written by Gina Williams | featured photo by Gina Williams
Each April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival draws thousands of visitors to Mt. Vernon. But the perfect weekend getaway lies 10 miles west in La Conner, a delightful town that’s worth extending your trip to northern Washington for.
Some visitors, like novelist Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker and Tibetan Peach Pie) couldn’t get enough of La Conner and put down permanent roots while the town was still finding its stride. He moved to the farming, fishing & steamship hub-turned bohemian arts community in 1970.
Sybil Jenson’s roots go much deeper, but even she left for a time and returned. Her mother was born in La Conner’s Gaches Mansion, the restored Victorian home that now houses the renowned Pacific Northwest Quilts and Fiber Arts Museum where Jenson is a member of the staff. From 1905 to 1909 Dr. E.G. Howe used the mansion as Skagit County’s first hospital and, during that time, many of the area’s pioneers were born there.
Jenson said La Conner’s charm and strong sense of community drew her back, and she’s more proud all the time as the city continues to thrive.
Original Farm & Sea to Table Destination
Situated 90 minutes north of Seattle in the lush Skagit Valley on the delta near the mouth of the Skagit River, La Conner’s culinary heritage began with the original residents, the Swinomish people, who have harvested traditional foods like salmon, clams and crab in the region for thousands of years.
Settlers later built dikes throughout the delta, resulting in what is now hundreds of acres of rich farmland famous for produce and spring blooms. And people aren’t the only beneficiaries. The area, known for both agriculture and conservation, is also an important winter flyway, attracting thousands of snow geese and tundra swans during winter months.
Now, restaurants like Nell Thorn Waterfront Bistro & Bar offer a destination dining experience, serving up fresh Northwest delicacies such as Lopez Island surf smelt and Samish Bay oysters, Wenatchee raised pork and organic pasta with Chelan morels.
Owners Casey and Susan Schanen, a husband and wife chef team, opened the restaurant on La Conner’s main thoroughfare, 1st St., with a dining room and patio facing the town’s colorful, meandering waterfront boardwalk, in 2001.
The couple coined the phrase, “Well Fed Farms” with the goal of supporting local farms that produce “good food; meat and produce that is healthy, clean, delicious and grown with care.”
Hike, Bike, Boat, Board
From the extensive trail system at nearby Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island to in-town bike and kayak rentals, there’s no lack of recreational opportunities year-round.
La Conner has three marinas and several kayak and stand up paddle (SUP) board rental locations, including La Conner Paddle Hut and La Conner Kayaks, which also rents beach cruiser bikes.
The pros at La Conner Kayak can help plan routes and provide tips on tides and other safety considerations for Skagit Valley waterways.
Art at the Heart
Liz Theaker is development director of MoNA, La Conner’s only free museum—the spacious, light-filled Museum of Northwest Art. She settled in the city twelve years ago.
Theaker said she loves the area’s rich, natural beauty and laid-back, art-at-the-heart vibe.
“It’s art-centered, it’s funky, and it’s a great mix of lifelong residents and transplants like me,” Theaker said. “It’s also full of wonderful local farms, farmers, and people who fish, which makes for fantastic dining year-round.”
For more things to do in La Conner, visit the La Conner Chamber of Commerce.