10 San Juan Island Must-Do’s for First Timers

You haven’t been? What a treat, to get to see it all for the first time! Gorgeous San Juan Island, only 65 miles north of Seattle, feels like a world away. Here you will sense the slower pace as soon as you step off the ferry – here you will experience people smiling and looking you in the eye. The only thing topping the outstanding, fresh island-grown fare and local seafood is the abundance of pristine wildlife, from foxes crossing the road in the quaint coastal town of Friday Harbor to Orca and Humpback whales frolicking in the waters. Besides your usual beach activities, like hiking, biking, fishing and birding, experience a guided kayak or whale watch tour or go zip lining. Are you an art lover or a history enthusiast? San Juan Island has you covered. The isle is super kid friendly, dog friendly too and about the most romantic place you’ll ever be.

Find your itinerary in this fun column about 10 San Juan Island Must-Do’s for First Timers.

COHO Restaurant – Authentic Farm-to-Table Dining in Friday Harbor

The romantic COHO Restaurant, located in a cute Craftsman-style house in the heart of Friday Harbor, with nine intimate tables in what once was a living room, offers the essence of Farm-to-Table dining.

There are many reasons to eat local and seasonal. First and foremost, when in Rome…

San Juan Island’s lush farmland and pristine waters produce an abundance of fresh, delicious fare, unique to the isle and region. Produce harvested just hours before you eat it, has more enzymes and vitamins – it’s alive!  Eating local and in season also reduces your carbon footprint and thereby helps the wildlife you have come to enjoy. But really, it’s just plain delicious.

And beautiful. Chef Ryan’s creations, decorated with edible flowers, curious spices and luscious sauces are gorgeous works of art. Everything here is made from scratch, including the stocks for soups, baked goods, pasta and ice cream. In addition to sourcing from local vendors, COHO Restaurant kicked the Farm-to-Table concept up a notch by organizing a Table-to-Farm composting program with the local Sweet Earth Farm.

To make your culinary San Juan Island journey complete, the COHO Restaurant offers spirits and cocktails from San Juan Distillery, as well as local Madrone cider. Each wine on their impressive, local, national and international, 200 +, wine list is selected from small producers, making handcrafted, authentic regional wines.

 Our story:

My husband and I ducked into the COHO Restaurant right at 5:00pm, when they opened, on a drizzly, off-season day. Immediately enveloped in warmth and good smells, we were greeted by Emily, our friendly and knowledgeable server. At the cozy window table for two, Emily expertly presented us with our options. COHO offers a daily First Seating from 5:00pm to 5:45PM, a 3-course tasting menu for two, plus a bottle of wine for $70. If you prefer to order a main course from the current menu instead of the First Seating options, you may do so for a nominal surcharge. What a deal! 

With Emily’s help we picked a red wine from the year we got married and without further ado we were presented with wild mushroom and wild rice soup and local, spicy greens. Their flavor combined with the fresh lime vinaigrette energized us immediately. The soup was delicious as well. I make my own stock and can taste a real soup a mile away. Ryan’s stock passed my litmus test.

For the main course, I chose the house-made Pappardelle with Lamb Bolognese from the First Seating menu, while my hubbie went for the special of the day: fresh, local Halibut with carrot puree, shitake mushrooms and broccoli for only a $6 surcharge. The fish was cooked to perfection with the carrot puree enhancing its flavor in a miraculous way. My pasta dish was very gratifying. Every bite revealed different textures and flavors of pasta, lamb, sauce, greens and ricotta. 

My husband and I are usually not dessert people. Boy, were we glad our menu included it. The house-made chocolate truffle & pear vanilla ice cream was exquisite. The latter contained candied ginger and together they may have been the best ice cream concoction I have ever tasted. Not too sweet, rich, yet delicate.

 In addition to being open year-round and on holidays, COHO Restaurant presents Special Event Dinners throughout the year, featuring local wine makers and brew masters, as well as special event and off-site catering.

Go Where You Feel Most Alive!

When you leave the boundaries of Lime Kiln State Park to the north, beyond the rebuilt lime kiln, you’ll find yourself in the Limekiln Preserve, a Landbank managed trail system in the woods, high above the Salish Sea.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, San Juan County was the main lime producer in Washington State. Deposits of high-quality limestone was found right on the shore. The deep waters around San Juan Island’s West Side made transportation of the finished lime easy and profitable.

The above picture is of the former lime quarry bordering on Lime Kiln State Park. On top you are rewarded with clear views all the way to Canada and the Olympics.

When you go: stay on the trails and bring a trail map, so you don’t get lost. And please be safe and don’t climb around in the ruins of old lime kilns and definitely don’t climb the unstable lime quarries. There are trails leading you right to the top. Have so much fun!

Best Places to watch Orcas from Land on San Juan Island

San Juan Island offers some of the best whale & wildlife watching from land in the world. Observing wildlife from land comes with rewards. You can hear the eagle’s call, the whale’s breach, the sea lion’s roar. It feels more authentic and fills you with true wonder, when you are still and a wild animal reveals itself in its natural habitat. Finding those precious places is easy on San Juan Island. Check out this sweet article on the 3 best Places to see Orca Whales from Land on the isle.

Photo by the talented Anne Dubert

Top 10 Tips for Corporate Retreats and Family Reunions on San Juan Island

Do you remember how connected and productive you felt after your last business retreat? Do you remember how hard you laughed and how full your heart was after your last family reunion? Maybe it’s time to do that again.

Planning a family reunion or corporate retreat on San Juan Island is so uncomplicated. Simply book a few hotel rooms and choose the Top Activities for Family Reunions and Business Retreats on San Juan Island, right for you and yours.

Hello from the top of Lime Kiln Lighthouse!

The iconic Lime Kiln Lighthouse, still in operation by the Coast Guard, turns 100 this June! In 1985, the lighthouse and surrounding sea were dedicated as a whale sanctuary and research station for marine mammal scientists. Lime Kiln State Park is one of the best places to watch Orca whales from land in the world.

In Summer the lighthouse doubles as an interpretive center and is open for tours. The park also features a hydrophone, to listen to whale songs, a wildlife viewing platform, beautiful trails and picnic spots.

 When you go, bring a picnic and watch the sunset!

Hannah & Kate’s Beach Wedding on San Juan Island

This time of the year is about romantic love. Celebrating love, believing in love, longing for love, deepening your love, committing to love. San Juan Island is one of the most romantic places on the planet and the perfect spot to tie the knot. I should know, I did so myself. So did Hannah & Kate. Their friends made a wedding video so tender, so beautiful, it gets me every time. But that’s not all, it’s also a very picturesque guide on how to have a simple outdoor wedding on our beautiful isle. Read more and watch the video in this article from our friends at the Bird Rock Hotel.

Insider Tips for a Relaxing Valentine’s Day in Friday Harbor

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Why not give the gift of spending quality time together? Experience the adorable coastal town of Friday Harbor on gorgeous San Juan Island this February. Laugh and be silly together, have a romantic, candlelight dinner and a rejuvenating couple’s massage. Want some more ideas? Check out these Insider Tips for a Relaxing Valentine’s Day in Friday Harbor from our friends at the Earthbox Inn & Spa.

3 of the Most Romantic Restaurants in Friday Harbor

The cute coastal town of Friday Harbor, just 65 miles and a stunning ferry ride away from Seattle, is the perfect setting for a romantic weekend getaway. Charming restaurants, shops, galleries, boutiques and museums line the streets of this perfectly walkable gem. It’s the basecamp to San Juan Island adventures like beach-combing, birding, hiking, biking, kayaking and whale watching. A place to celebrate love and nature and good food, prepared with care from island grown ingredients. Here are our favorite Friday Harbor restaurants, which serve not only outstanding food, but are also so romantic, you might want to pop the question (all over again).

1)    Vinnie’s Ristorante

Romantic Vinny’s serves classic, gourmet Italian dishes with an emphasis on fresh, local seafood. Don’t miss the Drunken Manila Clam appetizer from the local seafood farm, served with a to-die-for Vodka-cream sauce. Rediscover your Italian favorites, like Puttanesca or Penne Primavera and leave room for the best Tiramisu you’ll ever had. 

Insider Tip: Visit right when the restaurant opens to pick the most romantic table and feel like you own the place.

2)     COHO Restaurant

Located in a cozy Craftsman House, this amazing Farm-to-Table restaurant will indulge all of your senses. Chef Ryan sources the finest local ingredients from land and sea and creates truly awe-inspiring concoctions, you might find too beautiful to eat. COHO is open on all holidays and features themed Chef’s Dinners regularly. Reservations are a must. 

Insider Tip: Treat your Sweetie to their Valentine’s Gustatory Rapture, a 5-course meal, paired with the perfect wines and sparklies, raw oysters and of course chocolate and roses. 

3)      Back Door Kitchen

Tucked behind the ferry overflow parking lot, where you least expect it, you will find the Back Door Kitchen  and its lovely gardens. This adorable island oasis serves local, organic food with an Asian twist and outstanding specialty cocktails. Back Door is open seasonally between March and December.

Insider Tip: Reserve an outside table in their garden. They have heat lamps for chilly evenings.