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A Perfect Weekend in the San Juan Islands

By: Laura Howard + Save to a List

Only a couple of hours from Seattle, The San Juan Islands offer a superb respite from citylife. This marvelous collection of isles rising from the sparkling Puget Sound is, hands down,my favorite weekend getaway in Washington. Each island exudes its own unique personalityand offers endless opportunities for fun: hiking, birding, discovering history, whale watching,kayaking, wining and dining, and so much more!  I could go on and on about the adventures I’vehad there: kayaking from Lopez Islands to camp on tiny Jones Island, visiting San Juan IslandHistorical Park, exploring the sparsely populated Shaw Islands, relaxing in the tranquil waters atDoe Bay. But on this particularly extraordinary weekend, the islands decided to put on a show.

The last ferry out of Anacortes to the islands on that Friday night led my buddy,Jenny, and I on a magical ride toward the setting sun while the lunar phenomena known as “super moon”simultaneously rose behind us. As we docked at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, there wasjust enough light to see a couple harbor seals frolicking in the water near the docks. We headedstraight to our digs for the night at The Wayfarers Rest (a budget friendly hostel less than a milefrom the ferry terminal). 

We woke up early to chase our #1 goal of the day: spotting whales from the westernshores of the island. Grabbing some pastries and coffee from Cafe Demeter, we headed for LimeKiln State Park, one of the best places in the world to see Orca whales from shore. We settled injust after sunrise with my three B’s of morning whale watching: Breakfast, Binoculars, and aBook (we were in it for the long haul). In the first hour or so we saw several harbor seals and avery shy Californian sea lion, but no whales. Then, just as we were about to head out, wait!  Wespotted the tell-tail spurt of water in the distance! Over the next 30 minutes nearly 20 Orcawhales swam past us as we watched from the shore. One came within 40 feet of us. I’m notashamed to say I shed a few tears in awe of those beautiful creatures.  

After our whale encounter, I figured the rest of our trip would pale in comparison. Butheck, it was barely 10AM and we were just getting started! We headed northbound to the smallvillage of Roche Harbor. We ate lunch in this quaint seaside hamlet overlooking the docks neara perfectly manicured garden. It was a budget meal of cheese and a baguette acquired from thesmall, but amply stocked grocery store. As we headed out of Roche Harbor we saw a sign fortastings at San Juan Island Distillery, which we certainly couldn’t pass up. Delicious gin and hard cider? Sign us up!

Our plan was to head across the ferry to our next island adventure, but the heat of the daywas getting to us. A tip from the barmaid at San Juan Vineyards led us to Egg Lake. We weregoing to be content with just a quick dip in the water, but were greeted by a trio of local youngpeople who were eager to show us their favorite swimming spot. Nothing speaks more highly ofthe hospitality of the island residents than jumping into a lake holding hands with a gaggle of 22year olds you just met!

A quick ferry ride later we were on Orcas Island just as the sun was setting. We jettedover to Moran State Park and were lucky enough to secure the very last camping spot (I highlyrecommend reservations in the summer!). We had a splendid gourmet dinner in the charmingtown of East Sound at The New Leaf Cafe overlooking Fishing Bay. On our drive to thecampground we spotted a couple of playful otters running along the beach. From the lake wecould see the full moon with the occasional bat streaming across the starry sky. We fell asleeprecounting our ridiculously perfect day.

Alas, every adventure must come to an end. We awoke to the birds chirping and anothercloudless sky. After a quick and chilling dip in Cascade Lake, we drove reluctantly to the ferryterminal. Then, as if the universe knew our trepidation of leaving such a beautiful place, wedrove around a corner and disturbed a large bird in a gully. Taking flight, the majestic BaldEagle glided next to our car for a few seconds before it disappeared into the trees. Our jawsdropped. Seriously. Then, even as our ferry headed back to the mainland, we were planning ournext trip to the islands.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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