This past Sunday was February 24th, which perhaps only the most dedicated of Twin Peaks fans will know as the day special agent Dale Cooper entered the “strange and wonderful” town to solve the mystery of homecoming queen Laura Palmer’s death. This brought to mind my own experience last year in the town of Twin Peaks, or rather, the real-life towns that inspired it. In creating the hit show Twin Peaks, David Lynch did much of the filming in Snoqualmie and North Bend, two towns next to each other in the pine-tree dotted Pacific Northwest terrain of Washington state. Whereas many shows do as little filming in real-life locations as possible, much of Twin Peaks was filmed in these towns. With Lynch having returned there to film the long overdue third season, many of the sites featured may still be seen today.
Now, visiting the real-life inspirations or filming locations for a favorite show is nothing new. The bar from Cheers, the diner from Seinfeld, and the manor from Downton Abbey are all real places that you can visit. But in the age of popular culture and consumerism, there are downsides to visiting these locations. You’re not the only one who wants to go, so you’ll have to share the space with other fans who have the same idea that you had. You can visit the diner from the final episode of The Sopranos, and you can even sit at the exact bench where Tony Soprano and his family sat. Except not on Saturdays, because it’s reserved for all the people from the Soprano’s Tour bus who want to take the same photos you do.
Which brings me to the next conundrum. Several of these locations take advantage of the money to be made, charging for pictures, tours, and merchandise. Now, this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Many of these locations are restaurants or other relatively small businesses, and deserve to get extra income from their popularity. And hey, if you want to buy a Sherlock shirt at Speedy’s Cafe in London, who’s to say you shouldn’t? But I can’t help but feel like something is lost in these experiences. After all, the characters in these shows weren’t berated by crowds visiting these locations nor were they surrounded by their own souvenirs. Many locations do in fact seem to honor this, as Police Beach in Hawaii from the hit show Lost recently took down all the signs referencing the show. But this is the exception, not the rule.
So with all of this is mind, it was with some hesitation that I decided to extend my trip to the Pacific Northwest with a visit to the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend. The very nature of the town of Twin Peaks is that it’s a small, out of the way place with its own quirks, eccentricities, and secrets. Bring a bunch of tourists and put up a ton of signs, and the town of Twin Peaks is no longer the town of Twin Peaks. However, going at the very end of summer (and nowhere near the time of the annual Twin Peaks Festival), I figured I may potentially get my own Twin Peaks experience.
After spending the day in Seattle, I arrived late in the evening to my Airbnb in Snoqualmie. Immediately I was at odds. The nature of the area was beautiful, and I could immediately see why the show was filmed there. At the same time, I was nestled in a modern housing development bordered by a strip shopping mall with the usual chains, something that certainly wasn’t there when Twin Peaks was filmed back in 1990. And even today, the portrayal of the fictional town in the recent third season hardly seems like the place you’d see a Starbucks or Best Buy. With the sun starting to set, I decided I couldn’t wait for the next day to see if this was really the town of Twin Peaks. My host told me that Snoqualmie Falls, featured in the iconic opening credits of the show, was just a short hike away, so I decided to go. Arriving just as the sun set, I was treated to a beautiful view of the falls that most anyone could appreciate, Twin Peaks fan or not. I had my confirmation that this was where the show was filmed, but I still wanted to see more sites in the hopes that it lived up to its reputation. But that would ostensibly have to wait for the next day.
Needing a late dinner, I walked into town to get something to eat. Along the way, I walked along old train tracks featuring equally old and rusty train cars and engines. I later found that Snoqualmie is home to a railroad museum, where apparently old trains go to die. One of these cars was even featured in Twin Peaks as the site of Laura Palmer’s murder. The museum itself and the many cars that eerily sit alongside the main road into town do not exist in the world of the show. And yet, they felt like they could. The town of Twin Peaks is strange and creepy, and there was something fittingly on-brand about its real-life equivalent being, of all things, a graveyard for old trains.
As I pondered this, I arrived at a bar that was thankfully still serving dinner. Walking in, the people there asked where I was from, immediately recognizing I was not from their town. As I had dinner, my attention was drawn to a small stage, where a man was playing the flute. After he finished, another person got up and played the piano. After that, a group of people played the drums. But what struck me is that during each of these performances, nobody spoke. The performers didn’t introduce themselves, and the people in the audience stopped their conversations to fully take in the performances, a rarity in more metropolitan areas. The next two performers were a woman who read poetry followed by a man who played the guitar. Obviously these people spoke, and they each shared what the inspirations between their heartfelt poems and songs. After playing, the guitar player remarked that “artists have something they need to get out, but also want to be understood.” The few people in the restaurant nodded, myself included.
Like the railroad museum, this restaurant did not feature in Twin Peaks, and presumably none of the people who frequented it appeared in the show. And yet, it all felt like it could’ve come from the show. A group of people silently banging on drums and a woman reading poetry inspired by her dad could all be characters in the world of Twin Peaks. I could easily imagine Benjamin and Jerry Horne as the former and Audrey Horne as the latter, and that’s just one family. Sitting peacefully in this bar, taking in the vibes and art of the evening, I felt like I was watching an immersive episode of Twin Peaks. I had the authentic experience I had so craved.
And yet, I had to step back and examine the voyeuristic nature of this. After all, these were not characters, but real people who had their own lives, hopes, fears, insecurities, and dreams. Who was I to enjoy watching them and feel validated by it? I stayed late and thoroughly enjoyed my experience, but when I went to bed that night I felt a tinge of guilt, like I had poked my nose into something that was better left to its own volition.
Still, I had another day in the area, and more places to visit. Waking up at the crack of dawn the next morning, I decided to pay another visit to Snoqualmie Falls, to hike the full trail to its base and see it in another light. Walking through the fern and pine-bordered trails, I was in awe of the sheer natural beauty of it all. There was a reason Twin Peaks was filmed here, as David Lynch showcases the mysterious beauty of the Pacific Northwest and uses the setting much like it’s a character in its own right. Heading back up, I decided to pay a visit to the Salish Lodge overlooking the falls, or the Great Northern Hotel as it’s known in the show. Already aware that the interior would not be the same as in the show, I headed through the double doors and of course, into the gift shop. To no surprise, I was greeted by a ton of Twin Peaks merchandise and a friendly clerk who told me about the waves of people who come during the Twin Peaks festival, including her positive encounters with the cast members who come during the annual event. I purchased a poster and a keychain, and headed my next destination, the one I was most anxious about.
The Double R. In reality this was Twede’s Cafe, but in the world of Twin Peaks it was the Double R Diner, the Mecca for fantastic cherry pie and “damn fine coffee.” This was it. Perhaps the most famous location from the show. Did I hope that just like Agent Dale Cooper, I would experience the best cherry pie and coffee of my life? Yes. Was I prepared to be wrong? Yes. Was I wrong? Yes, but it hardly mattered. As someone who doesn’t even drink coffee, I couldn’t even tell you what good coffee was. But entering the cafe to find it almost empty, and plopping down right in Agent Cooper’s seat, I was in heaven. With the dumbest grin on my face, I ordered the cherry pie and a cup of coffee. Since it was slow, the servers chatted with me, and told me that they get flooded with people during the summer, but since September had arrived, things were pretty slow. I then felt more at ease with my venture into the town. Sure, I was there because of a TV show and let’s not kid ourselves, but I was coming at a time when tourism was sparse, and perhaps even needed. Before I left, I stopped into a small locally owned store where I bought a couple prints and talked to the owner for almost an hour.
Walking down the empty streets before I left, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling like this whole experience existed just for me. Was it selfish? I wondered about this. And yet, while many lives may intersect, everyone in life has their own experiences. The story of Twin Peaks begins with an out of town FBI agent arriving in an idiosyncratic town and experiencing its many wonders while interacting with its many residents. And yet, the story hardly revolves around his point of view alone. Much of the joy of the show comes from episodes and arcs focusing on the many locals of Twin Peaks and how they see the world. Sure, Agent Cooper gets a glimpse into their lives, but they still have experiences, perceptions, and thoughts all their own.
Visiting a place can be part of your story, but that place has a story all its own, and you are one of many people drawn to it. In the latest season of Twin Peaks, one character remarks that “we are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream, but who is the dreamer?” If you’re thinking of visiting a place from your favorite show or movie, I highly recommend it. My one word of advice is to keep an open mind and not feel like you have to do it a certain way. The places we visit must be shared with other people, but we all step away with experiences entirely our own.