The southernmost island in Puget Sound, Anderson Island, is defined by its slow, remote atmosphere and a “hidden gem” quality that its residents believe make it special among nearby islands.
Though it has changed since its official 1870 founding — main industries no longer revolve around the sale of wood, or brickmaking, farming, and fishing — there are many qualities about the island that feel like a step back in time.
Its main feature today is its slow pace of life and the recreational offerings that go along with that, making its most robust industries in terms of employment “other services” (27 percent) and retail (15.8 percent), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s a full-service island with a general store, a café, a fire department, a golf course, a restaurant and bar, and two freshwater lakes,” said resident Michael McNeely, who moved to the island two years ago after spending 30 years working in the corporate world in the Seattle area. “There’s so much to do — you can boat, fish, play golf, tennis, pickleball. It’s a pretty special place.”
McNeely, 62, plays his own part in the seasonal tourism industry that bolsters the island’s economy: He rents his home on Airbnb to people looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of nearby cities like Tacoma and Olympia.
“Renting is pretty sporadic in the fall and winter,” he said, noting that he might have a few weekends booked here and there. “But then momentum builds in May. June, July, and August are really a sweet spot, with things slowing down a little more come September.”
The island’s population is known to triple in those summer months, when its recreational activities become especially enticing. For those working in the small service industry — made up almost exclusively of the Riviera Lakehouse Restaurant, located a stone’s throw from the golf course — those summer months are definitely the most lucrative.
“We work for tips, you know, and we do pretty well,” said server Sheila Pollard, who has worked at the restaurant — which went through a full remodel at the beginning of 2019 — for five of the seven years she has lived on the island. “It’s definitely one of the best career options on the island, I think.”
Bill Palmer, general manager at Riviera Community Club, a private community that includes the restaurant and nine-hole golf course, both of which are available to nonmembers, affirmed, “We definitely see an increase in the amount of residents and visitors during the milder summer months and increased business in both golf and restaurant.”
“During the winter months, the majority of our customers are island residents,” he said. “During the summer, we have a mix of residents, guests of residents, and visitors that take day trips to the island or may be staying at one of the Airbnbs here.”
Its sleepiness, then, is Anderson Island’s main appeal — both for those looking to get away, and for those whose professions depend on an economy sustained by tourists.