Updated: Jan 12, 2022
This article is part of a four-part series. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE START OF THE SERIES.
La Conner -- The city of La Conner, located on the Swinomish Channel about 10 miles from Mount Vernon, is perhaps the most tourist-oriented town in Skagit County. When you get there, park the car and browse the old buildings -- the antique shops, art galleries, coffee houses, restaurants, and bakeries -- that are all jammed into a tiny, very walkable downtown area. During the Tulip Festival in April, La Conner looks like a popular beachfront tourist community with standing traffic, cyclists, mobs of pedestrians, full parking lots and sidewalk food vendors. La Conner cannot help but be charming, especially after the Tulip Festival crowds have departed. Life moves a little more slowly there. Though it is just an hour north of Seattle, once you step out of your car and begin strolling down the main street, you immediately lose yourself in the tranquility and chill vibe of La Conner. Rainbow Bridge completes the town's aesthetic at the south end of town -- step back from the main street behind the buildings that line the waterway to capture some stunning shots of the town, waterway and bridge.
Beacon Rock -- Standing at 848 feet, Beacon Rock really jumps out at you as you drive along SR 14. It is what remains, after eons of erosion, of an ancient volcanic core. It is the largest monolith in North America, and the second largest in the world after Gibraltar. It was named by Lewis and Clark in 1805 because it was a "beacon" informing river travelers that there were no further obstructions in the river from that point on to the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles away. Today, a one-mile trail will take you up to the summit with spectacular views of the Gorge along the way. In places, the trail boasts a 15% grade, but handrails make the hiking both easier and safer. You probably won't need much help finding it, but start heading east out on SR 14 from Vancouver, Washington and you'll get there in about 35 miles.
Future of Flight Museum -- The largest employer in Snohomish County is Boeing, by far, with some 30,000 jobs lighting up the local economy. So it may come as no surprise that it was in Snohomish County where they decided to construct the Future of Flight Museum. The museum was opened in 2005 and is the starting point for the Boeing Tour. The museum is fascinating for both aviation buffs and the curious-minded. You'll learn all about how the Boeing jets are built and what projects are currently in the works. Note that the Boeing Tour is currently closed, but the museum is open.
General admission to the museum includes: (1) The Gallery -- the newest exhibit that features over 150 current and future Boeing products and services. It also includes the following exhibits: Above and Beyond, the Destiny Module, and Drones and Robotics experiences; and (2) The Sky Deck which offers panoramic views of Paine Field, the Boeing Everett Factory, and the North Cascades mountain range. Enjoy front row access of daily flight operations activity that includes private aircraft, commercial flights, and testing of our newest airplanes.
Admission to the museum is $12 for adults (16+), $6 for children (6-15), $10 for seniors (65+) and military and Boeing employees (with ID), and free to children under the age of 6. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). The address of the facility is 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Mukilteo, WA 98275.
The Town of Snohomish -- Snohomish is a small and charming town, considered one of the most beautiful in Washington state and often referred to as the "Antique Capital of the Northwest." The heart of the town, the Snohomish Historic District, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many houses bear a plaque with the year it was built and the name of the original residents. Some are left intact and some are beautifully renovated and are now homes to B&Bs, cozy eateries, antique shops and trendy bars. One of my favorite places to eat there is the Cabbage Patch -- a restaurant with excellent food and desserts, operating inside one of the city’s original houses. There is also a Harley-Davidson shop, a fun bikers’ bar, a coffee roaster, wine tasting bars, a distillery and much more. There are festivals year around, a vintage cars parade, a hot air balloon festival, riverside candlelight walk, a wine tasting walk, a sidewalk sale and much more.
You can easily get to Snohomish from Interstate 5. When you get to Everett, take exit 194 to connect with US 2 heading east. Snohomish is just a short 10-mile drive away.
The Outback Kangaroo Farm -- Located on SR 530, about two miles east of the town of Arlington, is a unique wildlife park where you can come face to face with kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos and lemurs. Guided tours will introduce you to a wide variety of animals, including emus, llamas, alpacas, goats, mini donkeys, rabbits, peacocks, turkeys and parrots. The guides will give you pellets that you can feed to some of the animals. They will even challenge you to simulate a "kiss" by placing the pellet between your lips and allowing the animal to take it from you. The farm is open from March through October (Thursdays through Sundays) and tours operate every two hours, starting at 10 a.m. with the last tour scheduled for 4 p.m. Tour last just 40 minutes. Admission is $15 for children ages 2-11, $25 for adults 12-64, and $10 for seniors 65+.
Riverfront Park -- Few cities can claim to have a scenic waterfall running through its downtown core, but Spokane is the exception. The Spokane River cascades over a series of cataracts right through Riverfront Park on both the upper and lower falls section. The park is a sprawling complex of 100 well-manicured acres with several bridges to transport you over the river from one bank to the other. The land occupied by the park today originally hosted pavilions for the Expo '74 World's Fair, so when the fair concluded, the land was repurposed as a public park space for the enjoyment of all.
You can get phenomenal views of the Spokane skyline from the Pavilion's sky bridge, or even take a ride on one of the purple gondolas directly over the roaring lower Spokane Falls. Riverfront Park is adjacent to the Spokane Convention Center and a short walking distance from River Park Square and dozens of restaurants, wineries, breweries, shops, and hotels.
Kettle Falls Historical Center -- Stevens County is tucked up in the northeastern corner of the state, sandwiched between Ferry and Pend Oreille Counties. If you're passing through Kettle Falls on US 395/SR 20, you'll have an opportunity to stop the car and visit the Kettle Falls Historical Center. Though small, it has wonderful exhibits and dioramas depicting what life was like for Native American tribes in the region. There is no admission fee, but they do rely on visitor donations. A $3 donation is recommended for each visitor. They are open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and located at 1188 St. Paul Mission Rd., Kettle Falls, WA 99141.
State Capitol Campus -- Olympia is the capital of Washington State and home to one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the country. The campus was designed in 1911 and based on influences by the Olmstead brothers whose notable commissions included roadways in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite Valley and Acadia National Park in Maine. The Legislative Building -- the grand, domed structure in the center of the campus -- was completed in 1928. The design was influenced heavily by the beaux arts period which drew from Roman and Greek forms. Its dome, at 287 feet, is the tallest self-supporting masonry dome in the United States, and fifth tallest in the world. The Temple of Justice, which houses the state's Supreme Court, and the Governor's Mansion are part of the 12-acre campus. A stroll around the grounds will give you amazing photo ops of the rich, ornate buildings and gardens and memorials surrounding them. The Legislative Building sits on the highest point of land of the campus overlooking Capitol Lake. You can arrange for tours of the Legislative Building or take yourself on a self-guided tour of the public areas inside.
Grays River Covered Bridge -- Wahkiakum County is home to the only operating covered bridge in the state. The county, situated on the Columbia River in the southwest corner of the state, is only accessible along SR 4 either from Longview/Kelso approaching from the east or from the town of Naselle in Pacific County approaching from the west. Wahkiakum County is the smallest county in the state by population, after Garfield County, so towns there are tiny.
Constructed in 1905, the 148-foot Howe truss Grays River Covered Bridge was the first vehicular bridge to span the Grays River. The bridge facilitated transportation of dairy and lumber products from western Wahkiakum County to the community of Grays River, located about 1.5 miles to the west, and to marketing and shipping centers via Grays Bay on the Columbia River to the southwest. The bridge is fairly easy to find, just off SR 4, east of the town of Grays River and down Loop Road. You should see signage for the bridge as you approach it from SR 4.
Walla Walla County
Wine Country Tour -- In recent decades, Walla Walla has gained a reputation as being one of the best wine regions in the country with more than 100 wineries in the county and producing an array of varietals. With so many wineries to choose from, you can either embark on a self-guided tour with your own map, or you can hire a guide to do the work for you. Walla Walla doesn't specialize in one definitive varietal or style. Thanks to a range of soils, elevation, and micro-climates, the area excels at everything from cabernet sauvignon to tempranillo to malbec to merlot. Unlike other wine regions, the Walla Walla wineries are surprisingly affordable with many having no fees for tasting, or minimal fees in the range of $5 to $10. There are plenty of great restaurants in town and lots of options for overnight accommodations.
Chuckanut Drive -- Whatcom County lies at the northern end of the Interstate 5 corridor that runs north-south through Western Washington. It is the last county you pass through before the Canadian border. It is home to the lovely and very livable seaside city of Bellingham, as well as the majestic, snow-covered Mt. Baker. There is also a popular drive running south from the Fairhaven neighborhood in Bellingham all the way south into the Skagit Valley. Chuckanut Drive is something you shouldn't pass up. To say it is a scenic drive doesn't really do it justice. It is a winding, two-lane parkway that clings to the western-facing rugged and rocky palisades just south of Bellingham. Along the drive are several pullouts where you can take in the sweeping and awe-inspiring views of the San Juan Islands and the waterways of Samish and Bellingham Bays. If you take this drive at dusk, on clear days, you will be rewarded with the most spectacular sunsets. The drive is narrow in places with precipitous drops on the west side beyond the barriers, so do mind the speed limit. The entire length of the drive is about 20 miles. If you do have time, you should stop at Larabee State Park and explore the grounds and follow the trails to the beaches below for some amazing views.
Palouse Falls State Park -- The iconic Palouse Falls that has been deemed the official waterfall of Washington State is not to be missed. At the end of the last ice age, repeated glacial floods swept across eastern Washington carving out the unique scablands landscape we see today. Among the coulees, potholes, buttes, and plateaus, Palouse Falls remains as one of the magnificent and lasting remnants of these glacial floods. It is the only major waterfall left along this thousands of years old glacial flood path, and as of February 12, 2014, is Washington's official state waterfall. Standing at a height of 198 feet and surrounded by striking basalt cliffs, the powerful waterfall lies on the Palouse River upstream of the confluence with the Snake River.
To get there from I-90, take the exit for SR 261 at Ritzville and head south for about 45 miles. Note that the campground at the park is currently closed due to COVID concerns.
Yakima Valley Wine Country -- The Yakima Valley is a sprawling expanse of rich farmland, stretching 70 miles from the city of Yakima in the northwest toward the city of Prosser in the southeast. It is home to more than 120 wineries and located along the same line of latitude as France's Burgundy and Bordeaux regions. The Yakima wine country is divided into different "viticultural areas" which include Yakima itself, the areas around the towns of Zillah and Prosser, and the area known as Red Mountain. With the wineries being so spread out, you may want to consider making a two- or three-day adventure out of it, if you're determined to sample most of what's there. Dineen Vineyards in Zillah is one of my personal favorites because not only is the wine excellent, the vineyard has several key characteristics that make it very inviting: (1) the grounds are covered in lush cool grass and accented with colorful gardens that are the perfect antidote to the sometimes blazing Eastern Washington sun; (2) there are shade trees and picnic tables for you to shelter under on hot days; and (3) they have an open air pizza oven where they cook up some of the best-tasting on-demand pies I have sampled -- and they go oh so well with the wine!
. . . Until next time, dear travelers, may all your journeys be safe and rich in experience!