Most people who know about the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest know the Washington archipelago for orca whale watching and sea kayaking. Recently designated with national monument status, the archipelago encompasses more than 400 islands and nearly 500 miles of shoreline. One of Lonely Planet’s top destinations in the States for 2013, the San Juan Islands offer a wealth of leisure options for visitors throughout the year.
First of all, the best news for summer visitors might be the recent merger of Northwest Sky Ferry and San Juan Airlines to form the new San Juan Airlines. "This acquisition will position us to expand our flight schedule, accommodate larger parties, and offer more destinations," said Northwest Sky Ferry president Skip Jansen. Daily scheduled flights include charter and scenic flights to the San Juan Islands, Bellingham, Anacortes, Port Angeles, Point Roberts, British Columbia and beyond.
Located just blocks from the ferry landing in Friday Harbor, Acanthus Suites offers lodging in a historic home that was built in 1913 as a wedding gift for the daughter of wealthy merchant. The impeccable restoration retained period details throughout the five suites, which are complemented by a deep front porch and a spacious back yard.
Nearly everyone who visits the San Juan Islands has a desire to witness the indigenous marine life in their natural habitat. Sails & Whales, which is a partnership between San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours and Kruger Escapes, offers island “spy-hopping” packages that ply the waters in search of orca whales, Dall’s porpoise, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles, sea birds and more.
Visitors board the 50-foot ex-racing yacht SV Tomahawk on Orcas Island and then set off for a relaxing sail, with lunch on an island that is inaccessible by ferry. Lunch is followed by a powerboat excursion to locales where sea lions sunbathe.
Part of the “quiet” culinary revolution on the San Juan Islands, Barn Owl Bakery is located on a remote farm on Lopez Island. The bakery’s signature “wild-leavened” breads eschew commercial yeast and, instead, rely on the natural yeasts in the air with the addition of wines, ciders, meads, and beers to foster native fermentation. Visitors can witness the baking process on the farm and purchase the delicious breads at the Lopez Island Farmers Market.
Indulge in a hand’s-on lunch experience in the kitchen of The Bluff at Friday Harbor House in Friday Harbor. Every Tuesday, Chef Aaron Rock demonstrates how to transform a catch from local waters or bounty from local farms into a delicious meal, all supplemented by wines from local wineries, such as Orcas Island Winery, which produces nine wines from Washington-grown grapes. A father-son endeavor, Orcas Island Winery is one of a triumvirate of San Juan Islands’ wineries, which also includes San Juan Vineyards and Lopez Island Vineyards & Winery.
Take your local elixirs to the movies. The Friday Harbor Film Festival happens in November, but until then cinephiles can enjoy drive-in movies. The summer film series offers classic family fare on the big screen at the San Juan County Fairgrounds.
On Friday afternoons, the Friday Harbor Art Market features the work of visual and musical artists from San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Waldron Islands – as well as an interactive art station where visitors can create their own work at “The Creation Station.”
Those in need of pampering and relaxation head to The Spa at Earthbox, where hot stones from local island beaches are utilized with organic emollients from Italy.
Once you’ve absorbed the chill vibe on the San Juan Islands, consider a “gourmet archipelago,” a 3-day/2-night farm-to-kayak paddling adventure. Join a small group of kayakers as you paddle around the San Juan Islands and camp at remote island state parks while enjoying locally grown and organic meals.
This summer, spend some time in the San Juan Islands for a taste of paradise.