San Juan Island Travel Guide

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It’s Island Time!
With 247 sunny days per year, San Juan Island is a perfect Seattle family get-away. While the rest of us are sporting Gore-Tex in the city, San Juan island resides in the “rain shadow” and can frequently be rain-free. There are a plethora of things to keep adults and children occupied during all seasons.  In the summer, there are places to hike, bike, and kayak. Winter brings a Santa Ship and Teddy Bear Tea to San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor. During “Whale season”, you’d be hard pressed to go there and NOT see Orcas swimming up and down the west side of the island. Plus, there are festivals, farmers markets, shops, beaches, and tons of fun animals to get to know. It’s close enough to be accessed fairly easily, but far enough away to make you feel like you’ve truly had a vacation.


Getting There
San Juan Island is accessible by plane (seaplane through Kenmore air or a small plane from Boeing field or Anacortes). Frequently you can find deals on flights if you’re vigilant in looking.

Most people take a ferry which leaves from Anacortes. The drive to Anacortes takes about 1-1.5 hours from Seattle. The cost varies by the amount of people in your car (kids under 5 are free), and season (summer is pricier). Generally, you can get a minivan with 2 adults to the island for around $60.  If you’d prefer to park and walk on the ferry, there is a daily charge to leave your car in the lot during summer season ($10 per day) and free during the off-season.  The ferry ride takes about an hour if you get on the direct crossing and up to 1.5 hours if it stops at one or more additional islands.  A word to the wise: the ferry system takes a bit of patience.  They are frequently running late and the busy times can fill up an hour or more before the launch time.  If you’re heading out on a Friday or a 3-day weekend, make sure you get there at least two hours in advance.  Additionally, the return ferry from San Juan on a busy weekend can fill up hours before you’d like to leave.  It’s a good idea to head down there, get your car in line and then shop, see a movie, read a book, etc.  While there is a snack bar on the ferry,  it can be closed in the late and early runs…so pack snacks for the kids.  One bonus is that the ferry is free heading back to the mainland!  Take a deep breath and remember you’re on island time!

You can also get to the island by the Victoria Clipper. Although the Clipper only lands there during summer season.  Or, you can take your own boat and moor it in one of the marinas.

Try “Glamping” (aka: Glam Camping) at Lakedale Resort.  Actually Lakedale Resort offers it all: stay in their lodge, rent a cabin, rent a canvas cabin (complete with beds and pull-out couches), stay in an Airstream camper, or pitch your own tent.  This resort lies on 82 acres in the middle of the island central to both Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor.  There are three lakes to swim, paddle boat, or fish.  There is a general store on site, tons of kid-friendly activities run by the Lakedale Resort staff and even an ice cream sundae bar.

Earthbox Motel & Spa Right in the heart of Friday Harbor is this funky “motel”. With 72 modern rooms (think ipod docking stations) a spa, and free use of the beach cruiser bikes, you’ll be re-thinking your previous ideas on motels. They have a heated indoor pool (open year-round), large family rooms, and kids under 12 stay free.

Roche Harbor Lodging On the other side of the island, you can find many family friendly rentals. Roche Harbor offers cottages (near the playground and pool), condos, townhomes, and “village homes”. They all are within walking distance to all Roche Harbor has to offer. Many offer BBQ’s, kid activities, lawn activities, etc.

Beaches: Pack a picnic (easily bought at Kings Market in Friday Harbor) and head to Lime Kiln State Park on the west side of the island, facing Vancouver Island.  Park the car and take a short “hike” to the light house (about a half mile or less, we’d recommend a backpack over a stroller, and PS: you don’t actually go IN the light house).  There are tide pools to explore along the way and you can often catch a glimpse of one of the resident Orca Pods. Your best bet for viewing them is from Lime Kiln Park during the summer months, but there might still be a few lingering around in the fall.  If you’re lucky, you’ll see them frolicking and swimming close to shore (sometimes so close you can see them blink!) You can also catch a whale-watching boat trip from Anacortes, Friday Harbor, or Roche Harbor.

If driftwood, long beaches, and fort building are your thing, head to American Camp near Friday Harbor and visit South Beach. At American Camp, you can also ride bikes, or head down to see a large family of seals.

Flowers: The Pelindaba Lavender Farm in the center of the island is worth a visit. Do NOT forget your camera!  In addition to the gorgeous rows of organically grown lavender, there are large sculptures throughout (one is of Pi) the area. The farm store sells all-things-lavender…be sure to try the lavender lemonade (your kids will love it!) If your little one is potty-training, be aware the farm only has sani-cans. Also, people with bee allergies should be prepared as there are many bees amongst all those flowers.

Animal spotting: If your family loves animals, whales aren’t the only animal in town.  In addition to local farm animals viewable from the roadside, you can visit the alpaca farm in the heart of the island. On the main pier in Friday Harbor, head down to the fresh seafood market, look down into the water, and you might see “Popeye” the friendly seal.  He’s hard to miss as one of his eyes is milky. And, if your trip takes you on a drive over to Roche Harbor, you’ll pass by “Mona” the camel. She’s extremely friendly and loves snacks (like apples and carrots). She lives across from the San Juan Winery (which is also worth a look…and taste) and once you pull your car off the road, she usually trots up for a slobbery kiss.

Visit Roche Harbor: Roche Harbor is like stepping into the past…with all of the modern conveniences we love. It has that “resort town” feel and the combination of yachters, locals, and vacationers means everyone is happy all the time. Kids will have fun at the pool (with a shallow kid pool in addition to the larger pool), playground, and the huge lawn where they can run around. The resort offers a scavenger hunt for kids (complete with an ice cream cone at the end), kayak rentals, a day spa, and great food (Lime Kiln Café makes their own donuts and is perfect for breakfast). Be sure to stay until 10 minutes before sunset for the nightly COLORS ceremony on the docks (when they lower the flags to music)…all of the boaters emerge from their boats and it’s a festive mood.

Friday Harbor: If you’re interested in being entertained, the San Juan Community Theater has been receiving high praise. There is also a movie theater, a bowling alley and two children’s stores in town. The Toy Box is toys only, and Osito’s has clothing in addition to toys (think Plan Toys, Corolle, Melissa and Doug, etc). Kings Market can handle all of your food needs and hosts a clothing and gear store upstairs (think REI). Daisy Bloom and Crème Brulee (across from Kings) offer a small selection of Shabby Chic children’s clothing and blankets as well as upscale furnishings and clothing for mom. The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor has interactive activities for kids, education about the mammals, and even an opportunity to “adopt” a whale.

Maloula Overlooking the marina, this organic, Mediterranean restaurant is in the heart of Friday Harbor. During the summer months, the owners lead tours in Syria; so unfortunately, it’s a seasonal restaurant. The gyros are to die for and appear very unique when added with pickles. Kids will lap up the hummus and pita. Maloula also offers a children’s menu.

Duck Soup Inn If you’re traveling with another family, if possible, trade babysitting and hit this spot for dinner without the kids. However, brunch would be a nice way to enjoy this delicious restaurant with the family. Nestled on a small lake in the center of the island, Duck Soup offers local, organic, and amazing Northwest meals.

Farmer’s market On Saturdays right in Friday Harbor the city holds it’s very own Farmer’s Market. In addition to shopping for jewelry and fresh produce, you can grab delicious lunch items. Our pick: fresh tamales. Note: The Farmer’s Market will be moving to the Brickworks Plaza starting September 10th!

With so much to do and see on San Juan Island, we’re confident you and your kiddos will have a great time. Leave us a comment below letting us know your favorite spots and activities on San Juan Island.

-Joia Poort

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