By Susan Haynes
September 04, 2002

Setting: In the fertile Skagit Valley, La Conner lies 65miles north of Seattle and 80 miles south of Vancouver, BritishColumbia. 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 ferryservice to the San Juan Islands.

The Attractions: Listed on the National Register of HistoricPlaces, the town boasts an active arts community, upscale boutiqueand gallery shopping, a full-time marina, the Pioneer Market andample restaurants, and easy highway and water access to two majorcities and the San Juans.

The Drawbacks: Jobs are scarce unless you bring them withyou or buy a local business. Competition from Mount Vernon andAnacortes undermines flagship operations, such as hardware stores.Growth issues are controversial.

Housing Options: Homes tend to be small to modest, butcharming and well maintained, and many have captivating water,mountain, or Skagit Valley views. Little turnover means few homeshit the market. Just over Rainbow Bridge, Shelter Bay offers modestto high-end housing and the best opportunities for buying neartown. The development leases the land from Swinomish tribemembers.

Your Next-door Neighbors: Could be best-selling (but veryprivate) 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" toher profession and now owns Tillinghast Seed Company; artistClayton James and other leaders of the movement known as TheNorthwest School of Art; a translator of Chinese poetry; a seacaptain; a Boeing engineer.

What It Costs: $100,000 to close to $1 million nets homesfrom a 925-square-foot two-bedroom on a quarter-acre lot to 2,000square feet on the waterfront. Fewer than two dozen town-house orcondominium units, costing $120,000 to $200,000 exist.

Where You'd Spend Free Time: Having breakfast at the CalicoCupboard. Browsing and latte klatching at The Next Chapter.Catching the latest exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art. Boningup on the area at the Skagit County Historical Museum. Whalewatching on a charter from La Conner Marina. Hiking the Padilla BayShore Trail. Day-tripping to the San Juan Islands. Craning yourneck at the migration of 30,000 snow geese and 1,500 trumpeterswans on the Skagit Flats during winter.

(published 2001)