The Date Day - Highway 2 E to 97 S to 90 W
Departure Time: 07:00-08:00
- A full tank of gas
- Tires suitable for the season
- Good brakes
- $20 in cash in small bills (valet)
- (Optional) A nice change of clothes for dinner
This is one of my favorite drives to just drive straight through, but instead of making this into a "pass blast", you can turn this into a great little day trip date adventure by hitting the right stops and taking in the sights. In fact, this drive is often best during heavy snow as long as your vehicle is prepared for the conditions. Do yourself a favor and fill up before you go so you can spend as much time focusing on your time together and stick to the plan.
I'm just going to be blunt here - don't half ass this if you're making this into a really romantic day trip. On the flip side, don't overdue it if you're in a new relationship. This trip can get really expensive. Reservations are really important for dinner at Hoist House and Salish. You can book on Open Table, but make sure you call and ask for a window seat at both locations. See my notes below about making reservations at Salish. And do your date a favor - tell her or him to bring a nice but simple change of clothes for dinner and dessert. While this date is best kept as a surprise, they'll be more comfortable in something casual for the start of the day and dressier for the evening.
Start the day and leave no later than 08:00 so you can get a good breakfast. If you've lived here a while you probably already know about The Sultan Bakery. While I fully admit the quality has gone down in recent years, it's still a good little stop with cinnamon rolls the size of your head. Keep in mind this is also close to your last chance for gas at a semi-decent price, so fill up here if you haven't already for some reason.
If you want you can stop at Stevens Pass at the top, but I usually just continue on to Leavenworth. Take your time and don't get too annoyed by the tourists who go 25 under the limit on the way into town. They're always there, they're always annoying, but don't let it get to you. Enjoy the view as you drive along the river.
If you planned it right, you'll be getting into Leavenworth between 11-12, a perfect time for lunch. I always recommend Munchen Haus for a casual meal, then continue on to Hard Row To Hoe tasting room for some good wine, Cheesemongers for the some cheese tasting, or whatever else floats your boat. The big meal comes later, so I wouldn't over do it here.
After you've had your fill of Leavenworth, continue east on 2 until you hit 97 south. During the winter Blewett Pass (this section of 97 south) can close often so check the weather before you go. This pass is a riot in the summer and slow and pretty in the winter, but watch for wildlife! While there aren't many good stops on this pass in my opinion, I always enjoy driving it just to enjoy the road.
Next you'll get back on I-90 west briefly. The road to Suncadia / Swiftwater Cellars / Hoist House is a short but fun drive. If you made your reservations right you'll have a nice view of the snowy hills from the window and some great food and wine. Remember, don't over do it as you'll have a great opportunity to for dessert and drinks at the next stop.
Your next stop is Salish Lodge and Spa. After having your fill continue you on I-90 West until you reach Snoqualmie. Remember to take it easy through town as there always seems to be a nice officer waiting for you in one of the cities ridiculous cash grab speed zones. You have two options here depending on the type of date you're having; if you've kept the date casual then head upstairs to the no-reservations restaurant, The Attic. Ask the hostess if the adjoining conference room is free for you to look out on the balcony as the falls are lit up in the evening. If you are REALLY good at timing and planning you can get here at sunset. If you've turned this into a special day then of course you want the main restaurant and Salish, but you'll need reservations. When you make them, be sure to ask for the small private booth. It's by request only and isn't exposed to the normal restaurant. If you're smart, you'll have champagne waiting. If you're proposing ask for flowers too and have your room booked.
The best part about this drive is you can make it fast, you can make it casual, or you can make it an extremely romantic day trip, but plan ahead and don't let the constantly variable traffic get to you. It's Washington after all.