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Most visitors arrive by car, which is the best way to explore these mostly rural islands comprehensively, especially if you plan on visiting for more than a couple of days. You can also park your car at the Anacortes ferry terminal ($10/day or $40/week high season, and half that fall through spring), as fares are cheaper and lines much shorter for passengers without cars. B&B owners can usually pick guests up at the ferry terminal by prior arrangement, and you can rely on bikes and occasional taxis or on-island car rentals (on San Juan and Orcas) for getting around. From Seattle, it's a 90-minute drive via Interstate 5 north and Highway 20 west to reach Anacortes.
Island roads are narrow and often windy, with one or two lanes. Slow down and hug the shoulder when passing another car on a one-lane road. Expect rough patches, potholes, deer and rabbits, bicyclists, and other hazards—plus the distractions of sweeping water views. There are a few car-rental agencies on San Juan and Orcas, with daily rates running about $60 to $100 in summer, and as much as 25% less off-season. You'll likely save money renting a car on the mainland, even factoring in the cost of ferry transport (which is about $20 to $30 for a standard vehicle, plus driver and passengers, depending on which island you're headed to).
Rental Car Contacts
M and W Rental Cars. This agency has an office on San Juan Island and also rents cars by arrangement on Orcas Island. 725 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA, 98250. 360/376–5266 Orcas; 360/378–2794 San Juan. www.sanjuanauto.com.
Orcas Island Rental Cars. This agency on Orcas Island rents both cars and vans; staff will meet you with a car at the ferry or deliver it to a location of your choice. Orcas Island, WA, 98280. 360/376–7433. www.orcasislandshuttle.com.
Susie's Mopeds. This company on San Juan rents cars and mopeds. 125 Nichols St., Friday Harbor, WA, 98250. 360/378–5244 or 800/532–0087. www.susiesmopeds.com.
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