The islands’ cultural hub brimming with beauty

San Juan Island

San Juan Island, the most populated of the San Juan Islands, is paradise for lovers of small towns in idyllic settings. The island has more restaurants and amenities than you’ll find elsewhere in the San Juans, along with sea vistas around every turn, easy whale watching opportunities and remnants of native prairie.

After a scenic ride from Anacortes through much of the San Juan Islands, the ferry delivers visitors right to Friday Harbor, the only incorporated city in San Juan County. Friday Harbor’s historic downtown and setting makes it the cultural capital of the islands. You’ll find sophisticated cuisine, featuring fresh seafood and island-grown organic produce. There’s also pub fare and other simpler options throughout downtown.

Those looking for wine, beer and spirits are in luck, as San Juan has it all. Try out San Juan Island Brewing, San Juan Island Distillery, Westcott Bay Cider and San Juan Vineyard; they all boast multiple awards.

Restaurants aside, Friday Harbor has cozy bookstores, galleries, cafes, ice cream and chocolate shops, and everything else you might expect to find in a small town. It also has a lot you might not expect, including a movie theater built in 1915 and a shop devoted entirely to jerky. Entertaining yourself in Friday Harbor is easy. Rental boats, bikes and mopeds are all available while several whale-watching guides operate out of the harbor. The Whale Museum on First Street is an ode to the endangered local southern resident orca population and was the first orca museum in the country.

The island’s summertime population of 15,000 is mostly clustered around Friday Harbor. Outside town you’ll find farms, forests, pastures and parks. Country roads weave past little lakes and through valleys, passing fields of organic vegetables, lavender and even an alpaca farm.

At Roche Harbor, visit the historic Hotel de Haro, the state’s oldest continually operating hotel. A yellow brick road made with brick from the island’s original lime kilns runs out front. While you’re here, check out the 19-acre San Juan Islands Sculpture Park at Westcott Bay Reserve, home to more than 100 sculptures. Pay a visit to the San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor.

You’re never far from a beautiful park on the island. Lime Kiln Point State Park is not only one of the better places to see whales from land, it’s also an ideal spot to catch a sunrise or sunset and photograph the Lime Kiln Lighthouse in golden brilliance.

English Camp and American Camp, both part of San Juan Island National Historical Park, have natural beauty – South Beach at American Camp is the longest stretch of beach on the island – and also something for history buffs. In 1859, San Juan Island was the site of a nonviolent confrontation over the then-disputed U.S. border. The incident, known as the Pig War, was set off when an American farmer killed a potato-stealing British pig that was allegedly trespassing on his farm. Though U.S. and Britain dispatched soldiers to the island, the hungry little piggy was the war’s only casualty. Both camps have interpretive information on the dispute.

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Suggested Itinerary

This overnight trip to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island will let you escape into island living.

The trip begins with the ferry in Anacortes on Saturday morning. Check the ferry schedule beforehand because the trip can take between an hour and two and a half hours depending on the ferry and the number of stops. When you arrive in Friday Harbor head to the Wayfarer’s Rest. This hostel with dorms, rooms, cabins, and suites has something for everyone. The mini cabins in the backyard are filled with personal touches of stained glass, sweet furniture and one of the cabins is built around a sailboat. Be forewarned, this is a place where you meet other travelers and can enjoy each other’s company.

Once settled, Kiln Point State Park has a variety of trails to hike, an interpretive center and a lighthouse from 1919. If visiting an Alpaca farm is seems more interesting, visit Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm and Country Store. They invite folks to stroll around the farm and shop at their store filled with a variety of items made of alpaca wool.

Dinner at the Backdoor Kitchen begins at 5 p.m. and they serve a variety of organic international cuisine as well as a creative cocktail or two. Later in the evening take in a modern movie in a historical setting at the Palace Theatre, which was built in 1915.

Later in the evening, the Wayfarer awaits with board games, or a cup of hot tea as you enjoy a book in the main living room. In the morning, the Rocky Bay Café opens at 7 a.m. and it’s recommended that folks arrive early in the morning or you will be put on a waiting list. The breakfasts are akin to hearty, home-cooked meals that both the islanders and tourist alike enjoy.

Take a drive to the other side of the island and check out Roach Harbor. With a marina, a few stores, and lovely trails, this little cove is a lovely place to visit. The San Juan Island Sculpture Park, located at the entrance to Roach Harbor is a 20-acre outdoor sculpture park with over 150 sculptures.

If you want to find a hidden gem, just a block away there is the McMillin Mausoleum. The mausoleum is nestled in the adjacent 10 acres next to Roach Harbor. A short hike in, one can see a marvel in the middle of the forest. Enjoy the peace and the mausoleum’s beauty.

As the weekend comes to a close, pack up, say good bye to San Juan Island  and enjoy the ferry ride back to Anacortes.

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