The vernal equinox is in the rearview mirror. April is upon us and it’s time to start venturing out of the cave to enjoy these long spring days. The roadtrip described below is best suited for this particular time of year. The Skagit Valley is painted with tulips, the rivers are bounding with runoff, and the mountains are capped with snow. It’s a beautiful time of year for a weekend getaway, so let’s get going and hit what we call the Northern Beer and Tulip Loop.
We will start in Seattle on a Saturday morning, since Seattle is where the majority of people reading this blog reside. You will want to hit the road at about 10:00 A.M., depending on your exact starting point. Your first stop is Birdsview Brewing in Concrete, WA – approximately 2 hours away from downtown Seattle. Birdsview Brewing does not open until noon.
Head north on I-5 to Burlington and then head east on Highway 20 for approximately 21 miles. As you head up the Skagit River keep an eye out for a diamond-shaped caution sign that says, “Beer Crossing.” Look for the sign about 400 yards east of Memory Lane. If you get to the intersection with Baker Lake Road, you’ve gone too far.
Birdsview Brewing – This could be your lunch destination. Your next stop is just over an hour away. If you eat at Birdsview Brewing, the hamburgers are absolutely delicious. Only the most dedicated Washington beer adventurers have made it this far up the Skagit River. Leave Birdsview Brewing knowing that you are a rare breed. (Read our profile of Birdsview Brewing.)
Alternate Route: To skip the I-5 doldrums and get into the hills, take the Mountain Loop Highway. This will add approximately 30 minutes to your drive time but offers a lovely, two-lane alternate route. From I-5 northbound, take exit 208 and follow the signs for Highway 530 East, following Highway 530 45 miles to the intersection with Highway 20. Turn left and head west. You will approach Birdsview Brewing from the east. You will find the brewery and pub 0.8 miles west of Baker Lake Road.
North Fork Brewing – Next, we’ll head north to North Fork Brewing (a.k.a. the Beer Shrine). From Birdsview Brewing, head west on Highway 20 for approximately 15 miles. Turn right onto Highway 9 and head north. After 22 miles, turn right on Highway 542 and head east towards Glacier and Mt. Baker. After 6 miles, start looking for the Beer Shrine on your left. It’s hard to miss if you’re looking. When you get to the fish hatchery (Hatchery Rd.) you have gone too far.
Like Birdsview Brewing, only the most dedicated beer trekkers have visited North Fork Brewing. The idea of calling it a beer shrine arose from a need to get passersby to slow down and notice that something was there to see. It worked. More than a kitschy name, you can get hitched at the beer shrine. They have a legally ordained officiant on site to perform the wedding service.
The beers here are rock solid. Like Birdsview, distribution really isn’t part of their business model. This aint no downstream beer. They don’t even make it out to beer festivals. We were particularly fond of the ESB, which we later learned was a crowd favorite. The crowd, by the way, is often on their way home from the mountains. In the winter, expect to see the parking lot full of cars topped with ski racks. In the summer, expect to see backpacks and kayaks. (Read our profile of North Fork Brewing.)
The next stop on your tour is Bellingham, where there are two breweries and one outstanding beer bar to visit. If you’ve stayed on schedule you will be rolling into Bellingham in the late afternoon—a good time check into your hotel/motel if you plan to spend the night (and we think you should). Take a nap. Let your designated driver finally crack into one of those growlers you filled earlier in the day. Relax for a bit and get ready to hit the town. We’ve provide some lodging options at the end of the story.
You should eat dinner at one of the breweries. They both have excellent food. You’ll have to decide which kind of beer you want to drink with your dinner. Chuckanut makes fabulous German-style lagers and Boundary Bay brews up some of the Northwest’s best ales. We recommend the food, as well as the beer, at either.
Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro – Boundary Bay is more than a restaurant, bar and brewery, it is an integral part of the community. They recently sponsored (and hosted) the first-ever Bellingham St. Patrick’s Day Parade and are deeply involved with the upcoming April Brews Day beer festival, which happens right across the street. Great beer, great food and a great vibe.
Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen – They’re new to the Bellingham scene, having opened less than two years ago. As we reported in October, Chuckanut hauled in some serious hardware at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. While most savvy beer travelers have been to Boundary Bay, significantly fewer have been to Chuckanut.
The Green Frog Cafe Acoustic Tavern — Catch a show, if you can. At the Green Frog they do live music and craft beer. And they do them both very, very well. You will find an exceedingly well-selected choice of beers. The Green Frog has a reputation for attracting musical talent that makes much larger venues green with envy. At the Green Frog, people don’t play pool or darts, they play guitar. There is a wall of acoustic guitars waiting for you and you are welcome to take one down and serenade the crowd (as long as nobody is performing on stage, that is).
Hit the Green Frog before the crowd and you might be lucky enough to land a seat at the bar, where the bar stools are fashioned out of tractor seats. A farmer’s butt often spends all day sitting on a tractor; therefore, a great deal of engineering effort goes into the design of tractor seats. Since farmers and beer drinkers often have similarly proportioned derrieres, tractor seats work exceedingly well for long bouts of beer drinking. I speak from experience.
After you’ve checked out of your hotel, find breakfast. It won’t be hard. Bellingham has a lot of great breakfast spots. We recommend heading towards the Fairhaven district for breakfast, since that’s the direction you’ll headed anyway. At the end of this story we list some options in the Tips/Suggestions section.
From Bellingham, head south on Chuckanut Drive – Highway 11. Arguably one of the most scenic drives in the state, Chuckanut Drive is a great way to get to the Skagit Valley from Bellingham. This winding road hugs the shore along Chuckanut Mountain. For you geologists, “Chuckanut” actually refers to a range of mountains—a range that is within the Cascade Mountains and is the only place where the Cascade Mountains come far enough west to meet the sea.
As if that geological factoid isn’t enough useless knowledge, you should know that during prohibition this route was particularly dangerous after dark, when bootleggers ruled the road, protecting the coves and beaches where clandestine shipments of booze frequently arrived from nearby Canada.
Eventually Chuckanut Drive straightens out. You have now hit the northern edge of the Skagit Valley. Instead of giving you an itinerary, we’ll just give you suggestions and let you find your own way. We will, however, present these suggestions as a path. It isn’t likely you’ll be able to make it to all of these places, but you can try.
The Breadfarm – From Chuckanut Drive (Highway 11), go west on Bow Hill Road. Not only will this lead you to the Breadfarm, it is the route to Anacortes and LaConner. To make bread, you need grains and yeast. Sound familiar?
After leaving Chuckanut Drive you will quickly enter the small, charming burg of Edison. In the heart of downtown (it’s tiny) you’ll find the Breadfarm Bakery. This is an amazing bakery, but don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.
From the Breadfarm, continue through town and follow Bayview-Edison Road. It will take you through farm lands and wet lands before intersecting with Highway 20. From this intersection, go straight across the highway to LaConner and the tulip fields, or turn right and head for Anacortes.
Anacortes Brewery/Rock Fish Grill – Located in the heart of old downtown Anacortes and you likely will not have to fight a crowd here on a Sunday afternoon. They have a wide variety of beers for you to sample. The menu is diverse as well, but I always end up getting the pizza.
LaConner Brewing – This time of year, downtown LaConner can be a bit of a mad house. Don’t let that frighten you. It’s small and easily navigated on foot. At the brewpub, expect to find LaConner’s regular line up of beers, perhaps a seasonal selection or two, and very tasty wood fired pizza.
Tulips – I don’t need to tell you how to find these. You’ll see them on your way to Mt. Vernon, the next and final stop on our tour.
Skagit River Brewery – Many of us are familiar with Skagit Brewing’s Sculler’s IPA, but they have many more selections that are less familiar to us southerners. Consider trying a DelRio Lager, a surprisingly tasty “light” craft beer. Wood-fired pizza seems to be a theme in this neck of the woods, but consider trying their cherry wood smoked ribs. Want a real treat? Order up a Pub Burger, cooked on a cast iron grill in the wood-fired oven.
The Porterhouse – Maybe you want a wider selection of beer. Maybe you’ve had enough with breweries for the weekend. For beer geeks, the Porterhouse cannot be missed when you’re in Mount Vernon. Like their newer, sister pub in West Seattle, the Porterhouse in Mount Vernon has a delicious menu and an extremely well thought-out tap list.
It’s late in the day now. You’ve had quite a weekend. Your belly is full. Hopefully you’ve filled a couple growlers for your designated driver and your friends back home. There’s nothing left to do but jump back on I-5 and head south. Thank your designated driver kindly, tip your servers generously, and tell them all that the Blog sent you.
Lodging in Bellingham:
Hotel Bellweather – This is kind of fancy, but not really. It’s not the Motel 6, but it’s not the Four Seasons either. It’s down by the marina on Bellingham Bay – About .5 miles (or less) from Chuckanut, about .75 miles from Boundary Bay. http://www.hotelbellwether.com
Coachman Inn Motel – This is your budget option. It is highly rated on tripadvisor.com. You won’t be overly impressed, but you will not be disappointed either. It is about 1.2 miles from Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro. About 1.5 miles from Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen. http://www.coachmaninnmotel.com
Breakfast on the way out of Bellingham:
Harris Ave. Cafe – Like we said, a very solid breakfast. This place is connected to Tony’s coffee. http://www.yelp.com/biz/harris-avenue-cafe-bellingham
Skylark’s Hidden Cafe – Very tasty. The portions are not skimpy. Enough said. http://www.skylarkshiddencafe.com
Chuckanut Manor – If you can hold off for a little bit, the Chuckanut Manor (approximately 20-30 minutes south of Bellingham on Chuckanut Drive) has a lovely Sunday brunch. http://www.chuckanutmanor.com