SEQUIM — For decades, the Sequim-Dungeness Valley area was known for its dairy farms, but when the dairy industry went south, Sequim sought to rebrand itself. Farmers began experimenting with lavender in the ’90s, and Sequim now bills itself as the lavender capital of North America.

Why lavender? Sequim (pronounced “skwim”) lies on the same latitude as Provence, France. Its sunny and dry microclimate in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains means this fragrant crop grows incredibly well here.

The Sequim Lavender Festival’s street fair in downtown Sequim is canceled this year. But the lavender farms are open and welcoming visitors all summer long. The farms are hosting a Sequim Lavender Weekend July 16-18. That weekend is basically a big party with bands, workshops and tons of activities.

If you’d prefer a quieter experience, pick any other day to visit. It can’t get any easier than that.

“All the farms are still here, the lavender blooms either way,” said Jordan Schiefen, owner of Jardin du Soleil. “The farms are open. It’s all outside. Wander free open spaces, get out of the city. Find some dirt. Find some nature.”

A bee feeds on SuperBlue lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) at Fleurish Lavender of Lost Mountain in Sequim. The specimen garden at Fleurish has 86 varieties of lavender; each bush is a different type. (JiaYing Grygiel)

There’s a list of lavender farms open to the public at sequimlavender.org, along with an interactive driving/biking map and audio tour. The farms are 10 to 15 minutes apart at most, so it’s easy to go on a farm crawl. Each one is a little different, they’re free to visit and many are open daily. (Check individual farm websites for open hours; a few charge a nominal admission for Lavender Weekend). Many of the farms offer U-pick and demonstrate how to distill lavender oil. Feel free to take photos or sketch. You can show up anytime during open hours, no need for timed tickets or reservations.

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To see the lavender at its best and brightest, get there before the end of July. You’ll continue to see lavender in the fields through the end of August before the season’s harvest is over. Victor’s Rain Shadow Lavender Farm is a display garden, so there you’ll see lavender fields in bloom through the end of September.

After the harvest, you’ll still see lavender in the enormous drying barn at B&B Family Farm through the end of September.

Getting there

Sequim is located on Highway 101 on the north edge of the Olympic Peninsula, and there are several ways to get there from Seattle. You can take the ferry to Bainbridge Island or Kingston, then take Highway 104 across the Hood Canal Bridge to 101. Taking the ferry is the prettiest route and will get you to Sequim in about two hours if you manage to hop right on the ferry. On weekends, consider driving south through Tacoma and across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Driving around will take closer to three hours, but this way you avoid the weekend crush at the ferry.

If you stay overnight, Sequim has a handy array of midrange chain hotels. Or splurge on a vacation rental right on a lavender farm. In Sequim, we picked up yummy artisanal pizza from Alder Wood Bistro, and sandwiches at Pacific Pantry, where they smoke their own meat and bake their own bread.

Visiting lavender farms

Most of Sequim’s lavender farms are small, family-owned businesses, and you’ll see owners’ homes right on the property. Here are four charming farms we recently visited.

Victor’s Lavender and Victor’s Rain Shadow Lavender

Victor Gonzalez, right, and his business partner, Rex Kellso, own Victor’s Lavender and Victor’s Rain Shadow Lavender in Sequim. Gonzalez has been growing lavender around the area for more than 20 years and ships lavender to farms all over the country. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Victor Gonzalez is known as something of a guru among the lavender growers. He’s been growing lavender in Sequim since 1996, right when the whole idea was just taking off. He’d previously worked in agriculture in Mexico and California, but lavender was new to him.

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“They asked me if I knew how to grow lavender. I said, ‘What is lavender?’” Gonzalez remembered. “I killed thousands and thousands and thousands until I got it right. I came from nothing, making all kinds of mistakes. Exploring this and that, until I find a way to reproduce this plant and make money.”

Today, Gonzalez owns two eponymous farms, Victor’s Lavender and Victor’s Rain Shadow Lavender. He produces a half-million plants a year, and ships his product across the U.S. and Canada. Do his kids help out with the family lavender empire?

Gonzalez laughed. “Before they realize it’s a lot of work, yes,” he said.

Victor’s Lavender: 3743 Old Olympic Highway, Port Angeles; Victor’s Rain Shadow Lavender: 1410 Kitchen-Dick Road, Sequim; victorslavender.com

Jardin du Soleil

Jordan Schiefen and her dog, Dash, at Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm in Sequim. The Schiefen family happened to visit Sequim during the Lavender Festival 10 years ago — and bought the farm that day. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Paul and Jordan Schiefen ran an insurance agency in Southern California, but in 2011, they decided they were done with that life. They sold everything they owned, packed into a trailer with their kids, ages 1 and 4, and traveled around the country. After six months on the road, they pulled into Sequim and chanced upon the annual Lavender Festival.

Someone in the parking lot mentioned that the farm was for sale.

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“We bought it that day,” said Jordan, who’d never even had a yard before buying Jardin du Soleil. “Here we are, 10 years later. We’re still learning every day. It’s definitely nutty. Our family and friends think we’re crazy.”

Free-range chickens wander in the shade by the straw-covered parking lot, and there’s a pen of goats to visit. On the day we visited, Paul was teaching an oil distillation class, there was a yoga class on the grassy field, bees were humming, kids explored the hedge maze. Happy tots with sticky faces devoured lavender ice cream bars dipped in chocolate.

“We love it,” Jordan said. “To grow this plant and have people come and share this amazing space — that’s what we do for a living? This is awesome.”

3932 Sequim-Dungeness Way, Sequim; jardindusoleil.com

B&B Family Farm

Zion Hilliker, who owns B&B Family Farm in Sequim with his wife and in-laws, cracks a smile in their century-old dairy barn, where 100,000 bunches of lavender hang to dry each season. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Bruce and Bonnie McCloskey were looking for a way to entice their family to move close to them, so they bought a lavender farm in Sequim.

It worked.

Their daughter, Kristy Hilliker, left her job as a professor and her husband, Zion, left his corporate job to move the family from San Diego to this town of 7,000. Now the Hilliker kids are growing up a couple of hundred feet away from their grandparents’ house.

“It was a way for us as a family to come together,” Zion said. “We wanted to be outside, we wanted to work outside, we wanted our kids to be outside. We found this farm for sale and the rest is history.”

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In eight years, the four co-owners of B&B Family Farm grew their business into the biggest lavender farm in the area, by far, with some 14,000 lavender plants. More than 100,000 bunches of lavender hang to dry inside their 100-year-old dairy barn, each of them cut by hand.

5883 Old Olympic Highway, Sequim; bbfamilyfarm.com

Fleurish Lavender of Lost Mountain

Doug and Susan Fahlgren, owners of Fleurish Lavender of Lost Mountain in Sequim, rein in their trio of fertilizer-producing alpacas: from left, Aurora, Lacey and Lyric. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Susan and Doug Fahlgren are supposed to be retired. Susan was a physical therapist, Doug was a mail carrier, and they were looking for a home to retire to when the listing for a lavender farm popped up on Zillow.

“It was kind of a whim,” Susan said. “We knew we wanted to retire to the area. We weren’t looking for a lavender farm, we were looking for a place to live.”

Now the Fahlgrens enjoy their morning coffee while watching the sun come up over their acre of lavender. Fleurish Lavender of Lost Mountain also has a specimen garden with 86 varieties, each bush neatly labeled.

After doing some research, Susan began buying alpaca manure as fertilizer. “We might as well have our own in-house factory,” she decided. Three alpacas, Lacey, Aurora and Lyric, joined the farm a year ago. They’re super-soft pets who also earn their keep.

“Clearly, manual laborwise, this is the hardest I’ve worked since I was a teenager,” Susan said. “But it’s such lovely work, having your hands in the dirt and being on the farm.”

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“Fulfilling,” Doug added. “It’s just such a beautiful place.”

1541 Taylor Cutoff Road, Sequim; fleurishlavender.com

While in Sequim

Take advantage of that sunny dry weather and get outside!

The Dungeness Spit Lighthouse is 63 feet above sea level.  Volunteer lighthouse keepers rotate in and out of the buildings, protecting them from vandals. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

Dungeness Spit near Sequim is the longest natural sand spit in the country. It stretches into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and is known for excellent bird-watching. It’s an 11-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead to the lighthouse at the end of the spit and back, so give yourself a couple of hours.

Many people use Sequim as a jumping-off point to explore Olympic National Park. From Sequim, it’s only a half-hour’s drive to the ranger station in Port Angeles, then another half-hour to the visitor center at Hurricane Ridge. Enjoy trails at 5,242-foot elevation surrounded by incredible panoramic mountain views.

Beautiful Lake Crescent is about an hour from Sequim. Marymere Falls and the Moments in Time are both easily manageable trails that take you through old-growth forest.

If relaxing on the beach is more your speed, head to the sandy beach at Fort Worden Historical State Park in nearby Port Townsend. The water is shallow and clear, and you can watch the ferries sailing to Whidbey Island.