Easy Escapes

San Juan Islands: A Peaceful Getaway in the Pacific Northwest

by  Lara Dunning | Feb 5, 2019
Lime Kiln Lighthouse, San Juan Islands, Washington
Lime Kiln Lighthouse, San Juan Islands, Washington / LoweStock/iStock

North of Seattle in Puget Sound’s Salish Sea is where you'll find the San Juan Islands archipelago. The group consists of 172 islands, four of which are served by ferry. San Juan Island is the largest, and its main town, Friday Harbor, features boutique shops, museums, and plentiful dining options. Orcas Island is a mix of small villages with cafes, artist studios, and a vibrant culinary scene, while Lopez Island is a favorite among bicyclists and has quaint cafes and shops. Lastly, Shaw Island is mostly residential and features a small campground and a general store.

With abundant wildlife and a temperate climate (40 degrees in the winter and 70 degrees in the summer), the islands are a perfect destination for a tranquil getaway. If you love high-end travel at budget prices, be sure to visit during the offseason for great deals. 

Where to Stay

On San Juan Island: If you love a quaint boutique hotel, consider booking a stay at Friday Harbor House, which sits atop a bluff in Friday Harbor (hence its name), and many of the rooms have a gas fireplace, jetted tub, and a harbor view. Upon arrival, guests receive a welcome beverage. After you check in, grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, which serves seasonal and local fare (dinner entrees start at $17, and hotel rates start at $168 per night, depending on the season). If you want to stay a property that has European flare, Island Inn at 123 is your best bet. The hotel has 16 euro-chic rooms, including suites and penthouses that feature picturesque views (rates from $110 per night, depending on the season). And if you're craving the amenities of a large property, stay at Snug Harbor Resort, which is situated along Mitchell Bay. The property features luxury cabins and suites, all with vaulted ceilings, full kitchens, and  of course  stunning views. Perks include complimentary use of kayaks, paddle boards, canoes, and bicycles, plus beachside fire pits, BBQs, and crab cookers (rates from $199, depending on the season). 

On Orcas Island, Outlook Inn was originally founded by settlers in 1888, but was revived by hippies in the 1960s, and is now a family-owned and operated hotel that values comfort and hospitality above all. The 41-room property also includes 16 luxe bay view suites with private balconies, kitchenettes, and gas fireplaces (standard rates from $84 per night depending on the season; suite rates from $159 depending on the season). However, the fully-equipped kitchens, washers, and dryers offered at Eastsound Suites make this property ideal for those who plan to linger longer on the island. In addition, the master suites here are equipped with gas fireplaces, jetted tubs, and steam showers (suites from $195 per night, depending on the season). History lovers with a taste for the finer things will love the 40-acre Rosario Resort. The upscale property also features an on-site museum, the Moran Mansion, where guests can step back in time and admire all the photographs and furniture from the 1800s. In addition to their standard rooms, Rosario Resort also offers two unique luxury accommodations for those willing to splurge: A circular one-bedroom bungalow called the Round House that's complete with a living room, gas fireplace, and a two-head shower; and the spacious Cliffhouse Honeymoon Suite, which features a gas fireplace, private deck, and a jetted tub (contact the property directly for rates on these luxe suites). 

On Lopez Island: The Edenwild Boutique Inn may be small, but it's located in the heart of Lopez Village (the commercial hub from the island), so you're never too far from all the adorable shops and restaurants. The elegant property offers nine rooms with soaking tubs and wood-burning fireplaces, and breakfast here includes homemade baked goods paired with fresh fruit parfaits (rates from $107 per night, depending on the season).  

What to See and Do

A fun way to jet around San Juan Island is by moped, which is easily accessible via Susie’s Mopeds ($80 to $160 per day). To explore the Pacific Northwest art scene, stop by the San Juan Island Museum of Art ($10 adults) and walk the grounds of the 20-acre Sculpture Park (free, but donations are encouraged). Animal-lovers can learn about resident and migrating whales at The Whale Museum ($9 adults). And after a day spent exploring, head to Lime Kiln State Park ($10 for a day pass) to spot whales offshore in the months of May through September. Other activities include strolling through 25-acres worth of lavender fields at Pelindaba Lavender, and zooming through the trees on a San Juan Island Zip Tour ($86 adults, $76 ages 8 -15). On Orcas Island, Moran State Park features 38 miles of hiking trails and Mt. Constitution ‒ the highest peak in the islands ‒ has breathtaking panoramic vistas. To discover the island’s history and flavors join a tour with Salish Sea Tour Co. (starts at $150).

The San Juan Islands are also a great place to kayak. With so many kayaking tour companies, it's easy to create unique memories and experiences, such as a quest with orca whales (contact the company directly for pricing), a scenic bioluminescence kayak tour ($125 per person), and a kayak tour through Sucia Island, a small island off the coast of Orcas Island ($159 for adults, $99 for teens). For prime sea-life spotting, reserve a spot on a whale-watching cruise ($89-$119 per adults, $59-$95 per child).

Where to Eat and Drink

The culinary scene really shines by showcasing island-grown ingredients. In Friday Harbor (San Juan Island), opt for breakfast or lunch at Market Chef. Here, the food is as delicious as it is affordable, as artisan dishes go up to about $13. The menu features an array of soups, salads, and sandwiches, but also offer specialties such as Moroccan curried squash rings and buttermilk chicken tenders. However, if you're looking for a more romantic vibe, check out Duck Soup, which features a lodge-style ambiance and an outdoor stone fire pit. Here, starters are all under $18, and entrees start at $26. Be sure to sample some of the fresh seafood offered, such as the Dungeness crab with brown butter. 

On Orcas Island, New Leaf Café crafts French-inspired cuisine. Dinner highlights are the duck mac’ n cheese, pistachio-crusted goat cheese salad, and Alaskan halibut with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Here, prices range from $8 to $60, and it's an excellent place for weekend brunch. The The Inn at Ship Bay specializes in locally-sourced ingredients, and even grows its own produce. Although the menu is always changing depending on seasonality, prices remain around the same: appetizers are under $18, and mains start at $27. If you're looking for a more casual spot for coffee, baked goods, or a quick lunch, swing by Roses Bakery Cafe, which specializes in creating delectable homemade bread. Prices are all under $24.

If you find yourself on Lopez Island, be sure to try the island favorite: A cinnamon roll from Holly B’s Bakery. For lunch and dinner, Haven Kitchen & Bar offers delicious vegetarian and international fare options such as fresh spring rolls, poke, and tacos. The dishes here range from $8 to $36.

Getting There

To get to the islands, take the Washington State Ferry from the terminal in Anacortes, which is one-and-a-half-hours from Seattle by car. Ferry reservations are highly recommended, and depending on which island(s) you are visiting, the trip may take anywhere from one to two-and-a-half hours. Alternatively, there are also flights available via Kenmore Air in Seattle and San Juan Airlines in Anacortes. Flights to the islands under an hour, and start at $144 round-trip from Seattle, depending on the season. 

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