We went on a drive to explore nature on San Juan Island. It was a perfectly cool and quiet day, sunny with lots of clouds in the sky. We spotted a bald eagle, a fox, and plenty of sights of wildflowers.
Understanding that traveling was still limited, we took precautions and wore masks when needed. We also purchased a Discovery Pass to visit the State Park located on San Juan Island, but note that for now, it’s for day use only.
If things are opened back up and operating normally, I’d plan an overnight stay, go kayaking, go on a hike, and definitely plan an orca whale watching tour with the locals. For now, please enjoy my quick guide and some photos we captured during our short 5-hour long trip exploring the beautiful San Juan Island.
The San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago aka an island group/cluster/chain in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) between Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County, however, the most popular islands are San Juan Island (Friday Harbor is the gateway.), Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. MAP HERE!
The San Juan Islands host the greatest concentration of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the contiguous United States, so definitely bring binoculars or be on the lookout for them.
Getting to San Juan Island
From Seattle, it takes about 3 hours to get to San Juan Island, and routes have tolls and include ferry rides. It’s going to be a long day of commute (1 hour to get to the ferry terminal and about 2 hours for the ferry ride), but remember, getting here is half the fun.
By car: You’d need to take the Anacortes – Friday Harbor ferry to Friday Harbor. Address: 2100 Ferry Terminal Rd, Anacortes, WA 98221.
Ferry fares vary by route depending on geographical location, sailing time, age of customer, customer disabilities, size of the vehicle. Check for Gerry Fares HERE. It cost us nearly $90 (2 adults and a car), but we only need to pay one-way. We would have to pay two-way ferries to other islands in Washington.
For other transportation methods like plane, train, or shuttles, please read HERE.
Plan Your Trip Ahead, and Read These Tips:
Disclaimer: Due to current health concerns regarding the global pandemic. Please read San Juan Islands Travel Advisory, HERE before planning any travels here.
Even though the island is small, opt for at least a two-day trip to fully explore the island. I did this trip in a day and had to really rush it.
Plan ahead by booking activities, transportation, lodging, and dining in advance. This way you’ll be more likely to have a smooth-run trip.
A Discovery Pass is required to park your vehicle at state parks, water-access points, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, DNR campgrounds, trails and trailheads, and all DNR-managed uplands.
Respect wildlife, don’t feed, and only watch from afar.
Stay on the trail. Pack in, pack out.
Traveling with pets? Read HERE
What to Do in San Juan Island:
Primary attractions are sea kayaking and orca whale watching by boat or air tours. It is home to the alpacas (believe it or not!) & harbor seals, and plenty of dining experiences, museums & antique shops.
1. Friday Harbor
Friday Harbor is the gateway to San Juan Island. The ferry dock is here as well as tons of food and lodging options. The Whale Museum, San Juan Historical Museum, and San Juan Community Theatre are also here.
The Scenic Byway is divided into 3 segments which include a marine highway and 2 beautiful islands:
1. 30 miles of the beautiful blue marine highway (Washington State Ferries routes)
2. a driving tour around San Juan Island
3. a driving tour on Orcas Island (on my bucket list to go next year)
From Friday Harbor, you can drive the SAN JUAN ISLANDS SCENIC BYWAY – Quick guide HERE. You can travel the Scenic Byway with or without a car: bring your bikes, take the shuttle bus, rent a car or hitchhike since it’s legal here. More information HERE.
- Meat Machine bicycle rentals HERE – Biking MAP HERE
- San Juan Kayak Expeditions HERE, Discovery sea Kayaks HERE, and read Marine Wildlife guidelines HERE.
- Orca Whale Watch HERE
- Jacksons Beach – Day use. One mile away from Friday Harbor. A popular picnicking, wading, and dog-walking/swimming spot.
- American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park – Day use. The historic visitor center, nature and wildlife viewing, hiking. 1859-1872 Pig War ”Crisis”: when Great Britain and the United States settled ownership of the islands through peaceful arbitration—the national park marks the sites of the U.S. and British encampments.
- South Beach – Day use. The longest beach in the San Juan Islands.
- Pelindaba Lavender Farm & Gatehouse Store – tour lavender fields in bloom July-September.
2. Cattle Point
Cattle Point Lighthouse – Day use. Easy hike. Parking is on the side of the street.
Cattle Point – a small cove with beach access.
Foxes were introduced to the San Juan Island to help control European rabbits, another introduced invasive species. They are commonly seen in the prairies, Southside of the island, San Juan Island National Historical Park, but the best place is from Pickett’s Lane, the road to South Beach. Read more HERE.
Cattle Point Lighthouse
spotted a little red fox!
3. Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park aka Whale Watch Park is a prime whale-watching site located in San Juan Island. It is known as the best place in the world to spot orca whales.
The interpretative center was closed at the time I was there. Normally, it offers information on orcas and the history of the lime kilns and the nearby lighthouse. It’s an easy hike from the parking lot to the lighthouse.
Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm – colorful alpacas and shop in Country Store.
English Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park – Day use. Seasonal exhibits. Hike Bell Point bayside trail and Mt. Young.
Sculpture Park at Westcott Bay – Outdoor sculpture park. Small and kid-friendly, located Near the entrance to Roche Harbor.
4. Roche Harbor
Roche Harbor is a historic resort and village located at the north end of the island. There are waterside eateries, a marina full of beautiful yachts, rentals, fuel, and local artisans’ booths in summer.
Hotel de Haro is the resort centerpiece, built since 1886. It was originally built as a bunkhouse for the men who worked in the lime kilns (remnants of the giant lime kilns are still there), but the hotel is now a resort for guests to stay in and many weddings take place during the summer in a church built close to the building.
Westcott Bay Shellfish Company – home of the world-famous oysters. Visit Westcott Bay Cider and San Juan Island Distillery when it’s open again.
San Juan Vineyards – Seasonal, tasting room in a historic schoolhouse.
I would go back to San Juan Island in a heartbeat, and perhaps stay the night and explore other nearby islands. It was quiet and so peaceful, and I enjoyed every second of it. I hope you’ve discovered something new and will get to visit this beautiful island one day!