Tiptoe through the tulips, then tipple your way through some beer
Updated 4/9/2021 – I was in the valley yesterday and the tulips are just now starting to bloom.
It’s that time of year in the Skagit Valley. Ultimately, Mother Nature decides, but the tulips usually bloom in early to mid-April. Sure as the sun rises in the east, the tulips will soon bloom and hordes of people will flock to the Magic Skagit to get their flower fix. It’s boom time for local businesses and a love-hate relationship for traffic-hating locals.
For me the allure isn’t about the flowers per se, it’s about color. A field of red tulips makes me say, “That! That is red! How much redder could it be?” I would be remiss if I failed to mention the allure of the beer. The beautiful truth, tulips are an excuse for me and my wife, Kim, to pack our pooch Lucy into the car, head north from Seattle and visit some of our favorite Washington breweries. Tulips pair nicely with beer if you know how to do it.
The Flower Part
As a lifelong Washingtonian, I have some advice for your tulip and beer tour of the Skagit Valley. Most of it has to do with beer. As for flowers, I’ll be quick. For the intense tulip tourist, you’ll want to hit either Tulip Town or RoozenGaarde. You can make reservations/purchase tickets online. I don’t find it necessary to visit either of these official Tulip Festival destinations, but I don’t belittle those who do.
Tulip Town, one of the aforementioned tulip destinations, recently underwent an ownership change. The new owners took over right before the pandemic hit, so this is their first season actually getting to welcome guests (limited capacity, etc). Among other changes, they’ve added a beer and wine garden where you can get local beers: three on tap and a few others in cans and bottles. Below, a pint of Raise Your Glass IPA from Terramar Brewstillery, which is just a few miles up the road.
When Kim and I head in that direction, we want to skip the crowds and simply find random places to pull over and gaze upon the tulips wherever we can and then walk the fields wherever it seems okay to do it. (Tred lightly, be respectful.)
As a long-time, lazy, crowd-avoiding tulip tourist, my best advice is to do it on a weekday if you can. Otherwise, go early. Really early. Hit the flowering fields about the same time that most folks are hitting the breakfast table and you’ll avoid the bothersome traffic and crowds. The real payoff to the plan, it’ll free up your afternoon for the more important part of your trip: beer.
The Beer Part
See, that wasn’t painful at all, and now we are free to talk about the beer. Here are just some of our favorite places to enjoy a beer in and around the Skagit Valley, presented in no particular order. We provide a map below. (Skagit Farm to Pint, a local community organization, is offering a passport program this year. Find out about that here.)
Chuckanut Brewery – Bellingham’s beloved Chuckanut Brewery opened a second location a few years ago, this one in Burlington, near the airport. Peacefully watch as the occasional small plane takes off or lands. The time slips away. “The South Nut” features all the great Chuckanut beers you love but no kitchen. The expansive outdoor seating area that sprawls across the lawn. Kids and dogs welcome.
Garden Path Fermentation – Just a stone’s throw from Chuckanut’s location, you’ll find Garden Path, where they specialize in wild-fermented, mixed-culture beers, generally created with ingredients from the Skagit Valley, including wild airborne yeast which they lovingly capture and propagate. These are beautiful, elegant, thoughtful beers. Outdoor and indoor seating. No kids (21+), but dogs are welcome. No kitchen.
Terramar Brewery and Distillery – Located in the pretty-how town of Edison (aka Bow, or Bow-Edison), it might seem a bit far from the flowers, but it’s a lovely drive and worth it. Terramar is a brewery, cidery, distillery, and restaurant. Beyond house-made libations and food, there is a lovely outdoor seating area. Immediately adjacent to the restaurant, the brewery and distillery are in a separate building, as are the brewery tasting room and the “speakeasy.”
Some of it is kid-friendly. Dogs are welcome outside. Patio seating, with firepits. An awesome place in an awesome one-street town. Don’t miss Bread Farm, a breathtakingly fabulous bakery down the block.
North Sound Brewery is the closest brewery to the tulip fields and is very worthy of a visit. Note that this place is 21+, so leave the kids in the car. (That was a joke.) They have indoor seating and a patio, with dogs welcome outside. No kitchen, but some local restaurants deliver food to your table. All around, they’ve got you covered for your post-tulip, adults-only experience.
Farmstrong Brewing – Near the point where Interstate 5 crosses the Skagit River, Farmstrong Brewing has an expansive beer garden and its own food truck. That is, they bought a food truck and parked in the beer garden. The food is really, really good. So is the beer. Oh, and they make their own cider, too. Family- and Fido-friendly. Not as bucolic and peaceful as some of my other recommendations, but the beer, food, and the atmosphere are all splendid.
Downtown Mount Vernon – Granted, during tulip season, the town of MTV bustles with tourist traffic, but the historic downtown corridor is now home to two breweries: District Brewing and Temperate Habits Brewing. Outdoor seating at both, but pretty limited at the latter. Both have food, both welcome kids, and you can park the car once and then walk to both: only a couple blocks apart.
Beyond what I’ve mentioned here, there are other breweries a bit farther afield. Check out our map of Northwest Washington Breweries for more destinations.