The Getaway
Unwind and Recharge on the San Juan Islands

Just 100 miles north of Seattle, in the northwest Salish Sea, lies the San Juan Islands, a cluster of over a hundred named islands. Among these, Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island stand out, easily reached by ferry. These islands, rich with evergreen forests, form a scenic link between Canada's Vancouver Island and the U.S. mainland.

In 2013, the beauty and importance of this area were officially recognized when President Obama designated San Juan County as a National Monument. The islands are particularly inviting during the dry summer months, offering a variety of outdoor activities. Visitors can enjoy rowing alongside porpoises, diving into the underwater world, tasting unique seaweed, and climbing ancient trees. For those interested in arts and culture, there are art classes available. Additionally, the islands are home to orchards where you can enjoy the simple pleasure of fresh fruit.

Each island offers its own unique charm, making the San Juan Islands an ideal spot for those looking to relax and recharge. Whether you're seeking adventure on the water, exploration on land, or a peaceful retreat in nature, these islands provide a perfect getaway.


01 Rent a summer home on Orcas Island

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan islands by a small margin, but going from east to west takes just over half an hour by car. The terrain is mountainous and vividly green, so beautiful the locals cheesily call it "Orcasmic." Nature lovers can spend idyllic days stand-up paddle boarding, swinging off tree ropes, swimming in lakes, jumping off cliffs and bridges, and hiking until their calves burn—family vacations don't get better than this.

The skyline on Orcas is remarkably devoid of tall buildings, and you can expect a digital detox. Moran State Park has many scenic trails, and Rosario Resort has an inviting spa if you want to remain stationary.

Orcas Island Aerial View - San Juan Islands Washington USA SEASTOCK/ Getty Images

02 Go cycling on Lopez Island

If you're in the mood for cycling, Lopez Island can make your San come to life. It's flat, won't make you huff and puff too hard, and the drivers are patient and accommodating. The landscape flows from a coastal dream to the forest and countryside, and you don't need to bring your own bike for long and leisurely rides. Look for the seals playing on pebbled beaches and eat at some of the best restaurants in the region.

Fishermans Bay, Lopez Island, Washington, United States lfreytag/ Getty Images

03 Whale watch for hours

Whale watching is a given when you come to this part of the States, and you don't always have to travel out to sea to spot the local orcas. FYI, they're technically dolphins.

Stretches of shoreline, including the one at Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island, offer a peek, and you can spot minke whales, gray whales, and humpbacks. Go sea kayaking along the Cascadia Marine Trail, and you'll float right past these magnificent mammals before setting up camp for the night. The whale museum on San Juan Island provides further insight into the biodiversity.

Orca surfacing by whale watching tour boat Greg Schneider/ Getty Images

04 Discover a bizarre chapter in US history

In 1859, there was a four-month diplomatic dispute about where the US border ended, and the UK border began. This dispute is known as the Pig War and was thankfully short on violence but for a murdered hog. You can learn about it at American & English Camp National Parks on San Juan Island. Ride scooters here for fun, and keep an eye out for an Osprey eyrie.

05 Climb to the top of Mt. Young

While you're at English Camp, you must summit Mt. Young for unforgettable views of Garrison Bay's glistening waters, the Olympic Peninsula, and various islands—the panorama will imprint itself on your retinas. It's a steep ascent, but only a mile long, and dogs on leashes are welcome too. Westcott Bay Sculpture Park and the Afterglow Mausoleum are nearby.

Father and son hiking on mountain trail above alpine lake Thomas Barwick/ getty Images

06 Relax at Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor gets busy during peak periods, but you'll want to stop here for a meal, ice cream, or drinks and to shop for souvenirs while catching glimpses of the marina. Take bougie pics near Hotel de Haro and head to the McMillin Mausoleum, AKA the Afterglow Mausoleum, at the Roche Harbor Cemetery for an eyeful of the stunning rotunda. You'll want to do a spirited photoshoot here, even as you're a stone's throw away from the dead.

San Juan Island Roche Harbor Panorama Aerial Birds Eye View SEASTOCK/ Getty Images

07 Appreciate the fresh produce

The San Juan Islands are big on self-sufficiency. It's no surprise, then, that a sustainable ethos prevails, and there are impressive organic farm-to-table dishes to sample. Beyond the delicious gourmet food, you can meet alpacas, drink up the vineyards and cideries, visit Pelindaba Lavender Farm with its fragrant purple fields and lavender-themed treats, and shuck oysters at a farm too. Farmers' markets dot the islands on weekends.

08 Put your culture lenses on at SJIMA

San Juan Islands Museum of Art is situated in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and is open four days a week. It's an intimate venue celebrating the fine arts with three exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, photography, and other mediums, such as glass. You might see works focused on the Vietnam War, Native ceremonial masks, or rotating displays with local or international themes. There's also student art and pieces that reflect flora and fauna from this part of the world.

09 Sail around the islands

Charter a small yacht if you can, and take in the islands from the malachite waters. You can hire a skipper if you have little sailing experience and fish, read a book, sunbathe, or play cards with peace of mind. Unpredictable cell reception means you can go offline for proper R&R and savor the relative seclusion. You won't have to pay for extra whale-watching tours or marine safaris, and the orcas really put on a show when you linger long enough. Make stops at the various islands to go clamming or sightseeing on land.

August 16th, 2016 - San Juan Islands, WA: Stern of a sailing vessel with lowered boom Karyn R. Millet/ Getty Images

10 Save time for the Fidalgo Island

Fidalgo is seen as the gateway to the San Juan islands, but it has its fair share of charm. Once you're done walking along the docks in Anacortes, head to Old Town for fresh seafood or Washington Park for the vistas over the archipelago. The Roozengaarde Display Garden is 15 minutes away from Fidalgo island and immensely popular, so go early or on a weekday. There are 1000 acres of various bulbs, including daffodils and irises, and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in spring is a riot of color.

Colorful water seen of coast of Fidalgo Island, Washington, United States T Schofield/ getty Images

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