ADVENTURE IN THE ARCHIPELAGO
Cruising the Comforting San Juan Islands
THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS ARE ONE OF THE GREAT CRUISING destinations of the world, with a fascinating history and culture, spiced with great food served in a tranquil atmosphere. And like many adventures, some local knowledge and a bit of inside information will make your trip just that much more spectacular.
172 named isles make up the San Juan Islands – although many of them are submerged at high tide or are small, uninhabited preserves – which are gently caressed by the currents of the Salish Sea. The four key islands in the archipelago are Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw, and offer you the consistently slower pace of island life, without any unwanted distractions including stoplights. Not one.
You’ll find plenty of moorage at the two main ports of San Juan Island, although it’s best to call ahead during the busy summer months. Everything from wooden sailboats to sleek yachts adorn the docks of the Port of Friday Harbor, where you’ll have access to gas, showers and laundry. Serene accommodations include bed & breakfast inns, affordable small hotels, and a cubistic waterfront hotel (Island Inn at 123 West www.123west.com), which overlooks the harbor.
Take a whale watch trip from Friday Harbor in the morning, visit The Whale Museum or the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (IMA), then rent a scooter, scoot-coupe or car, and pick up a picnic lunch at San Juan Island Cheese (www.sjicheese.com) for a day of scenic driving around this beautiful island. Stop at the Tops’l Seafood & Sushi (www.topslseafood.com) for fantastic fresh local seafood. Tops’l is located above the Cask & Schooner Pub (www.caskandschooner.com), where you can get a great lamb burger or fish and chips. Nearby, Vinny’s Ristorante offers gourmet seafood, steak and Italian specialties (www.vinnysfridayharbor.com).
The other main port is Roche Harbor, with its historic resort (www.rocheharbor.com) and 19th-century former lime kiln, which supplied powdered limestone for Seattle’s growing cityscape. Don’t miss one of the largest
sculpture parks in the world - the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park (www.sjisculpturepark.com) with its more than 125 outdoor sculptures. Savour local spirits at the San Juan Distillery/westcott Bay Cider (www.sanjuandistillery.com), where you can taste locally made gin flavoured with natural aromatic seasonings. This small village truly is a boaters paradise with three quaint restaurants, a well-stocked store, kayaking, whale watching, and a fresh seafood shack where you can buy fresh-caught Dungeness crab and spot prawns in season.
Your fellow humans aren’t the only visitors to enjoy the islands. From land, kayak, or boat, you can see resident orca whale pods, moving through the waters of the Salish Sea seasonally from June to October. Other visitors include gray whales, Minke whales, and humpback whales in addition to harbor seals, Steller sea lions, Dall’s porpoise and bald eagles. There are strict regulations on how close boaters can come to the whales, so brush up before you go; fines for breaking the rules are handed out regularly. Your best experience is likely to be from one of the whale watching boat tours where on-board naturalists can narrate your adventure, and some tours even give you the chance to hear the whales calling to each other under water via hydrophone.
Lime Kiln Point State Park (www.visitsanjuans.com/members/lime-kiln-pointstate-park) a.k.a. Whale Watch Park, on San Juan Island sometimes offers a glimpse of orcas who occasionally come to hunt salmon in the kelp beds. The park also has a lighthouse and seasonal lighthouse tours and interpretive center. Paddling from a kayak along the West Side of San Juan Island, you may be lucky enough to observe sea lions, seals, porpoise, and maybe even a bald eagle or two.
For more information on seeing whales, kayaking and incredible bicycling opportunities while you’re in the Islands, visit www.visitsanjuans.com/what-to-do
A rich, dark espresso awaits you in Eastsound on Orcas Island. Sail, motor, take a ferry or a scenic flight, where Brown Bear bakery will put a flaky croissant in your hand to accompany that cup of java. The village of Eastsound features a dozen restaurants, cafes, bakeries, as well as shops and galleries filled with local artists’ work just a short walk from the county dock. Before you taste, inhale the fresh scent of the locally grown produce you’ll find at the islands’ restaurants, grocery store and the lively Saturday Farmers Market. A ‘muststop’ for food and bevvies is Buck Bay Shellfish Farm where you can shuck oysters while overlooking the oyster beds, sip local brews at Island Hoppin’ Brewery, or try the local wines at Orcas Island Winery. http://www.visitsanjuans.com/dining/orcas-island
Don’t have a blank stare on your face when friends ask if you stopped at Rosario Resort and Spa (www.rosarioresort.com), which incorporates Robert Moran’s 100 year old, arts and crafts style mansion. Rosario has a good marina with services, and the museum, music room and spa are free and open to the public. Satisfy your growling tummy
at the small boathouse grill or in The Mansion restaurant.
The 735 m (2,409 ft) high Mt. Constitution crowns Moran State Park - the highest point on the San Juan Islands. The tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps offers panoramic views of surrounding islands, the Cascade Mountains, and a variety of Canadian and American cities. Resembling a tower from Game of Thrones, the tower hosts a historical display detailing the tower’s construction and the history of Robert Moran, the shipbuilder and former Seattle mayor who donated this land, and worked toward the development of the park.
Doe Bay Resort & Retreat (www.doebay.com) has three buoys in the bay, and when you row in, there’s plenty to see and do. The resort has dozens of cabins, yurts and campsites to choose from. There’s a spa that looks out over a little waterfall that flows into Otter Cove, with three soaking tubs, a sauna and showers. Stroll through the beautiful one-acre organic garden that supplies most of the food for the Doe Bay Café, an excellent seafood restaurant that overlooks the water. Rent a kayak, play volleyball or go hiking in Moran State Park, with special access for people staying at the resort. There’s also open-mic and pizza on Thursdays and bands playing most Fridays and Saturdays.
Lopez Village, on the island of the same name, is cozied up to the marinas, and the Lopez Islander Resort (www.lopezfun.com/) has kayak and bike rentals to get you around the island. Grab a latte at Isabel’s Espresso, and a famous cinnamon bun at Holly B’s Bakery, and wander the town; there is a bookstore, a library, grocery store, the Lopez Island Vineyard & Winery tasting room, a couple of galleries, a great little specialty grocery store called Blossom. You’ll find moorage at the resort’s marina in Fisherman Bay. There is room for roughly 30 boats, up to 50 feet long, with services including a store, fuel and access to the resorts swimming pool, Jacuzzi, showers and laundromat. Islands Marine Center (www. islandsmarinecenter.com) on Fisherman Bay also has moorage for 100 boats, a small store, fuel and more. You can also moor at Spencer Spit State Park (www.visitsanjuans.com/members/spencer-spit-state-park).
Around the island, depending on the distance you want to
ride, you can reach several National Monument sites, including Iceberg Point, Agate Beach, and more. There are also 14 county docks in San Juan County including Odlin Park, Mackaye Harbor, and Hunter Bay on Lopez.
Other Inside Tips for Boaters
Sucia (Soo-shuh) Island is a great little place for gunkholing – also, Matia (May-shuh), Clarke, Barnes, Jones & James Islands. Patos (Pay-tose) has a lighthouse.
There is so much to do in the San Juan Islands that you may want to return again and again to discover the charms of these incredible islands. For lodging, dining, travel and activities information, see www.visitsanjuans.com.
Shannon Borg is a wine writer who lived in Seattle before transplanting herself to the islands. She lives in Friday Harbor, and is the marketing coordinator for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. Find her at www.shannonborg.com.