Well, folks, it was champagne and Amtrak sleeper cars, warm sun and glorious landscapes, and more talking than I did in all of 2013. I have returned from two weeks of travel a complete convert to the West Coast’s casual chic and moderate temperatures. Aside from getting fogged in and being forced to spend an extra day and night on beautiful San Juan Island (exactly!) the travel gods had my back and friends had my hand, allowing me plenty of room to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The sum up:

First, the obvious: Technology may provide the opportunity to share ideas with more cool people than ever before, but hanging out with those same souls in real life is ten times as awesome. Really, this trip was all about people, and I met so many! It seems I ditched my typical introversion on my first layover in Atlanta and for the duration of the trip I was all about making new friends out of fellow train passengers and shop clerks. I also got to catch up with some amazing artists and their partners/families/friends, a super talented group of folks who welcomed me into their homes and graciously showed me around their towns. Much gratitude (and linked recommendations to check out their inspiring work) to the Oliverius and the Shaut family, Sidney Chen and Kevin Copps, Marc Weidenbaum (and his new book–woo!), Nat Evans and Erin Elyse Burns, Jim Holt and Rose Bellini, John Teske, Alex Shapiro and Dan Shelley, Chris Kallmyer, and Isaac Schankler. Thank you for shaking up my thinking and sharing such great conversation with me along the way.

Amtrak dining

For all my fears that 31 hours on Amtrak was 30 more than a relaxing vacation could handle, I was super impressed by my Coast Starlight experience. As it turned out, a ten-hour ride gazing at the passing landscape was incredibly preferable to a coach airline seat ten inches from my nose for even an hour, and 17 hours rocked in a sleeper car was a special kind of heaven. I’m sure my experience benefited from the fact that I was traveling during a super off-peak time, so there was lots of room to move about and the bathrooms were always fresh and clean. Still, I think I may have become one of those weird train fans excited to plot slow trips through large square states. If nothing else, I want to take @HeSpokeStyle with me next time so that I can complete my North By Northwest dining car fantasy.

LA: Amusement at the Pier

In Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Pier melted away any lingering New York City frost still clinging to my lapels. A Ferris wheel ride offering views of the beach snapped me into the right frame of mind for the adventures ahead. The brightly colored strip malls and the scent of sunscreen in the air left me wondering how life must change in the absence of seasonal affective disorder.

Golden Gate Park Flower Conservatory

In San Francisco, we drove with the top down and shopped at my favorite kind of store: the vegetarian grocery! There were also inspiring walks down Valencia, along Crissy Field, and through Golden Gate Park. Breakfasts of gourmet bread and butter gave way to cocktails and deluxe veggie fare.

In Portland, we skipped Voodoo Doughnut (though–aside–my seat mate on the flight home actually got married there! Who knew?) to eat a fabulous meal at The Farm Cafe (drink the Brick House Gamay Noir!) followed up with an after dinner stop at the Cheese Bar. There was shopping along Mississippi Ave., and charming lunch at Por Que No?. And of course there was plenty of Stumptown Coffee and a few lost hours in Powell’s Books.

Seattle's Public Market

By the time I cruised into Seattle, I was ready to slow down a shade. And so it was lovely to camp out for three days in a killer AirBnB apartment (with the cuddliest of host cats) in the heart of an awesome neighborhood. The most excellent of brunches and dinners and the deadliest of cocktails were enjoyed here. Then kismet and a convenient bus to Fremont found me at the door of Theo Chocolate just in time for a tour!

San Juan: cove views

And then the cap off: two days on San Juan Island, a place I will happily run away to as soon as I can convince my husband and my cat it’s a really good idea. I mean, please, there was even an alpaca farm. To get me through the meanwhile, I took an over abundance of photos, the evening light firing up the grasslands in a way that could not have been more seductive.

San Juan: American Camp

As I landed in LAX at the start of this adventure, I worried that perhaps the entire outing had been a grand miscalculation on my part, but I could not have been further from the truth. It was precisely the wake up call I was looking for in a way I could never have anticipated before I was standing right in the middle of it. So here’s to doing more scary things in 2014!

San Juan: follow the path

If you’re game to suffer all my vacation photo snaps, bless you. The full gallery is here. Happy to answer any questions/pass on recommendations if you need ’em.