Lopez Island Idyll

M/V Yakima bow

A 2700 ton musical instrument? Photo by Tracey Wickersham

Badabadabadabada…… I stood at the front rail of the M/V Yakima, the Washington State Ferry taking me from Anacortes, just 80 miles north of Seattle, up to the San Juan Islands, listening to the sound of the current as it met the bow.

As a Seattle resident, I’ve taken ferry rides many, many times—for example, any time I visit my parents. But thanks to the thoughts of Seattle-based composer Stuart Dempster, as quoted in the 2013 edition of The Artists’ View of Seattle, I was newly attuned to the musical stylings of this 2,700 ton vessel. It was just the first lovely discovery of many during our perfect long weekend.

Our destination was Lopez, “the friendly island.” Of the four San Juan Islands served by the state ferries, it’s the one preferred by cyclists for its flatter terrain and pastoral roads, and is known for the tradition of exchanging a friendly wave to each driver you encounter. With just 2,500 year-round residents, Lopez offers one hotel, a variety of campgrounds, B&Bs, and private vacation rental homes. Fifteen miles long, the island has 63 miles of shoreline, and we were determined to explore it all in three+ days.

Iceberg Point trail marker

Follow that saw! Photo by Tracey Wickersham

Notable was the incredible variety of natural beauty. Each place we visited had a distinct character, from the lagoon and sandy spit of Spencer Spit, to the majestic cliffs of Iceberg Point, from the quiet cove with stunning views of Mt. Baker at Watmough Bay, to the mesmerizing views of San Juan Channel and the Olympic Mountains from Shark Reef Sanctuary.

A short list of just some of the fauna we saw includes deer, hawks, seals, otters, great blue herons, bald eagles, sea lions, turkey vultures, llamas, more varieties of birds than I will ever be able to name and lambs frolicking in pastures looking like perfection out of central casting for “idyllic farm scene.”

A walk with quite a view, at Iceberg Point

A walk with quite a view, at Iceberg Point. Photo by Tracey Wickersham

We enjoyed a fantastic folk music concert at Woodmen Hall, where I noted that before the show and during intermission, everyone in the room was actually talking to each other — not one person was on a mobile device. The lack of cell service may have something to do with that, but so does the character of these islands, I think.  Meal highlights included fresh halibut tacos at The Galley, and an utterly delicious sunset dinner at The Bay.  Espresso from Caffe La Boheme in Lopez Village was perfection, impressing even these Seattle coffee snobs.  We had two tasty healthy to-go lunches for our hikes from Vortex Cafe, and all our grocery needs were easily met by Blossom Grocery.  I have a few regrets: the rumored-to-be-amazing Holly B’s bakery was not yet open for the season, we missed Vita’s open hours, and somehow I never made it to the fudge shop for a scoop of the incredible Lopez Creamery ice cream or to Lopez Vineyards for wine tasting. I blame these oversights on being too captivated by beachcombing on Agate Beach in the unexpected and unseasonable warm sunshine we found — in March!  (Any Northwesterner will understand and forgive me.) As for the island’s fabled kayaking, that will be on the next trip’s agenda.

Many hour passed as we watched the sealife from Shark Reef Sanctuary

Many hours passed as we watched the sea life from Shark Reef Sanctuary. Photo by Tracey Wickersham

While we were there, Islanders and national leaders were celebrating the news that almost 1,000 acres in the San Juan Islands were freshly designated as a National Monument, preserving these beautiful places for generations to come. On this nearly perfect trip, that just added to my sense of gratitude.

Anacortes ferry terminal

Even if you do have to wait for a ferry at Anacortes, you get to look at this. Photo by Tracey Wickersham

If you go: Named one of the “Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2013” by Lonely Planet, the islands are reached by a scenic ferry ride from Anacortes, 80 miles north of Seattle, or a spectacular flight from Seattle on  Kenmore Air.  The official travel guide at www.visitsanjuans.com is an invaluable resource. Ferry wait times in peak summer months can be daunting, so plan ahead.* Please be prepared to pack out anything you take in on walks and hikes and do your part to protect these beautiful places.

*2015 Update. Washington State Ferries now accept reservations for San Juan Islands sailings!  Learn more here.


About the Author

Tracey Wickersham

Tracey Wickersham is the Director of Cultural Tourism at Visit Seattle. In her off hours she’s the host of a weekly music program on KBCS 91.3 FM and a board member at 4Culture, supporting arts, heritage, public art and historic preservation in King County. She lives in West Seattle with her husband, one headstrong elderly Australian Cattle Dog, heaps of books and music, and an unwieldy garden.

More Posts By Tracey Wickersham
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