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Secrets to An Unforgettable San Juan Island Adventure

Eat, Explore & Enjoy it All this Summer

by Lisette Wolter-McKinley


Summertime practically begs for a trip to the San Juans Islands.

There is something extra special about this time of year.

The islands are bursting with gorgeous blossoms, beautiful windswept beaches, glimmers of blue sky, and an abundance of fresh produce. One trip is all you need to feel gratitude for the beautiful place we get to call home. Hop on a seaplane and spend your weekend visiting both new and familiar places, eating delicious food, and being reminded of the intense charm small town life has to offer.

Make Getting Around an Event

It took us a few years to realize you don’t need a car in order to explore San Juan Island. Susie’s Mopeds offers rentals of all kinds from mopeds and compact SUVs to scoot coupes and electric bicycles. There are endless routes and roads you can take around the island, but we typically like to head out to Cattle Point for tide pool exploring and a beach walk, stop by Pelindaba Lavender Farm, look for whales at Lime Kiln, take a pit stop at Westcott Bay Shellfish, and then onto Roche Harbor for dinner. These are just a few highlights of the island, but it is also fun to take random roads and meander your own way around the island.

Stay in a Room with a View

With almost every hotel room located close to or along a shoreline, it is easy to find a room with a view. One of our favorite places to stay in Friday Harbor is the Bird Rock hotel. It offers a central location with shared decks just begging to be enjoyed in the afternoon sun. And from the cozy rooms, you can watch seaplanes land as passengers wait for the ferry.

Savor Season Driven Dining

While staying in Friday Harbor my family enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Coho Restaurant. The restaurant is intimate, the service attentive, and the food is delicious. This is the type of place where they greet you with a sincere smile and treat you like an old friend. One of the best things about Coho is how they are able to make use of small quantities of locally foraged food. For example, if someone approaches them with five pounds of freshly foraged morels, they are able to put them to good use. The first word which comes to mind when I think of my meal at Coho is fresh.

Go Beach Hopping

One of our favorite activities on San Juan Island is beach hopping. Each beach provides interesting scenery and a different vantage point of the island. We like to spend time on each side of the island to keep things interesting. Between beachcombing, rock-throwing, fort building, and exploring — your days can easily be filled solely with beach time.

I love that these beaches help me teach my children about the different types of seaweed, kelp, and sea creatures. And the more we have explored the islands, the more I’m amazed to learn all that I don’t know.

It’s a lesson that’s taught me to slow down and enjoy the intricacies of the world around me. While we’ve enjoyed every beach we’ve visited, San Juan County Park on the west side of the island has proved a favorite, as it’s a great spot to launch a kayak. So too has South Beach, thanks to its stunning views of the Olympic Mountains. And for days when hands-on exploring is paramount, Fourth of July Beach has offered miles of rocks, sand, and driftwood.

Get Out On the Water

Whenever we visit the San Juan Islands we like to get out on the water as much as possible. San Juan Safaris is one of our favorite outfitters; their guides and naturalists are professional and possess an enthusiasm for their jobs that is unmatched.

Whenever I go whale watching or kayaking, I always leave inspired by the scenery, but more importantly the people. Whether it is whale watching season or not, we love spending an afternoon on a wildlife cruise. When you are out on the water you will be able to see a variety of animals — from seals and sea lions to eagles and all types of birds.

If you want to see the islands from a different vantage point, plan a long weekend of paddling around the San Juan Islands. Kayak along the rocky shorelines and coves. Get up close and personal with local sea life. A kayak or whale watching tour is just the ticket to turn your weekend getaway into a spectacular adventure.

Witness Bioluminescence

If you want an adventure of a lifetime, book an overnight kayak trip. After the sunset, we waited for it to become completely dark and then we headed out on the water for a bioluminescent paddle. Bioluminescence only occurs in a small handful of places around the world and the San Juan Islands are one of the premier areas to view this phenomenon.

For those of you who don’t know what bioluminescence is, it is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Think of putting your hand or paddle in the water and then seeing a trail of glow sticks or twinkle lights. It is utterly amazing to watch in the dark and stillness of the night.

Wander with the Wildlife

It’s not just from a boat that you’ll see the San Juan’s vast array of wildlife. The archipelago is home to a vast array wildlife. You may spot foxes at Cattle Point and bunnies at South Beach. San Juan Island is home to four main sites along the Aubudon Society’s Puget Loop — a Washington State Birding Trail: Lime Kiln State Park, American Camp, English Camp, and Jackson Beach.

While looking for birds at Lime Kiln State Park, be sure to check out the water views. It’s known as one of the best land-based whale watching sites in the world. Furthermore, San Juan Island is home to 32 different species of butterflies. Talk about a beautiful sight to behold!

Get There with a Scenic Flight

If you’re already aboard a Kenmore Air flight, this may be old news. But getting to the San Juans doesn’t have to be a slog. In fact, the scenic flight can be half the fun!