A look at all the great events on Orcas Island and the San Juan Islands
Orcas Island’s Allium Restaurant and chef Lisa Nakamura are highlighted, as is the natural beauty of the San Juan Islands, with a special nod to the San Juan County Land Bank.
2. San Juan Islands, Wash.
Bold-face restaurateurs vie with unspoiled nature. Nature wins.
The big draw for the San Juan Islands this year just might be its dining scene. Blaine Wetzel, a former chef at the wildly acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Noma, took the reins at Willows Inn on Lummi Island (due to reopen on Feb. 10), while Lisa Nakamura, who has trained with big-name chefs like Thomas Keller, opened Allium on Orcas Island.
But the eternal lure of the San Juans — what brings chefs out as well as tourists — are the landscapes. On islands from Shaw to Decatur, pastoral hills give way to broody forests and scrappy escarpments that overlook fjordlike inlets. Thanks to an active land preservation effort by organizations like the San Juan County Land Bank, each year new areas are protected from logging or unruly development, and in turn provide fresh terrain for the public to explore.
Last year, the San Juan Island National Historic Park grew by 312 acres with the purchase of densely forested Mitchell Hill. On Lopez Island, a 50-year lease signed by the state Department of Natural Resources in 2009 now protects the Lopez Hill area from logging; a web of public trails winds past mossy conifers and madrona trees with peeling cinnamon-red bark. And some smaller parcels have the air of a secret about them, like the spectacular Watmough Bay Preserve on Lopez, with a trail that leads to a strip of beach on a wooded inlet, its moody water as magically lighted as a Bierstadt painting.
— SARA DICKERMAN