Northwest Yachting April 2017

Page 88

P RTS OF CALL By Norris Comer A visit to charming La Conner, Washington on a sunny spring day is surely one of the great annual treats that spoil Pacific Northwest boaters. Located on the north-south running Swinomish Channel that connects Skagit Bay to Padilla Bay (thus circumventing Deception Pass), La Conner is not only a delight to visit, but also strategically within striking distance of Anacortes and the San Juan Islands up north, as well as the Seattle metropolis to the south. The small town is tucked in between farmlands to the east and the Swinomish Tribe Reservation on the other side of the channel to the west. Throw in the influence of a lively community of artists and the preservation of historic buildings, and La Conner as we know it starts to make a lot of sense as a one-of-a-kind destination. A key aspect to appreciating La Conner is the town’s affinity for the seasons. Perhaps nowhere else does the time of year play such a central role to a community’s identity. When we visited in the spring, the locally celebrated snow geese were flocking in the thousands in farmlands just a few miles out of town, in a display that rivaled anything out of National Geographic. The fields of daffodils were in bloom, and the matching bicyclists in daffodil-themed attire pedaled past in downtown proper. Bikers, complete with leather jackets and fingerless gloves, enjoying the newfound sun thundered down the streets, fresh off the road from the first ride of the season. Farm-to-plate restaurants featured spring salmon while talk buzzed about the upcoming Tulip Parade. The seasons, so dramatic and temporal in nature, are what make visits to La Conner a new discovery every time. Navigating the Swinomish Channel will be the biggest challenge with regards to entering La Conner from the water. The Port of Skagit has a few helpful tips on their website (, and they advise to exercise caution on the south end of the channel. When running during low tides at the south end, it is advised to favor the east side of the channel, along a rock wall breakwater. The western two-thirds of the southern end is reportedly very shallow from sediments deposited by the Skagit River. Slack water occurs two and a half to four hours after high or low tide. The current flows north from two and a half to four hours before and after the highest tide. Conversely, the current flows south two and a half to four hours before and after the lowest tide. The most likely moorage option is the publicly operated La Conner Marina (see details below). Dockside moorage along the Channel Passage walkway is available on a first come, first served basis, and more details are available at the



Waterfront Walk A stroll along Channel Passage, the name of the waterfront path that runs parallel between 1st Street and the Swinomish Channel, is the quintessential dose of La Conner. A clear, sunny day invites boats to play, and the parade of both commercial and recreational vessels passing under the Rainbow Bridge to the south invokes Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Sailboats drift idle from floating docks and couples enjoy meals al fresco at this pint-sized Venice of the Pacific Northwest. John Wayne’s iconic 76-foot yacht Norwester has been renovated and turned into a museum along the causeway to add some Hollywood flair. The cedar pavilions, built to resemble the traditional cedar hats of the Swinomish Tribe, sit just across the channel on reservation land. The whole experience is rather dreamlike, especially on a warm spring day.

Art, Crafts, and Mandles La Conner is positively loaded with art galleries and quirky, crafty shops. After all, the town is a genuine artist community, and if you’re in search of paintings for the house or jewelry for the spouse, a walk down 1st Street is a good place to get started. For visitors looking for fun, less serious souvenirs, 1st Street is also a good place to explore. The Reclamation Candle Company notably was selling “Mandles - Man Candles” for those who just love the smell of Bacon, Pipe Tobacco, or Monkey Farts (something with bananas, we presume?). Regardless, whether you’re looking for fine art or fun sundries, La Conner is a Mecca.

Vintage Flair One lovely aspect of La Conner is that the community embraces its identity, which is visible throughout town with locallythemed museums and historical markers. There are not many places that have both a Volunteer Fire Fighter Museum and Quilt & Textile Museum (the latter housed within the historic Gaches Mansion, no less) just a short walk from each other. The Museum of Northwest Art, MoNA, and the Skagit County Historical Museum are also highlights for those interested in history and art. Registered historic markers abound, like the meat market square that is now a relaxing space complete with Buddha garden. Vintage shops, while not strictly historically relevant, strike home the theme. Decades past seem to come alive in unexpected places.

Seasonal Flavors It’s wise to keep the season in mind when one plans a visit to La Conner, for the time of year inexorably influences the experience. For example, the silent nights of winter are spruced up with lighted ship parades and winter festivities. Add in the many localingredients establishments like Seeds Bistro and Bar, and the season becomes the literal flavor of the visit. I’ll always think of La Conner as a springtime destination, complete with the locally grown flowers of April’s Tulip Parade and Daffodil Festival celebrations. If one can somehow get out into the country a bit, thousands of migrating Trumpeter Swans and snow geese in the winter and spring offer a world-class slice of nature.

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