Believe it or not, there are 172 islands and reefs in San Juan County. The largest is Orcas Island (which takes up about 57 square miles of real estate) followed by San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island. Each are easy to get to via Washington State Ferry service. The people are pretty low key here with a weather system to match. During the summer months, the temperature hovers around 70 degrees and while the winters are chilly when the wind blows, temps don’t drop much further than 40.
As to be expected, the islands hosts a variety of different sailing, charter boats, kayak tour companies for those who want to explore the Salish Sea. In turn, the islands offer plenty of spaces to hike, bike or ride a horse. You’ll also find beautiful golf courses, interesting museums, wineries, local artists and some of the best dining in the state. Here are some of the best things about the islands:
The Beautiful Outdoors
Address: 2-98 Front Street, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
While taking a stroll toward the Port of Friday Harbor, take time to enjoy Susan Point’s red cedar house posts. The “Interaction” posts were inspired by posts found in traditional long houses. As a member of the Musqueum tribe, Susan dedicated these sculptures to the Coast Salish people still living among the islands.
Fairweather Park is tranquil space to relax and enjoy a picnic lunch on a blanket on the grass or at a covered table. During the summer months, the park is home to special “Music in the Park” concerts.
San Juan Island National Historical Park
Address: 4668 Cattle Point Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Most famous for its role during The Pig War between Great Britain and the United States, the San Juan Island National Historical Park features 2,141 acres of forest and saltwater shoreline. The park is basically two parks in one with half dedicated to the British camps and the other, the U.S. Army camp.
On the British side, you can explore the surviving buildings that once held a commissary, barracks, blockhouse, and hospital. The American camp also features two surviving officers’ quarters and one other one. Both camps have mapped trails and kayak launches.
Moran State Park
Address: 3572 Olga Rd., Olga, WA 98279
One of the more beautiful state parks in Washington, Moran State Park is an oasis for those wanting to unplug for a few hours to a few days. It features five fresh water lakes (for non-motorized watercrafts), 11 miles of bike trails, six miles of horse trails and 38 miles of walking trails. The park has boat and kayak rentals and a “Sugar Shack” snack bar.
The most popular trails lead to Mount Constitution which stands at 2,407 feet above sea level. The lookout tour on top offers breathtaking, 360 views. If you’re up there on a very clear day, you’ll be able to find Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Saturna Island as well as Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. The hike will take between three-four hours. (Of if you’d rather, you can drive up there too.)
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Address: 1567 Westside Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
One of the best places for whale watching is the rocky bluff of the Lime Kiln Point State Park. Not just in the state, but the whole earth according to locals. Humpback and minke whale pods pass through the area from May through September. At other times of the year, you might be able to see orcas, gray whale or porpoises and the best viewing to do so is by the park’s lighthouse.
While beautiful any time of the year, the 41-acre day-use state park offers the most during the summer. Features here include a self-guided interpretive trail, lighthouse tours, and an interpretive center featuring whale-related exhibits. You’ll also discover the art of mining of lime located in the old lime kiln. The park is popular with bird watchers and wildlife viewers alike. If you get hangry, stop by The Blowhole (snacks with a porpoise!) for food and drinks.
San Juan Islands Preserves
The Juan County Conservation Land Bank website offers an interactive map detailing the protected lands of the county. You’ll find which ones are open or closed to the public and how to get there. San Juan Island has 15 preserves outside of town located in open fields and forested hillsides. With the highest mountain peaks and narrow winding roads, Orcas Island has 13 preserves. Lopez island, which is filled with large valley areas, coves and bays has the least amount of preserves – eight.
Tours on the Water
Whether you’re interested in exploring the Salish Sea by boat or kayak, you have a good chance of getting up close and personal to wildlife on the water. Depending on the time of the year, you just might see orcas, minke whales, harbor seals, porpoise, bald eagles, ospreys, blue herons, sea lions, gray whales and elephant seals.
There are quite a few companies that offer tours for whale watching, kayaking fishing charters. Many of the companies who offer whale watching tours promise that you’ll spot at least one whale, but very few guarantee that you’ll see an orca whale. Some will give you a voucher for a return trip if you get on a bum ride. They can be tricky creatures.
When it comes to fishing charter boats, some offer tours of bottom fish, salmon, ling cod, halibut, Dungeness crabbing and spot prawns. Often it varies depending on the time of the year of your visit.
If you’re a season kayaker, but don’t own your kayak, you’ll probably do just fine renting one. But if you’ve never tried it before and would like to, we highly suggest taking a tour. The sport is surprisingly easy to pick up and most tours will allow anyone to go age eight and up.
Since their services tend to overlap, we’ve broken them down a bit offering what each company specializes in.
5164 Deer Harbor Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
1400 Rosario Rd, Eastsound, WA 98245
Specializes in: Whale watching, day sailing, boat rentals
1997 Mitchell Bay Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
#14 Cannery Landing, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Specializes in: Whale watching
Address: 5164 Deer Harbor Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Specializes in: Fishing charters
Address: 120 Sucia Dr., Eastsound, WA 98245
Specializes in: Whale watching, kayaking, water taxi service
Address: 8368 Orcas Rd., Orcas, WA 98280
120 Sucia Dr., Eastsound, WA 98245
3864 Fisherman Bay Rd., Lopez Island, WA 98261
Specializes in: Whale watching and offers an “orca guarantee”, fishing charters, kayaking, water taxi service
Address: 340 Brandt’s Landing Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Specializes in: Boat rentals, yacht charters, fishing charters
Address: 40 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Specializes in: Whale watching
Address: 10 Front St., Suite 102, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Specializes in: Whale watching
Address: #1 Spring St., Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA
Specializes in: Whale watching and private charters
Address: 40 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 260 Spring St. #1, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 3572 Olga Rd., Olga, WA 98279 (Moran State Park)
Address: 83 Cedar St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 25 Nichols St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 248 Reuben Memorial Dr., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Orcas Island Sailing
Address: 1945 Obstruction Pass Rd., Olga, WA 98279
As long as you have at least an intermediate level of boating experience, you can rent a 19’ to 27’ sailboat from Orcas Island Sailing. Rentals are available for half day and full day excursions. But if you want to learn how to sail, they can take care of you too. All sailing lessons are private, are available for half day (three hours) or full day (six to seven hours). Rates include the boat, captain and up to six passengers to go with you!
Friday Harbor Seaplanes Tour
Address: 298 Front St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
With over 40 years of experience, Friday Harbor Seaplanes offers “flight-seeing” tours around San Juan Island aboard a private seaplane. They can accommodate large and small groups
Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley
Address: 85 Front St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley offers a somewhat “old fashioned” tour of San Juan Island in an authentic trolley. In fact, the trolley is the only one operating in the state! They give a full loop tour for one price all day. They’ll take you to the some of the Island’s best attractions and you can spend as much time as you want there. Just hop off and back on when you want.
Active Things to do on Land
Orcas Island Trail Rides
Like the idea of hiking without the, uh, hiking part? You could go on horseback. Orcas Island Trail Rides can take you through an old growth forest, grassy meadows or up a mountain depending on how much time you have. They offer rides by the hour up to half-day. You’ll need to wear long pants and closed-toed shoes and you can’t be over 250 lbs. A rain slicker is provided in case the weather is iffy and you can even rent chaps is you so like.
Horseshu Ranch Horseback Riding
Address: 131 Gilbert Lane, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Horseshu Ranch offers horse rental options that match your skill level and your interests. Choose from a Forest Trail Ride, a Mini Forest Loop, Pony Ride or if you have the time, go for the Roche Trail Excursion which can take up to five hours to complete (and a minimum of four riders). They also offer horse rentals by the hour.
Address: 350 North Beach Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Wildlife Cycles is not a “pretty” store. It’s a working shop, but it’s been featured in National Geographic and it won “Best Bike Shop” from King 5’s Evening Magazine. If your bike breaks down, this is where you’ll need to take it. But you can also rent bikes here as well including e-bikes which make the hills a lot easier to ride. Rent by the hour, day or week. You can even book online before your trip.
Address: 125 Nichols, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The name says Susie’s Mopeds, by she offers a lot more including Scoot Coupes, Electric F.U.V.’s, Chevy Trackers and electric bikes. Travel San Juan Island on its 48-mile loop. We like the fact that most of Susie’s rentals are one price for one about and about double that for a full-day rental. It’s like getting a full day’s worth of fun for the price for two hours.
Discovery Adventure Tours
Address: 260 Spring Street #1, San Juan Island, WA 98250
Every bike, whether it be a traditional one or electric, gets inspected before and after it is ridden at Discovery Adventure Tours. Every rental also comes with a helmet, lock, pump, patch kit and rear bike rack. They have an easy downtown pickup location (right by the ferry dock) and you can reserve online ahead of time if you plan ahead. If not, just come on in.
They also can help plan the perfect route so that you can see what you want to see and not get lost! Pickup in downtown and drop off at any time (no extra charge for drop off after hours).
Orcas Island Golf Course and Mini Golf
Address: 2171 Orcas Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Built on top of what was once a mustard farm, the Orcas Island Golf Course has been serving the community since 1962. (The clubhouse was the original 1890’s farmhouse!) It is unique in that is takes advantage of the natural springs, ponds, and forest trees. The regular course has nine holes and a very clever 18-hole mini golf was added in 2021. There is also a driving range, practice area, rental clubs and golf carts and a snack bar with a large selection of beer.
Lopez Island Golf Club
Address: 589 Airport Rd., Lopez Island, WA 98261
Although the Lopez Island Golf Club is a private club, it is also open to the public for all levels of golfers. It’s a 9-hole course which can be played as an 18-hole course with separate tee boxes and pins. There are no tee times here and the owners promise that you’ll only have a brief wait if any.
San Juan Golf & Tennis Club
Address: 806 Golf Course Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
“Come join us for the day or a lifetime” says the San Juan Golf and Tennis Club. They feature a nine-hole golf course with two sets of tees for a true 18-hole feel. They are pretty proud of their course as well. Two very well maintained tennis courts are also available to rent for two hours of play. After you play, enjoy some refreshment at the club’s Greenside Bar & Grill serving up sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and hamburgers.
Address: 315 Argyle, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Since 1985, Waterworks Gallery has offered a collection of both classic and contemporary art on display. Showcasing the best from the San Juan Islands and the Pacific Northwest, each piece of art here was created by a professional artist.
Orcas Island Artworks Gallery
Address: 11 Pt. Lawrence Rd., Olga, WA 98279
Once a strawberry barreling plant, the historic 1938 building now hosts the Orcas Island Artworks Gallery which boast of having the best of the best selection of the island’s artists and craftsmen. Here you’ll find paintings, prints, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, glass, wood, fiber and wearable art. Hundreds of pieces of art created by at least 44 different artists and craftspeople.
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
Address: 9038 Roche Harbor Rd., Friday Harbor , WA 98250
Perhaps the most unique attraction in Friday Harbor is 150 little attractions spread out over a 20-acre, dog-friendly park. The San Juan Island Sculpture Park is truly one of a kind that is great for families and couples. Heck, even if you’re traveling by yourself, you can spend hours at this free space.
Created in 1998, the sculpture park is decorated with all different types of sculptures made by the hands of some 90 different local artists. As of 2022, it is estimated that over 80,000 people have walked the five different trails to marvel at the art and interactive exhibits along the way.
Sculptures here have been made out of wood, metal, glass, rockery, marble, bronze, clay and more. Pack your camera! There’s a lot of selfie inspirations found here!
Address: 50 Duck Soup Lane, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Not to brag or anything, but the rustic restaurant known as Duck Soup has been featured in a variety of publications over the years including Bon Appétit, Pacific Northwest Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle Times, Gourmet, Travel & Leisure, and Fodor’s.
Located in their “cabin in the woods” which overlooks scenic ponds, Duck Soup has been a landmark restaurant on San Juan Island since 1978 and still doesn’t disappoint. They are open for dinner from 5- 9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
Entrees available include Duck Breast (with bulgur salad, cider vinaigrette, beet slaw and roasted carrots), Rigatoni (with pistachio pesto, mushrooms, spinach, peas, citrus oil and Parmesan) and Scallops (with carrot veloute, scalloped potatoes, caramelized leeks, butter poached peas and a pickled rhubarb salsa).
The Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort & Spa
Address: 1400 Rosario Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Located on the original veranda of the Moran Mansion, The Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort sits alongside Cascade Bay. Open for breakfast, brunch and dinner, the restaurant offers only the best taking a simple meal and elevating it.
Dinners are made from locally-sourced seafood, meats and produce. Enjoy such selections like New Zealand Lamb (with parsnip puree, braised kale and an apple mint brandy reduction), New York Strip Steak (topped with chimichurri) and Yellowfin Tuna (served with Udon noodles and Oriental vegetables in a soy ginger garlic Miso.
Before or after your meal, check out the Moran Lounge to enjoy cocktails by the fire.
Blue Heron Bistro
Address: 211 Lopez Rd., Lopez, WA 98261
“Communities that eat together, keep together” say Ted Warner and Jen Bukallew, owners of the Blue Heron Bistro. Everything you eat from the menu is locally sourced. Well, as much as possible at least. Because of this, their lunch and dinner menu changes frequently.
With that in mind, some of what you might find on the menu on your next visit include Dungeness Crab Salad (with avocado, roasted red peppers, capers and basil herb balsamic), Chicken Marsala (with crimini mushrooms and a side of roasted red potatoes), Ribeye Steak (with peppercorn sauce) and the “Fish Special Du Jour.”
Other great restaurants found on the islands:
New Leaf Cafe at Outlook Inn
Address: 171 Main St., Eastbound, WA 98245
Located at the Outlook Inn, New Leaf Café offers what they call “tide-to-table” dishes for brunch or dinner. Executive Chef Andrew Martin blends his Italian background into the foods of the local culture.
The brunch menu boasts of three different Eggs Benedict are listed (traditional, crab cake and kale & mushroom) and the dinner menu features delicious choices like Seared Black Cod, Braised Lamb Shank and Grilled New York Steak.
Dining at the Orcas Hotel
Address: 18 Orcas Hill Rd., Orcas, WA 98280
The Orcas Hotel has two restaurants to choose from. The Orcas Café presents a Pacific Northwestern cafe menu inside its dining room and under the covered deck. The fire pits will keep your toasty warm on those chilly nights. Chef specials offered nightly.
Chef Norbu and Chef John offer a unique meal service at Norbu’s with meals borrowed from their extensive time living in Hawaii and the Pacific Coast. A rotating chef’s tasting menu is featured on Friday and Saturday nights and Jazz Supper Club meals are offered on Sunday nights.
Address: 4362 Crow Valley Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
Chef Raymond Southern makes the most of local ingredients found right on the island at Kingfish. You’ll experience the OrcaSong Farm with every dinner service “from the vegetables on the plate, to the flowers on the table.”
Madrona Bar & Grill
Address: 310 Main St., Eastbound, WA 98245
It is said that almost every table within the Madrona Bar & Grill offers sweeping views thanks to the restaurant being built directly over the water. Inside, the décor is rustic; the food, Northwest-inspired.
Open for lunch and dinner, Madrona, offers upscale favorites like Fish Tacos (made with grilled rockfish, jalapeno slaw, pineapple pico, avocado, cilantro and chipotle aioli), Fish and Chips (hand cut and beer battered Alaskan cod), Grilled Flat Iron Steak (with melted blue cheese) and “Ravioli of the Day.”
Address; 210 Lopez Rd., Lopez Island, WA 98261
They say that Ursa Minor is “uniquely Lopez” offering creative Agrarian Northwest cuisine Chef Nick Coffey works closely with local farmers, fishermen, and foragers to offer a constantly evolving menu of inventive small plates, complemented by a unique list of natural wines.
Lopez Islander Resort Restaurant
Address: 2864 Fisherman Bay Rd., Lopez Island, WA 98261
The restaurant at the Lopez Islander Resort offers a playful menu all day long. From warm comfort food for breakfast to hearty lunches. Enjoy dinner under the stars on their outdoor patio and enjoy live music on select nights in the tiki-themed lounge. (It’s been a favorite for decades!)
The Restaurant at Friday Harbor House
Address: 130 W. St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The Restaurant at Friday Harbor House has a great vantage point from its space above the marina and ferry boat landing. Enjoy delicious comfort food like Wild King Salmon, Grilled Flank Steak and Wild Mushroom Risotto. Enjoy your meal al fresco on the patio with seafood favorites like oysters on the half shell, ceviche and salads paired nicely with cold beer or glass of wine.
Address: 10 Front St. #101, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Oystertale describes itself as a restaurant that is designed to “casually spoil you” with locally sourced oysters and other “fabled bounty” from the area. They then pair the food with their own favorite wines and/or cocktails which includes a rare scotch and champagne list.
Address: 120 Nichols, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Set within a historic Craftsman House, Chefs Tim and Ryan at Coho Restaurant serve up Island-grown Pacific cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. Each night, this “Best of the San Juans” restaurant menu showcases simple and artful fare. The restaurant’s wine cellar has been recognized by Wine Spectator with an Award of Excellence in addition to their full cocktail and artisan spirits menu.
Address: 10 Front St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Literally located on the water of Friday Harbor, Downriggers offers a fantastic view of the ferries’ comings and goings. As for the food, enjoy Pacific Northwest meals made by owners Debbie and Hogan including favorites like oysters, smoked salmon, fresh fish and more.
Brown Bear Baking
Address: 29 North Beach & Main St., Eastbound, WA 98245
Having been trained in the fine art of French baking at the San Francisco Baking Institute, Lee Horswill and David Ellertsen are members of The Bread Baker’s Guild of America. Everything that they bake at Brown Bear Baking is made in small batches all through the day.
While Brown Bear Baking is a fine place to enjoy a Buttermilk Current Scone or an Orange Morning Bun with a Victrola espresso beverage, it is more than just a bakery. They also offers three quiches during the morning hours.
Wineries, Breweries and Bars
San Juan Vineyard
Address: 3136 Roche Harbor Rd., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
The 30-acre vineyard which is the San Juan Vineyard is beautiful. Enjoy tastings from their award-winning estate-grown Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine in the historic tasting room or come on out for live music on Saturday nights provided during the summer months.
Madrone Cellers & Ciders
Address: 40 1st St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Madrone Cellars & Cider’s wines are made with minimal intervention letting Mother Nature do her thing. Shaun and Amy Salamida specialize in Pétillant Naturel and all of their sparking ciders are crafted in the same winemaking style. The tasting room is open from 12-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Orcas Island Winery
Address: 2371 Crow Valley Rd., Eastsound, WA 98245
It’s a little hard to imagine, but Orcas Island didn’t have a winery until Orcas Island Winery opened its doors in 2011. Located at the bottom of Turtleback Mountain, the Orcas Island Winery is a boutique, family vineyard and winery is committed to crafting ultra-premium Washington wines, including both red and white varietals. The winery is pro-pup (dog-friendly) and offers charcuterie snacks to enjoy with your wine. They also offer blankets for the impromptu picnic.
Other great choices not to miss:
Address: 255 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 33 Hope Lane, Eastsound, WA 98245
Address: 410 A St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Address: 12 Anderson Lane, Friday Harbor, WA 98250