Every April, the fertile, sprawling fields of Washington's Skagit Valley erupt in a riot of multicolored bloom. First come yellow and white daffodils, followed by hundreds of acres of tulips, then an iris finale. Visitors determined enough to attend the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival—four weeks (April 1-30) of flowers, street fairs, and, on weekends, long lines of cars inching from farm to farm—participate in a springtime ritual that's as integral to western Washington life as rain. While a half-million flower-peepers tiptoe through the tulips during the festivities, it's much more enjoyable to spend a weekend in the Skagit (rhymes with gadget) just before or after the season peaks. You'll share farm roads with tractors, not traffic, and have the sleepy streets of the valley's hamlets practically to yourself.
Sixty miles north of Seattle, stretching from Puget Sound to the Cascades, the Skagit Valley is a broad swath of alluvial farmland anchored by a half-dozen small towns. The country's biggest tulip growers—thanks to the mild, maritime climate—are in the middle of the valley, between Mount Vernon and La Conner. The latter, a coastal community with just 775 residents, is an ideal weekend base: it has many inns and a restored waterfront lined with shops and restaurants, and it's just minutes away from the brightest fields around.
Where to Stay
La Conner Channel Lodge It's just a two-block walk from the town center, on the Swinomish Channel waterfront, but the 40-room lodge feels completely isolated. Craftsman details are visible throughout, from the large stone fireplace to the willow chairs. In the backyard, garden tables are set for morning coffee. 205 N. First St., La Conner; 888/466-4113 or 360/466-1500; www.laconnerlodging.com; doubles from $130.
Estep Residence If you like the idea of having your own place in the middle of town, consider this immaculate 850-square-foot garage-top apartment on La Conner's main drag. The view—ships on the Swinomish Channel, seagulls gliding overhead—and the roomy interiors make up for the uninspired décor. 610 First St., La Conner; 206/669-2447; www.estep-properties.com; from $135.
La Conner Country Inn It's essentially a dressed-up motel: brass beds with floral spreads, gas fireplaces in brick mantels, knotty-pine cathedral ceilings, and large (if slightly dated) rooms. Still, families can spread out here—and walk to the main street in minutes. 107 S. Second St., La Conner; 888/466-4113 or 360/466-3101; www.laconnerlodging.com; doubles from $89.
La Conner Maison Guest House Score your own light-flooded pied-à-terre by booking this comfortable apartment on a leafy neighborhood lane. Owner Carol Whited has filled the rooms with an eclectic mix of furniture from Skagit antiques shops; she even designed the well-stocked vintage kitchen around a 1920's electric stove. A breakfast of fresh fruit and baked goods is provided on your first morning; from then on, Carol can direct you to the farmers' markets for cooking ingredients. 512 Centre St., La Conner; 866/552-5526 or 360/391-0506; www.laconnermaison.com; $140.
Wild Iris The 19 rooms in this Victorian won't knock your socks off, but the inn does have a major draw: Le Jardin, one of the region's best restaurants. A full breakfast—created with whatever's fresh that morning—comes with an overnight stay, and that alone makes sleeping here worth it. 121 Maple Ave., La Conner; 360/466-1400; www.wildiris.com; doubles from $109.
White Swan Guest House The 1898 Queen Anne-style farmhouse has three guest rooms with brass beds and quilts; a sunny one-bedroom cottage out back has floor-to-ceiling windows, a kitchen, and a deck overlooking the fields. Beds of delphinium and larkspur cover the grounds. 15872 Moore Rd., Mount Vernon; 360/445-6805; www.thewhiteswan.com; doubles from $80, cottage from $134.