THE TINY TOWN: La Conner, Washington (Don’t Say Oo-La-La)
THE TINY TOWN: La Conner, Washington
When I started doing this series of tiny towns of Washington State with a population under 1000, I was expecting to find boring towns with nothing to do, and no real reason to visit. So far, I’ve found the opposite. And this charming village on the on the water is no exception.
La Conner is just few miles west of the I-5 between Everett and Bellingham. No ferry needed. I was told that most people don’t go out of their way to stop into La Conner, for they are driving the 20 over to Anacortes.
Well, you could have fooled me. Seems like the on a sunny weekend, the population of just under 1000 doubles with people stopping in to check out the quaint antique shops, cafes, and breweries with a heavy presence of fantastic artists. LOTS of fantastic artists. In fact, famous artists in La Conner were featured in a Life Magazine article in 1953.
Not just one small block of cuteness. Drive up and down 1st street and you’ll wonder where to start. Actually, you may be doing a lot driving if you do decide to visit La Conner. Come in a small car, for the streets through the downtown area are very narrow, and then good luck finding a parking spot. Perhaps people have caught on to this once hidden gem along the river that spills out onto Skagit Bay. Maybe find some parking across the river in Shelter Bay, and ride a bike back over the very photogenic Rainbow Bridge in to downtown La Conner. Just be warned that once you see those beautiful homes right on the Marina of Shelter Bay, you’ll be turning to your significant other saying, “This is where I want to retire.”
Rainbow Bridge is also unique in Washington State. While there's a state law that all bridges have to be pained green, after a bit of a battle, La Conner got it's way and is painted red and orange.
The population has slowly grown over the years with small businesses thriving. Until 2020. Due to the pandemic, several shops had to close. And La Conner’s popular annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival was canceled.
La Conner is a historic fishing village that was first settled in 1867 by Alonzo Low where they set up a post office calling the village, Swinomish, named because of the Swinomish channel. In 1869, J.S. Conner bought the settlement's trading post and in 1870. And as you expected by his last name, he changed the name of the town. But not after himself. And not because it was cool to use “la” to make it French. Conner named changed it to La Conner to honor his wife. The “L.A.” is actually the initials of her first and middle name. Louisa Ann Conner.
Today, La Conner, like many small tourist towns in Washington State, is slowly recovering and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When you do get to visit La Conner and walk up and down downtown, try to have lunch at a cafe along the river, and think about what this place must have been like around the 1900’s. I sometimes like to picture what we'd be wearing, compared to today in our Billabong shorts and Seahawks sweatshirts.