10 dream towns in the West

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EASTSOUND, WA: Eclectic island refuge

Plunk a Cape Cod village at the end of a Norwegian fjord, tractor-beam this picturesque mash-up to an island 80 miles northwest of Seattle, and you've got Eastsound.

This one-time agricultural port town is the largest settlement on Orcas Island. That's not saying much ― Orcas, the second most populous of Washington's San Juan Islands, has only 5,000 residents.

Even at Main Street and North Beach Road, the town's busiest intersection, you'll look in vain for a stoplight, chain store, or flashing neon sign.

What you will find within Eastsound's five-block centre ville is a vibrantly eclectic, even eccentric, assortment of restaurants, boutiques, and, most of all, people ― from graying hippie homesteaders and youthful organic farmers to well-heeled urban refugees, Carhartt-clad contractors, retirees, school kids, and artists of all stripes.

Oh, yeah: You'll also find pinch-me views of East Sound (the inlet that nearly splits horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island in half), Buck Mountain, and Mt. Constitution ― at 2,400 feet, the highest point in the San Juans.

Even in summer, when tourists and part-time residents double the island's population, the vibe in Eastsound is small-town mellow.

Natives and visitors alike stroll into Darvill's Bookstore to pick up a newspaper and shoot the breeze, then amble across the street for coffee at the Sunflower Café.

Eastsound is all about fusion ― old, young, left, right, trucker, cyclist, vegan, carnivore.

What binds these contrasting elements into a vital community is a shared love for this glorious blue-green landscape, where sea, mountains, forests, and sky come together. The place is a little inconvenient to get to, but its proudly independent residents wouldn't have it any other way. –Craig Canine

Orcas Island is a one-hour ferry ride from Anacortes, WA (see Orcas Island Ferries for rates and sailing times). Eastsound is a 20-minute drive from the ferry landing. Orcas Island Shuttle; 360/376-7433, offers rental cars and summer bus service. Kenmore Air Express; 866/435-9524, makes daily flights to the Eastsound Airport and other points around the island. If you're staying over, the Inn at Ship Bay (from $195; 360/376-5886) has great views.

The median Orcas Island home price in 2007 was $625,000. Tourism is the island's biggest business. Many residents cobble together two or three jobs to stay on the island; some telecommute. Visit Islandcam for live webcams of Eastsound and other island locations. Best local news and ads: The Islands' Sounder. As for the weather, put away the rain slicker, at least some of the time: Eastsound gets about one-third less rain than Seattle.

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