An Big Island and Five Days: Exploring San Juan Island

I have a dirty little secret: As a self-proclaimed northwest travel maven, I’ve never stepped foot on San Juan Island until this year. It’s true – I’ve explored other islands in this glorious archipelago over my lifetime, but something in the back of my brain dismissed this one as overly touristy. This couldn’t have been further from the truth! With deep blue waters, towering canopies of decade’s old trees, and endless beaches, San Juan stands out!

Rolling out of Seattle with a Mac and Jack’s growler, a basket full of snacks, and five relaxing days ahead of me, I set off in a Buick Enclave to find the heart of San Juan Island. My first brilliant decision? To travel in mid-May (prior to peak-season on the island when accommodations pricing is highest and ferry traffic heavy). And the new reservations system with the Washington State Ferries made transportation to/from the island a breeze! As evident in the photo below, the jaw-dropping began early while awaiting the ferry in Anacortes:


I’m generally not a lover of hotels, so the decision to rent a funky artist’s cabin within a stone’s throw of Friday Harbor came easy. My cozy home-for-the-week perched on a scenic bluff overlooking twisting madrona trees and with nary a light visible from neighboring homes and cabins nearby. Upon plunking myself and my pile of travel accouterments in this whimsically-adorned yet restful hut, I immediately felt the bustle of the city fall away like a distant memory, then retreated to the rocky beach for a campfire at the shoreline.

At first light, my only plan was to cruise out and spend the day getting the lay of this welcoming isle.  Driving from the island’s historic southern tip at American Camp, then north to the placid waters and commanding vistas of Lime Kiln Point State Park, took no more than a few hours. A brief stop to peek in at Roche Harbor‘s quaint waterside digs was just a short jaunt off the main road. Tempting views of were around every corner – from downy eaglets sitting high in their treetop aeries to sweeping inner-island landscapes with faded century-old barns. Parks, waysides and public areas dotted the island giving ample opportunity for further exploration. 


Another day was spent aboard San Juan Safari’s 55′ Sealion with Captain Mike and his knowledgeable sidekick Brendon. With whale-watching connections from boat to boat, Mike knew precisely where to navigate our boat for spectacular views of majestic humpback and elusive minke whales. Brendon’s deep knowledge of the marine mammals and ecosystem went far beyond my expectation. Along with guides, charts and graphs, he gave all aboard the background knowledge to truly appreciate these magnificent mammals.

And the hiking? This island’s jam-packed with opportunities for everything from the casual beach stroller (check out the beaches near American Camp) to those in search of expansive views from as seen at English Camp‘s Mount Young. Though puny in comparison to the mountain in the middle of our state, less than an hour’s hike brought satisfying views –  all without the exhaustion of the butt-busters in the Cascade mountainss.

Anyone who knows me well, knows no experience of mine would be complete without the mention (and consumption) of food. Friday Harbor, the island’s epicenter, did not disappoint with their wide array of options. From locally-sourced Market Chef’s selections, Bakery San Juan’s key lime pie, Cask and Schooner’s rhubarb-adorned salmon to Rocky Bay Cafe’s jam-packed breakfast, there’s no need to bring a picnic basket on a San Juan adventure. The only thing missing was a taproom with local brews, however most restaurants I came upon had solid local selections on tap.  

My wheels?  I’d be remiss not to mention Buick’s newest luxury crossover SUV – the Enclave. This sweet ride made the 90+ mile trip north of Seattle most enjoyable! The smooth ride and low-and-away instrument panel led to the most comfortable and relaxing drive I’ve taken in years. Plenty of get-up-and-go power when I needed it, a Bose sound system, a heated steering wheel (a fabulously-extravagant feature for cold mornings) and easily adjusted lumbar support integrated into plush leather seats made the ride nearly as enjoyable as the destination. One of my favorite things? The old-school clock in the dash. 🙂 My thanks to Buick for the loaner! 

 Although I drove to the islands, easy access is also available via Kenmore Air (float-plane service between Seattle’s Lake Union and Friday Harbor in 50 minutes), the Victoria Clipper (a 3-hour cruise through Puget Sound) or a combination of bus and ferry utilizing Bellair Shuttle and the Washington State ferry.

I’m sorry I misjudged you, San Juan Island, and look forward to our next time together!

Looking for more? There’s just too much for one post! Click here for more photos and anecdotes from my respite on San Juan Island!

 

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