Water, water everywhere, and quite a few islands, too. That about sums up the landscape of the north Puget Sound and San Juan Islands region. Here, within a vast inland sea, lie hundreds of islands both large and small, and the lure of these emerald isles is powerful. There may not be any turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, or palm trees swaying in the breeze, but an island is a getaway no matter where it is -- and these islands are no exception. The fact that many of the region's islands bear Spanish names seems to further add to the romance of a trip to the San Juans.

When English explorer Capt. George Vancouver first sailed down the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1792, he discovered a vast inland sea and named it Puget Sound. To the north of this sound, within a convolution of twisting channels, narrow straits, and elongated bays, lay an archipelago of islands, and rising to the east in a magnificent backdrop stood a range of snowcapped peaks. Several of the archipelago's islands -- San Juan, Lopez, Fidalgo, Guemes, Sucia, and Matia -- had already been named by earlier Spanish explorers, but Vancouver's 2 months of exploring and charting the waters of the region left Northwest maps with many new names -- Deception Pass, Whidbey Island, Bellingham Bay, and Mount Baker.

From the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, this region was primarily a fishing, farming, and logging region, but as early as the first decade of the 20th century, Washingtonians from the mainland had begun to discover the charms of island life. Today, the northern Puget Sound and San Juan Islands are home to Washington's favorite summer playgrounds and weekend getaway spots. Shimmering waters, mountain vistas, and tranquil islands are the ingredients of the tonic that revives the weary souls of vacationers from densely populated and industrialized southern Puget Sound. Though it's only 30 miles from Seattle to Whidbey Island and 85 miles to the San Juans, the distance is multiplied by the serenity that descends as you cross the sound by ferry.

However, this corner of the state isn't all about island life. On the mainland, the historic fishing village of La Conner has become the most charming little town in the state. Surrounding La Conner are the Skagit Valley bulb fields, which burst into bloom each spring with acres and acres of tulips and daffodils.

Farther north, the city of Bellingham serves as a base for exploring Washington's northwest coast. There are few crowds here, and the vistas (and the oysters) are as good as any you'll find in the islands. It is also on this coast that you'll find the state's premier waterfront golf resort.