The San Juan Islands are a bucket list destination on a trip to Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. The San Juan Islands are an archipelago of 173 islands. Travel to San Juan Islands on the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, Washington traversing one of Washington State’s Scenic Byways – the only state byway that has a land and water-based component. As we like to say, getting here is half the fun!
As part of your 5-day itinerary to San Juan Islands, you will visit three of the four ferry-served islands. Spend three nights on San Juan Island and two on Orcas Island with an island-hopping day trip to Lopez Island. The San Juan Islands have photo-worthy outlooks around every corner. Savor the scenery, breathe deeply, and relax and fill your lungs with the salty air. Your itinerary is filled with memorable hikes, scenic picnic vistas and bike routes that will reward you with million-dollar views.
Day 1 – San Juan Island – The Loop
The Island loop that circumnavigates San Juan Island is about 35 miles, which is also often the speed limit. Keep in mind that we share our narrow roads with bicyclists, mopeds, pedestrians, and vehicles (as well as wildlife such as deer and foxes), so exercise caution as you sightsee. Grab a picnic lunch before setting out from Friday Harbor or plan a stop at Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. for lunch. Sample freshly harvested raw and grilled oysters or a cheese and charcuterie board with some local cider.
American Camp National Park
Visit the encampment and Readout, and learn about the “Pig War.”
Head to Jakle’s Lagoon and park on the right. There you will find the trailhead to Mt. Finlayson through a dense cedar and fern forest. It is a short steep hike to the top and the views across the prairie are spectacular.
Bluff Trail from Castle Point Lighthouse to South Beach to Granny’s Cove
Listen for the sea lions and look for eagles flying in the thermals, hanging out on the bluffs, or sitting atop the lighthouse. In the spring the prairie is filled with a dense carpet of wildflowers.
Sit atop a driftwood log, picnic, rest, or read a book. Toast to an amazing day at the longest public beach in the islands. End your day here with a beach barbecue. Grab some oysters and mussels from Westcott Beach and enjoy a local feast.
INNSider Tip: Ask the rangers about the resident pair of nesting eagles at the visitor’s center.
San Juan Island Activities
Meander through the fields, take their self-guided tour to learn more about lavender essential oils and visit the Gate House Gift Shop. Take home a few gifts, including tasty culinary lavender. Peak bloom happens from mid-July through August.
The alpacas are adorable and friendly and the gift shop has beautiful hand-knitted clothing. If you are a knitter, buy a skein of yarn and meet the animals responsible for it.
Explore this seasonal boater village by kayak If you prefer, walk around, shop and dine at one of these restaurants – McMillin’s Dining Room, Madrona Grill or Lime Kiln Café. During the summer, island artists set up kiosks in the main square. At sunset each night, observe the traditional colors ceremony. Visit the chapel, lime kilns, and the historic Hotel de Haro where President Theodore Roosevelt and John Wayne once stayed.
After you leave Roche Harbor, enjoy a visit to the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park on your right, just across the airstrip. There are about 130 outdoor sculptures on the 19-acre property. Park on the north end of the airstrip and follow the path through the woods to the John S. McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, San Juan Island’s most interesting monument.
Stop for a Drink
Time for some liquid libation to celebrate a great day with a stop at San Juan Island Distillery. Sample hard cider, gin, brandy, and Calvados, made using heirloom apples and local island botanicals. Continue on to the San Juan Vineyard’s tasting room before heading back to town.
Restaurant and Relax
From here, head towards Friday Harbor. Relax and kick your feet up or perhaps enjoy a dip in your private hot tub in your suite at one of our member inns. End your day with a farm-to-table dinner at Coho Restaurant. Sample the flavors of the San Juan Islands with the 4-course chef’s tasting menu. Dine in or enjoy al fresco dining in their outdoor heated courtyard.
Day 2 – San Juan Island – Whale and Wildlife Viewing
Day two of your visit on San Juan Island will take you in search of Orca whales. The ability to witness whales in their natural habitat is an experience of a lifetime. Orcas, humpback, and minke whales frequent the waters around San Juan Island year-round.
San Juan Island Activities
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor offers an excellent primer on whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem. Their interactive and hands-on displays are learning opportunities for the entire family.
Whale Watch Tour
Whether you want to zip across the water in an exposure suit or prefer a larger vessel with a comfortable salon, there’s the perfect boat for your sense of adventure San Juan Safaris, San Juan Outfitters, Western Prince Cruises, San Juan Excursions, and Maya’s Legacy Charters. Many of the whale watch operators have hydrophones on board, so you can listen to the whales’ vocalizations.
Whale watch by shore as they feed and frolic off the west side of San Juan Island at Lime Kiln Point State Park. Hike to the lime kilns while keeping a keen eye on the water, just in case a pod comes swimming by. It’s also an excellent spot to end your day with a spectacular sunset!
English Camp National Park San Juan Island
Along the quiet of Garrison Bay, there is a serene parade ground and formal garden. The one-mile Bell Point Trail at the far end of the parade ground is a picturesque flat walk around Westcott and Garrison Bays. Hike to Mt. Young and enjoy sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, Victoria, and the northern San Juan Islands.
INNSider Tip: Extend your hike and head down the backside of Mt. Young through the Department of Natural Resources land and loop back to the encampment (1 ½ hours). Maps are available here.
Day 3 – A Day Trip to Lopez Island
Once you’ve had the chance to soak in the beauty of San Juan Island, take a day trip to Lopez Island, known as the “friendly isle” and practice your “wave.” Travel by bike – there are 3 routes from 10-31 miles that hit all the scenic parks. If you prefer to do more hiking, take a car.
INNSider tip: Cyclists and pedestrians ride free on the inter-island ferry.
Take the early boat to Lopez so you’ll have an entire day for exploration. Ask your innkeeper to pack you a breakfast to-go to enjoy on the boat. Enjoy the spectacular views of San Juan Island’s water scenic byway as you pass throughout the islands.
Lopez Island Activities
Fuel Up off the Ferry
Head to Lopez Village from the ferry and fuel up for your adventure with some fresh baked goods from Holly B’s Bakery, fresh squeezed juice or smoothies from Vortex or a grab and go meal from Vita’s Wildly Delicious. Vita’s is a great local hang out. On Friday nights in the summer, they have wine tasting, local music and the brick oven pizza is fired up.
Shark Reef Sanctuary is located on the west side of Lopez Island, south of the village. Just a short 10-minute hike from the main road will lead you to the water’s edge. Look across the channel to San Juan Island and the prairie at American Camp National Park.
Agate Beach County Park is the halfway point of your bike tour and a great stop for a picnic lunch. A short walk from the park will lead you to the trailhead for Iceberg Point.
Follow our INNSider directions to Iceberg Point: Take MacKaye Harbor Rd until Agate Beach parking area. Park. Walk south to where the county road ends and the gravel road begins. Walk a short ¼ mile until you come to a driveway on your right with a small sign on a pole which says “Iceberg Point”. Bat & Ball Lane is to the left. Turn RIGHT, go around a metal gate and continue down the grassy driveway. DO NOT TURN RIGHT at the “Y”, stay to the left. Follow the grassy road through private forest-lands until you enter Iceberg Pt. (90 minutes)
Spencer Spit is located on the northeast side of the island and is the last stop before heading back to the ferry landing. The park has dramatic east facing views of Decatur and Blakey Islands and a “spit” enclosed by a salt chuck lagoon. Take the 2 mile hike from the parking lot down to the water and across the spit, tide permitting. Looking for dinner? The park boasts excellent crabbing and clamming in season. (60 minutes)
INNSider Tip: There’s almost too much to do to squeeze into a day trip! If you spend an extra day on Lopez Island, add the following hikes to your list.
This 400-acre must-see landmark is owned by the Washington State DNR and maintained by the San Juan County Land Bank.
Take Aleck Bay Rd east until the “T” at the white farmhouse. Turn RIGHT onto Watmough Head Rd. The road turns to the left soon. Follow the road until you go down a steep hill. Turn LEFT at the Watmough Bay sign. You will come to a widened parking area. Leave your car here and walk through the metal gate and proceed to the beach.
Dinner on Lopez Island
Bring a change of clothes and stay for dinner. It makes for a long day, but is oh so worth it. There’s a public restroom in Lopez Village where you can freshen up.
Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a locally sourced farm-to-table dinner located in the heart of Lopez Village.
For a more casual dining experience but no less delicious, grab a noodle bowl at Setsunai Noodle Bar. Handmade noodles, rich and flavorful broths, local fermented and pickled vegetables and dumplings are just a handful of offerings to put in your bowl.
Their food truck is adorned with eye catching art, their music is impossible not to groove on and your taste buds will be all smiles as you bite into a traditional poutine with cheese curds, Cincinnati chili version with sour cream and chopped jalapeno or a breakfast variation with bacon and a sunny side up egg.
Day 4 – Orcas Island
Take the Washington State Ferry from Friday Harbor to Orcas Island. Check in at one of our member inns.
Orcas Island Activities
From there, drive or walk to neighboring Moran State Park. The park boasts several spring water-filled swimmable lakes, majestic waterfalls easily accessed by foot, and stunning natural scenery in every direction. Take a leisurely stroll around pristine Mountain Lake a short drive from the park’s west entrance, and sample the inland beauty of the San Juan Islands.
Drive up to the summit of Mount Constitution to watch the afternoon sky over the San Juan Islands, Bellingham Bay and on a clear day, both Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker off in the distant horizon. Hike to the top of the tower to stand at the highest point in the San Juan Islands!
Orcas Island Dinner
Schedule a Chef’s Table Dinner at Otters Pond. Chef Amanda, a CIA trained professional “chef-in-hiding” as innkeeper of Otters Pond, offers a 4-course dinner. She uses organic ingredients from her garden, curated specialties from neighboring farms and Washington wines to create an unforgettable gastronomical experience.
This historic 1869 farmhouse restaurant has a wonderful farm-to-fork dinner from overlooking the water or prepared carefully for take-away.
Enjoy a delightful dinner in a beautiful, historic arts and crafts wood-clad dining room overlooking the marina and sound. Wander upstairs for a self-guided tour of Mr. Moran’s fascinating ship building career, and explore the music chamber studded with stained glass and a vaulted pipe organ!
Day 5 – Orcas Island Shop & Savor the Sights
Venture into Eastsound town to explore the downtown swanky island-chic vibe.
Orcas Island Activities
Stop at New York Time’s Top 50 Pick Darvill’s Bookstore for some indy book retail therapy.
Meander into Doe Bay Wine Company for a truly unforgettable wine tasting by Orcas-born sommelier and shop owner Cole Sisson. His shop features an impressive local and international wine collection, as well as his own wines bearing the Orcas Project label!
Adventure over to the west side of Orcas Island and explore Orcas Island Pottery for a walk into a decades-lasting pottery guild of artists still turning out majestic works of functional art, displayed among the lush gardens overlooking the western view of Orcas. Don’t worry, they ship!
If hiking is more your cup of tea, wander to the North or South parking lot of Turtleback Mountain, and hike to Ship’s Peak to see astonishing 360 views of the San Juan islands from Orcas’ other mountain top. (This is a moderate to intense climb, so please be prepared. Best to do this hike on a dry day.)
Orcas Island Dinner
For a true local sea-to-plate experience, head down the road to Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, and enjoy an outdoor picnic table dinner of shuck-yourself Buck Bay oysters (so delicious) that literally come right out of the water and land on your plate. Pair your oysters, manilla clam linguini and house-made halibut ceviche with a bottle of Orcas Project Albariño for a perfect and true Orcas dining experience. Don’t worry about being bored or alone, as the casual dining picnic tables are greeted by resident chickens who are well fed with the shell grounds and will trade the island’s best kept secrets for a few cracker crumbs.
For sunset view, take a short drive up to Orcas’ North Shore, which, unlike Oahu’s North Shore, is not famous for rip-curls or funnels, but rather the deliciously warm sunsets over the northwest view of the island, with Vancouver BC and Sucia Island in the distance. Park in the tiny parking lot and feel free to sit on the log bench or wander down the rocky beach a short distance. You won’t be alone on a clear night.
After sunset, return to your accommodations for a few minutes of stargazing, followed by a deeply restful sleep, with another memorable hot breakfast awaiting your taste buds on the other end of slumber.