Re: What's the difference? Help route planning.
We bought our boat in Bellingham. Fairhaven Marina is pretty close to downtown (maybe a 20 minute walk?). I don't think I saw a good place to anchor nearby, but there is a ton of moorage. Looking at a map seems to confirm this, everything protected has been turned into moorage. I think it's worth a visit if you've never been, it is a nice liberal small city with a lot of college students.
I see what you are talking about with the Gulf Islands, but it seems like there are wide channels if you pick your routing carefully. We might just have different preferences here, one of my favorite things about sailing in the San Juans is using the currents to my advantage.
boats that I sail on regularly: Pearson 28-2, Rondar 505, Yankee 30, Blanchard Junior