San Juan Islands Travel Guide
The San Juan Islands are located off the coast of Washington State in Puget Sound, and they make up an archipelago renowned for its picturesque scenery and diverse wildlife. Made up of over 450 islands, islets, reefs, and very large rocks.
The chain of landmasses stretches north from Lopez Island all the way to Victoria, Canada.
The area is home to a variety of species including bald eagles and seals, as well as a thriving population of orcas which can often be spotted swimming in the waters around them. The largest population of creatures on the San Juans, however, is the never-elusive tourist.
Hundreds of thousands of people per year pass over the ferries and vacation on the islands and we join the masses at least once per year.
So if you’re a bit overwhelmed with the throes of planning a trip, hopefully, this will help! Partly guide and partly trip report this should make sure that your island vacation is as good as possible!
Table of Contents
How To Get To The San Juan Islands
Getting to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State in Puget Sound can be a bit tricky, if you’re not used to traveling in the PNW.
However, everyone has to figure it out one way or the other.
99% of people who visit the island do so by traveling on the State of Washington’s Anacortes–San Juan Islands ferry.
However, there are a few other options if you’re not too gung-ho about sitting on the ferry for a couple of hours.
Taking a ferry from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands is an easy and affordable way to get to this stunning archipelago off the coast of Washington State in Puget Sound. There are several public ferry services that run between Anacortes and the San Juans and their prices depend on how far into the archipelago you want to go (with fares becoming more expensive as you head north). The journey usually takes around two hours, although it can be longer during peak season due to increased demand for tickets, so it’s advisable to book your ticket ahead of time if possible.
While it is possible to walk on the ferry, we always choose to drive on with our personal car (more expensive but we need it on the islands). This also allows us to have all of your snacks, luggage, etc. that you’ll want if you’re doing more than a day trip.
There are several ferries in the WSDOT fleet but they all are pretty similar. You’ll park on the lower level before heading up to a large lounge area, with seats, tables, restrooms, etc.
Ferries run different routes/schedules so you’ll likely stop at one or more islands before getting to where you dock. Don’t worry about missing it, they announce regularly over the loudspeaker so, as long as you’re not sleeping, you’ll know when to head to your car!
As a last note, be sure that you reserve your spot in advance, especially if you’re sailing at a busy time. If you try to get a ticket by simply driving up you’ll be placed in the standby line. We have made it through the stand-by line and boarded before but it’s not worth the risk of upsetting your entire day.
If the ferry isn’t for you, chartering a flight to the islands is always an option.
Travelers looking to visit Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan Islands can find charter flights departing from many Washington and British Columbia locations, including Bellingham, Anacortes, Vancouver, and Victoria, as well as SeaTac. Kenmore Air and Friday Harbor Seaplanes offer scheduled flights from Boeing, Lake Union, and South Lake Washington in addition to shuttle service from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
While this isn’t actually a faster option than the ferry (and you’ll still need ground transport on the island) it is available for those that prefer it!
By Private Boat Charter
Finally, if you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious then consider taking a private boat charter which will take you directly from Vancouver or Seattle straight into the San Juans. This option may cost more than taking public transport but it’ll give you complete control over their voyage and allow them access to places few others have seen before!
I haven’t actually chartered a private water ferry or boat to the San Juans so I cannot comment much on the process but, if you’re paying, I’m open to an invite!
Best Time To Visit
For those that want warm weather and long days filled with plenty of sunshine then summer is likely the obvious choice. Unfortunately, it’s obvious to everyone in the world and people decent on the islands during the warmer months.
This means that, while everything is actually open, prices are higher, attractions are crowded, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much solitude.
July and August are usually the busiest months so if crowds aren’t your thing then it may be worth avoiding this part of the year.
If you don’t mind cooler temperatures or even a bit of rain then spring or fall could be great options as they tend to see fewer visitors and quieter beaches throughout the season.
Both times also offer up some beautiful displays too, with spring transforming into a colorful array of wildflowers while Fall brings its own unique foliage vistas. Plus, during these periods prices tend to be significantly lower than in high season, making them great options for budget-minded travelers.
Now, obviously, there are a ton of “islands” in the San Juan chain. Despite having vacationed on all the “main” ones I’ve only set foot on about 2% of the different land masses.
So those are the ones that I can tell you about! Let’s get a head-start by going through the types of things there are to do on the islands so you can get an idea if you’re even planning the right vacation.
Things To Do On The San Juan Islands
While a couple of these may be island-specific, the islands aren’t really that different. So most of these will be available on any of the islands (as well as most places in the PNW).
Whale watching on the San Juan Islands is an experience that many nature enthusiasts look forward to every year. You’re much more likely to get lucky near the islands than hoping to see whales in Seattle.
If you’re willing to board a boat with a bunch of other tourists (aka a “tour”) then the Puget Sound provides a unique opportunity to come face-to-face with whales, dolphins, seals, and other various forms of marine life in their natural habitats.
While you find tons of private people who are willing to take you to their “secret whale watching spot” we’ve had the most luck with the number of well-known tour companies operating in Seattle and on the islands that area offer tours on vessels operated by experienced captains familiar with navigating these waters, typically for three to four hours at a time.
Visitors can expect to spot several species of whales such as humpback, minke, and, of course, killer whales. In addition, you may also get lucky and encounter some bald eagles or harbor seals during the journey.
For those looking for a more active adventure when visiting the San Juan Islands, kayaking the Puget Sound is a great way to explore. You might even get lucky and see whales this way too (although I hear it can be terrifying).
There are numerous bays and inlets with crystal clear water, small coves full of wildlife, and incredible sunsets that can be experienced from the comfort of your own kayak. The archipelago also features sheltered waters ideal for paddling, offering plenty of opportunity for beginners who have never been in a boat before.
In addition to the unique scenery, experienced kayakers will enjoy the diverse array of marine life visible from their perch in the kayaks including ones you don’t usually see from tour boats like jellyfish. Just be safe and keep your distance!
Hiking & Camping
If you’re the outdoorsy type, the islands offer a ton of hiking and camping opportunities that do not get their due praise. If you’re intent on avoiding the “touristy” things you can find some amount of solitude in nature on the islands just about any time of year.
To get started, a visit to Moran State Park (on Orcas Island) is an absolute must. Here hikers can take on Mount Constitution – the highest point in the islands – or enjoy any of the 30 miles of trails winding throughout the park’s 5,252 acres.
While the hike on Mount Constituion is great (according to my wife…) I always just drive to the top so don’t be disgruntled if you spend the day walking and meet a bunch of fresh yuppies in flip-flops at the actual peak.
For campers, there are several on-site sites (including North End Campground and Cascade Lake Campground) with stunning views overlooking Cascade Lake and across to several nearby islands. And if you’re lucky enough to time your visit right, you may even catch a glimpse of Orcas and other whale species migrating through these waters.
For an entirely different experience, head down south to Lopez Island where Jedediah Island State Park awaits adventurers. This secluded spot is known as one of Washington’s best-kept secrets – offering visitors 20 acres of pristine wilderness complete with over 4 miles of trails ideal for both day hikes or overnight camping trips in total seclusion from civilization.
Fishing & Crabbing
For fishing and crabbing enthusiasts, the San Juan Islands are a destination that cannot be beaten. This picturesque archipelago offers some of the best fishing and crabbing in the Pacific Northwest, with plenty of options for anglers of any experience level to explore.
From calm bays and inlets to robust tide flats, fishing around the San Juan Islands is a great way to enjoy the area’s natural beauty while catching some of the region’s legendary catches like salmon, lingcod, rockfish, halibut, crab, and more. Various boat charters offer trips that explore both popular spots as well as hidden gems.
For shoreline anglers, several areas are ideal for casting lines during low tides. For example, boat launch areas along Westcott Bay on San Juan Island can be found at Jackson Beach Park or Lime Kiln State Park – both offering excellent views of neighboring islands. Plus, anglers should also keep an eye out for crab pots dotting various beaches throughout the islands; digging up these “hidden” treasures is particularly popular among locals seeking out tasty Dungeness crab.
Exploring the San Juan Islands is an unforgettable experience – and cycling or biking is one of the best ways to slow down (or speed up if you were walking) and take in all that this stunning archipelago has to offer.
From off-road trails built along old logging roads to coastal single-tracks winding through lush rainforests and fields of flowers, visitors here can choose from a variety of routes catering to any skill level and experience.
And don’t worry about bringing a bike (although you can) as there are rentals on every island.
To start, the 40-mile Network Loop Trail on San Juan Island offers cyclists a great opportunity to traverse all the main islands with ease – offering stunning vistas of Mount Baker and other nearby peaks as well as plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting along the way. For those looking for something more challenging, try tackling Mt Constitution, a 7.2-mile journey from Moran State Park up 2,409 feet in elevation!
Down south on Lopez Island, you’ll find Fisherman Bay Road – a peaceful loop route just over 10 miles long which will reward you with some incredible views across the surrounding islands.
For avid birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts, the San Juan Islands offer a unique opportunity to observe some of the Pacific Northwest’s most spectacular avian life. The islands are home to more than 200 species of birds with numerous migratory flocks gracing its skies and coastlines throughout the season.
The diversity of habitats on these islands – from lush forests and tidal flats to thick brush and open grassy meadows make for abundant bird-watching opportunities; especially during autumn when nesting birds are replaced by winter residents such as red-tailed hawks or northern harrier hawks.
On Lopez Island, one of the best places for spotting these majestic creatures is Iceberg Point – a small fringe located just off Fisherman Bay with panoramic views reaching out over the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The area holds an abundance of shorebirds like plovers, sandpipers (including rare vagrants like Marbled Godwits), gulls, and Rhinoceros Auklets. Plus, spotting bald eagles or ospreys soaring overhead is always a treat!
For those interested in finding other sites on the islands where they can watch birds, consider visiting Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island – a hidden gem teeming with diverse wildlife – or Lummi Rocks Natural Area Preserve just south of Orcas Island which has some great sandy beaches ideal for spotting various waterfowl species.
Historical Sites & Museums
Start at historic San Juan Island where you’ll find several sites of interest, such as Portland Fair – an old whaling station center dating back to the late 1800s. Here you can take tours of old farm buildings and experience life in these early pioneering days. Additionally, be sure to head over to English Camp – a former military installation located on Garrison Bay which is now open to the public and provides excellent views across Haro Strait.
Even Mount Constitution has the historic Observation Tower that you can “tour” by yourself and take in the amazing views.
Continue down onto Lopez Island, home to some beautiful ancient petroglyphs at Iceberg Point. As you look out over Fisherman Bay, pay close attention and you will spot some fascinating carvings believed to date back thousands of years ago. Aside from that, you’ll find other culturally significant sites like Odlin County Park – where visitors can learn about local First Nations history through interpretive trails with totem poles defining the local Ununshagw’ati Coast Salish people’s tribal story.
If there’s anything that the PNW has in spades it’s coffee…and local artists with art galleries. Whether it’s the hyper caffeination that causes everyone to fancy themself an artist or not I enjoy the dozens of art galleries that dot nearly every street.
On Orcas Island, visitors should be sure to check out the annual Arts in the Park Festival – a free event that celebrates creativity through fine arts displays, performances, and interactive workshops held in the heart of Eastsound Village. Additionally, there is Up Front Gallery in Eastsound – an intimate gallery located right on North Beach Road featuring works by local painters and sculptors like Frank Renlie and Tom Maxwell who specialize in depictions of island life.
Over on Lopez Island there is Lopez Art Museum – run by enthusiastic islanders dedicated to presenting a vibrant line-up of contemporary visual arts exhibitions from throughout the region. In addition to its galleries, this museum also holds community events throughout the year such as artist talks, concerts, and poetry readings all open for viewing (and participation!) by local art lovers.
San Juan Island can likewise boast dozens of art galleries scattered across its small towns; with places like Chimera Gallery at Friday Harbor Marina offering passersby an up close look at glassworks crafted by iconic Pacific Northwest artists like Gretchen Ewertz or Tom Sutterfield. In addition to that, be sure not to miss Artisans’ Studio Tour – a biennial event giving locals and visitors alike exclusive access even further into the buzzing ateliers of some incredibly talented craftsmen living here in these islands!
Wineries & Breweries
If you’re a drunken booze-soaked lout then you’ll love the islands! Actually, you probably won’t. It’s more of a scene for cultured wine lovers and craft beer aficionados.
If that fits you, begin your journey at Lopez Island Vineyards & Winery – located in the heart of Valley View Farm where visitors can sample an impressive array of wines including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and barrels of Cabernet Franc. Additionally, they have a great selection of hard ciders with unique flavor combinations like blackberry lemon ginger.
Over on Orcas Island, you’ll find West Sound Brewers offering small-batch ales made from traditional Pacific Northwest ingredients like hops sourced from local farms such as Pelindaba Lavender. They also make several fruit-flavored ciders to tantalize your taste buds; plus they rotate their selection seasonally so there’s always something new to try!
Finally, don’t forget to stop off at San Juan Vineyards which has been owned and operated by family farmers since 1981! Here you’ll get the chance to sample award-winning wines made from estate-grown grapes; while also learning more about its sustainable practices throughout their vineyard tours conducted with knowledgeable professionals so you get an inside look at how they produce these delicious vintages.
Spas, Fine Food, and “Vacation Stuff”
I’ll be honest with you, the San Juans are not really a luxury vacation destination.
I love them and there are very nice places to stay and eat but if you’re expecting to be enjoying Michelin-level food and 5-star resorts you’ll be a bit disappointed. When my wife and her step-mom were on Orcas this past January they were trying to get their nails done only to find out there was only one place in town and she was booked out for months. What a hardship.
However, there are places you can go on almost every island to enjoy some of the finer things.
While this isn’t exactly my area, heading to Rosario Resort on Orcas will be your best starting point as they’ve taken very good care of us on our visits and can advise you further on places to eat, excursions, etc.
Okay, got your to-do list down! It’ll help you a bit when we go through each of the islands and where you should be staying to maximize your trip!
So let’s start with one of our favorites: San Juan Island.
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is the second-largest and most populous of the San Juan Islands. It boasts an area of 142.59 km2, making it perfect for outdoor activities and adventure. Its rich history dates back to 1791 when explorer Francisco de Eliza named the archipelago Isla y Archipiélago de San Juan after his patron donor, Count Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo. In 1853, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a small non-native settlement on the island; this saw seasonal use for salmon fishing.
During the Wilkes Expedition in 1838, American explorer Charles Wilkes renamed the island Rodgers Island but its official name became that of its original Spanish namesake over time. In 1859, tensions between British and American forces heightened when an American settler shot an HBC pig, starting what is now known as the Pig War which was finally resolved in favor of the Americans in 1872. Sadly during this period, many indigenous people were killed by an outbreak of smallpox – an epidemic that swept through the Pacific Northwest in 1862 – hence why Smallpox Bay was named after its victims.
Today San Juan Island is dotted with numerous farms and has become a tourist-driven economy due to its many attractions like The Whale Museum, a contemporary Art Museum building completed in 2015 as well as several weekly newspapers (including two online daily news sites). Tourists can reach it via boat or ferry services such as Washington State Ferries and once there they can explore places like Friday Harbor (the island’s major population center), Roche Harbor village and San Juan Island National Historical Park among other attractions
What To Do
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island in Washington is a 41-acre day-use park that is one of the best places in the world to watch whales from shore. Three pods of southern resident orcas, including J, K, and L pods, frequent the nearby waters from May to September and often come close to shore. Other sea life like minke whales, Dall’s porpoise, harbor porpoise, humpback whales, and Pacific white-sided dolphins are also commonly seen from the park.
The park also features an interpretive center with hands-on exhibits and displays about orcas, a historic lighthouse, a 19th-century lime kiln, hiking, diving, bird watching, and stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Olympic Mountains, and Vancouver Island. Visitors can purchase a one-day or annual Discover Pass and boat launch permit at automated pay stations. The park is easily accessed by car or bike from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and ferry reservations can be made online.
American Camp National Historical Park
In 1859, Great Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island, and camps were located on opposite ends of the island.
American Camp was established by Capt. George E. Pickett and Company D, 9th Infantry on a grassy slope about 200 yards from the shoreline of Griffin Bay. The camp changed locations several times before finally settling on the north slope of the ridge north of the Hudson’s Bay Company barns. The camp served as a U.S. military installation until July 17, 1874.
These days, visitors can explore the prairie and forest of American Camp, hike several miles of trails, visit historic buildings, and view the Redoubt, an earthen fortress/lookout.
The Whale Museum on San Juan Island in Washington promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. The museum offers fun and educational exhibits about whales, free videos, and a well-stocked gift shop.
Visitors can participate in events such as Marine Naturalist Training, Pod Nods, or the Summer Lecture Series. Guided and unguided tours are available year-round. Visitors can also symbolically adopt an Orca to support marine mammal education and research. The museum features whale bones, hydrophones, and vintage whaling artifacts. The museum also focuses on the Southern Resident Killer Whales, an endangered species of Orca that call the waters home.
The museum is open daily year-round, with reduced hours in the off-season, and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
South Beach on San Juan Island in Washington has been used by Coast Salish tribes for thousands of years to process salmon due to its sunny and windy environment and proximity to Salmon Bank. European settlers later used the beach for the same purpose, transforming the land into farmland.
Today, South Beach is the longest stretch of publicly accessible wild coastline in the San Juan Islands, with views of Juan de Fuca and Haro Straits. Visitors can access the beach from the American Camp Visitor Center by hiking the South Beach Loop Trail. While camping is not allowed, visitors can enjoy bonfires or barbecues in one of several fire pits, take a walk, enjoy a picnic, or host a party. Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash.
Visitors may see orcas and other sea life, as well as eagles, hawks, foxes, and rabbits on the hill behind the shore. To get to South Beach from Friday Harbor, take Spring Street to Mullis Road, which turns into Cattle Point Road. Keep going past Fourth of July Beach, and the exit to South Beach will be on the right down Pickett’s Lane.
What To Eat – Duck Soup
Duck Soup is a renowned restaurant on San Juan Island, known for its elegant and creative cuisine featuring fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant has been a fixture on the island since 1975 and offers a cozy dining room that can seat up to 40 guests. The menu changes frequently to reflect seasonal ingredients, and popular dishes include local oysters, grilled salmon, and lamb chops. Duck Soup also offers an extensive wine list featuring local and international wines.
The restaurant is located in Friday Harbor, the main commercial center of the island. It’s open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, and reservations are highly recommended. Overall, Duck Soup is a beloved destination for visitors to San Juan Island who are seeking a memorable dining experience with delicious food, beautiful presentation, and a commitment to using fresh, local ingredients.
Where To Stay – Lakedale Resort
Lakedale Lodge is a picturesque resort situated on 82 acres of wooded property, with three lakes and numerous hiking trails.
Lakedale Resort offers a variety of accommodation options, including cabins, yurts, camp spots, and resort rooms. The lodge rooms are located in the main lodge building and offer comfortable, well-appointed accommodations with views of the lake. The log cabins are located in a wooded area and offer a rustic and secluded experience, with amenities like fireplaces and outdoor hot tubs. The canvas cabins are a unique glamping option, with canvas walls and luxury furnishings like king-size beds and private bathrooms. For those who prefer camping, Lakedale Lodge offers spacious campsites with fire pits and picnic tables.
The resort offers a wide range of activities for guests to enjoy, including kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, and swimming in the lakes. There are also hiking and biking trails, a playground, and a lodge with games and books for guests to use. The lodge also offers a daily breakfast service, as well as a snack bar and a general store with basic groceries and souvenirs.
Orcas Island, the largest of Washington State’s beautiful San Juan Islands, truly is an island paradise. Boasting the highest point in the archipelago, the 2,409-foot Mount Constitution, Orcas Island provides landscapes filled with stunning views of snow capped peaks, remote beaches and evergreen forests. Whether you’re seeking a tranquil retreat or an exciting adventure, this idyllic island offers something special for everyone.
Orcas Island…The Island Not Named For Orcas
What To Do
Moran State Park
Spanning over 5200 acres of lush meadows and old-growth forest at the heart of Orcas Island, Moran State Park is a must-visit destination for anyone looking for outdoor recreation. The park has five pristine mountain lakes which provide activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. For hiking enthusiasts, there are 40 miles worth of trails that offer breathtaking views as well as campgrounds for overnight stays. One must-see hiking trail is Cascade Falls where you can take in majestic views from atop a 400-foot cascade down to Cascade Lake below before continuing your journey onto East Peak summit.
This waterfront getaway located on Olga Peninsula near Deer Harbor allows guests to disconnect from modern life while soaking up the natural beauty that Orcas Island has to offer – it’s definitely one place not to be missed out on during your visit. Doe Bay features a lodge, vacation rentals, campsites, spa treatments & kayak tours along with many other opportunities including Yoga Studio featuring classes & massage services – treating yourself never felt so good!
Guests can also explore labyrinth pathways carved into neighboring forests or simply wander around nearby beach areas taking in surroundings while enjoying all sorts of marine wildlife like sea lions, bald eagles & shore birds.
Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory (RBM)
Located along the northeastern coast of Orcas Island near Deception Pass State Park this public research station was built in 1951 by Roberta McReynolds ( wife to Boeing’s president E Hamilton Mc Reynolds ) who wanted help increase public access & understanding about our local islands. RBM is part of University Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories & encompasses mainly intertidal ecosystems that contain several tidal basins & marshlands perfect for exploring at low tide before heading back to the learning center where students are able to carry out several experiments related to marine sciences.
Located at the eastern side of Moran State Park lies Cascade Lake which attracts visitors seeking scenic beauty both above the lake surface & beneath waters housing numerous kinds of wildlife including rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, giant salamanders, bullfrogs & osprey. Campsites are available across the perimeter but better yet why not rent a rowboat and paddle serenely around the lake admiring the surrounding nature while breathing fresh air and contemplating life – it really doesn’t get much better than that!
Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Partially owned by Seattle-based nonprofit organization “The Nature Conservancy” this 474-acre parcel of land located at the Northeast end of Orcas Island consists of rugged hillsides filled with native plants such as mountain firs Douglas spruces hemlocks western red cedars perfect backdrop when the sun setting behind horizon creating mind-blowing colors sky reflecting off these timeless giants.
Where To Eat – Hogstone’s Wood Oven
A delightful culinary adventure awaits you at Hogstone’s Wood Oven on Orcas Island. This restaurant, located on Main Street in Eastsound, offers an intimate and magical dining experience that is simply a must on any visit to the island. Here, in one enchanting room, you can enjoy a pleasant sit-down meal with friends, passing around dishes such as beer-pickled clams, pizzas topped with goat cheese and garden herbs, and sumptuous buttery potato balls enveloped in cheddar foam. The restaurant also offers a selection of low-intervention wines to complement your meal. The food at Hogstone’s is not just tasty; it’s an experience that’s incredibly special and absolutely essential if you’re spending time on Orcas Island.
Where To Stay – Rosario Resort & Spa
Rosario Resort & Spa is one of the premier resort destinations on the island and is conveniently located within walking distance from Eastsound Village. It provides guests with luxurious accommodations, stunning views of Cascade Bay, and access to its beautiful private beach. This 5-star resort offers comprehensive amenities such as an award-winning spa featuring a hydrotherapy pool, a fine dining restaurant with delicious gourmet meals prepared daily by their experienced chefs, a heated indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, and more.
Lopez Island, one of the gems of the San Juan Chain in Washington State’s beautiful Puget Sound, is a haven for outdoor explorers and nature lovers. Sitting between Orcas Island to the northeast and Shaw Island to the southwest, Lopez offers stunning views of mountain ranges covered in snow-capped peaks, rocky cliffs overlooking the sparkling bay, coves filled with wildlife, pristine beaches, unspoiled forests, and plenty of opportunities for leisurely exploration by land and water.
Whether you’re seeking a tranquil retreat or an exciting adventure, this idyllic island offers something special for everyone.
Agate Beach County Park
This secluded beach is located at the end of Weeks Road on Lopez Sound and is right next to Shark Reef Sanctuary. The beach provides stunning views of Decatur and Blakely Islands across the sound as well as Mount Baker rising above the horizon. It’s a great spot for picnics or swimming when the weather permits. Agate Beach County Park also has a boat launch which is ideal for kayaking around Shark Reef Sanctuary.
Shark Reef Sanctuary
This environmental treasure was designated a state sanctuary in 1994 after concerned citizens helped protect it from potential development. The sanctuary encompasses 90 acres and serves as key habitat for many birds along with harbor seals and many other species of marine life including sea stars, chitons, clams and more than 100 different kinds of invertebrates. Boaters can enjoy access while they stay outside its no-motor zone boundaries.
Iceberg Point Marine Reserve
Situated at the southern tip of Lopez Island along Menzies Reach near Parker Cove, Iceberg Point is one of five Marine Protected Areas within San Juan County waters that protect numerous species such as black oystercatchers and various seals. Due to its remoteness only accessible by kayak or boat, it’s an ideal place to observe wildlife while providing protection from overfishing or other human activity that could have adverse impacts on their habitats.
Spencer Spit State Park
Located on Fisherman Bay at Blakely Harbor near Eastsound Village Spencer Spit State Park is home to several picnic tables perfect for soaking up the sunshine during summer months along with views across jeweled waters towards Matia & Orcas Islands. As well as offering lots of space for beach combing, clam digging, crabbing, fishing & swimming there are also 188 campsites situated beneath streams of lush vegetation. Hikers will love exploring nearby trails such as Watmough Bay Trail & Cedar Rock Trail. For those looking to learn more about local history – the nearby Crow Valley Schoolhouse dates back to 1912 where you can explore once area schoolhouse before hopping aboard the ferry headed back mainland.
Where To Eat – Haven Restaurant
Located on the serene shores of Lopez Island, Haven Restaurant is hailed as one of the finest dining spots on the island. With its exquisite culinary offerings and panoramic sea views, it provides not just a meal, but an experience. The restaurant is known for its superb food, a testament to the skill and creativity of its chefs. Open from Thursday to Saturday, between 5 PM and 8 PM, this gastronomic haven is a must-visit for any food lover venturing to Lopez Island.
Where To Stay – Edenwild Boutique Inn
The Edenwild Boutique Inn is widely recognized as the best place to stay on Lopez Island. With a scenic location on the island itself and easily accessible bicycle rentals, it offers guests a unique opportunity to explore the area at their own pace. The inn provides free WiFi, ensuring you stay connected even as you immerse yourself in the serene island life. One of the highlights is the continental breakfast served every morning, inspired by the local island flavors. Visitors often rave about their experiences at the Edenwild, noting the considerate, knowledgeable, and kind staff who make every effort to ensure a wonderful stay. If you’re searching for a hidden gem on Lopez Island, look no further than the Edenwild Boutique Inn.
Located just off the coast of Washington state, located in the San Juan Islands, Shaw Island is a tranquil destination that offers visitors a unique experience. Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation or simply some peace and quiet, Shaw Island has something for everyone.
Turtleback Mountain Preserve
Turtleback Mountain Preserve is located on the southwest side of the island and provides stunning views from the top of its summit. It’s an ideal spot for wildlife viewing with bald eagles and other native birds often spotted during visits. There are several trails throughout the preserve that each offer their own type of experience ranging from easy to challenging levels so there’s something for every level of explorer. An unforgettable experience awaits at Turtleback Mountain Preserve!
Blind Bay Beach Access
Blind Bay Beach is located on the southwestern side of Shaw Island and offers wonderful beach access perfect for swimming or simply relaxing by the shoreline while enjoying stunning views of Mt. Baker across Rosario Strait. Blind Bay Beach Access is also an excellent spot to explore tide pools filled with vibrant marine life including starfish, sea anemones and various types of hermit crabs!
Otis Perkins County Park
Otis Perkins County Park is found near Cattle Point on Shaw Island’s east side and provides incredible opportunities for both exploring nature as well as enjoying local culture through activities such as crabbing or kayaking on its protected waters. Offering plenty of shady spots among cedar trees dutifully placed along hiking trails winding around its grounds, take time to relax and soak up some sunshine amidst breathtakingly beautiful scenery overlooking Oyster Bay!
Whether you come seeking adventure or a peaceful escape into nature’s beauty – there’s something here awaiting discovery on your next trip to Shaw Island!
Where To Eat – The Little Store
The best place to eat on Shaw Island is The Little Store, which has been a staple in the community for over 26 years. This establishment offers more than just a convenient place to pick up groceries. It has a deli that serves delicious lunch specials, as well as a wide selection of beer and wine. Its long-standing reputation and consistently high-quality offerings make it a must-visit destination for food lovers visiting Shaw Island.
Where To Stay – Get an AirBNB
Shaw Island is far less commercial than the others on this list. Because of this we’ve chosen to rent an short-term rental when visiting and have been very happy with the options.
Best 5-Day Itinerary For The San Juans
If you have less time, just go to Orcas Island and do everything you can. If you have more time, however, you might want to island hop after a day or two.
If it’s your first trip to the islands, here’s how I would recommend planning your trip:
Day 1: Arrival and Exploration of Friday Harbor
- Arrive at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island via ferry from Anacortes.
- Spend the day exploring the town’s boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.
- Visit The Whale Museum to learn about the local orca pods.
- Enjoy a seafood dinner at a local restaurant.
- Overnight at a local inn or B&B.
Day 2: Discover San Juan Island
- Start your day early with a whale-watching tour. San Juan Island is renowned for its orca sightings.
- Spend the afternoon visiting English Camp and American Camp, historical sites from the Pig War.
- End your day with a sunset at Lime Kiln Point State Park, a beautiful lighthouse setting.
- Overnight on San Juan Island.
Day 3: First Day on Orcas Island
- Take an early morning ferry to Orcas Island.
- Start by visiting Eastsound, the island’s main village, with shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
- In the afternoon, explore Moran State Park, with opportunities for hiking, biking, and wildlife spotting.
- Overnight on Orcas Island.
Day 4: Explore Orcas Island
- Begin your day with a hike to the summit of Mount Constitution for breathtaking views.
- Spend the rest of the day exploring more of the island’s natural beauty, possibly renting a kayak or visiting a local art gallery.
- Enjoy a relaxing evening in Eastsound with a delicious dinner.
- Overnight on Orcas Island.
Day 5: Last Day on San Juan Island and Departure
- Take a morning ferry back to San Juan Island.
- Spend the day exploring any remaining sights in Friday Harbor or the rest of the island that you may have missed.
- Depending on your departure time, you might enjoy one more hike or a final stroll around the town.
- Catch an evening ferry back to Anacortes, marking the end of your San Juan Islands adventure.
If you’re more experienced on the island you may be able to get more out of your trip by visiting the smaller islands. However, dealing the with ferry schedule is a huge waste of vacation time so we typically limit our stays to one or two of the islands.
FAQs About The San Juan Islands
Do I Need A Car When I Visit The Islands?
The answer depends largely on your own preference and budget; there is no one single definitive answer. Here’s a closer look at what options are available for exploring the islands if you plan to visit without bringing or renting your own vehicle.
Public Transportation Options
You can easily get around the main inhabited areas of each island via public transportation. Each island usually has several bus routes that run between popular destinations such as local beaches and tourist attractions. Additionally, most of the larger towns on each island have taxi services that can pick up passengers at designated locations. Bus fares vary with each destination but tend to be relatively inexpensive; taxi fares range depending upon distance traveled. Inter-island public transportation is generally limited to seasonal ferry service between Orcas Island, Lopez Island, Shaw Island, and San Juan Island which operate year round.
For visitors who prefer active travel, bike rentals are an ideal option for getting around the islands. Many rental companies offer all sizes and types of bicycles including mountain bikes and electric bikes—many of which also come equipped with a basket for carrying souvenirs or picnic items. Prices vary depending upon provider but expect to pay around $30-$50 per day for most models; there may also be additional charges for helmets and full-day rentals during peak season.
Scooters are another great option when it comes to navigating the islands without having to bring or rent your own vehicle. Several companies on each island offer scooter rentals that range from 50cc models up to 300cc mopeds with different speed parameters available for different levels of riders. Prices start around $30 per hour (or $90 per day) but often come with discount packages depending upon number of hours rented and/or days rented in advance; some providers also include helmet rental and roadside assistance in their packages at no extra cost.
Finally, visitors can opt to rent their own car when they arrive on the islands if they prefer not to rely on public transportation or bike/scooter rental services while exploring the area. Prices depend upon size/model chosen but tend to be similar across all island providers with rates ranging from $50-$100+ per day (plus additional fees such as insurance coverage). Keep in mind that many roads leading away from more populated areas can become challenging due to terrain and steep hills—so it is best advised that you confirm your car model can handle driving on narrow roads and hilly terrain before renting one if it is part of your plans while visiting this area.
Is Whidbey Island Part Of The San Juans?
Simply put: no. While Whidbey Island is located very close to the San Juans, it is technically not included as one of its members. The San Juans consist of 172 islands spread across five large islands — Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, San Juan and Blakely — plus numerous smaller land masses further south in Rosario Strait.
Whidbey Island is an island located in northern Puget Sound near the mainland that stretches about 34 miles in length with a land area of around 171 square miles making it the largest island by far in terms of size when compared to the other members of the archipelago. Although much closer to mainland than its famous neighbors, Whidbey nonetheless still offers plenty to explore and experience—not least its two towns (Langley and Oak Harbor) along with great campgrounds, parks and beaches. It also has some public transportation options including regular bus routes running between several locations on the island making it easy enough to get around without having to drive yourself if you’re visiting without your own vehicle.
Are There Bears On The San Juans Islands?
While it’s not very common to spot one out and about during your visit, there are in fact black bears who inhabit the islands—particularly Orcas Island which is home to the largest population of black bears in the archipelago. It’s estimated that up to 70 could be living on Orcas alone, though this number may have changed due to human activity over time.
That said, while there may be a little more chance of spotting a bear on Orcas compared to other islands in the archipelago, it’s still highly unlikely you’ll run into one during your stay as they tend to remain quite far away from humans where possible. Black bears prefer dense forests where they can find natural food sources like berries and insects—and luckily for them (and us!), plenty of these habitats can be found throughout the islands providing ample cover for them to roam around without interruption from people or vehicles.
What Is The Best Island To Visit?
How Do I Get To The San Juans From The Seattle Airport?
If you’re in a hurry, then flying would be your best bet; Kenmore Air offers regular departures from SEA straight to Orcas Island and Lopez Island, two of the five main land masses that make up the archipelago. For travelers who wish to venture further out, flights also operate direct from SEA to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island as well as other nearby destinations like Anacortes, Victoria and Vancouver.
Alternatively, taking an Amtrak Cascades train is another great option with service running daily between Seattle’s King Street Station and various locations on Whidbey Island—a large island situated close by which is not a part of the San Juans. From here visitors can easily take a ferry across Rosario Strait to any one of their desired islands within the archipelago.
However, you might be best served by simply Ubering to the San Juan Ferry Terminal and walking onto the ferry.
When Can I See Orcas?
The best times to spot orcas in the San Juan Islands are usually between April and October which corresponds with peak season for whale watching trips; however, depending on where you’re going, some places may have larger concentrations of whales than others at different times of year. Generally speaking though, summer months tend to have more regular sightings as this is when whales are most active and closest to shore.
In addition to seasonal differences, you can also increase your chances of seeing these black-and-white cetaceans by heading out on a boat tour during certain hours; experts suggest that the best time to look for orcas is during sunrise and sunset which makes sense since these would be their prime feeding periods. This means opting for an early morning departure or evening tour that will give you more chance of spotting a pod or two within the area.
Lastly, if you don’t want to rely solely on luck when it comes to finding orcas during your visit then booking yourself onto a guided tour with an experienced captain might be worth considering; they’ll know exactly where and when to look—ensuring that your marine sighting dreams come true! All in all, while there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able see them while visiting the islands, if you plan your trip right then using all these tips above should significantly increase your chances!
Are The San Juan Islands In The Puget Sound?
The San Juan Islands are located in the northern portion of Puget Sound, a large body of brackish water off the coast of Washington State. Spanning over 3,880 square miles from Olympia to the Canadian border, this estuary is part of the Salish Sea and home to many different kinds of marine life—including orcas that can be seen occasionally throughout certain areas.
The archipelago itself consists of 172 islands with five main land masses identifiable as Orcas Island, Shaw Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Lummi Island. While all these islands are naturally beautiful (with plenty of activities available for visitors to enjoy), they also form an integral part of Puget Sound’s unique ecosystem; collectively they help protect local wildlife while providing prime habitats for herring spawn and migratory birds alike.
So although not all 172 individual islands may be located within its main boundaries, by taking into account their collective presence and proximity it’s accurate to say that the entire San Juan archipelago falls under Puget Sound’s geographic area.
Is There A Ferry From Bellingham To The San Juan Islands?
The most popular route departs from the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Bellingham and takes around 1.5 – 2 hours depending on whether you’ve booked a direct or indirect service. In addition to its main port, Alaska also offers direct routes from Anacortes (which also connects with other islands), as well as charters originating from Seattle and Vancouver—giving visitors plenty of options when it comes to reaching their island destination.
Fares for this journey vary depending on the type of vessel used; prices will be higher for faster ships but bear in mind that some routes may not be scheduled every day so it pays to check ahead before making any plans. Well-known companies such as Clipper Ferries offer frequent crossings between these two points making them ideal for travelers who want an easier way to get around; they often carry bikes too so you can explore your chosen island further once you arrive.
Can I Fly Directly To The San Juan Islands?
The San Juan Islands in Washington offer an unrivaled blend of serene natural beauty, captivating wildlife, rich history, and warm, welcoming communities. Whether you’re spotting orcas from a kayak, hiking to the top of Mount Constitution, exploring the boutique shops in Friday Harbor, or relishing the tranquility of Shaw Island, every moment spent in the San Juans is a moment to cherish. The islands invite you to slow down, breathe in the fresh, salty air, and immerse yourself in the relaxed pace of island life.
As you depart, the memories of stunning sunsets, scenic ferry rides, and friendly local waves will linger, beckoning you to return and experience the magic of the San Juan Islands once more. Dang…that was good. I should write travel brochures.