San Juan Island teems with life in the summer. Friday Harbor is San Juan’s welcome mat, and a cheery one at that: just up the hill from the ferry landing, shops, restaurants and galleries, Friday Harbor awaits the eager visitor. With 8000 residents, it is the only incorporated town in the San Juans. An artists’ paradise, you’ll often see easels out and paints dripping from brushes on a sunny day. San Juan is also a great place to start a whale-watching adventure, with tours departing regularly. The Whale Museum is a great place to learn about the Orcas who have taken up residence in Puget Sound. Visitors can “adopt an Orca” to help aid in preservation and research for our local whales.
Dining on San Juan is a great pleasure. Unlike other island economies, there is fertile farmland on San Juan Island, and plenty of local produce. All of the islands have the advantage of fresh local seafood, and chefs have taken notice. The nationally recognized Duck Soup Inn on 50 Duck Soup Lane is a must. Locally sourced and foraged ingredients make up some of the finest dishes you may ever eat. The Cask and Schooner is perfect for those seeking fresh local seafood. For Italian, Vinny’s Ristorante fits the bill.
San Juan is a great hub for exploring other islands. With more than 22 bed-and-breakfast inns in Friday Harbor alone, finding accommodations is not a struggle. The Earthbox Inn and Spa is a centrally located 2-story motel with an indoor pool and airport shuttle. If you’re looking for something with a little more intimacy, the dog-friendly Tucker House Inn is within walking distance of the ferry landing. With six guest rooms, eight suites and three cottages, you’ll want to book this Friday Harbor favorite well ahead. There’s also the chic and comfy Island Inn at 123 West, a nice, modern accommodation with loads of features. Close to the ferry, the Bird Rock Hotel is a boutique hotel with amenities that include guest bicycles and a pool.
If culture is what you’re after, Friday Harbor is home to the Palace Theater (a single-screen movie palace) and the San Juan Community Theatre, which has regular plays. The San Juan Arts Council is as lively as the local arts’ scene, hosting classes and events, gallery walks and art markets (sjcartscouncil.org). Their website is a great place to check out what art events are going on during your visit.
Roche Harbor, on the other side of San Juan, is a resort destination worth your time. The historic Hotel de Haro is the resort’s centerpiece. Built in 1886, the Haro is a cozy, romantic destination for weddings and honeymoons. Another worthwhile stop in Roche Harbor is the San Juan Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve. With 125 sculptures in a 20-acre site, the sculpture park is a great place to picnic and spend an afternoon. Several gifted sculptors like Mary Cross and Jennifer Johnson have works in the park. As a bonus, nearby Westcott Bay is the source for some of the most sought-out oysters in Puget Sound. The nearby San Juan Island Distillery has some excellent spirits to accompany those oysters.
is characterized by rolling hills, gentle peaks and great views. A horseshoe-shaped island, it is the largest of the San Juans. Eastsound is the population hub, and is home to many galleries and restaurants. The Saturday Farmers Market is a favorite among locals and visitors, spread out along Eastsound’s village green. The Orcas Island Historical Museum in the center of Eastsound is a great place to get a sense of island history and context. For the little visitors, the Funhouse Commons has hands-on exhibits, an art studio, a pitching cage and more.
The Inn at Ship Bay in Eastsound offers excellent dining with sumptuous views. Built around the 1869 Adams Farmhouse, the Inn also has 11 rooms for overnight guests. The menu offers fine salads, seafood and meat entrees, reservations are recommended. For a hearty, cheap breakfast or lunch, Island Skillet in Eastsound has hearty servings and lots to offer. The classic historic Rosario Resort is home to the Mansion Restaurant, a must for fine diners. The earthier Doe Bay Café specializes in vegetarian cooking and fresh seafood.
There is no shortage of cabins and inns on Orcas, so ask around about where people like to stay. A few of our favorites include the crunchy and cute Doe Bay Resort, a cabin-yurt-or-camping destination with soaking tubs that may or may not require garments. A lovely, peaceful spot on Orcas, it’s a good place to get away from it all. Once in a Blue Moon Farm offers agritourism in a bed-and-breakfast setting. For glampers, Wanderlust Hospitality offers luxury camping to cater to your every whim, and enhance your outdoor adventures. The Outlook Inn in Eastsound offers different levels of accommodation to match every budget. Vintage Island Vacations lets you live out your dream of a weekend in a vintage Airstream camper. Whatever you choose, Orcas is a great place to get a good night’s sleep.
Moran State Park may just be the loveliest state park we have. With more than 38 miles of hiking trails and 5000 acres of land to explore, it’s a full weekend of fun. Mount Constitution is the island’s highest point, and has beautiful views of the Sound and Mount Baker.
South of Moran, the village of Olga invites gallery-hopping and strolling. The famous Artworks Cooperative Gallery and Olga Cafe were wracked by suspicious fires in 2013. Café Olga is temporarily in Eastsound until they raise the funds to move back to Olga. A wonderful stop on the road between Eastsound and Doe Bay, Olga is a sweet village worthy of a little exploration. The number of artists on Orcas is pretty stunning, as is the quality of the arts and crafts they produce. From fine jewelry to beautiful pottery, Orcas is an art-lover’s paradise.
Deer Harbor on the far west portion of Orcas is a great place to put in a kayak or pop up a tent. Wildlife and water tours abound, as do hikes and mountain biking. The Deer Harbor Marina is also home to the Marina Barge Gift Shop and several artist studios.
The most remote of the four major San Juans, Shaw is a pastoral, quiet visitor-friendly place. Famous for being the “nuns’ island,” Shaw is home to a branch of the Benedictines, who run a farm called Our Lady of the Rock, and a small order of the Sisters of Mercy. There was a time when nuns ran the general store and the ferry operation, but those nuns have left the island. The only accommodation for rent on the island is the 110-year-old waterfront cottage near the ferry dock. Otherwise, the only way to spend a night on Shaw is to camp, and with only 11 spots, a reservation is a must. Places worth visiting and exploring are the library, Our Lady of the Rock Farm and the Cedar Rock Biological Preserve. The only commercial venture on the island, the General Store is also the hub for all of island life. Otherwise? How you enjoy the quiet, natural pace of Shaw is up to you.
While Shaw Island doesn’t have any restaurants per se, the Shaw General Store has many picnic-ready items as well as a deli. In the great tradition of general stores, the Shaw General sells everything from nails to bottles of wine. Espresso, ice cream and tons of locally made groceries make this an essential stop for an overnight stay. Be aware that the Shaw General Store is closed from September to May every year, so you may need to haul supplies with you.
The owners of the Shaw General Store also operate a 1900s vintage cottage, which sleeps 4-6. With stunning views and perfect grounds for picnicking and strolling, it’s a great place to spend a few nights. If you’re interested in camping, the 60-acre Shaw County Park is a great place to pitch a tent or two and enjoy the water. It’s only two miles from the ferry, so perfect for a hike-in weekend. Amenities at the campground (reservations in high season recommended) include drinking water, vault toilets and a boat launch. The Shaw General Store is within walking distance as well, making those grocery store trips easier. Another option for those wanting peace, quiet and contemplation, is to stay with the nuns at Our Lady of the Rock Benedictine Monastery. Guests of all faiths are invited to stay with the Sisters in their guest house, and are encouraged to participate in meals, worship and help with the farm. Accommodations are by donation only. shawgeneralstore.com, olrmonastery.org
Hiking, kayaking, boating, whale-watching and birding are just a few of the many outdoor activities Shaw offers. The island is only 7.7 square miles, so biking and hiking are great ways to get around. There is also a museum and a library for visitors to check out. Walk-on and bike-on ferry passengers ride free.
Dubbed “The Friendly Isle,” Lopez is 15 miles long with 63 miles of shoreline. A cycling destination, Lopez has several places for exploring by pedal, and bike rental shops as well. Lopez offers a broad range of lodging options. Wildlife is the big draw, and Lopez boasts many beaches, county and state parks and wildlife viewing spots. Agate Beach, Odlin County Park, Spencer Spit and Otis Perkins County Park are just a few of them. There’s also a historical museum and a library, as well as a restored schoolhouse.
Ask for recommendations for dining on Lopez, and everyone will universally name The Bay Café. Excellent food prepared carefully with fresh ingredients, the Bay is a favorite of Lopez Islanders and visitors alike. The views are stunning. Another great spot is Vita’s, which bills itself correctly as “wildly delicious.” Old-timer Holly B’s Bakery has been delighting Lopez with delicious treats since 1976. Owner Holly B’s whole family, including her sons, get in on the baking. That kind of personal touch is what makes places like Lopez so special.
The Edenwild Inn has been in operation for more than 20 years. Private baths, luxurious beds and memorable views are all a part of the Edenwild experience. Golf, tennis, free bikes for guests, wireless internet, and other amenities make your stay worthwhile. They don’t allow children under 12, so keep that in mind when booking. Another cozy spot on sweet Lopez is the MacKaye Harbor Inn. Originally built in 1904, the MacKaye was the first building on Lopez to have working electric lights. A wonderful spot right on the water, it’s a kayaking, hiking and relaxation destination.
The easiest cycling of the major San Juan Islands, Lopez is a great place to tour around by pedal. Lopez has more parks and hiking trails than you can easily explore in one weekend, so you’ll want to return again-and-again to find new quiet spots and secret coves. There are many shops and artists’ studios to explore, including the work of Stephen Hill, the pottery of Lydia Lukahnovich and many more.