I’d been staring bleary-eyed at the TV for weeks…my husband engrossed in the fall game season. Are you ready for…Saturday college, Sunday pros, Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night, and lest we forget, baseball and the World Series? Not that I don’t enjoy sports, but fall and winter are great times of the year to travel, especially when the San Juan Islands are so beautiful and oh, so close.
I secretly recorded all the games I knew hubby would want, pried the remote from his twitchy little hands and whisked him off to the San Juan Islands for a romantic winter weekend getaway. Once we were on the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, the wind in our hair, gulls soaring above, and islands slowly parading by, the freshness of the salt air eliminated all memories of football. I think.
Weekends in the Pacific Northwest islands are magic, doesn’t matter when you go, but my favorite times are the off-seasons, when summer crowds are nestled at home, kids are in school, leaving the islands to be explored in leisure with the one you love. Full disclosure: I’m completely biased toward San Juan Island, so my romantic weekend getaway starts and ends here. Here’s my favorite itinerary (and full disclosure again…no scintillating details, you’ll have to fill in the blanks):
Drive off the ferry (remember to make ferry reservations both ways at Take a Ferry) park your car and explore Spring Street. Fun boutique shops (no chain stores here), art galleries, the amazing San Juan Islands Museum of Art, and one of my favorites…the upstairs store at King’s Market. It’s chock full of crab pots, maps, fishing gear, shoes, and island-worthy clothing.
In need of refreshment? The bar at Friday Harbor House showcases a menu of inspired adult libations along with a great view of the Friday Harbor Marina…watch boats and ferries ply the Salish Sea as daylight fades.
Next up: dinner at Vinny’s Italian Restaurant. There’s nothing we like better than being greeted like family by owners Becky and Julie, and tucking in to always delicious Italian favorites and a very good selection of reasonably priced Italian wines. My go-to meal is the house salad, followed by chicken piccata and then, if I’m living dangerously, a Mini-Jack ice cream sundae. Let your conscience be your guide.
Happily full, drive to Lakedale for the most relaxing and romantic getaway around. In the summer, kids in tow, we opt for glamping in a Canvas Cottage or a Log Cabin stay. But when it’s just the two of us, we book a lodge room overlooking the lake, or a luxury yurt complete with its own private hot tub. Every lodge room has a gas fireplace and large jetted tub, and spoiler alert, there will be a major refresh in December that will include luxurious king beds, just for starters!
If you’d prefer to stay in the town of Friday Harbor, our favorite choice is Ferry Landing Suites, literally across the street from the ferry landing. If you decide to ditch the car o your romantic getaway, just walk from the ferry up to the cute white Victorian building that houses the Elwha Suite (two bedrooms, a full kitchen, living room and a private deck), or the Yakima Suite (a studio apartment with kitchenette, living area and 2 small balconies). The Salty Fox Cafe is right downstairs, for the island’s best coffee and morning food, and if you do bring the car, count on a dedicated parking space for each of the units. Hold your sweetie’s hand and watch the moonrise from these front row seats!
Cafe Demetre is Friday Harbor’s best bakery, so knowing you’re going to need some sustenance for the exciting day ahead, swing by for morning buns, ginger scones, a slice of breakfast pizza, other delectable treats, and a killer cappuccino.
Well-fortified, you can now take the best hike on the island, to Jakle’s Lagoon and Mt. Finlayson, at the south of the island on the way to the Cattle Point Lighthouse. Look for the trailhead parking lot on the left, or one of the Lakedale team will be happy to give you directions. The hike encapsulates all that’s great about the islands: hiking through majestic forests, meeting and greeting wildlife on a beach walk, and then encountering majestic vistas, open meadows and views all the way to the Olympic mountains and Canada.
Drive back to town for a quick lunch of fish and chips, clam chowder, and a local brew at Cask and Schooner, or dine on the waterfront overlooking the marina, at Down-riggers.
Take it easy at Lakedale for the afternoon, paddle a canoe, read a book on the deck overlooking Neva Lake, sip a glass of wine by the outdoor fireplace, take a nap…
Or… do more island exploring. For a fun afternoon, head to Westcott Bay Cider and San Juan Island Distillery. They make delicious small batch hard ciders, 14 different gins, liqueurs and an award-wining apple brandy. Their Saturday afternoon tastings are great fun as well as educational – remember to ask to see the gorgeous all-copper still.
Sunsets and romance go hand in hand. On your way back to Lakedale, swing by the historic Lime Kiln Lighthouse on the island’s west side at sunset. Wander to the water’s edge past colorful Madrona trees, sit a spell, and if you’re lucky, an Orca whale might swim by. Kiss, anyone?
What would a romantic weekend away be without a Duck Soup dinner? Located just 1/4 mile from Lakedale, this island classic is housed in a quaint country house overlooking a scenic pond, with comfortable booths, blazing fireplace and twinkle lights galore. The food showcases the bounty of the islands with local produce, meats, seafood and foraged delights…always perfectly prepared. Interesting handcrafted cocktails too. But best news of all, it is now open year-round, and in the off-season from Wednesdays through Saturdays. Reservations are essential!
Sleeping in could be the order of the day, but you’ll want to make it downstairs in time for breakfast in the lodge and one of Mary Ann’s delicious “Momelettes”, along with her entertaining description of what to do on San Juan Island. Use one of her great suggestions, or spend the morning walking the docks at Roche Harbor at the north end of the island. Even in winter, the Roche Marina boasts a serious display of boat power, both the sailboat and yacht varieties. Pick up a few of the famous freshly made donuts at Lime Kiln Cafe at the top of the docks (we didn’t say this was a weight watcher’s romantic weekend) before your walk, and after you’ve worked them off, enjoy a couple’s massage at the AfterGlow Spa, a surefire way to keep the embers burning and ease you back into civilization.
Whether you’re leaving the island aboard an early ferry or later one, there’s always one more chance for romance on the island…and who knows, your significant other may decide to toss the remote control and surprise you with another romantic San Juan Island getaway!