I Ate the State – Skagit County

I love flowers. I love them in gardens, in markets and in vases on my table. I love them on a train, I love them in the rain… Their colors, shapes and endless varieties never fail to make me happy. Throw in thousands of acres of flowers along with beautiful shorelines, stunning mountain ranges and fruitful farmlands and I’m never leaving! All of these things – and much more – are what amazing Skagit County brings to this edition of I Ate the State. Let’s go!

Similar to the surrounds of recently covered, Snohomish County, the Skagit County area is generally comprised of two, fairly distinct sides. The coastal area showcases lovely inlets and islands while the mountainous region takes on the North Cascades and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Both join together in cradling the amazing agricultural bounty in the middle section of the county. Skagit County is another one of Washington State’s great microcosms and a fully-stocked vacation destination for the ages. It was an absolute pleasure to explore the area and I was continually amazed by the near limitless diversity packed into its borders.

Absolutely lovely
Celebrating two beauties of the Skagit Valley: Tulips and Daffodils!

As I live in western Washington, getting to Skagit County is relatively easy. Interstate-5 provides a main route through the county with many side routes running parallel. Taking SR-9 up through Arlington to SR-20 or Pioneer Highway from Snohomish County to Conway are both great alternatives – as is SR-530 to SR-20 if you’re coming up from Darrington. In the summer months, it’s a beautiful drive from the eastern side of the state over either SR-20 (North Cascades Scenic Byway – part of the Cascade Loop) or US-2. There are indeed many beautiful options available for your journey into Skagit County.

One thing I try not to take for granted as I zip my way up the main thoroughfare of I-5 are all of the options just off the freeway. Often times I’m single-mindedly heading for a particular destination and don’t pay heed to all of the great places along the way. The I-5 corridor as it heads up to and through Skagit County is certainly no exception – along with the various side routes. A few options to explore as you begin your Skagit County adventure:

  • As agriculture is the #1 industry in Skagit County, there are an appropriately large variety of farms to visit, with many being located close to the I-5 corridor. The Festival of Family Farms (Oct 5 – 6) is a great way to check out the bounty. Many of the farms also have seasonal stands and barns located just off I-5. If they’re open, don’t be afraid to stop. You never know what variety of amazingly fresh and inexpensive produce you’ll find. (Not to mention fresh cider, honey, etc.) For restaurateurs wanting to take advantage of the expansive boon, the Puget Sound Food Hub Farmers Cooperative is an excellent way to purchase fresh goods directly from the growers.
  • If you’re like me and have a strange obsession with taking photos of old barns, hit up the Heritage Barn Mobile Tour and Map for a fun, self-guided tour. Skagit County is a gold mine of beautiful old barns, farm equipment and scenery.
  • Keeping with the agricultural vibe, take Exit 218 off I-5 and stop in at Bertelsen Winery. (You can see it from I-5!) They’re open Wednesdays thru Sundays for tastings and regularly host music and events.

While Skagit County falls only 21st out of 39 counties as ranked by size, it packs quite a punch with its list of things to see and do. Since there was no way I could fit everything I wanted to see into a weekend, I took a few beautiful weekend days to experience the area. I still found it difficult to see everything on my list, but I feel pretty good about the breadth and variety of my adventures. Let’s get things started in the lovely, western section of Skagit County on Fidalgo Island, in the coastal town of Anacortes.

While still allowing time for random ramblings, I took I-5 to get to the Anacortes area in the timeliest manner. It was a beautiful morning and perfect for the beginnings of a road trip. I had my coffee, my Skagit County playlist and was ready to make tracks for Anacortes. Did I get caught up along the way, distracted by shiny, roadside attractions? Of course I did… As I said, don’t be afraid to stop as you just never know what delicious treat you might find – or how much money you’ll win to fund your trip!

Off of I-5, I took Exit 230 and headed west on SR-20. This takes you through the Whitney area and on towards Anacortes. If you head in the opposite direction, you’ll be venturing into the mountainous part of the county and into the North Cascades. (We’ll get there a little later in the article.) It’s also the best exit to take for least crowded treks into the daffodil and tulip fields. Seriously, this little exit off I-5 deserves a medal for all the greatness it heralds.

Almost directly off the exit, as you’re heading west on SR-20, look for Skagit’s Own Fish Market on your left. Don’t miss this place! I’ve driven by it so many times over the years and have always wanted to stop – I’m so sad I waited this long! Not only do they have an amazing fresh seafood selection, along with all the desirable accoutrements, they have an excellent offering of seafood cocktails, seafood sandwiches, fresh chowder and more. I hereby swear to stop by this place every time I’m entering or exiting the area. Crab cocktail and lobster rolls WILL be mine!

Shortly before you enter Anacortes proper, you’ll come upon the Swinomish Casino & Lodge, owned and operated by the Swinomish Tribe. The lodge has beautiful views including the Padilla Bay Reserve, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker and is a great base from which to explore the area. My first port of call that day was supposed to be Anacortes, but since I’d already altered my timeline by stopping at the fish market, I figured why not check out the casino?

I hadn’t budgeted to lose any money at the casino that day, so I was a bit leery of strolling around the place. However, after rationalizing to myself I was only visiting to do some hard-hitting, journalistic research, I peeled out a twenty dollar bill from my wallet and committed to probably losing said twenty dollars.

As I walked around, the flashy slot-machines were doing their best to lure me in, but it wasn’t until I spotted a row of video poker machines that I felt the pull. It is true, I’m a total sucker for video poker machines and I will stop every time I see one, especially since I rarely see them in casinos these days. That said, I also have a limit and if I meet that limit, I must walk away. And in a related fashion, if I double my original investment, I walk away. I will admit to having learned my lesson over the years…

Imagine my glee (and relief) when after playing for only a few minutes, I scored a straight flush and was up fifty dollars! I got a few good pictures, used the loo, and more than doubled my money – all in less than twenty minutes! And with that, I wisely cashed out my winnings and made a beeline for Sporty Spice. (My trusty KIA Sportage) With that short, unplanned visit, I’d funded much of my trip and accomplished some deeply investigative travel journalism. You just never know what you’re going to find when you make a random road-trip stop. Sure, there was a bit of luck involved and I easily could’ve ended up twenty dollars the poorer, but I didn’t. HA! And down the road to Anacortes I continued, fifty dollars the richer…

Swinomish Casino
I’ll be back Swinomish Casino… Me and my $50!

Also in the vicinity of the Swinomish Casino & Lodge and well worth checking out:

  • If you’re up for a little light hiking/walking, check out the Padilla Bay shore trail – where the Skagit River meets the Salish Sea. It looks over towards Lummi Island and is a serene way to spend a couple of hours, year-round. Be sure to bring binoculars to get an up-close view of all the birds in the area. (I’ll be covering Lummi Island in my upcoming Whatcom County article – stay tuned!)
  • Located next to the beautiful Padilla Bay Reserve is Bayview State Park. They have rental cabins, camping spots, boating, saltwater fishing and excellent views of the nearby San Juan Islands. (Coming soon in my San Juan County article!)
Anacortes
Beautiful water views from the Anacortes area. Dreamy! (Photo credit: B. Skoczen)

Heading into Anacortes proper, you’ll drive past the turnoff towards Deception Pass. If you’ve never been – and even if you have – it’s an area not to be missed.  But we’ll be back around this way shortly – time to check out the lovely coastal town of Anacortes in the meantime.

After turning onto Commercial Avenue, the main drag through downtown Anacortes, I headed towards Cap Sante Marina and the Port of Anacortes. Given my enduring dream to own and live on a boat, I always like to wistfully check out the marina scene. (Cap Sante indeed has live-aboard moorage. #LifeGoals) Upon driving into the parking lot, I noted it looked like an event was going on – complete with food trucks and music. Score! The day just kept getting better…

Walking towards the marina, it looked like the festivities were being sponsored by Anthony’s at Cap Sante Marina and Anthony’s – The Cabana. They were giving away free chowder and ice cream and the waterfront area was festive with face-painting, balloons and music. Local favorite, Lopez Island Creamery also had a food truck set up for more ice cream options. It was a glorious sunny morning, but not too hot – and not too early to sit at one of the tables lining the waterfront walkway and enjoy my free clam chowder and ice cream. But I still had that fifty dollars burning a hole in my pocket… (As my mom always liked to point out, whenever I had any extra money.) I’d seen signs for the Anacortes Farmers Market while at the Marina and arrows pointing down the walking path… Why not? There’s always something delicious to be found at a farmers market…

Walking north down the waterfront path, I first came upon the spectacular and well-preserved W.T. Preston, part of the Maritime Heritage Center. The W.T. Preston was a steam-powered, hazard-clearing “snagboat” operational in local waters from 1929 through 1981. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. Both the W.T. Preston and the heritage center are well worth a look and provide a great view into earlier maritime work in the area. (Open April thru October – Check website for tour hours.)

Visiting the Anacortes Farmers Market was a great way to spend a sunny Saturday at lunchtime. Live music, great local produce, artisan crafts, handmade food items – you name it, the market had it. While I still had that hole burning through my pocket, I played it cool and walked away with a very reasonable haul of produce from the Frog Song Farm stand and some amazing baked goods from the stellar Breadfarm. The waterfront area was filled with so much to see and do – it would be easy to make it a regular trek if I lived in the area. The market is open year-round with seasonal hours – and they even have a pie festival in September and a holiday market around Thanksgiving. (Did I mention the PIE FESTIVAL!?)

If you’re hanging out in the waterfront / farmers market area, consider adding these spots to your agenda:

  • Mad Hatter Ice Cream was voted Best of Skagit 2019 for desserts and it’s well-deserved. They serve both hard ice cream and soft serve in many different flavors and create several ice cream inspired masterpieces. Yum!
  • Dockside Dogs can be found as you drive into the parking lot area for Cap Sante Marina. They’re hard to miss, in fact – but who would want to? Housed in a small, quirky hut, they serve delicious dogs, chili and beverages.
  • Grab a dog and go for a walk along the Tommy Thompson Trail. It starts at the marina and heads south. Walk across Fidalgo Bay on an abandoned train trestle. Cool!
  • Head north from the waterfront and arrive at Cap Sante Park. (At the end of Commercial Ave.) There are great walking trails and beautiful views of the neighboring San Juan Islands.
  • Check out the Waterfront Festival (Jun 1-2) for two days of art, music, a lot of food, a car show and an excellent take on the relaxed vibe of Anacortes.

Anacortes suffers no shortage of great places to dine – especially if you’re down for excellent seafood. If you’re not sure what sounds good, it’s as easy as taking a cruise up Commercial Avenue to peruse the many options.

  • I love kippers (smoked trout) for breakfast and if you do, too, Adrift has your number. They serve tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner in a great location directly on Commercial Avenue – with outdoor seating for the sunny days. All locally sourced ingredients!
  • Just down from Adrift, Gere-A-Deli serves up tasty deli fare and sandwiches with classics like the Ruben – or maybe you fancy liverwurst? Voted 2019 Best of Skagit – Deli.
  • Greek Islands Restaurant offers up Greek favorites for your lunch and dinner needs – located directly on Commercial Avenue. (Closed Sunday / Monday)
  • For all things seafood, check out Bob’s Chowder Bar. Featuring BBQ salmon, chowder (obviously), fish tacos, FRIED PICKLES and more. Very tasty! They also have a location in nearby La Conner.
  • Should you be in the market for a donut bacon cheeseburger – and WHO ISN’T? – check out the funky Vagabond Station on Commercial Avenue. Serving great burgers and more, they’re definitely worth a stop.
  • Should you be interested in a classic diner experience, head to Island Café – Also on Commercial Avenue. They serve breakfast all day along with lunch and dinner. Their raspberry French toast stuffed with cream cheese is divine.
  • A great charcuterie plate and a delicious glass of wine on a sunny day? Yes, please! Check out Salt & Vine, located just off Commercial Avenue for a delicious and refined stop on your Anacortes adventure. And if you appreciate a good glass of wine like I do, be sure to visit Anacortes in April for the Anacortes Spring Wine Festival.
  • For a great cup of coffee in a comfy, art-friendly scene, stop in at Johnny Picasso’s on Commercial Avenue. Also through the same entrance, be sure to peruse the goods at The Red Snapper Gift Shop – ‘lots of cool, funny items for all.
  • If you’d like to extend your awesome day-trip, check in at the Majestic Inn & Spa (c. 1890), located in the center of historic downtown on Commercial Avenue. It was renovated in 2013, features a beautiful rooftop lounge and is home to the elegant and delicious, 5th Street Bistro.

Something I’m always on the lookout for is a great brewery. Skagit County understands my needs and meets them in excellent fashion. In fact, they make it pretty easy to map out your brewery strategy when planning your next Skagit County adventure. Hit up the Skagit Farm to Pint site for a list of all the Skagit Breweries and information on following the very cool Passport & Ale Trail.

To fulfill your Anacortes brewery desires, you needn’t look far. Check out these options for a tall, cold one:

  • Located in the heart of historic downtown Anacortes on Commercial Avenue, head to Anacortes Brewery and Rockfish Grill for a great local beer and excellent seafood, burgers and wood-fired pizzas. I’m particularly fond of their Cream Bee and Tripel Vision
  • Do an Anacortes pub crawl and head directly across the street from the Anacortes Brewery to the Brown Lantern Ale House. Great food, beer and live music – you can’t go wrong!
  • Heading into Anacortes on SR-20, look for Bastion Brewing Co. (Very close to SR-20 turnoff towards Deception pass) Stop in for a tasty pint of their on-tap beers or ciders and a meal before heading on to the majesty of Deception Pass.
  • If you’d like to celebrate Skagit County beer in all its glory, add the Anacortes Bier on the Pier festival to your calendar. (Oct 4-5) Featuring 30 breweries and 10 cideries, it will be a fine way to spend a crisp fall weekend.

If you’re looking to walk off all the delicious food and drink you’ve sampled on your Anacortes trip, be sure to investigate the great Arts and shopping opportunities in the area.

  • Two wonderful book shops in Anacortes are the Watermark Book Company and Pelican Bay Books & Coffee Shop. Both charmingly represent the classic bookstore and are located appropriately in downtown historic Anacortes on Commercial Avenue.
  • Visit the Scott Milo Gallery on Commercial Avenue and enjoy what the local artists have to share. For further celebration of the Arts, check out the annual Anacortes Art Festival (Aug 2-4) for a great display of fine art, music and delicious food.
  • Anacortes has a great selection of antique shops. Two of my favorites are Alley Cat Antiques and Home Sweet Home Antiques, both on Commercial Avenue. An excellent way to take in the Antiques scene is with a visit to the Anacortes Vintage Market for their annual spring and fall markets.
  • To investigate how those antiques might’ve been applied, make a visit to the Anacortes History Museum for a look into Anacortes days gone by. Located in the historic Carnegie Library building on 8th Street in downtown Anacortes.

I wanted to make a point to mention the San Juan ferry route at the end of the Anacortes section. Not because it’s lacking importance, but because often times – and I’m personally guilty – it’s the only reason I’m actually in Anacortes. The San Juan Islands are simply amazing and I don’t think I’d ever tire of visiting them and enjoying the awesome ferry ride along the way. That said, Anacortes, all on its own, is a marvelous place to visit and merits serious attention any time of the year.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny the awesomeness of the ferry routes to both the San Juan Islands and Sidney, BC. My pro-tip suggestion is to add a solid visit to Anacortes before or after any trip to the San Juans. You won’t be sorry. (More Pro Tips: Be sure to make ferry reservations ahead of time – especially in the busy summer months.)

In addition to the entertaining and delicious downtown core, Anacortes has many things to offer in the way of outdoors activities. You can hike – or drive – to the highest point on Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie Park and take in the magnificent views. Or stop in at Washington Park for great camping, boating and hiking opportunities. (Near the ferry terminal at the west end of Anacortes)

Another great adventure spot in the area, just north of Anacortes and across the Guemes Channel is the lovely Guemes Island. Accessed by its very own ferry line, the Guemes Island Ferry, the 5-minute crossing brings you to a peaceful, largely untouched island of relaxation and beauty. The local hiking trails and beaches are wonderful and the island feels much removed from the hectic pace of the mainland. (Although Anacortes is actually pretty laid back…)

Guemes Island isn’t where you’d head for big-box shopping or multiple entertainment options, but the tiny island certainly has its charms. Check out these areas on your next Guemes Island visit:

  • Enjoy great views, beautiful coastal flora and fauna and easy-going hiking on the Guemes Mountain Trail. A beautiful way to spend a peaceful afternoon.
  • Hit up the Peach Preserve for excellent coastal views, bird and wildlife viewing, hiking and general enjoyment of the coastal scene.
  • Don’t let the name deceive you, the Guemes Island General Store is not only a general store, but so much more. They have a full menu, serve beer and wine and regularly host live music events. The General Store is a must stop for any Guemes Island visit. If you’re around the area in June, be sure to check out their Summer Solstice Music Fest.
  • Since 1947, the Guemes Island Resort has been hosting visitors to the area. Outfitted with cabins, yurts and houses, it’s a wonderful retreat from the city. They also have boat rentals, a sauna, a massage therapist, gift shop, rec room and hot tubs. (Wood-fired and saltwater!) Dog friendly!
Lilacs
Gratuitous Anacortes lilac shot. Because I love lilacs.

Just before you reach Anacortes, the main route of SR-20 turns southwest towards the glorious Deception Pass and the Deception Pass bridges. (The bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places) Of all the many amazing Washington State destinations, Deception Pass positively deserves to be on the best-of list. Not only is the area absolutely spectacular, the drive there is gorgeous and there are countless places to stop and enjoy along the way.

Some of the worthwhile spots to investigate on your way to Deception Pass:

  • On the left side of the road, just after you turn onto SR-20 towards Deception Pass, check out the very unique Anacortes Flea Market. Chock-full of interesting finds, this is a great place to investigate. You never know what amazing treasure you might find! They also feature local produce and seafood.
  • You will very likely have to wait in a long line, but I assure you it’s worth it. Stop by the Shrimp Shack located directly off SR-20 and indulge in all things shrimp and seafood. They even sell freshly caught shrimp by the bag! (Pro tip: They have two lines – one for cold food and one for grilled/hot food. Make sure you’re getting in the right line from the start!)
Shrimp Shack
Make sure you get in the correct line!
  • You can’t miss Lake Campbell as you’re heading towards Deception Pass. (Located close to the Shrimp Shack!) There are several lakes in the area, but Lake Campbell is the largest. There are a lot of great boating activities and fishing in the area and if you’re looking for someplace cozy to stay, check out Lake Campbell Lodging, just across from the lake.
  • A little further up the road towards Deception Pass, you’ll come to Pass Lake. (Turn onto Rosario Road off SR-20. It’s just across from Deception Pass State Park – Bowman Bay entrance) It’s a little smaller than Lake Campbell, but also has its fair share of great boating and fishing. (Note: Fly-fishing only, catch and release only and non-motorized boats only) Check out the Pass Lake hike for a great round-trip hike up into the forest with great views overlooking the lake.

Just across from the Pass Lake parking lot, you’ll see the Bowman Bay entrance to Deception Pass State Park. The park is quite large (3854 acres!), spanning two counties and Bowman Bay is a great way to get oriented to the scope and scale of all the park has to offer. Bowman Bay also plays host to the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center. The CCCs largely built all of the US state and national parks and the interpretive center is an excellent look into the depth of hard work they accomplished.

As one would imagine with the impressive amount of available shoreline in the park (77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline!), all manner of boating is popular and Bowman Bay gets things started with kayak rentals and tours. They also have a single-lane boat launch area for motorized vehicles. (As is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for parking and water-access, but there’s also the option to pay $10 for day-use of WA State Park areas.) There are also many hiking options in the Bowman Bay area such as Lottie Bay and the trail to Rosario Beach.

If you don’t feel like hiking or boating to Rosario Beach, jump back in your vehicle and head up Rosario Road to Cougar Gap Road and the Rosario Beach entrance. Deception Pass State Park is the most visited park in the state and it’s easy to see why. Rosario Beach is stunning and often quite busy because of this fact. It is, however, very much worth a visit. The views are amazing, there are excellent tide pools to explore and 38 miles of trails, including bike and horse, to enjoy. Throw in boating, docks to tie up to, fishing (saltwater and freshwater) and great shoreline access and it’s a stellar time to be had.

One thing not to miss while visiting Rosario Beach is a visit to The Maiden of Deception Pass. It’s a beautiful Native American story pole based on a Samish legend, perched just above the beach. Also be sure to take the short trail up to Rosario Head. (Just past the Maiden) The view of the surrounding islands and the windswept bend of the trees at the top are truly spectacular. Check out the Headlands / Rosario Head / Lighthouse Point trail if you’d like a greatest-hits look at the surrounding areas.

Should you want to extend your stay in the park – and there are plenty of reasons to stay – the Bowman Bay, Cranberry Lake and Quarry Pond areas offer camping. Cranberry Lake and Quarry Pond are actually situated on Whidbey Island and in Island County, but it’s just a quick trip across the Deception Pass Bridges to arrive at this section of the park. (Stay tuned for my Island County article – coming soon!)

As if Deception Pass State Park wasn’t enough majesty and glory, just wait until you get to the actual bridges. They are one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the state, whether you’re driving, riding or walking across and worth a trip all by themselves. Sunrises and sunsets are particularly gorgeous from the bridges, but to get the most out of an investigative walk under the bridges, I’d advise making your trek during full daylight hours.

If you do indeed want to walk across and/or under the bridges – and I highly recommend it – there are parking strips on both the Skagit and Island County parts. There is also a small lot on the Skagit side, just before you head south over the bridge. (There are bathrooms and a whale watching outfit located in the lot.) I was lucky enough to find a spot on the parking strip just before the bridge and it was the perfect location for traipsing off under that section of bridge.

Completed in 1935 by Washington State Highways and the CCCs, the bridges are a marvel of construction. Situated high above Deception and Canoe Passes, they connect Whidbey Island with Fidalgo Island and provide easy access across the tumultuous waters below. It must’ve been quite an endeavor to take the ferry across the channels earlier in the 20th century.

Deception Pass
Deception Pass marker on the Skagit County side

Walking across the bridges can be a little nerve-wracking, especially when the big trucks roll by, but it is thrilling and well worth the effort. Granted, if you’re not good with heights, it’s probably not a walk you’re likely to enjoy. (It’s 180 feet down to the water!) I love heights, but have to admit to feeling a little wobbly once I made it to the middle section. The view is overwhelmingly beautiful, but you are very high up and the walkway is pretty dang narrow. But still totally worth it!!  (Pro Tip: HOLD ON TIGHTLY to your camera or phone while on the bridges. I luckily still have possession of my phone, but there was a precarious fumble incident…)

Walking across the bridges is fantastic, but equally amazing and incredibly unique is the trip under the bridges. Accessible on either side, locate the stairways that lead down towards the bridge’s underbelly. There are informal trails leading closer to the cliffs, but be very careful when getting close to the edge as there are no guardrails and the drop is quite extensive. (Probably not a great place for the kids to explore.) Standing directly underneath the bridge and looking out through the girders is an absolutely amazing sight to behold – don’t miss the opportunity! (Note: It’s illegal to cross the highway – you must use the stairways to go under the bridges.)

Heading back towards Anacortes, it was time to check out Samish Island and surrounding areas. Samish Island can be reached via the Bayview-Edison Road off of SR-20, near Whitney. If you’re traveling from the north, the drive on SR-11 (aka: Chuckanut Drive) is beautiful. Another option is to take SR-11 off of I-5, just north of the Burlington area. Home to the Samish Indian Nation, Samish Island is technically a peninsula and while small, host to several worthwhile destinations. Some of the great things to check out while in the area:

  • There are many places I’d like to visit in Washington State and one of the spots on my bucket list is the Point Williams Lodge on Samish Island. It’s pretty swanky and I can seriously envision myself throwing a lovely weekend event with friends at the lodge… (Come on – they’ll hook you up with a personal chef and a STRING QUARTET. Any takers??) They also have a smaller cottage for 5-day stays. #LifeGoals
  • If you’re in the market for fresh oysters from Samish Bay, mussels, clams or Dungeness crab, stop in at Blau Oyster Co. seafood market and fill up your cooler! Maybe your private chef at the Point Williams Lodge could whip up an elegant dinner on the deck for you…
  • Hike, bike or drive up to the gorgeous Samish Lookout, part of the Blanchard State Forest, and enjoy stunning views of the San Juans and Skagit Valley. There are many trailheads in the area, including Oyster Dome and sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail as well hang gliding and paragliding opportunities. The Oyster Dome trail was recently voted ‘Best of Skagit 2019 – Best Trail.’
  • Sample the local artistry, food and music at the Samish Island Arts Festival on July 27th at the Samish Island Community Center.
  • Take a walkabout and enjoy the beautiful island scenery on the East Loop Walk. Located at Camp Samish, it takes you around the lovely Freestad Lake.

The old adage, ‘good things come in small packages’ directly pops to mind when thinking about the tiny area of BowEdison. Just over from the Samish Island peninsula, the combined townships account for a food haven of impressive proportion, packed into a relatively small section of Skagit County. Add in beautiful countryside with sweeping views of Mt. Baker, the San Juan Islands and Samish Bay and you might not want to leave. (I truly did not.)

Prolific journalist and famous WWII war correspondent, Edward R. Murrow grew up in Edison from a young age. It’s profound to think of such epic quotes as “Hello, America. This is London calling.” and “Good night and good luck.” and know they came from someone who played in the fields of Edison as a small boy. (He later graduated from WSU) If you’re not familiar with the work of Edward R. Murrow, check out the 2005 film Good Night and Good luck about his conflict with Senator Joseph McCartney. It’s a very well done piece with an excellent soundtrack.

As mentioned, Bow-Edison is an absolute food haven. If you’re going to the area, definitely bring a cooler and ice packs as you’re going to need to take home a haul. It’s unavoidable and necessary. Trust me. Some of the treasure trove opportunities to be explored:

  • For some of the most delicious bread and baked goods on the planet, check out Breadfarm. Crusty breads, delicious cookies, buns – everything is amazing! I am particularly in love with the chocolate ginger spice cookies. If you can’t make it to Edison, look for them at the Anacortes, Bellingham and Everett Farmers Markets. (Cash or check only for the shop – Or shop online!)
  • Farming local shellfish since 1890, Taylor Shellfish has become synonymous with high quality and taste. Always well-reviewed and featured on shows such as Top Chef, Taylor Shellfish sets the bar for NW shellfish. Now with several locations in western Washington, the Samish Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market is their original and premier stop for enjoying the tasty morsels as well as buying some for home. Grab your freshly barbecued oysters and enjoy the sunset from their waterfront picnic area – and take home a big bag of fresh oysters for the grill! Sublime…
  • Stop by the Samish Bay Cheese retail shop and tasting room in Bow for amazing local cheeses along with beer, wine, cider and other tasty treats. Their Arugula Ladysmith and signature Aged Ladysmith cheeses are amazing. And they pair quite nicely with several of the items found at my next stop…
  • The Bow Hill Blueberries farm, in operation since 1947, is certified organic and family-run. Their excellent farm store is open year-round and has all you need in the way of delicious, organic heirloom blueberries, including cold-pressed blueberry juice, jam, marinades and more. Pickled blueberries? They’ve got ‘em – and they are phenomenal! While recently perusing and sampling the farm store goods, they gave me a recipe for grilled salmon featuring the pickled berries and I plan on making it very soon. Also on my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting owner, Harley Soltes. He graciously took time out of his day to tell me about the farm and its history, hipped me to great local establishments to visit and generally shared his knowledge about the local farming industry, including the benefits of farm-to-table life and so much more. It was a mini master’s class! The farm also offers a summer pie making class, the occasional farm-to-table dinner and when blueberries are in season, they offer great U-Pick opportunities. Additionally, Bow Hill blueberries are featured in the delicious Lopez Island Creamery blueberry ice cream, which is available for purchase in the farm store! This farm is a gem and a wonderfully preserved part of Skagit County agricultural history – and an absolute must-stop whenever visiting the Bow-Edison area. (Note: This season’s U-Pick begins Friday, July 26th and continues into September while supplies last. U-Pick is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Check their U-Pick page for more details and seasonal updates.) (Farm store open year-round, Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 11-5)
  • Gothberg Farms offers fresh goat cheeses at their Bow farm. Look for the “open today” sign when heading to the farm. They have an “Honor Box” self-service fridge. Cash is encouraged, but they usually have someone around who can do cards and checks. COOL!
  • Check out the Golden Glen Creamery in Bow for delicious, handcrafted cheese, butter and dairy. (M-F, 10am-4pm – closed weekends and holidays)
  • Farm to Market Bakery in Bow serves up tasty bakery goods and coffees, plus breakfast and lunch items. (Wed-Sun, 9am-4pm) Located just next door is their sister operation, The Rhody Café. They serve farm-to-table dinners along with breakfast, brunch and lunch. (Closed Mon-Tues)
  • Stop in at Tweets Café for tasty farm-to-table breakfast and brunch along with delicious pies, cakes and more! Tweets was actually closed for the weekend when I visited, but I plan on venturing back soon. I’ve heard too many excellent reviews to not give them a try!
Tweets Cafe
The venerable Tweets Cafe and the i.e. gallery next door
  • Featuring local ingredients and filling the table with delicious fried oysters, awesome burgers and much more, The Old Edison is an excellent place to relax and enjoy all things Skagit County. Outdoor seating and live music on the weekends.
Edison
Great food, live music and good times!
  • Located directly next door to Breadfarm, Slough Food offers a great selection of wine, cheese and meats as well as a delicious café menu. They also throw glorious onsite foodie events. For instance, I happened to be in the area for one of their monthly paella parties and it was FANTASTIC! Paired with a glass of wine and a crusty Breadfarm baguette, I was full for the rest of the day. Check out the next paella party happening on August 18th from 11am – 3pm.
  • If you’re tooling around the Bow area on summer Thursdays, be sure to stop in at the Bow Farmer’s Market for a great selection of local foods and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 1-6pm, June 13 – Sept. 12 – at the awesome Samish Bay Cheese) For all things winter holiday, check out their Holiday Festival on December 7th from 10am-4pm at the Edison Elementary School.
  • Don’t forget to check out the excellent non-food options in Edison as well. After all, you’ll need some way to work off all of that amazing food you just consumed. Visit the funky Lucky Dumpster for one-of-a-kind pieces and custom furniture (cash/check only) and the Smith & Vallee and e.gallery for beautiful artwork.
  • Coming soon to the Bow-Edison area, keep an eye out for the opening of much-anticipated “brewstillery” Terramar. They’ll be featuring locally crafted beer, spirits and wood-fired pizza. I’m very excited to stop in on future Bow-Edison pilgrimages. Hit up their Facebook page for progress updates.
Taylor Shellfish
One of the most amazing abandoned homes I’ve ever seen. Found along the drive down to Taylor Shellfish.

On the topic of stunning views, Mount Vernon, largest city in Skagit County and county seat, is one of my favorite places to visit in the state. Great food, great scenery and absolutely wonderful, stupendous, sweeping fields of the most gorgeous flowers ever. The area is an amazing feast for the eyes, stomach and soul.

There are many types of farms and fields in the Mount Vernon area, but the most famous of all – world-famous, in fact – would have to be the breathtaking tulip and daffodil fields. Every year, beginning in March with the daffodils, people flock from all around to take in acre upon acre of glorious color and bloom. The scene really explodes in April with the arrival of one of the most amazing floral displays at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. It is truly difficult to accurately explain the pure magic of the experience, but I’ll give it a whirl.

My friend Lorrie and I have long been promising each other to visit the tulip fields together. Both of us are avid flower lovers and have been attempting to make a pilgrimage for years, but our schedules never seemed to sync up. This year, however, we were bound and determined to make it work and finally, glorious tulip fields were ours for the enjoying. VICTORY!

We took off bright and early on a Saturday morning as we were advised to get there early due to large crowds of flower fanatics. For the record, I’m SO glad we listened. We also checked out the official brochure on the Tulip Festival website and learned that driving past the Mount Vernon exit on I-5 and taking Exit 230 onto SR-20 is a much stealthier and less congested route. What a beautiful back way through gorgeous farmland and countryside!

It was barely 10am when we arrived at RoozenGaarde, with the triumphant Star Wars theme blasting on my playlist as we pulled into the area, but the lots were already filling with flower worshipers and the entrance line was snaking down from the ticket box.  ($7 for adults during week and $10 on weekends, kids 5 and under are free, parking is free. Important note: Dogs are not allowed in the tulip grounds – keep the pups at home.) It was turning into a lovely sunny morning, but it had recently rained and the parking lot was muddy in places. (Pro tip: Wear comfortable footwear you won’t mind getting muddy. Rubber boots/Wellies are perfect – and easily hosed off at the end of your tulip trek.) After donning said appropriate footwear, Lorrie and I traipsed off to the entrance to get our tulips on… FLOWER TIME!

After our fairly brief wait in line, we entered the RoozenGaarde grounds and were met with one of the most beautiful and colorful sights we’d ever seen. It was spectacular! Tulips were definitely the star of the show, but there were all manner of flowers everywhere. Gardens, paths, flowering trees, flowers growing in trees – every display imaginable filled the sprawling grounds. I’ve never experienced anything like it. RoozenGaarde is the largest flower bulb grower in North America and home to more than a 1000 acres of tulips and daffodils. To say you can see flowers as far as the eye can see is an absolute understatement.

There are two main tulip and daffodil fields in the area, RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town. Both are spectacular, but we chose to start off with RoozenGaarde. We did head over towards Tulip Town later in the afternoon, but only enjoyed the fields from an outer view. If you visit Tulip Town proper and don’t feel like slushing through the fields, hop one of their Blue Trolley Tours for a reasonable two dollars. (10am – 4pm) (Pro Tip: Before you make your flower trek, check out the bloom map and it will help point out what is in season at the time.)

I feel confident in letting the pictures speak for themselves, but it is easy and completely enjoyable to spend a very happy afternoon in the tulip fields. In addition to the simple pleasure of fully surrounding oneself in fields of joy, they have concessions, a gift shop, bulb and bloom shops and photo ops of epic magnitude. I am beyond happy to have finally gotten the opportunity to bask in the colorful landscape and will absolutely be returning next season.

After winding out of the area, met with beautiful flowers and countryside the whole way, we drove towards the town of Mount Vernon to check out the Mount Vernon Street Fair (April 19-21) and historic downtown area. The traffic was a little heavy going back towards town, but the day was beautiful and it was kind of nice to slowly roll through the route into town. Parking was a little crowded in town due to the street fair, but we found a pretty sweet spot down by the river and easily walked over to the heart of the downtown core. Additionally, the walk along the river is beautiful and well worth a leisurely stroll.

We had enjoyed a snack while tiptoeing through the tulips, but were still feeling a bit peckish. Given all the great food options in the downtown Mount Vernon area along with the food vendors set up for the street fair, there was no shortage of excellent options. (The street fair is quite large and fills up the entire downtown core!) In between making our way through the fair and checking out all the artisan crafts and foods, we did indeed take great advantage of the selections. A few of our favorite finds and more:

  • For an excellent smoked old fashioned and a very tasty charcuterie board, stop by the Valley Shine Distillery on First. We sat at the bar and had an excellent chat with the owner – great atmosphere, delicious food and excellent libations!
  • To keep the action going, a hit of espresso – and maybe some wine – was in order. We stopped in at the Ristretta Coffee Lounge & Wine Bar and took in the art scene and relaxed for a few minutes before rejoining the street fair party. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Coffeehouse)
  • If you’d like to add a bit of old fashioned refinement and flair to your flower appreciation, stop in at the Old Town Grainery Tearoom and Galleria for a traditional high tea or order ala carte from their menu. Lovely! Also located in the Grainery is the enjoyable Italian restaurant, Il Granaio. The Grainery is quite an international hub!
  • I have fond memories of rolling into the Skagit River Brewery after a long camping trip in the nearby Mt. Baker area. They have great beer and a tasty pub menu and downing a cold one after several days on the hot trail was absolutely transcendent.
  • Sporting locations in Mt. Vernon, La Conner and Anacortes, the much beloved Calico Cupboard serves great breakfast and lunch to a very appreciative and non-stop crowd. (Voted Best of Skagit – Bakery/Breakfast)
  • There are many great places to set up a picnic in the Mount Vernon area. Little Mountain Park is a beautiful place to start! Head to the excellent Skagit Valley Food Co-Op before you go and outfit yourself with all the tasty goods. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Grocery Store)
Co-Op
Grab some delicious homemade ice-cream from the Co-op!
  • Just north of historic downtown Mount Vernon, look for the Farmstrong Brewery Co. taproom and beer garden. Purveyors of delicious beer and awesome cider, they are well worth a visit. Regular food trucks onsite – or brown bag it! (Voted best of Skagit 2019 – Brewery)
  • During the Tulip Festival, there was a great pop-up wine tasting at the Perry & Carlson Gallery. The gallery is a lovely place to stop in any time of year, but even nicer with a delicious glass of Washington State wine. Keep an eye out for events throughout the year.
Gallery
Stop in at Perry and Carlson in historic downtown Mount Vernon
  • If you are a fan of AMAZING chocolate and confections, do not miss a visit to the award-winning Forte Artisan Chocolate on First. I’m not going to lie, I walked out of there having easily spent forty dollars on various sugary treats. I have no regrets.
  • For a taste of the official hard cider of the Tulip Festival, pay a visit to the Tulip Valley Winery for tastings on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am – 5:30pm.
  • If you’re in the mood for a crazy sundae or a good old-fashioned burger, Big Scoops Sundae Palace is the place to go! They’ve been around since 1973 and not much has changed with the décor – I felt like a kid again the second I walked in the door. They also feature delicious NW favorite, Cascade Glacier ice cream.
  • A great way to sample many of the local foods and artisan wares of the area is with a stop at the Mount Vernon Farmers Market. (Saturdays in late May thru mid-October, 9am-3pm at Riverwalk Park with additional times and locations throughout the year.)

Visiting Mount Vernon in celebration of spring blooms is always a good idea, but there are so many reasons to visit year-round. The historic downtown area and Riverwalk Park are excellent any time and it’s easy to find concerts, festivals and delicious food throughout the year. Just a few of the options:

  • The historic Lincoln Theatre, located on 1st Street, features a great variety of live music and theatrical performances throughout the year along with first-run films. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Theatre)
Downtown Mount Vernon
Lincoln Theatre – A Mount Vernon Classic!
  • There’s nothing like enjoying a bit of haggis while watching burly athletes toss around heavy cabers (long wood poles), weights and more. Check out the annual Mt Vernon Highland Games for all things Scottish. Och aye! (July 13-14 at the lovely Edgewater Park)
  • Celebrate the agricultural and farming traditions of the area at the annual Skagit County Fair. Fried food and carnival rides for all! (Aug 7-10)
  • Celebrate the glory of beer at the Brewfest on the Skagit. Head to the river walk in downtown Mount Vernon to join in the hoppy festivities. (Aug 11, 4-9pm)
  • Enjoy the best of both worlds at the Skagit Wine & Beer Festival, featuring local beer and wine along with delicious bites prepared by Bellingham’s Hotel Bellwether. (Nov 23rd)
  • Among the many leisure activities to be found on the Skagit Riverwalk Park, be sure to check out the free summer concert series located at Riverwalk Plaza. (Thursday evenings at 6pm, July 11 – August 29)
Skagit River
Lorrie, her new tulip hat and the lovely Skagit River Riverwalk.
  • Located just across from the river and Riverwalk Park is the always eclectic Red Door Antique Mall. An interesting way to spend the afternoon any time of year.
  • Skagit County hosts many types of festivals throughout the year and the Skagit River Salmon Festival is one of the favorites. Sample delicious seafood, visit the beer garden and celebrate the yearly return of the Northwest’s most iconic fish on September 7th at Edgewater Park. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Festival)
  • For fresh berries, produce, pumpkins and more, visit Schuh Farms from April thru December. They offer u-pick pumpkins in the fall along with other seasonal events. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Farm)

Something new I learned about Mount Vernon and its contribution to the bounty of the area, is its hosting of WSU’s Bread Lab campus. Staffed by an ardent team of scientists, farmers, millers, bakers and bread lovers, the Bread Lab strives to learn about, educate, and grow all things grain. Their efforts have garnered global attention and if what’s being produced out of their Baking School is any indication of what they can offer the realm of baking and grain production, the world will be all the better – and tastier – for it. I was beyond excited to learn about their baking classes and will be signing up for a few in the near future! British meat pies or pierogi, anyone?

Another way the Skagit Valley is celebrating local grains is with the innovative operation at Skagit Valley Malting. Supplying many local brewers and distillers, they provide the malty goodness that gives those craft brews and spirits their body, color and many aspects of their flavor. Between the grains, hops, fruits and varied climates of Washington State, we really do corner the market on some pretty amazing beverage ingredients.

Rounding out our flower pilgrimage, Lorrie and I decided to make our way to the tiny town of Conway and up to the lovely La Conner. Since we wanted to make quick tracks to the area, we went south on I-5 and took Exit 221 over to Fir Island Road. If you’re in need of a good glass of wine or perhaps a round of tasty oysters before heading over to La Conner, stop by the Pasek Tasting Room and the Conway Pub & Eatery (since 1932) for the goods. Both can be found not far off the freeway exit.

Pasek
The Pasek Cellars Winery Tasting Room near Mount Vernon and Conway

For the record, Fir Island Road is one of my favorite drives in the state – and one of my favorite runs. Normally, it wouldn’t be a road conducive to running, but it serves as part of the epic Ragnar route and was one of the legs I got to run. If you have 12 people willing to pile into a couple of vans for 36 hours to relay-race 200 miles from the Canadian border down to Whidbey Island, Ragnar is the scene for you! Each person ends up running three routes, spaced out over the 36-hour period. EPIC! And deliriously exhausting. But amazing…

Fir Island Road is the quintessential country road, absolutely stunning and idyllic. Running down the road at sunset, flanked by old barns, beautiful pastures and grazing farm animals was one of the most peaceful and serene scenes I’ve ever experienced. (Minus being out of breath from running…) My route began at the picturesque Fir-Conway Lutheran Church (c. 1902) and ended at Snowgoose Produce, an excellent country store and produce stand tucked amongst the pastures and filled with delicious treats. They feature an ice cream counter stocked with all the Lopez Island Creamery flavors and it was quite the hit with the exhausted Ragnar participants.

Just past Snowgoose Produce, take a left onto Best Road (It’s the best around!) and continue along the glorious backroads into La Conner. In addition to driving – or running – check out the Wiley Slough area for great hiking and bird-watching opportunities. Further along the way to La Conner, keep an eye out for the lovely Pleasant Ridge B&B off of Dodge Valley Road, complete with some very entertaining llamas out front. (We actually got to see quite a few llamas that day – a theme!)

Pleasant Ridge B&B
More llama friends at the Pleasant Ridge B&B near La Conner (Photo credit: L. Ruiz)

Situated on the Swinomish Channel, La Conner is indisputably one of the most charming places in Washington State to visit. Founded in 1867, it is the oldest town in Skagit County. The historic downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places and the entire town lends itself to an easy-going air of artful relaxation. Whether you’re hanging out on a boat, enjoying a cocktail on the waterfront or cozying up in one of the town’s many B&Bs, La Conner is the epicenter of slowing down and enjoying the ride. That it also happens to be host to the Daffodil Festival every March and is in close proximity of the daffodil and tulip fields are just more reasons to head to La Conner.

Arriving just before sunset, Lorrie and I took a peaceful stroll along the waterfront and enjoyed the boats coming and going in La Conner Marina. Our charcuterie plate and smoked old-fashioneds had worn off and we were getting vaguely hungry. BBQ sounded tasty, but we were sad to find the popular Whitey’s BBQ closed when we arrived as they’d sold out of the goods! Next time, Whitey’s BBQ… Next time. Grabbing some ice cream next door at La Conner Ice Cream Tower also seemed enticing, but as there was a line out the door, we were forced to scrap our initial plans. Hmmm… what to do…

Not ones to suffer foodie defeat, we continued our stroll into the main part of downtown. We came across several excellent possibilities and eventually settled on the La Conner Brewing Co., packed to the brim with customers enjoying local beer and food. Even though it was crowded, the atmosphere was relaxed, the service was great and the crab cakes and clam chowder were delicious. They have several tasty beers on tap, but their Pilsner balanced perfectly with my meal and it was a great way to round out the meal.

The historic downtown area features many great dining options along with several places to enjoy a coffee, glass of wine or perhaps a delicious scone. Some of the excellent culinary possibilities when visiting the area:

  • Head to the La Conner Pub & Eatery for great food, tasty cocktails and lovely dining on the patio. The La Conner Pub & Eatery has been an important part of the downtown dining since the 70s and shows no sign of hanging up their apron.
  • For a lovely meal and waterfront dining, check out Nell Thorn Restaurant & Pub, located directly on the downtown waterfront. (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Fine Dining)
Nell Thorn
For a lovely night out, head to Nell Thorn on the waterfront
  • Featuring dishes based on the owner’s grandmother’s recipes, Anelia’s Kitchen & Stage serves delicious Polish cooking and regularly hosts live music in the historic downtown area. Pierogi and crepes – Yes, please!!
  • Enjoy farm-to-table dining at Seeds Bistro & Bar in historic downtown La Conner. Set inside one of oldest buildings in La Conner and home to the oldest Beech tree in Washington State, the atmosphere (they regularly feature local artists) and fresh ingredients make for an excellent dining experience.
  • Stop into the Lime Dock Building on the waterfront and hit up The Scone Lady Bakery for all manner of sweet and savory scones, cakes, pies, buns, homemade soups and more!
Lime Dock
Where you can find the Scone Lady!
  • The La Conner Waterfront Café is, as advertised, located directly on the beautiful downtown waterfront. Dine outside or inside and enjoy a great home-style menu with lunch and dinner options.
  • For a great atmosphere in a cozy spot on the hill, check out The Oyster & Thistle Restaurant and Pub in historic downtown La Conner. Featuring local ingredients and a variety of fresh seafood, it’s a great place to spend a leisurely evening.
  • Located directly on the downtown waterfront, La Conner Sips offers wine tasting and small plates along with being a nice bottle shop. They also regularly feature live music. A great place to stop and enjoy a glass or two and take in the Swinomish Channel.
  • Tours of the Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery in Sedro-Woolley are by appointment only, but you can sample their wines at their La Conner waterfront tasting room. I very much enjoy their 2016 Pinot Blanc. (Sat & Sun, 12-6pm)
  • The Skagit Cellars winery is located in Burlington, but their tasting room can be found at Seaport Landing in historic downtown La Conner. Enjoy wine tasting and small plates in this welcoming waterfront location. If you happen to be visiting the Chelan County area, they also have a tasting room in Manson.
Skagit Cellars
Home of Skagit Cellars!

A day trip to La Conner is always a good idea. That said, a weekend adventure (or longer) is an even better idea! There are countless lodging options in the area and Airbnb and VRBO are great places to start. If you’d like to stay in the heart of historic downtown La Conner, head to one of these lovely spots for the quintessential La Conner experience:

  • For well-appointed rooms with gorgeous views of the Swinomish Channel, check in at the La Conner Channel Lodge, located directly on the waterfront in historic downtown. Relax with an in-house spa treatment and enjoy a meal at their sister restaurant found a short walk up the hill, The Oyster & Thistle.
  • Built in 1882, the early Victorian-style home known as Katy’s Inn B&B is a beautiful and well-preserved tribute to a quieter time in Skagit County. (And it’s still pretty quiet!) Featuring four main suites/rooms, Katy’s offers delicious breakfasts along with comfortable lodging and is in easy walking distance of the beautiful waterfront area.
  • Located in the heart of historic downtown is the sister lodge of the La Conner Channel Lodge, the La Conner Country Inn. A stay at the charming and cozy Country Inn will leave you feeling very relaxed and quite possibly wanting to book a few extra days in La Conner…

A girl’s gotta eat, but there are many more ways to enjoy the La Conner area. Sampling all of the amazing dining options can certainly keep one busy, but in case you’d like to branch out and maybe get a little exercise and appreciate the local Arts, keep these possibilities in mind:

  • Nasty Jack’s Antiques in the historic downtown area is a great place to spend a bit of time. Not only do they have an eclectic and very cool selection of antiques and collectibles, they also have an original Zoltar machine out front. Channel your inner Tom Hanks and give Zoltar a go!
  • Learn all about La Conner and Skagit County at the Skagit County Historical Museum, located in downtown La Conner. Nothing like a good museum to inform the day!
  • Located in the heart of historic downtown La Conner, stop by the Museum of NW Art for a very interesting and well-curated look at the beauty of Northwest artistry and visual storytelling.
Museum NW Art
Stop in and learn about beautiful NW art!
  • Come to the area in April for tulips, but get a jump on things with a visit to the amazing La Conner Daffodil Festival happening throughout March. In addition to glorious fields of daffodils, check out local Arts, food and more!
  • The Arts Alive event in November is an excellent way to enjoy the late fall beauty of the area and slip into the coziness of the colder months in La Conner. Arts, music, food – the whole downtown area gets involved! (Early November – keep an eye on the website for 2019 dates)
  • For a beautiful walk or relaxing picnic, head to Pioneer Park and take in the relaxing rhythm of the Swinomish Channel and its coastal living vibe.
  • If you’re a kayak enthusiast, grab your gear and paddle over to Hope Island Marine State Park. (Or take a motorboat! Note to self: Just one more reason I really need a boat…) Located between La Conner and Whidbey Island on Skagit Bay and accessible only by boat, it’s a beautiful place to escape the city hubbub and unwind at one of the four campsites. (Note: Part of the island is a nature preserve and guests are asked to stick to the marked trails.)

Heading over to the other side of Skagit County takes you east towards the beautiful North Cascades and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. A great way to start your exploration of the area is via the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) and the small town of Burlington.

With its location directly off I-5 and easy access to gas, coffee and quick-bites, Burlington is a popular mid-trip stop. Because of these conveniences, I haven’t spent much time in Burlington proper. Truth be told, outside of occasional visits to the Outlet Shoppes at Burlington or driving through on my way to the mountains, I haven’t taken time to enjoy the many charms of the tiny town. After now having more deeply explored the area, however, I will happily be visiting more often.  (I am also happy to report triumphantly book-ending my Skagit County winnings while in Burlington. As the result of one of my ‘quick stops’ – this time at the Burlington Haggen’s grocery store – my beverage purchase also included an impromptu scratch ticket… Which yielded another fifty dollar win! There was now a hole burning through both of my pockets!)

The historic downtown core of Burlington is a great place to visit and even if you’re only driving through on your way up SR-20, it’s a fine place to grab a meal or a tasty pint. (And to spend fifty dollars!) Some of the places and events to enjoy on your next Burlington visit:

  • Fidalgo Bay Coffee Roasters makes a great cup of coffee! Based in Burlington with several locations in western Washington and a tasting room in downtown Seattle, they are an excellent way to fuel your Skagit County adventures.
  • Located in historic downtown Burlington, Café Burlington serves classic diner fare in a classic diner scene. They were already closed for the day when I stopped by, but I plan on trying their award-winning clam chowder next time I’m in the area.
Burlington Cafe
Is it Burlington Cafe – or Cafe Burlington? At any rate, they have award-winning clam chowder!
  • The Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen – South Nut location is an excellent place to grab a bite from one of the rotating food trucks or a pint of their delicious Kolsch on tap. (The North Nut is in Bellingham) Family friendly!
  • If you’re a lover of epic Bloody Marys and delicious brunch fare, head to the Trainwreck Bar & Grill in historic downtown Burlington. Try the brisket fritters! (Voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Best Brunch/Bloody Mary.
  • Beer is delicious. If you’d like to celebrate this fact, hit up the Skagit Farm to Pint Festival at the end of March and enjoy local breweries, restaurants and live music. (Takes place at the Heritage Flight Museum) It’s the wrap-up to the fabulous Skagit Beer Week, which you definitely don’t want to miss. (Last week of March)
  • Work off all that beer you drank during Skagit Beer Week at the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Run. (April 6th) And then drink some more beer to celebrate finishing the race! The circle of life. Hakuna Matata!
  • Make your way to the Burlington Visitor Center in historic downtown Burlington for the long-running Berry Dairy Days. (June 14-16) Local food, art, music, fireworks and more!
  • Head back to the Burlington Visitor Center in July for the weekly Burlington Summer Nights Concerts. (July 12,19,26) (Historical note: The visitor center is a replica of the original Burlington Great Northern Depot Train Station (c. 1890s)
  • A few words about the annual Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Pitch: They have a trebuchet. Need I say more?? Okay, fine. They also have food, pie-eating contests, ponies and more. TREBUCHET! (9/28)

Next up on my North Cascades Highway trek was the lovely Sedro-Woolley. There are several ways to hit up the Burlington and Sedro-Woolley areas and I took SR-20 off of I-5. The drive from Whatcom County and the north via SR-9 is a fine option and the drive south on SR-9 from Snohomish County is also a very scenic path to travel. The important take-away from all this is: Any way you take to get to Sedro-Woolley will be scenic and worth it.

Coming up from the South on SR-9 will give you access to many wonderful outdoor opportunities and a glimpse into the smaller communities of western Washington. In conjunction with these communities lie several great camping, hiking and fishing prospects along the way. Just a few of the areas to explore:

  • Easily accessible from both I-5 and SR-9, Lake McMurray is a great place to cast your rod and do a bit of trout fishing.
  • Just to the east of Lake McMurray, you’ll find Lake Cavanaugh. This small community loves their lake and regularly hosts local events in celebration. Check out their 35th Annual Fun Fest featuring an Arts and craft fair, golf tournament and more. (8/31 – 9/2, 2019) Check out one of the local cabins for rent on Airbnb or VRBO and bring your gear for a bit of fishing.
  • Heading further north on SR-9, stop in at the little town of Big Lake. Fuel up for your fishing expedition with great food from the Big Lake Bar & Grill or stock up on groceries and delicious chicken & waffles or biscuits & gravy from the very cool Big Lake Grocery.
  • Just before SR-9 meets up with SR-20 in Sedro-Woolley, you’ll come to the small community of Clear Lake. Home to Clear Lake Beach Park with its fishing, picnicking and swimming opportunities, it’s a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon. Stop by Evelyn’s Tavern for a tasty meal after your day on the beach.

Whatever path you’ve followed to Sedro-Woolley, there are many excellent places to check out once you’ve arrived. The historic downtown core plays host to many events throughout the year and there are a plethora of great restaurants, bars and shops to enjoy while in the area. One of the more interestingly named towns in Washington, Sedro-Woolley was formed from a combination of rival small towns in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Pay a visit to the Sedro-Woolley Museum and learn more about the town’s unique history and ties to coal mining and railroad expansion.

Sedro-Woolley Museum
Much to learn at the Sedro-Woolley Museum!

While visiting the Sedro-Woolley area, you’ll of course want to sample the local specialties. Just a few of the great options for your trip:

  • Situated in a tiny train caboose as you arrive in town, Skagit Valley Burger Express is an excellent place to stop for a burger. Made with grass-fed, naturally raised beef, their burgers are juicy and filling. Try the Brunch Burger with onion rings! (Voted Best of Skagit Valley 2019 – Burger)
  • Stop by the very cool local co-op, The Woolley Market and enjoy craft beer, wine and cider taps, live music and delicious deli food. Located in the heart of historic downtown.
Woolley Market
Groceries, beer on tap, great sandwiches and more!
  • For the classic drive-in burger experience, head to Hal’s Drive-in in the historic downtown area. They’ve been grilling up classics since 1964 – that’s a pretty great track record!
Hal's Drive-In
Classic drive-in times at Hal’s!
  • Featuring a great pub menu and tasty beverages, the Iron Mountain Bar and Grill in the historic downtown area is a great place to stop in after a day of hiking or tooling around local-area roads.
Iron Mountain
Stop in the Iron Mountain Bar & Grill for great drinks and food!
  • If you’re looking for someplace for a date night, head to the lovely Liberty Bistro for great ambiance and delicious farm-to-table lunch and dinner. Located in historic downtown Sedro-Woolley.
Liberty Bistro
Looking for a great place for date night? Check out the Liberty Bistro!
  • The Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market is a great way to get to know the local farmers and artists and sample their wares. Every Wednesday, 3-7pm from May 22nd thru October 16th at Hammer Heritage Square in downtown Sedro-Woolley.
  • Celebrate local craft brewers with all things hoppy and malty at the Sedro-Woolley Brewfest on September 21st from 2-7pm. (Hammer Heritage Square in downtown Sedro-Woolley.)
  • Start planning for next year’s Sedro-Woolley Pub Crawl. A relatively new tradition in the downtown area, this year’s event was on May 11th. Keep an eye out – and a pint glass ready!
  • Make plans to check out the annual Blast from the Past festivities in early June. Food, events, live music and a Blast of Color 5k Run make for a great few days in downtown Sedro-Woolley. Each year they roll the way-back machine fifty years, with this year’s celebration featuring the esteemed year of 1969.

As you head further east towards the mountains, there are many places well worth visiting and many tasty treats to sample. My first stop out of Sedro-Woolley proper was the Eagle Haven Winery, tucked off beautiful country roads, in the heart of gorgeous farmlands. There really is so much to be said for pulling off the main thoroughfare and wandering through the backroads. You just never know who you’re going to meet and what you’re going to learn. (Pro tip: If you do decide to traipse off onto the backroads, be they through farmland, mountains or beyond, tell someone where you’re going. Especially if you’re a fan of solo adventuring like I am. Sporty Spice is pretty reliable and AAA is great, but you just never know…)

SR-20
Beautiful scenery heading out of Sedro-Woolley on the North Cascades Highway (SR-20)

The impetus for pulling into the winery was a) it was a winery with good reviews and b) a roadside sign said they were hosting a vendor craft show that day. Wine and artisan crafts? I’m in! As I pulled into the winery parking area by the vineyards, I was met by a very friendly dog and one of the winery employees. She very kindly told me about the event and welcomed me into the tasting room. My visit was off to a very relaxing and easy going start.

There were a few people enjoying wine in the tasting room, but the majority of the crowds were in the vendor fair area. It seemed like a good time to take advantage of the tasting area, so I saddled up and dove into a bit of tasting. Sally, the well-informed and conversational tasting steward was very helpful and patiently assisted me in sampling all the wines that suited my personal tastes – and a few more. (I very much enjoyed their Gewürztraminer and Siegerrebe selections.) Through our conversation, I learned she was a transplant from Seattle and absolutely loved her new surroundings and the pace of life outside the city. In addition, she told me all about local farms and who to hit up for the best meats, coffee and more. It was another mini master class and I loved it! The unexpected connections and stories I pick up along the way are hands down one of the best things about traveling.

If you happen to be in the area, definitely stop in and do a tasting. On summer weekends, they also feature a concert series. Say hi to the dog, check out the hairy cows across the street and enjoy the beautiful grounds. There’s a reason they were voted Best of Skagit, 2019 – Winery! And if you’re in the market for delicious, organically raised meats, stop by nearby Baldham Farms and visit with Miriam.

A few more great places and areas to check out as you make your way east on SR-20 and the surrounding backroads:

  • Eggs, whole chicken, cuts of beef and delicious pork are what you’ll find if you stop by the Skagit River Ranch Farm Store. (Open Saturdays from 10am -5pm)
  • High on my NW bucket list is a stay at the Willowbrook Manor English Tea House & Chamomile Farm. Stay in the manor or check out their loft or amazing outdoor lodging option. I’m planning on a weekend stay in the near future with the addition of one of their ‘tea and tour’ adventures. High tea followed by a bike ride in the country – sign me up! One of the more intriguing options is a ride over to the nearby Northern State Ghost Town, located in the lost town of Cokedale. (On the National Register of Historic Places) Opened in 1912, Northern State Mental Hospital was the state’s largest facility for the mentally ill, but is now spookily abandoned. The buildings are closed to the public, but there are many trails to explore in what is now called the Northern State Recreation Area.
  • If 4-wheeled vehicles aren’t your jam, consider walking, biking or saddling your horse up for a trip on the Cascade Trail. A crushed rock trail, paralleling SR-20 for 22.5 miles, it goes from Sedro-Woolley all the way to Concrete. It follows the route of an abandoned railway from 1900!
SR-20
Heading towards the North Cascades on SR-20

As I continued my adventure into the North Cascades on SR-20, I was feeling somewhat hungry. Being in the mountains was inspiring me to locate burgers and beer and I was happily assuaged on both counts in the tiny town of Birdsview. The incredibly cool yurt of the Birdsview Brewing Company welcomes you in with tasty craft beer and delicious pub-style food. They’re family friendly and were voted Best of Skagit 2019 – Best Destination on Hwy 20. (Closed Mondays, beer garden is +21) Just a little further down the road is the excellent, old school Birdsview Diner / Birdsview Burgers. I had the bacon mac-n-cheese burger with fries and FRY SAUCE – and a Birdsview Brewing Co. “Ditsy Blonde” beer. Delicious!! Next time I’m in the area, I plan on renting a cabin at Raser State Park – where I will be conveniently close to more mac-n-cheese burgers…

Continuing east on the stunning SR-20 will bring you to the small, but iconic town of Concrete. Known for its importance in the cement industry from the early 1900s to 1969, Concrete garnered more recent spotlight as the setting for award-winning author, Tobias Wolff’s novel This Boy’s Life, centered on his teen years in the area. It later became a film starring an amazing cast, including Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Barkin. The ‘Welcome to Concrete’ lettering seen on the famous cement silos as you enter town was actually added in 1992 for the film.

Concrete
Welcome to Concrete, WA!

Concrete possesses several entries on the National Register of Historic Places and a visit to the Concrete Heritage Museum is a great place to learn more about the area. They also have a wonderful and very informative self-guided walking tour to help you explore the area.  (Museum open Saturdays, noon – 4pm, May 25th – September 28th – 2019 season) Be sure to take a stroll across the Henry Thompson Bridge (c. 1918) and marvel at what at the time was the longest single-span concrete bridge in the world. The bridge was completely rehabilitated in the early 2000s and reopened in 2004. The view of the river and valley below is absolutely beautiful. After crossing the bridge, drive further up the road for great views of the Lower Baker Dam. (c. 1926) (Take a dam tour!) A drive still further north on Baker River Road will bring you to Lake Shannon and some excellent swimming, fishing and boating opportunities.

While taking time to explore the Concrete area, you’ll need to keep up your strength. There are several great restaurants in the area that will happily assist you on your quest – and several great places to check out after you’re properly fueled up:

  • Located directly off SR-20, Cascade Burgers serves up great burgers and more in a 50s drive-in style.
  • Local favorite, the Lonestar Restaurant & Waterin’ Hole is a good place to stop for home-style breakfast, lunch or dinner in the historic downtown area.
  • Serving tasty, dedicated gluten-free fare, the 5 B’s Bakery serves tasty baked goods along with breakfast and lunch. (7am – 5pm, closed Tuesdays)
  • For delicious, hand-crafted pizzas, sandwiches, salads and more, stop by Annie’s Pizza Station, located directly off SR-20. Family operated since 1994 and housed in a former gas station.
  • Perks Espresso & Deli offers great coffee, breakfast options and baked goods. Open daily from 5am to 2pm – directly off SR-20.
  • The Concrete Theatre has been an integral part of the Concrete community since 1923. Renovated and re-opened in 2009, they host first-run films as well as town events and are an important part of the annual Concrete Ghost Walk. ‘Lots of spooky ghost sightings over the years in Concrete! (October 5,12,19,26)
  • When I randomly pulled into a parking spot in front of the Baker Hotel, I was greeted by an employee of the hotel who was outside enjoying the sun. We ended up in a great conversation in which she told me all about the history of the town, the hotel (It’s haunted!) and gave me several excellent tips about what to see and do while in town. The locals always know best!

Concrete offers many excellent ways to celebrate the town and all of its rich history and surrounding beauty. Some of the cool events happening throughout the year:

  • Taking place in downtown Concrete and the Concrete Municipal Airport (Mears Field), the Concrete Vintage Fly-in celebrates the history of flight with vintage airplanes and flying demonstrations. Food, music, vintage cars and more! (July 12-13)
  • Stock up on local artisan goods and more every week at the Concrete Saturday Market. 9am – 3pm, Saturdays from 5/25 – 8/31 at the Concrete Community Center.
  • Celebrate the history of the area with a parade, pie-eating contests, chainsaw carving and more at the Concrete Cascade Days. This annual event happens over the weekend of August 17-18 and is fun for the whole family.
  • Celebrating the amazing bald eagle, the Skagit Eagle Festival highlights all things raptor during the height of the eagle-watching season. Including the combined areas of Concrete, Rockport and Marblemount, it’s a great way to learn about these most majestic creatures. (Every weekend in January) On a related note, the Skagit River Bald Eagle Natural Area Preserve is an important part of the North Cascades area dedicated to studying and preserving the bald eagle habitat.
  • Celebrate the beauty of the area and pitch a tent at the nearby Sauk Park Campground and enjoy the beautiful Sauk River or check out one of the lovely hikes.
  • Should camping not be on your agenda, head to Ovenell’s Heritage Inn Log Cabins, Guesthouse & Historic Ranch off nearby Concrete Sauk Valley Road and relax in one of their fully-appointed log cabins, surrounded by a 580-acre cattle ranch and loads of farm animals and wildlife.

Continuing the drive on SR-20 brings you further into the striking landscapes of the North Cascades territory. The towns get smaller and the opportunities for gas and food become more sparse. It’s always a good idea to take advantage of stops whenever they come available – especially in the colder months.

There are countless outdoor pursuits to be found along SR-20 as you head east towards the tiny communities of Rockport and Marblemount. Just a few of the very worthy options:

  • Put together a picnic and head for Rockport State Park, just off of SR-20. They don’t allow camping, but the beautiful old-growth trees and lovely hiking trails more than make up for it. Check out the nearby Sauk Mountain Trail when in the area and revel in the glorious views, flora and fauna. A great way to reach these areas from the Darrington area is via SR-530 – a beautiful drive!
  • Between May and October, stop by the Cascadian Farm Home Farm or their roadside stand on SR-20 and enjoy delicious organic produce, dairy treats and more. Cascadian Farms has cultivated a well-respected and hugely successful line of products over the years. Stop by the farm and see where it all started!
  • Pull off along the beautiful Sauk River at the Sutter Creek Rest Area and enjoy the quiet peace of the Skagit River. The surrounding mountains and farmland are stunning and I truly think I could’ve sat there all day taking it in… And be sure to keep an eye out for bald eagles! That’s right, be an eagle eye. Heh.
  • To extend your stay along the Skagit River, pitch a tent or roll in with the RV to Howard Miller Steelhead State Park. Open year-round, they have many campsites and provide great access to fishing, hiking and more. Be sure to visit the non-profit Bald Eagle Interpretive Center and learn more about the area’s most revered residents, bald eagles and salmon. (Open weekends from the first weekend of December to the last weekend of January, 10am – 4pm)

Rounding out the Skagit County adventures along SR-20 brings us to the entrance of North Cascades National Park and neighboring Whatcom County. For this portion of the trip, I was joined by one of my very dearest friends – and her entire family! In addition to cruising the SR-20 corridor, we took a cruise on spectacular Diablo Lake and did a bit of exploring in the North Cascades National Park. (Goofy Sasquatch hoodies may also have been purchased.) Many of these adventures and more will be covered in my upcoming Whatcom County adventure. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, before continuing on towards Whatcom County and eastern Washington or turning back to the western parts, consider these scenic options:

  • The Hidden Lake Peak Lookout (On the National Historic Register) and trail offer beautiful views overlooking the North Cascades and Glacier Peak Wilderness. If you plan on camping in the backcountry, you’ll need a permit, but no permit is needed for staying in the lookout. (First come, first serve to stay in the lookout.)
  • If you can’t decide between awesome American diner fare and excellent Korean dishes, you won’t have to at Mondo’s Restaurant off of SR-20 in the Marblemount area. Great food, quirky décor and good service!
  • Located on SR-20, just before you enter North Cascades National Park, the Buffalo Run Inn (c. 1889) offers rustic dining featuring bison, beef and elk and cozy lodging to the weary traveler.
  • While technically across the border in Whatcom County, an important part of the SR-20 adventure and very worth mentioning is the spectacular North Cascades National Park and the informative Visitor and Information Center. Taking in the beauty of the park is the crowning achievement of any North Cascades Highway trek – don’t forget your camera! And be sure to stroll along the fully accessible Sterling Munro Trail to check out the stunning Picket Range and the mind-boggling Chopping Block. Gorgeous!

And with my trek deep into the heart of the North Cascades and SR-20 coming to a close, I will leave you to dream of your own Skagit County adventure. You’ll definitely need more than a day to explore its rich offerings, but I can assure you, it will be one of the most amazing Washington State adventures you’ve ever taken. Islands, mountains, epic fields of flowers and bountiful farmlands stocked with delicious foods and welcoming residents – what’s not to love about Skagit County? Who knows, maybe I’ll see you tiptoeing through the tulips come next April!

Cheers!

 

Celebrate the Skagit County good times with my SPOTIFY PLAYLIST!

  • Good Day Sunshine – The Beatles (from Revolver)
  • Proud Mary – Tina Turner (from What’s Love Got To Do With It)
  • Gettin’ in the Way – Jill Scott (from Experience: Jill Scott 826+)
  • You Are Not Alone – Mavis Staples (from You Are Not Alone)
  • Flowers – Leon Bridges (from Coming Home)
  • Golden – Jill Scott (from Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2)
  • We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (from Simply the Best)
  • Piano in the Dark – Brenda Russell (from Get Here)
  • So In Love – feat. Anthony Hamilton – Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton (from The Light of the Sun)
  • Light Is Dim – Hommage aux Frères Pigeon – Spöket i Köket (from Château du Garage)
  • Tip Toe Through the Tulips with Me – The McGuire Sisters (from The McGuire Sisters Anthology)
  • Flowers on the Wall – The Statler Brothers (from Flowers on the Wall)
  • God Only Knows – She & Him (from God Only Knows)
  • I Want You Back – Lake Street Dive (from Fun Machine)
  • Calico Skies – Paul McCartney (from Flaming Pie)
  • My Secret Place – Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel (from Chalk Marks In A Rain Storm)
  • Cactus Tree – Hailey Tuck (from Junk)
  • Le Jardin des Fées – Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren (from Mare Nostrum III)
  • Old Cape Cod – Patti Page (from Patti Page: 16 Most Requested Songs)
  • Sunshine on My Shoulders – John Denver (from Poems, Prayers & Promises)
  • You’ve Got A Friend – James Taylor (from Mud Slide Slim)
  • Rainbow Connection – The Muppets (from The Muppets: Original Soundtrack)
  • Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles (from Abbey Road)
  • Pick Yourself Up – Dianne Reeves (from Good Night, Good Luck: Music from & Inspired by the Motion Picture)
  • This Is Your Night – The Flat Five (from It’s A World of Love and Hope)
  • Baby I’m A Star – Prince and the Revolution (from Purple Rain)
  • Bad Bad News – Leon Bridges (from Good Thing)
  • Star Wars (Main Theme) – John Williams, London Symphony Orchestra (from The Empire Strikes Back: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • You’re the Best – Joe “Bean” Esposito (from The Karate Kid: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

 

 

 

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