Though the quaint archipelago tucked within the Salish Sea is technically part of Washington State, it feels a bit like its own country. Heck, some of its rocky inlets are closer to Canada than they are to the American mainland. But the 172-plus islands in the Olympic Rainshadow don’t require a passport and are relatively easy to access — if you know what you’re doing.
The following outlines 10 ways to travel from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. But at its most primitive level, there are only two ways to get here: by boat or plane. The nature of being surrounded by water on all sides makes this remote destination exactly that, remote. That’s part of the charm, part of what keeps this paradise a destination worthy of visiting year-round.
And the great news is, whether you’re flying from Boeing Field to Friday Harbor, catching a seaplane from Lake Union to Roche Harbor, or hopping on a 25-minute flight from Paine Field to Orcas Island — the views are endless and check-in is a breeze!
Seattle to San Juan Islands Travel Options
Landplane Flights from Seattle to the San Juan Islands
1. Airline & Charter Flights from Boeing Field in Seattle
There’s a small host of airlines that offer service between Boeing Field and the San Juan Islands — not the least of which is Kenmore Air. Depending on the airline, these wheeled plane flights are available on a regularly scheduled basis or a charter basis. These airlines include:
- Kenmore Air
- San Juan Airlines
- Westwind Aviation (Currently operating under Avian Flight Center and offering charter flights from Bremerton)
- Point to Point Air, LLC
2. Kenmore Air Express from Paine Field in Everett
The fastest way to get from Seattle to the San Juan Islands is a 25-minute commercial flight from Paine Field to either Eastsound Airport on Orcas Island or Friday Harbor Airport on San Juan Island. These quick and efficient flights come complimentary with stunning views of the region.
As a bonus, Paine Field offers an elite club vibe that’s easy to navigate and ultra-luxurious — thanks to its small size. Those flying in from out of country or state, will find Pain Field’s terminal a pleasant change of pace from traditional busy and impersonal airports. And those departing directly from Kenmore Air’s Paine Field terminal will discover the beauty of spacious parking just steps from check-in, a private terminal, and a breezy boarding process.
Seaplanes to the San Juan Islands
3. Seaplane Flights from Lake Washington
Departing from Kenmore Air’s headquarters at the north end of Lake Washington, these 45-minute flights offer stunning scenic views and simple check-in. Here, picnic tables double as waiting areas during the summer months and passengers are treated to a first-hand look at Kenmore Air’s world-class maintenance department.
4. Seaplane Flights from Lake Union
Taking off from Lake Union, in the heart of downtown Seattle, this is arguably the most popular way to reach the San Juans. Flights are just 45 minutes and typically take off to the north, giving passengers a bird’s-eye view of Lake Union floating homes, Gas Works Park, and more
The flights are roughly 45 minutes, making this one of the fastest ways to travel between Seattle and the San Juan Islands. Two airlines offer service from Lake Union, including:
- Kenmore Air
- Seattle Seaplanes
5. Seaplane Flights from Renton
Operating from the Renton Seaplane Base at the southern tip of Lake Washington, Friday Harbor Seaplanes provides regularly scheduled service to the San Juan Islands.
Seattle to San Juan Islands Ferry Options
6. Washington State Ferry from Anacortes
Those looking to turn travel into the day’s activity will love the Washington State Ferry system. The Anacortes ferry dock is roughly a 1.5-hour drive from downtown Seattle — without traffic. Total sailing time is roughly an hour. But make sure you book your ferry reservations in advance or leave plenty of time to wait for the ferry. Securing a spot without a ferry reservation can be cumbersome.
Seattle to San Juan Islands Ferry FAQs
What’s the deal with ferry reservations?
The Washington State Ferry service releases reservations in three tiers:
- Tier 1 – Released 1-2 months before the season begins for all sailings for that season. For vehicles over 30 feet, reservations are only released in the first Tier.
- Tier 2 – Released 2 weeks before the departure date.
- Tier 3 – Released 2 days before the departure date.
Can I just show up and try to score a spot?
You can. Spots are also available on a Stand-By basis, allowing those who want to drive without a reservation to snag any empty space that’s available.
Can I walk onto the ferry?
Definitely. Walk-ons are welcome at the Anacortes Ferry. But keep in mind, you need to get to Anacortes. There are some bus routes that offer service from Seattle to Anacortes. But if you choose to drive, you’ll need to find parking near the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.
Can I take my bike onto the ferry?
Like walking on, there’s nearly always room for bike passengers who want to sail from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands. But remember, the fastest bike route from Seattle to Anacortes is just shy of 100 miles and takes the average cyclist 8.5 hours. You’ll want to leave plenty of time to reach your ferry.
Passenger Ferries to the San Juan Islands (Water Taxis)
7. Victoria Clipper Ferry from Seattle to San Juan Islands (currently suspended)
PLEASE NOTE: The San Juan Clipper suspended service to San Juan Island in 2023.
Departing from Pier 69, located in downtown Seattle along Elliot Bay, the San Juan Clipper offered service from Seattle to San Juan Island aboard their high-speed passenger ferries. The Clipper’s San Juan service was known as The San Juan Clipper or the FRS Clipper, delivering passengers to the Friday Harbor Marina. This was a seasonal service, offered mid-May through October.
8. Puget Sound Express
Puget Sound Express is primarily a tour company that offers tours of the San Juan Islands based out of Port Townsend. This fabulous water-based tour company also offers one-way passenger ferry service between Port Townsend to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
Known as the official Washington state ferry route, travel time to the island is variable. It depends on the boat’s departure time and the wildlife encountered while at sea.
9. Island Express Charters
Looking to travel between islands? Island Express Charters offers a water taxi service throughout the San Juan Islands. They also offer private charters, including departure from their home port at Skyline Marina in Anacortes, Washington.
10. Outer Island Excursions Water Taxi
This San Juan Islands passenger-only water taxi provides transportation throughout the San Juan Islands. With vessels that range from 18 to 56 feet, they can take groups as small as two and as large as 200 to a wide variety of beaches and marinas.
Those looking to transport kayaks, camping gear, tools, and construction materials will also be pleasantly surprised by Outer Island Excursion’s flexibility and capability.
Boating to the San Juan Islands
11. Driving or Sailing Your Boat from Seattle to the San Juans
Boating in the San Juan Islands has long been a beloved pastime for many visitors. Throughout the year, both the marinas and protected coves are frequented by boaters enjoying the Salish Sea.
Depending on your timeline, this can be an exceptionally fun way to reach the islands and bring your lodging with you. Many of the marinas offer amenities that make traveling by boat even more enjoyable, such as bathrooms, showers, laundromats, and fully stocked convenience stores.
And for those who use their boat as a second home, boating to the San Juan Islands and then flying back and forth can be a great way to get even more island time.
Seattle to San Juan Islands FAQ
Do I need a passport to travel to the San Juan Islands?
No passports are necessary to travel from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. However, depending on your mode of transportation, you may be required to provide a valid ID.
Is going to the San Juan Islands worth it?
We may be biased, but we certainly think any chance to visit the San Juan Islands is worth it. With a plethora of sunshine-filled days, sea-to-table cuisine, and fabulous island hikes, the islands are truly a slice of paradise.
Do I need a car on San Juan Island, Orcas Island or Lopez Island?
While the islands are a very friendly place and there are things to do on-island that don’t require a car (like our list of 12 car-free things to do in Friday Harbor), a car can make it easier to explore each island in its entirety.
If you arrive on island without a car, both San Juan Island and Orcas Island have rental agencies:
Orcas Island Shuttle
This downhome car rental agency delivers cars directly to the location of your choice (on Orcas). Just be sure to call with as much notice as possible. Especially during the summer months, rentals can be hard to come by.
Tucked at the end of the Friday Harbor Airport runway, M&W Auto is a used car dealer and rental car agency. Incredibly friendly and helpful, they work hard to be flexible with arrival and departure times.
Can I rent a bike on the island?
Definitely. All three primary islands — San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island — have bike rental shops. Though seasonal hours may apply. Alternatively, on San Juan Island you may want to look into renting a scoot coupe or moped from Susie’s Mopeds.