Brimming with dense old growth forests, tall grasslands swept by warm breezes, serene sandy beaches, scenic countryside, quaint towns chock full of unique shops and restaurants, the San Juan Islands beg to be explored. With a set of unique characteristics, each island in the archipelago offers something new to discover around every corner, from hiking the scenic Turtleback Mountain Preserve or sipping on award-winning locally produced wines at San Juan Vineyards.

To help you uncover all of the wonderful places around the islands, we recently caught up with mobile tech innovator and San Juan Island local Tim Fry, to chat about his latest creation, the San Juan Insider, which is designed to make exploring these beautiful islands a bit easier.

Q: What inspired you to create the San Juan Islands Insider app?

A: I have spent much of my career in the mobile industry. When I moved to the San Juans a few years ago it struck me that the Islands, though a top tourist destination on the West Coast, didn’t have a mobile app for visitors. Every year San Juan County provides grants for projects that will improve the tourist experience, so I partnered with the Islands’ chambers of commerce to apply for a grant that would fund the development of the San Juan Islands Insider app. The San Juans have so many hidden gems, so I wanted to create something that would not only guide visitors to the best destinations, but reward them for exploring those places.

Q: How does the San Juan Islands Insider app work?

A: Different than other tourist apps, San Juan Islands Insider gives you incentives for discovering places within a community. When you create an account, you can collect points at different locations – taking advantage of your phone’s GPS. The more places you visit; the more points you earn. Once you earn enough points, you can redeem those points for goods or services at Rewards Locations listed in the app.

Once a mountain range, now an archipelago, the 100-million-year-old San Juan Islands feature some of the most spectacular scenery in the Northwest.
Once a mountain range, now an archipelago, the 100-million-year-old San Juan Islands feature some of the most spectacular scenery in the Northwest.

Q: How many locations are included in the app?

A: There are more than 140 locations in the app now, with more added every week. Places like parks, trail heads, museums, restaurants, tour companies, other businesses and points of interest. You can collect 10 points at each location where points can be collected.

Q: What can you do with the points you collect?

A: More than 70 locations in the app are businesses that provide some kind of reward – from free entrees at restaurants to discounts on kayak and bike rentals to deals on art. Those Rewards locations’ pages in the app indicate what reward they offer and the number of points needed to get that reward. For instance, Kings Marine in Friday Harbor might offer 20% off the price of backpacks for 25 points. The Edenwild Boutique Inn on Lopez Island might offer 50% off a second night’s stay for 100 points. There are rewards for every type of visitor.

Q: How will the app help visitors better appreciate the unique history of the San Juans?

A: Among the locations where you can collect points are historic places like American Camp on San Juan Island, where the Pig War took place in the 1850s and 1860s. Or, the Orcas Island Pioneer Museum in Eastsound, which is made up of original homestead cabins built in the 1870s. Then there’s the Take It or Leave It usable goods exchange on Lopez Island, which is part of that island’s world-famous dump – a must-see if you are traveling to Lopez.

A sea of masts fill the bustling San Juan Island marina.
A sea of masts fill the bustling San Juan Island marina.

Q: What makes each island in the San Juans stand out from the others?

A: For starters, elevation makes some islands stand out from the several dozen islands that aren’t visible at high tide. When it comes to the big four San Juans – Lopez, Orcas, Shaw and San Juan – each have their unique characteristics. Lopez (aka “Slo-pez”) is relatively flat and great for biking and disconnecting – especially given limited cell reception there.

Orcas has a more varied terrain, including Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park, which has some amazing camping. San Juan is a little busier, with the town of Friday Harbor as the County Seat. Shaw, well, there’s not much of anything on Shaw, which is how its 400 residents like it. Each island is beautiful, and I’d encourage you to check all of them out. After all, you can collect points on each.

Q: What are some of your favorite places to check out on the Islands?

A: It’s so hard to come up with a favorites list – you really can’t go wrong in the San Juans. Because I’m an avid cyclist, I love biking down to the south end of Lopez, where I can ride through farmland, forests and visit the National Monument at Iceberg Point.

On Orcas, whether I ride, hike or drive, the view atop Mt. Constitution is unforgettable – It gives one a great appreciation for the diverse landscape of the Pacific Northwest. On San Juan, I’ve seen more whales right off shore at the Lime Kiln State Park than I’ve seen anywhere else. Those Orcas are beautiful creatures. I could go on, but these are some of my favorites.

Lime Kiln provides the perfect vantage point for catching a glimpse of the San Juan Islands' most famous residents - orca whales.
Lime Kiln provides the perfect vantage point for catching a glimpse of the San Juan Islands’ most famous residents – orca whales.

Q: Any hidden gems you can share without giving away spots inside the app?

A: I’ve talked a lot about places on land. I encourage everybody to explore the San Juans by water, if they can – whether that’s catching Dungeness crab in one of the many bays, kayaking around the islands, or taking a nature tour by boat. Right now, there aren’t point collection locations in the water, but you can definitely earn rewards at businesses who will gladly get you out onto the water.

Clipper Recommends:

  • Cruise out of Friday Harbor on a Whale & Sealife Search for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch sight of the world-famous orca whales as they play and interact in their natural habitat.
  • Paddle through the waters outside of Roche Harbor on a San Juan Sea Kayaking Adventure to get within eye’s reach of exotic marine wildlife, giant kelp forests and stunning mountain peaks.