Visiting San Juan Island

The San Juan Islands are often named on many Top 10 lists as one of the best destinations to visit in the entire nation. Set off Washington State’s northern coast, four of the islands are accessible by passenger ferry, with San Juan Island being the most populous and frequently visited.

Not only is the scenery spectacular with the forested island surrounded by sparking blue waters and an abundance of marine life including majestic orca whales, there are a wide variety of outdoor adventures available as well as great shopping opportunities, museums, farmers markets and even plenty of fine dining. The area is known for its fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, local lamb and a strong locavore culture.

Getting there

Getting to San Juan Island is part of the fun. While private boats and charter planes can take you there, the ride via Washington State Ferries is the most economical and enjoyable as you’ll ride through the tranquil waters, passing by numerous small forested islands until arriving at the final destination in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

The ferry departs from Anacortes, about 80 miles northwest of Seattle.

Where to stay

You’ll find a number of lodging options in downtown Friday Harbor and across the island. Rosario Resort offers luxurious accommodations, spa services and water views while the Bird Rock Hotel is a popular downtown hotel with views of the harbor and Jacuzzi suites.

There are also a number of bed and breakfast-style accommodations, and most offer a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of Friday Harbor. States Inn offers the ultimate in a relaxing, peaceful stay and is just a few miles outside downtown. Here you’ll get a gourmet, fresh-from-the-farm, homemade breakfast as well as a warm and friendly welcome. If you choose to do so, you can visit with alpacas, horses, sheep and the chickens who reside at the ranch.

What to do

There are a wide range of activities that can be enjoyed on the island, with something to suit the tastes of most everyone.

Bring a picnic to Lime Kiln Point State Park, one of the best spots for whale watching on the planet. June and July are the best months for viewing orca whales that frequently pass the point. The former coast guard building is used for orca whale research and you’ll find a small gift shop and museum at the park as well.

If you’re up for a more adventurous activity, consider taking a kayak tour. There are several operators on the island, and no experience is required. If you’d prefer not to expend that much energy, consider a whale watching tour with one of the many boat operators. You’ll have the opportunity to see orcas as well as gray, minke and humpback whales in addition to seals, porpoises, otters, sea lions and bald eagles.

The island also has a number of hiking trails, including a trek to Mount Young, situated on the island’s north end. At the 650-summit you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of San Juan as well as Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island and even beyond on clear days.