21 Best Sights in The San Juan Islands, Washington

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Fodor's choice

To watch whales cavorting in Haro Strait, head to these 36 acres on San Juan's western side just nine miles from Friday Harbor. A rocky coastal trail leads to lookout points and a little 1919 lighthouse. The best time to spot whales is from the end of April through September, but resident pods of orcas regularly cruise past the point. This park is also a beautiful spot to soak in a summer sunset, with expansive views of Vancouver Island and beyond.

Moran State Park

Fodor's choice

This pristine patch of wilderness comprises 5,252 acres of hilly, old-growth forests dotted with sparkling lakes, in the middle of which rises the island's highest point, 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution. A drive to the summit affords exhilarating views of the islands, the Cascades, the Olympics, and Vancouver Island, and avid hikers enjoy the strenuous but stunning seven-mile round-trip trek from rippling Mountain Lake to the summit (some 38 miles of trails traverse the entire park). The observation tower on the summit was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. In summer, you can rent boats to paddle around beautiful Cascade Lake.

Roche Harbor

Fodor's choice

It's hard to believe that fashionable Roche Harbor at the northern end of San Juan Island was once the most important producer of builder's lime on the West Coast. In 1882, John S. McMillin gained control of the lime company and expanded production. But even in its heyday as a limestone quarrying village, Roche Harbor was known for abundant flowers and welcoming accommodations. McMillin transformed a bunkhouse into private lodgings for his invited guests, including such notables as Teddy Roosevelt. The guesthouse is now the Hotel de Haro, which displays period photographs and artifacts in its lobby. The staff has maps of the old quarry, kilns, and the Mausoleum, an eerie Greek-inspired memorial to McMillin.

McMillin's heirs operated the quarries and plant until 1956, when they sold the company to the Tarte family, who developed it into an upscale resort (but no longer own it)—the old lime kilns still stand below the bluff. Locals say it took two years for the limestone dust to wash off the trees around the harbor. McMillin's former home is now a restaurant, and workers' cottages have been transformed into comfortable visitors' lodgings. With its rose gardens, cobblestone waterfront, and well-manicured lawns, Roche Harbor retains the flavor of its days as a hangout for McMillin's powerful friends—especially since the sheltered harbor is very popular with well-to-do pleasure boaters.

Recommended Fodor's Video

San Juan Island National Historical Park

Fodor's choice

Fortifications and other 19th-century military installments commemorate the Pig War, in which the United States and Great Britain nearly went into battle over their respective claims on the San Juan Islands. The dispute began in 1859 when an American settler killed a British settler's pig and escalated until roughly 500 American soldiers and 2,200 British soldiers with five warships were poised for battle. Fortunately, no blood (other than the pig's) was spilled, and the disagreement was finally settled in 1872 in the Americans' favor, with Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany as arbitrator.

The park comprises two separate areas on opposite sides of the island. English Camp, in a sheltered cove of Garrison Bay on the northern end, includes a blockhouse, a commissary, and barracks. A popular (though steep) hike is to the top of Young Hill, from which you can get a great view of the northwest side of the island. American Camp, on the southern end, has a visitor center and the remains of fortifications; it stretches along driftwood-strewn beaches. Many of the American Camp's walking trails are through prairie; in the evening, dozens of rabbits emerge from their warrens to nibble in the fields. Great views greet you from the top of the Mt. Finlayson Trail—if you're lucky, you might be able to see Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier along with the Olympics. From June to August you can take guided hikes and see reenactments of 1860s-era military life.

125 Spring St., Washington, 98250, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, American Camp visitor center closed mid-Dec.–Feb. English Camp visitor center closed early Sept.–late May

Shark Reef Sanctuary

Fodor's choice

A quiet forest trail along beautiful Shark Reef leads to an isolated headland jutting out above the bay. The sounds of raucous barks and squeals mean you're nearly there, and eventually you may see throngs of seals and seagulls on the rocky islets across from the point. Bring binoculars to spot bald eagles in the trees as you walk and to view sea otters frolicking in the waves near the shore. The trail starts at the Shark Reef Road parking lot south of the airport, and it's a 15-minute walk to the headland.

Shark Reef Rd., Washington, 98261, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free

Turtleback Mountain Preserve

Fodor's choice

A more peaceful, less crowded hiking and wildlife-watching alternative to Moran State Park, this 1,576-acre expanse of rugged ridges, wildflower-strewn meadows, temperate rain forest, and lush wetlands is one of the natural wonders of the archipelago. Because the San Juan County Land Bank purchased this land in 2006, it will be preserved forever for the public to enjoy. There are eight miles of well-groomed trails, including a steep trek up to 1,519-foot-elevation Raven Ridge and a windy hike to Turtlehead Point, a soaring bluff with spectacular views west of San Juan Island and Vancouver Island beyond that—it's an amazing place to watch the sunset. You can access the preserve either from the North Trailhead, which is just 3 miles southwest of Eastsound on Crow Valley Road, or the South Trailhead, which is three miles northeast of Deer Harbor off Wild Rose Lane—check the website for a trail map and detailed directions.

Lopez Island Historical Museum

Artifacts from the region's Native American tribes and early settlers include some impressive ship and small-boat models and maps of local landmarks. You can also listen to fascinating digital recordings of early settlers discussing life on Lopez Island.

Weeks Rd. and Washburn Pl., Washington, 98261, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon.,Tues., and Oct.–Apr.

Lopez Island Historical Museum

Artifacts from the region's Native American tribes and early settlers include some impressive ship and small-boat models and maps of local landmarks. You can also listen to fascinating digital recordings of early settlers discussing life on Lopez Island.

Weeks Rd. and Washburn Pl., Lopez, Washington, 98261, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: May–Sept., Wed.–Sun. noon–4; or by appointment, Free, Closed Mon., Tues., and Oct.–Apr.

Moran Museum at Rosario

This 1909 mansion that forms the centerpiece of Rosario Resort was constructed as the vacation home of Seattle shipping magnate and mayor Robert Moran. On the second floor is this fascinating museum that spans several former guest rooms and includes old photos, furniture, and memorabilia related to the Moran family, the resort's history, and the handsome ships built by Moran and his brothers. A highlight is the music room, which contains an incredible two-story 1913 aeolian pipe organ and an ornate, original Tiffany chandelier. The surrounding grounds make for a lovely stroll, which you might combine with lunch or a cocktail in one of the resort's water-view restaurants.

Orcas Island Historical Museum

Surrounded by Eastsound's lively shops and cafés, this museum comprises several reassembled and relocated late-19th-century pioneer cabins. An impressive collection of more than 6,000 photographs, documents, and artifacts tells the story of the island's Native American and Anglo history, and in an oral-history exhibit longtime residents of the island talk about how the community has evolved over the decades. The museum also operates the 1888 Crow Valley Schoolhouse, which is available for private tours from Memorial Day to Labor Day ($10 per person; minimum two people); call the museum for hours and directions.

181 N. Beach Rd., Orcas Island, Washington, 98245, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $5, Closed Oct.–May, Sun.–Tues.

Orcas Island Winery

This lovely boutique winery in a pastoral setting features a modern farmhouse-chic gathering space with picnic-table outdoor seating and a garden. The only winery on Orcas, it's perfect for a sunny afternoon spent sipping wine and listening to concerts.

Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Wander a spectacular 20-acre valley smothered with endless rows of fragrant purple-and-gold lavender blossoms. The oils are distilled for use in therapeutic, botanical, and household products, all created on-site. The farm hosts the very popular San Juan Island Lavender Festival the third weekend of July. If you can't make it to the farm, stop at the outlet in the Friday Harbor Center at 150 1st Street, where you can buy their products and sample delicious lavender-infused baked goods, ice cream, and beverages.

San Juan County Park

You'll find a wide gravel beachfront at this park 10 miles west of Friday Harbor, overlooking waters where orcas often frolic in summer, plus grassy lawns with picnic tables and a small campground. Amenities: parking (free); toilets. Best for: walking.

San Juan Historical Museum

This museum in an old farmhouse presents island life at the turn of the 20th century through historic photography, documents, and buildings.

405 Price St., Washington, 98250, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $8, Closed Nov.–Mar. except by appointment

San Juan Islands Museum of Art

Housed in a sleek, contemporary building, SJIMA presents rotating art shows and exhibits with an emphasis on island and Northwest artists, including the highly touted Artists' Registry Show in winter, which features works by nearly 100 San Juan Islands artists.

540 Spring St., Washington, 98250, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: $10; Mon. \"Pay what you Can\", Closed Tues.–Wed. in summer, Tues.–Thur. off season

San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

At this serene 20-acre park near Roche Harbor, you can stroll along five winding trails to view more than 150 colorful—and in many cases, large-scale—sculptures spread amid freshwater and saltwater wetlands, open woods, blossoming fields, and rugged terrain. The park is also a haven for birds; more than 120 species nest and breed here. It's a great spot for picnicking, and dogs are welcome.

San Juan Vineyard

A remodeled 1895 schoolhouse serving estate-grown wines, this picturesque winery is worth a visit for the scenery and its award-winning Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine varietals (the winery belongs to the Puget Sound AVA, the coolest-climate growing region in Washington). The vineyard's wines show up on many local menus.

South Beach at American Camp

This two-mile public beach on the southern end of the island is part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. Amenities: parking (free); toilets. Best for: solitude; walking.

Spencer Spit State Park

Set on a spit along the Cascadia Marine Trail for kayakers, this popular spot for summer camping is on former Native American clamming, crabbing, and fishing grounds. A variety of campsites is available, from primitive tent sites to full hookups. This is one of the few Washington beaches where cars are permitted.

The Farm at Krystal Acres

Kids and adults love admiring the more than 70 alpacas from South America at this sprawling 80-acre ranch on the west side of the island. The shop in the big barn displays beautiful, high-quality clothing and crafts, all handmade from alpaca hair.

3501 West Valley Rd., Friday Harbor, Washington, 98250, USA
sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Tues. and Sun. and Feb.

Whale Museum

A dramatic exterior mural depicting several types of whales welcomes you into a world that is all about these behemoth beauties. Visitors will find models of whales and large whale skeletons, recordings of whale sounds, videos of whales, and information about the plight of the three local orca pods. Head around to the back of the first-floor gift shop to view maps of the latest orca trackings in the area.