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San Juan Islands

I have never been to San Juan Islands. Any suggestions on where to stay, eat, what to do will be appreciated. We are flying into Seattle July 5, and leaving July 9

Posted by
116 posts

I'll need a little more info-- how many days do you have? Bringing a car? What do you like to do? Do you have ferry reservations (they fill up fast)? San Juans are nearly impossible to get reservations for at this late date and certainly need more than just a day trip, IMO. Jenny

Posted by
11505 posts

Presumably you will have a car so can drive to Anacortes and take a day trip as a walk-on passenger and not have to deal with getting a car on to a ferry.
Get an early departure and have lunch or early dinner and take boat back that evening.

If you do not already have hotel reservation on the Islands, your choice at this point is likely very slim.

When we have gone ( with kids) we just took a picnic lunch and rode the ferry to the end and rode back, so have no restaurant recommendation.

Posted by
144 posts

Hi Sara,
As Jenny said you will have a hard time getting reservations at this late date to take a car. I live in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island. You would board the ferry to go out into the San Juans from Anacortes. If you are unable to get reservations you could always stay here and walk on for the ferry experience. We have many lodging options, restaurants and beautiful hikes. Here is a link if you would like more information http://anacortes.org/

Good luck,
Kathleen

Posted by
70 posts

Thank you for all your suggestions. We will only have 3 days

Posted by
116 posts

As a walk-on, the only island you would be able to get the most of a day-trip is San Juan itself as the other islands the ferry services (Shaw, Lopez and Orcas) have their main village about 15-20 minutes by car from the ferry landing. Not really any village on Shaw. Friday Harbor on San Juan has lots of fun stuff to see and do. You can always rent mopeds on Orcas and San Juan. You can also take day trips from Seattle on Clipper Vacations. I think they only go to Friday Harbor, but it's a nice boat ride.

Posted by
70 posts

Thank you. Any suggestions on a nice hotel?

Posted by
116 posts

Rosario is the most well-known on Orcas, but there are probably 5-7 others and not all in town (Eastsound). Hotel deHaro very popular on San Juan, but it's in Roche Harbor on the opposite end of the island from Friday Harbor. Lots more options on San Juan Island since the population is roughly double Orcas Island. I'd check with Trip Advisor or the chamber of commerce websites for a list.

Posted by
1117 posts

It's some time ago now that I visited the San Juan islands with a friend, and I must say they were a great disappointment after the spectacular descriptions we had read beforehand (we had indeed read our guide books!).

Wherever we left the ferry (don't remember now which islands) we found a road, private property, real estate agencies, more private property, jewelers, more private property, one or two expensive restaurants, and more private property. No beach access, no hiking, nothing. We walked that boring road for some time in one direction, then we walked that boring road for some time in the opposite direction, and then we sat at the harbor hoping for the next ferry to come and pick us up soon.

Not meaning to throw cold water on your plans, but be sure you understand what you are going to expect on which island, especially if you are going there on a day trip without a car. Maybe we just happened to get off the ferry on the wrong islands.

Posted by
194 posts

Anna, that's too bad you didn't enjoy the San Juans. Here's what one should expect...

At this late date, driving on might not be an option due to reservation requirements and high volume of vehicles during the summer. If you can, rent a bike and walk on. If you get off the ferry on San Juan Island, you will be right in the heart of a quaint (albeit a bit touristy) little town full of shops, restaurants, galleries and a beautiful harbor full of boats. It's the easiest of the islands to sort of jump off the boat and get right into the swing of things. If you can make it to the other side of the island (rent bikes or taxi?), there's Lime Kiln Park, where you can often see pods of orcas from the shore without needing a boat. There's also Roche Harbor, which is delightful, especially if you can get a room in the hotel!

If you get off at Orcas Island (the largest of the San Juans), you will indeed have a long walk to some of the highlights of that island (which is why you should either have a bike or arrange a pick up if possible), which include the town of East Sound, an amazing state park with lakes, camping, hiking and a road to the top of a 2,000+ ft. mountain with spectacular views of the entire Puget Sound. I'd hardly call the area around the Orcas ferry terminal boring, but to each their own.

If you get off on Lopez Island, you picked the least spectacular island of those three (IMO) with a very long walk/ride uphill from the ferry landing to "civilization". Depending on which ferry you take and in which direction, this might be the first stop, so an eager tourist who didn't know any better might think "this is our stop, we better get off now!" and be disappointed because they had expected the charm of San Juan Island or the rugged grandeur of Orcas Island. Lopez has its own unique charms, but you really would need a bike or a car to explore them, and if I only had a couple of days, it wouldn't be my first choice.

So back to the original question, if you're looking for the easiest experience for just a day or two, go to San Juan Island.