With brilliant blue skies, Mariners and Sounders games, festivals, concerts and more than a handful of days when the Mountain is out, Seattle’s cherished summer season is hard to beat. Yet sometimes, you need a break from the non-stop action of the city. A fun weekend escape that allows you to slow down life and venture beyond familiar boundaries to explore a hidden gem located right in Seattle’s backyard.

Enter San Juan Island. A Mediterranean-like paradise home to amazing wildlife, great food, small-town vibes and scenic views for days. Ready to kick back and enjoy a front-row view of some of the Pacific Northwest’s most awe-inspiring natural beauty? Let’s go.

FRIDAY – Day 1

8:15 a.m. – Depart Seattle’s Pier 69

While most Seattleites default to hopping in the car and heading up to the Anacortes ferry dock to get to San Juan Island, those in the know realize there is a much easier, direct ferry from downtown Seattle. San Juan Clipper is a 200-passenger high-speed catamaran with seasonal service from Pier 69 direct to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island between May and October each year. The trip is 3 hours and 45 minutes taking you right under iconic Deception Pass Bridge into the heart of the San Juan Islands.

The ferry features two seating decks as well as a top level viewing deck along with locally-sourced food and drink options (including some fun adult beverages!). Whether you’re utilizing the ferry for transportation to the island only or as part of Clipper’s whale watching tour options, it’s a great, easy alternative to WA State ferries!

Catch sight of the Space Needle as your cruise out of Eliott Bay.
Catch sight of the Space Needle as your cruise out of Elliott Bay.

12:15 p.m. – Whale & Sealife Watching Tour

After a quick stop to let passengers off who want to spend more time in Friday Harbor, the San Juan Clipper is back out on the Salish Sea, swiftly slicing through the water in search of gray, minke, humpback as well as two types of orcas whales (NOTE: of orca species, only mammal-eating Bigg’s are viewed on Clipper whale watching trips).

Catching a lucky break, the expert onboard naturalist spots a group of transients swimming along the west side of San Juan Island. A cluster of seals, sea lions and an eagle appear, all perched at Whale Rocks. It’s like a scene straight out of a movie. You couldn’t ask for a better start to summer.

3:20 p.m. – Earthbox Inn & Spa

Following whale watching, the vessel docks once again in the cozy seaside town of Friday Harbor. A lineup of fishing boats and mega-yachts bob rhythmically and thump against their moorings. Kayaks skim past over calm waters and Mt. Baker looms in the distance like a giant snow cone. This is as PNW as it gets.

A short 4-block walk up Spring Street from the Clipper terminal lands you at the Earthbox Inn & Spa. A retro chic property in the heart of Friday Harbor, the hotel boasts bright, airy rooms designed in the calming colors inspired by the earth, sea, sun and sky.

Earthbox Inn's bright, airy rooms are the perfect place to relax. Credit: Earthbox Inn & Spa
Earthbox Inn’s bright, airy rooms are the perfect place to relax. Credit: Earthbox Inn & Spa

Once you manage to pull yourself from your room, treating yourself to one of the on-site spa’s soothing and rejuvenating massages, body treatments and facials are an absolute must. Relax and enter a state of pure bliss as all you cares, stress and worries are massaged away. You’ll never want to leave. Book this hotel with Clipper, learn more.

4:00 p.m. – San Juan Vineyard

Checked in and ready to explore, the first order of business is securing some wheels. Jump on one of the hotel’s complimentary beach cruiser bikes and power your adventure by pedal. By far one of the most efficient ways to get around the island, it’s an excellent way to soak up all the rolling hills, waterfront vistas and grassy plains along the way.

Looking for more ways to get around? Stop by Susie’s Mopeds to pick up a Scoot Coupe and zip around the island on a vehicle built for two or pick up a car rental at M&W Auto.

Cruise along the scenic Roche Harbor Road to the quaint, turn-of-the-century style chapel of San Juan Vineyards for an afternoon of wine tasting. The historic 1895 schoolhouse turned tasting room serves up a collection of award-winning wines, including the crisp, juicy Afterglow Rose (the perfect summer sipper!) and rich, savory Cattle Point Red. Kick back on the patio or stroll through the 6.5 acres of Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine vines and drink in the picturesque vistas. With sweeping valleys backed by rolling vineyards, the setting is top notch.

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

5:45 p.m. – Duck Soup

It’s a quick 10-minute trip up the street to Duck Soup, where the eats are local and the cocktails first-rate. Tucked into a forest just off the road, the country restaurant feels like dining at your friend’s cozy woodland cabin. Sip on locally foraged cocktails highlighting regional spirits concocted by your talented bartender while you dig into the complimentary sourdough bread paired with butter or anchovy spread. Warm and fresh from the oven, mouthwatering is an understatement.

Next, feast on herb and flower topped eats such as Westcott Bay oysters or charred beef filet from Chef and Owner Gretchen Allison’s rotating seasonal menu. Everything is made from scratch daily and the epitome of fresh, sophisticated Pacific Northwest cuisine. Be sure to grab a table on the covered deck overlooking the pond. With a low-lit ambiance, the vibe is cozy, elegant and romantic and makes for a great culinary experience.

9:30 p.m. – Earthbox Inn and Spa Pool, Jacuzzi & Sauna

Back at the hotel, hop in your swimsuit to take a dip in the heated, indoor pool (it is the only hotel on the island that has one!). Boasting a Jacuzzi and a sauna, it is a treat to experience one of the best features of the property and relax in the warm waters after a day of exploring.

Nothing is better than a dip in a pool on a summer day. Credit: Earthbox Inn and Spa
Nothing is better than a dip in a pool on a summer day. Credit: Earthbox Inn and Spa

SATURDAY – Day 2

10:00 a.m. – Breakfast at San Juan Island Farmer’s Market

Wander over to the San Juan Island Farmers Market and kick start your day with island-grown treats from more than 35 vendors. Swing Snowberry Farm Crepes for sweet and savory pastry filled goodness created by former and current Duck Soup chefs. Or grab a spicy Spanish omelet from the popular Paellas San Juan (Insider tip: Stuffed with local eggs, chorizo, potatoes and onion, the La Choriza is a must-try!).

Wash it down with a cup of locally roasted, single-origin coffee brewed on-site at the High Country Coffee stand. Before you leave, stock up on pastries, bagels and cookies, preserves and Tibetan dumplings aka “Momos” for a mid-day picnic.

11:15 a.m. – Lime Kiln 

Hop in your rental and make the less than 20-minute trek over the famous Lime Kiln Park, 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.) Follow the meandering walking path down to the still functional lighthouse and be prepared to fall into a staring contest with Mother Nature once you duck inside.

At the top of the stairs, panoramic vistas of the Olympic Mountain Range and Vancouver Island spread out before you. Back outside, continue along the trail to check out the historic, restored Lime Kiln. Cozy up at the nearby picnic table and dine on the treats you picked up from the market earlier in the morning. With waves crashing against the shore accompanied an occasional soft splash of a passing kayak, you’ll discover afternoon perfection.

Soak in fantastic ocean and mountain views at Lime Kiln Park. Credit: Brenna Ciummo
Soak in fantastic ocean and mountain views at Lime Kiln Park. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

12:45 p.m. – 3 Hour Kayaking Tour

Head over to the docks at Friday Harbor and meet up with the expert guides at San Juan Outfitters to check one of the Northwest’s quintessential summer activities off your list – experiencing San Juan Island from inside your own personal kayak.

Paddle away from the bustling harbor traffic and you’re soon gliding by twisted madronas perched on arid hillsides and clusters of tiny crystal jellyfish, like clouds drifting in their own deep blue sky. Keep an eye out for sea lions hauled out on rocky beaches. You may even spot tawny pups tumbling along the shore. With calm waters and jaw-dropping scenery on all sides, it feels like you’ve paddled your way into a scene worthy of a postcard.

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

4:00 p.m. – San Juan Island Brewing Co. 

Pop into the airy and rustic San Juan Island Brewing Co. to soak in more local goodness with a refreshing array of German-style lagers and English ales. The brainchild of local owners Sean and Tim Aylward, the spot is the only brewery on the island and features suds miles above your average grocery store brews.

Skip scouring the menu and order up the custom flight to sample five of the 12 different styles of beers produced at the brewery. Still not sure what to choose? Head brewer Jesse Visciglia highly recommends the Lane 4 Vienna Lager. Soft and smooth, the toasty brew hits the spot after a day on the water or wandering through town. Hungry for a quick bite? Nosh on the pub pretzel served with creamy Quarry No. 9 beer cheese sauce or a hand-crafted artisan pizza fired in the pub’s wood stone oven.

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

6:45 p.m. – Backdoor Kitchen

One of the best-kept secrets on the island, finding the entrance of the local’s favorite, Backdoor Kitchen requires a bit of hunting. Make your way around to the backside of the industrial looking building, follow the blue stone path and you’ll find your way in the backdoor. Of course, when in doubt, you can always ask a local and they will happily point you in the right direction.

Inside, you’ll find a cozy, little bar brimming with an array of exotic specialty cocktails, and that’s just the beginning of the culinary magic. Focused on reimagining fresh, locally sourced ingredients into a seasonally influenced menu, the restaurant serves up mouthwatering eats inspired by dishes from all over the globe. Dine on longstanding favorite such as the pan seared sea scallops or the Carlton Farms pork chop seared and served over house made Spaetzle. Yum!

9:00 p.m. – Westside Preserve

Pay a visit to the Westside Preserve to soak in one of the most stunning sunsets around at this open expanse of protected land and shoreline. Perched high above the Haro Strait on the rocky bluff, you have a good vantage point to watch for marine life and the golden, rosy glow of the sun the as it disappears beyond the horizon.

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

SUNDAY – Day 3

9:45 a.m. – Rocky Bay Café

Situated on Spring Street in the heart of town, Rocky Bay Café is practically an institution in Friday Harbor. With a friendly staff and bright, whimsical art on the walls, the spot hits the mark for both a great location and a chill vibe. Oh yeah, did we mention it has an all-day breakfast? Three of our favorite words to see on a menu and a big reason why the diner will quickly earn a soft spot in your heart. If their delicious eggy creations (think crab or salmon Eggs Benny) don’t have you coming back for more, their famous corned beef hash and hearty portions certainly will!

11:30 a.m. – Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Zip to the center of the island to experience Pelindaba Lavender Farm’s 25-acre floral oasis. Walk out into the middle of fields and surround yourself with more than 20,000 (and a whopping 50 varieties) sweetly-scented blooms. Then let your taste buds get in on the action and sample lavender flavored everything – ice cream, lemonade, hot chocolate, cookies and more.

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

1:00 p.m. – English Camp

Head 15-minutes north up the road to delve into the island’s rich past at English Camp, the site of the British army’s fort during the Pig War. Nestled alongside the calm waters of Garrison Bay and home to flower-filled formal English Garden, the spot is gorgeous.

Check out the fascinating short film that explains this history of the camp inside the visitor center and wander through the former barracks, hospital, shore house and more. Up for climb? A short but steep 1.1-mile hike to the top of the 650-foot Young Hill will reward you with phenomenal views of the Haro Strait, all the San Juan Islands and even Vancouver Island.

Explore the barracks under old fruit trees at the picturesque English Camp. Credit: The Arbos
Explore the barracks under old fruit trees at the picturesque English Camp. Credit: The Arbos

1:45 p.m. – Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm

Slurp sweet, plum Manila clams, Mediterranean mussels and oysters straight from the sea at Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm! Stroll along the beach and see the farm in action before plunging your hands into 50-degree water to pick out the shellfish of your choosing! Fine-tune your shucking skills with a quick lesson and dig into an icy cold pile of briny bivalves. Don’t like ‘em raw? The friendly staff will happily serve oysters and clams barbecued and steamed!

Feast the freshest seafood around at Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm. Credit: Scott Meis

2:30 p.m. – Beechtree Espresso and Ice Cream

As an added bonus, indulge in a refreshing scoop, or two, of locally-crafted ice cream at Beechtree Espresso and Ice Cream. Smooth and in an assortment of creative and classic flavors, it is heaven in a cone.

3:45 p.m. – Whale Museum & Orca Survey Outreach and Education Center

On the way back to the harbor, stop by the Whale Museum on First Street to discover engaging interactive exhibits that teach about the Salish Sea ecosystem and our cherished marine mammals that call it home.

Check out real whale skeletons, a family tree of the Resident orcas, life-size models, artwork and a map of whale sightings. Want to learn 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 into the history and state of Southern Resident orcas from locals on the front lines of research.

Discover full-size skeletons of whales and other sealife at the Whale Museum. Credit: Scott Meis
Discover full-size skeletons of whales and other sealife at the Whale Museum. Credit: Scott Meis

5:15 p.m. – Depart Friday Harbor

As the San Juan Clipper navigates out of the bustling Friday Harbor, the stately white Cattle Point Lighthouse rising above tall surrounding grasses is sure to catch your eye. After a few days on San Juan Island, it is easy to fall in love with this laid-back paradise, yet simultaneously only have begun to scratch the surface.

A stroll on the sandy shores of 4th of July Beach, a stop at American Camp to soak in more history and a trek to the iconic Afterglow Vista, all beg for a return visit, leaving you counting the days till the next trip.

Kick back and relax on a scenic cruise back to Seattle on the San Juan Clipper.
Kick back and relax on a scenic cruise back to Seattle on the San Juan Clipper.

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-hour and 45-minute 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.

What hotels should I stay at on San Juan Island?

Clipper Vacations partners with highly vetted hotels in San Juan Island. Check out our Seattle to San Juan Island Overnight to explore hotel package deal options.

Book Your San Juans Trip Now