After our wonderful day in the mountains on Saturday, a trip to the coast was in order for Sunday so we decided to head up to La Conner. Sitting on the Swinomish channel, across from the Swinomish Reservation, La Conner is a typical coastal town, full of tourist type shops, antique stores and restaurants. During the summer months it can be hard to find a place to park in town, so go early. If you want to go during the Tulip Festival in the spring, my best advice is to book a room at one of the little inns in La Conner at least a year in advance. I’m not kidding. During the festival, this little town can quadruple the number of people it normally handles. Little tidbit of history on the town; When it was first settled in the 1860’s it’s name was Swinomish. A couple of years after settlement, a Mr Conner bought the trading post (and thus the town) and changed the name of the town to La Conner. Ah, Mr Conner must have been of French descent you say. Non! Turns out Mr Conners’ wife’s name was Louisa Ann Conner. Yup, he named it after her, and the La is just her initials. Feel informed and excited now, don’t you?
Okay, so enough with the history lesson. First order of business when getting into the town is to find a place to park. There are a couple of public parking areas, and parking is available on the street. The town itself is quite small, so parking at one end or the other is not a problem as far as walking is concerned. The best way to really experience La Conner, in fact, is by walking. Most of the shops line the main street that runs along the channel. You have your basic tourist stuff of “grow your own pirates” and planes made out of beer cans, to wonderful galleries and clothing shops. There is a wood shop that has some of the nicest multi-wood carving boards I’ve ever seen, as well as full size dining tables that would fill our whole apartment. You will also discover candy, tea and ice cream of course. There is a bit of a strong connection between the northwest and ice cream. As soon as it gets a little warm, you’d be hard pressed to find someone without an ice cream cone. In La Conner on most days I’d say the ration was 9:1 of cone vs sans-cone.
So you’ve wandered around the town and built up a bit of an appetite, what now? There are places all over town, but I recommend one of 2 on the channel; Seafood and Rib House or Palmer’s. Both have great patios for outdoor dining, as well as indoor seating that still maintains a great view of the channel. Boat watching is the main pastime, and you’ll see everything from small canoes and kayaks, to single masted 35-40 footers to small little runabouts that you know are service boats for the 100 footers and up anchored just outside the channel.
On this trip we choose Palmer’s. Beth had a warm seafood caesar salad with prawns, scallops and salmon. Thumbs up for the dressing, which had a tad bit more anchovy in it that other places but worked really well with the seafood. I opted for a northwest style cioppino with mussels, clams, prawns, salmon (yes, it’s true. We put salmon in everything up here. In fact, I just had a triple salmon mousse latte while writing this) and calamari. Very tasty, though the calamari was over done as usual. Rant mode on. If you can’t cook calamari or octopus correctly, please leave it out of your dishes. It’s just not worth it. Okay, rant mode off now. The broth was very nice, with hints of garlic and saffron. Just a tad salty is the only negative. Great bread sopping broth, in fact 4 out of 5 loaves for this one.
One side note to the trip. Across the channel is the Swinomish reservation. You can get to it by taking the rainbow bridge over, just follow the signs in town. Once over there take a moment to look around. What you will find are a proud people, with some lost to extreme poverty. At one point the Swinomish were all over the area, along with other Lushootseed speakers. Now they live on around 12 square miles of land. And according to the 2000 census, of the 2600 or so that live on the reservation, only around 23% have 100% tribal heritage. I understand things change, but it saddens me to see traditional ways slide into the abyss. And it’s not just the northwest tribes. If there is a rez anywhere near you, take a drive and see for yourself. I love the fact that America is a great melting pot of cultures. It’s just that sometimes the pot melts too much.