The San Juan Islands have become a big time destination for travelers, and not just locals to the Pacific Northwest. People are flocking here from all over to get a sense of what our boating/island life is like while enjoying the Northwest culture and food. Many of the islands can be easily accessed via ferry from various ports in and around Seattle. There are some really great places to go and San Juan Island is one of our favorites!
I have always loved Friday Harbor and it is the main ferry stop on San Juan Island. The Ferry comes in either from Victoria, BC (the Victoria Clipper) or from Anacortes on the Washington State Ferries. Friday Harbor is the “big city” on the Island, but is a wonderfully walkable town with a fantastic downtown area full of shops and restaurants.
Where to eat!
This little town boasts amazing shops, lots of wonderful ice cream (we brake for ice cream, always!), and amazing restaurants. When we are on the boat we cook most of the time, but there are certain places we make a plan to stop for a dinner and out – Backdoor Kitchen is one of those places. Gorgeous plates of food, in a laid back and relaxed setting, and wonderful servers makes this the local’s favorite meal out. The meals are seasonal so the menu changes frequently based on what is fresh and local. Drinks hit the spot and there is lovely seating both indoors and out! Everything is good but the restaurant is snug. Due to that and growing popularity, we highly recommend reservations!
If you have a kitchen available to you, you should definitely head out to Wescott Bay Shellfish Co. We stop here every time we were in the area to pick up fresh oysters and clams for dinner. The clams, oysters and mussels are farmed right there on the banks of the bay in front of the property which makes them super fresh and most delicious. You can mosey over to the tanks, put the amount you want in a bag and pay by the pound. The new owners have really fixed the place up with new buildings and the grounds are gorgeous. We especially love their rockers on the front porch that over look the bay. They are open for retail sales Memorial Day through Labor Day. They have ice available to keep shellfish cold but encourage you to bring a cooler if you are not heading directly home with your shellfish.
Where to play!
There are some fun things to do on this little island!
There is a nice little playground for small children very near the Backdoor Kitchen on B Street in Friday Harbor. For older kids, bring a basketball and you can play on the newly refurbished court.
We also love to head up to the Whale Museum on 1st Street. This is a great place to learn about the many pods of Orcas (aka killer whales) that call the area home and what is being done to help them thrive. You can also participate and feel like you are helping track these whale families and there is a great kids area when little ones get tired of looking at the various exhibits.
If you don’t have a car and want to get a look at the rest of the island (which I highly recommend) you can rent one of the fun Scoot Coups! They have offices on both sides of the island (Friday Harbor and near Roche Harbor) and they offer rentals for a few hours or days. They don’t go very fast, but it is a great way to get out and see things. We had tons of fun tootling around the island. Helmets are required, so the wind won’t be rushing through your hair, but what a fun and unique experience. There is also a bus that runs between Friday and Roche Harbors and to various points on the island.
Where to hike!
There is plenty of hiking available on the island. A couple of our favorite points are English Camp and Lime Kiln Point State Park. English Camp has been a long time favorite of ours and is one part of San Juan National Historical Park. English Camp is located on the Northwestern shore of the island, closer to Roche Harbor while American Camp, which makes up the other half of this National Park is on the south eastern side closer to Friday Harbor. This National Park was established to educate people about the territories and to explain “The Pig War” which eventually decided how land, islands and water would be divided between the USA and Britain back in 1859. Mr. Vouri explains the situation far better than I would, but I find this bit of US history so interesting.
Many of the original buildings at English Camp have either been restored or rebuilt to give visitors an idea of how things looked during the English residency. The English garden is also maintained and there are a few hiking trails in the area that are very nice. This is a really peaceful place and we always seen a lot of wildlife around us – birds (eagles in big nests), deer, rabbits, etc. Keep your eyes open!
We haven’t done all of the hikes between English and American Camps, but there are several paths to chose from at either. Here are maps for the trails:
Lime Kiln Point State Park is a really lovely place to visit as well. It is 36 acres of beautiful land complete with working lighthouse for visitors to explore. It is touted as one of the best places in the world for whale watching as the Orcas love the waters just off shore. You may also see Minke whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and otters! There is a beautiful light house that was built in 1919 and still guides ships in Haro Straight. Despite our foggy day we had a really lovely walk around the park, but didn’t get a chance to the see any of the wild life. We will need to get back again! To see the walking maps for this state park, click here.
Next summer we will check out a few of these hikes too!
What are some other sites on the island?
One place we visit every year is Roche Harbor which is on the North end of the island. This gorgeous little resort has a very rich history. In 1881 the Scurr brothers bought Roche Harbor and started the islands’ lime industry. At that time there was no town at Roche Harbor which would eventually be built by John S. McMillin after he discovered the richest and largest deposit of lime in the Northwest. McMillin then began negotiations for the Scurr’s claims and property and by 1886 the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company was incorporated and becoming a large-scale American business. McMillin built the 20-room Hotel de Haro about the same time as his acquisition and a company town grew up around the hotel by 1890. “Town” consisted of a completely modern lime factory, a barrel works, warehouse, docks, ships, piers, offices, company store, church, school, barns and homes. The homes were for both the owner and workers, which at the height of it’s economy boasted roughly 800 residents. The buildings were all neatly painted and kept in good condition as property of the company. The town was completely independent with autonomous power, water and telephone systems. Today the “town” is a lovely get away from the hustle and bustle of real life. The grocery store is still there and busy doing business with visitors who come via car, boat or plane. New row homes have been built and you will see even more construction as more homes are built around the area. The marina is full of boats and a walk along the docks after dinner at the Hotel de Haro caps off amazing summer days. Two Bocce courts are a favorite for many (including our family) and are very close to the ice cream tent and the vendors selling home crafted wares. The McMillin Mausoleum and Afterglow Point is a nice hike and there is a lovely art garden to walk through as well. Roche also has a lovely rose garden which hosts lots of weddings in the summer. There is also a sports area with an outdoor pool for guests to enjoy. There is also a children’s play area and lots of grass if you bring balls and frisbees.
Other things to check out include the many farms on the island which have all sorts of goods and wares for sale. You can find all types of fruit and vegetables, lavender, alpacas, fresh eggs and more. They welcome visitors and several offer farm stays!
San Juan Island is one of our very favorite places. Check it out!