I’ll be honest: the first time I visited Anacortes, I was totally stereotypical. I rolled into town, grabbed a bite to eat, and took a look around. Within a few hours was on a ferry to the San Juan Islands.
This is what most people do. They use the small town of Anacortes on Fidalgo Island as a stopping-off point to refuel before heading over to the San Juan Islands. Because the San Juan Islands offer the ‘real’ beauty and the ‘real’ adventure that draws visitors to the region.
Now, I know better. I recently had the opportunity to visit Anacortes several times, and to immerse myself in the city and surrounding region. While a few days is by no means enough to discover and unlock all the secret treasures of Fidalgo Island, I was surprised by how many gems were hidden just under the surface – just out of sight from what you see on your way to or from the ferry terminal.
In this post, I’m not going to cover the San Juan Islands, so if you’re looking for advice on visiting the whale museum in Friday Harbor, how to go wine tasting on Lopez Island, or details on the San Juan Islands ferry, boat, click here; similarly, I’m not discussing how to attend the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, though I do have a guide for that here – and Anacortes is a great place to visit in tandem with the tulips!
Instead, I’ll break down how to visit Anacortes, the best things to do in Anacortes, and how to put together a great weekend itinerary for Anacortes. Read on to plan your Anacortes weekend getaway from Seattle!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Coast Salish, Samish, Sauk Suiattle, and Skagit peoples and Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally written in December 2018 and was updated most recently in August 2022.
Anacortes Travel Tips
Before you hop in the car and go, here are a couple of quick tips to help make sure you have a great trip.
How to Get to Anacortes
If you’re visiting Seattle (or live there) and want to travel to Anacortes, you need a car. It’s a 90-minute drive north on Interstate 5 and west on Washington Highway 20 to Anacortes, which is located in Skagit County. On Friday afternoons, you might encounter some traffic leaving Seattle through Everett or Maryville. This can add up to an extra hour to your drive.
You might think Anacortes has the same weather as Seattle because they’re so close, right? Actually, Anacortes, like the neighboring San Juan Islands, is in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula mountains. This means Anacortes actually has pleasant, mostly rain-free weather. It only rains an average of 26 inches per year in Anacortes and around 158 days of sunshine.
It never hurts to throw a light rain shell in your bag though, in case you’re in town on one of those rare, rainy days!
Packing for Anacortes
In addition to a rain shell, this itinerary requires a few other packing tips.
- While Anacortes has temperate winter weather and warm summer months, the mornings can be chilly. I love my UNIQLO ultra light down jacket for trips like this in the Pacific Northwest, because it packs small and light but cuts the chill on cool mornings and evenings.
- If you decide to go hiking, be sure to pack sturdy walking or hiking shoes. I love Soloman trail running shoes because they’re pretty much good for anything adventurous and are a great option for exploring Anacortes.
- You’re in a sunny part of the Pacific Northwest… don’t forget to pack sunglasses!
- If you choose to go kayaking or whale watching, you might want to grab a waterproof case for your phone. I use the Optrix by Body Glove on my most adventurous days.
The 14 Best Things to Do in Anacortes
Now you’re all set for what to bring and how to get here. Let’s cover what to do in Anacortes so you can start planning your itinerary.
1. Take a Historic Walking Tour
From the moment you arrive in Anacortes, it is apparent that the city takes pride in its historic roots: the gateway to downtown proudly proclaims that you are entering “Historic Downtown Anacortes.”
This is an element that the city of Anacortes obviously wants visitors to experience. You can pick up a free map brochure that details the walking tour through historic black and white photos. With that in one hand, you can visit up to 30 historic buildings dating back to the origins of Anacortes in the late 19th century.
There are also historic figures painted and hung around town, which help you learn more about the people and characters who impacted Anacortes’ history and called this town home.
2. Visit the W.T. Preston & Maritime Center
The W.T. Preston is one of the most unique historic features in Anacortes. This permanently dry-berthed ship is one of only two remaining snag boats that helped keep Puget Sound clear for other boats by removing logs, stumps, and other debris for over 50 years. During her time, she worked the thousand square miles of waterways and helped keep the other ships sailing along smoothly.
Restored, the ship is now a museum, and in addition to learning the history of shipping in Puget Sound, you can explore the many decks, cabins, and features of the ship itself. The Maritime Center next door has additional information about maritime history in the Puget Sound and Anacortes specifically.
3. Ascend Cap Sante for a View
Cap Sante is the name of the rocky point that juts out into Fidalgo Bay, east of Anacortes. The feature creates a natural harbor and the Cap Sante Marina sits in its shadow. Most of the hillside has been developed into residential properties, but a small park, Cap Sante Park, has been left for visitors and locals to enjoy. You can access Cap Sante from the small parking lot at the top (and a second parking lot further down the hill).
Cap Sante Park also affords stunning views of Anacortes itself and views of the San Juan Islands beyond. While trees obscure the northern part of the city, you can see most of the marina and residential areas to the south. Looking east, you can also see the glittering Shell refinery on Mach’s Point, several small islands, and the stunning northern Cascade mountain range, jagged peaks pushed up from where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates meet.
As pictured above, Cap Sante is open day and night. You can catch the sunrise here, get a picturesque view midday, or stargaze at night.
4. Tour through Washington Park
On the westernmost point of Fidalgo Island, you’ll find Washington Park. The 220-acre park began after an eight-acre bequest made by German immigrant Tonjes Havekost inspired the city to preserve the surrounding region. And what a region it is.
Laced with short hiking trails and looped by a 2.2-mile road that allows us “non-outdoorsy” people to still enjoy the space, Washington Park is a geologist’s dream come true. The majority of the land sits on serpentinite, a type of rock that was formerly part of the earth’s crust, now pushed upward through the dynamic tectonic action common to the region, and widely exposed in some parts of the park. There are also glacial tubes and erratics (rocks left behind by glaciers long receded) throughout the park begging to be discovered.
Additionally, you can picnic on Green Point where daffodils dotted the verdant land and the view allows you to see the comings and goings of ferries and shipping containers on Rosario Strait. You can explore a classic rocky Washington State beach at West beach. You can also hike out onto Burrow’s Overlook to see the serpentinite exposed and great views to the south including Burrow’s Island. Also on Burrow’s Overlook, Tonjes Havekost’s grave and monument stand sentry, a monolith of granite.
5. Explore Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass draws visitors from around the state, and many come to explore the State Park without seeing the rest of Fidalgo Island at all (hence my putting it last so you’d have to see there are other beautiful reasons that outdoor-lovers will want to spend a great time there!).
Connecting Fidalgo Island to its southern neighbor Whidbey Island by way of tiny Pass Island in the middle, Deception Pass is so named because Captain George Vancouver thought Whidbey was actually a peninsula until further exploration of the area proved him wrong. For the 11 years prior to completing the current bridge in 1935, the pass was crossed by way of a ferry operated by a hearty, tiny woman named Berte Olson (why is there always a hearty, tiny woman in all the good history stories? Coincidence – I think not!).
Now, the 1,487-foot-long bridge is a small part of what draws visitors to the area, and a thrilling experience to stand on, with a 177-foot drop below you into Deception Pass itself. Right in the middle, you can feel the weight shift as cars pass from one half of the bridge to the other.
Deception Pass State Park boasts nearly 21 miles of freshwater and saltwater shoreline and 38 miles of hiking trails, making it an irresistible stop for those looking to hike in the region. There are also boat tours through the Pass in the warm weather months.
6. Go Kayaking in Burrows Bay
I’m not a huge kayaker, but I seem to go kayaking a lot when I travel! (It’s a really good ‘light adventure’ experience.) On my most recent trip to Anacortes, I went out for a paddle around Burrows Island with Anacortes Kayak Tours. It took about 90 minutes for the tour and was actually pleasantly challenging – I also got a bit seasick though from rougher seas on the far side of the island. ?
While kayaking, you’ll have a chance to see marine life like sea stars, crabs, seals, and otters, and maybe even whales on a lucky day.
7. Attend Community Events at Seafarers Memorial Park or Washington Park
Anacortes is a small but lively community. On my most recent trip, I had the chance to attend a few community events. These are usually held at local parks, such as Washington Park (there’s a nice picnic tables area and beach on the north part of the park near the entrance) and the beautifully designed Seafarers Memorial Park near Cap Sante Marina.
Events are offered year-round (and listed on the Anacortes website). Depending on when you visit, they could be a cool add-on to the rest of your itinerary too.
8. Hike Mt. Erie
Love to get your heart pumping? There’s no better place than the Pacific Northwest – where even the islands have mountains worth climbing.
Geologists aren’t quite sure what formed this rocky outcropping mountain so close to the waterway, but it’s for our benefit! Mount Erie stands just 1,273 feet in elevation at its summit but has incredible views of the surrounding region.
You can actually drive to the summit, which takes a bit of the fun out of it – but there’s an awesome hiking trail to Whistle Lake from Mount Erie to stretch your legs. This 5.2-mile loop has over 1,000 feet of elevation change – so you basically descend Mt. Erie to the lake before climbing back up to your car. It’s a perfect way to spend the afternoon if you love hiking!
9. Explore Guemes Island
Did you know there’s a small island you can visit a short ferry ride from Anacortes? Guemes Island is located directly north of Fidalgo Island and it only takes about 5 minutes to ride the ferry between the terminal at the north end of I Street to the island.
Once you arrive, there are a few things to do; despite being so close to Anacortes, Guemes has its own little community and atmosphere. You could hike up Guemes Mountain for sweeping views of the North Sound, go birding at the Dog Woods of Guemes, try your hand tide pooling (or beachcombing) along Yellow Bluff, or pop into the General Store for an old-timey sense of life on the islands in the days before ferries were ubiquitous and ran daily.
The best way to explore Guemes Island is by bike; Skagit Cycle Center is a great resource for everything you need.
10. Walk the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve Trail
Located right next to the Washington State Ferry terminal, the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve trail is one of the most charming walks in Anacortes. This lovely path is well-groomed and paved, perfect for those who don’t want to get their shoes muddy. It wends its way in and out of the trees, leading visitors through the old coastal salt marsh.
Along the way, there are observation stops with interpretive signs about the surrounding nature as well as about the indigenous peoples and canneries that held sway years ago. Keep your eyes peeled to see the cormorants, hummingbirds, and waterfowls flying next to you.
The SHIP trail is also home to one of the few sandy beaches open to the public on Fidalgo Island. Find a cozy to sit down and spy the ferry gliding across the waters to take passages to one of Washington’s small towns.
11. Enjoy a Day at the Beach
Being an island, Anacortes is endowed with beautiful shorelines. Most beaches are nestled inside state parks, offering an ideal plan for one of your days.
Washington Park is home to Sunset Beach and West Beach, the former being located on the north shore of the park and the latter along the western shore. Both beaches boast multiple amenities that would keep every family member occupied.
Also set inside Washington Park, Rosario Beach is arguably the most popular beach in Anacortes. And for good reason.
You’ll always find beauty at this beach regardless of the time of year, and regardless of the time of day. The meadows dotted with wildflowers, the views of San Juan Island in the distance, the sounds of the surf on the pebbles, the ocean breeze blowing through your hair. Everything is delightful.
Rosario Beach is also popular for being a beachcomber’s paradise. It’s not uncommon to see visitors sitting at the water line and scouring the billions of rocks for that perfect agate or ocean glass. However, as part of the Washington State Park System, you can’t take anything you find – just admire your beachcombing discoveries and leave them for others to enjoy too.
No matter what beach you choose, bring a picnic and enjoy a serene day at the beach.
12. Check out Anacortes Farmer’s Market
The farmer’s market is a great way to spend an afternoon in downtown Anacortes. Held every Saturday during the summer months, the market is a warren of stalls selling fresh organic vegetables, meats, and cheeses.
The market boasts a strong community atmosphere. It’s easy to spot locals who already know the stall pawners and come here religiously to purchase their meat and veggies for the week.
This market also invites local artisans to display their crafts, so you’re bound to find tons of handmade products. If you go around lunchtime, check out the fantastic food trucks. There’s a huge variety: seafood, Mexican, Chinese… Snag a table and enjoy your food while listening to a talented musician play some music in the food court.
13. Find your Favorite Figurine Mural
Anacortes is a real living art gallery. The coastal city has more than 150 murals spread around downtown. You never know when you’re going to bump into one!
While art flourishes naturally in every corner of the world, Anacortes has Bill Mitchel to thank for the figurine murals that decorate random building walls.
Born and bred in Anacortes, Bill Mitchell was a child when he suffered a car accident that paralyzed him from the waist down. But that never stopped him. Mitchel made his purpose in life to fill Anacortes with life-size murals of famous figures.
Make sure to pick up a mural map at the Anacortes Visitors Center so you don’t miss any.
14. Attend Anacortes Arts Festival
Did you know Anacortes has one of the oldest and largest art festivals of the Northwest? Well, now you do.
Every August, 90,000 people flock to Anacortes to experience the Anacortes Arts Festival. Throughout the month, every nook of the city gets filled with art. The waterfronts, parks, and forests become outdoor museums displaying collections of public art that contribute to the city’s culture and aesthetics.
There are also demonstration workshops where talented artists create unique pieces and share their creative processes. Local musicians also participate. The festival sets up three stages and invites local bands to play their tunes for attendees at the beer and wine gardens.
How to Spend a Weekend in Anacortes for 3 Days
A three-day trip is a great opportunity to sample what a city has to offer. In Anacortes, there are three main themes: History, Outdoors, and Culinary. I’ve mixed these together a bit while still trying to give you a sample of all three.
Day 1: Wander Around Historic Downtown
Today’s a great day to visit the W.T. Preston and Maritime Center to learn about Anacortes’ maritime history. If there are any community events at Seafarers Memorial Park, this is also a good night to attend them (especially if you arrive on a Friday!).
As I mentioned, a historic walking tour through downtown Anacortes is a great way to learn about the history of this town. Here is the link to the map again. Some of the highlights of the tour include:
The Great Northern Railroad Depot (Now the Anacortes Art & Community Center)
In 1879, Amos Bowman founded Anacortes and named it after his wife, Anne Curtis. As a railroad surveyor, Bowman had big dreams that Anacortes could be the New York of the West Coast. When the transcontinental train route terminated in Tacoma rather than Anacortes, a bust followed and the train line stopped running shortly thereafter. The depot still stands near the marina, now it’s an arts and community center, and the former rail yard plays host to the weekend Anacortes farmers market and entrepreneurial food trucks instead of steam engines.
The McNaught Building (Now the Majestic Inn & Spa)
Built originally at the corner of 8th Street and I Avenue in 1891, the McNaught Building (pictured above) was moved to its current location at 5th Street and Commercial Avenue during its time as the Anacortes Mercantile Company. By 2007, it became the Majestic Inn & Spa and they have added a beautiful second building on the block complement the demand for luxurious accommodation in the city.
The Carnegie Library (Now the Anacortes History Museum)
In 1908, a community grant sought to open a library in town, and a $10,000 grant was requested from the Carnegie Foundation. The only terms of the grant were that the town agreed to fund $1,000, and another $1,000 per year to cover maintenance and library costs. By 1910, the library was built and open to the public. Now, it houses the Anacortes History Museum, which is free and open to the public most days.
Day 2: Explore the Great Outdoors
What draws most travelers to the Anacortes area is access to the great outdoors. As you’ve already read, there are some great outdoor activities to enjoy. Here’s how I’d spend a day exploring the outdoors near Anacortes.
I would start in the morning with kayaking on Burrows Bay. The water will likely be calmer in the morning than afternoon, which is good for folks like me who get queasy. Kayaking is a good way to get your heart pumping and get your morning workout in.
If you’d rather be on land, head to Mt. Erie. Drive to the summit and spend the morning taking a hike to Whistle Lake. This is a great hike for sunrise if you can time it right to catch the best light of the day.
In the afternoon, head to Washington Park for some more light hiking and driving the loop. End the day by watching the sunset atop Cap Sante. (I also went stargazing up on Cap Sante, which was pretty decent!)
Day 3: A Maritime Day on the Water
Start the morning by boarding a whale watching boat! As part of the San Juan Islands, Fidalgo Island is surrounded by waterways that whales are frequently seen in – including the resident orcas of the San Juans. In certain months, you might also see gray whales on their migration. Otherwise, look for Orcas, humpback whales, and minke whales on a 3-4 hour tour guide.
Here are a few of the tour operators that offer whale watching tours in Anacortes:
- Deception Pass Tours – they also offer (as their name suggests) boat tours of Deception Pass
- Puget Sound Express
- Island Adventures
- Outer Island Excursions
If you’re not tired of boats, you could also book a boat tour of Deception Pass and see even more beautiful scenery up close. There are also sunset cruises you could do at the end of the day. If you’d rather be on land, head to Deception Pass for hiking and search for tide pools at the beaches.
At the end of this day, you can head back to Seattle or wherever your travels take you.
Where to Eat & Drink in Anacortes
I haven’t mentioned meals at all, because there are lots of great restaurants in Anacortes – and you’ll need to choose which ones you want to enjoy while visiting. Or you could squeeze them all in like I usually do and end up needing a few light meals when you return home!
The two main restaurants for breakfast in Anacortes that I recommend are Dad’s Diner and GERE-a-DELI.
Dad’s Diner is a great spot known for homestyle comfort diner food located on Commercial Street only a short walk away from the marina. Think biscuits and gravy (which I’ve ordered both times I have visited), fried eggs, thick-cut bacon, country-style potatoes. Oh, and fresh, local coffee. GERE-a-DELI is a local deli, housed in an old auto garage that still retains the motif. They’re known for their bagel sandwiches, pictured.
There are other cafes and delis throughout town. If you just need coffee, Acme Coffee made the best cold brew I’ve had in my life – I’m confident their hot brews are also delicious.
For Lunch or Dinner
Anacortes has a bustling dining scene for a town of 17,000, and there are plenty of restaurants I’ve never visited despite repeated trips. If you don’t see or read about something you love that I recommend, there’s plenty more to choose from on the Anacortes website.
I dined at Union Tavern on my most recent trip and was totally impressed. This hip little restaurant had some fantastic drink options and a foodie-focused menu. Yes, we had oyster shooters, fancy hot dogs, and wine!
The Brown Lantern Ale House is an Anacortes institution and local favorite, dating back to 1933. It’s a bit rough and tumble with that much history, and still draws a lot of locals. Luckily, everyone is friendly and it’s easy to fit in at this sports bar-slash-brew pub. I’ve eaten here a few times and everything is good. The menu is primarily hearty American bar food.
A’Town Bistro is a nice upscale option, perfect if your trip to Anacortes includes a date night with your travel companion. Their food is absolutely delicious, too. (I have this weird habit of ordering burgers everywhere, but I have tried other items on their menu.)
If you want to go out for just drinks, there are some nice options. From wine bars to cocktail bars to breweries, you can find any libations you like.
I stopped at Salt & Vine for the first time on my last trip and fell in love. They have a stunning selection of cheese and wine, and you pick a combo to pair. (So you choose 3, 5, or 7 kinds of cheese and a wine to match.) Rockfish Grill & Anacortes Brewing also serves food, but it’s the primary tasting room for Anacortes Brewing Company for your craft beer travelers out there. Lastly, the Majestic Rooftop Bar isn’t open year-round, but it’s a fantastic spot to watch the sunset with a fancy cocktail. (Note: I have never been to the Majestic Rooftop Bar because it hasn’t worked out or been open when I have visited. I’ve heard great things!)
Where to Stay in Anacortes
Anacortes has several hotels and vacation rentals/Airbnbs to choose from. If you’re visiting Anacortes for 3 days, I recommend booking a hotel near the center of town. That way you can walk around and explore the downtown core full of unique shops and a popular attraction or two.
Hotels in Anacortes
On my first trip, I was hosted at the Majestic Inn & Spa (from $136/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com). The Majestic is a bit like the crown jewel for hotels in Anacortes. It’s a beautiful, modern property with a lot of history, located along the main street downtown. There’s the original building, a new building with additional rooms, meeting space, a garden (perfect wedding venue!), and a rooftop bar.
The Majestic Inn & Spa is also a historic building in downtown Anacortes (the McNaught Building), so even if you don’t stay there you can pass by and admire the building as part of the walking history tour I recommended.
On my second trip to Anacortes, I was hosted at the Cap Sante Inn. The Cap Sante Inn is a few blocks from the main core of Anacortes and only a short distance to a nice city park. It harkens back to roadside motels with low-slung two-story buildings. The Cap Sante Inn is a good option for a budget hotel in Anacortes.
Search hotels in Anacortes on Booking.com to find the best price.
Airbnbs in Anacortes
If you love Airbnb as much as I do, here are some options:
- As a VRBO option, this charming, dog-friendly home with free WiFi is right downtown. (From $115 per night.)
- This one Bedroom has a Puget Sound View and is minutes from the Ferry. (From $124 per night.)
- This cliffside property has 180-degree sea views and can sleep up to 7 people. (From $141 per night.)
There are plenty more too if none of these strike your fancy or budget.
Now that you know the best things to do in Anacortes, you’re all set to plan your trip! Do you have other questions about visiting Anacortes? Let me know in the comments!