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Sequim, Wash.: Lavender Daze

A sunny oasis shimmers in Washington, with lavender farms, exotic animals, and wineries.

Lavender farm, Sequim, Wash., image
Photo caption
Sequim, Wash., calls itself the lavender capital of North America.

In the world outside Sequim, Wash., burly retired cops like Mike Reichner don’t wear tie-dye, let alone use words like aromatherapy. Sequim, however, is not like the world outside.

About two hours northwest of Seattle, on the coast between Olympic National Park and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sequim (pronounced skwim) provides a home to the unexpected—starting with Reichner’s lavender farm, one of about 30 in town. Reichner and his wife, Rosalind, cultivate 35,000 plants at their 12-acre property, Purple Haze. Yes, he’s a Jimi Hendrix fan.

That Sequim describes itself as the lavender capital of North America might seem odd in this rainy state, considering the sunlight requirements of the plant. Yet this town of 6,600 receives a mere 15 to 17 inches of precipitation each year thanks to the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains; about 45 miles away, the Hoh Rain Forest gets up to a whopping 170 inches.

Summer in Sequim is all about lavender, from u-pick farms to shops stocked with soaps, eye pillows, and even dog shampoo. During the annual Sequim Lavender Festival (July 20 to 22 this year), thousands celebrate the crop with field tours, concerts, and a 170-vendor downtown street fair with food that includes lavender ice cream and doughnuts dusted with lavender sugar.

Also downtown are the Open Aire Market and the Museum & Arts Center. The market (Saturdays, May to November) features food, crafts, and dahlia bouquets as big as your head. For the truly rare, however, head to the museum’s exhibit of Manis mastodon bones, unearthed in a Sequim front yard in 1977.

Extinct species aren’t the only unusual creatures in town. The Olympic Game Farm is home to a variety of exotic beasts, including a Bengal tiger and a Kodiak bear. Most are the offspring of animals used in TV shows and Disney productions such as The Incredible Journey.

Not much for tigers and bears? Earthier delights can be found at eight nearby wineries, where you can taste full-bodied reds made from prime eastern Washington grapes. Or go fruitier with Harbinger’s Blackberry Bliss, made from local blackberries. And nothing suits local wine quite like local food.

“Within 100 miles we have wild seafood, top dairy products, organic produce, and mushrooms and huckleberries,” says Alder Wood Bistro’s chef-owner Gabriel Schuenemann, whose seasonal menu sometimes includes wood-fired nettle-pesto pizza and alder-planked salmon. Other local delicacies include Dungeness crab cakes at the Dockside Grill and 10 kinds of pancakes—apple to Swedish—at Oak Table Cafe.

To work off some of those calories, head to the 20-mile Sequim-to-Port Angeles section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. The Sequim part passes through forested Railroad Bridge Park, crossing the Dungeness River on an old train trestle.

At the north edge of town lies the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. At its tip, 5.5 miles out, sits an 1857 lighthouse that’s open daily for touring. The view from there—almost entirely surrounded by water, with the jagged Olympics rising to the south and Victoria, B.C., sometimes visible to the north, about 17 miles across the water—is far from ordinary.

But around these parts, that’s all but expected.

Photography by Rob Tilly/

This article was first published in July 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.