Tour the mind-boggling Boeing factory at Snohomish County (Paine Field) and see where the biggest Boeings are born. Next, explore three fantastic aircraft collections and meet the experts who restore them. You can even learn how to blow glass or cuddle a baby kangaroo.
Everybody knows about Seattle; it’s one of America’s most dynamic cities. Flying into SeaTac International Airport can be a blast. There’s nothing like landing abreast of a DC-10 on the parallel runway, and then having ground control hold him short of the taxiway so you can pass right under/in front of him, as happened to us some years ago. But just 21 nautical miles to the north, Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) is bursting with must-do aviation activities. The city of Everett is abuzz with energy (you can hardly look anywhere without spotting one of those cute drive-up espresso stands) and excellent dining. There are so many fun activities for pilots, spouses, and kids, everyone can be happy. Since I’m a pilot, a spouse, and an overgrown kid, I had a blast there. Plus, Snohomish County room rates average 47 percent lower than in Seattle, parking is free, and streets are uncrowded. (See photo captions for more details on activities listed below.)
Meanwhile, dozens of the world’s rarest and most authentically restored warbirds and other beautiful airplanes are also at Paine Field, in three facilities. Most are airworthy and flown publicly on special occasions. In 1998, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen began assembling an amazing array of important historic aircraft, now displayed at his Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum, which we toured with World War II vet and Silver Star recipient Art Unruh. The Museum of Flight's Restoration Center and Reserve Collection is a 23,000-square-foot site where volunteers (many are former Boeing employees) have spent thousands of hours restoring aircraft to exhibition quality. These aircraft are part of the Seattle Museum of Flight’s collection. Bill Wilkens escorted us inside a de Havilland Comet 4 jet airliner (the first jetliner) under restoration. Finally, the Historic Flight Foundation offers yet another incredible collection of the most magnificent aircraft built between 1927 and 1957—also airworthy. Each volunteer we met was a treasure trove of knowledge.
Just south of the airport, High Trek Adventures offers zip lines, a ropes course, and mini-golf for kids and adults. Birdwatchers will want to stop at the Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary, just north of Paine Field, to look for ducks, herons, osprey, and bald eagles. We visited in April, when cherry trees were blooming all over Snohomish County. Those trees, and a visit to the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens, were all the inspiration I needed to get started on my springtime gardening at home. Tucked into the northwest corner of Everett’s Legion Park, the arboretum is a tiny, peaceful oasis. Next door, the Legion Memorial Golf Course features views of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, the Snohomish River, and the Cascades. At Everett’s enchanting marina, we enjoyed excellent meals at Anthony’s Woodfire Grill and Lombardi’s, and stayed at the Inn at Port Gardner.
The Mukilteo Lighthouse was built in 1905 on Elliot Point in lovely, romantic, Mukilteo, about three miles northwest of the airport. Climb the 36 steps into the tower to closely examine the 150-year-old Fresnel fourth-order lens, which magnifies the tiny light, so it can be seen up to 12 miles away. The Silver Cloud Inn Mukilteo is mere steps away from the lighthouse, Whidbey Island ferry, and great restaurants, including Arnie’s. We lunched at Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing, right on the water next to the ferry dock.
Fiddling with glass stir rods and Bunsen burners in chemistry class was the closest I got to glass blowing until visiting Everett. The studio I visited has since closed, but the Schack Art Center offers occasional “Weekend Intro to Hot Glass” courses at their hot shop during which you’ll make glass decorations to take home. Or, get a taste of glassblowing with a quick “Make It Now” session and make one item. Here’s another unique opportunity: Have you ever cuddled up with a baby kangaroo? They love to be held, so visit the Outback Kangaroo Farm off State Route 530, just northeast of Arlington. There were so many friendly animals I didn’t want to leave. In fact, I think it’s about time to visit again!
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