Let’s face it…visiting an island is more expensive than staying on the mainland. For one, everything needs to be shipped or flown over. In addition, taxes, wages, property and utilities, especially drinking water, are a lot higher. So what’s a budget traveler seeking a San Juan Island getaway to do? Easy! Visit in beautiful Fall, take advantage of shoulder season specials and know about all the breathtaking places and fun things to do, which are free as the birds.
Here is your comprehensive insider guide to visiting San Juan Island on a budget!
How to Get Here
The Washington State Ferry runs year-round, several times per day, from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. Ferry fares are less expensive in Fall, Winter and Spring and are always round-trip. You can either walk on the ferry or drive your car. If you opt to travel without your car, you can park it in Anacortes and walk on for under $15 per person (without a reservation). If you bring a car (under $55 for car and driver), reservations are recommended, but not quite as necessary as during Summer travel times.
Insider Tip: Carpool with friends or another family to keep costs down
Where to Stay
Almost all hotels on San Juan Island run amazing specials in the shoulder season. The Earthbox Inn & Spa in Friday Harbor, conveniently located 3 ½ blocks from the ferry terminal, offers rooms as low as $129 in October. Earthbox has the added benefit of having the only heated, indoor pool on the island as well as a sauna, hot tub and exercise room. The hotel also features a full-service, on-site spa, free parking, free wifi and free coffee and tea in the lobby all day.
Insider Tip: Take advantage of the free Beach Cruiser Bikes and ride to San Juan Vineyards, three miles out of town, for a wine tasting.
Explore the two National Historical Parks and their numerous, breathtaking hikes. Look for whales and wildlife at Lime Kiln State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park, one of the best places to see whales from land in the world. Go beach combing and observe over 200 seabirds calling the island their home.
Insider Tip: Have a bonfire and watch the sunset at South Beach, San Juan Island’s longest, wildest beach.
Check out the funny and adorable looking Alpacas at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm and stop by San Juan Vineyards for a weekend wine tasting. Visit the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Friday Harbor to listen to free live music, browse farm, arts and craft stands and for a quick bite to eat.
Insider Tip: On a clear evening, visit the Pelindaba Lavender Farm’s gorgeous grounds dotted with sculptures. Bring a blanket and gaze at stars.
Stroll the seven galleries within walking distance of the ferry terminal in Friday Harbor. Don’t miss a visit to the San Juan Sculpture Park on the north end on the isle, displaying over 150 national and international sculptures on 20 spectacular acres.
Insider Tip: If you have artistically inclined kids, take advantage of the free Family Art Days at San Juan Islands Museum of Art every Saturday through December.
Eat like Lords
Share a hearty breakfast at Rocky Bay Café or the Hungry Clam, both known for their generous servings. Buy the makings of an uncomplicated picnic lunch - a loaf of fresh bread and a bottle of wine from San Juan Bakery, cheeses and charcuterie from San Juan Bistro and some smoked salmon and smoked scallops from Friday Harbor Seafood at the port – and feast al fresco at your favorite beach overlooking the Salish Sea.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss the Bite of San Juan on October 27, at Brickworks, showcasing San Juan Island’s fabulous chef’s and the island grown food for their unique concoctions. Bites start at $3.