A Trip to San Juan Island Washington
San Juan Island Washington
San Juan Island is one of my favorite destinations in Washington State. It is definitely off the beaten path and not the easiest place to get to, but well worth the effort. Beautiful green trees contrast with the deep blue sea, rugged rocky shorelines, wildlife viewing, a lighthouse, a fascinating whale museum, unique shops and a slice of island life awaits you.
It is a great place to view nature, including bald eagles, numerous species of shore and sea birds, harbor seals, orca whales and more. Although San Juan Island is a beautiful place any time of the year, but the summer is the best time to visit. The weather is usually warm and sunny, the flowers are blooming and there is a much better chance of seeing the magnificent orca whales in their natural environment.
Some of my favorite places to go on San Juan Island include Lime Kiln Point State Park, Lime Kiln Lighthouse, The Pig War National Historic Sites, Pelindaba Lavender Farm and the Whale Museum. The town of Friday Harbor has numerous fantastic restaurants, hotels and a fun, historic shopping district.
Whether I go for a day, a week or longer, the journey of getting to San Juan Island, Washington is only the beginning of an amazing experience!
Where is San Juan Island?
A Map of the San Juan Islands
A Washington State Ferry
Getting to San Juan Island - Way #1 - The Washington State Ferry
One of my favorite ways to get to San Juan Island is by Washington State Ferry. If you leave your vehicle behind on the mainland and walk on as a passenger, it is also the most economical way to get there.
The ferry serving San Juan Island departs from Anacortes, WA which is about 95 miles north of SeaTac Airport. I love the beautiful 1 to 1.5 hour route it takes through the islands.
You can take your vehicle on the ferry but to save a considerable amount on the ferry fare, you can also leave your vehicle in the parking lot at the Anacortes ferry terminal and walk on the ferry or take your bike. Pets are allowed on Washington State ferries within specific guidelines. See more details about traveling to San Juan Island with a pet further down the page.
For current fares and schedule information go to the Washington State Ferry website. After arriving at Friday Harbor, there is a shuttle service around the island and moped, bicycle and car rentals are available.
A Trip to San Juan Island on a Washington State Ferry
The Victoria Clipper Passenger Ferry
Getting to San Juan Island - Way #2 - Summer months only! - The Victoria Clipper
From late May through August a quicker and more convenient way to travel to San Juan Island is the Victoria Clipper. The clipper departs from Pier 69 on the Seattle waterfront at 7:45 am daily and arrives at Friday Harbor at 11:15 am. I love the quick trip and convenient boarding location on the Seattle waterfront. There is an option available to add on a whale watching trip when you book. The return trip from Friday Harbor to Seattle departs daily in the summer months at 4:30pm and arrives at Pier 69 at 7:15 pm. More information about traveling to San Juan Island on the Victoria Clipper can be found on the Clipper Vacations website.
A Trip on the Victoria Clipper
A Victoria Clipper Optional Whale Watching Add-on Trip
Kenmore Air Seaplane at Lake Union in Seattle
Getting to San Juan Island - Way #3 - Take a Scenic Flight with Kenmore Air
A fastest way to get to San Juan Island is by a scenic 30 minute flight on Kenmore Air.
You can choose betweeen two different flights. The most fun and scenic is by seaplane that departs from Lake Union in Seattle and lands in the Friday Harbor marina.
The second choice is by seaplane which departs from Seattle's Boeing Field on a small plane which lands at the San Juan Island Airport.
Flying to San Juan Island via Kenmore Air
Top Things to See and Do on San Juan Island
Here is a list of some of my favorite things to see and do on San Juan Island:
- Whale watching - July is the best time to see Orcas!
- The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor
- Go to Lime Kiln Point State Park to picnic and hike - Orcas can often be seen offshore
- Tour the Lime Kiln Lighthouse
- Rent a bicycle or Moped to see the island
- Shopping in Friday Harbor
- Pelindaba Lavender Farm
- Pig War National Historic Sites
- Rent a kayak and go kayaking
- Visit the historic Hotel De Haro in Roche Harbor
Go Orca Whale Watching!
San Juan Island is one of the best places to see Orcas in their natural habitat. There are about 80 orca whales in the resident J, K and L pods and transients are also frequently seen. July is usually the best month for whale viewing when you may get lucky and see a super pod of all three resident pods together.
Kayaking with Orcas - Paddle with killer whales
Kayak Whale Watching Tours
I have not personally tried kayaking, but I have talked with others who have done kayak tours of San Juan Island and all have said it is an amazing experience. A kayak tour is the best way to see the orca whales up close and personal. Sea Quest Kayak Expeditions offers a guided tour that departs from Friday Harbor. The tour includes paddling for about two hours to areas where orcas are frequently seen near Lime Kiln Point. After some time to explore, watch the whales and take a lunch break they paddle back to Friday harbor.
Take an Orca Whale Watching Trip - See killer whales from the Western Prince II
Booking an Orca Whale Watching Cruise
I've been whale watching several times and it is always an amazing experience to see these magnificent, intelligent creatures in their natural habitat. I can't really describe what a thrill it is to see one swim right up next to the boat and look into their eyes. After a few minutes, they dive and you can see through the clear water as they swim under the boat. The summer months are the best time to see the whales. There are numerous reputable boat operators and most include a naturalist on board to share information and answer questions about the orcas and other wildlife. From personal experience, I can recommend the whale watching trips offered on the Western Prince, the boat featured in the video.
A Virtual Tour of San Juan Island!
The Whale Museum
Visiting the Whale Museum
I enjoy and visit many museums and the Whale Museum is one of my all time favorites! It is located in downtown Friday Harbor just three blocks from the ferry landing.
Inside is a fascinating collection of exhibits, artwork, models, and artifacts, including real whale skeletons. There is a whale phone booth where you can listen to the "songs " of various species of whales and there is also a free, 30-minute video about Pacific Northwest orcas,
My favorite part is the family tree of the three resident orcas pods, which identifies each individual whale with a photo of their dorsal fin and saddle patch. It is especially interesting to learn about the individual whales you see if you take a whale watching trip before or after visiting the museum.
A Tour of the Friday Harbor Whale Museum
Granny's Clan by Sally Hodson
Granny's Clan is an excellent book written for children by Dr. Sally Hodson and illustrated by Ann Jones.
The Orcas of the Salish Sea
The magnificent orca whales are the subject of many stories, much research and have resulted in numerous books and movies. Sally Hodson, is the former director of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA, has studied and observed orcas for many years. Granny's Clan written by Sally Hodson is based on the research about the matriarch of one of the resident orca pods that live around San Juan Island.
The Town of Friday Harbor
Shopping in Friday Harbor, WA
I'm really not a huge shopper, but even I love to browse through the shops in the historic little shopping district in Friday Harbor. It has many unique shops with local products that make great souvenirs including many handmade items made by local artists and crafters. There is a wine shop with tastings and there are several good restaurants with a lovely view of the harbor.
The Story of the Pig War
San Juan Island National Historic Park
On San Juan Island, you will find two National Historical sites commemorating the last boundary dispute between the US and Great Britain. It was called "The Pig War" because the killing of a pig was what sparked the war. The conflict began when a pig belonging to an employee of the British Hudson's Bay Company was shot and killed for eating the vegetables in a garden on land claimed by an American settler. The incident escalated from a long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries. Fortunately it ended peacefully after several years of diplomatic negotiations and the only casualty was the pig.
The Pig War English Camp
English Camp National Historic Site on the north end of the island was so named because it was the site designated for the military encampment of the British until the boundary issue between the US and Britain was resolved. The British Union Jack flag is displayed over English Camp by park rangers, one of the rare places where US government employees regularly raise and lower the flag of a foreign country.
At English Camp there are opportunities to join ranger guided walking tours, watch historical reenactments and learn about the native flora and fauna through interpretive nature programs. Enjoy the gardens, hike the trail leading up Mount Young and explore the historic structures that remain from the Royal British Marines occupation.
A Pig War Re-enactment
The Pig War American Camp
At the south end of San Juan Island is "American Camp", the second site of San Juan National Historic Park. This location was the camp of the US military during the period of the US and British joint military occupation of the island. For more detailed information about the San Juan Island Pig War, visit the National Park Service San Juan Island National Historic Park website.
Roche Harbor, WA
Hotel De Haro at Roche Harbor
On the north end of San Juan Island is Roche Harbor and the historic Hotel De Haro. Roche Habor was named after Richard Roche, a British soldier stationed at English Camp during the Pig War. For many years it was a company town owned by the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime company. The lime mines are now closed, but the marina is popular with boaters who cruise and sail through the San Juans. The Hotel De Haro guest registry includes an entry from 1907 signed by "Theo Roosevelt".
Lime Kiln Point
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park is a beautiful scenic spot, The park is for day use only, but is a great place for a picnic and is the best vantage point on the island to view orca whales (also known as killer whales) from the shore. The park is commonly referred to as "Whale Watching Park" since the orcas are so frequently there. In addition to the possibility of seeing the whales, the park has two hiking trails to explore and the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point
Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse began operating in 1914 and due to its remote location on San Juan Island, it was the last lighthouse in Washington State to be converted to an electric powered light in the late 1940s. The lighthouse flashes a beacon light every 5 seconds. Currently the lighthouse is used as a base for orca whale researchers.
Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse
San Juan Island's Lavender Farm
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
"PELINDABA" is a Zulu word which can be translated as "PLACE OF GREAT GATHERINGS" and the owner of Pelindaba Lavender Farm created this place to gather together people, open space and beautiful flowers. Afer viewing the fields of organically grown lavender, you can also purchase products made from lavender flowers and essential oils in the gift shop.
Camping on San Juan Island
If you enjoy camping there are places to camp overnight on San Juan Island. It is a very popular summer destination, so reservations are strongly recommended.
- Lakedale Resort - Lakedale Resort includes a campground in addition to a lodge and cabins for rent. Reservations are recommended.
- San Juan County Park - San Juan County Park is open for day use and has 20 campsites for overnight camping. Reservations for Summer camping (May - September) are strongly recommended at this popular campground.
Tips for Traveling with Your Dog to San Juan Island
I like to take my dogs with me as much as possible, so here are some tips about how to travel with your dog to San Juan Island.
Pets on a leash or in a carrier are allowed on Washington State Ferries. For more information visit the Washington State Ferry website provided in the links further down the page.
With advance notice, the Victoria Clipper can often accommodate crated pets on their vessels and Kenmore Air may also be able to fly your leashed or crated pet with you to San Juan Island.
If you are looking for a place to stay overnight with your pet, the Earthbox Motel and Spa, the Best Western Friday Habor Suites, Tucker House Inn, Harrison House Suites and Lakedale Resort all have some lodging for guests with pets. If you are not bringing along a pet, there are numerous other lodging choices available.
Just outside the city limits of Friday Harbor is the Eddie and Friends off-leash dog park where you can take your dog for some playtime.
If you want to experience some island adventures where you can't bring your dog, make a reservation for your dog to stay at The Animal Inn while you are away.
Helpful Links to plan your trip to San Juan Island
- Washington State Ferries Website
Information about the Washington State Ferry System, including routes, schedules and fares.
- San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce Website
Link to the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce with a large amount of information about the island.
- The Whale Museum
Link to the Whale Museum located in Friday Harbor.
- Lime Kiln Point State Park | Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Official Washington State Parks website page featuring information and pictures of Lime Kiln Point State Park.
- Lighthouse Friends Website
Information, history and pictures about the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse.
- Town of Friday Harbor
Official Website of the Town of Friday Harbor.
- The Victoria Clipper - Clipper Vacations
Clipper Vacations is the Pacific Northwest travel expert. Clipper Vactions have provided transportation, accommodations and tour packages for over 6 million customers since 1986. Best known for the Victoria Clipper, their high-speed passenger ferry,
- San Juan Transit - Transportation in the San Juan Islands
San Juan Transit provides transportation from Friday Harbor to all points of interest around San Juan Island. A great way to see the island!
Looking for More Adventure in the Pacific Northwest?
For more ideas of places to go and things to do in Washington State, see more of my adventures at Pacific NW Travels and Tails.
© 2008 Vicki Green