The San Juan Islands are an archipelago consisting of more than 170 islands in the Pacific Northwest off the coast of Washington state and are known for their scenic beauty, temperate climate, and natural harbors. You could spend a lifetime exploring the area, so it makes for a perfect week-long vacation. When it comes to finding things to do in San Juan Islands, the possibilities are endless. Choose your activity, whether it be sailing, kayaking, hiking, swimming in the various lakes, biking, or finding the best oyster bar, and you will quickly find that these magical islands offer a little bit for everyone. If you have ever been, feel free to drop me a line and tell me what your favorites are! xoM
Ways to get around
Car ferries service the major islands of Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, and Shaw from Seattle and Anacortes, but if you are short on time, consider a sea plane right out of SeaTac, Seattle’s major international airport. Hubby was keen on showing me the islands from the air, so we booked a scenic one-hour tour out of Bellingham via San Juan Airlines that dropped us off on Orcas Island. Yes, the nervous flyer in me took a little bit of time to get comfortable, but I must admit, it was the most beautiful way to see the islands.
Once in Orcas, we rented a car from Orcas Island Car Rental, which was very easy. They even included a CD to play an audio tour of the island (yes, the car had a CD player!). From Orcas Island, we chartered a boat with some friends to visit Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, two of the more scenic harbors on the largest island for whom the archipelago is named, San Juan Island.
Where To Sip & Savor
Orcas Island: We had a delightful lunch of Dungeness Crab Cakes on the patio of The Madrona Bar & Grill in Eastsound. Breakfast consisted of pastries and coffee from Darville’s Coffee Bar, and dinner found us at the Rosario Resort Mansion, where we also stayed (see below). While taking advantage of the aforementioned audio driving tour of the island, one of my favorite stops was Deer Harbor and the burritos from the Marina Grill. A must-do is also Orcas Island Winery and Tasting Room, which we hit after our hike up Turtleback Mountain.
Friday Harbor: Downriggers offered sweeping views of Friday Harbor while we enjoyed sharing local oysters, charcuterie platters, fries with malt vinegar aioli, and pan seared Sockeye Salmon. Up the hill at the Friday Harbor House, you will find a raw bar and other seafood delights overseen by Chef Jason Aldous, whose resume includes a sous chef position at The Willows Inn on nearby Lummi Island (click here for my post on our dinner at the award-winning restaurant).
Roche Harbor: One of the reasons to visit Roche Harbor is to eat at Westcott Bay Shellfish Company, a family-run aquaculture farm where you can eat shellfish that has been harvested just minutes before your arrival. Shuck your own oysters, or not, but either way, be sure to order the BBQ oysters served three ways: chipotle, sriracha, or lemon butter. There is a Madrona Bar & Grill in Roche Harbor as well, with great Moscow Mules and views of the harbor where sunset is marked by the Striking of the Colors, when the flags of Canada, U.S. and Britain are lowered accompanied by a one-gun salute. Tell a friend that the tradition is to jump in the water and see if he/she does!
Where To Sleep
It was fairly difficult to find information on San Juan Islands hotels, so I have done some of the work for you.
Orcas Island: The waterside resort and marina of Rosario Resort & Spa is centered around the magnificent mansion built in 1909 by Robert Moran, a shipbuilder and mayor of Seattle who relocated to Orcas for health reasons. I suggest requesting one of the Bayside Rooms. Large and cozy, these rooms are so inviting you may do as we did and just dine on wine and cheese while watching the sun fade.
We were too late to get a room in one of the Water’s Edge Suites at the Outlook Inn on Main Street in Eastsound, but it remains on my list for the next visit. Each of the five rooms boasts a king bed, beach access, and splendid views of the Fishing Bay and Indian Island.
Glamping enthusiasts may want to try the tent cabins at West Beach Resort. The canvased tents are outfitted with queen beds, a futon, with nearby firepits and BBQ grills, and offer some of the best views of the sunset on Orcas.
Friday Harbor: Friday Harbor House is a short walk from the marina and offers comfortable, modern rooms with king size beds. The Web Suites are one-bedroom suites with nautical themes located near the farmer’s market. Breakfast is included when you book one of the 18 rooms at the historic The Tucker House Inn.
Roche Harbor: Follow in the footsteps of President Theodore Roosevelt and stay at the Hotel de Haro in the harbor where amenities include three restaurants, kayak and boat rentals, and a seaplane dock.
Where to Hike:
We hiked only on Orcas Island and found the trails ideal, beautifully shaded paths surrounded by soaring trees. Needless to say, I highly recommend even just a little stroll, and for hiking die-hards, like Hubby, a hike up Mt. Constitution is a must. At 2,409 feet, Mt. Constitution is the highest point in the San Juan Islands, with 360-degree views of the islands and even into Vancouver, Canada. A close second would be the Turtleback Mountain South Trailhead, with more views and even more wildflowers. Lastly, when your knees have had enough, head to Obstruction Pass State Park for a leisurely walk under the lush growth, with views of Obstruction Pass and nearby Lopez Island.
That is all for now! I hope you enjoy this. When researching what to do in San Juan Islands before our trip, I found the information to be lacking. If I missed anything big, please be sure to drop me a line in the comment box!!