The San Juan Islands are among the most popular vacation destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Between the mouth of Puget Sound and Vancouver Island, the archipelago consists of 172 islands, only four of which are inhabited and serviced by ferry: Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island.
The best way to explore the San Juan Islands is to get out on the water. Aboard whale-watching tours, which depart from Friday Harbor, visitors might spot orcas (aka killer whales), minke whales, humpbacks, and the occasional gray whale. Ten of the islands are protected state marine parks, perfect for sea kayaking, canoeing, or sailing. Back on land, the more developed islands offer biking, hiking, golfing, shopping, and dining.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The San Juan Islands are a must-visit for adventure travelers and wildlife enthusiasts.
- Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.
- Bring an extra layer, as it can get chilly on the ferry to the islands.
- Many of the attractions and businesses in the San Juan Islands are ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible, including the Washington State Ferries.
How to Get There
While it’s possible to fly to the islands from Seattle International Airport, the most popular mode of transportation is the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes—you can drive your car right aboard.
When to Get There
A mild, maritime climate means there isn’t really a bad time to visit the San Juan Islands. July and August are the busiest months (so book your ferry well in advance), while whale watching tends to be at its best between May and October.
Exploring Friday Harbor
The historical seaside town of Friday Harbor serves as the gateway to the rest of the San Juan Islands, and if you’re basing yourself here, there’s plenty to see and do around town. Spring Street is known for its shopping opportunities, while Brickworks Plaza often hosts outdoor concerts and community gatherings. Those interested in the history and culture of the islands should plan to visit the Whale Museum and the San Juan Historical Museum.