San Juan Island is a popular stopping place for those who go whale-watching for the day, but there are many more things to do on San Juan Island 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 as you explore your weekend on San Juan Island.
I love going here for a relaxing Seattle weekend getaway any time of the year. The island has a fun vibe to it, and local business owners always love taking the time to make recommendations for what to do on San Juan Island.
This itinerary for three days on San Juan Island will help you plan your vacation there and show you how to get to San Juan Island, where to stay, and what San Juan Island activities to participate in. You’ll quickly see why many people consider it the best island near Seattle.
Travel Tips for Visiting San Juan Island
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your trip.
How to Get to San Juan Island
You will take the ferry from the town of Anacortes, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Seattle, to Friday Harbor, the main harbor on San Juan Island (and one of the cutest towns in Washington!). Technological advances 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 visiting the San Juan Islands. Getting there about 45-60 minutes early is still advised, but at least you’ll know you have a spot. Grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee at the terminal while you wait.
Make sure to book your return trip home simultaneously so you won’t be stranded when you’re trying to leave.
Another option is to take the ferry from Seattle to San Juan Island through the Victoria Clipper. This passenger-only ferry leaves early in the morning from downtown Seattle. You can either do a quick day trip from Seattle with them and leave mid-afternoon or stay a few days on the island.
A third option is to fly by seaplane through companies like Kenmore Air or Friday Harbor Seaplanes. This is the most expensive option but by far the fastest. This is worth it if you want a romantic weekend getaway from Seattle and to experience one of the most unique things to do on San Juan Island.
Where to Stay on San Juan Island
Here are a few options to stay at during your weekend in San Juan Island.
Discovery Inn – This San Juan Island hotel is a mile away from Friday Harbor, so you’re still close to restaurants while having a bit more peace and quiet. The hotel also comes with an outdoor hot tub. (rates start at $169 per night; book your room on Booking.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor)
Friday Harbor House – Stay at this San Juan Island hotel for an amazing view of Friday Harbor and the incoming boats. 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. (rates start at $399 per night; book your room on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes – One of my favorite places to stay on San Juan Island is Lakedale Resort. You can choose between staying in a log cabin, the hotel, a yurt, or glamping. I recommend booking in advance, as it does fill up. (rates start at $189 per night; book your room on Booking.com or read reviews on TripAdvisor)
16 Best Things to Do on San Juan Island
There’s so much to add to your San Juan Island itinerary, which is where having a car is useful. If you’re really adventurous, you can even bike around the island during your 3 days on San Juan Island. Here are some suggestions for what to do on San Juan Island.
1. Learn About History at English Camp
I’ve traveled to San Juan Island several times before but somehow never heard of this place until my most recent visit. 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 full of information about the camp and fun to talk to. This camp is a fun family Washington vacation idea and an educational San Juan Island activity.
2. Smell the Lavender at Pelindaba Lavender Farm
One of the most famous things to do 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.
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.
3. Enjoy Roche Harbor
This is the other harbor on the island, and it’s just as impressive. There are fewer restaurants and shops here and more places to stay with a view of the water. Roche Harbor also tends to be less crowded than Friday Harbor if you’re looking for a quieter area during your 3 days on San Juan Island.
4. Taste Local Seafood
One of the best things to do on San Juan Island is to try local seafood, which I guarantee will be fresh. The Bait Shop is great for fresh fish and chips straight from the fryer. It’s also a quick meal if you’re on the go but need something for lunch.
Another alternative is Fish + Brew. This fish shop is a simple but delicious place right on the harbor. What more could you want than fried fish and a beer?
5. Admire Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Nothing says the Pacific Northwest like a lighthouse. When looking for what to do on San Juan Island, add this to your list if beautiful pictures are one of your goals. This is one of the best San Juan Island activities at sunset and an ideal place to go hiking in the San Juan Islands.
This beautiful state park looks over the water, and you can even see parts of Canada. Make sure to bring your Discover Pass, as it will be required (or you can purchase one there for $10).
6. Search for Wildlife During Whale Watching
San Juan Island and nearby Orcas Island are some of the best places to see whales (it’s one of the top things to do on Orcas Island if you’re visiting). If you’ve never been whale watching before, make sure to sign up for a tour when you’re here.
Nothing is more beautiful than seeing a pod of orcas swimming in the ocean. You’ll also see various sea life while you’re out there.
7. Visit an Alpaca Farm
Make sure to bring your camera to Krystal Acres because I guarantee you’ll see nothing cuter during your weekend on San Juan Island 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 of their fur, including sweaters and slippers.
8. Eat Fresh Crab
Friday’s Crabhouse has a casual feel, as half of the restaurant is open-air. This is also one of the tastiest things to do on San Juan Island. There are several vendors, so you can place your order in one place and grab a drink at the other while you wait for your food.
This is a popular restaurant people put on their San Juan Island itinerary, so head here early on the weekends.
9. Taste Local Wine at San Juan Vineyards
What would be a trip to a beautiful island without visiting a winery? Similar to Lopez Island, this is a great island for wine tasting. San Juan Winery has some amazing local wine in the middle of the island.
I did a tasting of both the whites and reds offered and found it hard to pick just one as my favorite but I did get a bottle of the Madeline Angevine to bring home. Wine tasting at this vineyard is one of the most relaxing San Juan Island activities, as you can also sit outside if you want to enjoy the sun.
10. Explore Friday Harbor
While Friday Harbor is the most popular area, there’s a good reason for this. There are plenty of things to do in Friday Harbor, from chocolate shops to bowling alleys, and here are just a few of the places I recommend stopping by.
11. Check Out a Movie
Whether it’s a rainy day or you’re looking to entertain your kids, San Juan Island has its own movie theater, and Palace Theatre is a cute place where you can smell the popcorn from the street.
12. Enjoy Happy Hour With a View
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. You’ll be able to watch the ferry come in and out as you eat. This is one of the tastiest things to do in Friday Harbor.
13. Check Out a Local Pub
This bar 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. I spent a few hours here watching the Sounders game while waiting for my ferry.
14. Shop for Local Goods
There are plenty of things to do in Friday Harbor, such as shopping. The Pacific Northwest theme is heavy in many items sold, which I loved. It’s a great place to get items for yourself and souvenirs for others.
15. Delight Your Tastebuds 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 offered at Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company. You can always go back later if you can’t decide on just one flavor, and this is one of the tastiest San Juan Island activities.
16. 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 (a girl can dream, right?). If you’re lucky, one of the friendly owners may be out and willing to tell you about their boat.
3 Day San Juan Island Itinerary
Here’s how to spend a weekend on San Juan Island.
Day 1 – Take a Ferry Ride and Relax
You’ll start by taking the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor to get to San Juan Island. I highly recommend booking your ferry in advance, especially if you’re going during a popular time of year like the summer.
They reserve a few spots for drive-ups, but it’s easy enough to reserve in advance so there’s no need to risk it.
Get there at least 60 minutes in advance, and then you can grab a breakfast sandwich and coffee in the cafe on the dock while you wait for your boat to come. The crossing typically takes about an hour and a half, but there is also food on the ferry.
When you get to San Juan Island, I recommend seeing if you can check in to your hotel early. It’s always nice to put your bags down and quickly change your clothes if necessary.
Once you’ve checked in, head back to Friday Harbor for the afternoon. Coho Restaurant is an excellent choice for dinner to try local food, such as seafood.
Afterward, head to San Juan Island Brewing for a pint or two. I especially liked their Vienna Lager and Golden Ale (you can get a sampler to try five of them). When planning your trip, I recommend adding this brewery to your San Juan Island itinerary.
Day 2 – Taste Local Food and Venture Outside
In the morning, relax by your fireplace with a cup of coffee. When you’re ready for brunch head over to Roche Harbor.
Visit Sculpture Park and see dozens of different local artwork. Exhibits change monthly, so you’ll probably see something new each time you visit.
If you’re bringing your dogs on this trip like I did, make sure to check out the dog park by Roche Harbor.
They have both a small dog and a big dog section, with the latter being huge. My dogs loved running around for a bit, and I loved that they got some energy out.
For lunch, eat at the Lime Kiln Cafe. They’re famous for their donuts, but you can get breakfast until 11 AM or lunch after that.
Make sure to walk around the harbor to check out some of the boutique shops and the yachts you can dream of having.
From there, follow the signs for distillery and cider tasting. You’ll walk about a mile up the road (you can also drive) until you get to San Juan Island Distillery/Westcott Bay Cider.
They’re only open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 PM, so plan accordingly. It’s a cute outdoor tasting room where you can try different cider, gin, and brandy with plenty of Pacific Northwest influences (such as lavender and salal berry).
Once you’ve had your fill of tastings, it’s time to explore the island more. You’ll head towards the Scenic Bypass on the island’s west side, but make sure to stop at Krystal Acres to get a few pictures of the adorable llamas. After that, continue to Lime Kiln Point State Park.
The Lime Kiln Lighthouse is one of the most scenic places on San Juan Island, in my opinion. Any time of the day is beautiful, but come here at sunrise or sunset for the best pictures.
If the lighthouse is open, I recommend going inside and up to the top for a better view.
Head over to Friday Harbor for dinner at Cask and Schooner. It’s an English-style pub with a relaxed atmosphere; you can get anything from mussels to shepherd’s pie.
If you’re up for another drink, walk over to Mike’s Cafe and Wine Bar. This is a great place to have a nightcap before going back to your hotel.
If you’re staying at a San Juan Island accommodation with a fire pit, take advantage of it.
Even though I was there in colder weather, I had a blast lighting a fire and toasting marshmallows to make s’mores. It felt like I was camping in the winter!
Day 3 – Visit Friday Harbor
In the morning, enjoy your last day on the island before you check out. One of the things I can’t stress enough is to plan a relaxing San Juan Island itinerary and enjoy “island time.”
Most stores in Friday Harbor open around 11 AM, so take your time getting down there. Visit Griffin Bay Bookstore to grab a latte and browse the book selection. I got lost in the travel books for quite a while!
While there are many unique stores in Friday Harbor, one of my favorites is the House of Jerky.
I first saw them at a holiday fest in Seattle and was excited to see their store on San Juan Island. They have every kind of jerky, from vegan jerky to alligator to kangaroo.
If your ferry is later in the day, drive over to San Juan Winery. They have a variety of red and white wines to taste, local artwork for sale, and are on a beautiful property.
If you don’t have a car but still want to explore the island, I found this transit chart that stops at many places I mentioned.
You’ll have to time it right so you get picked up and dropped off at the right times, but it’s just an option so you don’t think you can’t come to San Juan Island without a car!
For your last meal before you catch the ferry, eat at Blue Water Bar and Grill. It overlooks the ferry dock so you can see when the ferry is coming in and head to your car.
Enjoy your view of all the San Juan Islands on your journey home, and start planning your next trip here! There are so many things to do on San Juan Island that it’s easy to justify another weekend on San Juan Island in the future.