By TONY MINER
Anacortes, Washington is often referred to as the gateway to the world famous San Juan Islands, and while that´s very true, there are so many exciting things to do in and around Anacortes itself that the northwest traveler is advised to make this lovely seaside town the main destination of any trip.
The list of reasons is long and impressive. For starters, the picturesque natural landscape of Anacortes is unique. Located on Fidalgo Island and accessible by bridge, it is surrounded by water on three sides. Mts. Baker and Eerie stand watch over the city, and the San Juan Islands lie to the west.
Whether you visit Anacortes by land or by sea, it´s worth an extended stay to sample its many outdoor activities. Spend the day kayaking the calm shoreline, clamming, crabbing, fishing, whale watching, sailing—just about any water activity you can imagine can be found here. Landlubbers will enjoy walking through Washington Park or visiting the many viewpoints overlooking the city.
For the more sedentary adventurer, cultural activities abound. This thriving arts community includes dozens of writers, artists, quilters, musicians and craftsmen who live in and around the area, many with national reputations. Exhibits, art events, specialty shops, numerous galleries and other retailers support this creative community. If you love antiques, you´ll find many dealers operating in a variety of formats ranging from self-contained businesses to antique marts which display a number of retailers under one roof.
A casual stroll down Main Street finds a number of historic buildings to appreciate. Anacortes is especially proud of its ever popular annual Jazz Festival. And if you love Harleys and oysters, don´t miss the annual oyster run that attracts thousands of motorcyclists of all stripes each fall.
Anacortes offers accommodations in all price ranges, including bed and breakfasts, motels and the historic Majestic Inn. We were looking for a waterfront experience, and that´s exactly what we found at the Heron House. This four-suite B&B is perched on the rocks, right above the water, with an absolutely stunning view looking west over Burrows Bay toward Allan, Burrows, and the San Juan Islands.
We were fortunate enough to be there on a gorgeous, sunny and mild mid-October weekend, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful location. Add to that the lavishly appointed, luxury accommodations, and you´ve got the recipe for a slice of heaven. On-site innkeepers Dana and Larry Bishop were very friendly and low key and immediately made us feel welcomed and relaxed. The owners of The Heron House have graciously given the innkeepers creative license to put their own personal stamp on the B&B, and they´ve taken them up on it. The Bishops recently hosted a small, intimate wedding and say it´s a perfect venue for this kind of event. They can accommodate up to 50 guests and would like to see more couples take their vows in this very special setting.
After a tour of the rooms, all with king-size beds and private baths, we made ourselves comfortable in the Pacific Suite, which is decorated with interesting Asian furniture and artwork. After a long day of thoroughly exploring Anacortes, the in-suite jetted tub was soothing and refreshing. Then it was time to head out to the deck, which has sequestered seating areas for each suite. It´s a short walk down some steps carved into the natural rock bulkhead to the beach, which is accessible at low tide. For those who have never experienced the sun setting over the San Juans, you must put it on your to-do list. We were advised to keep an eye out for an otter family and a friendly heron, both of whom call the beach home and are surely attracted by the wonderful fragrances of Dana´s cooking.
Each evening, Dana prepares some kind of tasty baked treat, and we sampled her excellent shortbread, along with some freshly brewed coffee. But trust me, the best was yet to come. After a restful night, accented by the sound of waves lapping on the rocks outside our room, we had the pleasure of Dana´s cooking once again. Breakfast started with coffee, tea and juice, and delicious baked apples. Then came the main course of Monte Cristo sandwiches made with ham, cheese, and fresh baked bread dipped in egg and Grand Marnier — it was absolutely delicious. Fresh sliced fruit rounded out the menu. All in all, it was a magnificent stay.
It´s a miracle we had any appetite at all after eating at one of Anacortes´ finest restaurants the night before. The town has a full array of eateries—everything from seafood and steaks to Japanese, Thai and Mexican cuisine, but we had a hankering for Italian food and went to the Bellissima Trattoria, which is located right in the center of town on Commercial Avenue. Owner Marianne Mach was gracious and accommodating, and told us about her travel to Sicily to gather ideas for her restaurant. My policy is to always order the spaghetti and meatballs when I try an Italian place for the first time, and it was an excellent choice. My travel partner also tried a standard dish, lasagna, and pronounced it outstanding. From the crabcake starter to the tiramisu finish, we enjoyed every bite. The service was top notch and this restaurant is definitely worth a return visit.
Anacortes calls itself the homeport for the San Juan Islands, and it´s easy to see why. With several marinas, fuel, repair facilities and provisions, Anacortes has become the destination of choice for boaters from all over the Northwest and boasts a large charter fleet. This is your spot for booking a crewed or bareback charter for exotic points to the north like Desolation Sound and Princess Louisa Inlet, or closer to home in the Canadian Gulf and San Juan islands.
Anacortes is also the departure point for riding a Washington State ferry around the San Juan Islands or to Sidney, BC. We have walked on the state ferry several times, and spent the day cruising through the islands, with stops in places like Friday Harbor and Orcas Island. If you´re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the infamous Orca whales.
We highly recommend a visit to Anacortes, where you´ll find excellent accommodations, fine food, beautiful scenery and a friendly community.
Photo: Marinas at Anacortes are among Northwest’s most popular. By Tony Miner