Best of Skagit 2016

Best Auto Dealer :

Dewey Griffin Subaru

You can tell a lot about people by how they treat animals. Just ask the staff at Dewey Griffin Subaru, who in addition to providing the many Subaru devotees of Bellingham with a stellar selection of new and used vehicles for nearly 50 years, also offer a dog-friendly loaner car and have an onsite dog park with direct trail access to Whatcom Falls Park. Through October, the Iowa Street headquarters also acted as a drop-off point for donations of toys, food and other pet supplies for the Whatcom Humane Society. Additionally, they step up to the plate where helping their fellow humans is concerned, having recently donated a significant amount to the Bellingham Food Bank’s annual “Feed the Need” Community Food Drive.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Info: [url=http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com]http://www.deweygriffensubaru.com[/url]


Best Place to Meet Men:

Sin and Gin Tour

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When it comes to Bellingham’s dating scene, this is a fascinating win. Every summer, the “Sin and Gin” tours in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven are led by costumed historians from the Bureau of Historical Investigation, Bellingham’s unique gift and tour company. Sign up for one of their excursions and get to know Bellingham’s deep-seated sin—or, as they call it, “a guided walking tour exploring the history of vice in Bellingham.” You’ll be sussing out Bellingham’s brothels of old and, while you’re at it, you’ll most likely run into the man of your dreams—even if he is a ghost haunting a building.
Where: 217 W Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.thebureaubellingham.com]http://www.thebureaubellingham.com[/url]


Best Deli:

Old World Deli

I can no longer remember a time before Old World Deli existed in my life and I no longer want to. The State Street mainstay could probably get by on its carefully curated wine selection and selection of house made, cured and smoked meats alone, but that’s just the tip of a very tasty iceberg. Because they have all the fixins—pasta, sauces, cheeses, and exotic relishes, condiments and spices—for you to make your own meal. Or, if you’re lazy like me, they’ll make you a perfect sandwich, salad or bowl of soup from their premium ingredients. I generally go for the sandwiches on the specials board, but sometimes only a #12 will do.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.oldworlddeli1.com]http://www.oldworlddeli1.com[/url]


Best Festival:

Downtown Sounds

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If ever there was a year that Downtown Sounds—and by association the Downtown Bellingham Partnership and its Events Director Lindsey Payne Johnstone—earned this award, it would be for its 2019 series. After being rained out the first week, and with more rain in the forecast for the second, Payne Johnstone went to work, mobilizing the considerable forces at her disposal and moving Downtown Sounds to the Depot Market Square, before finishing out the final three concerts at its home on Bay and Prospect streets. In doing so, she put together her most successful Downtown Sounds to date. The rain might be a pain, but it’s no match for the Reign of Payne.
Where: Bay and Prospect streets
Info: [url=http://www.downtownbellingham.com]http://www.downtownbellingham.com[/url]


Best Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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It’s tulip time, and the fields are alive with the light and color of spring. The word’s out, and this spectacular time in the Skagit Valley is no longer a secret. But Skagit still holds a lot of secrets—mist-shrouded valleys, swollen and mighty rivers, and frosty high country thick with dark pines and devil’s club. And there are the hidey holes—the hamlets sprinkled along old forgotten highways, the winding sloughs and channels of the fertile delta, and the coast beyond—dotted with islands pungent from salt and rain. There are the bars and diners and coffeehouses, the playgrounds and trails. And there are the people who fill them, hearty and happy. And though our readers revealed some of these secrets, Skagit remains a treasure undiscovered. Entries by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle and Andy Porter
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.tulips.com]http://www.tulips.com[/url]


Best Bloody Mary:

Bayou On Bay

Brunch is serious business in Bellingham—and so are Bloody Marys. Like you, I am always on the hunt for the best one in town, and more often than not, my search ends at Bayou On Bay. Homemade Bloody Mary mix is the base, which ever-willing Bayou bartenders can customize with varying levels of spice, a plethora of flavored vodkas infused in-house and more. Poured tall and strong, a Bayou Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment to an order of shrimp and grits or eggs Benedict. Hands-on types can even craft their own cocktail at Bayou’s Bloody Mary bar. Spice it how you like, just don’t Bogart all the bacon.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Info: [url=http://www.bayouonbay.com]http://www.bayouonbay.com[/url]


Best BBQ:


Dad’s Diner

Crowding the walls are years and years of photos of luminaries local and distant who’ve dined here and gone to heaven. She orders the biscuits. I order the brisket. Hers comes topped with gravy generous with bacon, sausage and ham—all smoked and cured in Dad’s smoker. Mine is the Memphis. It’s not even on the blackboard menu, but the waitress recommends it. Smoked brisket served moist with savory house-made barbecue sauce on Texas toast, cooled with a tangy coleslaw. “It’s good,” the waitress said. Heck, she says that about everything on (and not always on) Dad’s handwritten menu. She is always right.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 840-2938


Best Sandwich:

Avenue Bread

No matter which of the three conveniently located Avenue Bread locales we choose to patronize in Bellingham, we can rest assured that each and every scratch-made sandwich on their menu board will deliver us expediently to the intersection of wholesomeness and flavor-packed fun. In keeping with their commitment to good food, good business and community betterment, the kindly artisans at Avenue have cooked up Project Kneaded Dough—which means that along with blessing their patrons with BLTs, Eggenues, and Garden Deluxe on multigrain, every month they donate 25 cents from each loaf of bread we purchase to a local charity or school. Double yum.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Info: [url=http://www.avenuebread.com]http://www.avenuebread.com[/url]


Best Band/Musician :

Polecat

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As one could easily surmise, this is not Polecat’s first win in this category. The perennially popular bluegrass/folk/Americana band continues to draw big crowds—indeed, they just played their latest in a string of packed-out Halloween shows at the Wild Buffalo. High-energy performances coupled with impeccable musicianship and their proven ability to get audiences up and dancing have ensured Polecat’s place in the pantheon of Bellingham’s beloved bands.
Info: [url=http://www.polecatmusic.com]http://www.polecatmusic.com[/url]


Best Place to See Live Music:

Wild Buffalo

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I’m pretty sure the second the Wild Buffalo announced that Odesza would be there for a DJ set back in May, they clinched a win in this category—again. The venue just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and shows no signs of slowing down, thanks in no small part to owner and talent booker Craig Jewell. In the coming days, the Buff will host Dinosaur Jr. (Oct. 25), Built to Spill (Oct. 28), Justin Townes Earle (Nov. 4), Matisyahu (Nov. 15-16), and more (that you can read about on pg. 26). And if the past is any predictor of the future, Jewell is about due for yet another impossibly big show announcement. Stay tuned.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.wildbuffalo.net]http://www.wildbuffalo.net[/url]


Best Pot Store:

Loving Farms

Rest assured you won’t get blown off at Loving Farms, where the budtenders at the Mount Vernon-based pot shop are known for being as welcoming as they are knowledgeable about the product they’re selling—whether it’s a gram of Washington Glue, a cannabis cookie, a pre-roll of Middle Fork, Northern Lights concentrate, or Orange Blossom wax. And as the only locally owned marijuana store in the city, it’s a cinch to support.
Where: 2615 Old Hwy 99 S., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com]http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com[/url]


Best Place for Hunting & Fishing Supplies:


Holiday Sports

Whether you’re angling for pinks and cohos from the banks of the Skagit River, gunning for mulies on the backside of Cultus Mountain, or taking a family camping trip, the Steen family has you covered. Need a chrome and glow dodger with pink squid and glow insert for your early morning sockeye session on Baker Lake? No problemo. Looking for varmint cartridges, new/used firearms, rangefinders or a skilled expert to mount your rifle scope and sight your bore? Then make tracks to Burlington for an outfitting experience that is guaranteed to bolster your game bag—and your creel.
Where: 895 Nevitt Road, Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.holidaysportsburlington.com]http://www.holidaysportsburlington.com[/url]


Best Bartender:

Redlight Staff

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Like so many of you, the Cascadia Weekly staff is fond of the State Street “sparkle bar.” Inventive craft cocktails comprised of house-made ingredients are their area of expertise—and between all the members of their capable staff, that expertise is considerable. Under new ownership, the Redlight now offers a menu of homemade wontons and other assorted snacks to accompany their excellent drinks, but no matter what changes they make, top-notch service in one of the coziest bars in town will always be a mainstay.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/redlightbellingham]http://www.facebook.com/redlightbellingham[/url]


Best Barbecue:

Big Stick BBQ

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Oh dog, this is a food truck worth chasing—thick brisket rubbed over a slow fire until it falls from the bone, with all the fixins served alongside whatever fine local brew’s near where they’re wandering—and, yeah, a lot of the time Big Stick is serving at Wander Brewing. Sometimes, it’s at Stones Throw. Follow the Big Stick on Twitter, and then you’ll know.
Where: Wherever food trucks wander
Info: [url=http://www.bigstickbarbecue.com]http://www.bigstickbarbecue.com[/url]


Best Farm:

Schuh Farm

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Family owned and operated Schuh Farm has been in business for more than 50 years, providing Cascadia with fresh fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, eggs, baked goods (their pies are to die for) and old-fashioned family fun. There’s a bit of magic to the farm regardless of the season, and there’s something for everyone, big or small. Make Schuh Farm a must-stop destination today—and through December, as there’s always something new on the acreage.
Where: 15535 State Route 536, Mount Vernon
Info: (360) 424-6982


Best Pizza:

La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza

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’Hamsters love their pizza. Year after year, this query always receives the most votes and is the most fiercely contested category in Best of Bellingham. Always beloved, this year La Fiamma received nearly one vote in five. One of the reasons? This unique and creative pizzeria expanded the hours of Pye Hole. La Fiamma now includes lunch hours for their convenient late-night window where you can walk up and get a hot slice of wood-fired crispy-cheesy goodness. Because Bellingham must have its great pizza at all hours!
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.lafiamma.com]http://www.lafiamma.com[/url]


Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

It’s a rainy and brisk fall morning, but stalwart customers can still be found sitting at the outdoor tables under the awning at the Mount Bakery’s Champion Street locale. Perhaps they don’t feel the cold because they’re warmed to the core by what they’re eating—scones fresh out of the oven, made-by-scratch croissants, maple-glazed cookies, lemon meringue tarts, pieces of pie or one of the other myriad baked goods the longtime bakery stocks at both its downtown and Fairhaven locales. A commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, a passion for the craft and the ability to keep Bellinghamsters coming back for more makes this award-winning business a no-brainer in this category.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.mountbakery.com]http://www.mountbakery.com[/url]


Best Cannabis Product:

SUBX

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I was wary of the prerolled “Thick Wicket” joint I purchased last weekend. The specimen was huge and skunky and intimidating. I’d told my friendly budtender I was hoping to head outside to do yard work after testing it, and he assured me the hybrid strain from the perennially popular growers of Subdued Excitement (SUBX) was smooth and wouldn’t throw me for a loop. Soon after inhaling a few puffs, I was wandering the garden with a trowel in hand and enjoying the autumnal splendor. While I likely wouldn’t mow the lawn while under the influence of Thick Wicket, it was just the ticket for an afternoon of weeding in the sun.
Info: [url=http://www.subdued-excitement.com]http://www.subdued-excitement.com[/url]


Best Bike Store:

Kulshan Cycles

Bellingham has one of the most bike-centered populations in the United States. We love our rides. At the center of our fair city is Kulshan Cycles. If it wasn’t for them, we’d probably all be riding around on Flintstone-style stone wheels and dinosaur-drawn carriages. Kulshan Cycles, where superior customer service, an awesome bike selection and a stellar maintenance crew keep Bellingham upright and peddling—even through the rain.
Where: 100 E .Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.kulshancycles.com]http://www.kulshancycles.com[/url]


Best Pizza:

Railroad Pub & Pizza

Burlington is making a habit of this—refitting a classic old brick and mortar building and filling it with fresh food and friendly spirits. The Railroad Pub offers wood-fired pizzas—comfortable old favorites like pepperoni line up alongside startling exotics like Brussels & Bacon—paired with an ample selection of draft beers from local breweries. And, wine, if you’re so inclined.
Where: 122 S Spruce St., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.railroadpizza.com]http://www.railroadpizza.com[/url]


Best Attorney:

Brock Stiles

Originally founded by Bill Stiles in 1951, Brock followed his father’s footsteps into the family business, Stiles Law. He has been practicing in Skagit County for more than 30 years, covering a vast array of legal services including personal injury, workers comp, probate, estate and real estate planning, and landlord/tenant disputes—meaning you can leave your legal issues in his capable hands.
Where: 925 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.stileslaw.com]http://www.stileslaw.com[/url]


Best Place to Dance/Best Place to Meet Men & Women/Best Bartender:

The Old Edison Inn/Audra Robson

At least one Weekly staffer had a first date at the Old Edison Inn that turned into a long-term relationship, and so can vouch for the seductive powers of its oysters and burgers, its shuffleboard tables, its dance floor and its welcoming small-town vibe. That same staffer knows that after making the drive to Bow, there’s nothing better than walking in the door to the Edison and seeing bartender Audra Robson grinning from behind the bar, ready with an enthusiastic greeting and refreshing cocktail.
Where: 5829 Cains Court, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.theoldedison.com]http://www.theoldedison.com[/url]


Best Tulip Farm:

RoozenGaarde

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If you were to wend your way to RoozenGaarde, you would find field after field ablaze with the tulips for which the area is so famous. It is a carefully cultivated, wholly natural wonder of the world, and it draws thousands every year who make the pilgrimage to the Skagit Valley to take in the riot of color that has made the region famous. But the tulip fields, while certainly a sight unto themselves, are merely the gateway to a county that boasts a rich history of agriculture and art, and is inhabited by folks who proudly hew to a fiercely local lifestyle. With its distinct and disparate cities and towns, natural beauty from field to sea and the miles of scenic routes and backroads that link it all, there is much treasure to found in Skagit, if only you know where to look. What follows is that which you’ve deemed the region’s best, the places that have earned your votes and your love, the ones that exist right in your own bountiful backyard. Best of Skagit compiled by Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Tim Johnson, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat. Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle
Where: 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.tulips.com]http://www.tulips.com[/url]


Best Stop on Highway 542:

North Fork Beer Shrine

Best stop on the way to Mt. Baker? It’s a trick question. Actually, everyone knows the mountains are just an excuse to get out of town for the real destination: a frosty pint and a hearty slice of wood-fired pizza near a place called Welcome. Church Mountain is my cathedral, but the North Fork is my shrine.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy, Deming
Info: [url=http://www.northforkbrewery.com]http://www.northforkbrewery.com[/url]


Best Tap Room:

Elizabeth Station

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“What a 7-Eleven would be like if there was one in the Shire,” the Station folks say. It is comically true, this cozy hobbit hole at the gateway to Columbia neighborhood. Want any of a selection of a hundred beers? Friend, they’ll pour it for you into a frosty glass. You could take it to go, but then you’d miss a sunset with your kin and their fiery tales of dragons.
Where: 1400 W. Holly St
Info: [url=http://www.elizabethstation.es]http://www.elizabethstation.es[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

Our readers love co-ops, where memberships create a more intimate relationship with the retailer. The grandfather of these member organizations is REI, which began in Seattle in 1935 when two climbers decided they needed a better way to purchase gear. That mission still holds true, with this quality outfitter providing equipment and clothing for all seasons and elevations and adventures in Cascadia. You’re welcome!
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham]http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham[/url]


Best Head Shop :

Avalon

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Remember the good old, bad old days when you had to slink furtively into the patchouli-scented bong shop, cough and complain about how rough tobacco treats your throat? Yeah, right: Tobacco. Now you can just walk in and buy the water pipes and stemware you want, the vape gear, the grinders and scales and all the rest of the paraphernalia, the whole lovely lot of it. And talk to the staff instead about their latest music picks and the happenings on Railroad Avenue. Freedom is awesome.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.avalonrecordshop.com]http://www.avalonrecordshop.com[/url]


Best Sandwich :

Avenue Bread

Avenue Bread’s ever-rising empire has extended over the years to the far reaches of Whatcom County. Thanks to their homemade artisan breads and consistently high-quality ingredients, their sandwich offerings are, without question, the best in town. And with locations in downtown Bellingham, Sunnyland, Fairhaven, and now Lynden you’ll never be without their turkey melts, clubs, Reubens and beyond. Personally, I like their breakfast “eggenues” on stops from brisk morning bike commutes.
Where: Downtown Bellingham, Sunnyland, 
Fairhaven, and Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.avenuebread.com]http://www.avenuebread.com[/url]


Best Greek:

Cafe Akroteri

I’ve been spending time at Cafe Akroteri on and off for nearly 20 years, and recently realized I love it as much for its dolmathes, spanikopita and souvlaki as I do for its welcoming atmosphere. Here, I’ve gathered with friends, coworkers and strangers—typically in the roomy bar, where the tables can easily be moved together as the party expands—for Christmas parties, political discussions, pre-concert dinners and romantic interludes. It’s here you can also take advantage of the smokin’ bar special—a gyro and a beer for $10.50.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.cafeakroteri.com]http://www.cafeakroteri.com[/url]


Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

At La Conner’s Sibling Studio, it’s a family affair. Since 2002, when mixed-media artist Lloyd Houston and his sister Christie moved back to the town where they were raised, the duo have been following their muses in a variety of ways. In Lloyd’s case, photography shares creative space with prints, writing, imagery, painting, sculpture, ginormous jigsaw puzzles and something he calls “BEM Boxes.” To create the art that defies categorization, Houston—who’s celebrating his second win in this coveted category—says he looks to the past to lead him. See his work at the multiple-award-winning Conway Muse, or schedule a time to check out the printmaking machinations at Sibling Studio.
Where: La Conner
Info: [url=http://www.siblingstudio.com]http://www.siblingstudio.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

A crispness enters the air and the rains have returned. Autumn has already unfolded in the high country. Folks call it “off season,” but I’ve never really understood why—it is the best season. You need gear, though. A T-shirt and shorts won’t cut it. You need a hood for the rain, and a jacket for the chill; footwear, not flip-flops. REI has been outfitting for the outdoors in Bellingham for more than 20 years. Seasons change. Their quality and service never does.
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham]http://www.rei.com/stores/bellingham[/url]


Best Ski Store:

Backcountry Essentials

You can tell a lot about the quality of rippers and shredders by where they buy their gear. Price is always an object, because expense rhymes with nonsense and the daily deal is on the slopes. Backcountry Essentials offers quality, practical gear backed by an intelligent, knowledgable staff—with prices that aren’t a wipeout.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Info: [url=http://www.backcountryessentials.net]http://www.backcountryessentials.net[/url]


Best Festival:

Skagit 
River Salmon Festival

Skagit 
River Salmon Festival wins best festival in Skagit Valley
A number of factors contribute to the success of the Skagit River Salmon Festival, which is held early every September at Mount Vernon’s Edgewater Park. Strong connections to other members of the conservation community and the lovely locale along the banks of the body of water the nonprofit is working to protect are key to the event’s popularity, but so too is the roster of live music, food and drink, artisan wares, raptor shows, arts and crafts, and family-friendly activities that are part of the gathering. Organizers promise attendees will have heaps of fun, but also hope they’ll leave with a greater sense of the stewardship role each community member can take in safeguarding the Skagit River watershed.
Where: 600 Behrens-Millett Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.skagitriverfest.org]http://www.skagitriverfest.org[/url]


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

Despite the fact that StrEAT Food has a rotating roster of special menu items on its mobile menu, I typically have a Pavlovian response to their savory chicken artichoke sandwich—which, it should be noted, also includes bacon, onions and a grilled bun (the perfect touch). While parked outside of Kulshan Brewery on a recent Saturday, one of the specials at Bellingham’s perennially favorite food truck was shrimp and grits, and although my mind was urging me to go for the regular, my seafood-loving body took over and ordered something new. I was so glad I did, as was my date, who after eying the devoted way I was devouring my meal, offered me a couple of bites of his reliably delicious Gyro Pita in exchange for a taste. I was happy to oblige.
Where: K2, Carne, Fringe Brewing, Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Info: [url=http://www.streatfood.me]http://www.streatfood.me[/url]


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Now that companion bills to preserve the 1,600-acre core of Blanchard State Forest for all current and future generations are working their way through the finalization process deep in Washington State Legislature, legions of loyal trail users can expect that whether they’re chugging up the switchbacks from Chuckanut Drive, contouring along the ridge line from Samish Overlook, or slogging through leeward dog hair via B-1000 Road, the crowning stand of mature timber on and around the dome will be perpetually protected from the denuding process and waiting to be savored in all its rocky, salal-carpeted glory.
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


Best Bakery:

Mount Bakery

It’s a drizzly Sunday morning, and the downtown brunch crowd at the Mount Bakery is on the verge of reaching full capacity. While I’d love to settle in with a Tomato Benny, I’ve just dropped by to secure a sweet treat. Among the baked-from-scratch delights, the marionberry orange scones look divine. But so too do the orange vanilla morning rolls, the ginger molasses and triple chocolate cookies, the seasonal fruit galette, and the platter of cinnamon rolls—which resemble miniature mountains topped with gooey layers of snow. After much deliberation, I settle on a raspberry cream cheese scone, secure I’ve made the right choice. But let’s face it, when it comes to Mount Bakery’s to-die-for baked goods, there in no wrong decision.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.mountbakery.com]http://www.mountbakery.com[/url]


Best Music Store:

Everyday Music

Everyday Music
Even though the whole world seems to be in a torrid love affair with streaming services, Bellingham remains a place where people still purchase their music--or at least enough of it to keep a couple of music stores in business. As they always do, Everyday Music and Avalon Records slugged it out in this category, but this year Everyday emerged the victor. Convenient hours (they’re open from 10am-10pm, seven days a week) and a wide-ranging selection make for a perfect place to peruse and purchase your latest earworm.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: (360) 676-1404


Best Yoga Studio:

Quantum Yoga

Looking to center yourself? Maybe work off a little of that winter rust? Many people seek out yoga to do both, but Skagit favors Quantum Yoga in Burlington. Not only do they have yoga, they have a juice bar. They also have classes and discounts for first-time yoga students, so if you're looking to create a little balance in your life, drop them a line.
Where: 121 S Spruce St., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.qhyogalounge.com]http://www.qhyogalounge.com[/url]


Best Performance Space:

Lincoln Theater

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Bluesman Robert Cray, actress Maggie Smith, the Coen Brothers, illusionist Caleb Sigmon, the incomparable Buster Keaton, and an assorted batch of space pirates were—or will be—among the performers visiting Mount Vernon’s historic Lincoln Theatre during the month of April. While it’s true not all of them will be there in person, seeing a film on the big screen in a lovingly restored vaudeville and silent movie house is pretty much the next best thing. And if you make it to the storied theater’s 90th anniversary celebration Sat., April 23 for a viewing of Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. and One Week, you’ll also be treated to the best in time travel, courtesy of the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer and a 35-cent entry fee.
Where: 712 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lincolntheatre.org]http://www.lincolntheatre.org[/url]


Best Pot Store:

2020 Solutions

2020 Solutions Wins Best of Bellingham Award
It’s not surprising that Bellingham’s Best Pot Store—or, in this case, stores—carries strains created by SubX, which our voters deemed the best grower around. “We partner with growers that are able to provide a consistent, high-quality product to you, our guest,” the 2020 team explains. “We focus on creating an experience that allows you to spend time with a professional, knowledgeable budtender. Our budtenders will guide you through the process and offer suggestions to enhance your cannabis experience.” In other words, if you’re not sure how many enhanced brownies you can eat without retreating to the fetal position, don’t be afraid to ask.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Fast Food:

Boomers Drive-In

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“Best burgers on the planet?” I think they’re being modest about our mostly burger-less solar system. She arrives at my car foot sore, and I admire her approach that is both seriously practical and droll. What’s the difference between Combo One and Combo Two? I ask—already knowing. Combo One comes with a hard ice cream milkshake, she replies. Why would anyone choose Two? I query. She doesn’t know, either, she laughs. Parents drive up with their kids, who are thrilled, and they share something together out of another, simpler time that I imagine they’ll remember as a family for many years. Without leaving my car, without leaving the solar system, I am transported.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Info: [url=http://www.boomersdrivein.com]http://www.boomersdrivein.com[/url]


Best Coffeehouse:

Black Drop Coffeehouse

With so many coffee shops from which to choose—each with its own fierce loyalists—the Black Drop’s string of wins in this category is telling. Simply put, they are flat-out exemplary at what they do. Whether they’re pulling perfect shots from locally roasted beans, explaining their many specialty drinks or slinging double shots of espresso on Free Doppio Friday, they execute with a minimum of fuss and an abundance of excellence. Add to that an inclusive atmosphere that tolerates everything except hate, and it’s easy to see what makes the Black Drop your favorite.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

This is not Whiskey Fever’s first win in this category, and if frontman Jack Mattingly has his way, it won’t be their last. Mattingly decided while still in grade school that he wanted to be a musician, and he’s been making that childhood dream come true ever since. He played solo for a minute, and then found a crew of likeminded music-makers that became Whiskey Fever. The rest is history in the making.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


Best Clothing Store:

Stowe’s Shoes & Clothing

Stowes_Clothing_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(2).jpg
I don't want to be the belle of the ball. I want to be able to find footwear that will keep me dry whether I'm gardening or hiking and clothing that doesn't require dry cleaning. Since 1940, Stowe's Shoes & Clothing in downtown Burlington has made sure those living and working in the Pacific Northwest find both comfort and confidence in what they're wearing—and that's my kind of style.
Where: 420 E. Fairhaven Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com]http://www.stowesshoesandclothing.com[/url]


Best Gym:

Whatcom Family YMCA

There was a time in my life when I reserved a couple nights of the week for kickboxing aerobics classes at the Whatcom Family YMCA. The sessions were full of women of every shape and fitness level, and were also social in nature. Years later, the vibe hasn’t changed much (even if my ability to karate-kick has). Whether you’re lifting free weights, soaking up the stellar view of Bellingham Bay from the comfort of a stationary bicycle, swimming, taking a class—or signing your kids up for one—acceptance is the name of the game, and all are welcome.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Info: [url=http://www.whatcomymca.org]http://www.whatcomymca.org[/url]


Best Bike Shop:

Kulshan Cycles

Anyone who’s ever thrilled at the way it feels to ride a bicycle down a steep hill can likely also attest to the not-so-great feeling that occurs when you discover the brakes on your two-wheeled conveyance need some assistance. That’s where Eric and Kae Moe of Kulshan Cycles come in. When the duo took over the bike business from previous owner Jack Kimmes in 2005, Eric had already put in a decade at the Chestnut Street locale, making him an ideal successor to the now-35-year-old shop—which is known not only for its enviable selection of bike-related products, but also for the crew’s ability to fix pesky brakes (and so much more), host clinics and weekly bike rides, and sharing their love of riding with the public. (Honorable mention: Earl’s Bike Shop.)
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
Info: [url=http://www.kulshancycles.com]http://www.kulshancycles.com[/url]


Best Bank:

BECU

As its name suggests, Boeing Employees Credit Union originally existed to serve employees of the massive aerospace company. When they opened their membership to the general public, they also changed their name, and now they’re BECU to one and all. With a reputation for excellent customer service and sound financial advice, along with the particular perks that come with your membership, they’re doing their best to make managing your money a pleasure rather than a chore.
Where: 1753 S. Burlington Blvd., Burlington
Info: [url=http://www.becu.org]http://www.becu.org[/url]


Best Festival:

Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery

Skagit celebrates beer at every corner and its festivals are no different. Birdstock at Birdsview Brewery is the place to be, but not just to party. Birdstock began 11 summers ago because the owners of Birdsview wanted to give back to the local fire department. It has now become the fire department's biggest fundraiser.
Where: 38302 Washington 20, Concrete
Info: [url=http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com]http://www.birdsviewbrewingcompany.com[/url]


Best Movie Theatre:

Pickford Film Center

Pickford Cinema wins Best Theatre category
Shocking no one, the not-so-tiny-but-definitely-mighty Pickford Film Center has won this category every single year by a margin that is an excellent indicator of just how thoroughly the theater is embraced by the community at large. Currently, the Pickford is at the beginning of their annual celebration of all things documentary, Doctober, which is the largest festival of its kind on the West Coast. Powered by volunteers and beloved by Bellingham, the Pickford makes good on its “more than movies” mission 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St.
Info: [url=http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org]http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org[/url]


Best Trail:

Oyster Dome

Snagging a sunset on the rocky bald above the bat caves is a vertical payoff that makes the hard march up the trail doubly worth the effort. But when it comes to attaining a medicinal dose of Skagitonian solitude, I prefer a predawn tromp through the dog hair every time. Reclined regally in the silent embrace of my root-gnarled breakfast nook, I watch familiar vistas emerge into expressive horizons—and that’s when part of me emerges, too.
Where: Pacific Northwest Trail, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.wta.org]http://www.wta.org[/url]


Best Italian:

Il Granaio

Inside Mount Vernon’s Grainery building, Il Granaio owner and Chef Alberto Candivi creates his own brand of magic. A native of Italy, Alberto’s passion for cooking has graced the Skagit Valley for nearly 20 years, and we are all the better for it. In addition to fresh, handmade pasta, house specialties and room for private parties, you can also learn from the chef himself by participating in one of Alberto’s Italian cooking classes.
Where: 100 W. Montgomery St. #110, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.granaio.com]http://www.granaio.com[/url]


Best Band:

Whiskey Fever

Whiskey_Fever-o1.jpg
Jack Mattingly first realized he wanted to be a musician when he was in the fourth grade. Presumably, he spent the time between then and now honing his craft and luring other likeminded music-makers to help him realize that dream. The result is Whiskey Fever, a four-piece band that describes itself as “rocky-tonk acousta-billy,” with definite indie rock leanings. In other words, their catchy songs of love and life fall right in line with the impressive regional musical tradition they’re part of, which probably has a little something to do with why so many of you voted for them in this hotly contested category.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand]http://www.facebook.com/WhiskeyFeverBand[/url]


Best Real Estate Agent:

Eric J. Larson, Coldwell Banker Bain

Buying or selling a home—especially in a market as permanently red-hot as Bellingham’s—comes with a lot of pressure, both financial and emotional. As such, who you trust with your home sweet home is of paramount importance. In a hotly contested category, Coldwell Banker Bain’s Eric J. Larson garnered the most votes. With deep roots in the community and almost two decades of experience, Larson brings knowledge, skill and pride of place to each client and every home bought or sold. Home is where the heart is, after all.
Where: 3610 Meridian St.
Info: [url=http://www.ericlarson.coldwellbankerbain.com]http://www.ericlarson.coldwellbankerbain.com[/url]


Best Breakfast/BBQ:

Dad’s Diner

Dads_Diner_BBQ_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle-o.jpg
The daily menu is etched on a blackboard, and it changes often. The talented cooks are always experimenting, and so should you. I order the buttermilk biscuits and gravy. My partner chooses the brisket hash, smoked in-house. The walls are crowded with years of photos of celebrities both local and distant who smile down on us.
Where: 906 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: (360) 899-5269


Best Realtor:

Sandra McKee

sandra-o.jpg
The real estate market in Bellingham is fierce. With rising home prices and escalating interest rates, it’s difficult to know who to turn to make sure your investment, or future investment, is in the right hands. That’s where Sandra McKee of John L. Scott Real Estate comes in. In real estate for just over a year and a half, McKee is already making a name for herself in this incredibly competitive field. If you’re thinking about purchasing or selling real estate, consider making her your point person.
Where: 2930 Newmarket St., 111
Info: (360) 220-1782


Best Beach:

Locust Beach

Locust Beach
A choice place to skim waves or catch a stellar sunset and own it. Spending a breezy summer day at low tide here provides ideal idling, but thanks to its all-season natural amenities and strategic shoreline setting, we can bank on the fact that a quick romp down the bluff below Locust Street is guaranteed to put sand in our shoes and lift our spirits with expansive alluvial vistas no matter what time of year we choose to lavish ourselves with its luxuries.
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
Info: [url=http://www.cob.org]http://www.cob.org[/url]


Best Winery:

Tulip Valley Winery

Wine, delicious wine. Free-flowing between glasses, feeling fine. A toast to my beloved, dear, sweet wine. We’ve lost count on how many years Tulip Valley Winery has won in this category, but every year they continue to be victorious with the sweet nectars of the valley. Make this an absolute must-see while stopping to enjoy the tulips (or any other time, for that matter). Make sure to include their popular Burro Loco Tulip Festival Cider in your tasting!
Where: 16163 WA-536, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.tulipvalley.net]http://www.tulipvalley.net[/url]


Best Watering Hole:

Brown Lantern Ale House

Brown_Lantern_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o_(1).jpg
The Weekly staff always argues over who gets to review the Brown Lantern. This year, I drew the lucky straw. Damn, I love this place! It’s barely noon and the place is jammed, as it always is, with locals who know their stuff. The bar is honky-tonk dark, yet lighted by a large picture window of the sunny street outside, and hewn of thick, heavy slabs of varnished wood from pines that just don’t grow this big anymore. And the burgers are from another glorious bygone time, too—thick and juicy off the grill, served with no nonsense, unless you consider cheese and special sauce fixins nonsense. There’s plenty of brews to choose from, but most of the nodding, wise fellows at the bar have in front of them a cracked can of icy Hamm’s old style. Who can argue?
Where: 412 Commercial Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.brownlantern.com]http://www.brownlantern.com[/url]


Best Grocery/Best Deli/Best Vegetarian:

Skagit Valley Food Co-op

During its 45 years of existence, Skagit Valley Food Co-op has built itself into a go-to nexus for wholesome, locally produced food, high-quality cuisine and a sundry selection of meatless victuals. Rooted deep into the social and economic fiber of the most robust agricultural corridor in Washington state, the grocers' unyielding commitment to sustainable growing practices and local suppliers isn’t just a boon to mindful gormandizers, it’s also a victory for dietary health, mindful community building and practicable stewardship of our natural environment. Perhaps this is why every time I order a tuna salad sandwich from the deli or go hunting for exotic strains of kale in the produce section—which features 98 percent certified organic products—I feel patriotic about partaking in the bountiful fruits of their labor.
Where: 202 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com]http://www.skagitfoodcoop.com[/url]


Best Hardware Store:

ACE Hardware Ancaortes

Designed as one stop for all your springtime needs—from lawn and garden equipment to paint, electrical and plumbing supplies for seasonal home repair. When you’re done with all the hard and heavy work, there’s even a section for recreational outdoors and sporting goods—and, yes, lawn furniture if you’re truly exhausted.
Where: 1720 Q Avenue, Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Genesis Salon+Spa

Genesis Salon and Spa wins best salon in Skagit Valley
Any barbershop can cut a person’s hair, but Mount Vernon’s Genesis Salon + Spa offers an immersive full-service spa experience typically only found in much larger cities. They’re equipped to handle all your hair needs, from a simple kid’s cut all the way up to balayage that will be the envy of your fashionable friends. And that’s just the beginning because Genesis’ talented and practiced staff is fully ready to wax your monobrow, make your skin glow with a facial, give you eyelash extensions and doll you up for a big event. In short, they can spruce you up from head to toe, and give you big-city services with small-town charm and prices.
Where: 302 S. 1st St., 
Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.genesismv.com]http://www.genesismv.com[/url]


Best Gallery:

Dakota Art Gallery

gallery01.JPG
According to Dakota Art Gallery Director Hannah Cwiek, big changes are in the works for the two-year-old creative space abutting Cornwall Avenue's Dakota Art Supplies. Although the focus for the award-winning venue will still be on contemporary art and curated exhibits, Cwiek is hoping to make the space a nonprofit—meaning it'll be easier to host Draw-A-Thon's and other fundraisers for organizations like Northwest Youth Services, Earthjustice, Community to Community Development, and more. In November, the public can get directly involved with the gallery by coming into the store and picking up a small canvas (for free), painting on it, then turning it back in for an upcoming exhibit.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.dakotaartgallery.com]http://www.dakotaartgallery.com[/url]


Best Salon:

Per Dona

Per-Dona-by-Jessamyn-Tuttle-(4).jpg
Mount Vernon’s Per Dona makes the cut in the fierce competition for Best Salon. Their beautiful downtown Mount Vernon location offers more than just expert hair help—they also provide skin care, manicures and pedicures, waxing services, makeup applications and lessons, peels, and bridal services—pretty much everything required to make you look (and feel) your best.
Where: 601 S. First St., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.perdonasalon.com]http://www.perdonasalon.com[/url]


Best Hardware Store:

Ace Hardware Anacortes

Will it ever stop raining? My gutters filled to flooding and their sheer weight loosened them from the house. They needed fastening and caulking. Ace provided all I needed for the repairs. Now spring seems ready to burst like a pent-up critter, the buds are like ripe melons and the lawn is a jungle. So I’m heading back to Ace to meet spring with a passion. And this time I’m also buying the stuff I’ll need for grilling.
Where: 1720 Q Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


Best Clothing Store:

Oliver Hammer

Skagit takes their rugged outdoorsin’ serious, right down to their long johns and underpants. Heavy-duty Bogs mud boots, Filson shirts stiff as sailcloth, Carhartt jackets, and Dickies rain gear. There’s nothing the river country can throw at you you can’t weather. You’re good to go.
Where: 821 Metcalf St., Sedro-Woolley
Info: [url=http://www.oliverhammer.com]http://www.oliverhammer.com[/url]


Best Asian:

On Rice

There’s something so cozy about Thai food and fall. On Rice has been crowned as the winner once again for Best Asian, and with three Bellingham-based locations, you’re just a few minutes away at any given time. Got a hunger pang for Panang? A passion for potstickers? Feelin' nice with fried rice? No need to slow your egg roll, because today—and every day—is the perfect day for yum.
Where: 209 N. Samish Way, 1224 Harris Ave., 2200 Rimland Dr. #100
Info: [url=http://www.onricethai.com]http://www.onricethai.com[/url]


Best Food Truck:

StrEAT Food

Years ago, when the Weekly began adding the food truck category to our annual compendium of the people and places that make Bellingham great, StrEAT Food was the clear winner. And thanks to James Pitzer’s commitment to providing locally procured, high-quality menu items—my choice typically turns out to be the chicken artichoke sandwich, but the lamb gyro pita and shrimp tacos are other family favorites—that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And although StrEAT Food has since opened a cafe in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, their mobile eatery continues to garner forever fans wherever they go.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., K2, Carne, Wander Brewing, and beyond
Info: [url=http://www.streatfood.me]http://www.streatfood.me[/url]


Best Place to Dance:

Rumors Cabaret

One of the joys of shaking what your mama gave you on the dance floor at Rumors Cabaret is that you don’t have to worry about being judged for your moves—or for anything else, for that matter. Since 1994, the LGBTQ-friendly bar and dance club on Railroad Avenue has been one where patrons can be themselves, and where they want to dance like everybody’s watching. Whether you’re coming through the doors for a stiff drink, a titillating drag show, or to lose yourself on the welcoming dance floor, Rumors is where you want to do it.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.rumorscabaret.com]http://www.rumorscabaret.com[/url]


Best Home Furnishings:

The Greenhouse

A denoument to the beloved and venerable store for home gear and furnishings, Chris Foss and Foster Rose have been searching for a new owner to bring the skills and customer service required for another generation of homemakers preparing for their next adventure. Chris and Foster transformed their business from a household plant and card store into a destination shopping place in the mid-1980s, helping anchor the downtown district in a time of great ferment. In the decades since, they’ve cemented the Greenhouse’s reputation for high-quality goods and services—something any new owner would be lucky to buy into.
Where: 235 Cornwall Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.greenhouse.com]http://www.greenhouse.com[/url]


Best Coffee Shop:

Black Drop Coffee House, Dylan Kloch and Ryan Siu

In a town of plentiful places to procure a cuppa, the Black Drop is your favorite year in and year out. And it’s not difficult to figure out why. With a commitment to ethically sourced, locally roasted and robustly flavored coffee that is matched only by the care and technique with which it is brewed, pulled and poured by Black Drop baristas—including Ryan Siu and Dylan Kloch, fixtures behind the coffee shop counter—they aim for nothing short of perfection with every order. Plus, all that superior coffee is served up in an inclusive and community-minded atmosphere, making it easy to eschew homebrew for the Black Drop.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Info: [url=http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com]http://www.blackdropcoffeehouse.com[/url]


Best Music Festival:

Subdued 
Stringband Jamboree

stringbandjamboree-16.jpg
Although the pickin’ party known as the Subdued Stringband Jamboree has won in this category before, one need not gaze upon their awards to know how much Bellinghamsters love this annual event—all you have to do is make your way to the Deming Log Show Fairgrounds every August to watch festival-goers flock to the weekend-long affair, where they will dance, catch up and take in the finest old-timey and Americana bands festival founder Robert Sarazin Blake can muster. It’s a community gathering like none other, every single year.
Where: Deming Log Show Fairgrounds
Info: [url=http://www.stringbandjamboree.com]http://www.stringbandjamboree.com[/url]


Best Steak:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

Steak. It’s not exactly politically correct, is it? And yet, delicious! Max Dale’s understands this dichotomy perfectly, serving tender chops and cuts and seafood in a sinfully comfortable setting that brings memories of Sinatra and stirred martinis. It’s like stepping back in time to a thoroughly modern dining experience. Make sure you eat your vegetables, and order dessert.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.maxdales.com]http://www.maxdales.com[/url]


Best Mexican/Best Margarita:

COA Mexican Eatery

COA Mexican wins best Mexican food in Skagit Valley
This might be a controversial opinion, but at COA it is wise to bypass the tacos in favor of any dish that comes doused in one or more of their signature house-made sauces: mole, poblano and pimenton crema. If you really want to get a sense of what sets COA apart from the rest of Skagit County’s excellent Mexican options, try the award-winning chile relleno (ask for extra pimenton crema—trust me). Wash it all down with the freshest made-to-order margarita you’ve ever had and your only regret will be that it’s probably not feasible to eat at COA every single day of your life.
Where: Mount Vernon, La Conner
Info: [url=http://www.coaeatery.com]http://www.coaeatery.com[/url]


Best Band:

Polecat

I’m not sure how many of these awards Polecat has won, but the answer lies somewhere between “some of them” and “nearly all of them.” Polecat’s perennial popularity lies in their ability to marry bluegrass with Celtic, rock, Americana and whatever other genres that suit their fancy to create lively music made for dancing. Plus, they’re just so doggone good at what they do and so delightful in how they do it. Everyone should be as easy to love as Polecat.
Info: [url=http://www.polecatmusic.com]http://www.polecatmusic.com[/url]


Best Clothing Store:

Labels

Thanks to an $18 store credit a bestie gifted me with when she left town, a recent visit to Labels’ James Street locale resulted in the price of my purchase—a cute-but-casual dress from Ambrielle, a form-fitting Miracle City sweater, and two fancy throw pillow covers from the store’s housewares section—being a measly two cents. Although I felt like a criminal, it was a legit deal. My friend had consigned clothes, which had since been sold, or donated to We Care or Ragfinery. That $18 credit was hers (now mine) to spend on other low-priced, high-quality items at the bustling business. All in all, was a win-win situation.
Where: 2332 James St.; 3927 Northwest Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.labelsconsignment.com]http://www.labelsconsignment.com[/url]


Best Music Festival:

Downtown Sounds

best_of_bellingham-10-18-17-downtown-sounds.jpg
After years spent retooling and reconfiguring their setup to accommodate ever-growing crowds, this year Downtown Sounds took over two blocks of Bay and Prospect streets, effectively doubling their footprint--and it was an unqualified success, judging by both the hordes of people who showed up for the five Wednesday-evening concerts of the wildly popular summer series, and their win in this category. You keep building it, Downtown Sounds, and we will keep coming.
Where: Bay and Prospect streets
Info: [url=http://www.downtownbellingham.com/downtown-sounds]http://www.downtownbellingham.com/downtown-sounds[/url]


Best Bike Store:

Skagit Cycle

Lucky for all of us fair-weather bikers, we're entering prime biking season. It's time to pull those two-wheelers out of their sheds and send them in for a little TLC at Skagit Cycle. Or maybe you just need a new one. They have more than 1,000 bikes in stock and have three locations, so start looking.
Where: Anacortes, Burlington, Oak Harbor
Info: [url=http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com]http://www.skagitcyclecenter.com[/url]


Best Tattoo:

Old Gold Tattoo

I have one tattoo. It's pretty special to me. Old Gold Tattoo has inked more than one tattoo in its years of service on State Street (right next to the Shakedown). This walk-in tattoo shop is open seven days a week and allows customers to either choose from any of its custom designs or bring in their own. I have many friends that have raved about their experience at Old Gold. If I ever get a second tattoo, I'll be sure to take a seat under their steady hands.
Where: 1222 North State St.
Info: [url=http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo]http://www.facebook.com/OldGoldTattoo[/url]


Best Sushi:

Blue Fin Sushi

BlueFinSushi.jpg
Near yummy yoshi Crazy monkey, lion king Call and beckon me.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Info: [url=http://www.bluefinbellingham.com]http://www.bluefinbellingham.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:

REI

The mountain is cold this morning. An early mist lifts from the river, above its rush is a promise of blue. I shiver a bit from a light sweat from the bike ride down here, and zip up my fleece. From here it is an hour’s climb to the meadow, wildflowers gone but not yet touched by frost. Off-season is the best season. Get out there.
Where: 400 36th St.
Info: [url=http://www.rei.com]http://www.rei.com[/url]


Best Gallery:


Smith & Vallee Gallery

Smith-Vallee-Gallery-by-Jessamyn-Tuttle.jpg
“North Fork Skagit River near Barge Island” is the title of the cast artist Allen Moe made on sandbars less than a mile from his shack on the Skagit River Delta. The otherworldly artwork greets visitors outside the door of Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison, and is a harbinger of what to expect when you walk through the doors of the historic schoolhouse—namely, that each month’s artists often pay homage to the natural world. The exhibit by painter Hart James and sculptor Jan Hoy showing through April 28 is no exception. James’ artful abstractions such as “Sky Meets Earth, Skagit Valley” will look familiar, and Hoy’s sculptures have a contemporary bent, but are rooted in reverence for nature. They’re a wonder to behold.
Where: 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison
Info: [url=http://www.smithandvalleegallery.com]http://www.smithandvalleegallery.com[/url]


Best Bookstore:

Village Books

Village_Books_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
What does it mean when an internationally renowned author on a limited eight-city tour across North America proclaims that the only place he wants to stop in your state is the beloved bookstore in your hometown? In the case of Markus Zusak—the author of The Book Thief, a tome that sold 16 million copies worldwide and spent more than 500 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—it means your local bookstore’s reputation far exceeds the zip code where you reside. On Tues., Oct. 15, when Zusak shares his new masterpiece Bridge of Clay at Village Books, be sure to shower accolades on the staff who makes collaborations like this possible—not to mention helping secure umpteen Best of Bellingham wins.
Where: 1200 11th St., Bellingham,
and 403 Front St., Lynden
Info: [url=http://www.villagebooks.com]http://www.villagebooks.com[/url]


Best Bakery:

Farm to Market Bakery

Farm_to_Market_Bakery_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(4)-o.jpg
Although tiny, the Bow-Edison area boasts a couple of excellent places to procure baked goods. The Breadfarm, which almost scored enough votes to notch a win in this competitive category, and the Farm to Market Bakery, which barely edged it out. The Farm to Market Bakery might be named for the road near which it sits, but it also speaks to the ethos of this welcoming spot. Everything is homemade and most of it from local ingredients. While all of their offerings are delicious, the Pecan Sticky Buns will make a true believer out of you.
Where: 5507 Chuckanut Drive, Bow
Info: [url=http://www.farmtomarketbakery.net]http://www.farmtomarketbakery.net[/url]


Best Grocery Store:

Community Food Co-op

Community Food Co-op
As a longtime member of the Community Food Co-op, my typical visits are pretty predictable—wine, cheese, produce, quick lunches, and my favorite hot sauce when we run out (which is often). However, one of my favorite things about the Community Food Co-op is the amount of community outreach and events they offer on a regular basis. Don’t know how to cook? They’ve got a class for that. Starting a health and wellness journey? You're covered there, as well. Beer and wine pairings? Bingo. Their commitment to community is nothing less than superb, from farmer to consumer. It's an easy win all around.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Info: [url=http://www.communityfood.coop]http://www.communityfood.coop[/url]


Best Day Trip on the 542:

North Fork Brewery

Whether we’re hiking, climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, snowboarding or mostly just sightseeing, the massive angular slopes of the North Cascades are our oyster once we head eastbound from anywhere along this 57-mile stretch of mountain-hugging blacktop. And to help ease the transition upon our inevitable return to the flatlands, we are blessed to have a roadside pub as savory and solar-powered as the North Fork Brewery, where we can fuel up on a cornucopia of scratch-made fare—everything from cold pints of barrel-aged Belgian-style sours to warm bowls of Stout French Onion Soup and pans of smoked salmon-sprinkled Pineapple Express pizza.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Info: [url=http://www.northforkbrewery.com]http://www.northforkbrewery.com[/url]


Best Neighborhood:

Sunnyland

What makes a great neighborhood? Well, one that is walkable, with tree-lined streets and ample parks, nearby services and entertainment. One that allows people to work from or near their homes. Many artists have moved to Sunnyland for exactly that reason, so they can run a studio out of their home—and that has produced a flourishing local arts community. Sunnyland is a nucleus for many of the favorite haunts and hangouts cited in this year’s reader survey. That dynamism has a downside, too, and Sunnyland is experiencing some growing pains from its tangy mix of industrial and commercial uses in proximity to family homes. Friends, an outdoor beer garden is a heartbreaking thing to quarrel about! I predict they’ll soon solve those problems, and continue to claim their crown as Bellingham’s favorite neighborhood. Info: [url=http://www.sunnylandneighborhood.com]http://www.sunnylandneighborhood.com[/url]


Best Beach:

Washington Park

Although there’s hardly a shortage of panoramic vantage points to catch a soul-stirring sunset on Fidalgo Island, none of them succeeds to help capture the rapture quite as stunningly as the cliffy swath of forested, flower-meadow-endowed shoreline that fronts this mountain rimmed island-jeweled Anacortes city park.
Where: 6300 Sunset Dr., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.cityofanacortes.org]http://www.cityofanacortes.org[/url]


Best Steak:

Max Dale’s Steak & Chop House

Max and Pauline Dale met Paul Pickering, and a legend was born along Old Highway 99. This place is like stepping back to a time when a good meal wasn’t complete unless it included a juicy steak or chop alongside a hearty vegetable, potato and green salad. Surf and turf? You got it! I take my meal in the lounge seated in a comfy high-backed booth with an expertly mixed martini. Times have never been better.
Where: 2030 Riverside Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.maxdales.com]http://www.maxdales.com[/url]


Best Mexican:

Taco Lobo

Hands down, the best chile relleno in a town that is fiercely competitive in that category. I had a chance recently to try their Costillas de Puerco con Nopalitos as their day’s special— pork back ribs with cactus in a flavorful sauce. How do you balance creative with authentic? Taco Lobo knows.
Where: 117 W Magnolia St.
Info: [url=http://www.tacolobo.net]http://www.tacolobo.net[/url]


Best Hardware Store:

Ace Anacortes

Was it just me, or did this winter seem like a hard one? A few hours of sunshine after days of hard rain, and the grass has come back thick and lush. Old lawnmower’s cranky. Needs some degreasing and sharpening, probably new plugs. Paint bubbled up along a low section on side of the house, needs scraping and patching. I’ve got some spring bulbs planted if I can figure out a way to keep the deer away. Ace is indeed the place; I can get it all there, and a new ice chest besides.
Where: 1720 Q Ave., Anacortes
Info: [url=http://www.aceanacortes.com]http://www.aceanacortes.com[/url]


Best Gear Store:


Dick’s Sporting Goods

A jungle teeming with sports and game supplies almost conceals a small forest of rods and reels at Dick’s. If you’re like me, you’re more into forests than fields, and creeks more than courts, and gaiters more than sneakers, and rainbows more than rinks. Doesn’t matter. Dick’s services it all with many brands, and a splendor of vendors.
Where: 2000 S. Burlington Blvd
Info: [url=http://www.dickssportinggoods.com]http://www.dickssportinggoods.com[/url]


Best Neighborhood:

Columbia

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What makes a great neighborhood? In the years we’ve been polling readers for their favorite places, this category has moved steadily north—as has the emphasis on great parks, trails, schools, places to hang out, and homes that are stylish, established yet affordable have come into focus. The Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series is just one example of a neighborhood laying out all of its finest for the enjoyment of others. Roll on, Columbia! Best of Bellingham write-ups by Tim Johnson, Carey Ross, Amy Kepferle, Scott Pelton, and Trail Rat Photos by Patrick Beggan (versaphotography.com)
Info: [url=http://www.columbianeighbors.com]http://www.columbianeighbors.com[/url]


Best Artist:

Lloyd Houston

If you find yourself talking about the images and assemblages Lloyd Houston has on rotating display at the Conway Muse, be aware the artist might be sitting nearby, watching to see how you react to the work. “I like to sit in the space near where the art is, and listen and watch,” Houston says. “Everything rewards attention; some people do really observe, and some just blow by.” Houston, a born-and-bred Skagitonian who spent time in the Air Force and lived in Olympia for decades before moving back to the valley, now shares studio space with his younger sister on tribal land near La Conner, developing photographs and making one-of-a-kind jigsaw puzzles. When asked to describe how winning the Best Artist title makes him feel, Houston is succinct: “I dig it,” he says.
Info: [url=http://www.siblingstudio.com]http://www.siblingstudio.com[/url]


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

I’m not likely to add peanut butter to a burger, but it’s nice to have the option if I’m ever brave enough to broaden my culinary horizons. Of course, choices are what Fiamma Burger is all about. I can attest that their hormone-free, Northwest-sourced beef is top-notch—as are the daily-baked brioche buns—but so too are their salmon, bison, lamb and vegetarian burgers. And when it comes to add-ons, don’t be embarrassed to triple the order. Grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and a fried egg? Why not! Just hold the peanut butter, OK?
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]


Best Pot Store:

Loving Farms

Loving_Farms_by_Jessamyn_Tuttle_(5).jpg
If the tulips have taken on hues reminiscent of melting rainbows, it might be because of the pit stop you made for edibles at Mount Vernon's Loving Farms. But that's not the only thing recreational marijuana users will find at the popular pot shop conveniently located near the freeway in Mount Vernon; everything from oils to dabs to buds, wax and more can be located inside its welcoming doors—provided you're over 21.
Where: 2615 Old Hwy 99 S. Rd., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com]http://www.lovingfarmsmarijuanastore.com[/url]


Best Place to get a Tattoo:

Good Vibes Body Art

I have one tattoo. Good Vibes has been hard at work in downtown Mount Vernon since 1999. Darius, Shauna, Tiffany, and Jason have 46-plus years of collective ink experience between the four of them and, had I known I had access to such artistic expertise, I’d have let them stick me. If I ever decide to complete my full tattoo, I’ll be seeking out those good vibes.
Where: 503 S. 1st St, Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com]http://www.goodvibesbodyart.com[/url]


Best Burger:

Fiamma Burger

“Oh Burger! My Burger!—these are the words I’m sure Walt Whitman would be uttering had circumstances been a bit different and he found himself walking through the doors of Fiamma Burger. Exceptionally delicious from start to finish, the friendliest burger folks behind the bun, and all at a price point that you can take the whole family in? Clearly winning. On top of it all, their extensive burger menu also features breakfast, happy hour, desserts, and more. I feel kind of bad ol’ Walt never got the chance to indulge.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Info: [url=http://www.fiammaburger.com]http://www.fiammaburger.com[/url]


Best Bakery/Breakfast/Dessert:

Calico Cupboard

Despite April showers dampening the world outside, it’s all smiles and friendly faces when you walk through the door of Calico Cupboard. There’s a warm buzz in the air, servers expertly weaving in between full tables of happy customers and the smell of heavenly baked goods summoned from every corner. A trio of amazing locations to visit in Skagit Valley mean you can try all of their winning categories. Three cheers all around.
Where: 720 1st St., La Conner; 901 Commercial Ave., Anacortes; 121-B Freeway Dr., Mount Vernon
Info: [url=http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com]http://www.calicocupboardcafe.com[/url]


Best Place to Buy Pot:

2020 Solutions

With two locations in Bellingham staffed with knowledgeable budtenders, 2020 Solutions is your go-to when you’re looking to go green. Want the new “sticky-icky?” 2020 has all of your weed needs, from flowers to edibles to everything in between. This was a tight category, with Trove just a spliff-width from taking the title. But 2020 Solutions pulled away in the end. What do you expect from a weed store that looks as good as they do and has two locations in our weed-friendly burg?
Where: 2018 Iron St. and 5755 Guide Meridian
Info: [url=http://www.2020-solutions.com]http://www.2020-solutions.com[/url]


Best Island Destination:

Friday Harbor

The Sealth shudders as she eases out of a drippy morning mist. There’s a wrong way out to the islands and a right way, and the right way takes longer, needs no car, and catches all the islands—Lopez, Shaw, and at last thrumming and churning into San Juan. We walk right into town from the ferry landing and the shops and eateries unfold for us like a map. It’s cold, and raining—a perfect Pacific Northwest day—and the coffee is aromatic and warm. The live music starts just before the last ferry out and if we linger we’ll be stranded. I reckon we’ll stay awhile.
Where: San Juan Island

Info: [url=http://www.wsdot.com/ferries/]http://www.wsdot.com/ferries/[/url]