I Ate the State – Island County

Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.

To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.

True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList

Cama View
Looking out towards the Olympics from Cama Beach

To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.

As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.

One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.

To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…

If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)

While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:

There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.

During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)

In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)

For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)

Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:

  • Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
  • Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
  • If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
  • Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.

Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.

Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee Grocery and Farms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.

Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…

Island County
Entering Island County! (As seen from Deception Pass Bridge)

If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.

The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.

Since I wanted to drive over Deception Pass (on the National Register of Historic Places) to arrive on Whidbey Island, I took Exit 230 off I-5 North (near Burlington in Skagit County) to access SR-20. (SR-20 is also known as the North Cascades Highway or the spectacular Cascade Loop) Once heading west on SR-20, I followed the road until it turned off to the left, just before Anacortes. If you prefer a more seafaring route, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry or Port Townsend/Coupeville Ferry and avoid the crowds of the I-5 corridor. (For another travel bonus trip, link your Island County adventures with Port Townsend and beautiful Jefferson County)

Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)

In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)

After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.

Naval Base
Just an everyday scene on SR-20 into Oak Harbor…

As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:

  • Stop in at Flyers Restaurant & Brewery for great local beers, tasty burgers and more. Located directly off SR-20.
  • Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
  • The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
  • Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
  • If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
  • During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)

On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)

On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:

  • Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
  • There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)
  • Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront at Whidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
  • Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!
  • I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • On the finer dining side, head to Rustica Café & Wine Bar (Open at noon, 10am on Sundays for brunch), the Terrace Wine Bar and Bistro (3-10pm, closed Sun/Mon) and lovely Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway (Tues – Sat, 4:30 – 9:30pm, closed Sun/Mon) for a tasty day or night on the town.
  • If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
  • If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!

Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…

In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.

Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.

When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…

Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…

The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.

Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Ebey Landing
Looking out towards the water from Ebey Landing

The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.

A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)

Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)

While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)

Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.

Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.

Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)

Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:

  • Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
  • If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
  • For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
  • For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
  • Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
  • Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
  • Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
  • Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
  • Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.

For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…

  • The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
  • Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
  • I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
  • While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
  • Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
  • Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)

The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.

Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.

There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:

  • Celebrate the jewels of the area at the yearly Penn Cove MusselFest (March 7-8, 2020)
  • Celebrate the waters that host the jewels of the area at the annual Penn Cove Water Festival (May 16, 2020)
  • Many artists and craftspeople call the island home and a great place to check out their wares is at the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival (August 8-9, 2020)
  • Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
  • Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
  • For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)

Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)

In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.

Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:

  • It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)
  • The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
  • Great wine, beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere can be found at Holmes Harbor Cellars in the Honeymoon Bay area. (Check website for hours) They are also part of the Whidbey Island Wine & Spirits Trail and annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour.
  • Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)

A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!

Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:

  • If you’re up for a truly epic thrift store outing, don’t miss a stop at Senior Thrift, located just off SR-525. It’s remarkable what they’ve packed inside that building! Mutiny Bay Antiques and Red Rooster Antique Mall are both chock full of excellent finds and the Habitat for Humanity Store has amazing bargains to cover your home project needs and more. (Also in Oak Harbor)
  • For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
  • Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
  • Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
  • Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
  • Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
  • Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.
Country Roads
Country roads stretching out for miles…

Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.

Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)

Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:

  • On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…
  • The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
  • Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
  • Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.
  • Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)
  • Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
  • In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)

In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:

  • If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
  • In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
  • Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
  • If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop it at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
  • Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
  • For the caffeine lovers in the bunch, Whidbey Island has no shortage of great options. Head to Useless Bay Coffee in the downtown area or Mukilteo Coffee Roasters located near Whidbey Airpark for a delicious cup o’ joe and tasty eats.
Mukilteo Coffee
Excellent coffee from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters!

It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:

  • Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
  • Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
  • Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtown Saltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
  • If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
  • I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)

Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.

Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:

  • Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
  • Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
  • Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
  • If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annual Mystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
  • If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
  • Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!

To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:

  • While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
  • Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
  • If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.
Ferry
The Clinton ferry arriving in Mukilteo

I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…

Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.

There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:

  • Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
  • Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
  • Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
  • Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
  • Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
  • If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.

As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)

Happy New Year – and GO EAT THE STATE!

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Check out my Island County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Here and Whole – Joan Shelly (from Cost of the Cold b/w Here and Whole)
  • This Sky – The Derek Trucks Band (from Songlines)
  • The Last Drive – Michel Bisceglia (from Bluebird)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Radka Toneff (from Some Time Ago (A Collection of Her Finest Moments))
  • Around and Around – Mountain Man (from Sings John Denver)
  • Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding – Jesse Winchester (from Love Filling Station)
  • The Carnival of the Animals, R.125: The Swan – Camille Saint-Saëns, Lucille Clifton, Bill Murray, Jan Vogler (from New Worlds)
  • On A Marché Sur la Lune – Anthony Strong (from Me and My Radio)
  • The Fear – Los Lobos (from The Fear)
  • I Forgive It All – Mudcrutch (from 2)
  • Short Trip Home – Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Joshua Bell (from The Essential Joshua Bell)
  • Putty Boy Strut – Anat Cohen, Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (from Luminosa)
  • Unconditional Waltz – Calexico (from The Thread that Keeps Us – Deluxe Edition)
  • The Fox – Laura Veirs (from Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith (from Blind Faith)
  • Everyone Knows – Mipso (from Old Time Reverie)
  • It’s Hard to Be Humble – Willie Nelson w/Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson (from Ride Me Back Home)
  • As – Becca Stevens (from Regina)
  • Roll On – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Beautiful That Way – Noa (from Beautiful That Way)
  • I Don’t Worry About A Thing – Most Allison (from I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
  • All Some Kind of A Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of A Dream)
  • Tempelhof – Yann Tiersen (from All)
  • Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time – Gene Austin (from The Best of Gene Austin)
  • An Old Guitar and An Old Refrain – Roger Wolfe Kahn (from Collection: 1925 – 1932)
  • Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn (from Grace & Danger)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)
West Beach
A beautiful coastal view from West Beach at Deception Pass State Park

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Check out more I Ate the State adventures:

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!