August 13, 2010 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Where should we stay/what should we do/how should we get around in the San Juan Islands? Complications: we won't have a car, don't want to rent bikes for more than a couple of hours, and want to do things on at least two of the islands.

My husband and I are planning a lastish-minute trip to the San Juan Islands for September 10-13. We're coming from Seattle. The only things we definitely want to do are a whale watching tour (already booked-leaves from Friday Harbor on Sunday afternoon) and hiking Mount Constitution. We're also mildly interested in the Sculpture Park in Roche Harbor. Mostly we want to relax.

We need to make hotel reservations like yesterday, but I'm having a hard time deciding where to stay given that the things we want to do are on opposite sides of San Juan Island, and in the middle of Orcas Island. We're open to staying different places on different nights, but we just don't want to feel like we're constantly running around. We don't want to have to deal with a car, and if I have to bike all over two islands I'll cry. I know about the inter-island ferries, but what other transportation options exist on the Islands?

Specific hotel recommendations are great, general area suggestions are also helpful. We don't really like cutesy B&Bs but can tolerate them if the price/location/amenities/etc. are right. Other suggestions for stuff to do are also appreciated.
posted by doift to Travel & Transportation around Friday Harbor, WA (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Orcas Island public bus schedule. Other than that, you are on your own.
posted by Danf at 8:03 PM on August 13, 2010

There is a cheap and beautiful campground on Shaw Island that's an easy walk (just under 2 miles) from the ferry landing. Stop at The Market in Anacortes before you get on the ferry and get some good food for dinner, then spend the evening walking on the beach, and listening to the birds and the waves.

It's relaxing - a nice escape from the industrial-strength tourism on Orcas and San Juan.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:22 PM on August 13, 2010

If you feel like it, Kenmore Air has regularly scheduled seaplane flights among the San Juans; they can get you between Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, and Rosario (I think). I think they also have sightseeing flights as well as the transportation flights, but even the non-sightseeing flights give you a really beautiful view. I've taken them between Friday Harbor and Seattle a few times.

I vaguely recall the existence of some non-WSDOT ferries among the islands, but I don't know if they'd be useful to you.

The island ferries don't really run on time during tourist season (a bit of a contrast from the clockwork Seattle commuter runs) so I recommend not making any plans that'll be screwed up by an unexpected delay here or there.

There's a pretty good used bookstore in Friday Harbor.
posted by hattifattener at 12:39 AM on August 14, 2010

Susie's Mopeds might be an option, and they have three-wheelers as well as the conventional scooters. Give them a call to check on the seasonal availability. There's also the San Juan Taxi. I'll try to find their card.

You might want to hike at Lime Kiln on SJI, and it has an iconic lighthouse-as-photo-background. The sculpture garden is OK; it'll be good if you are photographers. The alpaca farm has a shop with clothing made with their fibers by people in Peru. (I think it's Peru.) If you go by the winery and Mona the Camel is out, stop by and give her a pat. I haven't met her, but she's reputed to be very affectionate.
posted by jgirl at 6:12 AM on August 14, 2010

I asked this question last year and here's my thoughts on your trip.

First off, we ended up taking our car. As we were camping for the bulk of the trip, the idea of doing without just got to be too overwhelming. Frankly, I found the cost of the car compared to the convenience and the logistics to be worth it. They say you should leave your car behind and I think for the most part, it really looks like you can. However, we also went in late September, starting the 18th, and that is heading into their shoulder season so perhaps there is less traffic in general then. Gas up before you leave the mainland and give plenty of time to board the ferry with your car/selves. Also, the ferry from Orcas to San Juan was a lot longer than I imagined. I had to spend quite a bit of time on the ferry sites to figure out my itinerary... but you'll want to do that to make sure that you want to make all the stops that you think.

We started off on Orcas Island and stayed at a campground that was on the shore of an inland lake. From there, we drove to the trailhead and hiked up Mt. Constitution. If you want to figure out a way to get there from the little (adorable) town on Orcas, call their Chamber of Commerce. Seriously! We stopped in there when we were there and they were so chatty and awesome and they could totally point you in the right direction. Call during the day.

Otherwise, you can drive to the top. We did that the next day because it was rather socked in the first day and we wanted the view. The hike was a challenge that we weren't up for again. A fun challenge but... nonetheless....

Friday Harbor is pretty compact and a fun place to hang out. After three days camping on Orcas followed by kayaking and camping we "splurged" on the Earthbox Motel in Friday Harbor. We were just going to do one night and then camp again but we negotiated for a better price and stayed a second night. We did a driving loop around San Juan Island, stopping for some little hikes and the lime kiln and had a picnic lunch at Roche Harbor which is a funny little place -- sort of where the posh boats hang out. Get there just before sundown for a show. The waitstaff was all goofy because they were about to close the restaurant there for the season. We also liked the Market Cafe in Friday Harbor.

Now, can you do that without a car? No idea. But, if you're not totally committed to the "no car" concept -- I think you might be happy you brought yours. But that really depends on what you are up for. You're just there for three days, yes? I think just trolling around those towns plus the whale tour might be enough!

Have fun -- we really liked it out there!
posted by amanda at 8:44 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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