Tag Archives: travel

Concussions aren’t fun

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I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone.

But it’s no surprise things happen to me that make for great Facebook status updates.

Like getting my wallet stolen in Athens. Or getting a serious staph infection after surfing in Tavarua, Fiji. Or suffering through a urinary tract infection on a flight to Hamburg. (The Germans have the best medicine, let me tell you!)

So why wouldn’t I get a concussion on a recent kayak trip to the Mokulua Islands in Kailua?

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Here’s the story: We met up with some friends this past Sunday to kayak to the iconic twin islands off Lanikai Beach on the windward side of O‘ahu. The plan was to walk around Moku Nui, the larger of the two and the only one the public can legally land on.

The backside of the island can be dangerous to traverse, and I wouldn’t recommend people venture there.

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An unofficial warning sign posted toward the back of Moku Nui.

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But of course, I never listen to my own advice. I’ve been back there (see above) a couple of times before without any incident. There’s a protected cove into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead. And there’s also a shallow saltwater bath — into which adventure-seekers like to jump from the rocks overhead.

I don’t jump into anything, so that’s not where I hit my head.

In fact, it was on my way around the island when I sustained this concussion that doesn’t seem to go away.

I followed my friends’ two teenagers into a sea cave and a wave pushed me against the side of a rock wall, full force, and I whacked my right cranium pretty hard.

At first I panicked, thinking I was going to start bleeding profusely. And the ocean is the last place I’d like to be with an open wound to my head and blood gushing everywhere.

So I quickly got out of the water and onto land.

And to be honest, save for a headache, I felt fine.

In fact, I felt fine up until that night, when I sipped a glass of moscato and started slurring. Then I went into the bathroom, switched on the lights, and everything got so bright, I thought the roof had been torn from the house and the sunlight was streaming in. I couldn’t open my eyes.

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon — I was actually tripping out about the suddenly bright bathroom more than thinking this could be neurological damage — he started asking me a bunch of questions.

“Do you have a headache?”

“Are you nauseous?”

“Are you dizzy?”

“Do you have any weakness or numbness in your arms?”

To all of these questions I answered yes.

“I think you have a concussion.”

OK, so I’ve heard about concussions. Football players, boxers and car accident victims get them. You have to really hit your head pretty hard, I thought, to sustain something like that.

Turns out, millions of Americans have suffered from a concussion, many unreported. More than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., according to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Trauma Research Center.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. And you don’t have to actually hit your head to get one. A violent shake can cause a concussion, too.

Effects are usually temporary and include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.

On Monday, I was really starting to feel the effects. I had a difficult time concentrating, I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I felt dizzy and nauseous all the time. Light hurt my eyes and I was still suffering from what was starting to feel like a migraine. It wasn’t fun.

By Tuesday I was at the doctor’s office, getting my eyes checked and my brain scanned. No blood clots, but I definitely had a concussion that the doctor said may take weeks to months to heal fully.

This is Day 5, and I already see an improvement, at least in my concentration and balance. (It would take me twice as long to type an email, for example. It literally hurt to think.) But this injury is no joke.

Friends kept reminding of me actress Natasha Richardson, who, back in 2009, sustained a head injury when she fell while taking a beginner skiing lesson at a resort in Canada. She seemed fine, talked and acted normally — then died the next day.

I feel like if I’ve survived this long, I’m in the clear.

But I won’t be swimming into any sea caves anytime soon.

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‘Sometimes you gotta jump in the van’

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I had never been to a writer’s conference before, which may seem odd since that’s what I do for a living.

But these conferences are notoriously expensive, when you include airfare to and from Hawai‘i and the cost of accommodations, and being a writer, well, you’re usually broke.

So I’ve read about them, I’ve longed over websites, I’ve listened with uncloaked envy to people who have attended these mysterious wonders where speakers talk about story arcs and cliched ledes.

Then I finally decided to suck it up — read: fork over some hard-earned cash — and go to one myself.

And I’m not kidding when I say this: I literally signed up the week of the conference. And I had no place to stay, either.

The conference was for travel writers and photographers, put on for the past 22 years at Book Passage, a reputable independent bookstore in Corte Madera, Calif. that puts on highly regarded conferences and workshops throughout the year, including the one I had attended this weekend.

It’s expensive — a little more than $600 for the four-day conference — and airfare to San Francisco, especially at such short-notice, wasn’t cheap. So I had lofty hopes that I’d get my money’s worth.

And I have to say, the experience was well worth the investment. (I even missed a little south shore bump, too.)

IMG_0510Like every conference in the Western world, it featured a bunch of seminars, from talk-story panel discussions on freelancing to intensive workshops on writing narratives.

I hadn’t been to one of these before — it seemed like most people were conference alums — so I just sat in whichever session sounded remotely interesting. I settled on, “Writing the Big Five,” with Jim Benning and David Farley, both accomplished travel writers and return speakers. The course focused on the five main types of travel writing: magazine stories, newspaper articles, personal essays, blog posts and books.

We started by introducing ourselves with our names, hometowns and favorite animals. More than 60 people filled the event room in the back of the bookstore, hailing from as far as Berlin to as nearby as the Santa Cruz Mountains. (For some reason, there was a strangely high number of people who were from Minnesota and didn’t know each other.) There were two others from Hawai‘i and a guy named Alan Toth. I felt right at home.

The first thing the pair of speakers did was dispel myths about travel writing.

“The first one. You make a lot of money.” That made attendees chuckle.

Though I’ve been freelancing for more than 10 years now, it was nice to have time to actually think about my approach to my craft and career. The discussions in this course challenged me to hone my writing, to be more specific in my descriptions, to not be lazy with my word choices, to re-read and edit more carefully my work, and to strategize on how to sell my stories to editors.

The next seminar — this time a discussion about finding your story on the road — really inspired me.

In this panel discussion, Spud Hilton, the travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle aptly said, “Sometimes you gotta jump in the van.”

Meaning, sometimes you have to do the stuff that you’re going to write about. And sometimes you’re not going to like it. Sometimes it might scare you. Sometimes it might be against your better judgement. But if you’re going to make this a bona fide career — and you want a paycheck — well, you gotta do what you gotta do. And jumping in that proverbial van might be it.

I didn’t realize, until I attended this conference, that there was such a huge world out there to be explored. And that I could, very feasibly, write about it.

It’s too bad it took me $1,800 and three days in another city to figure this out.

But maybe that’s what it was going to take.

I’m just glad I got in the van.

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#CatTravels: 4 must-dos on a day trip to Kauai

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There’s a misconception that there’s nothing much to do on Kaua‘i.

But I have to disagree.

Sure, there are no major shopping malls or giant amusement parks. But there are plenty of other ways — hiking through native forests, kayaking around the Nāpali Coast, feasting at local haunts — to stay entertained.

Last weekend a group of gal pals planned a jaunt to the Garden Isle — mostly for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Ni‘ihau, which I’ll blog about later — and we almost didn’t have enough time to do everything we had wanted.

We landed just before lunch and, of course, immediately needed food. And that’s how our weekend started.

We made the most of our 24 hours on Kaua‘i. Here are four things you can squeeze in if you’ve only got a day here:

1. Hamura Saimin Stand, 2956 Kress St. in Līhuʻe, 808-245-3271

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Open since 1951, this fourth-generation noodle shop is literally an icon in Līhuʻe. And around lunchtime any day of the week, this place is packed.

Saimin is the most popular dish on the menu here. For those of you who haven’t heard of saimin, it’s a noodle soup dish that came out of Hawai‘i’s plantation era, combining Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit using curly egg noodles in a hot broth.

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Most of us ordered the small saimin, which comes with sliced ham, kamaboko (fish cake) and green onions. The noodles are made daily in the founder’s great-grandmother’s house.

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You can’t eat saimin without barbecue sticks; Hamura sells chicken and beef skewers that, for some reason, go perfectly with a hot bowl of noodles.

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Hamura also sells udon — these noodles are also housemade — in its signature broth.

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And you can’t leave Hamura without sampling its popular lilikoi chiffon pie — which can be packed to go, too.

2. Hanapepe Town, south shore, west of Kōloa

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It’s hard to believe this sleepy little town on the south shore west of Kōloa was once one of the island’s largest communities. Today, not much has changed over the last century. The old plantation buildings are still standing, now home to boutiques, art galleries and little restaurants.

The famous Swinging Bridge (above) is still there, built in the early 1900s as a way for residents to cross the river. It’s been restored and reinforced over the years, and people still enjoy crossing the narrow and shaky suspension bridge.

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Hanapepe is also home to one of my favorite spots to grab taro and sweet potato chips, fried right there by owner and sole employee Dale Nagamine.

Taro Ko Factory Chips (3940 Hanapepe Rd.) is located right at the entrance to the historic town, in a green plantation-style home that was once a popular saimin stand. (Remnants of the eatery — like the menu boards and wooden stools — are still there.)

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Every time I’m on Kaua‘i I try to stop by for a bag of chips and to visit Stanley Sakoda, who claims to work here but really doesn’t.

The chips are really worth the stop. The taro is still grown on the farm Nagamine’s family operated a generation ago. And the bags, which are $4.50 each, are utterly addictive.

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And if you’re lucky enough to be in Hanapepe on a Friday, stick around for Art Night. This weekly event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m., is a street festival of sorts with food vendors and live entertainment lining the main roadway. Restaurants and art galleries stay open late, too. (Yes, 9 p.m. is late for Hanapepe!)

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We stopped at a very cool boutique called Machine Machine Apparel, owned and operated by Shannon Hiramoto. We loved the colors, the patterns, and how she mixes vintage and new fabrics. Such cool stuff here.

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There was a vendor serving only soup — and it was some of the best spoonfuls I’ve had. I didn’t expect to stop here and buy a bowl of Mexican chicken and rice soup when there were other vendors selling more street-friendly food. But I did. And I didn’t regret it.

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We stopped at Raphael’s Aloha Tacos booth, selling made-to-order tacos and burritos. The best part? The tortilla was made from taro.

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The longest line, though, was at this booth, The Right Slice, selling homemade sweet and savory pies. We didn’t make it in time to try the dozens of flavors owner and head baker Sandy Poehnelt whipped up. But we did try her mango lilikoi pie, which was actually the first flavor she ever shipped back in December 2009.

3. Drinks at The Feral Pig, 3501 Rice St. in Līhuʻe, 808-246-1100

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If the name, alone, doesn’t get you interested, the menu will.

Opened in August of 2011 by Scott Kessinger and Dave Power, this casual restaurant has perfected the combination of delicious and generous portions and well-crafted cocktails.

In fact, our server, Cisco, claimed he made the best Manhattans, period. So, of course, we had to sample one. (OK, two.)

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And we gotta say, the Pig’s Manhattan was pretty damn good. But so were the bites.

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We had the pupu-style steak, cut into bite-sized portions, with fries. The steak was perfectly cooked, tender and tasty. And then we tried an updated version of its Kaua‘i-grown shrimp topped with a tangy barbecue sauce with bacon. No complaints from us.

4. Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Park, west side

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I almost feel like writing something is completely unnecessary when you see these photos.

Of course you should check out Waimea Canyon. You should decide to pull up a beach chair and gaze upon this view for a few hours. It’s that amazing.

Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a popular attraction for the obvious reasons. It stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. The panoramic views are completely breathtaking, with crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges that no photograph can do justice. And check out the Waipo‘o Falls in the distance.

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Follow the main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, into the mountains and you’ll end up at Koke‘e State Park, littered with hiking trails and offers a commanding view of the amphitheater-headed Kalalau Valley (above) along the Nāpali Coast. You’re up about 4,000 feet, looking into this lush valley. It’s pretty unforgettable.

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So booking your trip yet?

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#FieldTrip: Spending the evening in Waikiki

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We just can’t get enough of each other.

The four of us who traveled to Greece a couple of weeks ago planned to meet up with another friend, Dara Lum, who just started a new job as communications director at the posh Hakeulani.

And, of course, we had to eat.

So we decided to check out a new art exhibit at the Waikiki Parc, a swanky boutique hotel on Helumoa Road across the street from the beach.

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For the past year and a half, the hotel has partnered with the University of Hawaii at Manoa to transform what used to be a bare walkway through the hotel into a quaint gallery space to showcase student and alumni work. (It’s called the Parc Promenade.)

For the next three months — the art changes that often! — the works of Nathan J.H. Ditzler of Kailua (above), who graduated from UH and is now a graduate student at West Virginia University, will be on display (and for sale). This is his first solo show.

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His sculptures show a tension between the natural and the constructed — and with a clear sense of humor. I mean, just look at the ones above!

My favorite — and Ditzler’s, too — is “Shaka Mudra” (above), constructed from stoneware and metallic glaze. “It lends itself to art history but has this subversive element,” he explained. “I have to think this historical figure would have had a sense of humor.”

After the art opening, we walked across the street to the Halekulani for drinks at the House Without a Key and dinner at Orchid’s.

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I love this open-air restaurant for a lot of reasons, namely the view and the live music. It’s that classic Waikiki scene visitors romanticize about: the sun setting behind a trio of Hawaiian musicians with a former Miss Hawaii gracefully dancing under a century-old kiawe tree as you sip on your Mai Tai. How does it get better?

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The view from our table was perfect.

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We started with drinks — of course — and I had to sample the restaurant’s famous Mai Tai. Such a classic — and perfectly crafted.

But once the sun dropped behind the Pacific Ocean, we headed to Orchid’s, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Best known for its Sunday brunch, Orchid’s has a stellar dinner menu, too, that’s definitely worth checking out.

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We started with the lobster bisque, a decadent soup starter that’s a must-not-miss.

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Next, we sampled the grilled Romaine salad, the greens slightly charred and warm. It was nicely paired with feta cheese, cucumbers, onions and a lemon-oregano dressing. But it was the tomato chutney that was out-of-this-world. I could eat that with just bread and be happy.

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The server recommended this tuna and foie gras croquette, with a tomatillo salsa and green apple-frisée salad.

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A standout appetizer is the seared scallops with cauliflower mousseline — like a Hollandaise sauce — with caviar and gribiche cream. The scallops were buttery delicious.

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Another popular dish — and rightly so — is the olive oil-poached salmon paired with Big Island goat cheese and pistachios and roasted beetroot. This was so unexplainable delicious — must have been the olive oil poaching prep — that two of my girlfriends who don’t care much for salmon absolutely loved this. That says a lot!

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Easily the most popular dish here — actually, it could be its signature — is the steamed onaga (long-tailed red snapper), done Chinese-style. It comes with shiitake mushrooms and green onions, sizzled with sesame oil and shoyu. Melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

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Here’s the ravioli using Kahuku shrimp and asparagus from Waialua and topped with a lemon verbena butter.

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My girlfriend and I split the beef ribeye and tenderloin (shown), which came with root veggies and mustard cream. The tenderloin, as expected, was lean and a bit dryer than the fatty ribeye, which exceeded expectations. I will think about that ribeye for awhile.

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For dessert, we tried the organic chocolate plate with a rich chocolate cream paired with roasted apple bananas and organic white honey. Interesting, for sure.

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I ordered the ice cream sampler, all made in-house. You can pick from vanilla, nougat, Kona coffee, coconut and chocolate.

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But the star of the dinner is Halekulani’s signature coconut cake, a slice of heaven, really. This chiffon cake features coconut-amaretto cream, whipped cream and shredded coconut. And if you don’t like coconut, don’t worry. Most of us weren’t coconut fans — but we gobbled this up in no time. There’s a reason why this cake is legendary. It’s THAT good.

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#CatTravels: If you find yourself in #Issaquah…

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I thought we were flying to Seattle.

Instead, I found out that morning, we were heading to a small town east of Washington’s largest city city, to a place called Issaquah.

Issa-what?

At least that’s what I was saying in my head.

I’ve been to Seattle a bunch of times, even drove as far as Marysville once. But I had never been — or even heard of — Issaquah.

Turns out, it’s quite a city.

I was shocked at how many people knew about it when I posted my travel itinerary on social media. My girlfriend grew up there, her mom works for the school district, and others have lived or worked or traveled through for years.

Where has this place been all my life?

Here’s some background on Issaquah: The population here is close to 30,500. The name, “Issaquah,” is some kind of misspelling of a local Native American word that could mean “sound of the birds,” “snake” or “little stream.” It was a mining town that turned into a lumber town that turned into a highly desirable residential suburb, ranked the second fastest-growing ‘burn in the state by Forbes.com.

And it’s gorgeous, surrounded on three sides by the Issaquah Alps: Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains. To the north is Lake Sammamish.

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Oh, just something you’d see walking around Issaquah. So gorgeous.

We were here visiting a relative — and just for about 48 hours.

I thought, at first, that would be more than enough time to see this charming little town.

Boy, was I wrong.

That wasn’t enough time to just EAT in this city, packed with old-fashioned diners and cozy restaurants.

So if you ever find yourself heading to Issaquah and you’re wondering what to do, look no further. Here’s your travel plans:

1. Get breakfast at Issaquah Cafe

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Issaquah Cafe (1580 NW Gilman Blvd., 425-391-9690) is one of those hometown restaurants in a strip mall — and it’s so worth the visit. It was just a comfortable place to get a hearty breakfast. I can see why it’s so popular.

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One of the specials that morning was this omelet with bell peppers, onions, cheese and smothered in the restaurant’s country sausage gravy.

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Here’s the chicken fried steak — a tenderized piece of steak (often round steak) doused in fried chicken batter — with that same gravy. You can’t get this back in Hawaii, so we ate as much of it as humanly possible.

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White sausage gravy like this has bits of sausage on it — but it’s also cooked with that same pork fat. That’s what makes it so good — and so bad.

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In addition to gravy — I realize that’s all I talked about! — the cafe serves up other breakfast items including pancakes, cinnamon rolls and these pumpkin waffles.

2. Tour the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

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There’s a government-run salmon hatchery right in downtown Issaquah (125 W. Sunset Way, 425-392-1118). You can tour it during daylight hours on your own. Most times there are docents available to show you around. But we went at possibly the worst time ever — a Sunday morning in the summer, when not much is happening. Still, it was interesting to learn what happens here.

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Fall is the most active time at the hatchery, when adult chinook and coho salmon return here. The staff begins trapping adult salmon for brood stock in September through November, collecting eggs and milt, fertilizing eggs, and getting them settled into incubation trays. The hatchery also raises rainbow trout.

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In early October, the hatchery — and really the entire town — celebrates the salmon return with Issaquah Salmon Days Festival (www.salmondays.com), a two-day block party of sorts in downtown Issaquah with workshops, live music, food and more. (It’s on my bucket list.)

3. Get a root beer float from XXX Root Beer Drive-In

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According to the company, XXX Root Beer Drive-In (98 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-1266) was the first drive-in in the Pacific Northwest, established in 1930. The combination of the XXX brand of root beer and food worked and the concept spread across the country. There’s only two XXX drive-ins left — here and in Lafayette, Ind. It’s been in this location since 1968. And car shows here are a regular thing.

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This sign outside the drive-in really sets the tone.

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The drive-in’s got an extensive menu, with its burgers as the highlight. The Incredible XXX Burger is touted as the juiciest and messiest around, with three different cheeses, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles with the drive-in’s homemade dressing and freshly baked buns. If I hadn’t just eaten breakfast, I would have devoured this — and suffered later!

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The decor really looks like this: a mess of ’50s and ’60s memorabilia literally strewn everywhere.

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We just wanted to try the root beer, for which is what this place is known. The recipe dates back to 1930 and still made the same way. The float uses premium Darigold ice cream, and you can order them in frosted mugs. Perfection!

4. Lunch at JaK’s Grill

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We stumbled upon JaK’s Grill (28 Front St., 425-837-8834) while walking around the historic downtown area. And from the line that waiting outside, we figured it was worth checking out.

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JaK’s has three locations — the other two are in Laurelhurst and West Seattle — and it prides itself on being that great little neighborhood bar and grill. Which is certainly is.

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We happened to be there just in time for Sunday brunch, so we tried the JaK Bene, its take on the classic eggs Benedict but with its signature potato pancakes, grilled filet mignon and poached eggs topped with a Béarnaise sauce and served with freshly baked brioche bread.

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They were still cooking the barbecue pork, so we settled with the steak sandwich, made with marinated Nebraska aged New York steak, grilled to order and served on a steak butter toasted roll with the house au jus.

5. Stop at Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates

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My girlfriend’s mom teaches in Issaquah and sends her candies from Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates (255 NE Gilman Blvd., 425-392-6652). She told me it’s a must-stop, so naturally I went.

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The company was founded by the Swiss-Austrian Julius Boehm, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1940. He and partner George Tedlock opened the first candy kitchen in the north end of Seattle, then moved the company to Issaquah in 1956. He built the Edelweiss Chalet (photo above this one) and an alpine chapel. He lived here until he passed away in 1981. Today, Bernard Garbusjuk runs the company, having worked with Boehm for 10 years. The focus is still on handcrafted chocolates and candies.

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And look what we found: a little bit of Hawaii here.

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In fact, this is one of the chocolatier’s best-selling candy!

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Boehm’s featured a nice range of products, too, from these molded chocolate medallions to decadent, European-style truffles to classic chewy caramels and nut clusters. And the staff gives out free samples!

6. Eat (again) at 12th Avenue Grill

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Another recommendation: 12th Avenue Grill (775-G NW Gilman Blvd., 425-392-5975) in the Issaquah Commons shopping complex.

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This place was packed on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s because you can order breakfast all day long. (That’s always a draw.) Or maybe it’s because this neighborhood diner serves up classic comfort food like warm Belgian waffles, homemade buttermilk biscuits topped with white sausage gravy, blueberry pancakes, loaded baked potatoes and hearty chili topped with cheese, onions and garlic bread.

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We went for the French dip, with sliced roast beef served on toasted French bread with au jus.

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And here’s the fish and chips — four pieces of ale-battered halibut, deep fried and served with either tartar sauce or malt vinegar, with a load of fries on the side.

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And to finish the meal, get the homemade cinnamon roll slathered in icing with golden raisins and a syrupy cinnamon glaze that was to die for.

Not bad, Issaquah, not bad!

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