Explore the Jewels of the Pacific Northwest - The San Juan Islands
By Caitlin Moore
The Pacific Northwest, in its understated and friendly way, has conquered the hearts of countless backpack-laden adventurers. From the approachable cities to the allure of the outdoors, the beauty of the land and sea tends to appeal to free spirits and nature lovers who seek peace and quiet in addition to warmth and culture. Embodying all of these qualities are the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. Straightforwardly pleasant and generous in their menu of diversions, this cluster of isles delivers a complete getaway experience to anyone in the mood to leave the mainland behind.
Ninety minutes north of Seattle (and receiving of a bit more sunshine) the San Juan Archipelago is actually made up of over 700 islands. Only about 176 are large enough to be named, and the top three of interest to travelers are Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island. Ferries float between the land masses all year long, offering up a wide array of activities and serene sightseeing opportunities.
Start the journey in Anacortes and let the boat wind its way to the island of Lopez. This quiet, 45-minute ride is the first leg of what is sure to be an overall calming trip, and Lopez itself is known as an undemanding, welcoming place. Look for bald eagles, whales, otters and very relaxed (and perhaps a bit eccentric) locals. Rent a bicycle and pedal your way around the island. Visit the Farmer’s Market held here every Saturday during the summer. Pick up a tasty baked treat and a cup of coffee for a little break, and then move along to the next stop.
Thirty minutes on the ferry will take you to Orcas, the largest of the San Juan Islands. In terms of natural beauty, there’s plenty to be had; mountains, lakes, lush woodlands and stunning views of the fjords will impress even seasoned travelers. Hike up to the top of Mount Constitution for a panoramic view before engaging in some sea kayaking or pottery shopping. Variety is a fact of life on Orcas, and no single itinerary is superior to the next.
From late spring to early fall, your chance of glimpsing an orca whale from the banks of San Juan Island are pretty high. Visitors commonly pack a picnic lunch and then sit back and wait for the thrilling sight of a breaching beast – the west side of the island is an especially lucky vantage point. Lime Kiln Point State Park is a beautiful place in itself, so even if no whales show themselves it’ll be a day pleasantly passed. Vineyards, a sculpture park, bird watching tours and more round out the jam-packed resume of this gifted and talented island, so take your time soaking it all in.
Of course there’s no need to rush through any of the islands, even the lesser known ones. Hikes, bike rides, boat trips, shopping, dining, spa going…anyone would find something to make them smile from amongst the pickings. For example, history buffs will be satisfied to stumble across Roche Harbor Village and San Juan Island National Historical Park, where the events of days gone by have been documented, preserved and on occasion are even recreated.
Enjoying all that these islands have to offer might take a little time, so clear a nice chunk of space in your schedule in order to avoid rushing or worse, missing anything. A smart way to help achieve this goal is to rent a vacation cabin or house that will allow you to settle into a comfortable home base and then move around as you please during each promise-filled day.
Pick an appealing spot that will suit the needs of you and your traveling companions and then prepare to assume the role of a happy wanderer, adventurer extraordinaire and proud San Juan Island Vacation Rental resident.
Visit HomeAway.com to explore thousands of vacation rental options.