in mind that not every place shuts down with a little snow the way Seattle does. Chelan is a short, scenic road trip that will refresh you with its charming, small-town spirit.
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