Embracing the wonderful and strange in King County, Washington
From honey-producing apiaries to wallaby-breeding ranches, the thrills of the Pacific Northwest are anything but ordinary.
These days, when conjuring up a mental image of Seattle, Washington, and its surrounding regions it is nearly impossible not to think of the tech boom. Beginning in the mid-80s and continuing into today, brands like Amazon and Microsoft slowly changed the Emerald City’s demographics from the blue-collared trucker and grunge aesthetic of yore into the bright-eyed lanyard-wearing recent college grads of today.
But in 1990, the region of King County had a different sort of cultural backdrop, one imbued with mystery and the supernatural, all owing to a certain fictional town’s obsession with the fictional murder of their homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. That series, Twin Peaks, would go on to create a nationwide buzz around the Pacific Northwest, cementing it as a mystic region filled with trees, coffee, cherry pie, donuts, owls, logs, ducks, fire, and water – especially the iconic Snoqualmie Falls.
With the show’s triumphant return in 2017, the eerie and beautiful elements of King County are back in the collective consciousness with the areas of Snoqualmie, North Bend, and Fall City continuing to draw hordes of tourists every year who are trying to relive that magic. Booking.com recently sent their first Chief Booking Officer, Cameron Phillips, to stay at one of the show’s central locations: the Great Northern Hotel, otherwise known as the Salish Lodge and Spa, to find out what makes this area so unique and beautiful. While the trip was anchored in the tropes and locations of the series, the area of King County is truly more surreal than a television set could ever capture.
The Salish Lodge and Spa
Global research from Booking.com reveals that television shows, films, sports and social media have an increasingly significant sway over booking decisions, as travelers turn to pop culture for their travel inspiration. And for fans of Twin Peaks, the Salish Lodge and Spa will always be that certain dreamlike destination filled with wonder, terror and charm. A key location from the series, the Salish served as the exterior for the Great Northern Hotel, which housed and employed both central characters to the show as well as otherworldly apparitions.
In 2018, the Salish Lodge and Spa continues to have all of the charm of the series along with luxurious accommodations in a beautifully wooded area of the Snoqualmie Valley, which makes it an ideal location for a romantic getaway, reunion, wedding or honeymoon.
Only 30 minutes outside of Seattle, the Salish includes spa treatments featuring herbs and honey produced locally, as well as two incredible restaurants; The Dining Room, a fine dining establishment that prides itself on farm-to-table style cooking and The Attic, its more casual sister location known for wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches.
Each of the 86 guestrooms are newly renovated and include memory foam mattresses, feathery soft pillows, gas fireplaces, large spa-like showers with dual shower heads, copper kettles and pour-over coffee, as well as remarkable views of the forests and waterfall.
In the back of the building is a unique garden area where their chefs pick ingredients for the hotel’s two restaurants. A quick walk across the highway reveals Salish’s own apiary: a buzzing collection of hives and honeybees that produce over 2,400 pounds of honey annually. The bees’ product is made into everything from Salish’s signature honey and corresponding spreads to beer, including Snoqualmie Brewery Salish Lodge and Spa Honey Ale, Pike Hive Five Salish Lodge and Spa Hopped Honey Ale, and Salish Lodge & Spa Dry Honey Cider.
If the accommodations simply aren’t enough, the sights and sounds of the surrounding rainforests and Snoqualmie Falls is sure to seal the deal. A towering 268-foot waterfall, Snoqualmie Falls is one of the more iconic images from the Twin Peaks series, appearing in the show’s credits as well as scenes throughout. With its base gushing into the Snoqualmie River, the falls divert into power plants which harness the energy into hydroelectric power for the region. The waterfall also has a particular importance to the Snoqualmie people, the indigenous population who have called the western Washington region home for centuries. Believing the falls to hold a spiritual significance, the Snoqualmie people have said that the base of the waterfall was a connection between heaven and Earth. In 2009, the falls were formally listed for the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property for the Snoqualmie people, with the Salish Lodge and Spa also being proudly owned by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.
Fall City Wallaby Ranch
A six-minute drive to neighboring Fall City lands Phillips in one of the rarer wonders of western Washington, the Fall City Wallaby Ranch. Helmed by married couple Rex and Tawny Paperd, the ranch is a breeding ground for wallabies and kangaroos alike, who graze and hop at the couple’s 10 acre farm. As a former pilot, Rex created the ranch on a part of a private airpark, bordered on the South side by the Fall City Airport, which makes the location accessible by car, river or private aircraft.
Phillips’s tour begins with a powerpoint lecture by Rex himself, who explains that the ranch is dedicated to the breeding of world class Gray and Albino Bennett’s Wallabies and Red Kangaroos for private sale, research and photography. The majority of Paperd’s talk is concerned with breeding, as the marsupials have a very unique birthing process, with the embryonic baby leaving the mother and finding its way into her pouch for months of gestation. Once the presentation is over, Rex introduces us to all of his current marsupials, even opening one of their pouches to reveal the baby kicking and growing inside.
Unlike wild wallabies and kangaroos, who have been portrayed on film and TV as aggressive with the common image of the boxing kangaroo, the animals at the Fall City Ranch are gentle and domesticated, letting Phillips and crew pet and feed them. The tour is informative and cheeky, with Rex making jokes and puns whenever given the chance and treating his kangaroos with the love and affection of a proud pet owner or even a father.
Northwest Railway Museum
The Northwest Railway Museum is a non-profit 501 (c)3 organization founded in 1957 by a small group of individuals who wanted to preserve railroad history and tell the story of the rail’s importance to the Pacific Northwest. Nestled in the town center of Snoqualmie, the experiential museum encompasses the Snoqualmie Depot, the Railway History Center and a five-mile historic railroad, which visitors can ride on weekends from April through October.
With the tagline, “The railroad changed everything,” the staff at the museum aims to teach future generations just how pivotal these trains were. Prior to 1869, settlers spent months and sometimes didn’t survive the long haul up the Oregon Trail – but with the railway, even the country’s poorest had a viable mode of transportation to the region, which also provided food, products and mail. The railway also brought settlers to join communities occupied by Pacific Northwest Native Americans. A historic location as well as a pop culture touchstone, it is said that Laura Palmer’s death occurred in one of the railway’s cars, yet the exact car has been disputed.
In nearby North Bend, under the looming silhouette of Mount Si, you will find the most authentic Central American cuisine in King County tucked into a small shop on the side of the road. Helmed by the Lira brothers, Rio Bravo serves New Mexican staples, showing how you do not need to be experimental to make a big splash.
With a menu boasting authentic red and green enchiladas, bigger-than-life burritos, quesadillas, huevos rancheros, street tacos, taco salads, horchata and chorizo hash, this quick and casual restaurant is sure to please even the most picky of New Mexican food enthusiasts.
A strictly family affair, Rio Bravo is operated entirely by the Liras. More than a great meal, Rio Bravo represents the kindness you would expect from a cherished local restaurant, as the Lira’s pride themselves on service with a smile.
A few blocks from Rio Bravo finds you at another source of Twin Peaks lore: Twede’s Cafe, known to the show’s fans as the Double R Diner. A local diner for the Twin Peaks community, specializing in homemade pie and coffee, Twede’s Cafe is the spitting image of the Double R you see on TV, thanks in part to the revitalization efforts the diner underwent after the show was renewed for a third season in 2015.
The series production company completely restored the interior of Twede’s to match that of the original Double R., replete with Twin Peaks and David Lynch memorabilia lining the walls that lead to the bathroom. Given the show’s obsession with the food, Phillips had to try a piece of Twede’s infamous cherry pie with a dash of whipped cream.
Party Hat/Destinations’ Wedding Chapel
A half-hour from the lodge brings Phillips to downtown Seattle, where he is given a private tour of Party Hat, a multidisciplinary art and production space home to a rotating art gallery, screen printing studio, and shop. An inclusive space celebrating diversity and queer culture, Party Hat’s curators often mix the demonstrative with the humorous in their shows, which currently include abstract video work, balloons filled with rice and portraits of one of the gallery’s lead curators, Mary Anne Carter, with pantyhose covering her head.
In the same building, the curators take Phillips to Destinations, a pop-up wedding chapel collaboration between Carter and neighboring art book publisher Mount Analogue’s Colleen Louise Barry. Aiming for a queer-friendly “Vegas-style shotgun wedding chapel,” the chapel boasts Prince Harry masks, faux-fur-lined walls, mints and a wig store.
Elephant Car Wash
Although its first location was at Fourth and Lander, Elephant Car Wash’s second location – opened in 1956 on Battery Street in downtown Seattle – is perhaps the most-photographed landmark in Seattle, appearing in movies, music videos and advertisements. The car wash traces its routes to the 1950s, when Eldon Anderson and his business partners opened one of the first automated car washes. With 15 locations currently in business, the Elephant has become nearly synonymous with Seattle which almost seems ironic given how often it tends to rain.
North Star Diner and Shanghai Room
And what better way to end a day of sightseeing and exploring than with some drinks, some bar food and the ultimate release: karaoke. You can enjoy all of these things and more at the North Star Diner and Shanghai Room, whose karaoke devotees congregate in the bar at around 10 p.m. each night. With varying degrees of technical proficiency, the patrons roll through Northwest classics and pop culture staples, with an emcee rallying the troops every time there’s a lull. With cheap drinks and a truly local flair, the North Star is the place to go for anyone with a few dollars in their pocket, a fried food hankering and a song in their heart.