Best Place San Juan Islands
Sprinkled in the Puget Sound like breadcrumbs, the San Juan Islands are somehow remote and nearby all at once. The quaint islands offer an escape from urbanity and a sampling of charming rural Washington.
Though there are more than a hundred islands in the chain, only four of the San Juans can be reached by major ferries: San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Big white-and-green boats shepherd passengers and their vehicles to the main isles.
Life is slow on the bucolic islands, with a vibe that reminds some of rural, maritime New England—think narrow roads that wind between small pastures and grassy fields, and sailboats lining the shore. Although there’s a second-home contingent here, the San Juans don’t feel like a resort. Each island has the feel of a small town, supportive of its independent businesses and culture. Locals wear casual clothes and beat-up sneakers even if they own a million-dollar waterfront house.
Here you’ll find charming hubs with surprisingly good dining, as well as outdoor recreation opportunities aplenty, from hiking to kayaking to biking. Gorgeous viewpoints are possible from the islands’ vantages. And in the waters surrounding the islands, resident orcas breach, adding an even more magical layer to the environs.
For a first visit to the San Juan Islands, it’s hard to pass up a day or two in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It’s the archipelago’s biggest town, has a number of good shops, and whale-watching boats leave regularly. From there, you can explore the rest of San Juan Island, including the charming Roche Harbor Resort, the anchor of the island’s northwest side, and the historic American and English Camps. Free spirits may prefer horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, where there are fewer restaurants in its central hub of Eastsound but lots of ways to play in kayaks or in a funky little brewery. Cyclists and those needing peace and quiet can head to Lopez Island, a rural spot with few amenities—most centered in a cluster known as Lopez Village—but plenty of friendliness. Whale-watching is possible from all three islands, but the most outfitters are available on San Juan Island.