Traveling from Seattle north along Interstate 5 will take you to Bellingham and eventually Vancouver in beautiful British Columbia. It’s a tempting bit of highway to breeze along, skipping all the drive-through towns in Snohomish and Skagit Counties for more intriguing destinations further north. You certainly could, but it would be a mistake. You’d miss a sunny little port town in the Puget Sound known for its whale-watching tours, biker rallies, and being the Gateway to the San Juan Islands. You wouldn’t get to visit Anacortes.
Founded in the late 19th century and named for the wife of its founder, Amos Bowman, Anacortes was envisioned as being the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. When funding for the project dried up, Anacortes’ growth stalled, a misfortune which led to its slow development as a port town with a thriving fishing industry.
A walk through the old-fashioned downtown takes visitors past buildings with storied pasts, such as the Majestic Inn and Anacortes Museum. Stop into the Majestic for a meal on the town’s only rooftop lounge, then head to the museum, which gives an enlightening glimpse into the town’s unique history.
Don’t miss out on the town’s amazing seafood options, whether you go for the Dungeness crab cakes at Adrift Restaurant or the clam chowder at the A-Town Bistro. Or, for perhaps one of the best outdoor (but covered!) places to dine in town, try the prawn tacos at Anthony’s Cabana. Ask for Cassi — she knows all the best dishes! These restaurants and more use locally-sourced ingredients and serve up some of the freshest seafood your taste buds will ever enjoy. Bon appetit!
If you’re lucky enough to visit Anacortes in September, the thunder of thousands of motorcycles will break the tranquil air of the town, and the streets will be abuzz with a festive air. The annual Oyster Run — the largest motorcycle rally in the Pacific Northwest — ends here, and the whole town turns out to celebrate.
For a quieter, family-focused experience, take advantage of Anacortes’ proximity to a number of parks and reserves with plenty of easy trails and recreational activities for kids. Hike the 3.3-mile Tommy Thompson Trail, climb nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, or go camping in the pleasantly wooded Washington Park. Don’t miss out on Deception Pass due south, where a dizzyingly high bridge connects Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands.
The area around Anacortes has much to offer for thrillseekers as well, with rock-climbing routes on Mt. Erie, cliff-jumping at Whistle Lake, and whale-watching cruises departing from the Seafarers’ Memorial Park. Three pods of orcas call the waters of the San Juans home, so your chances of spotting some of the iconic PNW creatures are excellent.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to visit Anacortes, though, is to board a ferry bound for one of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago in the Puget Sound, part of which was recently designated as a National Monument. Time moves slowly on the islands, and the weather is balmy compared to the rest of Western Washington since the area is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountain Range to the south.
What places in your backyard do you always recommend to visitors? What makes those places so special? Share your recommendations in the comments below!