Blooms to buy: The valley is full of cut-flower stands, but to buy potted spring bulbs for your own garden (and waves of spring-flowering perennials that pair well with them), stop at Christianson’s Nursery & Greenhouse.
You can picnic on benches scattered around the 1888 schoolhouse—and duck inside if it starts to drizzle. 15806 Best Rd., Mt. Vernon; 360/466-3821.
It’s better by bike: Skip the bus tours and ditch your car. The best way to experience the tulip fest is by bike: no crowded pullouts, no circling for parking. Rent a tandem, road bike, or electric-assist two-wheeler from Skagit Cycle Center (from $40 per day; 1704 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington; 360/757-7910). Or book a fully supported 12- to 15-mile morning ride with Tulip Country Bike Tours ($75, including lunch; reservations required).
Lunch like a local: While the tourists wait outside Seeds Bistro ($$; 623 Morris St., La Conner; 360/466-3280), slide easily into a table at La Conner Fruit & Produce Market ($; 116 S. First St., La Conner; 360/466-3018). Or grab a BBQ beef sandwich and sweet-potato fries to go, for a picnic in a pretty field. Homemade cookies too.
Prints by a pro: If your own snapshots are, well, just that, buy a framed, fine-art print from the Connie Coleman Photography Gallery. A remarkable photographer whose images have appeared in Sunset, Coleman has captured some of the best-ever Skagit Valley landscapes, both in and out of bloom. 609 S. First St. (inside Skagit River Traders), La Conner; 360/466-9197.
Next: Must-stop: La Conner