The Best Time to visit San Juan Island

Updated June 2017

Among the many things we love about San Juan Island are the dramatically changing seasons. It is a completely different experience to visit in the height of Summer when the entire island is pulsing with life and people, as opposed to the middle of Winter when you can drive around an entire day without seeing another car. And the best part: all seasons are absolutely stunning. So really, all you have to figure out is which season is your San Juan Island season.  Or perhaps they all are!

It is in late March when the island awakens from its Winter slumber. Lodging and ferry fares are low. The weather is decent with a chance of unpredictability, so bring lots of layers. Adventure providers, the whale watch and kayaking outfitters and the zip line operators dust up their equipment and start running. Orca whale sightings are common, yet not as frequent as in the Summer. The Humpbacks are returning from Hawaii with their new babes, so are the migrating sea birds. The forest floors are carpeted with wildflowers and the prairies are a sea of daffodils.  The lush island pastures are their deepest of green. This is the best time for a romantic getaway, for hiking, birding and early whale watching without as many other folks around.

Fun and informative tasting at the San Juan Distillery
Fun and informative tasting at the San Juan Distillery

We consider Summer to be from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  When the living is easy, the weather is gorgeous and you will need reservations. All seasonal restaurants and shops are open, like the open air Crab House right where the ferry lands. There is art everywhere, from street fairs and concerts in the parks to the outdoor Shakespeare Festival. The streets are filled with cute families and fit bikers, the trolley and scooters from Susie’s Mopeds. The National Parks offer ongoing historical events, like the re-enactment of the Pig War. Unique island farms, like the Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm or the San Juan Distillery offer tours and tastings. There are almost daily Orca whale sightings. This is a great time for a family vacation and fun things to do for everybody.

The rich reds of the San Juan Island’s Madrona trees
The rich reds of the island’s Madrona trees

In September and October, when the golden fields are harvested, the rich red bark of the bare Madronas shine against the deep blues of the sea, and the stands at the Farmer’s Market bow under the weight of fresh, plump produce, the pace on San Juan Island noticeably changes. Our Falls are long, warm and sunny. The island mood is celebratory and filled with harvest festivals, parades and the lovely, month long Savor the San Juans events in October. All Summer activities are still offered, but with fewer people around. If it’s solitude or the last whale watch trip of the season you are seeking, you’ll find it all in the Fall.

South Beach on a quiet Winter day
South Beach on a quiet Winter day

November brings the acclaimed Friday Harbor Film Festival, a documentary film festival to entertain, inspire and enlighten. December’s holiday celebrations and activities are festive and adorable. Friday Harbor is all decked out, Santa arrives during the Lighted Boat Parade via ship. This is a magnificent time to celebrate the deeper meaning of the holidays with your family and get your shopping done locally without ever setting foot in a mall.

January and February are for long quiet walks on the beach, for treating your love to a spa day and a candle light dinner, to become calm and still and gather strength for the new year to come.