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Originally published April 14, 2010 at 7:01 PM | Page modified April 16, 2010 at 5:45 AM

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10 great ways to spend your tax refund

A roundup of shoot-the-moon ideas for everyone who got a big tax refund. Plus ideas for cheap fun, for the refundless.

Seattle Times staff writer

It's Tax Day. If you get a big refund, it's like free money, burning a hole in your pocket. So we offer 10 great ways to spend your tax refund.

For the rest of you, April 15 is the day you write your annual check to the United States Treasury. For you, we offer 10 great ways to cheer up — without spending a lot.

Spending your refund

1. Re-energize with yoga.

Freshen your outlook with three days of meditation and downward-facing dog at the Yoga Lodge on Whidbey Island, a secluded five-acre facility including wood-fired sauna, pond, orchards and flower beds. Several retreats available, including this weekend, Friday through Sunday, and also April 30-May 2.

The details: The Yoga Lodge, 3475 Christie Road, outside of Greenbank, Island County, near South Whidbey State Park. Retreat costs about $450 and includes classes, lodging and organic vegetarian and vegan meals. 360-678-2120 or yogalodge.com.

2. Stay at a new spa in Oregon wine country.

Check out The Allison Inn & Spa, which opened last September in the acclaimed pinot noir region of the Willamette Valley. It's this wine region's first wine-oriented resort, on a 35-acre spread with walkways connecting vineyards and gardens.

The details: The Allison Inn & Spa, 2525 Allison Lane, in Newberg, Ore. All rooms feature gas fireplace and original artwork as well as a terrace or balcony with views of the valley or vineyards. Features a 12-room spa. Rates from $295 to $1,100 (two-bedroom suite). 503-554-2525 or www.theallison.com.

3. Go on a retreat for nature lovers.

Sign up for a three-day stay on Diablo Lake at the North Cascades Institute's Environmental Learning Center, with yoga classes, guided hikes, canoe trips and seminars about the area's ecosystem. Or just spend a lazy afternoon with a book by the water. Meals from local produce, grown around the Skagit Valley.

The details: Next "Diablo Downtime" weekend is May 7-9, but book now because it often sells out. Each guest room contains one twin bed and a twin bunk bed with writing desks. Rates including meals: $245 each for three people sharing a room, $325 each for double occupancy and $485 for single. 360-854-2599 or ncascades.org.

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4. Charter a flight

to the Methow Valley.

Get a majestic view of one of the great treasures of Washington. The flight takes you over lush forest, blue waters and mountain peaks, including Glacier Peak Wilderness. Stay at Sun Mountain Lodge — a free shuttle will pick you up at the airfield.

The details: Two small airfields serve the area: the Methow Valley State Airport, at the North Cascades Smokejumper Base, and Twisp Municipal Airport. Twisp-based Catlin Flying Service charges about $1,300 round-trip from Boeing Field. 509-997-4602 or catlinflyingservice.com.

Rooms at Sun Mountain Lodge, near Winthrop, Okanogan County, range from $150 to $375. Resort offers special "Mayflower" deal, including breakfast, for $162 midweek April 18-June 17. Excludes holidays. 800-572-0493 or www.sunmountainlodge.com.

5. Enjoy fine dining on Puget Sound.

Enjoy a meal on Argosy Cruises' Royal Argosy while taking in the view of Mount Rainier and the Olympics. Might even see some whales. Also features live entertainment such as "Murder Mystery," a who-done-it theater.

The details: The "Murder Mystery" dinner, this Friday and also on April 24, costs $75 per person. Validated and valet parking at Seattle's Pier 56, where you board the Royal Argosy. 206-623-1445 or argosycruises.com.

6. Have a girls' day out at a spa.

Hit Olympus Spa, a day spa for women, featuring Eastern and Western treatments. Get a Korean body scrub ($65) or spa package from $165 to $305.

The details: A $35 entry fee gives you access to herbal-hydrotherapy pools, earth-energy rooms, steam and sauna all day. Two locations: 3815 196th St. S.W., Suite 160, in Lynnwood (425-697 — 3000) and 8615 S. Tacoma Way, in Lakewood (253-588-3355 or 582-6625). www.olympusspa.net.

7. See it all from a hot-air balloon.

Several outfits will take you up, usually from Snohomish. Balloon Depot, for instance, will take you over the Snohomish River and valleys with views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and the Space Needle.

The details: Meeting place varies depending on weather conditions. Balloon Depot will pick a prearranged spot in Carnation or Snohomish, usually across from Harvey Field in Snohomish. Morning flights are $179 per person, including a light meal afterward. Evening flights $210 including catered buffet dinner. 360-805-1538 or balloondepot.com.

8. Host a private lunch party at Salumi.

Seattle's Salumi Restaurant has lines out the door during lunch hours. But you don't have to wait in the rain. Salumi offers private lunch parties in the backroom with five courses, chef's choice. Lunch takes at least 2 ½ hours.

The details: The private lunch, for eight to 10 people, is offered at noon Wednesdays and Thursdays at 309 Third Ave. S. in Pioneer Square. Must book in advance. $40 per person plus tax, tip and wine. 206-621-8772 or www.salumicuredmeats.com.

9. Throw a party catered by Tom Douglas and Co.

Here's a way to celebrate the really big refund: Have folks from Douglas' restaurants serve dinner at your house. You pick the theme. Maybe Douglas' signature crab cakes. Maybe that hedonistic "Baconopolis." Or order up the "Iron Chef" salmon-theme dinner that Douglas cooked up on the Food Network. Or create your own.

The details: Minimum $3,000 catering charge. Includes staffing, beverage and silverware. Call Christina Logman, 206-448-2001, or e-mail catering@tomdouglas.com. More information: tomdouglas.com/index.php/catering.

10. Take private horseback-riding lessons.

Learn how to saddle, bridle, groom, trot and walk your horse. Maybe by the third lesson, you'll figure out how to control your horse instead of the other way around.

The details: Private lessons run about $50 per hour. To find a certified riding instructor near you, check the American Riding Instructors Association Web site at www.riding-instructor.com/instructors/wa.php.

An example: Equine Endeavors in Renton offers semiprivate lessons (two students) for $35 an hour Mondays-Fridays. Lessons are held at Red Barn Horse Boarding, 15420 S.E. May Valley Road. Call Emmy Bean at 425-529-9578 to make an appointment, or e-mail equine.endeavors@gmail.com.

No refund?

You can still have fun

1. Take a free guided hike.

The Issaquah Alps Trails Club offers free guided hikes to Cougar, Squak, Tiger, Taylor and Rattlesnake mountains and Grand Ridge and Mitchell Hill.

The details: Numerous hikes of different skill levels offered midweek and weekends, such as: a five-mile hike to Echo Mountain at 9:30 a.m. on Friday to check out the flowers and plants; an eight-mile hike around the West Tiger loop Saturday at 9 a.m., and a hike to Cougar Mountain from Talus Trail Head at 9:30 a.m. on April 24

An annual $25 donation is suggested to cover the club's overhead expenses. Check issaquahalps.org for more details and updates.

2. Rent a yurt for a family outing.

Tolt Macdonald Park, at the confluence of the Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers in Carnation, offers hiking, mountain biking, fishing and tubing on 574 acres. Nice views of Cascade foothills and the Snoqualmie Valley. Plenty to do, and you can do it all from your rented yurt (for an economical $50 per night).

The details: The park's six yurts, all with heat and electricity, each sleep up to seven people. About 40 minutes from downtown Seattle, at 31020 N.E. 40th St., Carnation.

Two-night minimum stay on weekends and three nights on holiday weekends. To reserve a yurt (one-week advance notice required): 206-205-5434. More information: www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/rentals/camping.aspx.

3. Explore the Arboretum on a free guided walk.

Two 90-minute tours of Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum are offered at 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. this Sunday: The early tour focuses on the new garden, "Pacific Connections," with flowers and plants from Chile, China, Australia, New Zealand and Cascadia. Second tour depends "on the whims" of the garden guide. Themes could be oaks, maples or flowers in bloom.

The details: Preregistration not needed, but tours start promptly. Meet at Graham Visitors Center, 2300 Arboretum Drive E. 206-543-8801 or depts.washington.edu/uwbg/visit/tours.shtml.

4. Kayak Puget Sound's southern waters.

It's an underrated and underutilized marine-recreation area, with views of Mount Rainier and close-up encounters with harbor seals and other marine wildlife. Paddle to Hope Island. Or around Hammersley Inlet, a favorite of seasoned kayakers, where the water moves faster. Or around the south side of Hartstene Island, where the underwater scene is like a saltwater aquarium of sea stars, anemones and crabs.

The details: Boston Harbor Marina, 312 73rd Ave. N.E. in Olympia, rents kayaks for $45 for a single, $60 for a double. Sailboat and powerboat rentals available. 360-357-5670 or www.bostonharbormarina.com.

The South Sound Area Kayakers Club is a great source of information on kayaking around the South Sound. Members organize free weekly kayak trips: www.ssak.hctc.com. The Washington Water Trails Association also recommends Hope Island. See wwta.org/trip_planning/trips.

5. Take a staycation at Camp Long.

Maybe you haven't discovered this 68-acre park in West Seattle with cabins amid nature trails, wetlands and forest. Lots of woodpeckers, owls and other wildlife. Hard to believe urban life is only minutes away.

The details: Ten rustic cabins, each with six double beds, plus fire ring, picnic table and water faucet. Cabin rental, $40 per night. 5200 35th Ave. S.W., Seattle. 206-684-7434 or www.cityofseattle.net/parks/reservations/camplong.htm.

6. Go to the horse races.

Racing season kicked off last Friday at Emerald Downs in Auburn. Try your luck or just watch. Believe it or not, lots of folks just watch, without placing bets.

The details: Racing Wednesdays-Sundays. Admission is $7. Free parking in general lot. 2300 Emerald Downs Drive. 253-288-7000 or www.emeralddowns.com.

7. Hike and learn about conservation.

Take a free guided walk through Seattle's West Duwamish Greenbelt or Thurston County's Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

The 10-acre West Duwamish Greenbelt is the city's largest forest, with foxes, red-legged frogs, hawks, bald eagles and other wildlife. Nancy Whitlock, executive director of the Seattle-based Nature Consortium, leads 90-minute tours.

Farther away, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge offers easy hikes on flat, smooth trails to look at the fauna and flora of the Nisqually River delta.

The details: Next West Duwamish hike is from 1-2:30 p.m. on April 23, (Starting in May, hikes will take place third Friday of every month.) Note: Walk might be canceled in the event of rain, so call ahead: 206-923-0853. E-mail lisa@naturec.org to reserve a space. More information: www.Naturec.org.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge offers free guided hikes, "The Wonder of Nisqually," at 10 a.m. this Sunday, at 1 p.m. April 24 and at 8:30 a.m. April 25. Hikes take up to two hours. Hike is free, but there is a $3-per-family entrance fee to the refuge. Hikes depart from the Visitor Center flagpole, located between the two parking lots at the refuge. 100 Brown Farm Road, northeast of Olympia. 360-753-9467 orwww.fws.gov/nisqually/events/weekend_programs.html.

8. Comfort yourself with chocolate.

There are lots of chocolate tours and workshops around town. Two bargains in Seattle: Theo Chocolate offers a daily $6 tasting and tour of its chocolate factory in Fremont. Chocolopolis, in upper Queen Anne, offers free chocolate tasting 5-9 p.m. every Thursday.

The details: Befitting of its name, Chocolopolis showcases more than 200 different artisanal chocolates from 20 countries. And the staff can turn any of those bars into a hot-chocolate drink — with marshmallows made in house. Chocolopolis: 1527 Queen Anne Ave. N.; 206-282-0776 or www.chocolopolis.com.

Theo Chocolate, 3400 Phinney Ave. N., holds tours daily, though its weekend tours are usually booked weeks in advance. 206-632-5100 or www.theochocolate.com.

9. Get in on a free Italian snack buffet.

There are lots of good happy-hour deals, but none cheaper than Il Fornaio's happy hour of complimentary, all-you-can-eat snacks, such as bruschetta and chicken wings. Buffet menu changes weekly. Sure, you have to buy a drink, but beer costs $3 and wine $4.

The details: Il Fornaio, 600 Pine St. (downtown Seattle), offers happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. 206-264-0994 or www.ilfornaio.com.

10. Take a cooking class.

Many restaurant chefs hold classes to market themselves or to supplement their income. The list of classes can be overwhelming. PCC Natural Markets is a good, affordable one-stop shop, with basic cooking 101 to classes led by local celebrity chefs.

The details: "PCC Cooks" classes are held at stores throughout Seattle, Edmonds and the Eastside. Classes in coming weeks cover topics such as "Springtime Risotto," "Wine and Dine: Spanish Tapas" and "Chinese Noodles" — plus many other topics. Fees typically ranges from $35 to $50. Classes often fill, so register in advance. For the complete schedule: www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/pcccooks/classes.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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