There are things you come to San Juan Island to experience: Whale watching, kayaking, exploring, eating as much seafood as you can handle. And, there are lesser-known attractions on the island you might not know existed—until now.
San Juan Island is known for its views, its wildlife, and its ease. The island attracts artists of all stripes. It’s inhabited by authors, builders, entrepreneurs, bakers, brewers, and farmers. As humans do everywhere we go, we create hidden gems—intentionally or not—in our environments. Sometimes, even if these gems are well-known to locals, visitors aren’t as aware of them. This lack of awareness can be by design, but it’s not usually, especially on San Juan Island where we love our visitors as much as we love our neighbors.
So, as we would share with our neighbors, we’re sharing with you ten of the lesser-known but local favorite things to do and see on San Juan Island, starting with one of our preferred places to walk: Reuben Tarte Park.
Many thanks to Diane Mancel for the photo!
San Juan Island Parks and Trails
On the northwest side of the island, Reuben Tarte Park consists of two pebbly beaches separated by a rock bluff. It juts out into the water a bit, offering visitors views of Saturna, Flattop, Waldron, Sucia, and Orcas Islands (reminder: The San Juan archipelago boasts over 450 islands, rocks, and pinnacles, most of which are uninhabited by humans). Pups are welcome here—just make sure you keep them on a leash.
One of the most impressive sights on San Juan Island that’s not often highlighted in post-trip Instagram photo roundups is Afterglow Vista, also known as McMillin Memorial Mausoleum, built starting in 1930. Situated about a half mile from the Roche Harbor Cemetery, it is the final resting place Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company founder John S. McMillin, his immediate family, and his beloved personal secretary. McMillian was a stalwart community member, growing Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company to become the largest producer of lime on the West Coast and the dominant force in the economy of San Juan Island.
Many thanks to Explore Washington State for the photo!
On top of the family tomb, under which six family members are buried, the massive monument is stunning. It combines neoclassical elements with masonic symbolism. There is an open-air rotunda with six chairs, each inscribed with a family member’s name, and a limestone table in the middle. Each chair has a corresponding column that represents a person, along with a broken column that represents the unfinished work left behind after his or her death. There is so much more detail we could share about this impressive structure, but we do have to move on to other attractions eventually, so we’ll leave you with this: If you are a history or architecture buff, write Afterglow on the top of your San Juan Island itinerary.
San Juan Island-Based Businesses
Westcott Bay Shellfish Company is known for its oysters, but not as much for its story. Its husband and wife owners, Erik and Andrea Anderson, restored the working shellfish farm in 2013 after years of dormancy and vegetarian over-growth. It is now a thriving restaurant, community gathering place, and place to celebrate.
Don’t let the long road through a residential neighborhood fool you. Westcott sits squarely at the end and has a walking path that enters English Camp. So, take yourself to brunch and a historical nature walk. In our opinion, that combo is one of the most ideal island adventures.
Another San Juan Island-based business with deep family roots is San Juan Island Sea Salt, which just opened its brick-and-mortar shop in Friday Harbor this year. Brady Ryan hails from a family of farmers. He returned to the island a few years after college to go all in on his idea to make sea salt by using the power of the sun. That was in 2012.
Just over a decade later, Brady and his team now boast a shop right downtown Friday Harbor that’s a block from the ferry dock. It’s stocked with the company’s salts, fun foodie products, locally-made drinks, and (in a very bold assertion that must be tested by the most discerning of palates—yours) “the world’s best cookies.” Stop in—and take a few photos on the porch—at 80 Nichols Street between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday through Monday.
San Juan Island Festivals and Events
If you’ve ever been interested in endurance competitions with great views and even better company, consider the Three Lakes Triathlon and San Juan Island Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K at Lakedale. Now a long-standing tradition (it celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2023!), our Triathlon and Marathon bring athletes from all around to San Juan Island every June. All fitness levels will find something to participate in—or cheer on—at this fun annual event, including the kiddos! Learn more about it and register for next year’s event here.
Hosted by the San Juan County Arts Council, the San Juan Summer Arts Festival spans a handful of weekends throughout the summer, usually every Friday in August. Music, vendors, and food trucks take over Brickworks and the artistic talent of the island is on full display. Want to meet many of the makers who call San Juan Island home? Interested in supporting their art? This is your chance!
Love a Ferris wheel and cotton candy but not interested in joining the crowds who do the Puyallup? We’re with you! The San Juan County Fair is the perfect place to scratch your summer fun itch. Enjoy 4H presentations, events, festivals, recreational activities, agricultural shows, competitions, and all the elephant ears you can stomach each August. No sitting in long lines at the exit gate traffic here!
To cap off each summer, visitors and locals alike jam on our 82 acres at The Lakedale Music Festival with Brian Nova. Headlined by our favorite, famed jazz virtuoso and supported by generous sponsors like Benedetto Archtop Guitars, Oscar Blues Brewery, and Flagship Event Rentals, this event serenades summer while welcoming fall. Guests staying at the property enjoy included tickets and locals are invited to purchase admission at the gate. Check out the lineup and schedule here, which usually includes the FHHS band!
In the fall, Friday Harbor is taken over by moving picture shows during the Friday Harbor Film Festival. If you love discovering the best in shorts, documentaries, and student films, this is the perfect time to plan your trip to the island. As a bonus, you’ll also enjoy fewer crowds and an even more moseying island pace.
Another ideal quiet season attraction is the annual Island Lights Festival, presented by the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce. Downtown is even more magical when it’s aglow with thousands of twinkling orbs. Take yourself on a self-guided tour of the blocks up and around the ferry docks, find a cup of cocoa, and breathe in the chilled salt air while you lean into all the supernatural sensory enchantments of the island. Your holidays just got a little more merry.
Visit Any Time for A Magical Time
Now that we have a whole year of under-the-radar and off-the-beaten-path options laid out for you, we can’t wait to see how your island adventures shake out. Call us any time as you’re planning your itinerary (800-617-2267), and stop by the front desk to say hello once you get here.
You’re going to have a fantastic time on the island, one your friends and family will guess was guided by a local. Tell them you know some people or, better yet, send them this page so they can plan their trips, too!