San Juan Island Weekend Travel Guide
This past weekend Tristan and I had the pleasure of treating ourselves to a weekend away in the San Juans. Talk about a magical trip that's perfect for a summer weekend! Ironically, I've lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life and have never made the trek out to the San Juans, Tristan also had never been, so we added this trip to our summer bucket list and made it happen.
We ended up sticking around the main island, San Juan Island which consists of Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor but we hope to venture to the other islands (Orcas and Lopez) very soon. Each island has their own list of things to do and see which makes for a perfect weekend or week-long getaway.
Because we planned our trip fairly last minute, we didn't score a deal with an Airbnb, instead, we splurged a little bit on a local inn called Earth Box Inn centrally located in Friday Harbor that happened to have two nights available! Pro tip: do not procrastinate on securing lodging when visiting the San Juans, even if you are camping, lodging and camp sites fill up fast in the summer months. Our inn came with free parking, cruiser bikes, has a coffee bar in the summer months and an indoor pool! It was also walkable to everything we wanted to do and see in Friday Harbor which was a huge plus!
The other ordeal came down to securing our ferry ride. We decided to bring a car so we could drive around the island with ease and get to Roche Harbor. If you want to stick to one side of the island or want to rent scooters, then you can always do a ferry walk-on. If you're bringing a car you have to secure you and you car's spot for the ferry. They have three tiers of reservations but because our trip was a bit last minute, our reservation fell within the third tier so we had to wake up early (by 7am) two days before our departure date as well as two days before our return date to secure online tickets from Anacortes to Friday Harbor and back. The ferry lines can get long! They also recommend you arrive up to an hour before the ferry leaves (you car actually has to be checked in 30 minutes before departure) so we left early on Friday to make our ride. Plan accordingly when taking the ferry, it's a blessing and a curse of visiting the islands.
WEEKEND ITINERARY: As always, I love to pack in as much as possible into a trip but the San Juans most definitely run on "island time" so prepare to sit back and relax your way through the weekend! Despite "island time" Tristan and I were able to see and do a lot during our weekend stay and we felt as though a weekend spent on San Juan Island was the perfect amount of time to check items off our to-do and explore list!
Here are the highlights from our trip:
> Leave Anacortes. We left Anacortes at 8:20 and were able to soak up such an amazing sunset on the ferry ride into Friday Harbor! It was so picturesque being on the ferry weaving between the islands.
> Dinner at Blue Water Bar & Grill. As I mentioned, these islands run on "island time" meaning most dinner places are closed by 9pm. We checked into our hotel and the front desk let us know that Blue Water Bar & Grill, only a few blocks from our hotel was still open so we dashed down for a bite to eat. Pro tip: if you take a late ferry, anticipate that most places won't be open for dinner, so plan accordingly by eating dinner before you leave or packing a snack!
> Coffee at Earth Box Inn. Our inn has a fully setup coffee bar during the summer months, so I woke up and ventured over to grab a latte before we started our day of exploring. It was such a nice way to ease into the morning.
> Brunch at Rocky Bay Cafe. This place came highly recommended and after having their breakfast burritos I can vouch for this brunch spot! Located in the heart of Friday Harbor, this was an excellent spot to grab a yummy brunch with not too long of a wait for a table.
> Shop around Friday Harbor and the farmer's market. After brunch, we explored the main street of shops on Spring Street. My favorites were: Deer Hazel, Griffith Bay Bookstore, Sandpebble and Be Chic Boutique. We also went over to the small Friday Harbor Farmer's Market to look at all the amazing produce and bouquets.
> Visit the San Juan Island Brewing Co. Maybe not the best idea before going on a boat for whale watching, but either way, this place became one of our favorites! We sat outside and indulged in a flight of beer each and munched on popcorn. This brewery has such a fun setting and is just off the main street.
> Whale watching tour. Before we left for our San Juan Island trip, we booked a whale watching expedition! I highly recommend San Juan Safaris, their prices are reasonable, they are conveniently located downtown Friday Harbor and they were extremely accommodating during the trip offering blankets and plenty of information about what sort of animals we saw during the tour! We went on the afternoon tour and saw a bunch of killer whales (seriously, so cool!), seals and bald eagles. It was the perfect afternoon spent out on the water.
*Pro tips: Wear layer and closed toed shoes: it gets chilly out on the water especially when the boat is moving. Tristan and I both agreed we were so thankful to be wearing pants but we still had to snag a blanket to keep us warm during the trek. Wear sunscreen: I had no idea how sunburnt I would get being out on the water for hours, but I got fried. Make sure you bring sunscreen with you. If you get motion sick, take meds: we had a very calm day out on the water so I didn't have to take any meds or bring my motion sick bands (highly recommend) with me, but I had them handy in case things got choppy.
> Lunch at Cask & Schooner. After whale watching, we walked over to Cask & Schooner (literally right across the street) for lunch. The service was incredibly slow but the menu was broad and the food was good, we also managed to snag a spot outside.
> Do the island loop. We hopped in the car after lunch to scope out the San Juan Island Scenic Byway. It took us to various parks with views (we stopped off along the way too for photos). We didn't go all the way up to Roche Harbor since we did that the next day but it was a great time to blast music, take photos and soak up the views of this beautiful place!
> Pool time! We headed back to the inn to unwind (I'll fully admit we watched some Shark Week) and hop in the indoor pool and jacuzzi at the inn.
> Friday Harbor nightlife. After some pool time, we decided to freshen up and see what Friday Harbor nightlife was about...there's really only one place to go and that is Herb's, open until 2am. The weekend we were there they had a 2-day blues night with free cover charge and plenty of people watching. We grabbed a few beers and laughed, drank and enjoyed our first full day on the island!
> Coffee at the Crow's Nest. Because coffee is always on my morning agenda no matter where I am, it was mandatory I tried out a latte at this cute coffee shop I had passed by a day prior while shopping. I highly recommend this spot when you are in need of a java fix!
> Roche Harbor for lunch. We woke up and checked out of our inn to drive up to Roche Harbor for brunch. Sadly, when we got there, the brunch menu had changed to lunch but we still enjoyed a delicious lunch in the marina at the Lime Kiln Cafe.
> Explore Roche Harbor. Roche Harbor is fairly small, with just a little main strip of shops and a market to explore. After lunch, we wandered through the shops and checked out the Hotel De Haro, a historic hotel in the heart of the harbor. It was such a beautiful, sunny day which made exploring so much fun! Tristan and I both agreed that Roche Harbor makes for a great half day visit but unless you have a boat, it may not be the most ideal place to stay for a weekend since there's more limited things to do than Friday Harbor.
> San Juan Island Vineyards. After we explored Roche Harbor, we decided to check out the one winery on the island San Juan Island Vineyards. We sat out on the deck of the beautiful estate and sipped a flight of wine -- we even purchased a bottle!
> Pelindaba Lavender Festival. Although unplanned, we happened to be on the island the same weekend as the lavender festival. We decided to stop by and soak up the sights and lavender as far as the eye could see! I even indulged in some lavender lemonade that was so refreshing on a hot day!
> Back to the brewery! Because we had some time to kill before heading to the ferry, we went back to our fav place, the San Juan Island Brewing Co. for a beer and some pizza! After dinner we lined up for the ferry to catch our ride back home all while soaking up the sunshine and spotting some porpoises in the water on the way!
Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better trip for our time visiting the San Juans. This place is truly a gem of the Pacific Northwest. I already can't wait to go back and see what the other islands have to offer!