For many years Anacortes was a bustling fishing, canning, logging and mill town. When natural resources dwindled, it found ways to adapt. Home to two major refineries since the mid-1950s, Anacortes has a strong industrial component that includes Dakota Creek Industries, a busy shipyard on the Guemes Channel that draws residents and visitors eager to peek at its latest projects
In recent years, the city’s quality of life and amenities have attracted a large population of affluent retirees. There are now about 16,000 people here.
Historic downtown Anacortes offers a selection of good restaurants and an interesting mix of galleries and shops. Visitors are charmed by the historic buildings and the colorful murals of local characters. The museum, library, marina esplanade and a historic snagboat are within easy walking distance.
With more than 3,200 acres of city-owned parks, recreation areas and forest lands, more than one-third of Anacortes is dedicated to recreation or wildlife. Trails lead through forests and parks, along marinas and waterfront bluffs, across the bay on an old railroad trestle, around Heart Lake and to the top of Mount Erie.
For a view of the city, head down Fourth street to Cap Sante Park at the northeast end of town.
The viewpoint at the top of Cap Sante overlooks the city and also provides views of Fidalgo and Guemes islands, March Point and Fidalgo Bay.
Another great destination is Washington Park in the West End. It has a boat launch, picnic shelters, and a playground, but the park’s crowning jewel is a 2.3-mile loop road that offers fabulous views of several shoreline areas and Burrows Bay as you walk, bike, jog or drive.
Recreation choices here are many: fishing, hiking, biking, diving, climbing, kayaking, sailing, whale watching, beach combing and much more.
You can catch a ferry for the San Juan Islands or Sidney, B.C., at the Washington State Ferries terminal. Just get on 12th Street, go west about 3 miles and veer right at the big intersection. A second, smaller ferry system serves Guemes Island from a landing near the west end of Sixth Street.
The city has a diverse mix of major annual events, celebrating everything from art to motorcycles. The biggest is the Anacortes Arts Festival, Aug. 2-4, 2013, which draws about 90,000 visitors. There are also old-fashioned celebrations, complete with parades and joyous community gatherings, for Independence Day and the Christmas holiday season.
While you’re here
Stroll the docks at Cap Sante Marina and pick up fresh seafood in season.
Visit the Cap Sante viewpoint just blocks from downtown.
Go whale watching and enjoy the breathtaking scenery and varied wildlife of the San Juan Islands. (There are whale sightings on almost every trip.)
Plan a picnic. Get provisions in town and walk to Seafarers’ Memorial Park and watch boats coming in and out of the Cap Sante Marina. Or head to Causland Memorial Park a few block west of downtown. Lots of grass and a lovely spot that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Check out the W.T. Preston snagboat down by the marina and the adjacent Maritime Heritage Center, both part of the Anacortes Museum, a treat in itself.
Drive to the the top of Mount Erie, arguably the best viewpoint on Fidalgo Island. The lookout is about 20 minutes from downtown in the center of the island. On a clear day, the crystal blue Salish Sea studded with its gem-like green islands will startle your eyes and feed your soul.
The exterior walls of Anacortes, especially downtown, are the canvas for Bill Mitchell, well-known artist, historian and generally quirky character. Passers-by are occasionally startled and often charmed to encounter his nostalgic and distinctive life-sized murals of local characters.
Mitchell’s subjects, more than 120 of them, come from all walks of life: fishermen, mayors, dancers, storekeepers, bar patrons, children, pets, musicians, boaters, church leaders and editors. One mural is a self-portrait of the mutton-chopped artist, seated in his trademark three-wheeled 1954 Autoette, which doubles as a wheelchair.
Cheerfully eccentric and frequently cantankerous, Mitchell attacks his art and historical preservation projects with a missionary zeal. The first mural, of Fred White and his Safety Bike, went up in front of Marine Supply & Hardware on May 2, 1984, two years before the Vancouver Expo. Mitchell decided murals would be a good draw for visitors and followed the fair’s theme, transportation, so many of his murals feature trains, boats, cars, carts, trucks and wagons. They have proven wildly popular, though collecting a few snubs from art critics.
Tourists are frequently seen posing for photos with the murals, and pranksters occasionally embellish them with mustaches or hats, stunts Mitchell minds only if adhesives damage the mural’s finish.
A list of murals and locations is available at the Anacortes Visitors Center at Commercial Avenue and Ninth Street.