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Thursday, March 3, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Super Saturdays

Padilla Bay, Edison, Bow: neighbors with nature

Seattle Times travel staff

Editor's note: Take a day's vacation without going far. Welcome again to Super Saturdays, a recurring series that will offer ideas for a day away — away from home, away from the humdrum, somewhere around Puget Sound. Today we visit beautiful Skagit County.

The outing: For the urban refugee yearning for a taste of nature, along with good eats and a tiny historic town, here's an easygoing outing to the northwest Skagit Valley that will satisfy on all counts.

Start at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve east of Anacortes. Exhibits at its Breazeale Interpretive Center on the shore of the 8-mile-long Padilla Bay show how the shallow, rich waters nourish a web of life. (The three-room visitor center, named after a family that donated farmland to the reserve, is being doubled in size, with its new section due to open at the end of this month.) Pull open drawers to see displays on local animals, from bald eagles to sea worms, and punch buttons to hear bird calls (360-428-1558 or www.padillabay.gov, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday).

Once educated, go outside and enjoy the real thing on gentle trails, the beach and scenic country roads.

The Upland Trail, a pastoral .8-mile loop through meadows and woodland, starts by the visitors center. For sea views and a longer walk, head to the Shore Trail. The 2.2-mile dike-top trail begins about a mile south of the visitors center. The graveled, broad trail gives big views west across the 3-mile-wide Padilla Bay to the San Juan Islands.

It's not an untrammeled nature walk; houses and mobile homes dot the shore and you'll see the glinting machinery and smokestacks of two oil refineries across the bay near Anacortes. But nature's thriving. Great blue herons perch on trailside pilings, waiting for dinner to swim past. Bald eagles wheel overhead, also on the lookout for a meal. (The Padilla Bay reserve sometimes offers bird-watching and other nature field trips, or check with the Skagit Audubon Society, www.fidalgo.net/~audubon/.)

During the low tides of spring, Padilla Bay virtually empties, exposing miles of glistening mudflats and eel grass. Sandy beaches are scarce, but there's a little strip of beach in front of the Breazeale visitor center. For a bit more elbow room go to Bay View State Park (www.parks.wa.gov), between the visitor center and the community of Bay View. A grassy waterfront point about the size of a soccer field is dotted with picnic tables and there's a narrow stretch of sandy beach (accessed by a pedestrian tunnel under the road).

Good eats: All the fresh air stimulates the appetite. For picnic fixings or a meal, drive 10 minutes north to Edison, a tiny 19th-century farm town that's home to about 150 people.

Edison's claim to fame is that Edward R. Murrow, the radio journalist whose World War II broadcasts from Europe were avidly listened to by millions, lived in a homestead nearby and went to school in Edison.

I ate my way through Edison, starting at the Farm to Market Bakery (14003 Gilmore, 360-766-6240) with a peach-and-cream scone and a fine cup of coffee in the sunlit, two-table bakery/cafe.

A few doors up at the Breadfarm (5766 Cains Court, 360-766-4065, www.breadfarm.com), I bought a baguette that would have done a Parisian proud. The adjoining Slough Food (360-766-4458) is a cozy store of fine wines and European cheeses (plus gouda made at Samish Bay Cheese, a family dairy less than a mile away).

Up the street is the Longhorn Saloon, a favorite place for microbrews and local oysters — and a favorite stop for motorcyclists on a country ride, judging from the shiny Harleys parked outside.

Shopping op: Rhody Too Gallery, next door to the Rhododendron Cafe in Bow, a tiny neighbor community east of Edison, is a cozy cabin full of artwork and crafts, from handmade greeting cards and jewelry to leather bags and local artists' paintings (5507 Chuckanut Drive, 360-766-4031). I resisted the urge to splurge and, for something completely different, went next door to Bonnars Trading Post.

Bonnars is a splendidly messy store jammed with second-hand stuff in a musty-smelling wood building that looks like it may fall down soon. Need a 1960s Ford car manual? Cross-cut saw? Fine china? It's all here, somewhere in the jumble presided over by cheerful Bonnar Mitchelle who lives out back. I came away with a silver-plated Art Deco-style serving dish, scratched but only $8.

What'll it cost me? Not much besides gas to get there. Padilla Bay trails are free, the visitors center is by donation; parking is free everywhere. You can spend a few dollars for coffee and pastry at the Farm to Market Bakery or $15 or so for a fancier meal at the Rhododendron Cafe or the Longhorn Saloon or other Edison/Bow eateries.

Getting there: From Interstate 5, take Exit 230 onto Highway 20 west toward Anacortes. Go about six miles, then turn north at a stoplight onto Bay View-Edison Road (the Farm House Inn Restaurant is at the intersection). Go about five miles north, past the community of Bay View and Bay View State Park, to Padilla Bay's Breazeale Interpretive Center.

To get to Edison, go north from the Breazeale center until a T-junction with Samish Island Road; turn right to Edison. Continue about a half-mile east to Bow.

Kristin Jackson: 206-464-2271 or kjackson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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