What should we do in the San Juans?
August 18, 2017 3:39 PM   Subscribe

We're staying on Orcas Island for almost a week soon. What should we do?

I've done no research this time! Whale watching and Mt. Constitution are on the agenda. What else? What about food, either restaurants or vendors of any description?

We have reservations on the ferry from the mainland and back; any tips for inter-island ferries? Will there be a wait for them?

We'll have two sixty-somethings, two thirty-somethings, and a three-year-old.
posted by SirNovember to Travel & Transportation around Washington (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just got back from San Juan Island. Took the ferry from Anacortes. If you're going that way, I recommend eating at Calico Cupboard in Anacortes either before you board the ferry or after you get back-- they have homemade bread and baked goods. A great experience.

There was a big crush of people to get on the ferry (and it was a weekday), and I believe that cars often have to wait through a couple ferry cycles before getting on, though I'm not sure how that varies by season.

While on board the ferry bring something to do. The scenery is great but it took longer than I thought. If you're picky about food and beverages, bring your own. They are offered in the galley of the ferry but you might not like overpriced popcorn and other stale-ish stuff.

Enjoy the islands!
posted by Temeraria at 4:43 PM on August 18, 2017

You most definitely need to try Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound - it has amazing French-influenced baked goods and coffee. They typically have a line, for good reason. Generally speaking the restaurant food on Orcas is pretty great.

Moran State Park (Mt. Constitution lies therein) is great! There are plenty of trails that can be done with a three year old - rangers can give you some tips when you are there. There is a swimming beach in Moran with facilities, snacks, and a playground.

Kayaking is a big thing in the San Juans, plenty of places around to rent you one.

Rosario Resort was the Moran family mansion ... it's very pretty and old-fashioned, they have an excellent restaurant. You can get a day-pass to the pool if you want.
posted by stowaway at 5:14 PM on August 18, 2017

For whale watching, just hang out at Lime Kiln State Park. I don't know any good spots on Orcas. Olga village is supposed to be really cute.

On SJI, the food is good here, especially the iconic homemade morning doughnuts at Lime Kiln! If you are at Roche Harbor at sundown you can see their "Colors" ceremony, where they lower the Canadian and American flags and play the national anthems, then a cannon goes off. Sculpture Park is right nearby and is OK. It would be good if you like shooting photos.

The alpaca farm is nice and you can buy yarn and goods there. As you may know, alpacas are not friendly cuddlers, so the three-year old might be disappointed. (I sure would be!)

Definitely go to the lavender farm. You can sample the fabulous iced tea and lemonade. The lavender shortbread and lavender ice cream and sorbet are delicious! You can buy those there as well as lots of other lavender products and lavender-themed jewelry, prints, and cards. Be aware that when you walk through the rows of lavender that there are hundreds of bees -- the buzzing is amazing. It's unlikely that they will even pay attention to you. It's a great place for photography. There's also an exhibit on the planting and harvesting and so on.

The local news might give you some ideas of what to do and where to go.

The last time I was out there, we went to Victoria and puttered around. I loved it. We took the boat, but you could take the ferry to Sydney and drive down. You could also stop at the Butchart Gardens, which I unfortunately was not able to do.

There's a Moon travel guide to the islands. I don't know if Fodor has one. There are also a bunch of island bloggers, some of whom are artisans or farmers. Those might give you ideas.
posted by jgirl at 5:16 PM on August 18, 2017

The ferry from the mainland IS the inter-island ferry.

You MUST have a reservation. There will be a wait. The reservation system is still fairly new, and people I know are still struggling with it.

If I were you, I would contact whomever/where ever you're staying and ask their advice, both about getting there and things to do while you're there. It seems to me that the challenge is going to be the 3 year old, but kids vary so much, and you will have multiple adults. There are a few farms you can visit on Orcas, and a shellfish farm (mud!). I've heard of the Funhouse Commons in Eastsound, but don't know anyone who's taken kids there.

It really is a magical place, all the San Juan Islands are, and I'm sure you'll have a great time and make great memories.
posted by kestralwing at 1:54 AM on August 19, 2017

I'll second the recommendation for some hiking in Moran state park; there's a wide range of trails, none of which are too difficult, and there are several pretty waterfalls. There's also Turtleback Preserve for outdoors time.

If you want to relax and watch a good sunset, go to West Beach. There's a resort with cabins there, but also a little bar with tables and benches on a pier, and an unbroken view of sunset over the ocean and The Channel Islands.

For food, I can recommend:
-The restaurant at the Inn at Ship Bay. It's really good, and a fairly typical "nice" restaurant.
-Hogstone, which is experimental and hyperlocal. It's ostensibly a pizza shop, but also opened Ælder, a fine dining wing, in July. Reservations needed.
-Brown Bear Baking is great for quick food

Honestly, I thought two nights on Orcas was about right. There's definitely more to do than that, but I'd for sure explore another island or two if I were there for a week. Make your reservations now.

Also, there's an amazing local ceramicist who goes by Forest Ceramics up there. Definitely check him out if you run into him at a market. Such a good guy and with beautiful wares.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 9:23 AM on August 19, 2017

Definitely go kayaking and biking!

If you like plants, make sure you know how to use the macro settings on your camera/phone; you'll be taking a lot of closeups of elaborate mosses! It's a moss enthusiast paradise.
posted by Alioth at 2:47 PM on August 19, 2017

I rented a moped in Friday Harbor and rode it all over that island. It was fun.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2017

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