Magic Skagit and La Conner

Before early settlers began diking the farmlands of the Skagit Valley,  La Conner, Fidalgo Island across the Channel and the rocky hills that poke up out of the farmlands were all islands at the southeast end of what we know now as the San Juan Islands.  You can get here by car but the vegetation and feel of the place is still “island like.”   La Conner is located at the mouth of the Skagit River Watershed and is literally in the center of this ecosystem we call the “Magic Skagit.”  In addition to being in the center of La Conner, our Guest House makes a great “base camp” for exploring the Skagit Valley and the “region less travelled” north of Seattle – the shops and restaurants of La Conner, wildlife refuges on Fir Island and the Skagit River Delta and lots of quaint little farm towns nearby.   It’s also an easy day trip – an hour or hour and a half – to Seattle, Vancouver BC (a little farther), Port Townsend, the San Juan Islands and North Cascades National Park.

Waterfront Boardwalk:  Walk the full length of town on the new waterfront boardwalk, enjoy the sights on Swinomish Channel and check out the decks in front of all the shops.  Or just stare at the water and watch what’s  going on across the Channel on the Swinomish Indian Reservation – the giant “Cedar Hats” Welcoming Pavillion, the Swinomish Fish Company’s Cannery and the Fishermen’s Docks where the Swinomish Fishing Fleet is moored.

Shopping:  At over 100 shops and stores with everything from art to antiques, clothing, wine and gifts along First and Morris Streets.  Walk to the grocery store, post office, library, drug store and the bank.

Museums:  Explore the history of Skagit County in the County Historic Museum (one block away), the Quilt Museum in the historic Gaches Mansion (2 blocks away) or the Museum of Northwest Art (MONA) for the largest collection of northwest art north of the Seattle Art Museum.

Dining:  At over 10 restaurants from fine dining to casual pub fare and at several bakeries and coffee shops for fresh baked goods and espresso.  Start at the legendary Calico Cupboard for breakfast at one end of town and end up at Seeds, Calico’s sister cafe at the other end of town with more choices in between than an average person’s temptation can handle.   Check out Washington Sips (wine bar) and Anelia’s (Polish Restaurant) to see if there is any live music playing.  Or walk down to Hellam’s Wine Shop for their daily (all day) wine tasting and sit out on the old Lime Dock Wharf enjoying snacks and a glass of wine.

Hedlin’s Produce:  At the edge of town (next to the roundabout) is one of Skagit Valley’s finest produce stands with most of its organic products grown on the farmland that you can see from the East Deck of the Guesthouse.

Kayak & Bike Rental:  Or rent a kayak at the south end of town (just past Calico Cupboard) and take a look at the town from the water or go for a short paddle to “hole in the wall” where the Channel meets the north fork of the Skagit River.  Or rent a 3-speed beach cruiser and see the town from the seat of a bicycle.

Walks & Short Hikes

McGlynn Island:  McGlynn Island is a relatively short (30 minute) walk from the Guest House.  It is a private island with public access and a secret hidden beach that can be accessed on foot – the last 1/2 mile on a scenic trail through the woods.  It has 40 acres of mature forest with large stands of madrona trees and island vegetation along the waterfront.  Wonderful views of Skagit Bay and the Skagit River Delta from the rocky bluff on the south side of the island.  Remember: “pack it in and pack it out.”

Channel Dike Walk:  A pleasant dike walk north of town along the channel is an even shorter 15 minute walk from the Guest House.  This walk is also on private land so extra care should be taken with animals and children.  This is also: “pack it in and pack it out.”

Biking The Valley

Rexville Store:  – A long walk or short bike ride (about 20 minutes) will take you to the “REX” where you will find “Foods Galore.”  It’s an eclectic grocery and cafe where you can find 4 beers on tap, lunch at the deli counter, brunch on weekends and specialty food items that you won’t find anywhere else in the County.  Probably the best place to people watch – the locals (farmers, fishermen and artists) and travelers passing through.

Snow Goose Produce:  Just beyond the Rexville Store over the North Fork Bridge is Snow Goose Produce, an outdoor market with everything you need for dinner – fresh produce, salmon and crab, fine wines and other deli items.  And for dessert – they are famous for their “immodest servings” of ice cream.

Short Drives – Skagit Valley

Edison:  A short 20 minute drive from La Conner will take you to Edison, a quaint village of art galleries, restaurants, delis, bakeries and two taverns located on Edison Slough.  Be sure to check out Slough Foods (and food service on the picnic tables out back next to the slough) and the beautiful Smith & Valley Art Gallery

Anacortes:  Another 20 minute drive will take you to Anacortes, a larger town with grocery stores, shops, several wonderful restaurants and its own vibrant historic district.  Check out our favorite restaurants: the A-Town Bistro (upscale bistro and bar), Cafe Adrift (great food in a casual atmosphere)  and Dad’s Diner (original, eclectic breakfast and lunch spot with meats roasted to perfection – like brisket and pulled pork).

Conway:  A little shorter 15 minute drive will take you to historic Conway, a small old world pioneer town on the South Fork of the Skagit River with antique shops and the well know and much loved Conway Tavern.  It’s also home to the Conway Muse – a unique and artsy music venue that has something fun going on almost every weekend of the year.

Old Mount Vernon:  One of Skagit Counties two main cities is only a 15 minute drive.  Like Anacortes, it has a scenic historic district with a new riverfront boardwalk and all of the stores and services that a big town will have.  Not to be confused with New Mount Vernon which has shopping malls and is several miles to the north.

A Little Farther – And Worth Every Mile 

Port Townsend:  A bucolic 60 minute drive across the famous (and breath taking) Deception Pass Bridge and past the historic town Coupeville (more like a village) on Whidbey Island will take you to the Keystone Ferry.  Park near the terminal and “walk on” for a fraction of the cost of driving and then walk off into the historic town of Port Townsend.  Built in the late 1800’s in an effort to attract the first cross country railroad, today it’s a big La Conner with taller 4 story brick buildings, lots of shops and plenty of great restaurants.  One of our favorites is Siren’s, a locals pub on the second floor of one of those tall brick buildings on the main (Water) street with good pub food and a deck hanging out over a sandy beach and Puget Sound – you can see the ferry coming from here.

San Juan Islands:  About 10 minutes past Anacortes (30 minute drive total), you can catch the ferry to one of the several San Juan Islands.  Walk on in the morning and return later the same day to to visit Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, another quaint turn of the century pioneer town – catch a local shuttle to Roche Harbor to go a little farther back in time to limestone quarries, the Moran Estate and the historic Hotel de Haro.  Or if you want to take a bike or car, get off on Orcas Island – check out Moran State Park but plan to spend some time in East Sound where you will find wonderful shops and restaurants and experience the slower pace of the San Juan Islands from 30 years ago – and check out the Outlook Inn – both historic and affordable – if you run out of time and want to spend the night.

Chuckanut Drive to Fairhaven and Bellingham:  One of the most beautiful two lane country roads in the State – old highway 1 – curves around the Chuckanut Mountains about 100 feet above Samish and Bellingham Bays.  Stop at Taylor Seafood to get fresh shell fish to bring home and then stop at one of the roadside stops for a birds eye view of the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island in the distance.  Then drive to Fairhaven, Bellingham’s historic district south of town (a 45 minute drive), or go anther 10 minutes to Bellingham, a “big little town” with a college town (Western Washington University) atmosphere.

North Cascades Highway:  Travel East on Highway 20 (1 – 1.5 hours) to Rockport, Marblemont, Baker Lake, Ross Lake and scenic North Cascades National Park.  A little farther (3 hours) and you are in the Methow Valley east of the Cascade Mountains.  Winthrop, Twisp and Mazama are in their own high valley micro climate – 15 degrees warmer than the west side but still cooler than the towns farther east in Central Washington.

Seattle:  Only an hour away – spend the day exploring the city – taking in Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market.  We go there regularly and will gladly share our favorite restaurants, shops and attractions.

Vancouver BC:  The US-Canada Border is an hour and a half away – drive another 30 minutes to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Vancouver is truly a world class city worth visiting.

Victoria BC:  Just over the border you can take a Canadian Ferry from Tsawwassan to Schwartz Bay (about an hour ride), then drive to Victoria (about a half hour) and spend an afternoon in a very quaint British Seaport Town, visit the famous Butchart Gardens or drive out to Sooke Harbor and eat at our favorite restaurant – the Sooke Harbor House – once rated the top restaurant in Canada and still one of the best the region has to offer.