When I first met Angie Riley, she called the city where she lives “sophisti-gritty.”
I had long struggled with a word to describe Seattle’s blue-collar northern suburb, Everett. Angie’s expression worked better than most. A major transportation hub — home to Boeing’s huge aircraft assembly plant (the world’s largest building) and an important U.S. naval station — Everett also has sedate residential neighborhoods with views across Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains, and an increasingly hip and bustling downtown.
The working-class community of 110,000 is 25 miles directly north of the Space Needle, a distance that ideally takes no more than a half-hour to drive … although rush hour traffic often extends that time to an hour or more.
It’s easy to spend two or three nights in Everett, even without side trips into the Cascade Range or across the Sound to nearby Whidbey Island. I spent one full day in the Paine Field Aviation District and another split between Port Gardner’s picturesque harbor and the urban hub.
That was, after all, where Riley had directed me, and she should know. The marketing and communications manager for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau herself is decidedly sophisti-gritty — a stylish millennial who skates for the Jet City Roller Derby.
Flights of Fancy
The highlight of Everett sightseeing for any first-time visitor is Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Center. Occupying the largest part of Paine Field, Snohomish County’s municipal airport, it is one of four loosely clustered enticements for any lover of air travel, past, present and future.
Three other attractions are devoted to historic flight. Best of the trio is the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, an abiding passion of the late Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen.
Allen’s rare, private collection of Second World War-era aircraft, tanks and other military technology, has been restored to working condition by mechanics … who are often available, in two adjoining hangars, to describe individual planes. These include a BF 109 German Messerschmidt (1939), the first all-metal modern fighter jet, along with British, Russian and Japanese aircraft. Interactive multimedia exhibits address such subjects as “Why War? The Causes of Conflict,” including models of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
I was greeted at the Flying Heritage Museum by 95-year-old docent Art Unruh, a Silver Star recipient who flew 50 bombing missions out of Italy in 1944 and 1945. His book, “The Shadow Casters: My Journey Through War,” is a remarkable journal of those dark years. Unruh welcomed my own memories of my late father’s military service as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
Nearby, the Historic Flight Foundation is a smaller private collection of aircraft produced between 1927 and 1957, all fully restored and able to go aloft on any given day. Among them is a P51-B Mustang called the “Impatient Virgin” and a B25-D Mitchell bomber dubbed “Grumpy,” the same type flown by famed ace Jimmy Doolittle and his squadron in 1942.
The Museum of Flight Restoration Center and Reserve Collection is also worth a visit, even though most of its collection is a work in progress. The volunteers at this adjunct of the redoubtable Museum of Flight (at Boeing Field in Seattle) work hard to make their work as historically accurate as possible. I was most impressed by a De Havilland DH-106 Comet 4C, the world’s first commercial jetliner (1949).
Boeing, Boeing …
Inevitably, it is the 90-minute Boeing tour that draws most visitors to Mukilteo. The only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America, it explores a hangar that is considered the largest building in the world by volume (over 98 acres and 472 million cubic feet). That meant a lot of walking from the bus that delivered my tour group to the visitor entrance, including steep stairs, quarter-mile tunnels and a pair of freight elevators.
But what an opportunity this was! The high point of the tour (both literally and figuratively) was a central perch, four stories above the main factory floor, where we could see twin-aisle 747s, 767s, 777s and 787 Dreamliners spread out on assembly lines in various stages of production. Engines and landing gear were fixed on wings, which were then attached to fuselages. Tiers of seating were installed, along with electrical and hydraulic wiring of all types. The final step, after a test flight, would be a paint job adding the logo of the purchasing airline.
As a midweek visitor, I found the factory a beehive of activity. Employees work Monday through Friday, three shifts a day. I was told there are far fewer employees here on weekends. Even though no photos were permitted (for security reasons, you must even check your cellphone), I was happy to pay the $25 admission for the tour.
Back at the Future of Flight Aviation Center, I got the photo I wanted — a virtual mockup of me standing in front of the assembly line. But there were many other exhibits here as well: historic aircraft, standing turbo engines and models of airplane cockpits and spacecraft.
For tourism officials, the Paine Field Aviation District is an easy sell. Not so the rest of town. So I met Ryan Crowther of Puget PR for an espresso at Narrative Coffee to discuss Everett’s leisure-industry goals. “If you just think about what we could have had here with proper planning …,” he began, almost plaintively.
Everett, Crowther said, is positioning itself as a “stay-cation” destination for Seattle urbanites. “We’re a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest,” he said, “close to the big city yet far away. We’re closer to the outdoors than Seattle, and our best hotels only $119 a night or less on weekends.”
There’s shopping at Everett Mall, a thriving music scene (highlighted by the Fisherman’s Village indie-rock festival in late March), mountain and water sports just out the back door. There are five local breweries and an outstanding homegrown spirits distillery beside the marina and deep-water port.
I left Narrative Coffee and found my way to Funko, the world headquarters and flagship store of a company that manufactures pop-culture collectibles. Funko started in 1998 making bobbleheads in nearby Snohomish; its revenue in 2017 was $516 million. The new Wetmore Avenue store, opened last year, is distinguished by the cartoon images standing outside its door. Kids of all ages enjoy meeting characters from Marvel and DC comics (think Spiderman and the Bat Cave), Star Wars and Harry Potter, accompanied by sound effects.
Nearby, the nonprofit Schack Art Center mixes changing exhibits with do-in-yourself classes, including a glassblowing studio. The beautiful Angel of the Winds Arena, open since 2003, is a great concert venue as well as home of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
Food and Drink
On Crowther’s advice, I sought out the Grand Avenue Marketplace, new this year. Anchored by Farms & Market, an artisan kitchen, restaurant and grocery, and the adjacent Choux Choux Bakery, the 40,000-square-foot indoor market anchors the ground floor of a 220-unit residential apartment tower. It makes me wonder if Everett is on its way to becoming a true “foodie” destination.
For now, my favorite downtown Everett restaurant is the sophisticated Abbott’s, where I had a wonderful grilled swordfish and fresh fennel and an orange gastrique. Down the hill, beside the Port Gardner marina, Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant is another great choice. And Arnie’s Restaurant & Bar, overlooking the Whidbey Island ferry terminal in Mukilteo, is a fine choice in the Paine Field vicinity.
I found outstanding lodging both at Mukilteo’s Hilton Garden Inn Seattle North/Everett, adjacent to the Future of Flight Aviation Center, and in Everett at the lovely, boutique Inn at Port Gardner, beside the marina.
But I had my best time at Bluewater Organic Distilling, where Swedish-born sailor-owner John Lundin mixed me a Navigator martini, then gave me a tour of his harbor-side distillery and a look at his personal sailboat. Afterward, I had a delicious dinner from the distillery’s extensive bistro menu, watched as the sun set across the water, and deliberated with Lundin on a cocktail-fueled Scandinavian expedition next summer from this sophisti-gritty city on Puget Sound.