The northwest corner of Washington State is dotted with the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of over 400 islands and rocks that boast gorgeous views of the mainland landscape, luscious Pacific Northwest terrain, sandy beaches, postcard-worthy sunsets, friendly locals and a mellow atmosphere.
That’s not all, of course—the list goes on. The climate is temperate year-round and the area gets half the amount of rain that Seattle gets. Restaurants often serve locally produced food and it’s easy to get to.
Four of the islands are served by ferry, are the most populated of the islands and have the majority of services available for tourists.
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is home to Friday Harbor, a historic, dog-friendly town that is the hub of the island. The island’s whale-watching and kayak tour headquarters are located here along with a wonderful array of boutiques, restaurants and galleries to peruse while exploring the island. Outside of town there are farmlands, forests, historic parks and state parks. Don’t miss the Pelindaba Lavender Farm.
Locals here call their home “the emerald isle,” and for good reason—the island is a brilliant sight with the varying greens of its terrain and the shimmering blue ocean. Orcas Island is home to the highest mountain in the archipelago and is a wonderful place for outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists especially.
The smallest ferry-served island, Shaw Island, is easy-going and quaint. There is a lot to do for those who love the outdoors. There area is bike-friendly, and there are sandy beaches, a biological preserve and a park to explore. There is a Benedictine monastery on the island, Our Lady of the Rock, and visitors are encouraged. Besides a general store, there are not services on Shaw Island, so plan accordingly.
Lopez Island is known as “the friendly isle;” don’t be surprised when locals give a friendly wave in passing. The mountainous landscape of the mainland is available from this island and makes a lovely backdrop for the ocean that separates the two. Don’t miss Lopez Village, where a variety of shops, galleries, places to eat and more can be found.
Many of the uninhabited islands are part of the Washington State Parks system. There are more than 40 parks and each have public docks, although fees are charged to moor at each. The parks are wonderful places to take part in hiking, wildlife watching, fishing and hunting for clams—some even have camping facilities.
Other islands and rocks are part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge or are strict wilderness areas.
The islands are accessible by ferry, airplane, boat or seaplane. Whether by air or sea, the natural beauty of the area makes the trip to the islands a part of the experience to look forward to!
Places to Stay
From cozy bed-and-breakfasts to small hotels and resorts to cottages, there are plenty of lodging options in the San Juan Islands to choose from.