Swimming in the Salish Sea, even in July and August, is not for the faint of heart, especially if you are over 6 years old or have only two feet and no fur. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to go without when vacationing on gorgeous San Juan Island. There are breathtaking lakes to explore, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a few sheltered coves, where the salty sea does warm up enough for a refreshing dip. Find the 5 Best Places to go Swimming on San Juan Island here.
1) How long to stay?
At least two nights, any less and you are likely to feel rushed. Stay a little while and experience the isle’s slower pace. A week is ideal. Keep in mind, San Juan Island will always be here and you will definitely want to come back. It has happened to all of us! Consider coming midweek to take advantage of lodging specials.
2) Don’t over-plan!
The best part about a San Juan Island Getaway is to just … be. Allow yourself to meander the streets of the adorable coastal town of Friday Harbor, lined with restaurants, cute boutiques, shops and galleries. Stay at the beach for the sunset. Ask the front desk at your hotel about special happenings or events, like free live music in the park. Leave room for spontaneity and feel really free!
3) Whales & Wildlife
San Juan Island is best known for its exceptional wildlife. Here you’ll find a nesting Bald Eagle couple for every mile of shoreline, plus over 200 migratory seabirds to observe. The best place for birding are the dunes by Cattle Point Lighthouse in American Camp National Historic Park. Watch killer whales, humpbacks, sea lions, seals and more on a guided Whale & Wildlife Tour with San Juan Safaris. Spend some time at Lime Kiln State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park, one of the best places to observe Orcas from land in the world, complete with whale watching platforms, an interpretive center in an historic lighthouse and a hydrophone to let you hear the whales sing.
There are seven galleries and four museums in walking distance to the ferry dock in Friday Harbor. You say that’s not enough? There is more: San Juan Island’s Sculpture Park on the north end of the isle, displays over 150 sculptures along five trails leading through woods, along the shore and around a natural lake. Visit the buzzling historic resort of Roche Harbor, featuring an entire street lined with artist’s booths in the Summer. Join us for the Annual Lavender Festival at the stunning Pelindaba Lavender Farm on July 20 & 21, 2019, a very good smelling mini arts fair with live music, amazing food, kids activities and learn everything you ever wanted to know about Lavender.
5) History Lives Here
Two absolutely gorgeous National Historic Parks pay testament to San Juan Island’s Pig War, the last war fought on American soil. Enjoy historic re-enactments and demonstrations of life during the 19thcentury on Summer weekends there. Don’t miss the San Juan Historical Museums grounds in Friday Harbor, speckled with historic buildings and home to the free Music in the Park Summer series.
The San Juan Islands are known as the “Gourmet Archipelago”. Our talented island chefs concoct the most artful, fresh and tasty fare from the healthy island-grown produce and local seafood. Visit the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Friday Harbor for fantastic ready-to-eat food like paella and pizza. Have a romantic dinner at Friday Harbor’s renowned Farm-to-Table -Restaurants like COHO or the Back Door Kitchen or go dessert and cocktail hopping one evening.
This beautiful photo of J26 and J50, who we lost in 2018, was taken by Whale Watch Captain James Maya with Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching. He sent it along with the following message:
“This is my small gift to you. Make prints of this image, as many as you like. Give them away, send them to friends, gift them to others, go spread the word, the story of J50, and the SRKWs and their plight. Talk about salmon restoration. Join the Center for Whale Research. Give your dollars to worthy causes. Talk about global warming. Talk about the Snake River. Talk about the Big Leaf Maples that are dying. There is much to be done. Spread the word.
J50 and her clan are the canaries in the coal mine. Our environment is the coal mine. The canaries are dying.”
James Mead Maya
Designated in 2009 for its natural beauty and cultural significance, San Juan Island’s Scenic By-Way leads along breathtaking coastlines, lush fields, by farms, historic sites and amazing beaches. Explore the Scenic By-Way by car, moped, bike or shuttle bus and experience the stunning beauty and rich history San Juan Island has to offer, packed with fun for the entire family.
Find a complete weekend itinerary of a Scenic Tour of the Isle here.
The recipe for a successful weekend getaway with your teenager must include a cool destination, amazing adventure and the right mix of alone and family time. Completely walkable, quaint Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is especially suited for such a vacation, with its numerous, safe, exciting things your teen can do alone, like bowling, going to the movies, the skatepark or shopping, and the vast array of fun family experiences the island offers.
Find the coolest, funnest 11 Teen Tested Ideas for a Successful San Juan Island Vacationhere.
One of my goals this year is to tread lightly, or lighter rather. I’ve always been conservation minded, but this year I intend to seriously cut down if not eliminate any single use plastics, to use less gas and to be more mindful about how I consume and how much space I take up on this beautiful and delicate earth of ours.
With this in mind I treated myself to a guided kayak tour with San Juan Outfitters earlier this year. Gliding silently through the beautiful waters of the Salish Sea, while respectfully observing wildlife really appealed to me, and at the same time, pushed my boundaries just enough.
San Juan Outfitters have their base camp in the bustling historic resort of Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, and they’ll pick you up in Friday Harbor if you are travelling without a car. All guided tours take place in double kayaks, which you “board” via slip docks, making it virtually impossible to fall in the water trying to get in or out of your boat. I liked that very much. San Juan Outfitter’s fun kayak guides are all trained naturalists, able to answer such pressing questions as “how long do starfish live” and “how fast does bull kelp grow”. They know where the Bald Eagles’ nests are, where the latest whale sighting was and how much time you have left to watch the seals playing before the tide goes out. I felt safe, in excellent hands and had an unforgettable experience.
In addition to “my” three-hour kayak tour out of Roche Harbor, San Juan Outfitters also offers 5-hour Orca Search, multi day, family, as well as bioluminescent kayak tours. All levels of experience and all ages are welcome. Call and discuss which trip is right for you.
When packing for your kayak trip, especially if you are going on a day where the weather is still trying to decide whether it will be warm and sunny or breezy and overcast, bring more not less. San Juan Outfitters have a big locker by their check-in kiosk where you can leave the things that you don’t want to bring on the water.
You’ll get a kayaking skirt, so you won’t get wet in your boat. You’ll also be asked to wear a life vest with lots of pockets, additionally protecting you from wind and cold and perfect to store your phone or camera and gloves.
Use the bathroom on the docks before your kayak trip. If you have to go during the outing, your kayak guide will find a place to pull over to use the bushes.
What to wear:
Dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature, while you won’t be swimming, you will be sitting low, surrounded by cold water
Wear layers, lots and lots of comfortable layers, to protect against both, sun and cold.
Avoid water absorbing cotton and go with quick drying fibers, your arms are likely to get little drips of water up your sleeves when you paddle
Wear river sandals or old sneakers.
Sun hat with straps or well-fitting baseball cap and a beanie for underneath.
Light gloves, against cold and blisters.
What to bring:
Sunscreen, always, especially on cloudy days.
Water in a metal or plastic bottle, avoid glass.
Snack, like a granola bar or some fruit.
Camera & go-pro.
In 1860, lime production began on San Juan Island in what is today the Lime Kiln State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park. For 60 years, the area adjacent to the park was quarried for limestone. Kilns were built to fire the limestone to produce lime. Buildings were built, roads were cut and much of the island was logged to feed the fires of the kilns. Three to four cords of wood per day fired the kilns to transform 20 tons of limestone into 9 tons of lime.
The Boarding House at Lime Kiln in above photo from circa 1970 served as the kitchen and boarding house for the lime kiln workers. Photo courtesy of San Juan Historical Museum.
Today you can visit a rebuilt lime kiln in the park. In the woods beyond its boundaries, you’ll find the ruins of other lime kilns and of above boarding house.
You can plan an entire trip just around visiting San Juan Island’s abundant farms. Get your fresh duck eggs and flowers from a colorful farm stand by the roadside, visit baby alpacas, go horseback riding and stroll through pumpkin patches. Then there are the farms unique to San Juan Island, where they make unusual things, like madrone-infused brandy, lavender ice cream and grow the plumpest oysters you’ll ever have.
Don’t miss these 3 Most Unusual Farms on San Juan Island this Summer!
No present in the world can sufficiently express the gratitude you have for the women, who raised you, kept you warm and fed and safe, put herself last every time and loved you, even when you were a teenager. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, why not plan a mother-daughter getaway to San Juan Island and give the gift of spending quality time together?
It’s true. San Juan Island, nestled in the Olympic Rain Shadow, enjoys an average of 247 sunny days per year, making it a glorious destination, especially in Spring, when we Washingtonians have all but forgotten the yellow ball in the sky.
What happens when you come visit on day 248 though? What will you do on San Juan Island when it rains? Have a marvelous time with our insider tips for a rainy day on the isle!
1) Spa Day
A visit to the cozy, inviting Spa at Earthbox, with its extensive massage, facial, body & nail care menu and fun add-ons, is a real treat. Get pampered, flush the toxins out of your body and walk away feeling healthier and younger.
2) Driving Tour
San Juan Island with one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, was chosen in 2009 to become Washington State newest Scenic By-Way. Just follow the signs or your mood and discover breathtaking vistas and the most stunning views. Park at one of the numerous pull-outs high above the cliffs for a car picnic and to watch the eagles riding the wind.
3) Romantic Dinner
Also known as the “gourmet archipelago”, San Juan Island’s accomplished chefs are creating amazing concoctions from the abundance of sea and (is)land. Treat yourself to the First Seating at COHO Restaurant, between 5:00pm & 5:45pm daily, and enjoy a three-course tasting menu for two and a bottle of wine for only $70.
4) Bowling and Arcades
When was the last time you went bowling? Paradise Lanes just across the street from Earthbox Inn & Spa, features eight lanes, three pool tables, air hockey and arcade games for all ages. Get ready for an afternoon of good old-fashioned fun.
5) Storm Watching
We are not made out of sugar. Don those layers and an extra windbreaker for good measure and get out there. South Beach in American Camp National Historic Park and the isle’s longest beach, is the most exposed to weather. Sometimes the winds are so strong, you can lean into it without holding your body up. Be careful on the slick cliffs and drift logs, bring the camera and look forward to your mouth hurting from not being able to stop smiling.
6) Art Day
San Juan Islands Museum of Art exhibits visual art from the Pacific Northwest and Southwest British Columbia with a sense of place. In addition to rotating exhibitions, you can enjoy lecture series, family art days and art education. Plus the building’s architecture, the island’s former medical center, is worth a visit alone.
7) Wine Tasting
Visit San Juan Vineyards, overlooking lush Beaverton Valley, and their cute, historic tasting room and gift shop. Learn about the vineyard and wine making, their fun special events and stock up on their excellent selection.