A Local’s Guide: Best Things to do on San Juan Island in 2021

A Local’s Guide: Best Things to do on San Juan Island in 2021

Time and time again, we sing the praises of traveling during the off-season. Sure, the weather is not always as stellar as the more popular travel times, but if there is one thing you can’t count on when you live in the Pacific Northwest, it is the weather. We have experienced better weather in April than July and better weather in October than June. As long as you dress in layers and pack a sense of adventure, you’ll find the beaches, restaurants, and shops are the same, minus the crowds. One big perk of traveling during the off-season is reservations are easier to come by, and everyone, in general, has a more laid-back attitude. Springtime on the islands is filled with flowers, sunshine, rain, and anticipation as the days become longer. Between beach hopping, cruising around the island, and stopping to take photographs, before you know it, the day is half over. But if you’re looking for other things to do, might we suggest the following…

       

A San Juan Island Spring Itinerary 

Morning:                                                                                                                                  First stop, Roche Harbor, for fresh donuts at the Lime Kiln Cafe. After an indulgent breakfast, head out to Cattle Point for a gorgeous bluff hike, eagle spotting, and serenity. If it’s a Saturday, make sure to swing by Friday Harbor’s Farmers Market for fresh produce, locally made cheese, and picnic essentials. If it’s a weekday, do some shopping in town, then munch on delicious fish and chips at Bait. Drive to San Juan County Park for a picnic, a rock-throwing session, and launch your kayak there for an afternoon paddle.

Afternoon:                                                                                                                                  After working up an appetite out on the water, stop by Westcott Bay Shellfish for a late afternoon snack or San Juan Island Brewery for a mid-day pick-me-up. If your legs are up for it, walk along South Beach for beach exploration, rock collecting, and a bonfire at the beach.

Evening:                                                                                                                                    Make reservations for an Italian-inspired dinner at Coho restaurant in town or meander your way back across the island for gourmet fare at Duck Soup Inn. Finish off your busy day at Lime Kiln Lighthouse for a gorgeous sunset, whale spotting, and plenty of photo ops. If you’re more interested in thoroughly planning your itinerary ahead of time, here are few places to consider:

         

         

San Juan Island Farmer’s Market: 

April-October 9:30 am-1 pm every Saturday                                                                          November-December 1st and 3rd Saturday

Visit the San Juan Island Farmer’s Market every Saturday from April to October. Attending the local Farmer’s Market is an excellent way to get a sense of local cuisine and interact with the locals. It also allows you to sample local food you might not be able to try any other way. You might taste everything from your first barbecued oyster, which might result in a subsequent trip to Westcott Bay Oyster Farm, or sample some of the season’s first raspberries that inspire a raspberry cream pie once you arrive home. Pick up some beet and radish seeds to fill in the empty spaces in your garden, or purchase one of many heirloom tomato plants or blueberry plants for sale. Between all the color and variety available at the market, it’s easy to get very excited for the bounty we call late spring/early summer.

Insider tip: Go early (before 11 am) for the best selection. Bring one basket and one bag to carry around easily and separate your perishable and non-perishable purchases.

       

Kayaking (May through September for best orca viewing):  

Experience Washington’s sea life from the best possible place – the water. Rent your own or join a kayaking outfitter for a few hours. If you’re craving a real adventure, plan a long weekend of paddling. Kayak along the rocky shorelines and coves, get up close, and personal with local sea life such as sea lions, seals, porpoises, eagles, etc. Kayaking is a fantastic sport that you can learn quickly with a short lesson and safety briefing. The outfitters will provide you with gear, so all you need to do is bring your adventurous spirit, a hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle. Whether it is your first time or tenth time kayaking, there is nothing more thrilling than paddling alongside a group of sea lions, quickly getting out of the way of a Washington state ferry, or watching a whale or sea lion swim right under your boat.

Insider tip: Dress in layers and always bring a waterproof jacket. The mornings can start cool, and before you know it, the sun will warm you up, or the rain will cool you right down.

       

Whale watching:

Whenever you visit the San Juan Islands, it’s wonderful to get out on the water as much as possible. There are many outfitters on the island, and San Juan Safaris is one of our favorites. San Juan Safaris doesn’t just provide whale watching excursions but an opportunity to learn from the experts. Brian and his team offer a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sea life. The entire San Juan Safari team is eager to talk about everything they know, from whale behavior to swim patterns. Their guides and naturalists are professional and possess an enthusiasm for their jobs that is unmatched. On the off chance you don’t spot whales on your trip, don’t worry because you’ll still be able to witness an abundance of wildlife in its natural environment. Aside from whales, you might see bald eagles, porpoises, and seals, to name a few. The San Juans are such a rich environment for wildlife in addition to being an absolutely beautiful place. There is nothing quite like being out on a boat with the sunshine warming your body, the wind whipping your hair, and the thrill of spotting animals you’ve never seen before. Each trip is unique and truly a feast for the senses.

Insider tip: Animals are often most active in the morning when fewer boats have been out. Be sure to bring a good pair of binoculars if you have them.

          

Mopeds and scooters:

Did you know you can get around the island without a car? Susie’s Mopeds offers rentals of all kinds, from mopeds to scoot coupes and electric bicycles. One of our favorites is the scoot coupe, which comfortably fits two people and is a fun way to spend the day together while seeing the island. There are endless routes and roads you can take around the island, but one we recommend is to head out to Cattle Point for a bluff walk, stop at the lavender fields if they’re in bloom, look for whales at Lime Kiln Lighthouse, drop into Westcott Bay Shellfish and motor on to Roche Harbor for dinner. These are just a few highlights, but it’s also fun to take random roads and meander your way around the island. We regularly add and subtract items to our list with fun outings to farm stands or an excursion to see the Sponge Bob Squarepants Pineapple. Susie’s Mopeds offers a fast, friendly, reliable, and fun way to see the island.

Insider tip: Book well in advance because on busy weekends and during the summer, Susie’s is known to sell out quickly!

June 2021:                                           

              

Three Lakes Triathlon and San Juan Island Marathon, Half Marathon and 10k at Lakedale Resort: June 19th-20th, 2021

The perfect choice for your first 10k or your 10th marathon, this race weekend promises fun and adventures for athletes of all ages and abilities. Nestled in the heart of San Juan Island, Lakedale’s family-friendly atmosphere is the ideal spot to start and finish a race and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for all.

July 2021: 

                                                                                                                                                               Fourth of July Fireworks: July 4th, 2021

There will be fireworks displays at both Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor on the 4th of July. The fireworks will start shortly after 10 pm on Independence Day. To safely watch the extravaganza, spread out on the docks, the shoreline, or view them from your car.

Insider tip: If you want to avoid the crowds when the fireworks start, head to 4th of July Beach at the south end of the island and watch not only Friday Harbor’s but Lopez Island’s displays while relaxing on the beach.

August 2021: 

                                                                                                                                                         Lakedale’s 4th annual Music Festival: August 27th, 2021

Lakedale’s Music Festival features renowned jazz virtuoso Brian Nova and his Trio. The Music Festival is an idyllic way to savor the last bit of summer and welcome fall. Enjoy a leisurely day listening to music and stay in a yurt (check that one off your bucket list!)  The Music Festival benefits the San Juan Islands School Music programs and Terry’s Kids, a wonderful organization that brings children together through music. Terry’s Kids provides free music programming to schools and care facilities worldwide, with performances, concerts, clinics, and lessons. The Music Festival is open to music lovers of all ages and registered guests at Lakedale. Admission price is included in the nightly rate, and a limited number of tickets will be available at the gate for $25 per day. Gates open at 10 am.

Open all year:

 Lime Kiln Point State Park:

Often referred to as Whale Watch Park, Lime Kiln State Park is a 36-acre day-use park with a lighthouse, walking trails, picnic areas, and restroom. The park is a favorite location to see wildlife and is considered one of the best places in the world to view whales from land. For gorgeous sunsets, whale spotting, and unique photographs, Lime Kiln Lighthouse is the best place to be at the close of a day.

        

South Beach and American Camp:

South Beach is located at American Camp in the San Juan National Historical Park. It is the longest public beach in the islands, with stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca and two miles of rocks, sand, and driftwood just waiting to be explored. Go beachcombing and soak in the island life while building a driftwood sculpture.

        

Cattle Point:

One of the most beautiful places on San Juan Island is Cattle Point. Located at the south end of the Island, it consists of low rolling hills, cliffs covered in prairie grassland, gravel beaches, rock outcroppings to explore, and several protected sandy coves. Cattle Point is a short drive from Friday Harbor, and yet it feels as though you are miles away from everything. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Canada. This quiet park is a prime example of how easily accessible some of the most breathtaking places on San Juan Island are. Far enough away from town, with no restaurants or tourist attractions other than spectacular beauty, you’ll often have the place to yourself.

Roche Harbor:

        

Springtime is one of our favorite times at Roche Harbor. The weather usually cooperates, flowers boxes and hanging baskets are bursting with color, and it is generally a much quieter time than the hustle and bustle of the summer. Check out all the boats and yachts while walking the docks and take time to read their clever names; it’s a highlight of every trip. Plan to spend at least an afternoon or evening at Roche during your stay. The appeal is understandable with the laid back, leisurely pace (think no ferry traffic or hurried Friday Harbor tours.) Take a kayak trip from Roche Harbor docks, then eat at one of our favorite restaurants, Madrona Bar and Grill.

Insider tip: If donuts are your thing, no visit to San Juan Island is complete without a stop at the Lime Kiln Cafe in Roche Harbor for some of the freshest donuts you’ll find on the island. If heaping salads are more your speed, check out Madrona Bar and Grill.

San Juan County Park:

Another great outing is San Juan County Park on the west of the island. There’s a small beach, a short hiking trail, campsites, and plenty of beautiful views to enjoy. If you have kids, this is an ideal spot to let them explore and run off some energy. You can easily spend an afternoon examining bugs, eating a picnic lunch, and enjoying the warm sunshine on your face.

Insider tip: If you own a kayak, canoe, or small raft, this is the perfect place to launch it.

Do you ever want to visit a place where you can unplug? Where you can enjoy the great outdoors during the day and come back to modern conveniences at night? A vacation where you feel like a kid again, either with or without your children? A retreat to reconnect with your special person?  A getaway where you can enjoy quality time as a family or enjoy the serenity of nature alone? If you answered yes to any of these things, then Lakedale is the place for you. We hope to see you the next time you visit the San Juans!