It has been a long time since Bellevue was a sleepy, little suburb on the east shore of Lake Washington. Today, Bellevue is a bustling city-in-its-own-right. It is a center of arts, dining, entertainment, shopping and yes – beautiful views. We decided to check out the views through some of the many outdoor activities that can be found in and around Bellevue. First stop was Enatai Beach to make arrangements for our canoe trip through the Mercer Slough. We chatted with the City of Bellevue Park Ranger about the upcoming trip, watched some people fishing off the pier and soaked up the view of Mt. Rainier to the south. The route of the canoe trip takes you along the shore of the lake and then into the slough, where you are almost guaranteed to see herons, turtles, eagles and sometimes even otters. Since our canoe trip was scheduled for later, we decided to check out the slough the other way – hiking along the slough.
Several miles away we parked our car at the trailhead of the Lake to Lake trail which goes 10 miles from Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish. Time only allowed us to hike several miles so we enjoyed the portion along the boardwalk through the wetlands near the Mercer Slough. This trail also connects with various trails through various Bellevue greenbelts and small lakes. We took the side trip to the Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm, which has been around for a long time. Just as we did in the past, present day families have a tradition of bringing the kids to pick the blueberries. Watching the kids while they picked the berries made me remember that blueberry muffins made with berries picked by your toddler tasted so much better! Of course – the younger pickers often eat more than actually end up in their baskets. The farm also features a fruit and vegetable stand with fresh produce from the Yakima Valley.
For the fourth hour into our trip we headed to Old Bellevue on Main Street. This beautiful three block area is lined with older styled buildings, housing lovely little shops and restaurants. After our hike, we were ready for some breakfast so we headed to Gilberts on Main, a favorite deli among the locals. Having had many delicatessen experiences, the lox and bagels struck us as some of the best we have had. Inside seating can be a challenge in the small deli, but we were lucky to have a nice table out on the sidewalk where we could enjoy the delicious food while we watched the world go by.
We knew we would soon be back to Main Street for lunch so it was time to get more hiking in. We took the very short walk to The Bellevue Downtown Park where we found another very beautiful view. The park is 20 acres of beautiful lawn, ringed with trees, fountains, benches and a half mile track which is ideal for both runners and walkers. On this lovely summer Sunday, there were plenty of folks out, families picnicking, couples strolling and kids watching the ducks. The views of the city were spectacular, with the sun glinting off the many glass high-rises in downtown Bellevue.
We noticed that there are outdoor movies every Tuesday night during the summer. The playbills not only listed the movies (all family-friendly) that were scheduled but also a list of suggested donations for different local charities as the “admission price”. What a great family activity.
We put in a couple of miles around the park, and window shopping in Old Bellevue before we were ready for lunch. Walking into the 520 Bar & Grill we were immediately struck with its cool and cozy atmosphere. The staff is friendly and attentive. Owners Randi and Joe work hard at creating a family feel – a place where the staff works as a team to ensure that everyone has a great dining experience. For our lunch, we enjoyed some delicious Penn Cove mussels, steamed in a curry broth that we were tempted to drink through a straw. They are very well known for their house-made soup. Today’s soup was chicken tortilla – just the right amount of spice and crunchiness.
Hour seven featured the cats beckoning to us from The Bellevue Arts Museum. This was the last day of the exhibit “Japan’s Beckoning Cats from - Talisman to Pop Icon. “ The Beckoning Cat, known as Maneki Neko is a well-known talisman originating in Japan. There are many legends as to its beginning. Our favorite was the one of the nobleman and the lightning. A traveling nobleman was resting under a tree outside of an impoverished temple, when he noticed the cat beckoning to him from the doorway. He went to check out this curious sight and just as he left the tree, it was struck by lightning. In gratitude for saving his life, the nobleman became a great friend of the monks, and made the temple prosperous through his generosity. The exhibit included hundreds of Maneki Nekos, from tiny figurines (carved out of a crayon) to large replicas.
On the third floor the main exhibit showing from July 12 – Oct. 27 is a 50 year retrospective of the ceramics artist Patti Warashina. Warashina, who grew up in Spokane, is an internationally celebrated and award winning artist. Her pieces offer both cutting social commentary and whimsical skepticism. The show includes over 120 pieces and offers lots to see and talk about.
We walked back to our suite at The Courtyard by Marriott for a little resting up then took the short walk into the business center to the famous El Gaucho restaurant in Bellevue. Bellevue is a great city for walking with nice wide sidewalks and lots of public art, water features and benches tucked away for when you need a break, and it is nearly level throughout the downtown area. And – good thing it is a great city to walk – because hour nine included an astounding dining experience at El Gaucho.
The restaurant features a very elegant, contemporary décor and a really lovely place for outside dining (far away from traffic and noise). Our table captain was Steve Smith who we were delighted to get know. Steve has worked at only the most elite restaurants in the area over the last 20 years. He suggested the wicked shrimp as a great spicy starter which certainly had a nice pepper kick to it. For our wine – Steve suggested Pinot Noir Laurene from Domaine Drouhin in the Dunhill Hills AVA which is located in Willamette Valley of Oregon. All we can say it was the best Pinot!!
Next came the Cesar salad and no one does a Cesar like El Gaucho! This was a two-man operation of combining all the wonderful ingredients that go into the Cesar - egg white, Dijon, oil and vinegar, pepper, garlic, Worcestershire, and anchovies. My wife carefully watched the anchovies get completely grinded down. She loves the flavor of anchovies but does not want to see them.
Following the salad was the bone-in New York steak. Like all of their beef this was 28 day dry-aged certified Angus Beef. As expected – the steak was cooked just right, tender and juicy. While El Goucho is famous for steak – they might be even better known for their roasted sweet corn side dish. This usually humble little veggie was fire roasted on the cob and then dressed with chipotle honey butter. Of course, no meal is complete without some Chocolate Bourbon Cake. Good thing we had a nice walk home.
The happy totals so far were 12 hours down and 24 hours more of Bellevue to enjoy. Now it was time to recharge ourselves with some sleep.
We woke up with views of the sun coming over the Cascades which reminded me it would be great to get a hike in early since I knew we had a long list of restaurants to visit. Coal Creek Falls is a great hike in the forest with views of the waterfalls. This is just a short 15 minute ride to the Red Town trails system in Bellevue which is part of Cougar Mountain Regional park. Red Town is the name of a tiny coal community. Coal was first discovered in the area in 1860s and was mined until the mines closed in 1963. King County had the foresight to purchase the property and seal up the mine shafts. Coal was king, especially in the Newcastle area, which was referred to as the Pennsylvania of the west. Red Town (now the Newcastle area) at its height had 1,000 people, a hotel and even a post office. It was called Red Town because many of the houses were painted red. You could spend a whole day exploring this area and might find parts of an old steam plant or mining shaft (which you should keep out of). Newcastle now covers a much larger area and is an incorporated city.
Although walking the entire 36 miles of trails that tie into this system was a thought, we hiked just several miles and enjoyed the scenery. I know we will come back and try one of the other trailheads, such as Anti-Aircraft Peak Trailhead which offers a view of Mt. Baker on a clear day. After the hike it was time for our dining extravaganza to continue as the noon hour stuck, and so our 27th hour meant it was time to head for Daniel’s Broiler.
Daniel’s Broiler is located on the 21st floor of the Bank of America complex in downtown Bellevue. Along with a full menu of excellent beef, seafood and salads, you can choose from views of Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, or the Seattle skyline. With two covered and heated decks, it is one of the few places offering year-round out door eating with such spectacular views.
Our next stop was The Bellevue Botanical Garden, located in the Wilburton neighborhood. This urban oasis encompasses 53 acres of cultivated gardens, natural wetlands and forest. A highlight is the new Ravine Experience, which is a 1/3 mile trail that takes you across a deep ravine on a 150’ suspension bridge. Many area organizations such as the Northwest Perennial Alliance, Eastside Fuchsia Society, The North American Rock Garden Society and others partner with the Botanical Gardens, providing programming, staffing and volunteer hours.
Wow – hour 32 and it is again time to eat! One of the newest additions to The Bellevue Square area known as “The Lodge” is Cactus, one of Seattle’s best and most innovative Southwestern, Mexican and Spanish restaurants. The menu at Cactus is devoted to tapas – small plates that are perfect for sharing. The food is fresh, expertly spiced and innovative. We tried Navajo Fry Bread, Ceviche Tostadas, Spicy Ahi Tacos, and of course Cactus’ famous house-made guacamole. All of which went really well with a tall glass of refreshing Sangria.
On our way back to The Courtyard by Marriott, we decided to stop into Blue Martini, which is located in The Shops at The Bravern. Blue Martini is a beautiful, up-scale cocktail lounge with an outdoor patio bar and live entertainment and happy hours seven nights a week. It was a great place for a night-cap as hour 36 drew to a close.
After our 36 hours in Bellevue I think it is fair to say we are ready for another 36 hours soon.
About our guest contributors:
Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mr. Fagin is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking the region. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a weather forecaster for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis. Mr. Fagin has a weekly hiking and weather segment every Tuesday morning on KUOW FM Seattle.
His wife Elizabeth Fagin, also a travel writer, is co-author of this article.