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14 Things to Do in Anacortes from Hiking and Paddling to Whale Watching and Great Eats

14 Things to Do in Anacortes from Hiking and Paddling to Whale Watching and Great Eats

Post created July 8, 2023

Many Washingtonians think of Anacortes only as a jumping-off point for trips to the San Juan Islands. But there’s so much more to this mid-sized coastal town that makes it perfect for a weekend getaway.

Anacortes is packed with beautiful vistas, great restaurants, hiking trails, museums, and more. You can easily spend a weekend there and only scratch the surface of everything Anacortes has to offer.

To help you start exploring the city, I’ll highlight 14 of my favorite things to do in Anacortes.

1. Take in the Views from Cap Sante

(Image Credit: SeattleTravel.com)

When you first arrive in Anacortes, you can’t help but notice the grassy hill that rises up just beyond downtown. This is Cap Sante (French for Cape Health), a coastal headland that juts into Fidalgo Bay and offers an impressive 360-degree panorama of the area.

What I love about hiking up to the top of Cap Sante is that you can start right from downtown Anacortes. If I arrive in Anacortes in the morning, I like to grab a coffee from the Calico Cupboard Cafe before heading out on my stroll.

Take the bayside path through Rotary Park, passing an impressive array of sailboats along the way. Then follow the trail system up to the top of the hill.

From there, you can look down on downtown Anacortes and the many marinas that line the shoreline. To the east, you’ll enjoy great views of Mt. Baker and the North Cascades.

The hike takes about an hour round trip. If you’re pressed for time, you can also drive to the top of Cap Sante.

2. Look for a Pod of Orcas

(Image Credit: Shutterstock / T.Schofield)

The waters around Anacortes are famous for hosting Southern Resident Killer Whales, and especially the well-known J-pod. They usually don’t come all the way into Fidalgo Bay, so your best bet to see orcas is to jump on a whale watching tour.

There are several tour outfitters in Anacortes that offer daily tours in the summer, including Island Adventures, Spirit of Orca, Anacortes Whale Watching Tours, and Blackfish Tours. Many of these tours guarantee you’ll see a whale while you’re out on the water.

3. Explore the Anacortes Farmers Market

The Anacortes Farmers Market offers a chance to see the whole community out and about. It’s a big market relative to the size of the town and hosts a great combination of local fishermen, farmers from the nearby Skagit Valley, and artists.

You can also easily turn your browsing into brunch. The Farmers Market has booths for bakeries, coffee shops, and food vendors. Plus, there’s live music most weekends to give the market an even more festive atmosphere.

The Farmers Market runs every Saturday 9am-2pm from May-October. 

4. Hike or Mountain Bike the Anacortes Community Forest Lands

Just south of Anacortes proper, the city has bought up a lot of land on Fidalgo Island and held it in trust for the community. Anacortes Community Forest Lands cover nearly 3,000 acres with more than 50 miles of trails. One of my favorite things about Anacortes is how easy it is to go from the city to nature in no time at all.

There are tons of great hiking opportunities, including Little Cranberry Lake and Sugarloaf Mountain. The trail system on the west side of Heart Lake Road is also very popular for mountain bikers. If you didn’t bring your own bike, you can rent one from Skagit Cycle Center.

You can find trail maps online or buy a paper map from almost any shop in downtown Anacortes.

5. Paddle around Fidalgo Bay

(Image Credit: Shutterstock / CL Shebley)

Fidalgo Bay, the waterway alongside Anacortes, is relatively protected from wind and waves. So, it’s a great place to go for a paddle on a hot summer day. You can rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks from the Anacortes Waterfront Alliance at Seafarers Memorial Park, just a short walk from downtown.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, consider taking a guided kayaking tour around Burrows Island. This is on the west side of Fidalgo Island, so the water is often choppier. But you’re rewarded with close-up views of rocky bluffs and coves. There’s even a chance you’ll spot an orca.

6. Stop for an Ice Cream Cone

Since it’s right on the water, Anacortes stays cooler than a lot of Western Washington even when summer temperatures spike. Still, it’s warm enough to call for ice cream.

My favorite spot is Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream, a small shop with a lot of character. They offer homemade waffle cones and more than two dozen flavors to choose from.

There’s also the Fidalgo Fudge Company if you’re looking for a different kind of sweet treat.

7. Take a Ferry to Guemes Island

Guemes Island Ferry Crossing (Image Credit: Shutterstock/ CL Shebley)

While technically part of the San Juan Islands, Guemes Island doesn’t get much of the same attention as Orcas or San Juan. It has its own ferry that leaves from downtown Anacortes, making it ideal for a half-day exploration.

While you can take a car on the Guemes Island ferry, it’s even more fun to bike onto the ferry. The ride across the channel only takes about 10 minutes, and then you’re free to explore the island at your own pace. 

There are few beaches on Guemes Island, including one at Hunts Park on the north end of the island. You also won’t want to miss Guemes Mountain, which offers terrific views of the San Juans, Anacortes, and Bellingham.

There are no restaurants on Guemes, so be sure to pack a lunch or head back to Anacortes when you get hungry.

8. Learn Anacortes History at the Maritime Heritage Center

The Maritime Heritage Center in Anacortes offers a really neat way to learn about the city’s history. While the fishing industry there today is a fraction of what it once was, fishing heritage is stamped all over the city and Anacortes still hosts one of the largest shipbuilding docks on the West Coast.

You can explore the museum for free, but I recommend purchasing a tour of the W.T. Preston Steamboat for $5. It’s really neat to see this 1930s-era steamboat that worked to make the channels and bays around Anacortes navigable for ships.

9. Go Rock Climbing at Mt. Erie

(Image Credit: SeatleTravel.com)

Rock climbers will find some of the best rock climbing in northwest Washington just south of Anacortes, at Mt. Erie. This is part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and it’s well worth a trip to take in the views from the summit even if you’re not a climber.

Mt. Erie has a mix of sport and trad climbing and the area is well-maintained by the local climbing community. Finding your way around can be a bit of a challenge, so I recommend purchasing the Rocking on the Rock guidebook before you go. The digital version is updated with the latest trails and routes.

10. Walk the Bridge at Deception Pass State Park

(Image Credit: SeattleTravel.com)

Deception Pass State Park is an incredible and unique spot that marks the divide between Fidalgo Island, where Anacortes is, and Whidbey Island. It’s the most highly visited state park in Washington, which says something in a state that has no shortage of outstanding parks.

The main attraction at Deception Pass is the bridge over the pass itself. On one side, you can look out at the Strait of Juan de Fuca where the Pacific Ocean rushes in. On the other side, you can back at the protected waters around the mainland. Below you, the current is so fast it’s often visible.

There’s a ton to explore at Deception Pass, including sandy beaches and more than 50 miles of trails. Keep in mind you’ll need a Discover Pass ($10 per day or $30 per year) to visit.

11. Grab a Glass of Wine Downtown

Downtown Anacortes is home to two wine bars, which are great for relaxing at the end of a long day exploring the city or for a quick drink before dinner.

Blackbird offers wine and cheese pairings in a relaxed setting with outdoor seating. Salt & Vine is more of a wine shop with seating, so the wine selection is bigger. In my experience, you can’t go wrong with either.

12. Explore the Anacortes Food Scene

Anacortes may not have a reputation as a city for foodies, but a number of really terrific restaurants have opened downtown over the past few years.

A-town Bistro offers farm-to-table dishes with ingredients sourced from just down the road in the Skagit Valley. Adrift has a similar approach and includes dishes with locally caught seafood. Nonna Luisa offers spectacular, upscale Italian food.

For more casual dining, I recommend Rockfish Bistro, Dad’s Diner, or Frida’s Mexican restaurant.

13. Catch the Sunset at Washington Park

After dinner, drive out to Washington Park to catch the sunset. This is a small grassy headland similar to Cap Sante, but it’s on the west side of the island and offers outstanding views of the San Juans. 

Green Point is my favorite spot for sunset. It can get busy in the summertime, but there’s plenty of space to hang out in the grass and wait for the sky to light up.

14. Check out the Anacortes Art Festival

The Anacortes Art Festival is one of the largest art fairs in Western Washington. Every August, it brings more than 200 artists and more than 90,000 visitors into Anacortes.

The festival takes over a huge chunk of downtown Anacortes, so you can’t miss it. There are food trucks, live music, working studios, and more. Best of all, there are no tickets required to join the celebration and explore the art.

Summary

Anacortes offers tons to do for a weekend getaway or an extended stay. The city has hiking, incredible views, quick access to the San Juans, an engaging history, and so much more. It’s a place that, once you visit once, you’ll want to return to every year.

Ashleigh on ferry Island hopping.

Hi, I'm Ashleigh! Welcome to Seattle Travel, my little piece of beautiful PNW. This is home and I'm here to share all my experiences so visitors and locals alike can find the best experiences this part of the country has to offer. I started Seattle Travel in 2012 as a way to journal my experiences and over the years have been encouraged by family and friends to open up my adventures to everyone. I actively seek out the best food, activities, and day trips and give you a local perspective.  The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and my goal is to let you explore it to the fullest. 


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