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Best Places To Retire In Washington State

Updated on December 13, 2012
San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands | Source

Peace and Serenity

The website chose a Top 100 Best Places In America to Retire for 2012 that includes cities like Beaufort, South Carolina for its many attractions, hospitals, housing options, and a number of other criteria. The organization also chose best places grouped by states and one of the best places in Washington is among the lovely San Juan Islands.

These islands contain a system of over 170 larger islands (450 islands total) located between Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and the State of Washington. Three major islands attract tourism and a large numbers of retirees to the temperate climate. Summers see an average of 70° F and winter's average is 40° F. The Christmases and summer vacations I have spent in this area have been very enjoyable and the climate is one reason this is true.

Top 10 Destinations

  1. Louisville KY
  2. Fairbanks AK
  3. San Juan Islands WA
  4. Philadelphia PA
  5. American Samoa
  6. Eastern Sierra CA
  7. Northern Maine
  8. Twin Cities MN
  9. Verde Valley AZ
  10. Glacier National Park, Montana

Reference: Lonely Planet

The aspects of the San Juan islands, and even Vancouver Island and the Puget Sound Area, are the friendliness and polite attitudes of people, the tranquility of the natural setting, and the beautiful landscapes, wildlife, and native plants. Living near the water and rainforest areas is a delight. I find the sound of foghorns in the mornings alluring as well.

Others have a good opinion of the Pacific Northwest and this county of islands, too. Lonely Planet chose the San Juan Islands as Number Three on their Top 10 US Destinations for 2013. The organization calls the islands “The Gourmet Archipelago” in view of the quality of their vineyards and farm products, along with popular eating places.

Transportation and Dining

Ferries are major source of transportation (see section on Ferries, below). Airplanes are available for excursions from the island and other transport is abundant. This includes bicycle, boat, kayak, and car rentals; mopeds, shuttle buses, and taxis. A number of guided torus are offered along with transportation.

Recommended Restaurants

  • Roses Bakery - Located in Eastsound, Orcas Island
  • Rocky Bay Cafe - Friday Harbor
  • Market Chef - Friday Harbor
  • Cafe Demeter - Friday Harbor - Coffee Shop and Bakery
  • The Bean Cafe - Friday Harbor - Coffee Shop and more
  • Coho - Friday Harbor - more expensive than some others.
  • Lopez Island Creamery - Dairy, Ice Cream - 3185 Fisherman Bay Rd

San Juan Islands, Washington

San Juan Islands:
San Juan Island, Washington, USA

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Island Inhabitants

This area of the Pacific Northwest was first inhabited by First Nations and Native Americans. As uepean settlers enerted the area, they renamed many places. This is the reason that the Pacific Northwest, epsecially the San Juan Islands and other Islands between Washington and Canada, have Spanish names - Spain claimed land from Southern California all the way into what is now British Columbia at one point in time (see trhe embedded link). Spain gave up possession of these land as too difficult to maintain in ownership claims and Canada and America struggled over them, finally installing border lines after 1859.

Belle Vue Sheep Farm, a typical sheep station in 1859
Belle Vue Sheep Farm, a typical sheep station in 1859 | Source

Ferry Ports

Orca Island:
Orcas Island, Washington, USA

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San Juan Isand, Washington:
San Juan Island, Washington, USA

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Lopez Island, Washington:
Lopez Island, Washington 98261, USA

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Shaw Island, Washington:
Shaw Island, Eastsound, WA 98245, USA

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Among the large group of islands, ferry service is offered to the four largest. These include Orca Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. These ferry stops make the entirety of the islands and their attractions acccessible, as seen on the map to the right. Washington State Ferries offers cell phone alerts as well as easy-to-follow scedules online (see link below).

The Anacortes / San Juan Islands / Sidney BC ferry schedule covers all of the island stops and operates all year long. Any trip cancellations becuase of inclement weather or tides are posted online and sent to the cell phones of passengers with reservations. RSS alerts are available as well as vessel-tracking.

An interisland ferry ride, one just among the islands, is advertised as free. This is very convenient if you live in the San Juan Island or are vacationing there.

The fall scedule lasts from September 23 until December 29, the first ferry leaving Anacortes to travel west at 4:20 AM to arrive in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island at 5:25 AM. Ewastbound, the first ferry leaves Friday Harbor and arrives at Anacortes at 7:15PM. West and East Routes operate until the last ferries leave at 10:30 PM from Anacortes and 10:05 from Friday Harbor. A slighlty different scedule occurs each season.

Friday Harbor and other ports offer Ferry Cams of the ports and desriptions of attractions and lodgings online (see

Senior Life and Housing Options in San Juan Islands

The San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce reports the cost of living on the island about equal to that of the USA on average. Median household income was $45K in 2010 - higher compared to just under $42K for the USA. The percentage of families and individuals below the poverty leve was significantly lower on San Juan Island than in America overall.


The island is not cut off from civilization because it is surrounded by water. The island has a library, schools, a Grange that support 4-H and other activites, a farmers market, a garden club, political groups, clubs, recreation facilities, and other major groups. Several buildingd are listed on either the state or national Registers of Historic Places.


The Chamber of Commerce lists a wide range of housing types on the island, including anything from log cabins to elegant waterfront properties. In mid-December 2012, some sumary data are:

  • Average Home Price: $483,507
  • Median Home Price: $384,000

In contrast, Zillow real estate site shows 214 homes for sale and the following data:

  • Home Price Range on 214 Homes Available: $60,000 to $4.37Million (waterfront)
  • Median Home Price: $398,000

Active Adult Communities and Retirement Homes

  • Life Care Centers, 660 Spring Street Friday Harbor, WA 98250
  • Village at the Harbor, 543 Spring Street, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250


American Camp and Mount Finlayson
American Camp and Mount Finlayson | Source
Chocolate lily
Chocolate lily | Source
An osprey at English Camp.
An osprey at English Camp. | Source
Pacific chorus frog
Pacific chorus frog | Source
  • Wildlife

Orca whales make up the largest single attraction in the San Juan Islands. On San Juan Island itself, they are numerous around the western shore from Lime Kiln Point State Park to American Camp. Whale watching tours are very popular.

The Columbian blacktail deer is the largest land mammal around these parts, joining Dall’s porpoises, Pacific Harbor seals; red foxes, bats; reptiles; amphibians; 200+ bird species of birds; 32 butterfly species and many fish and invertebrates. The Bald Eagle is present in great numbers.

Native plants include the Douglas fir, hemlock, and the iconic cedar trees from which Pacific Northwest People carved honor poles and house posts. Maples. Pacific yews, and Pacific madrones, red alders, and others are also found. restoration projects constantly work to improve and restore the environment here.

Employment Market

Construction and Tourism are the two largest business sectors on San Juan Island. Number of jobs seem to increase from January through May and again in July and August, all great tourism months. In mid-December 2012, approximately 700 advertised jobs included largely the following job titles:

  1. Engineers
  2. Physical Therapists
  3. Certified Occupational Therapist Assistants
  4. Occupational Therapists
  5. Physical Therapy Assistants
  6. Teachers/Tutors
  7. Operations Supervisors


  • Alcoa - needs Engineers
  • Supplemental Health Care
  • Life Care Centers of America
  • Pizza Hut
  • Home Depot
  • PeaceHealth
  • Medical Staffing Source of America
  • HKA Enterprises

Best Cities In Washington For Retirement

The overall best places to retire in Washington State, as recommended by are the following:

  • Bellingham
  • Centralia
  • Olympia
  • Port Towndsend
  • San Juan Islands - These island form their own county.
  • Walla Walla

Most of these cities are grouped around the Puget Sound Area that enjoys a temperate climate. Walla Walla is far removed, near the southeastern border of the state (see the map below).

Best Places To Retire In Washington

Bellingham WA:
Bellingham, WA, USA

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Centralia WA:
Centralia, WA, USA

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Olympia WA:
Olympia, WA, USA

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Port Townsend WA:
Port Townsend, WA, USA

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San Juan Islands:
San Juan Island, Washington, USA

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Walla Walla WA:
Walla Walla, WA, USA

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