Nestled between Seattle and Canada, Anacortes is way more than just a pit stop on the way to the San Juan Islands. While it’s often called the gateway to the San Juan Islands, it’s completely worth a trip of its own. Fidalgo Island, which Anacortes calls home, is all about that laidback, small-town vibe, and you may be surprised that you’ll find a whole list of things to do in Anacortes.
Take it from someone who’s been there twice for weekend trips and multiple times for just the day. Back in the summer of 2016, I had a fun, outdoor-focused trip hiking, whale watching, and eating my way around town. Fast forward to winter 2017, and there I was again, pulled back by the charm of Anacortes, only this time with a touch of winter magic and holiday events. I now stop here on a regular basis for lunch on my way to visit San Juan Island or when I head down to explore Whidbey Island.
That’s why I made a list of the best things to do in Anacortes so you can plan your own stay here. Dive into the cool stuff to do, visit some epic food spots, and get the scoop on where to spend the night. Anacortes has something for everyone, no matter what your interests are.
This post was first updated in 2016 and last updated on August 2023.
Tips for Visiting Anacortes
Here are a few tips to help you plan your time in Anacortes, one of my favorite small towns in Washington.
How to Get to Anacortes
Anacortes is approximately an hour and a half north of Seattle (depending on traffic, which is never great around Everett). The easiest way to get to Anacortes from Seattle is to drive your own car there so can explore the area as much as you want when visiting Anacortes. It’s located on Fidalgo Island, so you’ll get off I-5 and head west on
If you’re coming from the San Juan Islands or a weekend getaway from Vancouver, you can also get to Anacortes by ferry (make a reservation in advance for your Anacortes weekend).
Best Time to Visit Anacortes
I’ve been to Anacortes in every single season, and I can say from experience that you’ll find fun things to do in Anacortes any time of the year. I loved the holiday events when I visited in winter and was able to enjoy ducking into shops and restaurants without getting too wet.
That said, summer is the best time to visit Anacortes if you want to go whale watching, rent a boat, or go hiking. You’ll have the best chance of dry weather during this time, although fall isn’t too bad either (and has fewer crowds).
17 Best Things to Do in Anacortes
You’ll have plenty of options when looking for what to do in Anacortes during your vacation. While it’s known for being close to some of the best islands in Washington, I recommend spending time in the city itself.
1. Hike Washington Park
I’m obsessed with all things hiking and always on the lookout for the best Washington hiking trails, so I loved exploring the local trails here. Washington Park is one I’ve done multiple times, and I recommend it to everyone who goes, as it’s only 2.2 miles roundtrip and has an elevation gain of 280 feet. You’ll have stunning views of the water and surrounding islands and see ferries going off to Friday Harbor.
While it’s fairly easy to follow, I do suggest looking at the WTA page for it so you can get more exact directions. Sunrise or sunset are the best times to come to Washington Park, in my opinion.
If you’re looking for a harder hike, consider heading to Mount Erie Park, where you’ll have six trails to choose from and can even summit Mount Erie.
Address: Washington Park Loop, Anacortes, WA 98221
Looking for more hiking? Take the ferry over to check out all the San Juan hiking trails nearby.
2. Listen to Live Music
I used to see live music often when I was in college at the nearby Western Washington University, and I really miss those days. Luckily, there is plenty of live music in Anacortes, and it seems that almost every weekend, bands are playing somewhere.
On my most recent visit there, I checked out two music venues. At The Brown Lantern, Three for Silver played a very entertaining set. The next night at H2O, The Fabulous Roof Shakers played to quite an energetic crowd. I think I was the youngest one in the place, yet the older crowd had way more energy than me (and better dance moves!).
3. Take a Boat Tour
I’ve driven over the Deception Pass Bridge many times on my way to visit Whidbey Island for the day but hadn’t ever gone underneath it. The waters are known for fast-moving water and whirlpools all over the area, so it’s not advisable for the average person to take a boat down there.
However, I heard that one of the most exciting Anacortes activities is to take a boat tour under the bridge, such as with Deception Pass Tours. I decided to finally go, and I absolutely loved my time on the boat. My tour guide gave me the history of the area while we were going through it and pointed out sea life along the way (like baby seals!).
As we got to the more narrow opening, I got nervous as I saw how fast the water was coming in and how close the rocks were on either side. He sped up and turned at the last minute to go against the current, and suddenly we were safe (don’t worry – they’ll always make sure you stay safe).
He pointed out what the other islands were around us, and even showed Victoria, B.C., off in the distance. It’s a fun thing to do in Anacortes to see Deception Pass State Park from a different perspective while learning a bit about it.
4. Kayak Around Fidalgo Island
If there’s ever an option to explore an area by kayak, I’m on it. It’s an active way to see an area and gives you a different point of view. You can rent your own kayak from a local company or go on a kayaking tour when looking for things to do near Anacortes.
While I’m an experienced kayaker, I do recommend going on a guided tour so you get more out of it. On my tour, my guide took me along the coast of Fidalo Island and showed me different sights that I hadn’t noticed before, like a small cave and some of the smaller islands.
Halfway into the tour, we were surrounded by porpoises! I’ve never seen one in the wild, and they were so cute and tiny. It was a surprisingly still day on the water and perfect weather with not a cloud in sight, and I loved my experience.
5. Take a Boat Out on the Water
If you really want to enjoy a sunny day in Anacortes, rent a boat and head out on the water. This gives you a base for exploring the San Juan Islands during the day, and you can pick it up from Cap Sante Marina or other nearby areas. You can find sailboats as well as other types of boats on Boatsetter, which I recommend reserving in advance.
If you don’t own a boat, you can hire a charter for the day during your trip. This is one of the best things to do in Anacortes, in my opinion! There are several sailboat and yacht charter companies when you want a relaxing day on the water.
6. Watch the Sunset From Cap Sante Park
A local told me to visit Cap Sante Park after dinner one night, and I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure there’s a better view in Anacortes for a view of the entire city. You’ll also be able to people-watch at Cap Sante Boat Haven down below and see locals bringing in their boats for the day.
I highly recommend going at sunrise or sunset to capture the gorgeous colors of the sun setting behind the mountains. It’s an ideal place to just think and reflect, or impress someone on a first date (since it’s a romantic thing to do in Anacortes!).
Address: 807 W Ave, Anacortes, WA 98221
7. Shop on Commercial Avenue
You’ll quickly become distracted by all the shops in historic downtown Anacortes once you tempt yourself out of the comfort of your hotel. I got lost in the travel section of Watermark Book Co for quite a while!
They have adorable boutique shops too, where you’ll be tempted to buy way too much. Some of my favorites were The Shabby French Market and Tides of Anacortes, but there are plenty to choose from on and around Commercial Street.
Since it was the holiday season when I was there, decorations were everywhere I looked. I loved that this store was selling “Santa Claus dust!” You’ll want to add this to your list of things to do in Anacortes in the winter.
Want more small-town shopping? Head south to visit La Conner.
8. Taste Local Beers
There are several different breweries in Anacortes to choose from, and you know how much I love our Seattle breweries, so I had to check them out.
Anacortes Brewing shares the building with the Rockfish Grill, so make sure to stop there after dinner. They have a variety of regular beer on tap, as well as a good selection of seasonal beer. My favorite was the Porter, although it was hard to pick.
Bastion Brewing isn’t downtown, but a few miles east on the main highway. It’s worth the drive during your Anacortes trip, though – they had pretty decent-sized samples on their tasting trays. I loved the Northwest ale, although it was hard to pick a favorite once again.
You can also order burgers and other food from the restaurant next door when you get hungry. This is a kid-friendly brewery, so feel free to bring your children. We’ve actually stopped here multiple times since when we’ve been in the area on family vacations around Washington.
As soon as I walked into the Brown Lantern Ale House, I knew this was my kind of bar. They had old sports memorabilia everywhere and a full bar with local beers on tap. The bartenders also took the time to have a real conversation with each other, even when they were busy.
It was packed when I went in around 5 p.m., and many of them seemed like they were locals. If it’s where the locals drink, you know that’s the place to go.
9. Explore Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass is probably the most popular thing to do near Anacortes. This is a strait between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island, and the bridge connects the two. You’ll quickly see why it’s one of the most photographed places in Washington State.
Here’s some fun trivia for you: the name “deception” comes from when it was first explored by Joseph Whidbey and Captain Vancouver. The pass was thought to be the mouth of a river due to the fast-moving water, and the explorers didn’t bother going further. Later, they got curious about it and went back to explore it further, hence the name.
I highly recommend adding this to your itinerary for your weekend in Anacortes. There’s parking on either side of the bridge and a pedestrian bridge to walk across it, but do be careful, as cars are constantly driving by. The area gives you stunning views of the ocean and the other San Juan Islands.
You can also follow the trail to get underneath the bridge. Just make sure to go down slowly, as this can be slippery with rocks on it. I’ve seen it so many times, but I have to stop every time I drive by due to its beauty.
Address: 41229 State Rte 20, Oak Harbor, WA 98277
10. Celebrate the Holidays
I’ve been to Anacortes every season of the year, but going during December is a magical time. The night I arrived was the night of Anacortes’ annual tree lighting. This was no ordinary tree, though – it was made out of crab pots (but would you expect any less in a waterfront town?).
I got a kick out of that – we love all things nautical up here in the Pacific Northwest! It goes back to the town’s history of fishing, which dates back to the early 1890s. Fish processing plants employed a large number of people through the first part of the 1900s, after which they started shutting down.
The next morning, it felt like it was Christmas (which I loved, because Christmas activities in Seattle are my favorite). Horse carriage rides were going up and down the streets, to everyone’s delight. There was a holiday parade later in the day, which I was able to see from my hotel room, and I was so glad I decided to come up that particular weekend.
11. Search for Local Art Around Town
You don’t even need an itinerary when visiting Anacortes for the weekend, as you can easily entertain yourself by just walking around and exploring the free Anacortes attractions. For example, look at how cute their garbage cans are below! I’ve never described a garbage can as cute in my life.
Take some time to walk through the town when you’re looking for things to do on Fidalgo Island. I always start my trips early so I can check out the town without people, so I recommend grabbing a coffee and walking through the streets.
While you’re getting your morning stroll in, walk down to the water to check out all the boats. There were huge ones that were being worked on while I was there, and I never knew how big these boats actually were out of the water!
12. Play at John Storvik Playground
When you’re exploring downtown Anacortes and need to get out your kids’ energy, head to John Storvik Playground. This was so convenient when we stopped in town for dinner earlier this year but still had to drive down Whidbey Island. I absolutely loved the Washington theme, plus it was very toddler-friendly (as opposed to some playgrounds that are just for bigger kids).
Address: 1110 32nd St, Anacortes, WA 98221
13. Shop Local at the Anacortes Farmer’s Market
The weekend I arrived was also the first day of the Anacortes farmer’s market for the season, and everyone was more than excited about it. They have everything here, from fresh fruit to jam to flowers, so bring your reusable bag and head down.
Skip the grocery store and take the time to meet the local vendors at the market to purchase directly from them. Your food will be much fresher, and you’ll be supporting the local community. My bed and breakfast owner actually made me an assortment of fresh fruit after doing her Anacortes shopping there, as you can see above.
The farmer’s market runs every Saturday during the summer and every 2nd Saturday during the winter.
Address: 611 R Ave, Anacortes, WA 98221
14. Get Chowder From Bob’s Chowder Bar & BBQ Salmon
For some of the best chowder you’ve ever had, stop at Bob’s Chowder Bar & BBQ Salmon. This Anacortes restaurant is small but offers a huge selection as far as its menu goes. I got a salmon Caesar salad one day and even went back on my last day to get the clam chowder.
The prices are very reasonable, the service is fast, and it’s at the edge of town, making it convenient to stop in as soon as you get in or on your way out. It’s also worth it to note that many options can be made gluten-free.
Address: 3320 Commercial Ave, Anacortes, WA 98221
15. Enjoy Rooftop Happy Hour at Bistro & Bar at The Majestic
The Majestic Inn has a restaurant with an outdoor lounge called Bistro & Bar at The Majestic, and this was one of my favorite places to stop. It’s one of the tallest buildings in town, so it’s a great place to see the water during your time in Anacortes. We enjoyed watching the sun go down over the San Juan Islands and having a cocktail before going to a late dinner.
You can see the whole town, the ferries going back and forth, and even the mountain range on a clear day. Go right before the sun goes down, grab a glass of chardonnay, and enjoy one of the best views in Anacortes. Stop here if you’re looking for what to do in Anacortes during the sunset.
Address: Majestic Inn & Spa, 419 Commercial Ave, Anacortes, WA 98221
16. Eat Locally-Sourced Seafood at Adrift
I heard Adrift was one of the nicest restaurants in Anacortes, and I’d have to agree. They had a great variety of seafood, and I had a hard time picking what I wanted. I settled with the steamed artichokes to start and a poke bowl with seaweed salad as my entree, both of which I was pleased with.
However, their seafood menu is extensive, with everything from oysters to crabcakes to cioppino, so I’ve actually been back to try more on later trips.
Address: 510 Commercial Ave, Anacortes, WA 98221
17. Go Whale Watching
One of the best things to see in Anacortes is go whale-watching, as the waters around here are full of whales if you’re here in the spring or summer. I’ve done this tour before and loved it. For 3 hours, you’ll have a blast looking at the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and seeing whales, seals, and more.
You’ll want to know some whale-watching tips before you go to make the most of your trip. I personally get a little seasick on boats, so I always take Dramamine and pick the early morning tours, which tend to be less windy (meaning fewer waves).
How to Spend a Weekend in Anacortes
While you can visit Anacortes anytime during the week, I know most people only have the weekend. That’s why I created this 3-day Anacortes itinerary for you to follow based on my weekend trips there.
Day 1: Deception Pass + Downtown
Once you get settled into your hotel, grab a snack and then head back in your car for the 15-minute drive to Deception Pass State Park. While I know you just arrived in Anacortes, this area gets crowded on the weekends, so it’s best to go early on Friday. You can either just take pictures or go on hikes depending on what time you get here.
When you’re done, stop at Bastion Brewing Company for a beer and appetizer. If your kids are hungry, they have 50% off kids’ meals on Fridays. You can then head downtown and walk around all the shops or head to the marina.
For dinner, I recommend stopping at Bob’s Chowder Bar. This is on the edge of town, and you can either sit outside and enjoy it or take it to go during your trip to Anacortes.
Day 2: Explore the Outdoors
Starting your morning at the farmer’s market is the perfect way to begin the day and is one of the best things to do in Anacortes.
Your second day is a great time to explore the outdoors in the area. I recommend booking a whale-watching tour in the morning, as the waves tend to be the calmest during this time. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see plenty of sea life during your ride.
For lunch, I suggest stopping at Union Tavern. They have a variety of pub food like pot pie, sandwiches, and even build-your-own hot dogs. There’s also a full bar available if you’re in the mood for a drink.
In the afternoon, enjoy the outdoors again by going hiking. There are a variety of places to go depending on how far you want to hike or what your skill level is, such as Washington Park or Mount Erie Park, which has multiple hiking trails.
Treat yourself to a nice dinner by making a reservation at Adrift for the night. You can try some local seafood and enjoy a tasty cocktail before calling it a night.
Day 3: Shop Downtown Anacortes
Head to historic downtown Anacortes to spend your last day here. Once you’re dressed, stroll over to Commercial Street and stop at Johnny Picasso’s for coffee and a pastry for your breakfast.
Once you’re done, the stores downtown should start to open in the morning. I love nothing more than going to a bookstore on Sundays, and I recommend stopping at Watermark Books Co.
You’ll probably need to check out of your hotel at this point. When you’re ready for lunch, visit the Brown Lantern Ale House. They have a variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads, and more.
Where to Stay in Anacortes
There are a variety of places to stay in Anacortes during your weekend getaway near Seattle, whether you prefer a hotel or a vacation rental.
- Majestic Inn & Spa – I stayed here on one of my trips and absolutely loved the hotel. It’s right on Commercial Ave, where all the action is downtown, so you really don’t have to drive anywhere. I enjoyed looking out at the water every morning, and I really liked the fact the receptionist grinds coffee for you each day. (rates start at $140 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Nantucket Inn – The Nantucket Inn is a mix of a hotel and a bed and breakfast, and I stayed here on my second visit. This building is large, so you’ll be able to spread out from the other guests. You can also choose which room you want based on what view you want. (rates start at $149 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- One-Bedroom Guest House – This guest house sleeps up to two people and is only a 3-minute drive to Deception Pass. (rates start at $166 per night)
- Private Studio – This beautiful studio has air conditioning and a full kitchen and is within walking distance of shops and restaurants. (rates start at $149 per night)
Whatever you decide to do on your trip, you won’t run out of things to do in Anacortes!