After you've explored Seattle for a few days, you'll want to head out of town on a day trip or two. Within a few hours of the city, you can find yourself hiking in a national park, cruising up a fjordlike arm of Puget Sound, exploring the San Juan Islands, strolling the streets of a Victorian seaport, or tasting wine at some of Washington's top wineries. With the exception of the San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula, excursions are all fairly easy day trips that will give you glimpses of the Northwest outside the Emerald City.
La Conner & the Skagit Valley
70 miles N of Seattle
In a competition for quaintest town in Washington, La Conner would leave the other contenders wallowing in the winter mud. This town, a former fishing village, has a waterfront street lined with restored wooden commercial buildings, back streets of Victorian homes, and the largest tulip and daffodil fields in the U.S. stretching out from the town limits. Add to this three museums, numerous plant nurseries and gardening-related stores, art galleries, luxurious inns, and good restaurants, and you have a town that’s perfect for a day trip from Seattle.
La Conner dates from a time when Puget Sound towns were connected by water and not by road, and consequently the town clings to the shore of Swinomish Channel. La Conner reached a commercial peak around 1900 (when steamers made the run to Seattle) and continued as an important grain- and log-shipping port until the Great Depression. It never recovered from the hard times of the 1930s, and when the highways bypassed the town, it became a neglected backwater. The wooden false-fronted buildings built during the town’s heyday were spared the wrecking balls of the 1960s, and today these old buildings give the town its inimitable charm.
Beginning in the 1940s, La Conner’s picturesque setting attracted several artists and writers, and by the 1970s it had become known as an artists’ community. Tourism began to revive the economy, and the town’s artistic legacy led to the building here of the Museum of Northwest Art, dedicated to the region’s many contemporary artists.
Adding still more color to this vibrant little town are the commercial flower farms of the surrounding Skagit Valley. In the spring, tulips carpet the surrounding farmlands with great swaths of red, yellow, and white. The sight is on a par with anything you would ever see in Holland.
What’s in a Name?
Although the name sounds like a combination of Spanish and Irish, La Conner is actually named for Louisa A. (LA) Conner, who helped found the town in the 1870s.
FESTIVALS From late March to mid-April, the countryside around La Conner is awash with color as thousands of acres of Skagit Valley tulip and daffodil fields burst into bloom in a floral display that rivals that of the Netherlands. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (www.tulipfestival.org; [tel] 360/428-5959), held each year during bloom time, is La Conner’s biggest annual festival and includes dozens of events.
Tulip Fields, Gardens & Nurseries
Mount Rainier National Park and Environs
Paradise: 110 miles SE of Seattle, 70 miles SE of Tacoma, 150 miles NE of Portland
WHERE TO STAY & DINE