When the baby boomers who grew up in Snohomish County were kids, they looked forward to the Monroe Fair.
The official name became the Evergreen State Fair in 1949, but it took people time to catch up. Today the event is considered the largest county fair in the Pacific Northwest and the biggest annual event in the county.
Monroe, however, is far more than its fair.
With five months to go until the opening day in August, it’s a good time to explore Monroe and the area near where the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers meet to form the Snohomish River.
First off, people can see a lot of other events at the fairgrounds, just off U.S. 2. For example, this weekend the fairgrounds host a quilt show, dog agility trials, a poultry show and an indoor swap meet. The fair’s free spring festival is April 26 and 27, featuring live music, animal shows, carnival rides and a barbecue contest.
Stock car and other races are scheduled at the Evergreen Speedway nearly each Saturday through October.
And out on the east side of the fairgrounds is a museum called the Western Heritage Center. It’s open Wednesdays through Sundays with displays on the county’s mining, logging, agricultural and transportation history.
Lake Tye Park on Fryelands Boulevard is home to athletic fields, a play area, the city’s Easter egg hunt April 19 and music, and year-round use of the trail around the park’s manmade lake.
Monroe’s other large park, Al Borlin, is a 90-acre peninsula formed by the Skykomish River and Woods Creek. Thickly wooded, it has a network of trails. Get to it from Railroad Avenue and Simons Road at the east end of downtown.
A walk through historic downtown Monroe offers hours of entertainment. Like many cities in Snohomish County, Monroe is about 110 years old.
While checking out the historical buildings, duck into chef Adam Hoffman’s Northwest Bistro and Twin Rivers Brewing Co. and tasting room, 104 N. Lewis St.
With its large Hispanic population, Monroe also is home to several Mexican restaurants and bodegas, especially in the Historic Downtown area. Check out Tienda Vallarta’s edible cactus leaves, and Mexican spices or Pueblo Viejo’s panaderia treats, tortillas and pinatas.
Also in Historic Downtown are the Sky River Bakery, which for nearly 30 years has been housed in what used to be the Savoy Hotel. Look for several antique and shops with long histories, including Don’s Barbershop, with its $10 haircuts and old photos, and Main Street Books, with its old books and new local titles.
Then head south on Lewis out of town to the beautiful Tualco Valley on the highway to Duvall. Some of the land to the west once was farmed by the prisoners at the reformatory.
Falling Water Gardens, an aquatic nursery and garden center at 17516 Highway 203, is worth a stop just to see their fish ponds.
Or turn east just after you cross the Skykomish south of Monroe and take a ride out Ben Howard Road for some of the county’s prettiest rural countryside.
The Monroe River Valley Farm, site of an old slaughterhouse along the Skykomish across from the city, is home to Paula’s Wine Knot Bar, 19829 168th St. SE, which has become a noted entertainment venue.
Car buffs should check out Jim &Betty Green’s Hot Rod Gallery at 17520 147th St. SE on the west side of town or the Reptile Zoo, a mile east of downtown at 22715 U.S. 2.
The auto museum had its beginnings as Jim Green’s Performance Center in Lynnwood, where it was located for 42 years. Green and his family also designed and raced cars. They opened the museum in 2012.
Scott Petersen founded the Reptile Zoo in 1996 after teaching high school biology. He has performed with his reptiles at more than 800 schools and as well as on TV. The zoo features snakes, turtles, lizards, alligators and arachnids.
Finally, in April and September, the chimney at the Frank Wagner Education Center on Main Street is visited by migrating Vaux’s swifts. The birds perform aerial acrobatics as they enter the chimney each night and draw crowds to watch.
And don’t forget the fair, Aug. 21 through Sept. 1.
TOURIST IN YOUR OWN TOWN
In each of our cities in Snohomish and Island counties, we have tourist attractions often overlooked by the people who live in this region. Have you taken the time to be a Tourist in Your Own Town? This the third in a continuing series of monthly explorations of our hometowns.