Prior to our departure to the Seattle area, the majority of our Seattle friends all told us “you must visit the LaConner/Skagit Valley area to see the daffodils and tulip fields”.
The Skagit River area was settled thousands of years ago by the Swinomish tribe on the banks of the river; along the west side of the Swinomish Channel we toured past a huge tribal totem pole, part of the Swinomish Indian Reservation and location of a multi-tribe gathering each summer. A nearby tribal Chevron station offered, with no Federal or state taxes, gasoline about 25 cents less than other nearby choices.
The area was settled by pioneers in the early 1860s; fishing, farming and logging were the city’s early underpinnings. Today, an historic downtown stretches for eight blocks along the Swinomish Channel, home to a host of shops and interesting restaurants. Fishing boats routinely depart looking for Dungeness crab and shellfish. In addition to a walking tour that takes in a number of historic town buildings, the Museum of Northwest Art, Skagit County Historical Museum and LaConner Quilt and Textile Museum share the town’s early history. Several hostelries dot the landscape; the Channel Lodge and Hotel Planter B&B look interesting for lodging.
We stopped first at the LaConner Chamber of Commerce seeking insight and suggestions – chamber volunteer Lisa Judy (Judy owns an artist cooperative currently being remodeled) provides a wonderful information resource! In addition to a variety of maps and guidebooks. Notes Lisa, “it’s been a cold, wet winter, so plant blooms are running late”, and she shows off the Chamber’s website, offering a “bloom map” which shows daffodils, tulips and their stage of bloom, to help gauge your most colorful visits to the flower fields.
The town, with both history and waterfront adventure making it a romantic get-away, also offers a host of events for repeat visits. They include the Daffodil Festival in March, the Tulip Fest in April (with April 8 Tulip Festival Parade in La Conner), the May 6 Opening Day Boat Parade, the Hometown 4th of July Celebration and the August 5 La Conner Classic Boat & Car Show.
Channel-front restaurants line the city’s 1st Street, from Nell Thorn Restaurant, LaConner Waterfront Café, LaConner Pub and Eatery and more. We chose LaConner Prime Rib and Seafood – due to the low tourist season we were one of the few couples in this fine restaurant for lunch. Marvelous fresh codfish and chips, chowder and a fine spinach salad set us up for a post-lunch stroll (even some sunshine!) along the waterfront boardwalk and back along the town’s historic main drag.
Local activities include fishing, birdwatching (Trumpeter swans and snow geese visiting 16,000 acres in LaConner and the Skagit Valley), hiking, bicycling and kayaking. LaConner makes a fine gateway to the San Juan Islands and the 400 mile Cascade Scenic Loop. The town is only 8 miles from Anacortes, a larger fishing and lumbering city with a host of motel and hotel options, with ferry service to four San Juan Islands.
We were also planning to tour the western end of the Cascade Loop, a 400 mile scenic route that includes the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound, up through the rugged Cascade Mountains and back to the waterways. Hence, we made our next stop Anacortes, just eight miles away, a town big enough for provisioning and offering its own set of attractions.
Anacortes is much larger with commercial shipyards, boatyards and plenty of commercial fishing and pleasure boats. Lumberyards still provide employment to townsfolk. We admired about 10 blocks of historic buildings and wandered into Anacortes Hardware for antiques, marine goods and hardware in the 1891 Olson Building. The city offers blocks of historic buildings, a number dating into the 1800s with shops, boutiques and restaurants, as well as a large choice of hotels, motels and VBROs.
From Anacortes, we continued south across Fidalgo Island on WA Hwy. 20 towards Deception Pass, where a stately bridge carries you over the Deception Pass channel to Whidbey Island. Stopping to photograph the bridge, eight US Navy Jets screamed overhead, doing practice runs from nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. We pass through a large variety of state parks and campgrounds, headed south along Whidbey Island, where we switch to WA Hwy. 525 to reach Clinton.
Towns along the island like Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Greenbank and Freeland offer scenic waterfronts, respites for food and drink and views of the Saratoga Passage to the east and Admiralty Inlet on the west. We make notes to take a summer journey along much the same route.
At the south tip of the isle, we book passage on the Clinton-Muckleteo Ferry, $7.45 for a vehicle and two people, gaining a 20 minute scenic ferry ride, with Mount Baker looming in the distance. Then we’re back on the mainland at Muckleteo and headed down to Edmonds for future explorations.
How to get to LaConner, WA: From Seattle, take I-5 north and exit WA Hwy. 536; it’s about 70 miles.
For more information: LaConner and the Skagit Valley: LaConner Chamber of Commerce, lovelaconner.com, (360) 466-4778; Cascade Loop, cascadeloop.com; for Washington State tourism, experiencewa.com.