Of Natives and Spanish Explorers
Until recently, Hitch and I had a chance to stay with a generous friend up at Camano Island.
Camano Island was named in 1790 after Jacinto Caamaño Moraleja, famed Spanish explorer. The original name of the island was Kal-lut-chin which in the language of the indigenous Snohomish tribe meant “land jutting into a bay.” By all rights, it may look like an isthmus, but it’s separated from the mainland by small passages leading to the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. I’ve heard Camano pronounced two ways: ka-MAY-no and ka-MAH-no. I’ve also been told by different locals that both pronunciations are right. I’m more for the “ah” sound, because of its original namesake, Caamaño.
Camano just barely fits the description of a town: no post office and no real main street. The island is filled with retired folk and up to 20% more in the summer as snowbirds flock to the island. I had a chance meeting with a retiree who helped name the Seahawks in a 1975 contest to name Seattle’s football team. He even presented a congratulatory certificate signed by the head coach and the team’s owner at the time. Of course, he was one of 153 winners — Seahawks was a popular name entry, but not as strange as some other names offered.
Its neighboring town of Stanwood may have more amenities, but Camano is perfect for the outdoorsy visitor with some of the best beach walking and birdwatching of the Puget Sound Islands. On a clear day, the Olympic Mountains remains one of my favorite backdrops to an amazing beach walk and picture-perfect sunsets.
Things to do on Camano Island
During the summer, you can pitch a beachside tent in Camano Island State Park or rent a cabin at Cama Beach State Park. If you prefer something fancy, then the Camano Island Inn is for you. The inn offers plush king size beds and jet tubs big enough to fit a romantic couple. Incidentally, the inn is the only good food on this culinary desert isle — Chef Jason Aldous’ touts a “forage” and “farm-to-table” menu with “young” and “fresh” techniques. As alumni of Willows Inn on Lummi Island, this comes as no surprise. This puts Camano Island Inn head-and-shoulders above the other food offerings. If posh food isn’t within your budget, then I suggest visiting The Cookie Mill in Stanwood, Camano’s neighboring town. Your other option is Camano Plaza IGA, a grocery store which does feature a trailer smoker out in front and some of the best-smoked pork ribs I’ve had.
I’ve visited Camano Island on a number occasions since it’s only an hour away from Seattle. I am told one the top things to do on Camano is the Canopy Tours Northwest, with its zip lines, canopy trails and a chance to rappel down 47 feet. I should also mention Matzke Art Gallery and Sculpture Park. If you are an art lover, you’ll appreciate this gallery’s dedication to some of the brightest talents from the Pacific Northwest. They change their show every 6 weeks.
Overall, I recommend Camano Island for the vacationing adventurer or avid bird watcher. The island is a culinary desert and devoid of decent, or even good food, with the exception of one or two places. I advise bringing a personal chef, if your annual income is in the upper six figures, or a friend who is a good cook and stay at one of the many vacation rental homes available via VBRO, or else stay at the Camano Island Inn.