Exploring the Nation’s Newest Scenic Byway – Washington’s Cascade Loop
The Ultimate Summer Road Trip, Part I By Marguerite Cleveland
With the weather warming up, thoughts are turning to summer vacations and what to do with the COVID-19 Pandemic still holding on. A summer road trip is a great way to travel with plenty of outdoor activities and easier social distancing. Washington’s Cascade Loop is now the nation’s newest scenic byway, and it is an epic journey taking you to coastal islands, highlights of aviation history, the Cascade Mountains, gorgeous lakes and a plethora of charming small towns. This trip is a loop, so it is easy to access whether you are beginning in Idaho or Washington. So, gas up your vacation vehicle and let’s get going.
Your journey begins crossing on to Fidalgo Island and the charming town of Anacortes. Cute shops and restaurants abound. It is also a gateway to the San Juan Islands. You can take a side trip by walking on a Washington state ferry to spend a day in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
Whidbey Island One of the highlights of this area is the Deception Pass bridge. It is a very scenic drive and one of the most iconic in Washington. Once you cross the bridge, take time to stop at Deception Pass State Park. Head to the parking lot by the water, where you can get a great view of the bridge for a photo opportunity. The park is on both sides of the bridge with some great hikes.
Next head to the darling town of Coupeville, and make it your base for a day or two. Stay at the Fort Casey Inn in the historic quarters, which were built for Army officers before World War I. The cottages are comfortably furnished while keeping their historic charm. They are just a short walk to beaches, trails and a bird sanctuary. For a vintage experience, plan to see a movie at the Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. There is something about watching a movie under the stars.
If you have been watching CNN’s “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” this is the stop for you. The first episode focuses mainly on Neapolitan Pizza and Enzo Coccia. Surprisingly, in Coupeville you can visit Ciao, an Italian market and restaurant. Chef Mark Laska apprenticed under Enzo Coccia and is certified by the Italian Minister of Agriculture to make authentic Neapolitan Pizza. The pizza is good, but the cannoli are to die for. Laska settled in Coupeville because of its proximity to the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and access to heritage farms. You may not be able to go to Italy this summer, but you can replicate the experience on Whidbey Island.
Take some time to explore the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The stunning landscape overlooking the Puget Sound offers some incredible hikes on the bluffs, beaches and through historic farmland. Many of these heritage farms are seeing new life with young families starting farming businesses.
Oak Harbor is a tiny hamlet with a one-block downtown area. The Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum tells the story of how this small island town played an important role in World War II with the building of the Naval Air Station and the PBY-5A Catalina aircraft, which was one of the best search-and-rescue bombers of its time.
Langley is a cute waterfront town. My favorite site is the Whale Bell Park overlooking the Saratoga Passage that has a giant bell. If you see a whale, you ring the bell, letting everyone in town know there has been a sighting. You can easily observe gray whales in the spring right from shore. Orcas and humpbacks are seen throughout the year. It is exciting to see that telltale spout. In town is the Langley Whale Center, where you can get more information. Stop into Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar for a great meal, or purchase road trip provisions from their Seabiscuit bakery and small market. Take the ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo. Stretch your legs at the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park and check out some of the waterfront restaurants.
Everett Much of the history of aerospace technology took place in Everett, the home of Boeing, a pioneer in aviation and the birthplace of the 747. The Boeing Future of Flight will take you on a tour of the factory—the largest building in the world by volume. It is fascinating seeing these behemoth planes come to life. Not far away is the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, where you can see a vintage aircraft from the earliest days of aviation, as well as a great collection of tanks.
Snohomish This darling historic town is known as the “Antique Capital of the Northwest.” There are more than 175 antique dealers all within a six-block area. Downtown is also bustling with visitors checking out the boutiques and great local restaurants. There are also six wine tasting rooms all within walking distance of each other. Take some time to walk along the river and come back up into the residential area filled with vintage Victorian and the PNW staple—the Craftsman-style homes.
Make sure to have brunch at the First and Union Kitchen, which also has a great bakery onsite. The food is Pacific Northwest style, and you will usually find wild edible mushrooms foraged from local forests. Grab some bakery treats for snacks on your road trip. They have a lovely courtyard you can eat in if you are lucky enough to snag a seat. Arrive early, as it gets terribly busy on weekends.
One of the nice things about a road trip is you can pack more convenience items in your car. Some road trip essentials include a cooler and picnic basket with drinks and snacks. Pack lunches for the more isolated legs of the trip. To reduce plastic waste, bring a refillable water bottle for each person. Portable chairs are nice to have, especially for stargazing. A coated tablecloth is essential for covering picnic tables, and you can wipe off any messes. Don’t forget trash bags, as many places require you to pack your trash out. Plan for the extreme weather changes along the Cascade Loop. The mountain regions and the coastline can be chilly, even in the summer while Eastern Washington receives extreme temperature highs.
For more information on the Cascade Loop, visit CascadeLoop.com. You can order a guide to the Cascade Loop, and the website has maps and ideas of where to stay, what to do and where to eat. The individual towns and destinations also have their own sites with more detailed information listed on the aforementioned website.
Where to Stay The Fort Casey Inn - FortCaseyInn.com Where to Eat Ciao - Ciao.store Saltwater Langley - SaltwaterLangley.com First and Union Kitchen - FirstandUnionKitchen.com What to Do Blue Fox Drive-in Theater - BlueFoxDrivein.com Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve - NPS.gov/ebla Boeing Future of Flight - BoeingFutureofFlight.com Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum - FlyingHeritage.org Langley Whale Center - Facebook.com/LangleyWhaleCenter Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum - PNWNAM.org