Boating past Bill Gates' mammoth house on Lake Washington recently, I half hoped to see the semi-retired tycoon tinkering on the motor of the powerboat parked at the dock in front. Our guide told us that Gates kept planting more trees every year to try to shield his 66,000-sq. ft. edifice from tourists' view, but we keep on boating by, regardless. That house, glass artist Dale Chihuly's studio, and the houseboat where Sleepless in Seattle was filmed were the highlights for me of a boat trip on Lake Washington and nearby Lake Union, a combination of urban scenery, suburban gentility, and sheer nature that makes it worth the price of admission. You can enjoy watching Kenmore Air floatplanes taking off and landing on the water, witness novice boat crews falling in (over and over, in one case) or just look at University of Washington student humor in bulkhead graffiti near the campus. (A cryptic sample: "Gratuitous Amounts of Energy Era.")
The beautiful town of Kirkland is adjacent to Seattle, across Lake Washington from that metropolis to the west. One of the nicest things to do here is to take a 90-minute boat trip along the lake, departing from the Kirkland City Docks thrice daily in summer, less often in spring and autumn, closed in winter. The price is $27.09 plus fuel surcharge and tax, less for children ages 5-12. For more details, check out Argosy Cruises (tel. 206/623-1445; www.argosycruises.com).
The city is famous for its weddings, and on the July Saturday I was last here, I saw three wedding parties moving about, having their pictures taken at lakeside, among other activities. Its main shopping district is right on the lakefront, and the center of this town of 45,000 is easily walkable.
What to Do
They were hosting Ringo Starr and his latest band at Château Ste. Michelle's winery (14111 NE 145th Street, Woodinville WA 98072, tel. 425/415-3300; www.ste-michelle.com) in nearby Woodinville the day I last visited, and eager young couples were reaching over their kids' heads (and strollers) to grab glasses at the crowded wine tasting counter there. One of Washington State's leading wine producers, Chateau Ste. Michelle offers tastings from $10 and up plus free 30-minute tours of the winery daily except Christmas, New Year's, Easter and Thanksgiving days.
Bridle Trails State Park (www.parks.wa.gov) may be unique, according to its promoters, as a publicly-owned day-use park featuring 20 miles of horse trails as well as equestrian shows. The day I attended featured not only lots of cute little girls on horseback but the rare appearance of Polkadot, a two-foot tall miniature horse and mascot of the city of Kirkland. You can catch her, maybe, at the annual 4th of July Parade. In 2008, she was the only horse among the 100 units participating in same. The good news about miniature horses is that they are cuter than cute. The bad news is that they only live for about five years. The park is also a designated natural area, wildlife sanctuary and greenbelt, so could not be more politically correct.
If you're near Kirkland in July, try to check out the Kirkland Uncorked Wine Festival (www.kirklanduncorked.com), the city's contribution to the burgeoning wine industry in its environs. Started in 2007, the event in 2008 featured 60 wines from 22 wineries throughout the state. In addition, there is an Artist Lane, with displays by members of the Northwest Art Alliance, a Boating Showcase, a dog contest and a classic car show.
During the summer, jazz is featured on second Thursdays along the Downtown Artwalk from 6 to 8 in the evening at about five venues.
Where to Eat
The very popular Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland's Heathman Hotel (220 Kirkland Avenue, Kirkland WA 98033; tel. 425/284-5800; www.heathmankirkland.com) says it serves only market-fresh cuisine, featuring products from local artisan producers, as well as from the three-acre nearby garden of Executive Chef Brian Scheehser. A specialty is his "Two Hour Salad," where the ingredients are harvested within two hours of being served to you. Complimentary bookmarkers on the table quoted Gandhi (though misspelling his name), a rare treat these days when he seems to be no longer popular, namely that "there is more to life than increasing its speed". To quote this adage practically next door to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond is happily remarkable, to say the least.
I enjoyed their Wine Country Platter ($12), featuring salami, cheese and marmalade, as well as a tagliatelle with prawns and sausage ($18), but was a tad disappointed with the carrot soup at $6. Their glasses of wine range from $7 to $14. Friends had a house specialty, a pomegranate and basil martini at $8, but I passed after a sip. The brioche here, baked in-house, is the best of their breads.
Where to Stay
A gorgeous location is the chief virtue of the Woodmark Hotel (1200 Carillon Point, Kirkland WA 98033; tel. 800/822-3700; www.thewoodmark.com), perched on Lake Washington's edge at Carillon Point, with rooms starting at $310 (from $100 more for lakefront lodging). They have a spa and yacht club, too, and are famous for their "Raid the Pantry" privileges of free snacks, as well as for their 1956 wooden Christ Craft boat, the Woodmark II, yours for a free cruise on the lake (but yes, there's a fuel surcharge of $10 now).
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Washington State Forum today.