Itinerary ideas - Seattle/Vancouver/Gulf-San Juan Islands
April 22, 2018 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Taking the fam 10 days from June 26, flying into SEA and out of Vancouver. Looking for ideas - pretty flexible. Never been. More inside.

* Figure only a couple days in Seattle to start; sounds like enough.
* Going to end in Vancouver, I'm sure we'll find 3-4 days of things to do (and eat!). Would like to be there for Canada Day if possible.
* Would prefer not to rent a car, happy to take trains and ferries. This is the hardest thing for me to figure out - getting around easily without backtracking or hiring/renting a car. I know there's a 4 hour train from Seattle to Vancouver, which seems fine.
* Would like to stay a couple days on one of the islands - hike, kayak, some AirBNB in the woods. This is where the travel is starting to confuse me.
* Victoria seems a little sleepy to us, so unless it's convenient, no reason to go

If it ends up being Seattle 2 days, train to Vancouver, then ferry to some island and back to Vancouver to fly out, that's fine, but with 10 days, I wonder what the rest of you think.
posted by VeniceGlass to Travel & Transportation around Vancouver, BC (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kinds of things do you like to do/eat? Any kids? (how old?)
posted by btfreek at 7:50 AM on April 22, 2018

Response by poster: 2 kids, late teens, perfectly capable of keeping up. We eat anything.
posted by VeniceGlass at 8:00 AM on April 22, 2018

If money were no object, I would consider taking a seaplane. They leave Lake Union (in the middle of Seattle) and go to the San Juans, as well as Coal Harbor in Vancouver.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you want to be in Vancouver for Canada Day it seems it would make the most sense to go to the Gulf Islands instead of the San Juans, unless you really don't care about rushing through Seattle.

BC Ferries runs routes from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to the Gulf Islands (nonstop to Galiano/Saltspring, transfers to the other islands) - here's their summer schedule. (note that July 2nd is a holiday Monday.) Cost is ~$20pp each way. The train/bus connection out to Tsawwassen is apparently much better now than it was in the past, but I haven't taken it in years so I can't personally vouch for it. IME it is much easier to secure a spot as a walk-on passenger during busy times than with a vehicle.

Harbour Air runs seaplanes from Coal Harbour (downtown Vancouver) to Saltspring. Cost is.. significantly more (but they are super cool and convenient!)

For Seattle -> Vancouver there is also Quick Coach and Bolt Bus, but I would go with the train instead if at all possible.
posted by btfreek at 10:43 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

> I know there's a 4 hour train from Seattle to Vancouver

In case you don't know: that train is notorious for delays (mudslides, cars on the tracks, etc).
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:47 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you're arriving in Seattle and you don't want to rent a car, the only choice really is the seaplane (I took one yesterday to attend a conference in Vancouver).

Seaplanes fly Seattle <> Vancouver, Vancouver <> Victoria, Victoria OR Vancouver <> Gulf Islands.

TBH, you're better off renting a car or something.

Seattle to Port Angeles by car; ditch the car at Port Angeles. The drive from Seattle is spectacular.

Port Angeles to Victoria by Coho ferry, overnight in downtown Victoria OR Sidney, BC.

Victoria to Sidney / Swartz Bay by public transit.

Swartz Bay to one of the Gulf Islands by ferry; no idea how you get to your lodging on your Gulf Island without a car, though.

Gulf Island to Tsawwassen (Vancouver) ferry terminal by ferry; Tsawwassen to Vancouver by public transit (budget 2 hours).

That's what I would do.

Deciding to not use a car, though, is a strategic consideration. You're increasing the cost of your trip, and the time it takes to get anywhere. For example, getting from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver (70 miles as the crow flies) by public transit will take minimum six hours.

The other challenge you must immediately address is that it's going to be next to impossible to find suitable accommodation for the July 1 long weekend. Everything is booked already.
posted by JamesBay at 11:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Victoria is a super cute town with lots of history and good beer. We went on a whale watching tour and it was AMAZING. I really didn't expect to see so many whales so close up but it was awesome.

The ferry trip from Vancouver to Victoria is pretty damn impressive too. You go through some really narrow passes between islands.
posted by Brittanie at 11:31 AM on April 22, 2018

There's also the fast passenger ferry between Seattle and Victoria, BC. So you could do Seattle-Victoria- Vancouver Island-Vancouver. Vancouver Island is fairly big and I think you could get plenty of the whole Salish Sea woodsy island vibes.

If you wanted to go through the San Juans, it's not clear to me how you'd get to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, WA without a car. It's nearly a 2 hour drive from Seattle, and if you rent a car, you need to have a reservation to take it on the ferry and those book up months in advance of the summer season.

You can take the ferry from Sidney B.C. (on Vancouver Island) to Friday Harbor (San Juan Island) and explore from there, but it would require backtracking to Vancouver.
posted by stowaway at 4:56 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, this was almost me exactly a year ago, non-driver trying to figure out a ~10-day PNW trip in late June/early July during the Canada Day/US Independence Day weekend :D I was flying solo, and I didn't end up doing the ferries because I was trying to do this on the cheap (I ended up on Megabus), but if my budget had been higher, here's what I would have done:

If choosing any of the San Juan Islands (USA), I would have:

- taken the Clipper Fast Ferry from downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Yes, the Washington State Ferry would be much cheaper, but you have to get to Anacortes, a 90-minute drive north of Seattle. This is possible via a three-bus or four-bus transfer (sounding like 3-4 *hours*), but sounds meh compared to being on a direct ferry.
- then taken the Washington State Ferries (PDF map) if I wanted to see any of the other San Juan Islands (Orcas, Lopez, Shaw).
- no direct route from the San Juans to Vancouver, so Washington State Ferry from Friday Harbor to Sidney, BC/Swartz Bay, about an hour bus ride north of Victoria. Either split up the long trip in two and overnight in Victoria, then double back to Sidney, or directly ...
- catch the ferry to Tsawwassen, BC, and then get the BC Ferries Connector bus to downtown Vancouver.

(I was planning to compress the last two steps into one very long day and skip Victoria proper, having been there before and it being lower priority on this particular trip, but I don't know that I figured the specifics out.)

If choosing any of the Gulf Islands (Canada), I would have:

- taken the Clipper Fast Ferry from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria
- done a little bit of touristing in Victoria, then headed up to Sidney/Swartz Bay via the aforementioned bus and taken BC Ferries to/from my southern Gulf Island(s) of choice, gradually making my way across to Tsawwassen.
- get the BC Ferries Connector bus to downtown Vancouver.

Seaplanes would also have been really nifty! But they looked even more expensive than the ferries, so I didn't look into them.

Also, the train is supposed to be very beautiful IF AND ONLY IF you get the one ride each way per day that is actually the *train* and not a bus substitution that just takes the highway like every other car. The second major caveat: on another trip, I was going to take this train. It was EIGHT HOURS LATE. This is apparently quite common. I ended up on a bus instead. I would probably do this if I was by myself and my schedule was flexible, but I wouldn't necessarily inflict it on multiple other travelers, and since you want to head out to the islands, I don't think it makes much sense with your specific desires.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:45 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pro Tip: On Lopez it is customary to wave to all passersby - even Paul Allen.
posted by wjfitzy at 12:03 AM on April 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Although looking at your specifications a second time, I'm a bit confused. You're arriving in Seattle June 26, BUT you want to be in Vancouver for Canada Day - which means arriving in Vancouver by the evening of June 30 to be settled in and able to do stuff on Canada Day itself? That really leaves you only three full days for Seattle *and* islands before "3-4 days in Vancouver," plus travel.

You might be able to do this if you swap your schedule around like so:

June 26-29: Seattle. Maybe take a daytrip using the Clipper from Seattle to Friday Harbor, but you're not going to have much time to get outside town for hiking or kayaking with only ~5ish hours on-island.
TRAVEL DAY June 30: Clipper from Seattle to Victoria, bus from Victoria to Sidney, ferry from Sidney to Tsawwassen, bus from Tsawwassen to Vancouver. With this being Saturday of a holiday weekend, I'd triple-check every schedule detail.
July 1: Canada Day in Vancouver - enjoy festivities, but various things will be closed, and may remain so on July 2nd, a holiday Monday IIRC.
July 2nd or 3rd: bus from Vancouver to Tsawwassen, BC Ferries out to your Gulf Island of choice.
July 5(?): return to Vancouver for July 6(?) flight out.

More backtracking and way more time in transit, less time spent relaxing. I'd drop your idea of being in Vancouver for Canada Day to ease the schedule a bit, or if that's a higher priority, I'd drop the idea of spending time in the islands.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 9:05 AM on April 23, 2018

« Older Should I buy a smartphone in China?   |   Why does my husband's overreaction bother me so... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.