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San Juan Island
I-5, Exits 274/275/276
This small border town is big on welcomes.
The last stop headed north on I-5, and the first stop on the border from Canada, this seaside village offers travelers a warm welcome into the United States, and a cheery fare-thee-well to those headed into Canada.
A drive down Peace Portal Drive will take you along a scenic route that offers views of Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo spit. It’s this arterial that brings you into the heart of Blaine, where you’ll encounter a town steeped in history, with its main drag lined with turn-of-the-century lampposts and waterside plazas.
In the H Street Plaza, a local gathering place, and where you’ll want to stop on Saturdays for the gardener’s market, you’ll find a memorial called “The Vigil,” which is a life-size bronze sculpture featuring a grandmother, mother and young boy looking out to sea. Sculped by Blaine local Bob McDermott, the statue honors the mothers, wives and children who waited for their fishermen to return from their toils at sea.
Known as the Peace Arch City, its most obvious claim to fame is the white Peace Arch monument that straddles the Canada and U.S. border on the 49th parallel. The monument was dedicated in 1921. Standing 67 feet high, the arch is marked by the words “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity” on the Canadian side and “Children of A Common Mother” on the American side, and houses a piece of both the Beaver and the Mayflower ships. The arch was fitted with two iron gates that are left open as a symbol of the longstanding peace between the two nations.
Beautifully landscaped gardens surround the monument, with Peace Arch Provincial Park on the north side and Peace Arch State Park on the south. A hidden treasure, this park is all too often passed by in the rush to the border. But the traveler who has time to stop and smell the roses will be well rewarded with the fragrant Eden that the park employees have cultivated in this in-between land.
Look for sculptures throughout the park as part of the annual International Sculpture Exhibit, open until October 1.
Blaine is a bird watcher’s haven, with ample opportunities to sight a significant number of avian species in the vast tidelands and marshes surrounding the area. Blaine Marine Park, on the spit just off exit 276, and across the street from Blaine Harbor, is the go-to place for visiting bird watchers.
The warm waters act as a magnet for migrating birds, and it’s not uncommon to see many a bird watcher camped out with binoculars on the pier or Semiahmoo Bay.
The first weekend in August, Blaine looks back to its maritime heritage with an all-out festival for Drayton Harbor Days and pirates and raft racers descend on Drayton Harbor.
A graveled path winds its way to the pier at the foot of Marine Drive through the waterside greenway, and there you’ll see kids making the long plunge into the harbor in summer. It’s also a popular spot for fishermen to cast their lines off the pier and wait patiently for a bite .
Once crab season opens, you’ll see folks lining up to toss their traps over the side as well, in hopes that they will have Dungeness Crab for dinner.
For more info, visit blainechamber.com.
What the locals know:
LIGHT IT UP: Blaine’s Fourth of July festival is one of the biggest celebrations around with an extravagant show that lasts from 45 minutes to an hour and draws thousands to the downtown area. Grab a seat anywhere along the water for a spectacular fireworks display. The show starts at 10:15 p.m.
AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE: Semiahmoo spit, part of the Coast Millenial Trail, is a favorite spot for beachcombers and birdwatchers. The .08-mile trail begins across the road from Semiahmoo Park and offers dramatic views of Mount Baker, Twin Sisters and other snow-covered peaks. You can get there by land or by sea: Beginning the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend and running every weekend until Labor Day, the historic Plover ferry runs from Blaine Harbor to the spit. The Plover was a workhorse that used to carry cannery workers back and forth to work. Rides are by donation.
PRACTICE YOUR SWING: There’s world-class golfing in Semiahmoo. Pack up your clubs and make your way to the greens, to enjoy golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer himself.
GRAB A BITE: Looking for something to satisfy that international craving without crossing the border? There are several restaurants that might suit your tastes. Try Sweet Tangerine for some Asian fusion fast food (call ahead, chef/owner Hae-Soo Kim is a one-woman show and her place gets busy around the lunch hour) or Paso del Norte for some south of the border action.