Northern Shores: Small-town Getaways

Bask in the vistas and stroll the quaint streets of these waterfront retreats.

By Kristen Russell and Roddy Scheer April 17, 2012


This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Seattle magazine.

{ Population: 3,651 }

Feel your city worries fall away as you rumble steadily northward up Puget Sound on one of our state’s iconic green-and-white ferryboats; you’ll be on “island time” by nightfall.

Though it takes effort to get there—ferries depart from Anacortes; waits can top two hours in summer—Orcas Island’s biggest hamlet, Eastsound, is just the right size for urbanites longing for a simpler, slower pace—without sacrificing amenities. Perched on East Sound’s idyllic Fishing Bay, downtown Eastsound’s five or so blocks boast zero traffic lights, one single-screen movie theater, and a handful of eclectic shops and restaurants.

Stroll along Main Street and take in spectacular views of the bay and miniscule Indian Island, then stop in at Darvill’s Bookstore (296 Main St.; 360.376.2135), the island’s independent 37-year-old bookstore, for a leisurely browse and a latte from the little cafe in back. Next door, find locally made pottery, paintings, jewelry, glass art and more at Crow Valley Pottery (296 Main St.; 360.376.4260). Head north a few blocks and duck into Très Fabu, a tucked-away haven for edgy, girly-girl fashions (238 North Beach Road; 360.376.7673; ).

Just beyond, sate your sweet tooth with handmade Italian gelato or a French crêpe from Enzo’s Italian Caffe (365 North Beach Road; 360.376.3732), or sup on an exceptional saffron clam chowder ($9) at lovely waterfront Allium (310 Main St.; 360.376.4904), newly opened by former French Laundry chef Lisa Nakamura.

Just a mile and a half out of town is the Inn at Ship Bay, a sweet boutique hotel with sweeping water views and gas stoves in most rooms. Or go for luxe with a water-view suite at Rosario Resort and Spa (1400 Rosario Road; 360.376.2222).

For unsurpassed views of the San Juans, Bellingham, Vancouver and beyond, head east out of town for the 20-minute drive to the top of Mount Constitution, at 2,409 feet, the highest point in the archipelago. From there, pick up the 6.7-mile round-trip trail down to lovely Mountain Lake; you’ll be rewarded with sweeping vistas, old-growth groves and often visitations by bold and curious island deer. —KRISTEN RUSSELL

Getting there: From Anacortes, 90 minutes north of Seattle, catch the San Juan Islands ferry to Orcas Island. Turn left after exiting the ferry for the 20-minute drive into Eastsound. Ferry schedules are at See map.

La Conner
{ Population: 880 }

It’s hard to believe that the little farming town of La Conner could play host to no fewer than eight inns, 13 restaurants and two dozen shops. Of course, the tulips that carpet area farmland as far as the eye can see each April explain part of La Conner’s appeal, but the town has something to offer city slickers looking to relax any time of year. The aggregation of charming antique, curio, clothing and cookware shops along First Street makes for some fine idle browsing for whatever strikes your fancy—don’t miss Nasty Jack’s Antiques or the Museum of Northwest Art. Romantics might prefer strolling arm in arm along the Swinomish Channel waterfront as fishing boats and pleasure craft come and go.

If the sight of those fishing boats stirs your appetite, head for Kerstin’s (505 S First St.; 360.466.9111), where locally sourced ingredients, unique recipes and top-notch service give any Seattle restaurant a run for its money—crab cakes, sea scallops and wild halibut get top marks. Neil Thorn Restaurant and Pub (205 Washington St.; 360.466.4261) and the La Conner Channel Grill (110 N First St.; 360.466.3800) give even discerning urban gourmands something to text home about, while breakfasts at the Calico Cupboard Café and Bakery (720 S First St.; 360.466.4451) can’t be beat—go for the Skagit hash ($9.99) or Calico Benedict ($11.99).

For those making a night of it, the Wild Iris Inn (121 Maple Ave.; 360.466.1400) offers 18 rooms, just two blocks from La Conner’s main drag, many featuring king beds, jetted spa tubs, gas fireplaces and outdoor decks or balconies. Even closer to the antiquing action, the boutique-y Hotel Planter (715 First St.; 360.466.4710) offers 12 guest rooms in a historic building right along First Street, as well as access to a private courtyard with a gazebo-covered hot tub—perfect for unwinding after a long day of shopping, bird-watching or tulip peeping. —RODDY SCHEER

GETTING THERE: From Seattle, about 90 miles northwest via Interstate 5, State Route 534 E and surface streets (follow signs). See map.


Camano Island
{ Population: 15,661 }

With no post office or main street, Camano Island hardly fits the standard definition of a town. But who needs such specifics when you’ve got some of the best beach walking and bird watching in western Washington right outside? Outdoorsy types, pitch your tent surfside at Camano Island State Park, or rent a rustic (and wee!) beach cabin at nearby Cama Beach State Park—either way you’ll catch great sunsets over teeming Saratoga Passage with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop.

If you’d prefer to be pampered, reserve one of nine guestrooms at the recently updated Camano Island Inn ( 1054 SW Camano Drive; 360.387.0783), where king-size beds, jetted double tubs and a very fine restaurant compete with the omnipresent views for attention. Chef Nick Parker keeps it lively with five-course tasting menus ($49/person) that change nightly, with many of the herbs and vegetables coming right from Parker’s own garden in summer.

While local wines may be de rigueur at the inn, beer drinkers should find their way to Diamond Knot Brewing’s Camano Lodge, where 10 microbrews on tap keep the comfort food company (170 E Cross Island Road; 360.387.9972).

For a change of pace, let the guides from Canopy Tours NW (332 NE Camano Drive; 360.387.5807) show you the island from a new perspective some 50 feet up. Their new two-hour-plus zip line tour crisscrosses mature second-growth forest on the back 40 at historic Kristofferson Farm ($85).

Only a 90-minute drive from Seattle (no ferry required), Camano Island lives up to its motto as “the shortest distance to far away.” —R.S.

GETTING THERE: About an hour and 20 minutes northwest of Seattle via I-5 North and State Route 532 West. See map.


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