Savoring the San Juan Islands

Picture this: Three days, five kayaks and a seemingly endless ocean of islands, food and wine. I just returned from Savor Seattle’s Gourmet Kayak Tour and am still living in the afterglow of this fabulous once-in-a-lifetime experience! Angela Shen is best known for her genius move in bringing elevated food tours to the masses in Seattle. From her trademark Pike Place food tour, to newer options including a Booze and Bites, Hip on the Hill and Chocolate Indulgence tour, it wasn’t surprising when she branched beyond Seattle and into the wide-open waters of the San Juan Islands. Partnering with the kayaking professionals of Friday Harbor-based San Juan Outfitters, Angela’s stamp is everywhere on this tour!

Blue waters, blue skies and three days to enjoy the San Juan islands made for an unforgettable experience!
Blue waters and time to enjoy the islands made for an unforgettable experience!

 

To say I “savored”my kayaking experience might be an understatement. From memorable meals to dreamy views of the Salish Sea that are beautifully, indelibly marked in my memory forever, I’ll likely paddle the San Juans again some day, but may never find another opportunity to experience it in the manner I did this summer.

 

 

Savoring the Hospitality

Scott and Jess knew exactly what we'd want after a long day of paddling!
Our skilled hosts: Scott & Jess

To bring together a group of strangers is no small feat. This takes a high degree of people skills, and the ability to read others and understand their needs. Our guides – Jess, Scott and Chris – were experts at both. Mine was a mixed group – from local foodies, to traveling friends, our group blended quickly as we learned to paddle, to navigate, and to cross our first channel at the trip’s inception together. Later, through shared triumphs, sipping of wine and spinning stories, we gelled even more.

The greatest sign of guides success is having a group of people meet as strangers and part as friends. Our guides definitely succeeded in this!

 

Savoring the Food

Having participated in Savor Seattle’s Pike Place and Hip on the Hill tours in the past, my expectations were high when it came to the culinary elements of this weekend adventure. As predicted, Savor exceeded on every level!

A healthy start to a big day of paddling.
A healthy start to a big day of paddling.

Our first meal was shared on the dock at Roche Harbor. A beautifully-prepared lunch of black rice salad with fresh, crisp peas, edamame, peppers and a bright lemon vinaigrette – coupled with fresh fruit and satay of chicken, was perfectly suited for the trip ahead – giving us the protein we’d need for the seven-mile paddle, along with a taste of the level of preparation and deliciousness we’d come to know in the three days ahead.

A welcome happy hour after a day of paddling included Mount Townsend's creamy cheeses and Lost River's premium wines!
A welcome happy hour after a day of paddling included Mount Townsend’s creamy cheeses and Lost River’s premium wines!

Once arriving at our destination of Stuart Island, we were met with a happy hour array of local cheeses from Mount Townsend Creamery, along with sweet surprises from Frans Chocolates – with an abundance of wine, of course. Savor Tours carefully purveyed wines from Winthrop vintners Lost River Winery – a family-operated boutique winery in Mazama, Washington – to pour with each of our dinners. Lost River’s Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignon were perfect complements to our spiced Israeli couscous and Tom Douglas Rub-With-Love rubbed salmon. A rosemary/olive oil cake with fresh fruit compote was the icing on the day’s cake – literally!

A hearty - and healthy - breakfast set the tone for a day of island exploration.
A hearty – and healthy – breakfast set the tone for a day of island exploration.
A slow-roasted short rib feast was a welcome respite after a big day of paddling!
A slow-roasted short rib feast was a welcome respite after a big day of paddling!

Saturday’s breakfast brought a hearty mix of scrambled eggs with an iron-rich dose of braised greens and savory bacon. Lunch included salmon sandwiches with the previous night’s salmon filets, luscious avocado, and local peach salsa locally sourced from Chukar Cherries. Happy hour brought a trove of crispy crackers slathered in fig preserves and delicately topped creamy cheeses. Dinner? Savory short ribs slow-cooked and falling off the bone blanketed in rich, savory gravy on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes.

 

Our lunch on Sunday was back at the dock in Roche Harbor after a big paddle across the expansive waters of the Spieden Channel.  Again, a beautiful picnic-style spread wowed usp with fresh green salad with juicy Washington peaches, chicken and a creamy dressing. Truffle salt brought out the fresh flavors of the carrot and radish crudités.

 

 

Savoring the Views

The San Juan Islands are one of the brilliant gems of the Pacific Northwest. Every bay we entered, every corner we rounded, brought new and exciting views. From bright lighthouses hanging on rocky ledges to furiously-rushing currents to towering, windswept, centuries-old firs at water’s edge – these islands have it all! I regaled in eagles sitting high on their perches silently welcoming us to their ‘hood. I relished in the sight of mother seals and their pups lazily lounging in the summer’s sun. I savored every view and was stunned at how much of this beautiful island chain appears relatively untouched – just waiting for us to feast on its beauty.

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Lovers Leap and Turn Point on the northwestern tip of Stuart Island.

Savoring the Experience

Paddling 20+ miles is no easy feat. As our group first met just off the ferry terminal in Friday Harbor, there was a telling glance noticed from person to person. The first to say “I’ve never paddled more than an hour” immediate nods and feelings of camaraderie. With that said, we were all assured that it was far easier than it sounded, and that we’d have plenty of coaching and instruction prior to, and during, the paddle. Our guides were masterful in teaching paddling techniques, but also in asking questions and keeping our minds off the lengthy paddle ahead.

Our guide, Jess, kept our comfort and enjoyment in mind throughout the weekend - always with a smile!
Our guide, Jess, kept our comfort and enjoyment in mind throughout the weekend – always with a smile!

Indeed – the seven-mile paddle across Spieden Channel which seemed endless when we set off, was masterfully conquered and we entered the surrounding waters of Stuart Island which would be our woodsy home for two nights. Along with skimming the shoreline and taking in the natural beauty was a sense of accomplishment we all shared – having gone beyond what we’d thought we were capable of.

Free-flowing wine was a welcome respite after hours of paddling!
Free-flowing wine was a welcome respite after hours of paddling!
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Meandering trails seemed to quietly whisper to adventurous hikers.

Stuart Island itself is a charming island named after Frederick D. Stuart – clerk of the 1830’s Wilkes Expedition – and host to fewer than 200 full- and part-time residents, a one-room schoolhouse, and miles of meaning trails and vistas. On day two, our paddles brought us to the northwestern end of the island – past Lover’s Leap and Turn Point’s picturesque lighthouse to a cozy bay where we enjoyed a beachside lunch, a well-deserved rest, and time to take in the local geology.

 

I’ve experienced the San Juan Islands before, and relished in the amazing views, but never savored it in such a way that’ll forever have me dreaming of clinking wine glasses and exploring misty morning trails as I did with Savor Seattle Tours.

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