A Tourist At Home

I’m sure this happens to you too.  You live someplace beautiful, but you forget to visit the spots all the guidebooks send the tourists to see. Why? Because they’re touristy.  But really, why are places recommended to visitors? Because they’re cool.  Like how often do you get to see Mt. Rainier peeking out from behind a lighthouse? So, resisting the urge to wear a stick-on name tag proclaiming “I live here,” I recently gathered up family and friends and spent half a day at Tillicum Village, on nearby Blake Island.

Blake Island is a classic case of “so near and yet so far.”  It’s just the next island over from where we live, but you can only get there by boat, and the ferry doesn’t go there, so that means your own private boat, which we lack, or a small cruise boat.  The Argosy cruise boat was pretty fun, not least because the first announcement over the ship’s loudspeaker was “Hi, My name is Todd* and I’ll be your bartender today.”  I was more interested in who was going to be the Captain, but still, it made for a relaxed boatload of, yes, tourists.

Blake Island is a state park, and it’s much lovelier than I expected.  In fact, I really wanted to walk the path around the island, which takes two or three hours depending how much you dawdle to admire the views and the old growth forest.

But you have to make special arrangements with the boat folks to do that, so I had to be content with half an hour to roam about and soak up some tranquility.  It’s nice to veer off the wider path along the coast of the island and plunge into the forest for a few minutes.  Huge old trees and mossy rocks will be your reward.  What more could you ask?

But the main reason people visit the island is to go to Tillicum Village. How to describe it?  It’s not a re-creation of a native village.  It’s not about or representative of any one Native American tribe. It’s a gauzy overview, a generic but interesting glimpse into Pacific Northwest Native American customs. It’s dumbed down, in that it’s not scholarly or deeply authentic.  It’s worth going to anyway, it’s a nice little easily digestible morsel of life as it once might have been in this part of the world, and it’s pretty tasty. It’s expensive. It has a gift shop where there are some things you actually might want to buy. It’s fun.

When you dock at the island you’re greeted by this totem pole, and a cupful of the most delicious clams in nectar that you’re ever likely to taste.  I mean, stupendously good and garlicky clams, and lots of ’em. You sit outside for a few minutes with your clams and the glorious views, and then you go inside for lunch.

The main deal here is the alder-smoked salmon, which comes to the table both juicy and smoky, not an easy thing to achieve. There’s a very nice buffet of fresh salads and side dishes to go with the salmon, and if you ask in advance they’ll make a vegetarian entrée for you.  It’s a good lunch, and copious. When I told the server that I needed a lot of salmon because I don’t really eat carbs, and begged for some of the crispy skin, he piled the salmon cheeks onto my plate.  “The best part” he said to me, and I have to agree.  If you go, ask for cheeks.

Next you see a surprisingly elaborately staged show, which is billed as dancing.  What it really is could better be described as a museum in motion. The Village owns some truly impressive dance masks, and some gorgeous blankets and costume elements.  They put people on stage with these treasures, and call what they’re doing dancing, but it’s more like modeling. The people are there to show you the artifacts, and with all the lighting, elaborate set, narration, and music, it makes a good overall impression.  Just don’t go expecting to see real dancing.

The Village building itself is attractive and attractively decorated

and there’s a small museum room with carvings, masks, and totems.

The allotted time is short, and before you know it you’re back on the dock waiting for the boat.  My advice is, if you want to spend more time on the island, go out at lunchtime.  Take a picnic.  Wander around the island until dinner time.  Go in for the dinner and evening show and go back on the late boat.  You are allowed to do this, but you must tell the boat crew before you leave the boat that you won’t be coming back until later, otherwise they’ll think you’re lost in the wilds of Blake Island.

So there you have it, a fun thing to do whether you’re just visiting Seattle, or live here but have never been willing to be a tourist in your own town. Make a day of it, and don’t forget the cheeks!

*names have been changed to protect the guilty

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4 Comments on “A Tourist At Home”

  1. heidih Says:

    Looks lovely and is a great reminder to enjoy the local beauty. People come to a big new mega resort on the peninsula here from all over- and I do not take the time to just take a drive and enjoy the cliffs and water and island and boats, and whales, and…. Thank you!

  2. Lauren Says:

    I’ve done this twice now – once just last week. It wasn’t nearly as hokey as I thought it would be and the food is surprisingly good! The weather when you went looks much better than the weather we experienced!

  3. blue_dolphin Says:

    Thank you for this.
    I visit Seattle every few weeks for work. I’ve always thought Tillicum Village sounded like a tourist trap but I’ll put it on my itinerary soon.
    And thank you for the reminder to appreciate the familiar. A couple of weeks ago, I did the tourist thing and for the first time toured the local lighthouse that I’ve walked by almost every day for 15 years. It’s Fresnel lens was made in France in the late 1800s and is still illuminating our coast today. Up close, it’s a stunning jewel. An enlightening experience, to be sure!

  4. Sue Says:

    When I was a girl, we used to anchor off Blake and row ashore to build a fire on the beach and have a cookout.

    The pictures of Rainier make me homesick for that view. I remember a trip to the Paredise side and feeding the deer out of my hand,


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