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Snohomish County

Seattle's neighbor loaded with must-see attractions

By CARY ORDWAY

It seems like the whole world knows that Seattle has a Space Needle and a Pike Place Market, but what a lot of visitors to the area may not realize is that the fun doesn't stop at the Seattle city line. The Puget Sound region is a diverse wonderland of landscapes and unique communities that are tantalizing to even the most jaded traveler.

One area in particular worth exploring is Snohomish County, just 12 miles north of downtown Seattle where visitors are transported in minutes to a collection of 19 cities, many with attractions that will make your drive worthwhile. The destinations in Snohomish County can all be easy daytrips if you're staying in downtown Seattle or, if you prefer, the region boasts many 3-star hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns to take you away from the Big City and closer to other attractions in Northwest Washington.

The first glimpse of Snohomish County headed north from Seattle on Interstate 5 is, well, kind of like the city you just came from. These suburbs are prime bedroom communities for the Seattle workforce and you'll drive a half hour or so before you start to see much open space. But known only to locals and the most curious of vacationers are the “secret” neighborhoods or small cities that await you when you jump off Interstate 5.

The city of Edmonds, for example, is one of the waterfront communities in this area and, in fact, is where you find the ferry terminal for Kingston. This is an artists' community with murals painted on the buildings around town and invites your exploration with its many boutiques selling locally made jewelry, clothing and other goods. It's a walkable village with several local restaurants where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch. The homes here are exquisite and well-maintained and the Puget Sound views are spectacular, all adding up to a delightful diversion – for a day or for a few hours.

A little further north is Mukilteo – another ferry terminal community and the gateway to Whidbey Island. Mukilteo is home to the 1906 Mukilteo Lighthouse and Mukilteo State Park, and is one of the most affluent communities in the state of Washington. This is another great choice for a lunch or dinner with views of Puget Sound and some of the best seafood anywhere.

About a half-hour from Seattle is the city of Everett, the largest city in Snohomish County and, for I-5 travelers who don't know any better, an industrial-looking city that you pass through on the way to someplace else. But again, get down off I-5 and drive through some of the historic neighborhoods to the Everett waterfront and you'll see a side of the city that almost seems tucked away from the general public. Along this stretch you'll find the second biggest marina on the West Coast (second only to Marina del Rey), great restaurants, oceanfront accommodations and Jetty Island, a fun destination for the whole family with soft-sand beaches, a free ferry to the island and, in summer, some of the warmest water in Puget Sound.

And that's just the waterfront attractions of Snohomish County. Consider that just a bit north from Everett is Marysville and the 4-star Tulalip Casino with its luxurious lodgings and non-stop entertainment. Due east from Everett just a few miles is the small burg of Snohomish, long known for its many antique stores and charming bed-and-breakfast inns. Nowadays, boutique shops and wine cellars have come into town and there are even a couple of micro-distilleries that produce spirits from local potatoes and then flavor them with local berries and plants. There is an indoor public market open year-round – a kind of mini-version of Seattle's famous Pike Place Market that includes not only produce but many locally produced wares.

It may also be surprising to learn that Snohomish County is about half-covered in national forest – so if you came to the Northwest to get up into the mountains, Highway 2 takes you to the towns of Startup, Gold Bar and Index where the mountains almost appear out of nowhere to offer incredible views that will make you feel like you are driving through the Alps. Another great mountain spot is the town of Darrington, which you can reach by driving east from Arlington. The town is surrounded by peaks, yet easily accessible from the Puget Sound area.

Easy access is what it's all about for Snohomish County Tourism Bureau Executive Director Amy Spain, who wants to show off these county attractions to as many visitors as possible. When asked about her favorite destinations in the county, she admitted it was like having to “choose one of your children over another.” But when she was pressed, Amy had to rank the Boeing Tour as the top destination for visitors in the county. The Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour are located in Mukilteo and give visitors an up-close look at how airplanes are built. The tour takes visitors into the world's largest building by volume where they will see construction of various Boeing airplanes including the new Boeing 787.

The people at the Tourism Bureau keep track of all the new attractions or activities in the county and then they figure out ways to entice people to come and see for themselves. One of the growing trends today is culinary tourism and wine-tasting and the bureau proudly touts the new Wine Cellars of Washington, located in Snohomish, which is a chance for people to taste wines from 25 different Washington wineries all in one location.

The Tourism Bureau has also taken notice of the popularity of smartphones and come up with a series of five “cyber tours” where you can learn more about the destinations and their history from your phone or mobile device as you're visiting the area. Those tours include:

•  Aviation Adventures – 14 tour stops highlighting experiences such as the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour at Paine Field, Glider Rides at Arlington Airport, and Skydive Snohomish at Snohomish Harvey Field.

•  Everett on Port Gardner Bay – 97 combined tour stops within the Hewitt Avenue National Historic District and Everett Historic Places including Speakers Corner, site of the 1916 “Everett Massacre” labor riot and the former U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson's 1911 Colonial Revival-style house on Grand Avenue.

•  City of Granite Falls – 18 tour stops showcasing historic sites such as the Cascade Hotel and Granite Falls Creamery.

•  Mountain Loop Highway – 35 tour stops featuring the Cascade Mountains, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, towns, museums, hiking trails, lakes, and even a wildlife animal park featuring kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos.

•  City of Snohomish – 18 tour stops in the “Antique Capital of the Northwest” with historic buildings dating back to the 1850s.

To get the free guides, go to www.snohomish.org and download the tours with your mobile device such as an iPhone®, iPad®, Blackberry® or a device powered by Android® with access to the Internet to download one or more cyber tours. You can also use a computer, laptop or notebook to take the tours online.

For more information on Snohomish County attractions, call 1-888-338-0976 or visit the www.snohomish.org.

Photos, from top: Mukilteo Lighthouse and Washington State Ferry; Everett Waterfront; Visitors see jets being made at the Future of Flight Aviation Center Boeing Tour in Everett; Shopping abounds in the charming town of Snohomish

Photos courtesy of Snohomish County Tourism Bureau and the Museum of Flight Aviation Center Boeing Tour

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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