A 10-million-year-old archipelago tucked in the northwestern most corner of Washington state, the San Juan Islands are renowned for their dense old-growth forests, resident pods of orcas and sporadic seaside towns. As the most populated island of the group, San Juan Island offers something new to discover around every corner, from delving into the island’s rich past at American and English Camp National Parks to soaking up local culture by wandering through the sweet-smelling terraces of Pelindaba Lavender Farm.

With it’s distinct natural beauty and laid-back tempo, San Juan Island is an ideal destination for day-trippers from Seattle. Here are 10 photos that will inspire you to escape from urban life and discover the sweeping vistas of this coveted, historic isle.

Friday Harbor

A sun-soaked day in Friday Harbor. Photo: Jo Ann Snover / Shutterstock.com
A sun-soaked day in Friday Harbor. Photo: Jo Ann Snover / Shutterstock.com

The hub of San Juan Island, the quaint town of Friday Harbor is a short, scenic ferry ride away from Seattle. Settle into the relaxed pace of island life and take an hour or two to wander the picturesque streets. Pop into an array of friendly shops, art galleries and antique stores before sampling some sustainably farmed tuna or fresh goats’ milk cheese from the local farmer’s market.

Friday Harbor is the perfect launching point for your aquatic adventures. Photo: Kris Schmidt / Shutterstock.com
Friday Harbor is the perfect launching point for your aquatic adventures. Photo: Kris Schmidt / Shutterstock.com

With numerous trails winding through dense forests and gorgeous parks, there are plenty of opportunities to go for a hike or stroll without roaming too far from the harbor. Travel to the popular Mt. Young, where you can trek to it’s 650-foot summit to enjoy sweepings views of the lush eastern islands.

San Juan Islands

Breaching Whales and FASCINATING Sealife

Alongside spectacular island scenery, the area’s showstopper is the world-renowned orca whale. Ply the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands on a whale & sealife search and scan the horizon for rising puffs of steam known as “blow” or splashes as the orcas slap their tales against the water. As the magnificent mammals surface, onboard naturalists identify the individual whales by their distinctive markings, introducing you to the members of the pods by name, including the seven new calves from last year’s baby boom.

An orca jumps clear of the water, crashing back down on its side. Photo: Tony Cyphert
An orca jumps clear of the water, crashing back down on its side. Photo: Tony Cyphert

Cattle Point Lighthouse

A quiet winding road past tall grasses leads you to Cattle Point. Photo: Christian Roberts-Olsen / Shutterstock.com
A quiet winding road past tall grasses leads you to Cattle Point. Photo: Christian Roberts-Olsen / Shutterstock.com

Although Friday Harbor is a fabulous place to kick back and relax, the surrounding countryside offers many more opportunities for outdoor exploration. Stop by Susie’s Mopeds and rent a moped or scoot coupe and take a quick drive down the coast to Cattle Point, one of the island’s two iconic lighthouses.

The Cattle Point lighthouse looks over San Juan Island's southernmost point. Photo: Bureau of Land Management
The Cattle Point lighthouse looks over San Juan Island’s southernmost point. Photo: Bureau of Land Management

First constructed in 1935, this lighthouse is now part of the San Juan Islands National Monument. Bountiful wildlife roam the area, including deer, eagles and marine mammals, so be sure to bring a picnic lunch and keep your eye trained seaward for the chance to spot a playful sea lion approaching the beach below.

Lime Kiln Point State Park

A lighthouse guards Lime Kiln Point State Park. Photo: Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.com
A lighthouse guards Lime Kiln Point State Park. Photo: Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.com

Commonly known as “Whale Watch Park,” this spectacular lookout around the western shore of San Juan Island is the perfect place to spot friendly oceanic passers-by. A walking path leads you through the 36-acre park, down to the Lime Kiln lighthouse, where a board announces when the whales were last spotted off the coast and two hydrophones stream live sounds of the orcas.

An orca seamlessly glides through the water, coming to the surface to breathe. Photo: Scott Meis
An orca seamlessly glides through the water, coming to the surface to breathe. Photo: Scott Meis

Be sure to stop by the park between May and September, which is peak season to catch sight of magnificent orcas, minke whales, porpoises and more as they breach, splash and play in their natural habitat.

Yacht Haven

A lone sailboat passes through Yacht Haven. Photo: Gerry VanDenBerg
A lone sailboat passes through Yacht Haven. Photo: Gerry VanDenBerg

A short ride north from Lime Kiln, Yacht Haven is named for its plentiful mooring vessels and is worth a visit for its panoramic vistas and aquatic visitors. Yacht Haven Road meanders westward to Delacombe Point, where you can spot the Gulf Islands of BC. We recommend timing your visit around sunrise or sunset for a stunning, candy-colored view.

Roche Harbor

The water is often a mirror surface in Roche Harbor. Photo: Esteban Parreno
The water is often a mirror surface in Roche Harbor. Photo: Esteban Parreno

At the northwestern tip of San Juan Island, nestled close to the Canadian border, you’ll find the bustling Roche Harbor. Explore the region’s parks and extensive trail network or visit one of the nearby seaside resorts and relax with spa services and waterfront dining.

Exploring the islands by sea is a unique and unparalleled experience. Photo: Lee LeFever
Exploring the islands by sea is a unique and unparalleled experience. Photo: Lee LeFever

The calm, projected waters of Roche Harbor also make the marina the ideal departure point to skim across the water on sea kayaking adventure. Paddle through the serene waters of the Haro Straight, passing kelp forests, to get up close and personal with the wildlife that call San Juan Island home. Watch as harbor seas bob around in nearby waters or as bald eagles soar overhead.

When it comes to natural beauty, San Juan Island is unparalleled. Take advantage of its proximity to Seattle by making it your next day trip, you couldn’t ask for a better escape.

Clipper Recommends:

  • Take a cruise from Seattle to San Juan Island and explore the beautiful town of Friday Harbor or use the island as a launching point for an adventure to the nearby Orcas, Lopez and Shaw Island.
  • A visit to Friday Harbor is not complete without heading out on a whale & sealife search to meet the “real” locals.

 

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Feature Photo: Cpaulfell/Shutterstock.com