You didn’t really think we could so easily leave behind the magic of the San Juan Islands, did you? Most definitely not, especially given that our daughter and grandson live on San Juan Island. I know, that’s a bit confusing, right? The entire archipelago (more than 400 islands and rocks) is known as the San Juan Islands; and then there’s San Juan Island, the second largest of the group and the most populated, with almost 7,000 residents.
We sailed away from Lopez and one hour later, docked at Friday Harbor, the port of San Juan Island. Unlike Lopez, which has nothing at the harbor landing, Friday Harbor is a bustling little town. It boasts a large harbor filled with interesting boats, nice shops and art galleries, the best bakery in the islands, and several of our favorite restaurants in the islands. Because there’s so much to do in town, it’s easy to visit San Juan Island without a car. You can walk on the ferry in Anacortes for a small fee, or if you’re staying on another island, travel inter-island for free.
Our primary attraction on San Juan Island is spending time with Amanda and Findlay. Although we saw each other just about every week during our two months on Lopez (we went to San Juan or they came to Lopez), we were looking forward to a few days of hanging out with them with no other responsibilities. Sadly, Amanda came down with a bad cold and spent much of the time resting. Findlay, however, was available after pre-school and was raring to go.
The mind of a four-year-old is inquisitive, creative, hilarious, and slightly insane. He is aware of everything, all of the time. (When I said sotto voce to Eric as we were driving, “He doesn’t miss a trick,” a couple of minutes later a little voice piped up from the backseat—“Abba, what does that mean, ‘doesn’t miss a trick?’”) He’s going through a stage of empowerment, where he grandiosely informs us of all of the things that he’s built. Admiring a boat at the docks, he says, “I built that!” “Really!” we say. “What a wonderful job you did!” At the sculpture garden, he ran delightedly through the grounds telling us of each and every sculpture he had created. I couldn’t help laughing when he told me that he had put together a very large and intricate orca whale sculpture from a kit that arrived in the mail. “How beautiful!” I said. “How long did it take you?” According to Findlay, he whipped it together in two hours. (My apologies to the artist.)
We played together, ate together, went on little adventures, talked, laughed, and wished that we had more time together. It’s always like that.
Here, a few of our favorite things on San Juan Island from this visit:
In Friday Harbor:
• The Waterfront: Wander the waterfront, stroll down the docks, and admire the beautiful carved totem arch. During the summer, there’s often live music at the waterfront park.
• Explore The Shops: A few of our favorites include Arctic Raven Gallery (authentic Northwest Coast Native art), Pelindaba Lavender (a fragrant and lovely shop of island-grown lavender products), and Island Studios (excellent local artists’ cooperative).
• Café Demeter: Our favorite bakery in the islands; they craft fine European-style pastries, including the best flourless chocolate cake imaginable.
• Restaurants: There are some great choices within walking distance of the harbor. We often have lunch at Market Chef, which consistently offers a tempting and ever-changing selection of locally grown, perfectly prepared foods. We also like The Backdoor Kitchen, primarily a gourmet dinner venue but also offering lunch on “Noodle Bowl Mondays”— delicious Vietnamese inspired noodle bowls brimming with local veggies, meats, and seafood.
Further Afield: (You’ll need transportation, either your own vehicle or you can rent a moped in Friday Harbor.)
• Hiking Mt. Finlayson: A beautiful 3.5-mile round-trip hike on the southeast side of the island leads to the highest point on San Juan Island. The trail winds along the shoreline through golden native grasslands with a terrific view of Cattle Point Lighthouse and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
• Lime Kiln Point State Park: Located on the west side of the island, Lime Kiln Point is one of the best places in the world to see whales from land. Orcas are the main attraction, but you can also see minke whales, otters, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. We’ve been several times and have never seen whales. We’ve decided that next year we’re going to hang out at the park, returning as often as necessary, until we see orcas. The peak whale-watching season is May-September, with June and July the most likely time to see whales. They can pass by within a few feet of the shore! Even without whales, the park is worth visiting, and the hiking is strikingly beautiful along the rocky shoreline. There’s another picturesque lighthouse perched on the rocks at Lime Kiln, built in 1919 and still serving as a beacon for ships in the Haro Strait. And there’s an excellent small visitor’s center with a very good film on the orcas.
• Wescott Bay Sculpture Garden: On the northwest corner of the island is one of the largest—and possibly the finest—sculpture gardens on the West coast. Twenty acres of lovely parkland is home to more than 100 works of art crafted in bronze, ceramic, glass, metal, stone, and wood. Wandering the trails is a delight. The park is open every day from dawn to dusk.