When I was a kid in the 1940s and 1950s, a favorite family pastime was to bundle into our station wagon, pull out the jump seat, and set out to investigate destinations unknown. We’d sing camp songs and pass around Necco wafers while my sisters and I vied for the title of “queen for the day,” which was awarded to the best behaved. The queen got to choose where we’d stop for treats.
During a year of hunkering down, many of us have beaten back boredom by walking every street in our neighborhood, bingeing on TV series, and ordering in a lot. Sunday drives have made a comeback, too. They can be taken any day of the week, and they’re especially enticing as the days lengthen, the open road beckons, and the sweet smell of spring is in the air.
Here are three choices for day trips that are easily accessible from the I-5 corridor or the Eastside. All offer captivating scenery and historic sites to explore, and each includes the sort of place my sisters and I would choose for our royal reward.
Scenic Skagit Valley back roads wind through farmlands rich with crops and resplendent with spring-flowering bulbs. Dazzling yellow daffodils emerge in March, and tidy rows of cherry-red, sunshine-yellow, and plum-purple tulips pop in April, given Mother Nature’s whim. Huge flocks of migrating birds add to the panorama.
THE DRIVE: Take the Conway/La Conner exit 221 on I-5. Head west on Fir Island Road, keeping an eye out for Snow Goose Produce and its mile-high ice cream cones about 5 miles from the interstate. Turn left onto Best Road, cross over the Skagit River, and marvel at the mix of stately houses and sprawling barns. At Chilberg Road you can opt for a side trip west to La Conner, a tourist destination full of vibrant shops and a wide, waterfront boardwalk. Or stay on Best Road and drive north for another 12 miles past vast fields and farm stands into Edison. Breadfarm Bakery might be a handy place to stretch before driving through Bow and returning to I-5 (or picking up Chuckanut Drive, below, into Bellingham).
This curvy route offers 20 miles of dramatic views of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands, especially when you stop at the viewpoints to see roiling waves and crescent beaches. The gray boulders march alongside you to the restored 19th-century brick buildings of Bellingham’s Fairhaven District.
THE DRIVE: Take exit 231 on I-5 just north of Burlington. Head northwest on SR 11, which turns into Chuckanut Drive. Five miles north of the Bow-Edison junction (see previous drive), you’ll see Taylor Shellfish Farms, where you can fill a cooler with fresh oysters, still at their peak this time of year. Next, you’ll drive through Larabee State Park, founded in 1915 as the first in Washington. Keep an eye posted for deer, raptors, and possibly an orca pod. Be sure to check road conditions before departing and drive slowly on this narrow road shared with cyclists.
An easy drive north of downtown Tacoma is the perfect way to spend a sunny spring day. The short and scenic Ruston Way stretch along Commencement Bay offers options for parking the car and enjoying a waterfront stroll—perhaps at the new Dune Peninsula unit of Point Defiance Park, where you can explore the views before returning the way you came.
THE DRIVE: Take I-5 to downtown Tacoma and use exit 133 onto I-705 and Schuster Parkway, which skirts Tacoma’s busy industrial waterfront. Just beyond the busy port area, your first stop is the Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park, a beautiful site that honors the immigrant laborers who were expelled from Tacoma in 1885 after they helped put the city on the map. From there, Schuster Parkway becomes Ruston Way, bordered by a popular walking and cycling path that now extends to Point Defiance Park via a sweeping pedestrian and bike bridge. Along the way, the emerging Point Ruston residential village and commercial district has many choices for outdoor dining when the weather is fine. Take your pick of coffee, pizza, or a seafood spread.
Marcia McGreevy Lewis lives in Seattle and is a retired features writer for the Everett Herald. Julie Fanselow contributed to this article.