Calming Camano

Get away from it all on this Puget Sound Island.

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I am hunkered down at the Camano Island Inn enjoying a hot tub on my deck and a view of Puget Sound. I can have breakfast delivered (skipping the daily hair-and-makeup ordeal), sit in my cozy alcove, and browse the Seattle Times in my pajamas. This is the ideal place to test the island's seductive Web site claim: donothinghere.com.

What a concept. Doing nothing. Even in the most languid destinations, I never manage it. There's always a beach to comb or a museum to explore. Because this Washington island has art galleries, a magnificent state park, and a funky plant nursery, I'll need convincing. Is it really possible to do nothing here?

Historically, 16-mile-long Camano has been a busy place. American Indians fished and clammed here for centuries, and by the mid-1800s, lumber was king. A century later, Camano was a summer haven for mainlanders who built cottages or visited fishing resorts. The most popular, Cama Beach, will reopen as a state park in the spring looking much the way it did nearly 80 years ago, with 34 refurbished cabins, a general store, a dining hall, and a lodge.

"I can't believe how much the island has developed," says Betsy Elam, visiting from Texas. "My sisters and I spent summers in the '50s and '60s at our grandmother's cabin, and my memories are of a rural place. No real houses―just beach cottages and cabins and barely paved roads."

Camano's population has grown from around 13,000 two decades ago to around 30,000 today. It's roughly an hour north of Seattle, and a steady stream of year-round residents crosses the bridge connecting the island to the mainland during rush hour. But to a city dweller, this is still quite a sleepy little outpost.

Visitors can keep busy, though. Many discover Out on a Limb Orchids, a working nursery open to the public only four times a year. However, if you phone ahead, owner Mark Bamber will let you have a look around. Green thumbs can buy a potted orchid, and the gardening-challenged can indulge in a bundle of spiky lavender or scented lotions.

Or you can take in the island's natural beauty. Some 50 years ago, locals submitted a petition to create a park on the west shore, claiming, "The fishing is good, the clams delicious, and the waterfront is easy on a fellow's feet." When the petition was approved, 900 residents showed up with shovels and picks, and created Camano Island State Park in one day. It has more than a mile of shoreline, several tiny cabins, and miles of hiking and biking trails.

Admittedly, doing nothing might be tough here. But the activities I discover―beach hiking, gallery browsing, lavender sniffing―are decidedly slow-lane. So is the rest of the island: just a few houses; a half dozen low-key bed-and-breakfast inns; and a marketplace fine-tuned to serve locals and visitors with a no-fuss combination of restaurant, art gallery, tiny bookstore, coffee roaster, boutique, and wine shop.

On my last morning, the beach calls, and I slip out of the Camano Island Inn just as the sun melts away the fog. Seagulls gather in an opportunistic huddle. A woman walks by with two black Labs. She smiles; the dogs wag their tails. I've found a piece of driftwood the shape of a chair, and I settle in to watch the clouds clear over the Olympic Mountains. There's no denying it: I am, quite blissfully, doing nothing on Camano Island.

 If you must do something 
Enjoy private decks at Camano Island Inn. Rates range from $108 to $225; 888/718-0783 or camanoislandinn.com. Or try Asian-inspired Camano Blossom B&B. Rates start at $108; 866/629-6784 or camanoblossombandb.com.

Find casual dining at Islander's Grill & Pizzeria; 360/722-7470. Pair Northwest wine with local seafood at Stanwood Grill; 360/629-5253.

Don't miss Brindles Marketplace; 360/722-7480 or brindlesmarket.com. Also fun: Out on a Limb Orchids (call first); 360/387-2341 or outonalimborchids.com.

For more information, contact the Camano Island Chamber of Commerce at 360/629-7136 or camanoisland.org, and Washington State Parks & Recreation at 360/902-8844 or parks.wa.gov.

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