Pacific Northwest: Loop de Loop

The scenery and attractions of Washington State lend themselves well to a leisurely tour by car. A Cascade Loop self-drive itinerary provides you with a wide range of sightseeing opportunities in a seven-to 11-day trip.  Vineyards dot the Washington landscape.

Skipping Seattle would be like by passing up Paris for first timers to France. The Public Market where they throw the fish and the Space Needle are standards, but the cultural sites are not to be missed. The Experience Music Project and Seattle Art Museum are local favorites. Seattle gets more than a few overcast days, but there's also a fair amount of sunshine.

Twelve miles east of Seattle on Lake Washington and known for its art scene and wildlife, Kirkland's "pace is a little slower," says Sheila Cloney, tourism representative for the city of Kirkland. From Seattle, it's a 1.5-hour trip on Argosy Cruises across Lake Washington to Kirkland. The ferry sails three times daily July 1 through Sept. 4 and costs $30. Rent a car here and start the loop. Resources

July 14-16 the Kirkland Art Center hosts the Summerfest waterfront art show; it also sells one-day art classes. Café Juanita serves northern Italian cuisine using local ingredients picked by chef Holly Smith. The Kirkland Performance Center entertains visitors with music, theater and movies.

Three hours southeast of Kirkland, the Yakima Valley's wine production runs a close second to California, says Scott Steinloski, director of tourism, Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. "If they've done Napa and Sonoma, send them here," he says. "The owners are the winemakers," hosting tastings in their living room. Pontin Del Roza also gets rave reviews from locals. Signs for the wineries are clearly marked on I-82.

The area is also the self-proclaimed "Apple Capital of the World," although residents opt for the peaches and sweet onions in Walla Walla. Robin Jacobsen, public relations manager for the San Juan Islands, raves about the peach smoothies at Barrett's Orchards, and Kirkland's Cloney praises Johnson Orchards.

Three hours northeast is Spokane. The early 1900s carousel in Riverfront Park still runs, and a day in the paddleboats and riding an aerial gondola gives travelers a nice break. The last leg, west through Skagit Valley, takes in the Grand Coulee Dam and intersects with the original Cascade Loop scenic highway on Route 20. This is the most visually striking part of the trek, climbing from plains into deep green hills. The end of the loop, near the ocean, is Mount Vernon.

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