A true paradise awaits you in the San Juan Islands. These idyllic Islands are located in the northern reaches of Puget Sound; about 80 miles north of Seattle in the northwestern most corner of Washington. The Islands are actually the remaining mountaintops of a receding continent much older than the American mainland. The San Juan’s consist of 172 islands, with the most populated islands being Lopez Island, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island. Each easily reachable by ferry, boat, or plane. It has also been named in various lists as American’s most desirable places to live for the natural beauty, fair climate and laid-back lifestyle.
The first inhabitants of the San Juan Islands were Indians however British and Spanish explorers discovered the islands in the 18th century. Settlement by British and Americans didn’t begin until the 1850s. Soon a conflict arose between an American settler who shot and killed a British-owned hog, led to the “Pig War” of 1859. With the boundary between Canada and the United States unclear, both nations claimed jurisdiction. U.S. troops were brought in as British warships arrived off the San Juan coast. Fortunately the two governments agreed to a joint occupation of the San Juan’s until a boundary was agreed on. In 1872 the Americans were found to have a stronger claim to the islands. This ended the last territorial conflict ever between the United States and Great Britain.
A lot of gift and souvenir shops can be found on the Islands. In Friday Harbor visit the unique Whale Museum to learn about these fascinating animals, especially the orca or “killer whale,” which inhabit local waters. In fact, “Free Willy” was filmed in the San Juan Islands.
For the history enthusiast don’t miss the San Juan National Historical Park. See old British and American Camps where in season, volunteers dress in period clothing to recreate significant moments for visitors. Be sure to also visit the historic Hotel de Haro where President Teddy Roosevelt once stayed.
The nature lovers in you will enjoy a visit to Lime Kiln Point State Park. This location is ideal for whale watching and is a special treat for tourists. The islands are also home to such marvelous creatures as bald eagles, river otters, and harbor seals. Outdoor activities include zip line, boating, biking, hiking, kayaking, golfing, and horseback riding.
How about some good eats? There are over forty restaurants on both Orcas Island and San Juan Island. Many use fresh sustainable foods grown by local farmers. Enjoy harbor views and rustic dishes at restaurants like Cask and Schooner Public House in San Juan or The Bay in Lopez Island.
Choices in accommodations on San Juan Islands range from water view cottages and cabins to traditional rooms. If splurging, try the Timber Lodge - a grand cabin with spectacular views, hot tub, and home theater. For a modest and rustic approach, try camping in a tipi or tent at Sweet Earth Farms. Many choices are conveniently located by ferry landings so getting around is easy.
Orcas Island is a bit larger yet less populated. There are still plenty of accommodations such as Landmark Inn in Eastsound. Condos and town homes here overlook the fishing bay. For a cozy cabin North Beach Inn gives you a tranquil stay. Studio, 1, 2, and, 3 bedrooms available.
Many excellent restaurants in addition to gift and souvenir shops can be found in Eastsound. Stop by Chimayo/Sazio for hand made pasta and organic, locally grown produce, and an array fine wine. For a more casual meal, try Hogstone Wood Fired for a delicious wood oven pizza.
The smaller settlements such as Orcas, West Sound, Deer Harbor, Olga and Doe Bay, are each unique and worth a look while in the area. If you visit Orcas make the easy drive to the Half-mile-high Mount Constitution. The unforgettable 360-degree oceanic view is said to be one of the worlds finest. Part of Moran State Parks 5,000 acres of woodland, the mountain offers a large range of outdoor activities to thrill every nature lover.
Credits // Author: Wendi Wendt