You Probably Want a Car, but Transit Does Exist
It is not easy to get around in this part of Washington without a car. Many of the roads lack good places to walk, except in the downtown area of Anacortes proper. You will probably want to visit places that simply are beyond the current reach of public transit.
However, if you do not want to drive to this location, it is possible to get here by public transit. Skagit Transit operates a regular set of bus routes, including one that operates from Anacortes to the Amtrak station in Mount Vernon. Amtrak train service through Mount Vernon only happens twice per day in each direction as of this writing, however.
Two bus routes operate in and around the Anacortes area, but for the most part Anacortes is a very walkable community, and isn't extremely large.
There are also connection bus services to Everett and Bellingham, but those also operate out of the Mount Vernon station. So, for the most part, getting to Anacortes by public transit involves some way and some how getting to Mount Vernon first - and Amtrak and/or Skagit Transit's services are two options for that.
The key to all this is a small transit center near the big oil refinery just outside Anacortes, at March's Point. Here, buses from Skagit Transit and Island Transit converge, and buses into Anacortes are timed with the arrivals of buses connecting Mount Vernon with Oak Harbor.
This Island Transit "Island Connector" (Route #411) goes very close to Anacortes, but does not go into town itself. This service goes from a transit center on Widbey Island through Deception Pass State Park and all along highway 20 all the way to Mount Vernon. While this bus route will not get you to downtown Anacortes directly, it is possible to transfer to the Mount Vernon - Anacortes bus route (Skagit Transit #410), or you can walk along the Tommy Thompson trail to get from the bus route to Anacortes. This is a paved walking and biking trail built on the old railroad bed that was taken out of service quite some years back, and is a far better place to walk than along the highway!
There is also a Skagit Transit bus route #49, which operates a loop though downtown Anacortes, should you not want to walk part of the way through town. With reservations, this bus route will also operate within 3/4 of a mile of its designated route on Saturdays in order to help those that have no alternatives. It is necessary to contact Skagit Transit before being picked up.
Most of these bus services do not operate on Sunday or major holidays.
So, if you want to explore your options further for getting around this area by public transit, Skagit Transit is the place to start with.
Local routes are $1 per ride, or $2 for the longer routes (ie, Everett to Mount Vernon). One day passes are $2 and are only valid for the local routes. Unlike most bus fareboxes, the Skagit Transit fareboxes will issue change, but only in the form of a card good for future rides.
Bus routes operated by Island Transit are currently free of charge, so it is possible to get from Anacortes and its ferry terminal to Oak Harbor, the ferry terminal at Clinton, and Mount Vernon for the $1 Skagit Transit fare, using the routes that connect with Skagit Transit services.
- Budget Travel
Anacortes Ferry Terminal
Linking the San Juan Islands and Sidney on Vancouver Island, Canada with the mainland is the purpose of the ferry terminal at Anacortes. The primary mode of transportation to get here is auto, and therefore the terminal really isn't that accessible from downtown Anacortes. It is approximately 2 miles west of town, with the road between downtown Anacortes and the ferry terminal not having much in terms of sidewalks or bike paths or anything else that would ease the passage out to the ferry terminal.
There is an hourly bus service between the ferry terminal, March's Point Transit Center, and part of downtown Anacortes. It doesn't run late at night, and it does not run on Sundays so doing the San Juan Islands as a weekend trip from Seattle without a car is not possible by public transit (there are a couple other options - such as the Belair Airporter bus. This is mentioned towards the bottom of this tip.).
It should not be too surprising that there is no significant strong connecting from Anacortes to the Ferry Terminal, as the majority of those in Anacortes aren't going to the San Juan islands, and the majority of those going to the San Juan Islands or BC aren't interested in stopping in Anacortes.
The ferry terminal does have an overhead walkway, a small coffee shop located inside the small terminal building, and ticket vending machines. However, for the most part there isn't too much to this ferry terminal compared to those found on the much busier routes further south. Furthermore, the coffee shop is horribly overpriced as the people who operate this facility price their items to take advantage of the lack of competition. If it looks like you will have a long wait for the ferry, it may be worth the $1 trip into downtown Anacortes to get something to eat there, but someone should stay with the car if you have driven here. Skagit Transit passes are only good for 90 minutes (unless you get a day ticket), so you will want to either be prepared to pay again on the return trip, or have another $1 ready.
As people can sometime spend a very long time stopped in the auto lines here, it isn't unusual to find people wandering pretty far from their vehicles. After all, if you know it is going to be two hours until the next ferry, there isn't much point in staying in your car.
There are remains of other restaurants somewhat close to the ferry terminal, but those only serve as greater discouragement: they have all gone out of business. The only business within an easy walking distance of the ferry is a fortune teller that has set up shop in an abandoned coffee trailer.
For those that live or are visiting places within walking distance to the ferry terminals on the various islands, or have transportation available once they get to the islands, there is parking available at the ferry terminal. However, at the summer price of $10 per day, it can be cheaper to take your car along for the ride. There are parking lots somewhat up the hill that charge somewhat less but they are not as easy to find. It is also possible to take the bus from downtown Anacortes, so long as your schedule agrees with that of Skagit Transit. March's Point also has a parking lot and is served by the hourly bus that goes to the ferry terminal.
While there is an overhead walkway, there are times that it is not used. For example, the little used late night runs don't have enough vehicle or walk-on traffic for there to be much of a conflict, and so they are not used on some of those runs. Also, there are two slips here, but the primary use of one is as a layover spot.
Driving up to the terminal can be a bit of a zoo. During peak periods there are several pay stations open, but only one entryway for directing people into which line to go for the vehicle staging - which results in some annoyed people when the three lines converge back into one. However, with limited space on each boat, the people directing the loading check the pay receipts and if space is limited the first person who paid gets to load. Therefore, at best, trying to cut in line delays everyone behind the person with the later time stamp on their pay ticket.
If you do get stuck here, unfortunately there isn't too much here as Anacortes is quite far away, with limited transit service between the two. However, on a clear day looking east there is a very nice view of Mount Baker, and a few interpretive signs along the water, and a small harbor that one can explore.
As with the other ferry terminals, there are web cameras that allow people to view the queue of cars in the ferry terminal staging area - so that it is possible to see how congested it may be.
Getting Here by Transit
Getting here by auto is fairly easy: just follow the signs. There are a number of turns to make but all are well marked.
Getting here by transit is a bit of a different matter. Skagit Transit offers bus service that runs approximately hourly - their bus route #410. This connects Anacortes with the ferry terminal, and with the March's Point Transit Center. Several Skagit Transit bus routes connect here, as well as bus routes operated by Island Transit. These routes connect Anacortes and the Ferry Terminal to Mount Vernon and Skagit Station (Amtrak trains and various bus routes), as well as going south to Deception Pass State Park, Oak Harbor and Clinton and the ferry to Mukilteo. Connections to services going north to Bellingham also exist during certain times on weekdays.
The connection at March's Point with Island Transit bus route #411 is timed so that the connections west to Mount Vernon and south to Oak Harbor are fairly easy.
There is no transit service to the ferry terminal on Sundays and certain holidays.
The Bellair Airporter service connects the ferry terminal here with a number of other locations, including downtown Seattle, though you have to change buses at Burlington, at the very least. See the second section of my San Juan Islands by Airporter Bus tip at
The Bellair Airporter bus service is at web site URL
- Road Trip
Belair Airport Shuttle: Not Just Airport Transit
While it is cheap transportation, the transit bus connection (see my Transit Does Exist tip) from Anacortes to Seattle or Bellingham doesn't operate during certain times of the day. That service can be good if it is operating during the times you want it, but if it isn't you need an alternative.
Therefore, it may be worth checking to see of the Belair Airporter service (which connects various western Washington cities to the SeaTac Airport, but doesn't have to be used as an airport service - it can also be used as general intercity transport as well). Their buses are more expensive than the transit bus connections, but they are faster as they operate with fewer stops, and if you happen to be traveling to the SeaTac airport directly it is very likely your best connection.
There are several bus stops in the Anacortes area, including the ferry terminal, and a stop in downtown Anacortes. The downtown Anacortes stop is in the parking area of the shell station at 13th and Commercial. The stop is actually closer to the middle of the block, and near the gas station air pump and quite far from Commercial - really about halfway between Commercial and O, and half a block north of 14th. As it happens, you can see the bus stop from the restaurant area of Westside Pizza, and as it was raining hard during the day I wanted to use the service the restaurant employees offered their nearly empty room as a place of refuge, and they even offered fountain drinks on the house. I didn't accept the fountain drinks but as thank you offering for the refuge from the rain I put a bit into the tips jar on the counter anyway. The photo that shows the gas station air pump: if you look closely you will see that it is also marked as the bus stop for Bel Air Airport Shuttle.
The smaller bus seen in the photo is used for Anacortes to Burlington service only. You have to transfer in Burlington from the smaller bus that makes the Anacortes - Burlington trip to a larger north-south bus for the trip to points south or north. However, this transfer location is reasonably comfortable and has an indoor lounge area.
The bad part about their shuttle service is that it is designed almost entirely to get people to and from the SeaTac Airport. It does connect Anacortes with a number of other locations. However, it generally does not connect well with other transit systems. Some trips stop in downtown Seattle, but only two or three times per day. The station Burlington is far from any other transport lines, as is the stop at the casino in Tulalip. Also, I found that the afternoon bus can get really tangled in Seattle traffic trying to get to the airport, and arrived two hours late. Sadly, that is the nature of Seattle road traffic.
See their web site for specific schedule and fares.
- Budget Travel