More Than Tulips

Plan a family fun day in the Skagit Valley

Photos by Linda Jenkins

Fun in the Skagit Valley is a year-round activity for my family.

With our young twins, my husband and I have visited the fairgrounds in summer, the farms in fall, the snow geese in winter and, of course, the tulips come springtime. Even before having children, we played, ate and shopped in the Skagit Valley.

We’re not locals. Around here, you need at least three generations and a few dozen cousins nearby to claim anything like that. No; we’re just fans of the Skagit Valley — big fans, with much appreciation for its quiet grace — like how the sky is bigger than anywhere I’ve seen, and the light is a presence that emanates upward from the fields. This valley is something that can make you tingle when you try to describe it.

When I came here from Seattle years ago, I was welcomed with genuine smiles, concern for how I was getting on and deep laughs right from the belly. I owe the Skagit Valley for teaching me something about myself — that I love hard-working people, small towns and the Northwest.

So now — you’re coming to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival like thousands of other people. You’re bringing kids, babies and grandparents. I know you’re excited to take those cheerful family photos set against a paint box of colorful blooms. They’ll be beautiful. But let’s not miss the rest of the family fun nearby.

If I were to welcome you to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, in the same way that I was welcomed, here’s what we’d do:

Kites at Tulip Town

Kites at Tulip Town

First, the tulips

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a celebration of agriculture in the Skagit Valley, showcasing millions of flowers in fields planted along the tulip route, which stretches west from I-5 in Mount Vernon to the elegant coastal town of La Conner. To find the best flower fields, get a tulip route map and updated information online. Visit the Tulip Festival office for more info and to enter the fun daily giveaways (311 W. Kincaid St., Mount Vernon).

When you’re driving here, be sure to come with your patience. It’s a small agricultural community that grows by a few hundred thousand people for one month. Everyone on the roads wants the same thing — to see those miles of tulip fields, get gorgeous pictures and be able to stop somewhere and appreciate it all. The best tip you’ll get is to arrive early or on a weekday.

To me, the easiest way for families to see the tulips is at the two display gardens. Both Tulip Town (15002 Bradshaw Road, Mount Vernon) and Roozengaarde (15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon) offer parking and acres of well-maintained flowers to photograph.

At Tulip Town, take a moment at the Veterans Garden to honor fallen heroes and catch a kite demonstration in the field. The Peace Summit Garden is beautiful with all of its flags. The kids will be asking for a ride on the blue trolley, and parents may love it too if it’s muddy on your visit. At Roozengaarde, the star of the show is the stunning display garden, a masterpiece of garden design and nature’s beauty. Admission to the display garden also gets you parking at Roozengaarde’s many fields along the tulip route.

There are so many Tulip Festival shows and activities, with favorites coming back year after year. The Kiwanis Club hosts a daily feast of wild salmon barbecued over alder at Hillcrest Park Lodge. The Tulip Run is a fun way to build up an appetite for the Skagit Valley’s great meal options. I may be married to my husband today because of the fun we had at the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair. It’s held along First Street, with food, crafts, activities and local music to enjoy.

The Tulip Festival runs April 1—30, but event dates change each year (blooms are on Mother’s Nature schedule), so check online. The website and brochure are incredibly helpful.

A hearty meal and dessert

After a visit to the tulip fields, it’s time to grab a great meal for the family. In the Skagit Valley, you’ll find hearty farm-fresh food, with an eye to tradition and warm hospitality. Some of my family’s favorite places include brunch at Calico Cupboard Café and Bakery (three locations, including 121-B Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon). Try the scrambles, cinnamon roll French toast, or anything out of the tempting pastry case. There’s a good variety of freshly-prepared gluten-free options, too.

I love to stroll through the organic local produce and other food at Skagit Valley Food Co-op (202 S. First St., Mount Vernon). You can grab picnic fare or sit down for a soup, salad and smoothie lunch in the co-op’s bright and open deli.

If pizza is a family staple like it is for us, head to Pacioni’s (606 S. First St., Mount Vernon), where you’ll find hand-crafted pizza and paninis. Don’t miss the fun 1950s feel at Big Scoop Sundae Palace (327 E. College Way, Mount Vernon). Friendly staff serves up ice-cream parlor favorites like banana splits and brownie sundaes. For elegant, handmade chocolate, linger at Forté Chocolates (700 S. First St., Mount Vernon). Sample innovative flavors, including a bar made especially for the Tulip Festival.

La Conner is a pretty, relaxed coastal town. Among the many galleries and boutiques, you can eat well at a number of restaurants. La Conner will be busy during the Tulip Festival, so make a reservation at Nell Thorn Waterfront Bistro (116 S. First St., La Conner). The kids have a menu of their own, including the always-appealing Nell Thorn burgers, and grown-ups can decide from the ever-changing selection of locally sourced, innovative Northwest dishes. Try Seeds Bistro (623 Morris St., La Conner) for a fresh, seasonal menu using ingredients from the Skagit Valley’s farmers.

Downtown Mount Vernon

Downtown Mount Vernon

Shop local

The Skagit Valley makes it easy to shop local. At Kids Stuff Toy Store (408 S. First St., Mount Vernon), you’ll find all the kids’ favorites, with a great selection of timeless, quality toys. If you have a baby, your precious bundle will be outgrowing those clothes in a blink, so head to Sprouts Children’s Clothing (410 S. First St., Mount Vernon) for gently used clothes and gear.

For the home, pop in to Re-Feather Your Nest (three locations, including 121-A Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon) for repurposed furniture, painted vintage pieces and one-of-a-kind handmade décor and accents. If I had the time, I’d spend a day lost in the tall, orderly stacks at Easton’s Books (701 S. First St., Mount Vernon).

It’s hard to leave La Conner without a treasured something. Head to Bears ’N Friends (509 First St., La Conner). If the kids are with you, you’ll be leaving with a teddy bear or two. With older kids and teens, Nasty Jack’s Antiques (103 Morris St., La Conner) is fun to stroll through for nostalgic, witty home accents and antiques.

Active family fun

You’ve gotten some great tulip photos and fed the family a hearty meal. It’s time to get the kids some active play time to make the drive home more pleasant for all. My kids think of the Skagit Valley most often as the place where they go to play. If you have time for just one stop, go straight to Jungle Playland (2901 Martin Road, Mount Vernon). It’s a locals’ favorite, with a huge indoor play structure sporting a slide, a ball pit and arcade games.

If you have young kids, the Children’s Museum of Skagit County (550 Cascade Mall Dr., Burlington) is a great choice. Competitive families can skate off that ice-cream lunch at Skagit Skate (390 Cedar St., Burlington). If your family enjoys beautiful trails and wildlife, head to the Padilla Bay Shore Trail (11404 Bay View-Edison Road, Mount Vernon). Or take a stroll along the wide, paved Skagit Riverwalk in downtown Mount Vernon before heading back home.

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