Pacific Northwest Travel to see Orcas--Preschool Edition
October 29, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Where is the best place to stay in the Pacific Northwest for one month with easy access to (1) orca watching (2) day or overnight trips to Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Olympic Peninsula (3) nature. We want to spend the month of August 2014 to escape the heat of Austin. Cost is somewhat of an object but I will only camp in limited circumstances. Here are more details about what I am looking to find:

My four year old son fell in love with Shamu at Sea World San Antonio this year and we would like to get him from Sea World to "See World". He will turn 5 on this trip. I researched and realized that the Pacific Northwest is great for orcas. I found a lot of wonderful orca watching tours that he is too young for (aka kayak tours) so I think we will be limited to day boat trips to see orcas. I have found that there were some orca projects with volunteer possibilities in the past, but I am not seeing any current ones. If you know of anything like that, it would be perfect. But otherwise, I would also like a place that is a great jumping off point for day trips to watch orcas or explore other places. The San Juan Islands look great but don't know how easy/time consuming or expensive it will be to take ferries everywhere with a car.

Also, I would prefer not to stay in a large city like Seattle and Vancouver since I love traveling in places with natural beauty and less hustle and bustle. That said, I will be with my son alone for 2 weeks before Mr. Murrey joins us and would like some amenities and not be deep in nature. Is Friday Harbor a good option or is it too busy? What about Orcas Island? I am also game to stay in Victoria BC or the Olympic Peninsula if you all know of something wonderful there and it is a great "hub" for travel around the area.

All that said, the main driving force of this trip is orca watching. Any thoughts?
posted by murrey to Travel & Transportation around Edwards, MO (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Victoria itself is probably the best place to see orcas. There's easy access to see whales in Juan de Fuca Strait and the northern part of the San Juan Islands. Whale watching boats are located in the Inner Harbour (about a 2 minute walk from where I am banging on the keyboard).

There's a car ferry to Vancouver about 20 minutes from downtown. There's a car ferry to Port Angeles and the Olympic Peninsula right in the Inner Harbour. There's also a passenger ferry to Seattle from the Inner Harbour (although it's not a long drive to Seattle from Port Angeles).

Other day trips from Victoria include Botanical Beach (about a 2-hour drive) and Juan de Fuca provincial park, the town of Sidney, which has its own aquarium plus it is a "book town" with a bunch of cool book shops (Victoria as well has the largest used bookstore in Canada, Russell's, plus a bookstore founded by this year's Nobel Literature Prize winner, Alice Munro).

Victoria also has the most independent coffee shops per capita in North America outside of Portland, a couple of miles of beachfront park to explore about a 15 minute walk from downtown.

Speaking as a parent and someone who has spent a lot of time in Vancouver (I used to work downtown), Victoria is also a little better for kids than Vancouver. Less crowded, less time to get to places kids like, closer of course to killer whales.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was going to say that Victoria is really dead center in the Southern Pod's habitat as they traverse the Strait of Juan de Fuca north of Puget Sound. You can see them off the breakwater here.

I was out on a boat a few years ago just off Victoria, and the entire Southern Pod was present, travelling east from the Pacific towards the San Juan Islands. There was a line of whales that stretched from horizon to horizon.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:07 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

He might want to see the whale museum in Friday Harbor.
posted by jgirl at 9:27 AM on October 29, 2013

Port Townsend, WA would probably work too.
posted by black8 at 10:30 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't miss Mora and Rialto beach, at Rialto beach there are gorgeous invertebrates everywhere in the tide pools. Also, if you see signs advertising smoked salmon in the area, STOP and get more than you think you should, because you will be wrong about how much you want.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:23 AM on October 29, 2013

Bellingham, WA fits the bill well - it's about 1:30 h to Seattle, 1 hour to Vancouver (depending on border traffic), and there are several companies that have daily whale watching trips. You're close to Mt. Baker and right on the Puget sound.

Friday Harbor is a decent option, but you'll have to take a ferry to get off the island, which is very expensive with a car.
posted by tecg at 12:15 PM on October 29, 2013

Friday Harbor will be in 'high season' at that time of year (best month for weather/vacation slots) so you'll have very long ferry lines and pay premiums to stay there (on top of normal it's-an-expensive-island). It is a bit of a long way/time to get there from anywhere else.

Port Townsend is a very pleasant small town, less touristy and usually more of a way-point than a destination. This makes it a good compromise of all normal small town amenities (some of them quite nice), being on the Olympic Peninsula, and within driving distance of Seattle. If you go there, know that it's more reliable/less waiting to drive up from the south vs. take the ferry from Whidbey Island.
posted by cult_url_bias at 3:57 PM on October 29, 2013

Seconding KokuRyu's advice about Victoria and the Gulf Islands.
I'd add that the north end of Vancouver Island around Port McNeil and Telegraph Cove is a prime Orca area in August. You can drive up the island in a day on good highways with great scenery along the way.
posted by islander at 12:38 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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