Summer is over, the holiday season hasn’t started yet, there is nothing left to do in the garden and the rains have returned to Seattle. If only there was a beautiful place close by to sneak away to for the weekend, maybe with some sun, good eats, long walks on the beach, a little bit of culture.
Well, guess what, there is!
That place is the beautiful San Juan Island, nestled between the Olympic Mountains and Vancouver Island, just 65 miles north of Seattle. Precisely because of those mountains, San Juan Island enjoys a rain shadow and approximately 247 sunny days per year. Every October the isle celebrates Savor the San Juans, a festival to indulge all senses. The hotels offer lodging specials, the restaurants proudly serve freshly harvested island fare. There are farm parades, music and film festivals, lovely galleries and museums and you have the beaches all to yourself. But that’s not all. There is so much fun to be had on San Juan Island. Here are 10 ideas of things to do on San Juan Island in the Fall.
- Long walk on the Beach
South Beach in American Camp National Park is San Juan Island’s longest beach. The sun sets over the snow-covered Olympic Mountains, the moon rises above majestic Mt Baker. There are fire pits and barbecues amidst the driftwood lining the shore. Watch otters and Bald Eagles feed and foxes and bunnies play. This is the perfect place for the proverbial long walk on the beach or have a picnic and fly your kite.
- Whale & Wildlife Tour
While the whale watch season is winding down, there is still the possiblity you might see Orcas here in October. There is also an excellent chance to see Stellar Sea Lions, seals, otters, porpoises, Bald Eagles and any of the 172 seabirds, calling San Juan Island their home, on any whale and wildlife cruise. The bigger whale watching outfitters like San Juan Safaris and the Western Prince operate through the middle of October. Fun, knowledgeable Captain Maya with Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching goes out year-round.
- Spa Day
Take a swim and a hot tub at the Earthbox’ Pool House before getting pampered at the Spa at Earthbox with a soothing couple’s massage, a rejuvenating body or face treatment or a luxurious mani/pedi. You deserve it.
- Hike a Mountain
Hike the steep, 1.6-mile trail to the top of Mt. Young in English Camp National Park. Wander through the Royal Marine cemetery and an ancient forest of Garry Oaks before reaching the moss-covered top and see all the other islands. Explore the lone wolf-trees and Bald Eagle’s nests on top and enjoy the exhilarating silence.
- Galleries & Museum Day
There are seven fantastic local galleries within walking distance from the ferry landing in Friday Harbor. Browse Native American art, local and regional paintings, woodwork, jewelry, sculptures, glass art and more. Don’t miss visiting the Friday Harbor Whale Museum, the first museum in the nation to be dedicated to a species living in the wild. This fantastic natural history museum displays real Orca skeletons and artifacts, teaches all about the beloved Black Fish and offers plenty of opportunities to get involved.
- Bike to a Wine Tasting
Check out one of the cool, free for guests, beach cruiser bikes at the Earthbox Inn & Spa and make your way to the San Juan Vineyards, three miles out of town. Experience a wine tasting in a historic school house, check out the gorgeous grounds and turn-of-the century wedding chapel.
- Sculpture Park & Mausoleum
On the north side of San Juan Island, near the Roche Harbor Resort, is the San Juan Island Sculpture Park. See over 155 sculptures by national and international artists, in a field and in the woods around beautiful Westcott Bay. For an equally awe-inspiring, but totally different experience, cross Roche Harbor Road and walk towards the airport. Follow the signs to the Mausoleum. After a short walk through the woods you’ll find Afterglow Vista, the McMillen family’s elaborate, otherworldly Freemason mausoleum. The McMillen’s founded Roche Harbor and operated its Lime Kilns. The impressive mausoleum, laden with symbolism, is an absolute must-see.
- Feast on local Seafood
Visit the Friday Harbor Seafood Company on their boat down by the harbor and buy fresh local shellfish, crab and salmon for a cookout at the beach. Or treat yourself to the finest Sushi in the archipelago at Tops’l Seafood Bar while watching Japanese master chef Kasu San do his magic. Or join the folks at the farm-to-table COHO Restaurant for a three-course chef’s tasting. There are endless possibilities to taste the fruits of the Salish Sea in Friday Harbor. And while you're there, keep an eye out for Popeye, the local one-eyed seal who knows where good fish can be found.
The cute coastal town of Friday Harbor is a lovely place to shop. Everything is within walking distance. Everybody is so friendly. The streets are lined with cute boutiques and unique shops. Check out the Pelindaba Lavender Store, selling organic lavender products from their island farm as décor, for culinary or therapeutic purposes, in body care products, candles and jewelry. The Earthbox Inn & Spa uses Pelindaba’s body care products for their guest rooms. Your shampoo has travelled less than you!
- Pig out on History
San Juan Island has a fascinating history. The so called “Pig War” of 1859 started a 12-year military occupation of the island while being subject to a land dispute between Britain and America. American Camp National Park and English Camp National Park, the former sites of the occupation by the respective armies, are amazing places to learn about that conflict hands-on, but also absolutely beautiful places to hike, picnic and watch wildlife.