Friday Harbor from the Ferry at Christmas
Friday Harbor on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in Friday Harbor - Guest Blog

Last year, when Thanksgiving decorations gave way to elaborate Christmas displays in our residential neighborhood in Seattle, when there were inquiries for our current address from family overseas and the first greeting cards arrived, my husband and I admitted to each other, that neither of us felt like having a traditional holiday this year. Instead of a tree or presents we neither need nor want or too much sugar and stress, we decided to run away--just the two of us--to San Juan Island.    And what a great decision it turned out to be!

I booked us a room at the Earthbox Inn & Spa, a self-proclaimed retro motor-inn with a pool, sauna and hot tub in the heart of Friday Harbor, and got an amazing deal. On the snowy, chilly day before Christmas we made our way to beautiful San Juan Island. Once we rolled onto the ferry, it felt as if we had left all our worries behind on the mainland. We were giddy.

San Juan Island takes the holiday season seriously and festivities abound! There is the Island Lights Festival in the beginning of December, Holiday Markets, the Lighted Boat Parade, old-fashioned Christmas celebrations and lots of caroling. Every building in Friday Harbor is decorated for the season and the enormous tree at Memorial Park greets you with twinkling lights as soon as the ferry rounds the corner into the harbor of Friday Harbor. Now, on the actual holiday, the town, as if taking a breather after another busy year, was serene and quiet.

I was briefly concerned that there wouldn't be any restaurants or shops open, but my sweet husband assured me, that even if that was the case, we would have a lovely time with a dinner of cashews and chips in our cozy hotel room. My worries turned out to be unfounded. Our room was ready to check in, even though it was still morning when we arrived and the helpful staff at the front desk looked up not only open restaurants, bars and shops, but also museums and other activities for us to check out.

We dropped our bags in our stylish room and headed into town. The one square mile town of Friday Harbor is one of the last remaining 19th century wood-built fishing villages in the Puget Sound. Everything is within walking distance of the hotel. Of the approximately 2,000 year-round residents, maybe 12 were out and about. I imagined the rest at home with their families, presents under the tree, rib roast in the oven.

Statue of Popeye, the harbor seal, at the Friday Harbor waterfront

Most shops were open. We strolled through the Island Studios, an unique gallery featuring  island artists, got snacks and treats for later at Kings Market, and walked along the water front before having a goat sandwich and lamb curry soup at the Cask & Schooner, a cute pub on the corner of Front and Spring Street, serving local and organic fare.

The Friday Harbor Whale Museum

Next up was the Friday Harbor Whale Museum, an extraordinary natural history museum, the first in the nation to be dedicated to a species living in the wild. We entered through a lovely gift shop, where I almost broke down on my “no-gift-policy” and bought my husband a hoodie. The place feels like a womb. There are whale sounds in the stair case, painted in an underwater theme. I felt like a kid listening to whale calls in an old-fashioned phone booth and seeing the gigantic whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling. We learned that the Salish Sea is home to 37 species of marine mammals, 172 species of birds, 247 species of fish and over 3,000 species of invertebrates and how to be responsible Orca stewards in our daily lives. I loved it.

Salted Caramel Martini at Downriggers

For dinner, we treated ourselves to Downriggers on the waterfront. The restaurant had burnt down in 2013. It took three and a half years to rebuild and the result is stunning: an open, light space with a modern, chic interior, fantastic presentations and friendly, knowledgeable service. We started with Salted Caramel Martinis and local oysters on the half shell. I got to have the Chicken Gorgonzola Salad that I had fantasized about during the Downriggers absence. It was just as good as I remembered. Meanwhile, my Sweetie ate his way through Crab Tater Tots and a mountain of Judd Cove Mussels in a creamy leek, sherry sauce. We were very happy (non)campers.

We watched the late movie with a handful of other people at the historic Palace Movie Theater, before falling into our bed, a block away, tired and happy. My husband and I agree; this was the best Christmas Eve without celebrating Christmas we’ve ever had.