I grew up in certainly one of the prettiest corners of America—the Pacific Northwest—in between Seattle and Vancouver B.C. We try to return every (northern hemisphere) summer to spend time with our family and enjoy the long summer days and endless blue skies.
My childhood home was (still is) in Skagit county, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lakes, bays, rivers and all manner of waterways weaving through every nook and cranny, and evergreen islands beckoning from blue grey waters of Puget Sound. In recent years, cultural and culinary attractions have flourished too, meaning there’s a lot more than natural beauty to my childhood home.
So I’ve compiled a list of my favourite places in the area, from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. It’s a somewhat scattergun collection and for sure there is more to discover than I’ve recorded here. At the very least, I hope this gets you planning a getaway to the PNW. I may be biased, but you’ll have a hard time finding a more gorgeous destination in America. And while it is wet and rainy much of the year, the summers are reliably sunny and extra beautiful as a result.
EDISON: I grew up just down the street from this charming little town, which, in recent years, has become a real destination with its weekly farmers market, tasty cafes, cute shops and notable galleries. It’s tiny (you can literally walk from one end of town to the other in three minutes!), but every shop in town is worth entering. You might pass through this town on your way out to the San Juan Islands or Deception Pass, or perhaps on your way up Chuckanut Drive to Bellingham.
- Mariposa Taqueria — A charming little taco restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. (I believe it’s only opened from Friday to Monday, but best to call before you visit to be sure.)
- The Bread Farm — an artisan bakery with the area’s best breads and a selection of cookies and baked goods.
- Hedgerow Boutique — An absolute gem! This gorgeous little boutique has a selection of beautiful homewares, fashion, jewellery, vintage finds and other lust-worthy knick-nacks. It’s the type of shop you’d find in a trendy Seattle neighbourhood, and yet… it’s in the tiny town of Edison.
- Tweets Cafe – a cute cafe to grab a sandwich.
- Smith & Vallee Gallery – Located in a restored 100-year-old school house, this pretty gallery represents artists from across the Northwest and beyond. They host an exhibition the first Saturday of every month, but remain opened throughout the week.
- The Lucky Dumpster — A quirky shop chock full of knick-knacks, pottery, vintage finds and other odds and ends.
- Terramar Brewstillary – A great, family-friendly spot to grab a beer and a pizza and watch the sun set in the distance. (Admittedly not our favourite pizza, but it’s an easy place to have dinner as a large group.)
- Chuckanut Manor is a great restaurant located about 10 minutes north of Edison, up on the scenic Chuckanut Drive. Enjoy delicious oysters and seafood with views over Samish Bay (you can book a stay in their 2-bedroom apartment too!).
DECEPTION PASS and WHIDBEY ISLAND: Deception Pass is a beautiful area to explore with lots of different walking trails and picnic spots. And crossing the famous Deception Pass Bridge takes you to Whidbey Island, which also has some beautiful areas worth seeing.
- Bowman Bay and Rosario Beach walking trail — these family-friendly walks are some of our favourites in the entire area and you’ll get beautiful views of the Deception Pass bridge from the Lottie Bay/Lighthouse Point area.
- Deception Pass Bridge — such amazing views from here!
- Cranberry Lake — another beautiful spot in the Deception Pass park. A wonderful swimming spot just off the beach.
- Ebey’s Landing walking trail and beach, Whidbey Island (see photos above) — a wonderful family-friendly walk with vast stretches of coastline and beach views.
- Fort Casey, Whidbey Island — we visit Fort Casey every summer and our kids never tire of exploring and climbing on the fort’s bunkers. We also love spending time on the beach just below — a great spot for finding agates and driftwood!
THE SKAGIT VALLEY (Mount Vernon, La Conner and Fir Island): I grew up here in the Skagit Valley, just down the road from Snowgoose Produce. Skagit Valley is known for its farmlands and local produce. Driving around the back roads you’ll discover many fruit stalls selling seasonal fruit and berries. (You would drive through this area on your way out to the San Juan Islands or Deception Pass. You might also visit here in the spring during the Tulip Festival to see the tulips!) La Conner is a really charming town on the Swinomish Channel – it’s worth a walk down the main street of town.
- Snowgoose Produce — Our favourite fruit and veg stall selling local and organic produce. Also speciality ice cream cones the size of your head!
- Roozengaarde Flower Farm — a shameless plug of my father’s flower farm… but really it’s the most beautiful place to visit when the tulips are in bloom (in late March/early April), and a great place to have a picnic if you’re in the area.
- LaConner Flats — pretty gardens with beautiful flowers, fruit trees and berry bushes. Some goats too.
- Christianson’s Nursery – pretty gardens, greenhouses and a sweet little antique/gift shop.
- Easton’s Used Books – this used bookstore in Mount Vernon has been around since my childhood and I always love popping in whenever I am in the area. It’s a treasure trove! (Fun fact: I named my first child after this bookstore!!)
- Food Co-Op – The best place to buy organic groceries. You can also pick up lunch from the deli section, and there are tables for dining too.
- The Padilla Bay Trail is an easy trail along the Padilla Bay, great for walking/bike riding and bird watching.
ANACORTES (en route to the San Juan Islands): To access the San Juan Islands, you’ll take a ferry from Anacortes. We don’t usually spend much time in this little town, so I don’t know it very well. But the Donut House is a must-stop on your way to the ferry terminal!
- The Donut House — serves traditional, old-school donuts that are seriously delicious. I literally dream about these donuts all year long. My mouth waters just thinking about them now. The maple bars! Best enjoyed on a ferry boat in the middle of the San Juan Islands. : )
- Washington Park Loop Road is a loop walking track that is easy for kids and offers lots of pretty picnic spots, beaches to enjoy and beautiful viewpoints too.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS: No trip to Washington State would be complete without a visit to the San Juans. The ferry trip alone is such an iconic experience. There are four major islands in the San Juans with ferry access: San Juan Island, Lopez Island, Shaw Island and Orcas Island. You can read more about the different islands here.
- San Juan is always a tourist destination with its charming seaside town of Friday Harbour.
- My family’s little island is located just off Lopez Island, so we spend most of our time on Lopez and love that friendly little island. Lopez Village has become such a cute little destination in the last few years with wonderful cafes, shops and a great organic food shop, which makes grocery shopping a treat! Grab a coffee at Isabel’s, pop into Ship Supply, browse books at Lopez Bookshop, and visit the Farmers Market every Saturday from May to September.
- If you head to Orcas Island, be sure to grab a delicious Italian meal at our friend’s new restaurant, Monti.
LUMMI ISLAND: A small island in the Puget Sound off of Bellingham. I have actually never been, but have heard such wonderful things about The Willows Inn — an award-winning restaurant and charming hotel. Several friends and family members have stayed here and give it two thumbs up.
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND: A 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. My family has a few beach cabins on the beach here, which have been in my family since my great grandparents’ discovered this pretty spot. I grew up spending my summer holidays running up and down that rocky beach and swimming in the freezing waters. (See the Bainbridge Island Visitor’s Guide for more info on things to do on the island.)
- Via Rosa Italian deli — A wonderful must-visit Italian kitchen and restaurant serving proper pizzas and delicious take-away foods.
- Mora ice creamery — Our favourite place to grab ice cream on the island.
- Town & Country Market — a great grocery store to buy your food and supplies (far better than the Safeway on the island).
- Eagle Harbor Book Co. — A charming local bookstore with a wonderful children’s section. On a rainy day, we come here!
- Churchmouse Yarns — A little yarn shop in the centre of town — a perfect place to pick up yarns for beach crafting, weaving or knitting projects.
- Farmers Market every Saturday in the Town Square/City Hall.
- Bruciato is a great pizza restaurant right in the centre of town. (Even Michael thinks the pizza is delicious, and that says a lot!)
SEATTLE: Hopefully some day I can write up a separate guide with our favourite places in Seattle, but for now here is a quick list of places we love in this pretty city…
- Oddfellows: Favourite breakfast spot in Capitol Hill. That entire street is so cute with Elliott Bay Book Shop next door and good shops too. One of my favorite shops, Totokaelo, is on this street.
- Saint Bread is a bakery in Portage Bay selling great coffee and the most delicious pastries.
- Spinasse – an Italian restaurant in Capitol Hill for super yummy pasta (and the best stuffed mushrooms!).
- Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard — so cute! great place to eat fresh oysters.
- Bar Melusine in Capitol Hill — another great place for oysters.
- Essex and Delancey — Essex is the bar and Delancey is the neighbouring sister pizza restaurant. Grab a drink while you wait for your table!
- Revel –Korean street food
- Le Pichet in the Pike Place Neighbourhood
- Matts in the Market in Pike Place Market
- The Corson Building for a special dinner in a beautiful setting (located in Georgetown)
- Pestle Rock in Ballard for good Thai food
- Rupee Bar in Ballard for Sri Lankan food
- Bar del Corso in the Beacon Hill neighbourhood for good pizza/pasta/meatballs, etc.
- Homer in Beacon Hill for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food
- The Fat Hen is a delicious brunch spot in Ballard
- Fonda la Catrina mexican food in Georgetown
- All City Coffee in Georgetown is a great spot to grab a coffee
- Glasswing Shop in Capitol Hill for fashion finds for women and men
- Elliot Bay Bookstore — (next to Totokaelo above)
- Les Amis in Fremont
- Drink Books is a charming shop selling natural wines and interesting books
- Likelihood in Capitol Hill for the sneaker lover
- Housewright in Georgetown for beautiful homewares and art
- The Barn Owl in Georgetown is great for vintage fashion
- Pacific Galleries is a vintage market/antique mall, and it’s my favourite place to browse when I’m in Seattle
- If you have to go to a mall, the University Village is a good one.
- Flora and Henri has been a longtime favourite children’s boutique, and they now sell women’s clothing too.
And some of our other favourite things to do in Seattle:
- Volunteer Park Conservatory – This is in Volunteer Park and totally worth going to. You can walk up the water tower and see a beautiful view of the city. If you don’t have time to visit Volunteer Park Cafe for a meal you can always go for a pastry and coffee.
- Discovery Park – You can walk around in the woods or down by the beach.
- On a Sunday, the Fremont and Ballard farmer’s markets are awesome.
- Pike Place Market is a classic tourist spot, but a good one.
- The Seattle Aquarium has some nice hands-on exhibits that my kids have loved, along with displays of local sea otters and seals.
- On a hot, sunny day, it’s fun to go to the little toddler pool in Green Lake where there will be lots of families and children to play with.