It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve been to Anacortes. Decades ago, I had extended family who lived on Orcas Island. I often made the trek to Anacortes to catch the ferry for weekend adventures with cousins, and just immerse myself in island life. It was blissful: simple and slow in the best ways possible, especially for a child.
With all that time spent hustling back and forth to the ferry, trying to time the line just right, I never once travelled the extra few blocks past the thoroughfare into downtown Anacortes; as I’ve come to discover, I was definitely missing out.
It felt odd to bypass that infamous turn from Commercial Avenue onto 12th Street: making a rouge move to head straight toward downtown Anacortes, rather than turn towards the ferry following the long line of cars heading that way. It practically felt rebellious to do so—as if the islands were looking at me, shaking their head in disapproval, knowing that I’d just discovered their best-kept mainland secret.
Staying my course, I headed straight for a few blocks, passed under an arch, and found myself right in the heart of Anacortes’ thriving downtown. The streets are lined with a variety of vibrant shops, restaurants, and locals businesses that make up the hub of this just-passing-through city.
My first stop was at The Brown Lantern Ale House where I bellied up to the bar. Filled with locals who were winding down their day with friends and family (children of all ages are welcome), this is the perfect spot to kill some time when you’ve missed the ferry and the next one isn’t due for at least two rounds of local microbrews. Make sure to order their signature burger alongside your beer, which is award winning. (Brown Lantern Ale House, 412 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.)
From the Brown Lantern, I popped next door to Frida’s. A far cry from your run-of-the-mill quickie Mexican food joint, Frida’s decor alone is worth the visit. The walls are covered with homages to the restaurant’s inspiration, Frida Kahlo, and anything you order from their extensive menu is just as visually appealing. Go straight to their famous mole dishes with a 46-ounce Frida’s Margarita to wash it down. (Frida’s Gourmet Mexican, 416 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.)
Next on my foodie tour of downtown Anacortes was Adrift, a cozy restaurant with a menu that is busting at the seams with fresh seafood, meat, and seasonal produce, all locally sourced. The atmosphere lends itself easily to a quiet date night for two, or an evening wrangling the kids to take “just one more bite,” as the menu backs up both dining experiences. As an alternative to the pub-style burger you will find at the Brown Lantern, Adrift’s award-winning burgers put a unique twist on a familiar classic: their Badass Burger combines the best of the surf and the turf, topped with pan-fried oysters. (Adrift Restaurant, 510 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.)
A’Town Bistro was my favorite stop on my Anacortes visit. The space has been transformed into an open-concept dining experience, with an intimate kitchen, a warm bar, spacious tables, and oversized booths in the back that invite you to stay for hours visiting with friends and loved ones. A’Town has an atmosphere that reminds me of restaurants you’d find in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle— minus the hour-long hunt for parking — with simple, rustic, comforting dishes that don’t require a lot of fuss to be delicious. (A’Town Bistro, 418 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.)
Before the sun could set in the Anacortes sky, I snuck across the street to The Majestic Inn and Spa to end my dining tour on their beyond-brilliant rooftop restaurant and bar. The rooftop, which is an extension of their restaurant, 5th Street Bistro, serves a comforting variety of local dishes and drinks that will have you questioning if you are actually dining at a hotel. I could have easily spent all evening up there, soaking in some of that coveted Northwest vitamin D, reluctant to end the incredible dining experience in downtown Anacortes. Getting to see Anacortes from a different vantage point was a lovely surprise. The best part? Not a ferryboat in sight. (Majestic Inn and Spa, 419 Commercial Ave., Anacortes.)
Getting there: Downtown Anacortes is approximately 20 minutes from the freeway, pending traffic, and is easy to find. From I-5 Northbound or Southbound, take Exit 230 and follow the signs to Highway 20/Anacortes, which will take you directly into Anacortes. At the roundabout, take the first exit onto Commercial Avenue. Continue on Commercial Avenue, past the turn-off to the ferry terminal, into downtown Anacortes. You will find these featured restaurants just a few blocks down, within walking distance of each other.
If you are arriving via ferry, follow the signs as you depart and follow Oakes Avenue/Highway 20 into Anacortes, which will turn into 12 Street. At Commercial Avenue, take a left. These featured restaurants are a few blocks down, on both sides of the street.