The Seattle car rental agent can't believe we're planning to stay in Mukilteo instead of using the ferry service there to push on to popular Whidbey Island. "But nobody goes to Mukilteo," he says. And on a sultry summer day, it appears he's right. The wait for the ferry to Whidbey Island is three hours, but the road into Mukilteo is wide open.
While cranky kids in car seats are still being held hostage by the carload, we're at the Silver Cloud Inn (718 Front St.; 800/311-1461), relaxing in a lobby that seems to be floating on the Puget Sound and taking in views of ferry boats, the pier, and bobbing sea lions.
From here it's just one block to Old Town Mukilteo's 96-year-old lighthouse, which features an original lens of French crystal, as stunning as a Lalique vase. From the lighthouse, it's possible to walk along the sound for miles in solitude. For more company and a jolt of java, we head to Whidbey's Cafe (619 Fourth St.; 425/348-4825), where we enjoy a view of the sound and whimsical, hand-carved sculptures (including a superhero bursting through the ceiling).
The annual lighthouse festival is held August 16-18, and while it's a small-town affair, the fireworks display over Puget Sound is spectacular enough to put Mukilteo on the map of the most doubting car rental agent. Festival information: (425) 355-2514.