San Juan Island Vacations

Savor a slow, dry visit to the San Juan Islands.

Sheltered by the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands sit in a “banana belt,” a sunny swath that receives just about half of Seattle’s average annual rainfall. The archipelago — just six miles from Vancouver Island — showcases the fact that the Northwest’s piercing beauty is often soaked in sun.

Inter-island ferries from Anacortes first dock at laid-back Lopez Island. Rush hour here means kayakers and porpoises crowding beneath Iceberg Point, a rocky overlook pointed toward the Olympic Peninsula. Tour the roads via a cycle or moped rented from Orcas Island Transportation and whiz four miles to the Bay Café for Asian risotto or local wagyu beef specials. And yes, all those drivers are indeed waving hello to you—a time-honored tradition of a finger lift the islanders call the “Lopez wave.”

Orcas Island shelters below 2,409-foot Mount Constitution, the archipelago’s highest point and part of Moran State Park, with its five freshwater lakes. For open-water touring take to the seas with Shearwater Kayaks or Morning Star Charters’ 56-foot yellow-cedar sailboat.

Snowcapped mountains peer over the tawny grasses of San Juan Island. And nature’s bounty has inspired a diner’s paradise: In Friday Harbor, order up a sundowner cocktail at The Place Bar & Grill on the waterfront, or dig into locally sourced organic fare at the Back Door Kitchen. To load up on take-home treats, stop into Pelindaba Lavender for local lavender honey.

For daytime excursions, try renting a two-seat “scootcar” from Susie’s Mopeds. First stop: San Juan Islands Sculpture Park. Here reside more than 100 works of bronze, wood, metal, stone, and glass, as well as a 19-acre nature preserve filled with wetlands, forests, and quiet meadows. And for an interesting slice of history, tour American Camp, a National Park site set on a rolling sagebrush prairie and hilly bluffs that was the setting of a border dispute between American and British troops. The so-called Pig War ended in 1872 without a shot being fired—a perfect testament to the peaceful rhythms of island life.

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—Amanda Castleman