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The History Of Anacortes WA – Fidalgo Island

Anacortes Marina

Anacortes WA – Truly Connected Island Living

One of the world’s premiere boating and coastal living destinations, Anacortes, WA, anchors the north end of Fidalgo Island, the easternmost – and most accessible – island in the San Juan Archipelago. While this city of approx.16,400 frequently makes national “Best of” lists, it remains a mostly undiscovered gem, an authentic small town with a vibrant pitch-in-and-make-it-happen lifestyle and endless opportunities for adventure, a mere sneaker walk away.

Geographically, Fidalgo Island is a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest, reveling in a impressive natural environment of both forest and sea.

Boaters have long cherished Anacortes for its world-class marine facilities and as a jumping off point for cruising the spectacular Northwest waters of the San Juans, British Columbia, and Alaska. Others prefer dodging currents and exploring the islands’ intricate coastlines in a sea kayak or chartering a boat for a day of sport fishing. And still others come along for the ride – whale-watching in search of the area’s famed pods of orca whales or driving or walking onto a Washington State Ferry for lunch in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island or a longer stay in the islands or Victoria, British Columbia.

For those who prefer terra firma, Fidalgo Island is anchored by the island’s signature peak, 1,373-foot Mt. Erie, home to both nesting peregrines and intrepid rock climbers. Surrounding the mountain are some 1,500 acres of preserved fir- and sword fern-draped forest lands with seemingly unlimited trails for an adrenaline-pumping hike, spying an elusive bird, or simply taking the dog for an early morning stroll. A handful of fresh-water lakes attract fly fishermen and nature lovers.

The downtown Tommy Thompson Trail offers a unique two-mile round trip walk across a converted railroad trestle above Fidalgo Bay. And 220-acre Washington Park has preserved some of the finest forested marine property with a slow-drive loop road, trails, campsites, picnic facilities, boat launch, and playground. Finally, Washington State’s most-visited park – Deception Pass State Park – links south Fidalgo Island with Whidbey Island via the iconic Deception Pass Bridge, only a 20 minute commute to NAS Whidbey.

A temperate climate beckons you to outdoors to play in this natural backyard year-round, thanks to life within a rain shadow means a foot less rain here (about 25-30 inches) than in Seattle. Hiking the forestlands and parks, helping others identify beach critters as a beach naturalist, identifying native plants, or a hopping into a hand-crafted wooden boat for an aerobic row on Fidalgo Bay are four-season sports. There’s even a 9-hole golf course with views of the bay, plus larger golf facilities a short drive away.

Locals like to say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Should you forget your appropriate clothing, however, slip into one of several neighborly coffee shops for a cup o’Jo or stretch out in a yoga or Pilates class. You’ll inevitably meet a neighbor or make a new friend.

Unique yet unassuming, Anacortes’s healthy blend of basic ingredients and spicy accents makes for a relaxed, engaged, and balanced lifestyle.

In downtown Old Town Anacortes, century-old brick buildings are filled with galleries, antique malls, specialty shops and boutiques, and both casual and candlelight dining. Numerous overnight accommodations cater to a growing visitor population. And the Anacortes Community Theatre and a rocking acoustic music scene provide daily doses of culture.

Undergirding all the fun is a solid civic structure. Anacortes Schools are recognized for their excellence and terrific student-teacher relations. A new state-of-the-art library boasts unique jazz and marine collections. Award-winning Island Hospital is lauded for its superior care, new $40 million facilities, and family-like personal attention.

Anacortes community groups have rallied around a new marine trades center, community garden, and family shelter. A pro-active, 475-member chamber of commerce promotes a forward-thinking environment for businesses and services. And City of Anacortes fathers and mothers keep the city on a solid financial footing, weathering cyclical ups and downs with a “steady as she goes” attitude.

Life on Fidalgo Island has always been connected to the sea. The island was named for Spanish explorer and cartographer, Salvador Fidalgo, who surveyed the area in 1790, though native Samish and Swinomish tribes had La Conner enjoyed the bounties of its forests and coastal waters for centuries. Over time, local resources gave rise to vibrant timber and fishing industries, the latter still evident today in the fresh crab for sale at the dock and salmon fishing boats nosed in among some 2,000 pleasure boats at the islands’ half dozen marinas.

And, fortunately, all traces of island fever have been eliminated thanks to scenic bridges from Fidalgo to the veggie and tulip bounties of scenic Skagit Valley and Whidbey Island. An easy drive away are big-box bargains in Burlington and Mount Vernon, the storybook towns of La Conner and Coupeville, or simply a scenic drive or bike ride through the valley or up into the Cascade Mountains to spy migrating raptors or pick up fresh organic produce for dinner or a picnic.

For a big-city rush, the world-class metropolises of Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle are only 80 miles to the north and south, respectively. Or settle back on a relaxing three-hour ferry ride through the San Juan Islands to Anacortes’s sister city of Sidney, B.C., and nearby Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Needless to say, it’s not uncommon for visitors to become residents, recognizing the unique opportunity to be living the island lifestyle, yet connected to the mainland. The town is filled with born-again CEOs, military men & women stationed at NAS Whidbey, national parks employees, telecommuters – and all the rest of us – living a getaway life every day of the year.

And, when it’s time to sit back and put up your feet, Fidalgo’s perimeter is ringed with Old Town bungalow neighborhoods, high bluff retreats, and modest coastal neighborhoods, many offering spectacular vistas in every direction. Whether from your own window or on a quick trip to town, island living affords 360-degree views that circle from the Canadian Rockies to the north, to glacier-covered Mt. Baker and the Cascade range to the east, to the Olympic Peninsula to the south, and, of course, to the San Juan Islands to the west. Sunrise or sunset – choose your own adventure. It just doesn’t get much better.

Anacortes has the enviable reputation as the playground of the Pacific Northwest. And despite its miles of waterfront and forested trails, mountaintop vistas, festivals, charming downtown shops and restaurants, a welcoming community, and easy access to adventure beyond, Anacortes remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

Natural attractions include pristine lakes, world class waterways, great scenic vistas, tide pools and beaches, abundant wildlife, and more than 2,800 acres of public forestland. There are also six local marinas making Anacortes the boating capital of the Pacific Northwest. Many Anacortes home buyers are first attracted to Anacortes because of the natural beauty of Fidalgo Island, and as they spend more time here they decide they want to purchase Anacortes real estate and make Anacortes their home.
Local culture can be found at Anacortes art galleries, language clubs, numerous daily music venues, a three-screen movie theatre, delightful restaurants, and even an internationally acclaimed dance troupe – the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble.

Several major events mark Fidalgo Island community’s annual activities calendar: The Salmon Derby (March), Waterfront Festival (May), Fourth of July Parade (July), Anacortes Arts Festival (August), Jazz Festival (September), and the Holiday Boat Parade (December). Each, in its own way, reminds us that, while very much connected to the present, Anacortes remains an appealing connection to a slower, simpler way of living.