Believe it or not, the city of Issaquah was originally named Squak — like the call a crow makes outside your window. Although there is some discussion surrounding whether or not the original Native American name referred to “the sound of birds,” it is a likely possibility, especially considering the abundance of nature and wildlife that comprises this Seattle suburb.
Issaquah is surrounded by lush forests, tall mountains, and serene lakes. Literally, surrounded. Cougar Mountain, Squak Mountain, and Tiger Mountain create a barrier between Issaquah and the rest of the world. The southern end of Lake Sammamish further separates the city. And — a little bit farther out — you’ll find the Olympic Cascade barricade. Had I-90 not run through it, you would think this region would have remained untouched by modern life.
This isn’t to say the city of Issaquah doesn’t enjoy modern luxuries — in fact, it’s quite the opposite, thanks to the I-90 corridor. The surprisingly busy downtown hosts lively performances, new-age eateries, and a community of passionate locals, many who have transplanted from the neighboring urban centers. The result is a historically rich, culturally vibrant, and environmentally dynamic city.
WHERE TO STAY
Upon entering the Hilton Garden Inn in Issaquah, you’ll be greeted by the smell of fresh linen and some of the best customer service you can find these days. There’s something about the Hilton that feels consistently luxurious, from the moment you walk in until your head hits the fluffy pillows piled high on your bed. The deep wood furniture and minimalist decor provide comfort without compromising class. And, outside your charming room, you’ll find amenities enough to extend your stay. There’s a pool for the kids to enjoy while you soak in the hot tub or work out in the fitness center. The Trailhead Kitchen + Bar serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails from the downstairs eatery or by room service delivery. And they have so much more than the typical hotel burger — how do chimichurri salmon and a passion fruit lemon drop sound?
The hotel is located just off of I-90 for ease of transport, especially since many hotel visitors are business professionals utilizing the extensive conference and meeting space provided. And yet, it’s only about 10 minutes from the heart of downtown Issaquah.
Other options for lodging include the Homewood Suites by Hilton next door to the Hilton Garden Inn and TreeHouse Point just outside Issaquah in Fall City. The Homewood is a great option for longer visits. The rooms have kitchen space complete with a dishwasher, refrigerator, and stovetop. The roomy suites provide all the household comforts, making it tempting to consider moving in permanently. TreeHouse Point is ideal for the adventurer. The forests of Fall City are home to six rentable treehouses connected by a wooden bridge. The treehouses all have Wi-Fi and heating, so you’ll feel like an outdoorsman without having to actually rough it. hilton.com, treehousepoint.com
WHERE TO DINE
Capri Cellars, a local business with an emphasis on local wines, is a must visit during your stay. The wine shop has bottles lining the walls for purchase, but we suggest planting yourself at one of the tall, rustic tables for the dine-in experience. You can even bring your kids; the establishment is all-ages. The menu boasts decadent stuffed dates and perfect paninis, but you can’t go wrong with the wine and cheese pairing. Multiple servers will approach: One carrying flight stands with three wine glasses with varying shades of white and red; the next with trays of various cheeses; and another with crackers, pickled olives, and cured meats to top off the tasting smorgasbord.
Local chardonnays, rieslings, cabernets, and pinot noirs pair with cheeses from goat milk, cow milk, and sheep milk. Flavors of truffle, fig, and honey permeate the senses as they’re activated by the perfectly paired wine. The knowledgeable staff will answer any and all questions, even if you don’t have the words to formulate how spectacular it all tastes.
For a slightly less refined atmosphere, travel down the main stretch until you hit the TripleXXX Rootbeer Drive-In. The ’50s style restaurant is a local landmark. You can’t miss the towering root beer barrel over the diner, and you won’t want to miss the root beer floats. We also recommend the El 42 Cantina for the locals’ favorite Mexican fare and margaritas. capricellars.com, triplexrootbeer.com, el42cantina.com
WHERE TO PLAY
What better way to experience Cougar Mountain than alongside an actual cougar? At Cougar Mountain Zoo, the whole family can have intimate experiences with a number of fantastic creatures. The zoo occupies about 10 acres of space in Issaquah — large enough to comfortably host cougars, tigers, wolves, macaws, wallabees, and more.
The zoo’s mission is to promote conservation through education. Its primary focus is on endangered and unique animals, letting those rare species act as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. This allows the public to learn about them
and, hopefully, be inspired to take conservation efforts in
their own lives.
The animals here certainly make an impact. Through the zoo’s Close Encounters program, the public is able to get face-to-face time with the rarest of animals. Each morning, visitors can sign up for an enrichment activity with the Bengal tigers. Armed with a giant skewer topped with a hunk of red meat, the lucky patron will feed the 400-pound animal a tasty treat to start off the day. Don’t worry; they’re separated by multiple barriers to ensure safety during snack time. There also are opportunities to hand-feed lemurs and mule deer, and all proceeds go directly to providing for the animals. Or, for only 75 cents, you can feed some pellets to a fluffy alpaca.
But don’t let the adventuring stop at feeding exotic creatures. There are plenty of other exciting endeavors to experience. You can go paragliding off of Poo Poo Point, flying into the air with only your chute and your fears behind you. Or you can kayak onto Lake Sammamish. Or hike to the top of Squak Mountain. Wherever it is this adventure takes you, you’ll likely hear the noisy squawking birds celebrating this city alongside you. cougarmountainzoo.org, seattleparagliding.com