Serene beaches, beautiful harbors, incredible mountains, fabulous restaurants, centers of history and moderate temperatures. You don’t have to go to the Caribbean to have the perfect island vacation. Turns out that all you need to do is head to the San Juan Islands, a slice of heaven in the Pacific Northwest.
Located in the Salish Sea between the Washington State coastline and the coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, the San Juan Islands are made up of 172 islands and reefs. They make a perfect spot for vacationing on their own, or as a convenient side destination from major cities like Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
Barbara Marrett, Communications and Stewardship Manager for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, spoke to RewardExpert about the advantages. “We have something for all age groups; not a good answer but it’s true!” she said.
The Lay of the Land
The San Juan Islands have no bridges, but visitors can take a car or passenger ferry, private boat or plane to the islands. “We are about a 30 to 45 minute float plane or wheeled plane ride from Seattle, or about a two hour car or bus ride from Seattle then a one hour ferry ride on the Washington State Ferries,” said Marrett.
There is also an international ferry that runs from Canada’s Vancouver Island. Passenger-only ferries, including one from downtown Seattle, are available in the summer.
Finding Fun in Friday Harbor
Marrett points out that only three islands have amenities for visitors: Orcas Island, San Juan Island and Lopez Island. “Orcas and San Juan are the most visited and have the most to see and do,” she said. Lopez Island is quieter and appeals to those who like to hike and bicycle. All three are served by Washington State Ferries.
San Juan Island is home to the county seat, Friday Harbor. Passenger ferries stop at Friday Harbor. From there, visitors can connect to other islands via the inter-island ferries. More information on transportation can be found here.
Once visitors arrive, there are a wealth of activities on the islands. For those who like nature, there are hiking and biking trails. For those who like the water, kayaking is a big draw. In addition, there is a bevy of wildlife to be viewed on and near the islands.
“Wildlife watchers will be rewarded by views of whales, seals, sea lions and bald eagles. We are one of the best places in the world to see orca whales from shore or a tour boat,” said Marrett.
There are also a number of parks, including Lime Kiln Point State Park and Shark Reef Sanctuary, where visitors can see spectacular shore views and the occasional sea lion or whale.
Nature and Nurture
Still, for many visitors the main reason to visit the San Juan Islands is the feeling of simply getting away from it all, unplugging from today’s hyper-connected world and recharging those batteries. Indeed, the islands offer their fair share of day spas, energy healers and more.
Of course, there’s also the joyous feeling of just being in nature, surrounded by pleasant sounds and pleasant weather. In fact, the San Juan’s are located at a confluence of weather systems that help produce a high level of air quality year round.
“Sitting and watching the lingering summer sunsets from a waterfront park is a popular past time,” said Marrett.
There are towns, as well, with quaint little shops and restaurants. Marrett pointed out the benefits.
“Lose the city vibe and experience island time and friendly locals. Small, walkable villages with engaging shops, farmers’ markets and museums, such as The Whale Museum and San Juan Islands Museum of Art, allow you to experience our downtowns without a car,” she said.
The Gourmet Archipelago
Whether you are relaxing or hiking, nothing hits the spot like a high-quality meal, sourced with fresh ingredients. The San Juan Islands offer a bustling food scene.
“[The islands have] amazing, seed-to-table dining from on-site gardens, nearby shellfish farms and organic farms,” said Marrett. “One of our chefs, Jay Blackinton from Orcas Island, was featured as a best new chef for 2017 in Food & Wine magazine.”
Where to Stay
In terms of pricing, the islands are not considered a luxury destination nor a budget destination. All sorts of accommodation options are available, including hotels, small inns, small resorts, cabins, campgrounds and more.
Regardless, you are pretty much guaranteed a small town feel, with serenity and peace and quiet carrying the day. “Our largest resort has just over 100 rooms in a variety of lodging types,” said Marrett.
For more information on how a vacation in the San Juan Islands can be “inspiration for the senses” check out visitsanjuans.com.