Updated June 5, 2019

Ask any Seattleite about an ideal Northwest island getaway and chances are strong that San Juan Island will surface as a quick response. In the summertime, the island is a Mediterranean paradise. Warm days, sunshine and miles of shimmering waters. An island explorer’s dream!

Book Now: Seattle to San Juan Islands Cruise

And that’s just the beginning. The area surrounding the island is a playground for local wildlife. Magnificent orcas, humpbacks, Steller sea lions and more than 200 unique species of birds all call this area home. Depart from downtown Seattle on the San Juan Clipper, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot some fascinating creatures along the way to Friday Harbor. Upon arrival, set your clock to island time and check off some of our 25 favorite things to do on San Juan Island.

In This Guide:

 

Explore the Island’s Outdoor Offerings

1. Whale Watching & Sealife Search

Delight in a whale of an adventure and hop on our San Juan Island Whale Watching Day Trip from Seattle! Learn all about the Puget Sound’s beloved whales our expert onboard naturalist and search for gray, minke, humpback as well as two types of orca whales out on the Salish Sea.

Clamber outside for top-deck views of surrounding scenery and see our friendly aquatic neighbors as they splash and play in the sparkling waters. You may even catch a breach! (Inside tip: Want to learn more about protecting these magnificent creatures? Check out Clipper Vacation’s extensive focus and dedication to whale and sealife education and conservation.)

Transient orcas T65A2 and T65A3 swim in unison through the waters surrounding the San Juans. Credit: Gary Sutton
Transient orcas T65A2 and T65A3 swim in unison through the waters surrounding the San Juans. Credit: Gary Sutton

2. Friday Harbor Whale Watch Sealion Boat

Experience the beauty of the Pacific Northwest’s legendary summer sunsets onboard San Juan Safari’s Sea Lion. Leave the dock at 5:30 p.m. in search of orcas, seals, sea lions and bald eagles as well as unbeatable views of the San Juan Island archipelago. Book this tour with Clipper, learn more.

3. Lime Kiln Lighthouse 

Pick up some wheels and visit the famous Lime Kiln Lighthouse, one of the best places on the island to catch sight of whales from the shore! (Inside tip: Check out the list of recent sightings or give a listen to the park’s two hydrophones that stream live sounds of nearby whales.)

The views from the scenic Lime Kiln Point State Park can’t be beat. Credit: Brenna Ciummo
The views from the scenic Lime Kiln Point State Park can’t be beat. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

4. Explore the Island’s Tide Pools

The perfect activity for kiddos and adults alike! Get up close and personal with everything from kelp crabs to sea anemones found inside the island’s countless beachside tide pools.

5. Cattle Point Lighthouse

Make your way over to the southernmost tip of San Juan Island and soak in panoramic ocean and mountain views with a visit to Cattle Point Lighthouse. Be sure to bring a picnic lunch; it’s a fabulous place to kick back and relax.

Watch for foxes, rabbits and deer roaming the tall grass or playful sea lions approaching the beach below. Train your eyes skyward occasionally; the area is also home to a pair of golden eagles. Spot them riding the thermals or nesting in the trees.

Wander past tall grasses to Cattle Point. Photo: Scott Meis
Wander past tall grasses to Cattle Point. Photo: Scott Meis

6. American & English Camp National Parks

Delve into the island’s rich past at American Camp and English Camp, which were the site of the two armies’ forts during the Pig War.

Now picturesque historical landmarks, the two locales are great scooter or biking destinations. Check out the resident Osprey nest at American Camp and catch a historical short film at English Camp.

7. Afterglow Vista

Like something out of a fantasy novel, the open air rotunda of the McMillin Mausoleum is an easy trek through the Roche Harbor Cemetery. Stop by during summer’s breathtaking golden hour to capture that Insta-worthy snapshot.

Hike through dense forest to the stunning McMillin Mausoleum. Credit: Ryan Harvey
Hike through dense forest to the stunning McMillin Mausoleum. Credit: Ryan Harvey

8. Relax at a Park

From waterfront green spaces and beaches, San Juan Island offers plenty of postcard-perfect viewpoints. Planning on staying overnight? Head to the popular 12-acre San Juan County Park on the island’s west side. Set up camp on the coast of the Haro Strait and feast your eyes on the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.

9. Westside Preserve

Cruise along madrona-lined roads as you make your way across this open expanse of protected land and shoreline. Perched high above the Haro Strait on a rocky bluff, it is a great vantage point to watch for marine life. (Inside tip: Come at sunset and see the rosy glow of the sun as it disappears beyond the horizon.)

The serene landscape surrounding the San Juans makes for spectacular sunsets. Photo: Bureau of Land Management
The serene landscape surrounding the San Juans makes for spectacular sunsets. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

Get Active – Walk, Hike, Bike or Paddle Your Way Around San Juan Island

10. Friday Harbor Half Day Kayaking Tour

See San Juan Island from a unique perspective – your own personal kayak! Explore the beautiful shoreline beaches and the San Juan Channel, all set in front of a glorious Olympic Mountain backdrop.

The calm waters of the San Juan Channel are perfect for beginning paddlers. Credit: Ocean River Adventures
The calm waters of the San Juan Channel are perfect for beginning paddlers. Credit: Ocean River Adventures

11. Cycle the Island

Power your own adventure and take in the scenery on two wheels by heading to Island Bicycles to pick up a rental. A biker’s paradise, the island features numerous inviting roads and plenty of curbside vistas.

12. Rent a Moped

Stop by Susie’s Mopeds and scoot around the island at your leisure in a vehicle built for two! Want another way to get around? Head to M&W Auto to pick up a car rental or hop on the Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley.

13. Mt. Young 

Itching for adventure? Head to English Camp to tackle the 650-foot summit of Mount Young. While only one mile long, the steep trail can be tough but offers a spectacular reward.

At the summit, you’ll find unparalleled, panoramic vistas of the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, Garrison Bay and the rest of the San Juan Islands.

Soak in the sunset as night falls on Garrsion Bay from the top of Mt. Young. Credit: Les Williams
Soak in the sunset as night falls on Garrison Bay from the top of Mt. Young. Credit: Les Williams

14. Scuba Dive

Plunge deep below the surface of the cold, blue waters that surround San Juan and get a slip into a different world. Home to some of the best underwater scenery in the Northwest, you’ll be able to view an array of sea life such as octopus, eels, rockfish, anemones and more.

Soak in Vibrant Island History and Culture

15. Shop Friday Harbor

Centered on Spring Street, Friday Harbor’s shopping district features floral shops such as Robin’s Nest, local produce at King’s Market, more than 40,000 unique titles to peruse at Serendipity Books and sweets at Friday Harbor Chocolates(Inside tip: Don’t miss a cup of great coffee from San Juan Coffee Roasting Co!)

Browse the 40,000 titles stacked in the cozy Serendipity Books. Credit: Scott Meis
Browse the 40,000 titles stacked in the cozy Serendipity Books. Credit: Scott Meis

16. Whale Museum & Orca Survey Outreach and Education Center

After seeing our cherished whales in their natural habitat, dive deeper into the natural history of marine mammals at the Whale Museum.

The Museum places a special emphasis on educating about the region’s salmon-eating orca whales (Southern Resident orcas). Learn about their behavioral patterns, observe skeletons up close and discover their larger role in the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Interested in learning more? Swing by The Center for Whale Research’s brand-new Orca Survey Outreach and Education Center, just a block off Main Street. Dive deep on the history and state of Southern Resident orcas from locals on the front lines of research.

A grinning orca skull greets you at the Whale Museum. Photo: Scott Meis
A grinning orca skull greets you at the Whale Museum. Credit: Scott Meis

17. Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Travel to the center of the island to check out the beautiful Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Wander through the fields of delicate purple flowers on the 25-acre farm to discover a whopping 50 varieties of the aromatic plant.

Visit in mid-July to experience the flowers at their peak and catch the farm’s annual Lavender Festival – psst, it is July 20 & 21, 2019! Cut your own stalks to take home and treat your taste buds with fresh made lavender lemonade, iced tea, ice cream and cookies!

Rows of fragrant lavender stretch nearly as far as the eye can see. Credit: Pelindaba Lavender Farm
Rows of fragrant lavender stretch nearly as far as the eye can see. Credit: Pelindaba Lavender Farm

18. Roche Harbor  

The seaside town of Roche Harbor is an idyllic locale to stop for a peaceful harborside lunch. Just don’t forget to save time to shop for gifts and watch the boats glide by in the marina.

Before you leave, indulge in a refreshing scoop, or two, of locally-crafted ice cream at Beechtree restaurant. Smooth and boasting an assortment of creative and classic flavors, it is heaven in a cone.

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

19. San Juan Historical Museum

See the region’s past come to life through the historical artifacts, records and more housed inside this heritage museum. One step inside and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a turn-of-the-century farming community.

20. San Juan Islands Museum of Art (IMA)

A creative island community isn’t complete without an extensive art collection, right? Duck into the IMA, a hub for artists of all kinds and features work both local and from abroad. Be sure to wander through the adjacent Sculpture Park for more than 20 acres of additional art pieces!

Take a Bite out of San Juan Island

21. San Juan Island Brewing Co.

Sip on a refreshing lineup of German-style lagers and English ales at the airy and rustic San Juan Island Brewing Co. in Friday Harbor.

Designed as a community gathering space, we can’t think of a better spot to spend a Friday evening in the summer. Kick back and relax with the sessionable Afterglow Golden Ale while watching live band performances on the lawn.

Sample a refreshing flight of brews at San Juan Island Brewing Co. Credit: Melissa Sitrin
Sample a refreshing flight of brews at San Juan Island Brewing Co. Credit: Melissa Sitrin

22. Backdoor Kitchen

One of the best-kept secrets on the island. Enjoy seasonal global fare and creative cocktails served in an elegant setting at Backdoor Kitchen, a local favorite in the heart of the harbor.

23. San Juan Vineyards

From their award-winning cab sauv to the tasty Siegerrebe, a visit to this estate is as memorable for its incredible wines as its picturesque setting.

Gaze out on the rolling vineyards and drink in the ambiance. If you look close, you may even catch sight of the vineyard’s camel. Yes, we did say camel. Her name is Mona and there is even a white wine blend named after her.

Sunlit vineyards offer the perfect locale for sipping local wines. Credit: Scott Meis
Sunlit vineyards offer the perfect locale for sipping local wines. Credit: Scott Meis

24. San Juan Island Farmer’s Market

On Saturdays April through October, stop by the San Juan Island Farmer’s Market on Nichols Street for baked goods, local produce and live music.

25. Westcott Oyster Farm

Shuck ‘em practically straight from the sea at this local farm! The pristine, cold waters of Westcott Bay provide an ideal environment for sustainable oyster growing and harvesting.

From a number of tide pools teeming with life to forests and hiking trails to explore, San Juan Island is a dream come true. Whether you’re exploring on your own or taking the whole family along, these quintessential island activities are a rejuvenating and fun escape from the city.

The sun sets on the San Juan Clipper in Friday Harbor. Credit: Scott Meis
The sun sets on the San Juan Clipper in Friday Harbor. Credit: Scott Meis

Getting There and Frequently Asked Questions:

Skip the traffic and Anacortes ferry lines and hop on the San Juan Clipper ferry for the fastest way to travel direct from Pier 69 in Seattle to San Juan Island for a visit to beautiful Friday Harbor, WA!

The 3 hours and 45 minutes ferry ride through the Salish Sea will take you past Whidbey Island and underneath historic Deception Pass bridge before arriving in Friday Harbor. Upon arrival, you’ll be steps from downtown as well as Clipper’s fun activity and hotel partners. Get a great deal when you add a hotel stay to your booking.

How much is the ferry from Seattle to San Juan Island?

The passenger-only round-trip fare for the San Juan Clipper ferry from Seattle to Friday Harbor ranges from $89 USD – $110 USD for an advance purchase depending on the time of year. The Seattle to San Juan Island ferry operates various service between April 26 – October 13.

Do you need a passport to take the ferry from Seattle to San Juan Island?

No, San Juan Island is located inside the United States and does not require a passport for travel between Seattle and San Juan Island.

For more information, visit the Seattle to San Juan Island ferry schedule and fares page.

 

Book Your San Juans Trip Now