As a lifelong Seattle area resident, foodie, and citywide concierge, I am a little ashamed to admit that, until recently, I had never been to the San Juan Islands. So, when given the chance through our amazing Travel Effect program, on a sunny Thursday I packed my bags and my husband and hopped on the first ferry. During the busiest travel months the line to get onto any ferry heading out of Anacortes can be daunting so heed the advice of a professional and get there 2-hours prior to departure, especially on a weekend. I did not heed my own professional advice and we missed the ferry. Don’t be like me.
When you dock in Friday Harbor it looks like a movie. It is an ideal island harbor town. The shops and restaurants are small, the locals are friendly, and it is perfectly picturesque. If you don’t want the added expense of bringing your car on the ferry, you can quite easily get around by San Juan Island Transit on any of the islands. Island Transit stops at all of the pertinent places you’ll want to see and some you didn’t even know you wanted to see. An Alpaca farm, for instance! They are so fuzzy! They are also aloof, but the adorable fuzzy appearance made up for me not getting my fingers in that soft fluff! But, I digress.
We had reservations at the cozy and quiet Earthbox Inn & Spa for two nights, just a short 5 blocks from the ferry terminal. On a busy weekend, with a completely full hotel, we never heard a peep from any of our neighbors. What a relaxing environment. Sadly, we didn’t have time to check out any of the spa services offered, but I will definitely be planning a return stay.
We are food lovers and are very particular about quality so, I did some research ahead of time for dining. I wanted to run my findings by a local so I asked our friendly front desk staff. With a hearty thumbs up on our choices we made our first meal at Vinny’s, a lovely Italian restaurant just a short 3-block walk from our hotel. The hubs had the Baked Penne Bolognese and I went for the Scallop Rustica. Don’t skip the bruschetta with kale. Delish dinner with fabulous service! Properly stuffed, we waddled back to our room for a nice sleep.
Bright and early Friday morning we hopped the ferry over to Orcas Island and drove out to Doe Bay for brunch at the highly recommended Doe Bay Café. Doe Bay is known for being a magical, peaceful place and, let me tell you, it is. You’ll notice a lot of Birkenstocks and dreadlocks and a refreshing laid back attitude. The Café is supplied with all locally grown, organic, vegetarian ingredients. My fried egg sandwich with pesto, white cheddar and arugula was so yummy and deliciously savory. The mister thoroughly enjoyed his biscuits and hearty mushroom gravy.
Next stop was Orcas Island Eclipse Charters. Neither Mike nor I have ever been out on a whale watching excursion, so we were pretty excited for this one. Orcas is a smaller whale watching outfit. Only 32 people on the boat means there is plenty of room to stretch out and get comfortable which was good because, on this particular day, the whales were about 2 hours to the north, near Vancouver, B.C. Our guides were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. It could not have been a more beautiful day to be out on the water. We got to witness the resident J-Pod in action, including Granny, the matriarch who is 103 years-old! Unbelievable! It should be noted, if you are going on a watching expedition and expecting to get up close and personal, you might feel a little disappointed. Rules and regulations keep all of the boats at a 200 foot distance, so bring your zoom lens for your camera and enjoy watching them frolic from afar, free of interruption from pesky humans. Make sure to listen to your guides as they tell fascinating stories of the pods history and journeys. I was almost brought to tears.
It is amazing how sitting on a boat all day will build up an appetite. Back in Friday Harbor, we decided to treat ourselves to a most incredible dinner experience at the Duck Soup Inn. I can say, hands down, that this is one of the best meals I have ever had, in all of my travels. Chef Kyle Nicholson and his staff have got It going on! The setting – a beautiful rustic cabin on a pond in the woods – is straight out of a storybook. The staff is warm, welcoming and knows their stuff. The food…oh the food. Everything from the house made bread to my daily catch impeccable salmon, to the perfect peach pavlova for dessert, was supremely fresh and totally swoon-worthy. The weekly menu is inventive and the ingredients are fresh and, often, grown by someone right there in the restaurant. It was definitely a highlight of our trip and worth the splurge. Do it.
On our final day, we really made the most of our time. We stopped at the Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, a quick visit for some ice cream at Pelindaba Lavender, walked around the upscale marina at Roche Harbor and then headed out to Lime Kiln State Park where we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw our old friends the J-Pod right there off the view point. We were about 100 feet closer to them than the day before! What a treat!
Making sure to get to the ferry dock the recommended 2 hours prior to our departure, we parked the car in the queue and strolled over to the Cask & Schooner for a late lunch. Being so close to the ferry terminal, this place has no obligation to be as good as it is because people will eat there anyway but, man oh man, it is really good. Do yourself a favor and have the meat pie. It will rock your world.
We were exhausted and so happy on our ride home. After 40 years in the beautiful Northwest I finally get why people escape to The Islands for a weekend away. It is quiet enough to be a relaxing getaway with more than enough activity to keep you hopping. If you are traveling in the summer months, make sure you plan ahead and make reservations and don’t forget to bring your appetite. Your taste buds will do a happy dance!