Whether you’re visiting for a day or planning an extended stay, the San Juan Islands boast plenty to do, see, and explore for travelers of all ages—set against a backdrop that features some of the Pacific Northwest’s most magical scenery. San Juan County is home to 172 named islands and reefs, giving you endless opportunities to create a weekend getaway or longer vacation that’s all yours. But with so many options, planning your visit can feel a touch overwhelming. If aggressive Googling has your head spinning, lean into us. We’ve got you covered with travel hacks that will have you San Juan Island hopping like a pro!
San Juan Island Hopping
A trip to the San Juan Islands is a lot of things, but it’s never mundane. Whether shopping and dining top your to-do list or you’re looking to wet your adventure whistle, the islands offer something for everyone. We’re proud to be part of the vibrant San Juan Island community, and from whale watching to hiking to perusing Friday Harbor shops, we can’t wait to welcome you to our happy place. But we’re also big fans of the other islands and think they’re worth your time, too.
Island hopping is a breeze thanks to Washington State Department of Transportation inter-island ferries that can get you from Friday Harbor to Orcas, Lopez, or Shaw islands (or all of the above) in no time at all. While ferries run year-round, sailing schedules vary. 10/10 would recommend checking out the state’s Department of Transportation website as you plan your excursion!
Getting to The San Juan Islands
Whether you arrive by sea or by sky, visiting the San Juan Islands from the Seattle area is easy. Planners rejoice: We’ve done the legwork for you and compiled travel tips, helpful links, and other need-to-know information about getting to the islands.
Short on time? Here’s the TL;DR.
- Most travelers arrive by ferry from Anacortes, Washington, so bookmark the WSDOT website for quick access if this is how you plan to visit the San Juan Islands.
- To come directly from Seattle, consider sailing on the San Juan Clipper. They canceled 2022 routes, but we’re hopeful they’ll be back on the water in 2023!
- Want to bring your vehicle? We don’t think you’ll need it, but if your heart is set on having your own wheels with you, you’ll want to read up on all things vehicle reservations for Washington State Ferries.
- Five airlines serve the San Juan Islands—and we feel like chartering a seaplane is a once-in-a-lifetime experience just waiting to get crossed off your bucket list!
- With ferry tickets starting around $8 and flights beginning at roughly $150, a San Juan Island hopping vacation fits into all kinds of budgets. (We see you, penny pinchers!)
The San Juan Islands are also easily accessible for our friends to the north. Ferries and planes are available from Victoria, British Columbia to Friday Harbor at various price points, but head’s up: Washington State Ferry international service between Anacortes/Friday Harbor and B.C. was canceled for most of 2022. Savvy travelers should keep an eye on the WSDOT website for updates regarding the ferry from Victoria to the San Juan Islands in 2023 and beyond.
Hopping to Orcas Island
The largest of the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island is more than worth the short ferry ride from Friday Harbor. And while San Juan Island and Orcas Island are similar in many ways, there are some notable differences between the two. With 57 square miles of stunning scenery to absorb, a drive across Orcas Island is a feast for the eyes, as craggy and dry landscapes give way to lush, green forests. The island is also home to Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands, which offers sweeping picture-perfect views up to Canada. With activities to keep you busy and a storied history worth exploring, Orcas certainly warrants a spot on your travel itinerary.
When planning the Orcas Island leg of your San Juan Island hopping adventure, be sure to leave plenty of time to get out on the water. From whale watching to kayaking to cruising on a historic yacht (yes, really!), your hop to Orcas can be as jam-packed as you’d like. Peruse some of our favorite day-trip ideas—including the Orcas Island Scenic Byway, a self-guided tour perfect for soaking up all that the “Emerald Isle” has to offer.
For a more leisurely visit to the island, please your palate with fare at a few of our favorites: Brown Bear Baking for breakfast, Buck Bay Shellfish Farm for lunch, and the James Beard Award-nominated Matia for dinner. Peep more of our dining and shopping recommendations for an Orcas Island vacay that will have you coming back time and again!
Hopping to Lopez Island
Speaking of leisure, allow us to introduce you to Lopez Island—often called “Slo-pez” (in the most endearing way possible, of course) because of the friendly, laid-back change of pace it offers. Lopez is like your favorite, well-worn sweater: comfy, cozy, and wholly unpretentious. Lopez Island is a stop we can’t recommend enough as part of your San Juan Island hopping excursion. We’ve outlined several differences between San Juan and Lopez islands, including the size of each island: 30 square miles for Lopez compared to San Juan’s 55 square miles.
But while it’s the smallest of the “big three” islands, Lopez still offers plenty to fill up your to-do list. Bike rentals, island tours, and kayaking complement must-see museums, roadside farm stands, and a Community Arts Center. And we haven’t even mentioned the shopping, golf club, winery, and public beaches. If you happen to be there the last weekend in April, you can even catch the annual Tour de Lopez (think “Tour de France,” but un peu less French). We’re smitten with Lopez Island and know it will capture your heart!
Hopping to Other San Juan Islands
As we mentioned earlier, San Juan County is home to more than 170 islands and reefs, although most are small and uninhabitable by humans. A noteworthy exception to this is Shaw Island, which is also served by the WSDOT inter-island ferry. At just 7.7 square miles, Shaw is small but mighty and provides travelers with an escape from the hustle and bustle of some of the larger islands in our archipelago.
Shaw Island offers a campground (open year-round) but few other commercial amenities. It truly is an escape to nature—a haven where forests meet the sea and where early birds are rewarded with sunrise views worth getting up for.
As for some of the other islands? To add them to your San Juan Island tour, you’ll need to look for private transportation via boat rentals, seaplanes, or wildlife tours. Island Express Charters is one option, and a quick Google search is sure to turn up others. (We’ve also rounded up options for traveling by air. The good news: they’re expanding!)
Let Us Be Your Home Base
Whatever your San Juan Island hopping adventure looks like, we’re happy to host you and your crew (even your four-legged crew!). Book your stay online or call 800-617-2267 to reserve your very own slice of Lakedale.