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Trip Report The San Juan Islands with a bit of Seattle and Whidbey Island

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Just back from a week in Seattle, the San Juan Islands and a night in Langley on Whidbey Island. Our Seattle time was very quick, just a stop overnight next to the Seattle Center at the Maxwell Hotel (This site turned me on to it. I recommend it and all the other places we stayed; read more on TripAdvisor). We walked over to the EMP (Experience Music Project) to see the likes of Hendrix’s guitar and Captain Kirk’s chair. Neato! Had good pizza and beer at “The Rock” in the hotel and a nice late night bite at McMenamins next door (potato cheese soup).

We got up early the next morning, grabbing quick food (breakfast sandwich) from the coffee kiosk in the lobby, and headed up north to Anacortes and the first of many car ferries. All my research insisted we be at the ferry terminal at least an hour ahead (and maybe two hours!) of every ferry we wanted, but in mid-June we were pre-season and got waved away at 10:15 for the 11:55 ferry. We went off to find more breakfast at the bowling alley a few miles back and got back at 11:00 and all was groovy.

The Washington State Ferries are very nice, spacious, lots of places to sit, racks of brochures, you can buy food, and some of them had jigsaw puzzles laid out on tables. During this trip we took four ferries.

Our first stop was San Juan Island and Friday Harbor. We stayed at Kirk House B&B, which was a lovely 1907 house about 4 blocks from the ferry terminal. We had a nice visit with our hosts Doug and Roxy and as the weather kept improving, we decided to go explore the island. The next day we had tickets on a Western Prince whale watch tour at 2pm and we were planning on wandering around the town in the morning.

We headed off to the San Juan Winery, made a quick stop at the outdoor sculpture park and continued to Roche Harbor for lunch. Roche Harbor is a little strange; we had a hard time figuring out where to go, because the top half of the town has all brand new houses, making the place look like a historical town theme park. The bottom part of the town is truly historical. We had a nice lunch at Madrona Grill (salmon club sandwich) overlooking the harbor, then wandered around the old hotel and gardens. We got back in the car and stopped in at the alpaca farm (the store was closed as it was after 5 by now). What we DIDN’T do, which I regret, was make it to Lime Kiln State Park, because we just ran out of energy. If I had to do it all over again, I would have had lunch in Friday Harbor and just gone to Lime Kiln. Coulda shoulda woulda.

We went back to the B&B for a glass of wine with our hosts, rested up a bit, then went out for more food at The Cask and Schooner in downtown Friday Harbor. Great food (mussels in a spicy tomato broth), great service, and live music on a Sunday night.
Monday morning we woke to a great breakfast (yogurt granola parfaits, egg cups, scones) then we walked into town. I went to galleries and the Whale Museum (cute!) and DH hit the used bookstores. We bought sandwiches (Asian chicken wrap) at King’s Market on the main (Spring) street and brought them back to our private garden area to have lunch.

Back into town for our 3.5 hour whale watch tour. Western Prince offers two types of tours; an inflatable rubber raft with no bathroom and a comfortable tour boat with a bathroom and small snack bar. Our comfortable tour was led by a goofball naturalist named J.B., who was very funny but also knew his stuff. We circled the island to meet the orcas (and all the other whale watch tours) on the other side of San Juan and we saw lots of whales. Great trip. We came back to dinner at Downriggers, the restaurant right on the harbor with great views, very good food (Lopez clams) and so-so service.

Next morning, Tuesday, we were off to Orcas Island. We got to the ferry too early again and got waved away. We came back and left our car and wandered off, coming back to it when we saw the ferry coming into the harbor. Orcas Island is shaped like a big horseshoe, with the largest town, Eastsound, in the middle. Our next night’s lodging was at the far end of the island so we made a couple of stops on the way. There are many pottery studios but the one with the killer view is Orcas Island Pottery. We got a lunch recommendation for Mia’s Café in Eastsound , which was cute, with good food (smoked salmon sandwich) and spacey service. My choice would have been (another) Madrona Grill, for the view, but occasionally DH got to make a decision. Orcas is a larger island with less to do than San Juan, but it was the highlight of our trip because of where we stayed. Rosario Resort was the private home of a very rich fellow and former Seattle mayor named Robert Moran (Moran State Park used to be his back yard). The mansion has a lot of interesting history, and upstairs is a museum and a giant pipe organ where daily concerts are given at 4pm. These are open to the public. Christopher Peacock, the GM, plays the organ, also the piano, and has written a book about the place which is for sale, as well as his CDs. Obviously the guy doesn’t sleep. We stayed in the Cascade Harbor Inn, right next door, which is now part of the complex. We had a suite, which was two hotel rooms, one a bedroom, the other a kitchen/dining/living room with a big balcony with a fabulous view over the water to the mansion. We had great meals at the Mansion Restaurant (seared tuna for dinner, the best biscuits with sausage gravy I’ve ever had for breakfast).

On Wednesday after breakfast I walked the beach at low tide and found some bright purple and orange starfish. I thought these were even cooler than the orcas, but that’s just me. We drove 5 minutes to Moran State Park and took the road all the way to the top of Mt. Constitution for amazing views of snow-capped peaks. Climb the stone tower to find the descriptions of what you are looking at. We then went looking for lunch at Café Olga (also an art gallery), but that side of the island seemed to be closed for food on Wednesdays. We had salmon burgers at the Cascade Bay Store back at Rosario.

Thursday we drove 17 miles back to the ferry. Once more we were told to get there crazy early because all the delivery trucks can fill up the boat. We left very early and had expensive breakfast at the Orcas Hotel ($11 for basic egg breakfast). Back on the ferry for a short ride to Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Island is much more developed, a bit of a shock after Orcas. Lots of traffic, McDonald’s, Burger King, blah blah blah. Our first stop was Deception Pass, a cool bridge yes, but walking around it was like playing on the freeway; not my cup of tea, so we moved on. My plan was to hit some wineries on the way to lunch somewhere and our final destination: the cute town of Langley, which was down at the bottom of Whidbey. I underestimated how long it would take to get down there and we ended up only going to one winery at Greenbank Farm. We got hungry, tired and cranky, but luckily there was also a café at Greenbank with great food (eggplant sandwich) and the best cherry pie I’ve ever had. Nice gardens and galleries there, too.

We continued on to Langley for our stay at the Saratoga Inn. I tried to stay at all kinds of places on this trip and I think I did a pretty good job. Saratoga had a beautiful view of the water and we got there in time for wine and nibblies (every day 4:30-6:30). Langley was a very cute little town with tons of galleries and interesting nooks and crannies to explore. We had dinner at Café Langley, (Penn Cove Mussels a mile from Penn Cove), yet another fabulous bivalve meal for me.

The next morning we wandered around town some more till it was time to leave the islands and head back to the mainland. My plan to hit more wineries got changed by the weather (the Seattle area drizzle kicked in, it was beautiful weather up in the San Juans). Our next stop was Edmunds, where I got to play the part of the creepy fan of Rick Steves and go stalk him at his store, Europe through the Back Door. It turned out to be a travel agency with books and luggage for sale. No bobbleheads of Steve; they are missing out on a marketing bonanza. We had a great lunch at Arnies (seafood pasta with a cream sauce) with a view of the foggy harbor. Our next stop was the airport motel; Sleep Inn Seatac, because we had an early flight on Saturday morning. We had a choice of two highways, the one that ran through Seattle and the ring road around it. It was a rainy Friday afternoon, edging toward rush hour and I assumed we should avoid going thru the big city. We asked a local, who confirmed this, but mentioned we should listen to the traffic report. We did not. It took us 3.5 hours to drive what should have been a 90 minute trip. In the rain. Running out of gas. Feh.

We finally made it to our hotel in time to go get dinner at 13 Coins, where the horrible journey was washed away with great local wine and convivial talk with our waiter while we sat at the counter in giant chairs and I had fabulous fried oysters.

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