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A romp through Sequim

Refurbished rail cars make up the lodging at the Red Caboose Getaway bed and breakfast in Sequim, Wash.
Refurbished rail cars make up the lodging at the Red Caboose Getaway bed and breakfast in Sequim, Wash.

Lavender-rich coastal town promises unusual bright spot on mostly cloudy Olympic Peninsula

SEQUIM, Wash. – Sequim is famous for sunshine and lavender. Chances are supplies of both will be plentiful this summer, but no worries if you happen to arrive on a rare cloudy day as we did a few weeks ago.

Wear your hiking boots and pack an appetite. Romps through the lavender fields, beach walks and apple pancakes await, even when the sun isn’t peeking through the “blue hole” – a patch of clear sky known to hover above Sequim when it’s raining almost everywhere else.

The town’s famous Lavender Festival is coming next weekend, but whether you go then or sooner, here’s an itinerary to help you build a good day’s outing:

7:55 a.m. – Into the rain shadow

Hop an early ferry across Puget Sound, then take a scenic drive across the Hood Canal Bridge to the Olympic Peninsula. Even if it’s pouring in Seattle, chances are it will be clear – or at the worst, cloudy or just a bit drizzly – in Sequim.

Bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Dungeness Bay on the north, and the Dungeness River to the west, Sequim lies in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The Olympics’ storm-blocking effect means Sequim gets an average annual rainfall of about 15 inches, compared to more than double that amount in Seattle and as much as 140 to 160 inches in the nearby rain forest on the western half of the peninsula.

9:45 a.m. – Apple pancakes

Breakfast at the Nagler family’s Oak Table Cafe (, at Third Avenue and Bell Street in downtown Sequim, is almost on its own worth the trip.

“Anyone traveling through the Pacific Northwest must stop here for breakfast,” wrote one reviewer on “Their pancakes are works of art.”

The homey cafe with its stained-glass windows, big oak tables and brass ceiling fans has a following of regulars such as Estene and Sam Barth. They’ve lived in Sequim for 30 years and come to the Oak Table about once a month.

“You have to carefully study the menu a long time,” Estene advised my husband, Tom, and me as we waited in line. “Everything is big enough to share.”

The house specialty is a custardy, 3-inch-high apple pancake, baked souffle style, stuffed with apple slices and topped with a caramelized cinnamon glaze. At $12.95 it seemed a little spendy, but Estene was right: It was more than enough for two.

11 a.m. – Handmade hats, more

Park anywhere (parking’s free and everything is within walking distance) and explore the Saturday Open Aire Market (

Sequim’s climate – some compare it to the Provence region of France – is ideal for growing not only lavender but many types of produce and berries. Look for u-pick signs along the road this summer.

The market is the place to pick up local honey and cheeses, a slice of pizza baked in a wood-fired oven or, if you’ve brought a cooler, local Dungeness crab.

The crafts stand out for their usefulness. Sequim is a retirement community, and entrepreneurs have come up with unique ideas for turning hobbies into businesses.

At the Kitchen Cottages stall, Diane Eason sells colorful quilted tea cozies in three sizes for $6, $8 and $12, and crochet-topped hand towels for $3.50.

Charlotte Bower runs Cheerful Creations. You’ll find her most Saturdays sitting under a white awning using twine and a thick needle to hand-stitch her washable braided rugs.

Rene Ewbank, not retired, owns Fresh Hats. Her specialty is “sustainable hats,” priced from $10-$65, which she sews on a vintage Singer treadle machine.

In the interest of conservation, she has lived without electricity since 1991.

Noon – Lavender fields forever

Dairy farms once dominated the Dungeness River valley. It’s still possible to drive along two-lane roads, see cattle grazing and stop at U-pick berry, herb and flower farms, but much land has been given over to housing development.

Cultivating lavender began as an idea to help save local farmland. Now it’s a major agribusiness, with 36 farms growing more than 100 varieties of the fragrant herb in fields that become seas of purple in July and August.

Growers offer tours at the annual Sequim Lavender Festival (Friday through next Sunday), but many welcome visitors other times.

The 12-acre Purple Haze farm, 180 Bell Bottom Road (, is an easy drive or bike ride from town.

Fifteen years ago, the farm “was just barbed wire and cow patties,” says owner Mike Reichner, a former state-park ranger who helped start the Lavender Festival. Now visitors can walk through fields blanketed in purple, sample lavender lemonade and ice cream, and picnic near an herb garden.

In town, the Purple Haze store at 127 W. Washington St. is headquarters for every product that can be made with lavender. Assuming you like the flavor and scent, look for lavender-flecked pepper, honey, sugar and salad dressing, as well as soap, candles, creams and stress balls.

1:30 p.m. – Get a buzz on

“I wanted a place where people would feel comfortable spending time,” is how Deb Ferguson, queen bee of The Buzz (, describes her mission for this cozy cafe in downtown Sequim.

Locals with newspapers and laptops make themselves at home on the red leather sofa near the front window.

Try the “Queen Bee” latte made with Caffe Vita coffee, coconut syrup and chocolate sauce. Then wander into BeeDazzled, a backroom clothing and knickknack boutique stocked with $8 vintage ties and $2.50 turquoise plastic margarita glasses.

2 p.m. – Biking, beach-walking

Flat streets make for easy biking around Sequim. The best trail biking is along a portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail (, two miles west of town at Railroad Bridge Park on the Dungeness River.

The blustery weather meant our bikes stayed in the car. Instead, we joined walkers, joggers and couples pushing strollers across the historic former Milwaukee Railroad bridge, now part of a pedestrian and cycling trail that cuts through Dungeness Valley farmland.

Children will like the Dungeness River Audubon Center (, where there’s a large taxidermy collection of native birds.

Better than biking in windy or cool weather was a classic Northwest beach walk at Dungeness Spit, a natural sand spit in the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge ( washingtonmaritime/dungeness), seven miles north of Sequim.

A half-mile hike through a sweet-smelling forest with scenic overlooks leads to a rocky beach scattered with driftwood. For those who come prepared to walk 4.5 miles along the beach, the reward is a free tour of a historic lighthouse (, staffed by volunteers.

4 p.m. – Oysters by the sea

A friend recommended several spots in town for an early dinner. Then he ended his note by saying, “We ALWAYS eat at 3 Crabs.”

I was surprised, then, when several locals steered me away from this casual little beach restaurant (, which has been around since the 1950s.

The classic crab dishes seemed pricey, so given the mixed reviews, we went with oyster sandwiches on toast served with a potato and hard-boiled egg salad ($10.50 each).

We left satisfied, with plenty of time to make the 7:10 p.m. ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle and a ritual dessert stop at Mora Iced Creamery ( in Winslow.