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Travel & Outdoors

Guide to the San Juan Islands

April 1, 2011 4:26 PM

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credit: Getty Images

It’s about two hours’ drive from Seattle to Anacortes, WA, the Washington State Ferry’s launch to the San Juan Islands. You can park your car and walk aboard, or you can drive on and take your car along with you. Taxis, shuttles, rental cars and bikes are available on the islands. Get to the ferry terminal an hour or more before your ferry’s scheduled departure. Weekends can get popular (and crowded) and you might spend some time waiting for the next ferry ride, as it’s first-come-first serve on the ferry.

Ferry schedules are found at http://www.wsdot.com/ferries/schedule. There is WiFi on the ferry, as well as restrooms and concessions. The seagulls like to follow the current of the ferry, so most likely they’ll be buzzing over your head if you’re on the deck outside. If you’re inside, there are large windows and comfortable seating for the ride.

If flying is more your style, Kenmore Air can take you directly from SeaTac Airport to Lopez, Orcas or San Juan Island. http://www.kenmoreair.com. San Juan Airlines can fly you from Seattle, Anacortes or Bellingham to the Islands. http://www.sanjuanairlines.com.

From April to September, the Orcas (aka Killer Whales) make their annual migration, and sightings happen almost daily. There are several companies that cater to eager whale watchers, like Western Prince Whale and Wildlife Tours http://orcawhalewatch.com/, or San Juan Safaris http://www.sanjuansafaris.com.

San Juan Island

With a population of just over 2,000, Friday Harbor is the county seat of San Juan County, WA, and the major commercial hub of the Islands. There are museums to visit within Friday Harbor, as well as beaches and parks, including Lime Kiln Point State Park, which claims to be the best place in the country to see Orcas from the shore. The southern tip of the island is Cattle Point, a popular hiking spot with a lighthouse and views of Lopez Island. If you want a romantic retreat with jetted tubs and fireplaces, you might consider staying at Friday Harbor House  http://www.fridayharborhouse.com/. If you are looking for a cabin or camping spot, check out Lakedale Resort for their many accomodation options. http://www.lakedale.com/

Roche Harbor, on the north end of the island, is a quaint village filled with shops, restaurants, spa, tennis courts and swimming pool. Roche Harbor has a variety of overnight accomodations, from a historic hotel to rental homes or woodsy cabins. http://www.rocheharbor.com/

Orcas Island
The horseshoe shaped island, Orcas is part of the new San Juan Islands Scenic Byway, Washington’s newest Scenic Byway. (Another part of the Scenic Byway is around San Juan Island.) The Rosario Resort on Orcas is a historic hotel and the site of many weddings and special occasions.  The Rosario also boasts a turn-of-the 20th century museum about the Moran Brothers shipbuilding company in Seattle. The museum is free between 9:00a and 9:00p daily. http://www.rosarioresort.com/

A popular island for cyclists and hikers, Orcas is the home of Mt. Constitution, a 2,409 foot climb – a healthy challenge for the best cyclists to reach the top. But the panoramic views are worth it, so bring your camera with you.

Lopez Island

A laid back feel is what you get when you arrive at Lopez Island. An artsy village, filled with shops, galleries and a lovely market, Lopez is also a paradise for kayakers and cyclists. There are places to rent bikes, boats and kayaks on the island.

Accomodations include plenty of state parks for tent camping or renting small cottages. Check out Lopez Farm Cottages http://www.lopezfarmcottages.com for the outdoor adventure, or MacKaye Harbor Inn for a bed and breakfast experience. http://www.mackayeharborinn.com/ And don’t forget to stop for hand made ice cream at the Lopez Island Creamery http://www.lopezislandcreamery.com/, a local treat.

You can send away for a brochure for much more San Juan Island information at http://www.visitsanjuans.com.

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