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PCSing to the Puget Sound? Here Are Some To-Do’s

There are two types of people who get stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord: those who big, puffy pink heart love it in all its dreary glory … and those who count the days until they can escape the rain and go somewhere that is very, very, very sunny all year round.

Me? I love it. LOVE IT. If the Army was to call me today and say “Guess what! You are PCSing to JBLM tomorrow. Pack your bags, girlie.” I’d say “thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.” And if a vehicle wasn’t available, I would start the journey on foot.

That is how much I love it.

People say it’s too rainy, dreary and never, ever hot enough. I say it’s temperate, predictable and amazing. Rarely snow and rarely above 80 degrees? Sign me up.

(I’m not going to let you leave this post without thinking JBLM is the most amazing duty station ever).

And here’s a little secret for those of you who are tempted to get on the JBLM-hate-train. What no one ever tells you is this: in between the rainy months, from about July through the early fall, the Puget Sound region is a glorious, beautiful, mostly sunny place … and it will make you never want to leave.

If you’re reading this and headed to JBLM or the nearby Navy or Coast Guard bases, you probably don’t have much say in the matter and aren’t hoofing it there like I would in a hot second.

But count your blessings, unpack those boxes in your new quarters, and take a second to check out these Puget Sound area must-do’s.

Spend the day in Seattle. This is a no-brainer. About an hour north of the Fort Lewis area and a ferry ride across the Sound from Bremerton and the other Navy bases near there, Seattle is the closest major city to all the military installations in this area.  Hit up the Space Needle (but skip the restaurant at the top), built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and then hit up Pike’s Place Market to see the famous fish tossing. When you're done, walk down the street to Pier 54 and visit the original Ivar’s location for some delicious fish from their stand or an amazing sit down meal at the Ivar’s Salmon House next door. You won’t regret it.

This is also your chance to take a ferry ride. Instead of driving to Seattle up I-5 from JBLM, try going up to Bremerton and getting on the ferry there with your car and then driving home on the interstate from Seattle. Or, you could park your car in Bremerton and go home the same way you came.

Explore Tacoma. This city is the nearest town to Fort Lewis and serves as a major shipping hub. The city has several museums, including an art museum and a museum of glass, that are both impressive. You can also enjoy the Puget Sound from here. Go kayaking from downtown or stop in Steilacoom, a small town just outside Lewis’s North Fort back gate, to enjoy great views from small beaches and a great farmer's market in the summer. Hungry? Hit up Pacific Grill for food that will make your mouth very, very, VERY happy.

Hit up the Pacific Ocean. While the bases in the Puget Sound region are all on or near ocean water, none of them are on the actual Pacific Ocean beach front. Get in your car and drive a few hours from Fort Lewis to find the real beach. A little known gem is Pacific Beach Resort (the site for the actual resort does not appear to be working at the time of this writing). Owned by the Navy, this small ocean front hotel and conference center offers subsidized rates for military personnel of cottages, hotel rooms and campground. It is rarely, if ever, warm enough to enjoy a swim at Pacific Beach (so don’t go expecting Southern California sands and surf), but you will get to see the ocean and enjoy a relaxing weekend at a great, reasonably priced little lodge. Food options in the area can be a little hard to come by, so don’t be expecting gourmet dining. Still, it’s a great weekend escape year round for a little R&R away from post.

Something completely new to me about this area: you can take your car and DRIVE on the beach. I’m a Northern California girl, raised on the chilly beaches of Santa Cruz, and I had never heard of such a thing. Drive on the beach? How cool is that!

We also enjoyed driving up the Pacific coast to Ruby Beach, or “Beach 3.” This beach offers tidal pools and great views of crashing waves. Again, it’s chilly – so bring a sweatshirt or maybe even a jacket.

Visit Port Townsend, Port Angeles and, if you have time, Victoria B.C. Get in the car and take a weekend trip up to the small town of Port Townsend, where you can book a Bed and Breakfast (we stayed in this one), enjoy a quaint downtown and eat at Lanza’s Ristorante, a to-die-for Italian restaurant (that or I was just really, really, REALLY hungry).

The next day drive to Port Angeles, park your car in a lot and get on a ferry to Victoria, B.C. Stay in one of the fancy hotels there just off the water and explore Victoria on foot, including the parliament building. Never hurts to say hello to the Canadians, right?

Visit really big mountains. If you dig the outdoors even a little bit, take my advice and invest in an inter-agency National Park year pass … because you are going to get your money’s worth.

Edit: just kidding! As of May 19 (and after I poured sweat and blood into writing this post) active duty, Guard and reserve families can score one of those passes for free! Read all the details here.

Joint Base Lewis McChord is nestled on the South Sound near some really, really big, really amazing mountains. On a clear day check out what you can see from the post.

That’s Mount Rainier -– and, in case you can’t tell, it isn’t that far away. Take a drive up to the Paradise side visitor’s center for some great views and hikes for all skill levels.

If you’re feeling brave and outdoorsy, you can venture even further up the mountain on a longer hike. In fact, the entire region is covered with trails and camp grounds. Since you won’t catch me sleeping on the ground ever, I am not a good source to advice you on this subject … but you can check out this informative website.

The infamous Mount Saint Helens is also a day trip away. An active volcano, you can visit the fascinating fallout zone from the 1980 eruption, or drive a little further and see the side that wasn’t impacted as strongly, including the lava tubes and Ape Caves, a really interesting series of ancient lava flows.

Then there is the North Cascades and Olympic Mountains. Just outside Port Angeles is Hurricane Ridge, a visitor’s center and breathtaking view you can easily drive to.

As you can tell, I think the Fort Lewis region is absolutely amazing. Now that I’ve written all this down, I’m activiely plotting a way to get stationed there again, pronto. And I haven’t even told you about Whidbey Island (home to a Naval Air Station), whale watching excuersions (which I never got the chance to do) or Olympia, the Washington State capitol

Send me a postcard!

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