Fa la la La Conner

Gift shop and museum hop in Washington's Skagit Valley
Karl Samson

The madding holiday crowds at the local mall may leave you feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge, but in the historic town of La Conner, just an hour's drive north of Seattle, you'll find the friendly spirits of Christmases past. Best known for its nearby springtime tulip fields, La Conner should also be recognized as a diverse place to shop and even take in a few museums.

South First Street is lined with eclectic shops, galleries, and boutiques. At Two Moons Gallery (620 S. First St.; 360/466-1920), look for whimsical art and contemporary crafts. The Caravan Gallery (619 S. First; 360/466-4808) is packed with unusual imports, such as garden sculptures and beautiful jewelry. Know a knitter? Check out the scads of skeins at Jennings Yarn & Needlecrafts (104 S. First; 360/466-3177). And, if you love lace, spend some time exploring Homespun Market (622 S. First; 360/466-4441).

When you've checked off everyone on your list, take in La Conner's three museums. The Museum of Northwest Art ($5; 121 S. First; 360/466-4446), the best little contemporary art museum in Washington, has an exhibit of prints by regional artists through January 9. Fans of handicrafts should visit the La Conner Quilt Museum (call for hours; $4; 703 S. Second St.; 360/466-4288), housed in the 1891 Gaches Mansion. On December 5, the museum holds a holiday high tea ($20, includes museum admission). Plan your La Conner visit for December 18 and you can catch the Fabulous '50s Holiday Fest (free) at the Skagit County Historical Museum (closed Mon; $4; 501 S. Fourth St.; 360/466-3365), featuring live music and an exhibit on period fashions.

For omelets and burgers or old-fashioned Christmas cookies and chewy gingerbread boys, visit the Calico Cupboard Cafe and Bakery ($; 720 S. First; 360/466-4451); if it's cold and damp, fortify yourself with a pint of stout at the La Conner Brewing Company ($; 117 S. First; 360/466-1415). When the sun goes down and Christmas lights flick on, Seeds Bistro and Bar ($$; 623 Morris St.; 360/466-3280), in the old Tillinghast Seed Company building, is the place to kick back with some comfort food.

Bay bound

La Conner is 76 miles north of Seattle off I-5; contact the La Conner Chamber of Commerce (www.laconnerchamber.com or 888/642-9284). The Lighted Boat Parade (6:30 Dec 4) on the Swinomish Channel at S. First St. launches the season.