The San Juan Islands Travel Guide
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Plan Your San Juan Islands Vacation

The waters of the Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea, between mainland Washington and Vancouver Island, contain hundreds of islands, some little more than rocky reefs, others rising to nearly 2,500 feet. Among these, the San Juans are considered by many to be the loveliest.

About 100 miles northwest of Seattle, these romantic islands abound with breathtaking rolling pastures, rocky shorelines, and thickly forested ridges, and their quaint villages draw art lovers, foodies, and city folk seeking serenity. Inns are easygoing and well-appointed, and many restaurants are helmed by highly talented chefs emphasizing local ingredients.

Each of the San Juans maintains a distinct character, though all share in the archipelago's blessings of serene farmlands, unspoiled coves, blue-green or gray tidal waters, and radiant light. Offshore, seals haul out on sandbanks and orcas patrol the deep channels. You may see the occasional minke whale frolicking in the kelp, and humpback whales have become increasingly visible around the islands. You'll very rarely spy gray whales, which stick closer Washington's mainland.

There are 172 named islands in the archipelago. Sixty are populated (though most have only a house or two), and 10 are state marine parks, some of which are accessible only to nonmotorized craft—kayakers, canoes, small sailboats—navigating the Cascadia Marine Trail.

The San Juan Islands have valleys and mountains where eagles soar, and forests and leafy glens where the small island deer browse. Even a species of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fragilis) grows here. Beaches can be of sand or shingle (covered in small pebbles). The islands are home to ducks and swans, herons and hawks, otters and whales. The main draw is the great outdoors, but there's plenty to do once you've seen the whales or hiked. Each island, even tiny Lopez, has at least one commercial center, where you'll find shops, restaurants, and history museums. Not surprisingly, many artists take inspiration from the dramatic surroundings, and each island has a collection of galleries; Friday Harbor even has an impressive sculpture park and art museum. Lavender and alpaca farms, spas and yoga studios, a whale museum and lighthouse tours—the San Juans have a little bit of everything.

Restaurants

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Hotels

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Sights

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Shopping

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Nightlife

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Performing Arts

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Whale watch Spot whales and other marine life from a tour boat or sea kayak.
  2. Taste local flavors Talented chefs have turned Orcas and San Juan Islands into hot spots for sophisticated, locavore-driven cuisine.
  3. Gallery hop Dozens of acclaimed artists live year-round or seasonally in the San Juans, and you can find their work in studio galleries and group cooperatives throughout the islands.
  4. Indulge in a spa day Work out the kayaking or hiking kinks with a massage at the lovely seaside Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island or Afterglow Spa at Roche Harbor on San Juan Island.
  5. Bike beautiful terrain Rent a bike and cycle the scenic, sloping country roads—Lopez Island has the gentlest terrain for this activity.

When To Go

When to Go

This part of Washington has a mild, maritime climate. Winter temperatures average in the low 40s, while summer temps hover in the mid 70s. July...

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