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Written by Danielle Markley from Gallivanting The Globe.
Island Life – Pacific Northwest style! Tucked away in the waters of the northern Puget Sound, within reach of beautiful British Columbia and the Olympic Mountains, is the glorious archipelago of the Northwest. There are over 170 islands in the San Juan Islands chain with ferries servicing only the four biggest—San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Today, I’m going to share an insider’s scoop to the adventurous Orcas Island.
Here are the best things to do in San Juan Islands
Getting to San Juan Islands
Islands are a little tricky to get to but the most convenient method is to drive to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, one hour north of Seattle. If you don’t have access to a car, check the list below for other modes of transportation.
Once you arrive to Anacortes, RT ferry tickets to Orcas Island are $63 per car. To save money, you can choose to walk-on for $23pp RT.
Where to stay in San Juan Islands?
The majority of my visits to the island have been for day trips. However, for the overnight or weekend trips, I have opted to stay in luxury suites. I just can’t resist a fireplace in my room or a private hot tub on my balcony. Plus, I end up saving money on food by stopping at the local grocery store and cooking up meals in my suite kitchen. Depending on your budget, I’ve compiled a list of several types of accommodations to suit your stay.
- Moran State Park (Around $119/night)
Where to eat in San Juan Islands (all located in Eastsound)
For breakfast, head to Island Skillet for traditional American fare on a budget. Or few a few extra bucks, head to New Leaf Café at the Outlook Inn for breakfast with a view!
For lunch, if you want to grab a sandwich or burger, head to Mia’s Café. They also serve Sunday Brunch on a budget.
For Dinner, head to Madrona Bar & Grill. They have a wonderful list of cocktails and are located right on the water of Eastsound.
For a fun food experience, stop at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm and Shucking Shack where you can shuck oysters and clams, coming straight from the bay across the road. You can dine at outdoor picnic tables with a view.
If you’re a craft beer fan, check out Island Hoppin’ Brewery.
Best things to do in San Juan Islands
The best experience I had on Orcas Island was last summer when I rented a moped from the local rental shop at the ferry terminal. We rode to the east side of the island, up to the top of Mount Constitution at Moran State Park. The adventure of driving a motorized bike through mountainous terrain and passing beautiful lakes complete with breath-taking views makes this a must-do activity!
If you’re not feeling as adventurous as me, a sunset drive (in a car) will do just fine! There are several lakes to stop and enjoy the sun and a little picnic, plus dozens of hiking trails. Don’t forget to climb through the Watch Tower at the top!
Want a taste for luxury on your trip? Previously a millionaire’s mansion, the Rosario Resort allows access to their private swimming pool. Take a relaxing dip while sipping on a cocktail as you bask in luxury while staring off into the Sound.
If you’re staying for a couple of days between July and Sept, I highly recommend catching a ferry to Friday Harbor. They host two amazing activities during this time of year: the Pelindaba Lavender Farm Tour and a Bioluminescence Kayak Tour (most visible in Aug).
What not to do in San Juan Islands
Avoid booking any tours scheduled within an hour of your arrival to the island. Leave yourself enough time in case of delays in the ferry schedule or missing the ferry completely (it happens).
Avoid whale watching tours from Orcas Island. Friday Harbor has better chances of whale sightings. Plus, some tour companies on Orcas Island have falsely advertised information and are not customer-friendly when resolving an issue. (Ahem, Outer Island Expeditions)
3 facts about San Juan Islands
- Book your ferry in advance and arrive at least 30 minutes early! Otherwise, they fill up quickly and you’ll be stuck waiting 2+ hours for the next one.
- Mount Constitution is the highest point in all of the San Juan Islands—you can even see as far north as Canada, east to Mount Baker, and south to Mount Rainier!
- The main town on the island is called Eastsound, which is the opposite side of the island from where the ferry terminal is located. If you’re walking on the ferry, most people hitch a ride with other passengers/locals. You can also arrange for a shuttle with your hotel.
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Author: My name is Danielle Markley and ever since my first overseas trip to study fashion at age 15, I’ve been suffering from a severe case of fernweh. 15 years later, I have finally created a blog to showcase my travel adventures, fashion tips, and my passion for photography, proving than anyone on a budget can explore the world in style!