Cruis­ing the Com­fort­ing San Juan Is­lands

Suncruiser West Coast - - Contents - BY SHAN­NON BORG

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, 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 ( for a day of scenic driv­ing around this beau­ti­ful is­land. Stop at the Tops’l Seafood & Sushi (­ for fan­tas­tic fresh lo­cal seafood. Tops’l is lo­cated above the Cask & Schooner Pub (www.caskand­, where you can get a great lamb burger or fish and chips. Nearby, Vinny’s Ris­torante of­fers gourmet seafood, steak and Ital­ian spe­cial­ties (­nys­fri­day­har­

The other main port is Roche Har­bor, with its his­toric re­sort (www.rochehar­ 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.sjis­culp­ with its more than 125 out­door sculp­tures. Savour lo­cal spir­its at the San Juan Dis­tillery/west­cott Bay Cider (www.san­juan­dis­, 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.vis­it­san­­bers/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.vis­it­san­

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.vis­it­san­­ing/or­cas-is­land

Don’t have a blank stare on your face when friends ask if you stopped at Rosario Re­sort and Spa (www.rosar­i­ore­, 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.doe­ 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.lopez­ 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. is­lands­marine­cen­ 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.vis­it­san­­bers/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.vis­it­san­

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.shan­non­

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