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Best use of 4 days = Vancouver, BC or San Juan Islands?

Best use of 4 days = Vancouver, BC or San Juan Islands?

Old Dec 31st, 2009, 12:30 PM
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Best use of 4 days = Vancouver, BC or San Juan Islands?

My husband and I are traveling in mid-June to early July for 17 days total including the 2 travel days flying into and out of Seattle. We know we will be spending 4 days in Seattle and 4 days on the Olympic peninsula plus the last 2 days of our trip at Mt. Rainier since our best chance of having good weather occurs then. We're planning to spend an overnight in Victoria from our location on the Olympic peninsula. I want to know if the best use of the 4-5 days we have remaining is in the San Juan Islands or Vancouver? We like both urban and rural/scenic/outdoor experiences and are already doing plenty of both during this trip. Our young adult kids will NOT be with us so it's just two 50 year olds in good physical condition. Opinions welcome.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 01:09 PM
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Either would be fantastic! They are just so different it's impossible to compare the two. San Juan Islands are gorgeous certainly. And Vancouver is a great city. No right answer here, just depends which you'd prefer.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 01:17 PM
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The problem is we have no clear preference. Both destinations have their drawbacks in terms of the negatives of getting there and back (crowded ferries versus border crossing) and their positive characteristics (beautiful outdoor nature experiences versus great urban experiences in a spectacular landscape). Guess I will just have to flip a coin.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 02:13 PM
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I agree, they're so different and both such good destinations, you'll have to flip a coin, or split your time (there IS time for both with 4-5 extra days).

Be aware that mid June is NOT actually your best chance for good weather (July, August and even September are) or for visiting Mt Rainier and the Olympics. We get the "June Gloom" here--gray skies, cool temps. In a normal snowpack year, trails don't melt out at Mt Rainier until mid July; you'll have more choices in the Olympics, where there are lowland/ocean/rainforest trails, but most mountain trails will still be under snow.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 02:21 PM
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How about taking BC Ferries to one of the Gulf Islands on the way to Vancouver? You could spend a night on Saltspring Island, Galiano, Pender, or Gabriola Island on your way to Vancouver and see an island. I'd not miss Vancouver. It is a different experience than Seattle.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 02:40 PM
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On our one trip to San Juan Island the ferries were not overly crowded. No problems. We enjoyed whale watching and the lavendar farm.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 03:18 PM
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Interesting idea about stopping on the Gulf Islands en route to Vancouver from Victoria. Perhaps that way I could get an idea of what the San Juan Islands are like without actually having to go there? Or are they really quite different?
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 07:26 PM
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Though each island is different, the Gulf Islands and San Juans have many similarities. Geographically they are quite similar. Ditto for climate and plant life.

Both sets of islands are remote (not connected by bridges). They are populated largely by retired people, artists and farmers. The Gulf Islands are a bit more organized looking, I think, being Canadian. The San Juans are a bit funkier, overall. Still, they are similar enough for your purposes and the Gulf Islands fit a lot better on your itinerary, leaving from Victoria.

Saltspring is the largest Gulf Island and its largest town, Ganges isn't as picturesque as Friday Harbor, the largest town in the San Juans. It appears newer and is laid out in a more contemporary, almost mall-like way, while Friday Harbor is a little town with old buildings and criss-crossing streets. For an island flavor, I wouldn't suggest you stay in Ganges, but Saltspring Island is very nice - aside from having great maps for tourism (of galleries, cheese shops where they milk their own goats, 2 or 3 wineries, oven baked bread and pizzas, etc), you can ride up the mountain for views, visit Ruckle Provincial Park for a nice walk along the water, etc.

I think the Penders (N and S) are really lovely and remote feeling (though lots of wealthy people have moved to the Gulf Islands and have big homes, most are tucked away). You can visit nice galleries there, walk up the easy hike to the top of Mt. Norman and enjoy the broad vistas (highest point on the Penders), go kayaking, biking. There's a nice luxury type of resort on S. Pender, Poet's Cove, if you're into a fancier place to stay. It looks west - great views at sunset, has bike and scooter rentals, and I think you can rent kayaks and go to the little park nearby from there. (We stayed at the marina there and kayaked to the park and climbed Mt. Norman, but we had our own kayaks.)

Still more remote is Galiano Island. Montague Harbor is a beautiful with nice beaches. You can go kayaking with an outfitter there. There are lots of galleries (home studios) to explore.

Gabriola is the best for biking as it's a bit flatter. It's close to Nanaimo and has lots of artists.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 07:50 PM
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Another option for an island vibe without quite so many logistical issues would be the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver. A 40 min. ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay puts you into some lovely country, small towns, beaches, etc. http://tinyurl.com/ya98bkv

You can easily combine the Sunshine Coast with a day trip (or longer) to Whistler, which is at the other end of the Sea to Sky Highway from Horseshoe Bay.
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Old Dec 31st, 2009, 11:09 PM
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Thanks to everyone for your great ideas! My problem is that I really want to see EVERYTHING that this fantastic area has to offer and to do it properly we need 2 months, not 2 weeks!

I'm now inclined to do the following: fly into Seattle, rent a car, drive over the border to Vancouver, spend a few days, take the ferry to Salt Spring Island and time it so we're there for the Saturday market (looks like most places have a 2 night minimum so it will be a weekend stopover), ferry to Victoria and spend the night, ferry to Olympic peninsula and stay a few days, drive/ferry to Seattle and stay a few days, then spend the last 2 days at Mt Rainier before flying home.

How does that sound?
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 10:24 AM
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It sounds lovely (seriously)! I'm no expert on all that ferry riding, but the loop seems that it would give you a lot of different experiences, both urban and natural/outdoors, and at a reasonable pace of moving around.
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 11:12 AM
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Sounds good. You definitely need to save the mountains for the end, given time of year.

Saltspring is the most populated and commercial of all the islands, and you will want to get away from Ganges. The market is fun, though, and you'll want to visit the galleries there. Fulford Harbor is a cute little town on the west side that is funky - worth visiting. We bought a paper mache pig from an artist there. He has a barn full of animals (that was a few yrs ago - hope he is still there). Vesuvious has a good restaurant at the ferry terminal with a harbor view. On the east side is a picturesque red bridge to a boat landing, if you like taking photos. Also, there is a nice bakery there. Don't miss the parks. I haven't been to the lake, but I understand you can swim there.

BTW, you can also get gallery guide brochures on the other islands - Galiano, Gabriola, and Penders, at least. But more is open on Saltspring, except on Saturday some will be closed because of the market.

If you have the time and the foot ferry is running, it is well worth the trip to walk on at Sidney and go to Sidney Spit, a marine park just off the coast. It is truly beautiful. It has nothing on it but a great spit with lots of sea life, a forest, fields and gorgious views - a photographers dream....wish I knew how to post my photos....
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 01:53 PM
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We came out years ago, before moving to San Juan Island, and took a ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. After spending time on Vancouver Island we took the ferry from Sydney to Friday Harbor. We got to see it all! Naturally, I'm partial to San Juan Island and would come here to explore, watch whales and relax. I guess it all depends on what you are wanting to do. We have it all here!
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 05:20 PM
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blue, the problem is crossing the border by road too many times. The ferries to the San Juans only go to Anacortes WA on the mainland, not Vancouver.

They could go from Seattle to Anacortes to Friday Harbor, then return to Anacortes and drive to Vancouver, and take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. That involves one more ferry trip, but would work.
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 06:15 PM
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Both Vancouver and the San Juans are great destinations. You could probably fit both in the 4 days you have, if you fly to the San Juans from Seattle via Kenmore Air (seaplanes). The ferries might be crowded already in June, even though the weather might still be rainy and cloudy, typical Pacific NW.
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 07:10 PM
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Of course, I am partial to one particular island in the San Juans, (as I have a home there), but for scenery, forests, views, variety, I don't think you an beat ORcas...must take a ferry there, but still, I love it there...rain or shine.
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Old Jan 1st, 2010, 07:55 PM
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laminid: be aware of ferry schedules...some of them run rather less often than others, and 'connecting' might be tiresome, if you are not willing to wait in ferry lines, etc. Can get the scheudles from Washington State Ferry site on the internet.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2010, 12:06 AM
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4 days in Vancouver would be ideal and there are so many great food options.
One of our favorites is Vij's for Indian..considered one of the best and is quite good.
Love the latte's at Cafe Artigiano next to the Fairmont hotel downtown.
We love the Fairmont hotel downtown..5* luxury and close to Robson.
Great Chinatown and make sure you go to Dr. Sun Yat Sen gardens..considered one of the top 100 places to see before you take a dirt nap.
This is such a great city!
I've heard only great things about the San Juan Islands and friends have a place on Whidbey island and seems that is a great place to visit.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2010, 07:46 AM
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Thanks to all of you for great feedback. We will have to come back a second time around with our young adult kids in the future. There is only so much ground to cover in 2 weeks. You are all blessed to live in such a beautiful and interesting part of the world.
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Old Jan 3rd, 2010, 01:47 PM
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True! We do live in a beautiful part of the world. The sights are truly awe-inspiring. My jaw drops sometimes just driving down I-90 towards Seattle. Some days, you can see the snow-capped Olympics rising over Seattle, with the sparkling waters of Lake Washington in the foreground - and the clouds - we live in the clouds. While sometimes it makes for grey days, when they rise, and you can see them above and below you, wafting along the nearby hills and mountains, in the pink light of morning, you think how amazing it all is.
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