On Camano Island, you can shop seashells on the beach in two state parks, sleep in historical cabins at Cama Beach, hike amid giant Douglas fir trees or walk through a forest of sculptures.
Within a two-hour drive from Seattle, Camano Island offers fantastic views of both the Cascade and Olympic mountains and many fun things to do and see — and it's often sunny when the mainland is not.
Camano offers the ambiance of other Puget Sound islands, without the long wait and expensive ferry fares.
The long, skinny island stretches from the mouth of the Skagit River south to Everett, between north Snohomish County and Whidbey Island. Its access is through Stanwood, at Interstate 5, Exit 212, across the new Camano Gateway Bridge.
Art and about
Visitors are welcomed to the artist-laden island with sculptures by islander Debbi Rhodes, who is known for whimsical assemblages.
More of her sculptures can be seen at the world-class Matzke Fine Art Gallery & Sculpture Park (2345 Blanche Way), just one of several opportunities to see art inside and out on Camano and in Stanwood.
Along with many trails, nature walks and bird-watching opportunities on Camano Island, Matzke's gallery offers both island and regional artists in monthly shows, with a picturesque outdoor sculpture park that provides visitors a chance to get out of the car to stretch their legs and breath fresh, clean sea air. The outdoor sculpture exhibit includes works by stone sculptors Sabah Al-Dhaher, Tracy Powell, Verena Schwippert and Reg Akright, and metal artists include Philip Levine, Kevin Pettelle, Arno Zilelke, Lance Carleton, Shirley Erickson and Steven Heino, among others.
At the far south end of the island, Jack Gunter's History of the World Art Gallery provides a fun and funny reason to go all the way around the island — Gunter's sense of humor makes the trip worthwhile.
These two galleries are open weekends only or by appointment.
On the northeast side of the island, Seagrass Gallery (370 N. E. Camano Drive, C-102) shows a range of fine crafts and paintings. It is open regular hours at Camano Plaza.
On the way to the island, in downtown Stanwood, Gallery by the Bay (8700 271st St. N.W.) offers a new show most every month, featuring local and regional artists. Coming up in October is "Embracing Mother Earth" for the harvest season. The fun Paw-Casso pet show ends Sept. 4.
Other sites, events
Perhaps best known for its Mother's Day studio tour, Camano Island is home to many artists who are members of the Camano Arts Association, which exists primarily to present the art tour.
Stanwood Camano Art Guild offers Art by the Bay in July each year, and the American Association of University Women presents the AAUW Invitational Art Show in October annually to raise money for scholarships.
Don't miss the Freedom Park sculpture garden and the community-built Rotary Playground, next to the very artistic Visitor Information Center at the north end of the island.
For walking, head to the two state parks, Camano Island State Park and Cama Beach State Park, which span several miles of coastline on the southwest side of the island, not far from the Matzke gallery. A public trail system connects the two parks with a cross-island trail, and there is also a beautiful walk around the circumference of Four Springs Preserve, in the center of the island — just one of 13 Island County parks on Camano.
Also, a two-mile trail explores the Elger Bay Preserve, just 150 feet north of the Elger Bay Cafe.
For birdwatchers, pull off at any public beach access, especially English Boom Historical Park, where there is a boardwalk along the water's edge on the north end of the island, where settlers started collecting logs from the Cascade Mountains back in the 1860s.
Iverson Spit Preserve also offers some good birding and views of the Cascades.
For a map to all the trails on the island, see the “Stanwood-Camano Island Guide,” published by the Stanwood-Camano News. It’s available at the Visitor Information Center on the island.
Where to eat
For dining, Elger Bay Cafe, 1996 Elger Bay Road, offers sandwiches made on good bread near the state parks.
For steak and seafood, locals say the The Diamond Knot Brewery, 170 E. Cross Island Road, is best — it also makes its own beer.
In town, Stanwood Grill is next door to Gallery by the Bay, with a good wine list and a pretty standard menu: steaks, seafood, pasta, etc.
On the other end of downtown, the Blackbird Cafe recently opened for dinner at the Blackbird Bistro.
For some excellent Thai food and sushi, try Jasmine Thai Food in the back of an historic building, 8715 271st St. N.W., across the street from Gallery by the Bay.
For a quick meal, don't overlook Yummy Noodles, at 8924 271st St., in Stanwood, for an excellent bowl of noodle soup and other Vietnamese specialties.
The Camano community is one with Stanwood, and they work together to present many fun events through the year:
•The Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center, 27108 102nd Ave. N.W., in Stanwood, is home base to the Snowgoose Festival in February, with tours out and about, wherever the birds are hanging out.
•The Stanwood Chamber of Commerce and the business community offer the Glass Quest in February, with free hand-blown glass balls by Mark Ellinger for those lucky hunters who find them in public places and in shops and businesses.
•On the last Sunday in June, the Twin City Idlers present a car show (www.twincityidlers.org) that stretches from the east to the west end of downtown Stanwood.
•Also in June, the business community presents the Soap Box Derby, offering fun for the whole family.
•The Stanwood-Camano Community Fair celebrates the area's agricultural history, as well as bringing in some good, ol' rock ‘n’ roll for the very-affordable entrance fee (less than $10 per person) on the first weekend in August.
•Farmers open their barns, pastures and gardens to visitors during Harvest Jubilee on the third weekend of September.
How to go
Take Interstate 5, Exit 212 and head west.