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San Juan Islands

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The San Juan Islands[3] are a scattering of forested islands in the serene waters to the north of Puget Sound in Washington state, adjacent to British Columbia. Ferries, private boats, kayaks, and orca (whales) criss-cross the waters, while float planes and bald eagles soar overhead. The islands are largely rural, with a few small towns on some of the islands. The year-round population is small, but swarms of summer visitors come to for the scenery and outdoor life, and a lucky and wealthy few have vacation homes tucked into the islands.


There are about 700 islands and reefs between Vancouver Island to the west and the mainland to the east. The sea border in the Haro Strait divides them into the Southern Gulf Islands of Canada to the west, and the San Juan Islands of the United States to the east. To the south lies the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and to north is the Strait of Georgia and the US-Canada boundary on the 49th parallel.

176 islands are large enough to be named. The four largest — Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw Islands — are served by ferry from the Washington mainland and each other, and are the most heavily visited. The other islands are only accessible by private boat or float plane. Some of them are someone's private property and may require the landowner's permission to access.

For our purposes, this article covers the US islands only, which exactly consist of San Juan County[4], Washington. Fidalgo Island to the east is treated as part of the mainland. It and the Puget Sound islands to the south are covered in the Puget Sound region's article.

Cities and Islands[edit]

The islands are mostly rural, with only a few towns large enough separate coverage. An article thus general covers an entire major island, perhaps with some of the surrounding small islands as well.

Get in[edit]

  • Washington State Ferries [5] offers ferries to Shaw, Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands from Anacortes, which is about 2 hours north of Seattle. If traveling on weekends, be prepared for long waits for the ferries if you are driving the car onto the ferry. Auto reservations may now be made for individual ferries, which is very helpful during the busy summer months. Large parking lots permit parking for days or weeks (for a fee) at the terminal and then you can walk on to the ferry without waiting. Persons parking in the lots, or arriving by bus, shuttle, bicycle or on foot have to buy a ticket but may walk onto the ferry without any wait or reservation, even in the busiest months or on the busy July 4 weekend. Fares are only collected Westbound from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands, not Eastbound back to Anacortes.
  • Kenmore Air [6] has connections from SeaTac and Lake Washington to various locations in the San Juan Islands using float planes and fixed gear planes.
  • San Juan Airlines [7] offers scheduled and charter flights to and from Bellingham and Anacortes to destinations in the San Juan Islands, using very small planes.
  • Victoria Clipper [8] is a passenger-only ferry that sails from Seattle to Friday Harbor and back in the summer months, with an optional whale watching segment. One-ways are possible
  • Island Airporter [9] offers a daily pet friendly shuttle to and from SeaTac to Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor, and takes you right onto the ferry (included in the fare).
  • Bellair Charters offers their Airporter Shuttle [10] many times a day between SeaTac and the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, as well as Bellingham and other destinations. They allow pets for a small fee.
  • U Save Car Rental in Anacortes. Call 360-293-8686. They sometimes offer one-way car rentals between SeaTac and the Anacortes Ferry Terminal. It depends whether a car is available for a one-way, and a week or two of notice is essential. Call them for this special service as it is not on the web site and is not routinely available. It is a much cheaper option to do two 1-day one-way rentals, and then walk onto the ferry, than renting a car in SeaTac for the whole time if you intend to stay in the San Juan Islands for 2 weeks or more.
  • There are also seasonal ferries from Port Townsend and Bellingham to Friday Harbor.

Get around[edit]

If arriving by ferry into Friday Harbor there are taxi services waiting at each ferry arrival. You can also pre-arrange at Friday Harbor Taxi [(360) 298-4434] or Bob's Taxi [(360) 378-6777] or Classic Cab [360-378-7519] if you want to ride around in a vintage car. Car Rentals are available in Friday Harbor, next to the airport and a 15 minute walk from the Ferry Terminal or Marina, at M&W Auto Sales & Rentals [9]. San Juan Transit [10] offers bus service around the islands. As of this writing services like Uber and Lyft are not available on San Juan Island.

Bicycle and moped rentals are available seasonally, as well as kayak rentals and power boat and sail boat charters for fishing or touring.

You can walk around the town of Friday Harbor, from the ferry landing/marina or the airport.

The San Juan Islands are the most popular sailing charter area in the Pacific Northwest. This is a good chartering area for beginners; the waters are reasonably protected even in storms off the Pacific, although the currents can be very strong and the wind unpredictable. You can find independant information on yacht charters in the San Juan Islands at

See[edit][add listing]

  • Orcas Island has an amazing view atop Mt. Constitution of the Cascade Mountain Range and the Olympic Mountain Range. There is a near 360 degree view from a stone tower built by the public works of the Rosevelt era (a cell phone tower makes it less than 360 degrees, but still worth it). Gene Hackman, Miller of the skiing films fame, Oakley Sunglass owner all have vacation homes here. It is a paradise and home to some 3500 people. In the spring the J Pod Orca whales are in the area.
  • Friday Harbor, the main city on San Juan Island, the most populous of the San Juan Islands, and the county seat of San Juan County.
  • Roche Harbor, on the northwest corner of San Juan Island, is the number two town and a bustling yachting harbor. It has floatplane service to Seattle.
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park - here in 1859 the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over a dead pig

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Orca Whale Watching from Sea Kayaks Biologist guides lead tours to the prime orca whale watching waters. Abundant seals, eagles, and other marine wildlife. Tour lengths range from a half-day up to 2, 3 and 5 day camping trips to the smaller islands. 360-378-5767 or 888-589-4253, [email protected] Kayaking with Orca Whales in the San Juan Islands
  • Western Prince Whale Watching San Juan Island (San Juan Island Whale Watching), 1 spring st., Friday Harbor, WA 98250 (Next to ferry landing.), 360-378-5315, [1]. 9 am to 6 pm. Operating since 1986. Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours departing from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, 90 miles north of Seattle. See orcas, humpback whales, minke whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, sea birds, and beautiful island scenery. 2 boats to choose from: the 46' “Western Prince II”, limited to 32 guests, and the 30' zodiac style “Western Explorer”, limited to 15 guests. Guided by experienced local naturalists. Conservation focused and observant of all federal and Pacific Whale Watch Association whale watching guidelines. Western Prince Whale Watching San Juan Island  edit

Buy[edit][add listing]

San Juan Islands and Beyond - A Photographer's Journey ( is a hardbound coffee table book, 112 pages, a "photographic tour of some of the most stunning seascapes and marine wildlife in Western Washington.Follow nature photographer, Karyn F. King as she guides you through the area's magnificent and vibrant beauty with over 100 postcard-like images."

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Fresh Seafood including fish (especially salmon), dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels and clams are readily available. If you're foraging for yourself, make sure there's no red tide.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • Earthbox Motel (Friday Harbor Lodging), 410 Spring Street Friday Harbor WA 98250 (Anacortes, Washington is a roughly 90-minute drive either north from Seattle, WA or south from Vancouver, B.C. Canada. From Interstate 5, take exit 230 following Highway 20 West to Anacortes Washington. Freeway signs will also mention the San Juan Island ferries. Drive through Anacortes, following signs to the San Juan Island ferries (turn left at the stop light next to the Safeway grocery store and follow that road roughly six miles to the docks).), 360-378-4000, [2].  edit

Get out[edit]

  • Port Angeles - Connected by Port Angeles Boat Haven [11] and charter flights from Fairchild International Airport [12]
  • Port Townsend
  • Sequim - Connected by John Wayne Marina [13] and Sequim Valley Airport
  • Seattle Beautiful city almost surrounded by water and moutains.
  • Victoria (British Columbia) Just across the border by Washington state ferries, Victoria is a nice little piece of England famous for the spectacular Buchart gardens.
This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!