There are many islands in the San Juan Islands in Washington, but only one is actually called San Juan Island. It’s a popular stopping place for those who go whale-watching for the day, but there’s so much more to do than just strolling Friday Harbor for a few hours. The island is 55 square miles, so it’s the perfect place to bring your car to have a mini road trip around the island. Here’s a guide to visiting San Juan Island.
How to Get There
You’ll take the ferry from Anacortes, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle, to Friday Harbor, the main harbor on San Juan Island. Advances in technology have changed the days of going up to wait hours in advance, hoping to get on a ferry. You can now reserve online, which has been such a timesaver when it comes to visiting the San Juan Islands. It’s still advised to get there about 45-60 minutes early, but at least you’ll know you have a spot. Grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee at the terminal while you wait.
Where to Stay
For an amazing view of Friday Harbor and the incoming boats, stay at Friday Harbor House. You’ll be right in town and have easy access to dozens of stores and restaurants. They also have a delicious brunch, at which I treated myself to a Bloody Mary. There’s not a more relaxing way to start the day.
What to Do
There’s so much to see on San Juan Island, which is where having a car is useful. If you’re really adventurous, you can bike around the island.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
One of the most famous places on San Juan Island is the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. I’ve never seen so much lavender in my life! Walking through the fields will have you in a daze as you smell the relaxing scent of lavender. Make sure to stop in the store, where you can buy lavender anything. You can also go outside to taste lavender honey and lavender ice cream.
I’ve been to San Juan Island several times before, but somehow never heard of this place. Both British and American troops were stationed on the island in the late 1800s, and this area shows how both troops were able to resolve their differences without turning to violence. There were tents set up with re-enactors who were full of information about the camp, who were fun to talk to.
This is the other harbor on the island and it’s just as impressive. There were fewer restaurants and shops here, but many more places to stay with a view of the water.
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Nothing says the Pacific Northwest like a lighthouse. This beautiful state park looks over the water, and you can even see Canada’s Vancouver Island. Make sure to bring your Discover Pass, as it will be required (or you can purchase one there for $10).
If you’ve never been whale watching before, make sure to sign up for a tour when you’re here. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a pod of orcas swimming in the ocean.
Make sure to bring your camera to Krystal Acres because I guarantee you’ll see nothing cuter in your day than these alpacas. Once you can peel yourself away from staring at them grazing in the field, head into the store to see what’s made out of their fur, including sweaters and slippers.
San Juan Vineyards
What would be a trip to a beautiful island without visiting a winery? Set in the middle of the island, San Juan Winery has some amazing local wine. I did a tasting of both the whites and reds offered and found it hard to pick just one as my favorite, but did get a bottle of the Madeline Angevine to bring home. I loved the relaxing outdoor setting they had outside if you wanted to enjoy the weather while wine tasting.
Exploring Friday Harbor
While Friday Harbor is the most popular area, there’s a good reason for this. There is plenty to explore here, from chocolate shops to bowling alleys. Here are just a few of the places I recommend stopping by.
Whether it’s a rainy day or you’re looking to entertain your kids, San Juan Island has their own movie theater. Palace Theatre is a cute place where you can smell the popcorn from the street.
For a happy hour with a view, head down to the water to Downriggers. I enjoyed a delicious glass of rose with ceviche while I was there.
This place may not be for everyone, but I get a kick out of visiting this bar. There’s usually a lively crowd and it’s the perfect place to have a beer while watching a sports game.
There is plenty of shopping to do in Friday Harbor. The Pacific Northwest theme is heavy in many items sold, which I loved.
Plenty of Seafood
I can’t recommend just one place for seafood because each time I come back here, I find yet another place I love. The Bait Shop is great for good old fish and chips that are fresh from the fryer.
For a more upscale restaurant, check out Cask and Schooner. You can grab a table on the patio to eat dinner while watching the ferry come in.
Fish + Brew is a simple but delicious place right on the harbor. What more could you want than fried fish and a beer?
Friday’s Crabhouse has a very casual feel to it, as half of the restaurant is open air. There are several vendors, so you can place your order at one place and grab a drink at the other while you wait for your food.
End With Ice Cream
It’s always a good day for ice cream when you’re on San Juan Island, so make sure to get one of the 72 flavors that are offered at Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company. You can always go back later if you can’t decide on just one flavor.
Dream of Owning a Sailboat
There are some gorgeous boats in Friday Harbor. I loved walking around pretending to pick out which one would be mine someday.
Whether you visit San Juan Island for the day or for a week, you’ll find plenty to do. Even the ferry ride there and back will have you outside looking at all the islands you’ll be passing by.
Map of San Juan Island
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