This past weekend was the grand finale of the Skagit Valley’s annual tulip festival. As the day turned out, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the tulip fields. But I did have a grand time, and popped into two breweries while I was up there.
As a matter of personal policy, when I go see the tulips I go early. As painful as it may be to get out of bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday, it’s even worse to sit in infernal traffic on the two-lane country roads between La Conner and Mount Vernon. Especially when cruising them without traffic can be so delightful. So this past Saturday at 6 a.m., I dragged my sleepy ass out of bed, kissed a dozing Kendall goodbye and pointed the Washington Beer Cruiser northward. I had no itinerary, but the day turned out to be such a delight that I wanted to share it with you:
From Northbound I-5 if you take the first signed exit to Conway/LaConner, you’ll end up on quiet farm-country backroads that lead to the Rexville Grocery. This magical place has it all: espresso, breakfast, gasoline, sandwiches and beer on tap. And sometimes when you drive past in the summer, as happened to me and Kendall many moons ago, they’ll have live music and if you stop you’ll meet a great new band. In our case, the La Conner boys of Gertrude’s Hearse, who we eventually hired to play our wedding. But that’s another story.
There happened to be a few tulip fields still in bloom this past weekend. I was early enough to avoid paying the $5 parking fee (not joking), they now charge to just park and walk around the fields. But any season in the Skagit Valley is beautiful. All kinds of farms, so many shades of green. Worth a nice drive around any time of year.
Scone Lady (and other La Conner lovelies)
Assuming you’re on this up-and-at-em program, you’ll need to stop for some more coffee and sustenance at some point. After tooling the fields for a while, I moseyed into lovely little La Conner. Touristy, sure, but there are a couple things here worth your while. Including the apple cheddar scone at The Scone Lady, which appears to be a new joint from the online reviews. Of all the shops in La Conner, I enjoy The Wood Merchant for its hand-crafted goods, everything from toys to furniture. If you need a full breakfast or lunch, the only place to be is the Calico Cupboard; just save room for pie. (They also have a location in Anacortes or Mount Vernon if you skip La Conner.)
Scone and coffee down, next is a good time to visit Christianson’s Nursery. Mount Vernon is lucky to have one of the best nurseries around, one to rival Molbak’s or Swanson’s – and it’s right on Best Road in the midst of all the farmland and tulip fields.
If you still need to kill time, as I did, before the noon beer hour rings – next I would suggest driving north. If you continue north on Best Road and cross over Hwy 20, follow the signs to Bayview State Park. Here you can stretch your legs, do some birdwatching and beachcombing, and enjoy the reflection of the oil refineries and San Juan Islands reflected in Padilla Bay.
From Bayview, it’s just a hop and skip farther north to Edison, WA. Land of the beautiful bread at The Breadfarm. And creamy, straight-from-the-cow Gouda at Samish Bay Cheese. Which tends to make me thirsty, and it must be beer:thirty by now.
Located on SR 536 just northwest of downtown Mount Vernon, North Sound Brewing is one of the newer breweries in the state — but you wouldn’t guess that from visiting them. They’re a far cry bigger than the petite start-up nano-breweries we’re seeing so much of around. With a 4.25 barrel copper brewing system, they are putting out quite a variety of beers including nine on tap in their tasting room when I visited. I sampled the Cherry Wheat, Pearl’s Pale Ale, X-batch Golden Falcon IPA, and my favorite, Hop Chops IPA. The tasting room and adjacent beer garden (all 21-and-up), also served a selection of wine and munchies.
The tasting room manager, Lyra, was friendly and knowledgable about the North Sound offerings and the local beer scene. And the sun was peaking out, so it would have been easy to stay and enjoy a pint of IPA (or their fine Slainte Stout), in the beer garden. But my only breakfast having been that lovely scone, (and ok, two cookies at The Breadfarm), my stomach was demanding lunch so I was on my way.
When you’re looking for lunch in Mount Vernon, there’s no lack of choices. Skagit River Brewing (with their wood-fired pizza and burgers), Porterhouse Pub Mount Vernon, Empire Ale House, the Trumpeter Public House. A lack of pubs isn’t a problem, but during the tulip fest the lack of parking and long lines of traffic make downtown Mount Vernon a challenge. So I skipped through town on the back roads, took a right when I got to Conway, a right again at Stanwood, and ended up at the Diamond Knot Camano Lodge.
The Lodge looks and feels like your old summer camp mess hall, and I mean that in the best way. A wrap-around deck with picnic tables overlooks a wooded slope down to a mid-island lake. The clients are locals. The bartenders and servers are too. But as an “outsider” I was made very welcome with a massive Golden Ale Fish Burger and Whip ale.
Belly full and satisfied with the day’s adventures, I turned the Washington Beer Cruiser back southbound again to Seattle and home. But I’ll be back soon, with Kendall coming along this time. As Gertrude’s Hearse sings, we’ll be back when the tulip season’s done.