A look at all the great events on Orcas Island and the San Juan Islands
Slow and serene are watchwords here, on the rugged islands off the coast of Washington State.
The San Juan Islands have an odd mix of rugged rural beauty and trend-savvy sophistication. The lively towns of Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village are filled with colorful art galleries, quirky shops, luxe day spas and restaurants dedicated to the region’s rich farms and fisheries. But five miles outside of town, you might find yourself on a deserted bluff, surrounded by wildflowers or deep in tall evergreens.
It’s easy to spend a whole day without moving far from the porch of your woodsy cabin. But you can find excitement in the San Juans, too: On a whale-watching expedition with Deer Harbor charters, you can watch a pod of shiny black and white orcas flipping almost clear of the water from 100 yards away, then marvel over your videos while drinking Malibu-rum mojitos on the deck at Allium, a new temple of farm-to-table food. (Poached-pear and goat-cheese tart, caramelized scallops and cake accompanied by Bavarian cream flavored with local rose petals—wow!) In fact, you can eat your way around the San Juan Islands; order another unforgettable meal of applewood-smoked local oysters and savory bread pudding rich with spinach and ricotta at Duck Soup Inn, a farm-stay bed-and-breakfast on San Juan Island, where the focus is on fresh and local produce and food.
Spend another memorable day on less-visited Lopez Island, where you can rent bikes from Village Cycles and pedal around the quiet country roads before tasting wine from Lopez Island Vineyards at its new tasting room in the village. Then covet the gorgeous crafts at the brand-new Lopez Co-op of Fine Craft Artisans, where the region’s jewelers, potters and photographers showcase their creations. Before getting back on the ferry, cool down with locally produced gourmet ice cream at Just Heavenly Fudge Factory.
The San Juans are only three hours by car and ferry from Seattle, even less by floatplane. By turns rural and rocky, each island has its own personality, with small villages and clusters of houses punctuating a total of 375 miles of coastline. Just three miles from busy Roche Harbor on San Juan, you can be sipping cold chardonnay at bucolic San Juan Vineyards, where a historic white clapboard schoolhouse sits among the vines. And just above lively Eastsound, you can climb 2,400-foot Mount Constitution in Moran State Park on Orcas Island to marvel at the 360-degree view from the top. If you stay at Turtleback Farm Inn on Orcas Island, you have access to 80 private acres of fields, meadows and forests surrounding this vintage-1800s clapboard farmhouse.
For a livelier getaway, most people choose Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where you can book a room at Rosario Resort & Spa (blog edit note: Rosario Resort is actually on Orcas Island) or Friday Harbor House for easy access to everything from golf to cycling to sailing. At Lakedale Resort, you can go “glamping” in luxurious fully furnished canvas cabins or stay warm in the lakeside log lodge, where a hearty breakfast is served on the deck overlooking glassy green water. Two must-dos on San Juan Island are hiking in Lime Kiln Point State Park, one of the best places in the world to see orcas from shore, and picnicking in Sculpture Park, a 19-acre preserve of meadows and coastal paths dotted by crazy modernist constructions of metal, stone and glass.
Outfitters make it easy to find adventure around the islands. Kayak among whales and dolphins with Sea Quest Expeditions and explore remote, untouched Sucia Island State Park with Outer Island Expeditions. Zip San Juan has eight different ziplines that cross a dramatic landscape of lakes and wetlands and through a canopy of red cedar and Douglas fir. Time moves slowly here, but you’ll need every hour of the long summer days to experience it all. By Melanie Haiken / Photos by Charity Burggraaf