Many visitors know Anacortes (ah-nah-KOR-tez) only as the jumping-off point for the San Juan Islands , but this city of 15,000 is far more than a ferry dock on the tip of Fidalgo Island. It is one of the more pleasant cities of its size in the Puget Sound basin and has a casual, end-of-the-road atmosphere.
Although it’s hard to believe, Anacortes is legally on Fidalgo Island; Swinomish Slough cuts a sluggish, narrow swath from the La Conner  area around the hills known as Fidalgo Head. The slough is kept open for boaters and is spanned by a beautiful arc of a bridge.
For maps, brochures, and up-to-date information, drop by the Anacortes Visitor Information Center (819 Commercial Ave., 360/293-3832, www.anacortes.org , 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May to mid-Sept., 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat., noon–3 p.m. Sun. the rest of the year).
To reach the San Juan Islands  or British Columbia  via Washington State Ferry (206/464-6400, www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries ), you have no choice but to leave from Anacortes. Be prepared for a lengthy wait on summer weekends. Avoid the waits by leaving your car in the lot at the terminal ($25 for three days) and walking aboard; there’s always space for walk-on passengers. A free park-and-ride lot is located at March Point eight miles east of here, and a shuttle bus transports you to the ferry terminal.
Island Transport Ferry System (360/293-6060) is a fast catamaran that delivers people, kayaks, and camping gear anywhere on the San Juans at an hourly rate. It’s useful for families and small groups looking to get off the main ferry routes quickly.
Departing from Anacortes Airport, San Juan Airlines (360/293-4691 or 800/874-4434, www.sanjuanairlines.com ) offers commuter flights year-round to all three major islands.
Skagit Transit (360/299-2424, www.skat.org ) has daily bus connections from Anacortes to Mt. Vernon, La Conner , and other parts of Skagit County. Airporter Shuttle (360/380-8800 or 800/235-5247, www.airporter.com ) offers daily shuttles between Anacortes and Sea-Tac Airport.