The San Juan Islands are a beautiful archipelago in the northern part of Washington State in the United States, just off the coast of Canada. Here, you’ll find a wide range of activities and sights to enjoy, from hiking, biking, and kayaking to whale watching, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
These beautiful islands are amazing to visit and fun to explore. Ready to learn more about the islands? Here are 18 of the best things to do in San Juan Islands, Washington.
GETTING TO THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS
Getting to the San Juan Islands can be as easy as hopping on a Washington State Ferry in Anacortes, WA. With year-round service and daily ferries running between four islands and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, getting there is easy. You can also take a private boat tour or charter your vessel.
The four islands of the San Juan Islands that are served by Washington State Ferries are Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. All of the ferry-served islands feature San Juan County parks along the shore and/or campgrounds.
Tip: Make sure to arrive or make your reservations early — ferry seats go fast during summer weekends.
Chartering a craft will cost quite a bit more, but gives you lots of options, like staying over on one island or picking up another passenger along the way.
The San Juan Islands are home to many kinds of marine life, including orca whales, sea lions, and harbor seals! However, the most famous are the orcas. These fascinating creatures are among the most intelligent of all animals and can travel up to 100 miles per day searching for food.
The San Juan Islands provide a perfect habitat for them as it is a prime location for salmon runs.
LIME KILN LIGHTHOUSE
The Lime Kiln Lighthouse is a historic landmark that has been in operation for more than a century. It was built in 1891, and is located on the south end of San Juan Island, which means that it is the last thing you see when you are leaving the islands.
The lighthouse itself is an attraction, but the surrounding area makes for a great picnic spot and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding islands.
SAN JUAN ISLAND NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (AMERICAN CAMP AND ENGLISH CAMP BATTLEFIELDS)
One of my favorite things to do in San Juan is to visit the famous San Juan Island National Park. The San Juan Island National Historical Park is located on the southern tip of San Juan Island, and is the site of two significant battles in 1859.
You will learn everything about the American Camp and the British Camp and how they fought each other years ago.
The American Camp was occupied by U.S. settlers trying to annex the land from the British, while English Camp was home to British colonists trying to keep them out!
Ultimately, the historical park commemorates these battles and gives a great insight into what life would have been like at that time.
Friday Harbor is the main town on San Juan Island and can be found on the island’s west side. It has a great selection of shops and restaurants, including perfect places to eat fish. However, if you are in the mood for more than just fish, there are a couple of great Mexican restaurants in town as well!
Downtown Friday Harbor is a great place to experience the local charm. Stroll down Front Street, and you’ll find unique boutiques, art galleries, eclectic stores and cafes.
Be sure to check out Gallery Night, where artists display their work at participating stores. Be sure to ask permission before taking photos of local businesses or residences. The area can be particularly strict about street photography.
An easy hiking trail on Mt. Young is located in Roche Harbor, and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding islands. The trail is only about a quarter of a mile long, but it passes through an old-growth forest and offers an amazing view at the top!
You will be amazed at the easy hike that is perfect for all hikers and offers a great view at its peak. It’s also relatively short, making it a quick morning or afternoon activity.
Tip: The trail has limited parking, so arrive early.
PELINDABA LAVENDER FARM
Beautiful lavender fields are just one of many things to do in The San Juans. Visitors can stop by Pelindaba Lavender Farm and pick their lavender, creating a memorable experience that’s sure to last long after your visit.
Located on beautiful Lopez Island, Pelindaba is a charming farm with acres of fragrant fields in which you can walk among small trees and flowers while enjoying views of rolling hills and bobbing sailboats. It’s hard not to be transported to another world when surrounded by such sights.
If you enjoy flower picking and other nature-centered activities, then visiting the Pelindaba Lavender Farm might be for you.
In addition, the farm offers tours where you can learn more about how lavender is grown and harvested. You can even bring home some lavender products if you’d like.
THE WHALE MUSEUM
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor is one of my favorite museums because it offers so much more than just whale exhibits! This educational museum offers interactive exhibits, a 4-D theater, and a marine exploration center.
It is the perfect place to go if you want to learn more about the sea life that surrounds the San Juan Islands. The Whale Museum has countless information on whale species, including bones and skulls.
They also have several hands-on exhibits for kids to enjoy. There’s so much to see here that one trip won’t be enough. Don’t forget to ask about their killer whale skeleton. It looks impressive from above, but it must take some serious effort to install/move around at times.
If you find yourself in town during their feedings, definitely make time to watch; they serve up 2 tons of fish every year- as appetizers.
Roche Harbor is a small community located between San Juan and Orcas Islands. It is a great place to stop if you are heading across the island and taking in some sites.
The harbor itself is home to many different types of marine life, including seals and sea lions and an abundance of sea birds.
You will probably want to taste the Pig War Martini at Fireside Bar in McMillin’s Restaurant. There are also multiple shops and restaurants located along the harbor worth checking out!
SAN JUAN VINEYARDS
San Juan Vineyards offers wine tastings and vineyard tours daily. The winery is open year-round and is located in Roche Harbor, which means that you can combine your visit with a trip to Roche Harbor as well.
Their wines are produced using grapes grown on-site and include reds and whites. Do not forget to ask how they make wines and preserve them. This is a great chance to know why certain wines are several decades old.
Make sure you bring some wine home with you!
SAN JUAN ISLANDS SCULPTURE PARK
Located in Roche Harbor, the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park is a great place to view and purchase local art.
The park is open year-round and features many different forms of artwork, including jewelry, pottery, paintings, and more. There are even woodwork items for sale on-site.
There’s no fee for entering or viewing any of these items, making it a great stop to add to your list of things to do in the San Juan Islands.
DRIVE THE SCENIC BYWAY
The Scenic Byway is a must-do in my opinion! This winding road takes you along the coast of San Juan Island, and provides some great views of the surrounding islands. However, you should know about this drive because it can be very curvy, so be sure to slow down and watch for wildlife.
The Scenic Byway is one of Washington’s most beautiful, taking you through some of the state’s most magnificent scenery. Although it’s just a bit over an hour from Seattle, it feels like another world entirely.
The trip along Highway 20 weaves past cliffs and jagged shorelines, before heading into forested mountains with waterfront vistas around every bend. Along with the Scenic Byway are stops famous for whale watching in spring and summer; it also has a working lighthouse that’s open for tours year-round.
WESTCOTT OYSTER FARM
Located on the east side of Orcas Island, Westcott Oyster Farm is a great place to stop and pick up some fresh oysters!
For a quintessential island experience, make a reservation for a picnic with fresh oysters. This is a fantastic place to taste oysters raised in Puget Sound and Orcas Island waters. The farm operates on several acres of land, is open year-round, and features a small shop where you can purchase your oysters.
If you are looking for something more than just oysters, the farm has plenty of other fresh produce, including local apples and cherries.
Moped rentals are a great way to explore the island! I rented a moped and drove it to the top of Mount Constitution. You can also rent mopeds to travel around the island, or even just ride around and see some sites.
Moped rentals are available in Eastsound, near the ferry terminal.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS DISTILLERY
San Juan Island Distillery is the only whiskey distillery in Washington State that makes award-winning single malt spirits. They offer a tasting room where you can enjoy their spirits and stunning views of San Juan Island from nearly every angle.
There’s live music here on many evenings, and they often host special events throughout the year. It’s not very touristy — just an island hangout spot with killer booze. You must have at least one sip!
STAY AT LAKEDALE RESORT
One of our favorite ways to spend a weekend in San Juan is visiting Lakedale Resort and Spa, located on Lopez Island.
With unbeatable views of wildlife all around, a tranquil setting with luxurious amenities, including hot tubs, showers, kitchens, and more, this is one amazing place. You will also love the top-notch service for every need.
We highly recommend staying here if you want to relax and enjoy some time away from city life. It is no wonder everyone who has been at Lakedale Resort wants to back. We guarantee you won’t regret it!
The canvas tents are fantastic! They have a hot tub on site. My husband and I stayed there last summer with our best friends. When we first walked into our tent, there was a welcome note, a bottle of wine, and local chocolates waiting for us.
DAY TRIP TO ORCAS ISLAND
Spend a day on Orcas Island and enjoy activities such as hiking, horseback riding, or simply soaking in nature. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Orcas Island, which can be accessed via private boats, water taxis, and ferries available for transportation.
Here, you will explore the Moran State Park, the Olympic Mountain Range, Cascade Range, Mt Baker, the Vancouver Islands, and much more.
If you like music, there are numerous places on Orcas Island to enjoy musical performances by live bands or local artists. In addition, many unique art galleries showcase original artwork from both world-famous artists and up-and-coming local artists.
DAY TRIP TO LOPEZ ISLAND
Lopez Island is a sleepy island just 20 minutes from Friday Harbor by ferry. It’s a perfect day trip for those looking to explore beyond the more touristy San Juan Island (the most popular destination in Washington’s islands).
After docking, hop on a golf cart taxi or rent a bike and tour Lopez Village and surrounding farms.
On your way back to the ferry stop, be sure to grab some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies at Inner Island Pastry Company. It makes for a fantastic day trip!
EXPLORE THE SALISH SEA
The Salish Sea is teeming with wildlife, mainly marine life. In addition, the area is home to abundant native species such as orcas, harbor seals, bald eagles, and countless others.
If you want to see it all, you can’t go wrong booking a whale-watching tour from one of many operators in Puget Sound.
Vancouver Island’s Gulf Islands waters are some of North America’s most diverse marine habitats and a haven for divers.
Learn about native flora and fauna on two wheels. Hop on an electric bike and tour Victoria’s Finlayson Arm Marine Park, one of Canada’s largest urban waterfront parks.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR TRIP TO WASHINGTON STATE
- TACOMA: 20 Super Fun Things To Do In Tacoma, Washington
- ALL THINGS WASHINGTON: 36 Phenomenal Things To Do In Washington State
- LEAVENWORTH: 15 Things To Do In Leavenworth For Year-Round Fun
- SPOKANE: 14 Awesome Things To Do In Spokane
- BELLEVUE: 12 Things To Do In Bellevue Families Will Love
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WHERE TO STAY IN SAN JUAN ISLANDS
Featured. See our write-up on Lakedale Resort above.
Best Budget Option. The Orca Inn is in Friday Harbor and offers simply-furnished rooms – but the price is right. The Washington State Ferry terminal is less than a mile away from this spot, and of course you’re right near all of the things that Friday Harbor has to offer.
Chic Apartment Option. Island Artist Studio is the place to be to get a little farther away from it all. It’s a small studio, but has floor to ceiling windows with fantastic views. You’re still only 7 miles from Friday Harbor and the ferry.
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