The best time to visit the San Juan Islands is between April and October and with 2 days you can visit the best spots. Summer is nice and warm but it means higher prices. A first-timer will enjoy exploring San Juan Island arriving by ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor in the morning.
Make sure you study the ferry schedule and plan ahead. Most drivers get in line early to ensure there is room for the car on their chosen sailing. And Washington State Ferries advises drivers to be processed through the tollbooth 30-90 minutes before their reserved sailing. Walk-on passengers will have no problem. Just arrive early enough to buy your ticket if you don’t have one. You can make a ferry reservation online. If you are driving to Anacortes from Seattle, allow at least two hours.
You can bring your car, your bike or just walk on the ferry. Once you are on the ferry relax and enjoy the scenery. The ferry lands in downtown Friday Harbor. Bike, moped and scoot-coup rentals are a short walk from the ferry landing. There are also car rentals and shuttles (in summer) to get you around the island.
There are places to stay in Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor. Be sure and make a reservation ahead of time. My favorite is the pet and people friendly Island Inn at 123 West close to the Ferry Terminal. This modern inn built into the hillside has amazing views.
Before you drive or bike out of Friday Harbor consider picking up a box lunch or picnic items. We recommend San Juan Island Cheese for a box lunch.
Stop by the San Juan Island Visitors Center at 165 First Street North. They have maps, brochures and a list of all the local events happening.
You could easily spend your time exploring the galleries, museums and quaint buildings of Friday Harbor. There is a Whale Museum at 62 First St. North. You can see whale skeletons and learn about local Orca pods and other marine mammals. There is also a history museum.
If you aren’t going to make it out to San Juan Vineyards, you can taste Washington wines at the Island Wine Company at 2 Cannery Landing, right next to the ferry landing. Whale watch excursions and sea kayak tours depart from the Port of Friday Harbor or Roche Harbor seasonally.
Shopping is always a fun activity. In season, there is a Saturday Farmers Market. Shops and galleries such as Arctic Raven are fun to explore.
You can explore the highlights of San Juan Island via a round-the-island drive. You’ll enjoy scenic valleys and woods as you stop and explore some key sites on the island. If you decide to travel by bike expect some hills and narrow shoulders. You can rent electric-assist bicycles in Friday Harbor, if needed. Start the drive by following Roche Harbor signs north out of Friday Harbor (take Spring St. to Second St. to Tucker Ave.).
A scenic stop and an opportunity to taste local wine will be found at San Juan Vineyards at 3136 Roche Harbor Rd. You’ll enjoy a 30-acre vineyard, winery, historic tasting room (an 1895 school house) and chapel on the property.
Among the offerings are estate grown wines. Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe are the Estate varietals of San Juan Vineyards. San Juan Vineyards holds special events during the year.
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Roche Harbor Resort is a picturesque, full-service resort with five different lodging choices from historic to contemporary, gardens, stores, as well as a marina and spa. The Hotel de Haro is the state’s oldest continually operating hotel, and its 20 rooms have hosted for visitors since 1886, with a fascinating display in the lobby of resort history. Roche Harbor offers three restaurants located on the waterfront surrounding the inner harbor, and a seasonal barista open during the summer.
Enjoy taking a walk at English Camp. The camp is a day-use park and has a seasonal visitors center. English camp is the site where the British Royal Marines occupied San Juan Island from 1859 to 1871 in “The Pig War” standoff—a territorial dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain over ownership of the Islands. Each summer, the staff and volunteers put on a special Encampment, where you can learn about what life was like during the Pig War.
Wondering where American Camp was located? The American garrison’s parade grounds, three historic buildings and a year-round visitors center can be found at the south end of the Island.
Located on 33 Hawthorne Lane you’ll find the 25-acre Pelindaba Lavender Farm including a cutting field where visitors can cut their own lavender stems. The gift shop has a variety of lavender-scented products. The farm grows only organic lavender. The farm also has a gift shop in downtown Friday Harbor. The farm has a Lavender Harvest Festival each year in mid-July.
See the largest herd of alpacas in the San Juans on this 70-acre working farm. Alpacas grow one of the world’s softest, most luxurious fibers, and are irresistibly cute. Enjoy a self-guided stroll around the grounds of the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm or shop the Country Store for fine alpaca clothing and gifts.
Wander through the 20 acres of The San Juan Islands Sculpture Park to enjoy over 150 unique sculptures in a variety of media, from wood and metal to glass and stone. Artists range from well known to unknown, and there are exciting new additions every year. Most of the art is by Pacific Northwest artists. Donations appreciated.