Jennifer Corio and Dave Frei’s “Tulip Dance” piece is seen near Mount Vernon’s Skagit Riverwalk Park. Thousands of tourists flock to nearby tulip fields each spring to see the annual burst of color. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Known for its tulips, Mount Vernon offerings worth a day trip

Warmer weather (finally!) makes this a good time for a day trip to Mount Vernon.

Plan an excursion that includes a walk along the Skagit River, meals in downtown restaurants and a movie at the historic Lincoln Theatre.

Or on Thursday evenings in July and August, enjoy the free outdoor Riverwalk Concert Series, which features a lineup of bands sure to get folks dancing. Double your pleasure with the free first Thursday evening art walks downtown. While you’re at it, check out the murals in some of the alleyways.

On Saturday mornings, now through Oct. 14, at Skagit Riverwalk Park, catch the local-focused Mount Vernon Farmers Market. Food, free entertainment. What could be better?

Mount Vernon is Skagit County’s seat of government. Like most Western Washington cities, it was settled first by the Coast Salish people and later by timber venturists. The townsite was logged, and saloons, stores and hotels popped up along the Skagit River. By the late 1890s, the town had a newspaper, a post office, churches, a stately county courthouse, an opera house and a railroad line. Farmers pulled the stumps out of the river valley and the community’s focus turned to agriculture, including those tulips that draw the tourists to town each spring.

Notable people who grew up or retired in Mount Vernon include Cheryle Bentyne of Manhattan Transfer, film and TV actors Jim Caviezel and Chad Lindberg, TV and radio host Glenn Beck, “Tonight Show” intern Ross Mathews, pro baseball players Mark Hendrickson and Kyle Kendrick, David Gates of the group Bread, culinary expert Graham Kerr and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. (His place is actually over the hill near Big Lake.)

You might consider riding up to Skagit Valley on the Amtrak Cascades, which heads north from Edmonds at 8:12 a.m. and from Everett at 8:36 a.m., arriving in Mount Vernon at about 9:30 a.m. You then have until about 8 p.m. to get back on the train heading south. Don’t forget to enjoy the artwork at the train station.

Or just park your car next to the river on Main Street. Whatever else you do, be sure to take advantage of the city’s Riverwalk Park.

Riverwalk Park has been 10 years in the making. While the park boosts tourism and economic development in downtown Mount Vernon, it also manages flood control when the Skagit River runs high. The park, with its center at 509 S. Main St., includes restrooms, outdoor sculptures, a stage area and outdoor seating.

Friends Kelli Beverstock, Kala Buchanan and Nikki Connite, all 26, frequently walk along the river together.

“We love it,” said Buchanan, who is the mother of 10-month-old Avi. “We walk from downtown north to the playground at Lions Park so my daughter can play and then we walk back again.”

People often extend the walk with a jaunt over the river on the Division Street bridge to Edgewater Park, which includes a huge grass play area, boat launch, playground and athletic fields. There, from July 8-9, the Skagit Valley Highland Games and Celtic Festival will bring in bagpipers, fiddlers, drummers, highland dancers and Scottish athletics.

On the way back, check out the south-facing outside wall of Tri-Dee Arts at the corner of Division and First. It’s not the Pike Place Market gum wall in Seattle, but a Tri-Dee chalk board invites people to write down what they plan to do before they die.

First Street in downtown Mount Vernon is replete with fine shops, antique stores, art galleries, book and record stores, a distillery, a wine bar, a chocolate shop and one of the best food cooperatives around — the nearly 45-year-old Skagit Valley Food Co-op. The co-op also operates the nearby Third Street Cafe, which is focused on regional and local food.

Other great restaurants downtown include the beer joints: Empire Ale House, Skagit River Brewery, Porterhouse West Coast Ales, Trumpeter Public House and Draft Pics.

On Tuesdays, get tacos at Calle. Breakfasts are good at Calico Cupboard and Shambala Bakery. Pacioni’s and Il Granaio serve Italian. Rachawadee Tahi Cafe and the Thai House are good.

Something new in the shady Pine Street Square is the tiny 11-seat The UpCountry restaurant. It’s still a bit of a secret. Hours are 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Everybody sits at the counter. Call 360-588-4100 to reserve a spot.

West of downtown, visit the Washington State University Research and Extension Center, which includes a display garden and a lab devoted to bread.

At Skagit Valley College, you may want to wander the campus to check out its art collection or take in a performing arts event at McIntyre Hall.

Another place to take the kids is Lang’s Pony Farm on the southeast corner of the city. A 30-minute pony ride is $25.

Before you head south, drive to the top of nearby Little Mountain Park for some short hikes and extraordinary views of Skagit Valley and the surrounding bays.

It’s all worth a day.

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