Observing a mother orca lead her lively, leaping calves across calm seas. Pairing island grape wine with a plate of succulent fresh oysters. Exciting adventures like pedaling past rural farms and kayaking around uninhabited shores. feeling detached from everyday life on the mainland and at home super mario bros with the easygoing routines of a community at one with its natural setting. Some of the attractions of the San Juan Islands include the following.
This Pacific Northwest archipelago consists of 172 islands dispersed throughout the Salish Sea in northwest Washington. The islands, which were given their current name by Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza in 1791 but have been home to Indigenous Coast Salish peoples like the Lummi and Samish for eons, are renowned for their verdant woods, diverse wildlife, fascinating history, and vibrant arts communities. San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez are the main islands and are great places to go hiking, biking, sea kayaking, and seeing local wildlife like whales and more than 200 different types of birds.
Islands like the San Juans have a wide range of ecosystems, from grasslands to prairies, and are home to a wide variety of wildlife that is protected by state parks and the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge (yes, prairies on an island). The San Juan Islands are known as the “gourmet archipelago” because they are home to nationally acclaimed restaurants, wineries, distilleries, breweries, cideries, and local makers of artisan goods like fruit preserves and cheese in addition to abundant farms (both land and ocean varieties), orchards, vineyards, and forests.
The islands attract a wide variety of visitors, from those interested in nature and cuisine to Hollywood’s elite. Because there is no causeway leading to them from the mainland, the islands do require a bit more work to reach. However, that’s part of the appeal and mystery.
Discover the best ways to spend your time in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.
Guidelines for Getting to the San Juan Islands
Anacortes serves as a gateway to the San Juan Islands, so if you want to travel to and around the islands like a native, you should take use of the Washington State Ferries system, sometimes known as the “marine highway.” The ferries not only serve a critical link linking the islands to the mainland, but also offer a spectacular beginning to the journey, with direct sailings to San Juan’s Friday Harbor on Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island.
Online or at the terminal, you can buy a round-trip ferry ticket to and from the San Juan Islands. Reservations for vehicles should be arranged ahead of time, especially during the summer, and ticket purchases are not required. There are daily sailings from San Juan to Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw, and passengers and their vehicles are accepted on a space-available basis. Both pedestrians and automobiles heading eastbound across the islands are given free passage. There is a discounted rate for automobiles taking the westbound route between the islands (say, from Orcas to San Juan’s Friday Harbor).
San Juan Airlines provides regular and charter flights between Bellingham and Anacortes to the airports on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands. From the Seattle area, you may take a seaplane trip with either Kenmore Air or Friday Harbor Seaplanes for a splashy arrival or departure.
You can drive or ride a bike anywhere on the islands. There are no rideshare services like Uber or Lyft, although there are taxis on each island. The larger islands, such as San Juan and Orcas, benefit from having a car or renting one.
Where to Eat, Stay, and Play on the San Juan Islands
There are 172 islands of various sizes that make up the San Juan Islands. Some of them are so little that they vanish during high tide. Like Shaw, many of these areas are primarily made up of homes and offer very little in the way of tourist amenities. Some are privately owned, like Blakely and Decatur, while others are deserted and perfect for off-the-beaten-path adventuring. San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez are the three largest islands to visit unless you can secure an invitation to one of the more elite private islands (Bill Gates owns a property in the area).