Setting: In the fertile Skagit Valley, La Conner lies 65 miles north of Seattle and 80 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia. A map of the surrounding Skagit County lists 147 harbors, creeks, lakes, rivers, bays, and channels; 55 mountains and peaks; and 24 islands. Just 20 minutes away, Anacortes offers daily ferry service to the San Juan Islands.
The Attractions: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town boasts an active arts community, upscale boutique and gallery shopping, a full-time marina, the Pioneer Market and ample restaurants, and easy highway and water access to two major cities and the San Juans.
The Drawbacks: Jobs are scarce unless you bring them with you or buy a local business. Competition from Mount Vernon and Anacortes undermines flagship operations, such as hardware stores. Growth issues are controversial.
Housing Options: Homes tend to be small to modest, but charming and well maintained, and many have captivating water, mountain, or Skagit Valley views. Little turnover means few homes hit the market. Just over Rainbow Bridge, Shelter Bay offers modest to high-end housing and the best opportunities for buying near town. The development leases the land from Swinomish tribe members.
Your Next-door Neighbors: Could be best-selling (but very private) author Tom Robbins who lives in a modest home on the hill, but locals won't show you exactly where; a nurse who added "ry" to her profession and now owns Tillinghast Seed Company; artist Clayton James and other leaders of the movement known as The Northwest School of Art; a translator of Chinese poetry; a sea captain; a Boeing engineer.
What It Costs: $100,000 to close to $1 million nets homes from a 925-square-foot two-bedroom on a quarter-acre lot to 2,000 square feet on the waterfront. Fewer than two dozen town-house or condominium units, costing $120,000 to $200,000 exist.
Where You'd Spend Free Time: Having breakfast at the Calico Cupboard. Browsing and latte klatching at The Next Chapter. Catching the latest exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art. Boning up on the area at the Skagit County Historical Museum. Whale watching on a charter from La Conner Marina. Hiking the Padilla Bay Shore Trail. Day-tripping to the San Juan Islands. Craning your neck at the migration of 30,000 snow geese and 1,500 trumpeter swans on the Skagit Flats during winter.