La Conner, Washington - A Day Trip
Activity:It was October 2nd, the kids were off school and it was a beautiful sunny day. We had the world at our fingertips. We piled in the mini-van and set off for our destination--La Conner, a charming little American town about 90 miles south from Vancouver. It was founded in the 1860's, making it the oldest town in Skagit County. La Conner has a number of Victorian-era buildings still in use--Gaches Mansion the "finest house" in town is one.
Over the years La Conner has earned the reputation of being "The Best Tiny Town in Western Washington." The number of people living there is a testimonial to that--775. Many of these are writers, crafters and artisans like Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, and Mark Tobey were lured by La Conner's natural beauty and serene pace. You can see their work at The Museum of Northwest Art (121 S. 1st St., La Conner) if you're interested.
Why do we like La Conner (because to be honest with you, it's not a big draw for kids). We go for the pumpkins and the flowers. Every April La Conner hosts the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This boasts more than 30 fun, family events, food, music, art, tours, centred on 1,500 acres of spring flowers. Oh, I almost forgot to include the display gardens, tulip museum, salmon barbecue, picnics amongst the blossoms, and sporting events. The publicity person may have gotten a little carried away with this description, because all we ever see is fields of tulips and daffodils.
The flowers alone are worth the trip. Just imagine carpets of bright yellow, pink, red, and white flowers for as far as your eyes can see. Apparently La Conner is home to a multi-million dollar bulb industry. It grows 73% of Western Washington's commercial bulbs. A good place to buy bulbs is Roozengaarde Flowers & Bulbs (15867 Beaver Marsh Rd.) just outside of La Conner, which also has a beautiful display of flowers and a windmill that works. If you're looking for seeds, try Tillinghast (623 Morris St., La Conner), a seed company open since 1890, which makes it the oldest continuous business in the county.
I enjoy the pumpkin season more--it's not as busy and the autumn colours are outstanding.
How do you get to La Conner? You follow the same route as our activity for a Sunday Drive to Historic Fairhaven and Chuckanut Dr. - Bellingham, Washington, except you keep going after Chuckanut drive for another 20 minutes or so to La Conner. Here's the route we take: We usually take the Aldergrove border crossing and drive through Lynden. Be sure to keep an eye out for the elephants at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, and if you've never been to Lynden before, try to fit it in. It's a small Dutch town with a beautiful windmill and not a scrap of garbage. You can spend hours browsing through shops with Dutch kitchen wares, clothes, and curios. As you drive through the countryside roll up your windows, the scenery is outstanding, but the smell can be bad. Once we drove past a sprinkler spewing out what we all agreed was the foulest smell we'd ever encountered. Also, see if you're kids can find the Statue of Liberty. On the south side of the Ebineezer Christian School on the east side of the road you'll see a mini Statue of Liberty proudly standing atop a dirt mound in somebody's cow field.
On this particular trip we did something different: we went to Western Washington University. Apparently they have some outdoor sculptures worth seeing. What we didn't know is the sculptures are located all over the campus, and we didn't have the time to go hunting for them. Another stop you could make is at Bellis Fair Mall. We try to avoid this now because Jen can't walk into a store without finding a million things she can't live without.
Another stop we've gotten into the habit of making is at historic Fairhaven district in Bellingham. Usually we have lunch at The Colophon Cafe, but this time we skipped it and had a picnic lunch at Poe's Point Marine Park. It's a small oceanside park next to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven. The kids enjoyed throwing rocks in the water and we saved ourselves about forty bucks for lunch.
Instead of going back onto the freeway we like to take the Chuckanut drive route to La Conner. It has several view point stops, plus Larabee State park has a picturesque trail winding along an ocean cliff. Chuckanut drive has a lot of bends in it, so if you're prone to car sickness I don't recommend it. You'll know when the drive is over when the road straightens out onto a flat delta area. We turned right on West Bow Hill Road because my good old husband wanted to check out the town of Edison. Town, what town? Edison is the only place I've even been to with a barn on Main Street.
After seeing Edison we had enough of pit stops and headed for La Conner by taking 'Farm to Market' Road out of Edison. We saw a number of big pumpkin fields along the way. Jen was trying to figure out where Charlie Brown's pumpkin lived. Before we knew it we were in La Conner and sauntering up First Street. Jen and Nathe were hot on buying a beanie baby. You're best bets for kids' toys are Bear & Friends or a small toy store on the other side of the street. My favourite places are Wyman Park, a gift shop; the Calico Cupboard, one of the best breakfast/lunch restaurants I've ever been to; and Bunnies on the Bay. Bunnies on the Bay is one of those stores you could spend hours looking in, but hardly ever buy anything at. The owners collection of costumed bunny dolls is captivating--and expensive. Plus she has hundreds of gift ideas and home charm pieces you'd love to take back with you. Kelvin got a kick out of the ice-cream shop that looked like a lighthouse, and he always makes a point of going inside Nasty Jack's, an antique shop. Nasty Jack's attracted our attention years ago with its brown vinyl armchair built for a giant. It also has the biggest collection of bottle caps I've ever seen.
By about 5:00 PM we were ready to go home. If you have more time and money, you could always stay overnight. We usually stay at the La Conner Country Inn (they don't mind kids), but a room will run you about $120 American dollars a night. The nice thing about staying is that you can take in some of the other small towns nearby. We've been to Mt. Vernon, Anacortes, Deception Pass, Whidbey Island, and Coupeville--all worth seeing.
As it was, we were home getting ready for bed at about 9:00 pm, and that includes the hour and a half we spent driving around Langley looking for a place to eat. Actually as we were driving through Langley, we stumbled across two things none of us had ever seen before. One of these was hot air balloons. They were so close to the ground we actually saw the fire from the tank used to keep it afloat. The other was a vintage A & W, complete with car hop service, mama, papa, and baby burgers, and as Nathe called it, the "coolest bunch of old cars" he'd ever seen. The kids went to bed tired and happy, and we stayed up to have a glass of wine and watch a video.
Age group:All ages
Expense rating:About $5 - $10 per person to cover gas and ice cream cones in La Conner.
:If you like history, La Conner is full of historical buildings, if you like shopping La Conner has antique, knick-knack, and speciality stores galore, and if you like gardening there's fields and fields of beautiful tulips (April).
:The Canadian "loonie" doesn't go very far south of the 49th parallel. Sometimes the border line ups can be long.
Details:La Conner, Washington is about 90 miles from downtown Vancouver. You can get to La Conner by following the slower but more scenic route Chuckanut Drive, which we prefer; or you can race down highway 99 from Vancouver, to the Peace Arch border crossing, and down the Interstate 5 freeway and take exit 230 (Burlington, Anacortes) and follow the signs to La Conner. Website: www.tulipfestival.org, www.laconnerchamber.com
Area:Bellingham, Washington (actually La Conner is south of Bellingham about 35 minutes away.)
Educational highlights:La Conner started out as a trading post soon after the US Civil War. The post was purchased in 1869 by John Conner who named the post L.A. Conner in honour of his wife Louisa Ann Connor. La Conner is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.
Fun for the adult?:This day trip has something for everyone: beautiful scenery, fields of flowers, shopping, history, and more.