Yesterday, the weather was forecasted to be pretty mild (40s with scattered rain) so we decided to head out of the city for a day trip. One of the (many) things we love about living here in the Northwest is the fact that the mountains and the ocean are never more than a short trip away. There are so many great hikes, camping spots, parks, beaches, etc. to explore and the endless possibility of discovering new places. It’s important for us to get outside in nature because we all love it (especially Dooz) and to ensure that he has an appreciation of the great outdoors. In addition, I love everything about the road trip. From the strategic packing of games and snacks to the focused time for us to talk about everything that is whizzing by our windows to the random stops we make along the way.
And so, yesterday we decided to head up to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (say that five times as fast as you can). We’ve often passed signs for it on our way further north (Vancouver, Deception Pass, etc.) and been curious, and here was our chance to check it out. Thankfully, it’s dog friendly so we could bring along the pooches as well. It’s a quick hour and 20 minute drive straight up I-5 (exit 231) to the heart of the picturesque Skagit Valley (I love that their roadside sign boasts In-FARM-ation). If you have little ones in the car and need a snack stop, check out Skagit River Produce (exit 221 – Conway). It’s easy to spot across from the gas station and serves made-to-order sandwiches and is a great spot to pick up a pint of local fruit for the kids to snack on.
As with all good road trips, there was a slight unintended detour. Once you exit I-5 there is a roundabout and at that roundabout, we (unknowingly) took Chuckanut Drive instead of the road we had intended. This is another drive we have on our list of to-dos, but have never managed to hit. It’s a beautiful two lane road along the coast past oyster beds, tidal flats and close up views of the bay, all while hugging Chuckanut Mountain. It also happened to be dotted with what looked to be a few hidden restaurant gems. We are definitely planning a trip back to try The Oyster Bar, a charming stone and wood building perched about the bay. They’re menu looks chocked full of fresh fish and they’ve been been awarded by Wine Spectator every year for the last decade for their extensive wine cellar. Yum! I foresee a mini food/wine tour in our future.
Where was I? Once we realized our mistake, we made our way to Padilla Bay’s Breazeale Interpretive Center (just past Bay View State Park). The Interpretive Center itself is quite nice with a small viewing area with a few tanks of native wildlife. The main part of the center is very kid-friendly, with information on the estuary behind panels the kids can lift and open to explore along with buttons to press to hear the sounds of various birds. There is also a “Hands On” room that had games, books and lots of things for the kiddies to touch and explore. Behind the center is a .8 mile walk that winds through a hay field offering a close up view of grazing cattle then moves through the woods. It’s a very short and easy walk that is also dog friendly (as long as your pup is on a leash).
The walkway in front of the center leads directly to a tunnel underneath the road that crosses to the beach and a viewing platform.
The interesting thing about this deck is that although it offers a peaceful view of the surrounding area, it also faces the Shell Oil Refinery over in Anacortes. Although this may seem really off-putting, it’s still a beautiful view. If you’re brave, you can take a steep spiral staircase down to the pebble-laden beach.
If it’s high tide, there’s not much to see on the beach itself as the coastline is blocked by fallen trees but D still enjoyed wading in the water. Is there anything more satisfying than (warm) waterproof boots? He waded as deep as he possibly could to test them out.
Next time around, we’d definitely check the tide tables, as it would be great to be here at low tide.
It didn’t take us much time at all to explore this area (an hour and a half), so we decided to make the short drive into Anacortes to give Dooz a little extra play time. For a kid that can do a four mile hike, this was definitely not enough activity for him. We were headed to Washington Loop Park, but it was starting to get dark (already!) and decided to head to Storvik Playground instead. I wish I snapped a photo of this HUGE playscape! The giant wood structure boasted sandpit, a ferry boat right next to a pirate ship (The Scallywag) along with a variety of equipment to climb and a smaller toddler area right next to it. All of this with a birds eye view of the Fidalgo Bay. Dooz had a blast here (despite the dropping temperatures and the start of rain) and it burned the last of his energy before we packed ourselves back in the car and drove through Penguin Coffee for a hot cocoa to fuel the ride home. The barista served his kids cocoa with the whip cream on the top of the lid (great idea!) laden with sprinkles so he could alternate between slurping cream and sipping cocoa.
By the end of the trip, the dogs were exhausted and laid down in the back (this is no small miracle considering we have the “stubborn standing dog”. And we had a cozy trip back, sipping our cocoas, zipping back down I-5 in the rain. We made it home just in time to make a pizza (thank goodness for Trader Joe’s pizza dough) and relax after a day well spent.