Tucked within the Salish Sea, the 172 island archipelago known as the San Juan Islands is prized for its stunning views, rich farmland, and incredible seafood. San Juan Island, the second largest island, is the most populated. Spanning roughly 55 square miles, it’s home to several parks that run along the rocky shorelines, including San Juan Island National Historical Park, San Juan County Park, and Lime Kiln Point State Park.
While the San Juans are indeed known for their slow pace and laidback lifestyle, don’t assume the only activities are leisurely bike rides and watching the sea. There are a plethora of fun and exciting things to do on San Juan Island — with something for those of all ages.
38 of Our Favorite Things to do on San Juan Island
Whale watching in Seattle is often an all-day trek aboard a whale watching boat that departs from Elliot Bay in downtown Seattle. Alternatively, your Seattle whale watching adventure could be a day filled with scenic views, small-town wandering, and a plethora of wildlife.
Our whale watching tours with San Juan Safaris include a round trip seaplane flight to Friday Harbor. You’ll reach San Juan Island in roughly an hour, with enough time to explore the town and grab a bite before your tour departs. The tours offer more than a 90% chance of seeing orca whales, gray whales, humpback whales or minke whales.
A kayaker’s paradise, San Juan Island’s sheltered inlets are perfect for those of all skill levels. And more than any other vessel, the sea kayak offers a unique perspective of the shore and waterways. Thanks to its minimal below-surface profile, a kayak can navigate past rocky shorelines, allowing you to see wildlife like never before.
Our Fly and Paddle package with Crystal Seas Kayaks is a three-hour tour, complete with a scenic round-trip flight from Seattle to Roche Harbor. Paddler pairs or singles take their wide and sturdy man-powered crafts on a guided tour through the calm waters of San Juan Island. While seeing whales is not very common, harbor seals, bald eagles, and marine birds can often be spotted.
3. Take a Stroll to Afterglow Vista (and keep a lookout for ghosts)
Afterglow Vista is roughly a half-mile out and back stroll from Roche Harbor’s core. The final resting place of the McMillin family (John S. McMillin founded Roche Harbor Lime Company in 1886), the vista is a massive mausoleum.
Referred to by many as the Roche Harbor Mausoleum, it is steeped in symbolism. At its center, limestone chairs surround a limestone table. On sunny days, the canopy of trees overhead offers a speckling of light. And while it’s rumored to be haunted, don’t worry. Access is only permitted from dawn to dusk, so you aren’t likely to meet any spirits.
Long before the San Juan Islands were a vacation destination, they were the focus of an international crisis ignited by an unlikely incident: The shooting of a pig in a potato patch. This was the famous Pig War of 1859. The military and naval forces of the United States and Great Britain almost came to blows in midsummer after the death of a Berkshire boar.
While thankfully both countries ultimately opted for peace before there were any other casualties, that wasn’t before they each established a strong military presence. The remnants of those battlements and barracks can still be found throughout San Juan Island.
In a small converted garage, roughly six miles southwest of Friday Harbor, you’ll often find Paula West covered in clay. As a full-time potter, she is throwing and glazing pots daily. Her studio and on-site shop are open to the public Thursday through Sunday.
Pacific Northwest locals are very nonchalant when discussing Dungeness crab. Dungies (as locals call them) are arguably the best crab on the planet. And while crabbers are somewhat protective of their favorite spots and their most reliable bait, that’s not the case for Corey Joyce.
Corey is the owner-operator of San Juan Adventures, a charter fishing boat company that takes adventurous (and hungry) souls to catch crab, shrimp, and lingcod. Better yet, he’ll help you cook it up right when you get back to shore.
The only way to get closer to the oysters would be to join the harvesting team at Westcott Bay Shellfish Company. This locally owned and sustainable oyster growing and harvesting company operates from the shores of San Juan Island’s Westcott Bay.
Their Farm Store sells oysters, clams, and mussels by the dozen. You can enjoy your bounty at their Tide Tables during the summer season. Located right beside the water’s edge, the staff will teach you to shuck and grill your own. February through May, the small oyster paradise sets up shop in their indoor-outdoor restaurant called ‘The Net Shed’ — featuring a seafood-forward menu.
The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor was founded in 1976 to study the region’s beloved Southern Resident orcas. It’s housed in the historic Odd Fellows Hall building on First Street, across from the Courthouse.
It overlooks the marina, a view that is capitalized on in one of the museum’s exhibits: a small porthole window. (You’ll find complimentary binoculars located by the window for looking out into the harbor.)
In addition to teaching visitors about Southern Resident killer whales, the museum’s exhibits highlight fellow marina animals, the dangers of plastic in the marine environment, how to practice stewardship, and more.
It’s not the fanciest movie theater. The seats are stationary and the arms don’t move. But the Palace Theater in Friday Harbor has a bit of old-time nostalgia that makes catching a film here unique.
Insider Tip: Looking for a unique bite while you catch a show? Instead of butter, ask for the dehydrated vegetable yeast. It’s the theater’s new-age touch that’s downright tasty.
Just .5 miles from the Friday Harbor Marina on San Juan Island, the San Juan Island Museum (SJIMA) is a stunning celebration of the arts. Its three galleries feature rotating exhibits of specially selected collections intended to inspire the mind and enliven the soul.
In addition to SJIMA’s two traditional galleries, it has a soaring glass atrium. Flooded with natural light, it offers a unique setting for installations that frequently celebrate nature.
Located on the northern side of San Juan Island, just over a mile from Roche Harbor, the San Juan Island Distillery is making some of the best apple brandy in the US. Its tasting room is open to visitors on Saturdays, though we recommend you check their website as their schedule can change. In addition to sampling the distillery’s latest varieties, you’ll also be able to tour the distillery.
On nice days, pack a picnic. The distillery is surrounded by a lush grass field, perfect for a fun afternoon lounging in the sun and enjoying a libation. Find a bottle (or a few) you want to take home? They’ll deliver them to Roche Harbor Resort for you to pick up!
Friday Habor’s first and only bowling ally, Paradise Lanes opened in 2008. If you catch yourself on a rainy day or just want to add some competitive fun to your San Juan Island excursion, this quaint bowling alley is just the place.
Located just above Friday Harbor Suites, the San Juan County Historical Museum is .7 miles from the Port of Friday Harbor. Comprised of eight historical buildings — a museum tour is like stepping back into 1894 when life’s patterns were relegated by the ocean’s currents and seasonal harvests.
Originally the James King farmstead, you’ll find the original farmhouse, along with the first county jail, carriage house, stone root cellar, and milk house. All tours are self-guided. Please check the website for hours of operation.
Looking to relax? Let your body be pampered at Lavendera Massage. Services range from traditional relaxation massages to hot stone massages and balancing treatments.
Founded in 1996, San Juan Vineyard is the only operating winery on San Juan Island producing estate-grown wines. A destination winery, its home base just outside of Friday Harbor in a 1895 remodeled schoolhouse. Here you’ll find an idyllic setting for their tasting room, where you can sample the locally grown varieties and often meet the winemakers!
Opened in 2017, San Juan Island Brewing Company has become a community hub, where visitors and locals alike regularly raise a pint and grab a bite. The brewing happens on-site, which you can view from the indoor dining room. Or snag a seat on the comfortable, sun-filled patio, complete with a greenspace perfect for children to play.
17. Watch for Whales at One of the World’s Best Land-Based Whale Watching Destinations: Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Located on the western side of San Juan Island, the Lime Kiln Lighthouse is known as one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in the world. It’s believed this is thanks to the rocky shore that descends steeply into Haro Stait’s deep channel.
Built in 1919, it still serves as a navigational beacon. And, it’s a fabulous place to spend a leisurely afternoon. Snag one of the picnic tables or grab a seat on one of the rocks and watch for orcas. While whales are primarily seen May through September, wildlife is likely to abound year-round. Seals, sea lions, and otters can often be seen saying hello.
18. Hike Through Lime Kiln State Park
Expand your visit to the Lime Kiln Lighthouse with an easy hike through Lime Kiln State Park. This short trail takes you through a forest of evergreens and Madrones, and past a rocky bluff. As you pass the lighthouse, follow the trail north to the kiln. You’ll find a set of steep stairs that lead to the kiln’s base, providing a closer look at how lime was processed before being shipped off the island.
19. Visit Cattle Point Lighthouse
Located at the southernmost tip of San Juan Island, Cattle Point Lighthouse offers sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. Completed in 1935, it’s named after the cattle that roamed the point’s rocky grassland in 1853.
The cattle were brought by the Hudson Bay Company to establish a ranch on the south end of the island in order to feed its employees. While there are no more cattle on these windswept dunes, keep an eye out for blacktail deer, eagles, seals, and sea lions.
20. Hike Mount Finlayson Trail
The Mount Finlayson Trail is frequently combined with a visit to Cattle Point Lighthouse. This 3.5-mile hike provides a beautiful overview of the lighthouse and surrounding grasslands. With just 285-feet of elevation gain, it’s a relatively easy hike. It also happens to be one of the best bird watching locations on the island.
21. Hike Young Hill
The crown jewel of English Camp, Young HIll (aka Mount Young) is 650 feet tall. It offers a stunning view of Haro Straight and the placid waters that surround Bell Point. Just a two-mile hike, it starts at the parking lot of English Camp. The initial incline is gradual and increases as you approach the summit.
It’s hard to go wrong with freshly-baked, freshly-glazed cake donuts. In fact, they’re so good the café is known to run out. So you might want to get to the Lime Kiln Café early.
West of Cattle Point Lighthouse and the Mount Finlayson Trail, the South Beach Trail offers another trek through the windswept grasslands. It passes through American Camp, where you’ll see old fruit trees and the officer’s quarters. The white clapboard buildings and picket-fenced parade ground are some of San Juan Island’s oldest structures.
As the trail descends, it winds through the natural prairie, eventually reaching the access point to South Beach. This is the longest stretch of public beach on the island. It’s a pebble-covered beach that’s accumulated a plethora of driftwood — perfect for throwing rocks into the ocean and building driftwood forts.
Get some fresh air freedom as you explore San Juan Island at your own pace. Susie’s Moped’s offers moped and scoot coupe rentals, perfect for winding through the island, soaking in the breathtaking views, and visiting some of the best landmarks.
Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm is home to more than 50 alpacas. The curious creatures roam the 80-acre estate, enjoying the gentle slopes and sunny pastures. While petting opportunities are rare, you can explore the gift shop to find alpaca sweaters, coats, and cuddly toys. (Please visit their website for hours of operation.)
Even if you’ve long since scoffed at the selfie stick, there’s a good chance you’ve extended an arm to capture a personal photo from time to time. Because there’s something about being in the picture which makes the memory all the more real — especially when you’re in a setting as breathtaking as San Juan Island.
And when it comes to where to snap a selfie, San Juan Island is loaded with opportunities. There are epic lockouts, historic sites, cute creatures, fields of flowers and more!
Make no mistake about it, staying at Harrison House is a treat. Located just steps from the harbor, this quaint bed and breakfast is the ideal home base for any island adventure. Plus, they help you start off with an indulgent multi-course breakfast — including their housemade granola and yogurt.
A delectable combo of nuts and seeds, the granola’s complex flavor is so good you’ll like want to take some home. Which you can! Not staying overnight? Harrison House won’t discriminate against any granola lover. You, too, could purchase some to-go!
28. Get Your Kids’ Wiggles Out at A Place to Play
Located in downtown Friday Harbor, A Place to Play is a fun indoor kids’ play space is filled with hands-on, interactive games. It’s the perfect spot for a rainy day when your kids need to get their wiggles out without getting wet.
Housed in the historic Brickworks Events Center at the heart of Friday Harbor, this seasonal farmers market is loaded with the best island and harvest food, island-made wares, and local musicians.
30. Celebrate Island Talent at the San Juan Community Theater
The San Juan Community Theater hosts a wide range of engaging performances, including plays, musicals, instrumental concerts, and community showcases.
31. Drive the Scenic Byway
In 2009, Washington State designated the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. It’s separated into three segments, along Washington State Ferries routes, San Juan Island, and Orcas Islands. The most circular of these segments is found on San Juan Island and can easily be explored by car, moped or bike.
Home to more than 150 unique installations, the San Juan Island Sculpture Park is an outdoor art exhibit that spans over 20 acres. It’s located right beside the entrance to Roche Harbor Resort and is frequently visited by locals, tourists, and the island’s wildlife.
Founded in 2018, Alchemy Art Center is a hub for creativity. In addition to providing studio space to local artists, they offer a variety of classes and programming to those of all ages. Their facility includes a communal ceramics studio, photography darkroom, and printmaking studio. The star space is a 35-foot Geodesic dome, which functions as a gallery, classroom, and event space.
34. Watch the Sunset at Westside Preserve
This unique public trail is located just south of the Land Bank’s Deadman Bay Preserve and Lime Kiln Point State Park. While the established paths from the parking pull-outs are few, it’s the views that are the real draw. Glacier scraped bedrock outcrops are framed by grass and the widely spaced trees along the hillside. It’s a fabulous vantage for watching marine life play in the water and catching some of the island’s best sunsets.
35. Scuba Dive
While scuba diving might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this PNW archipelago, its sheltered waters, temperate climate, and varied wildlife make it an ideal place for those who want to dive beneath the water’s surface (in a wetsuit of course).
At the center of San Juan Island, Pelindaba Lavender Farm invites you to wander their 25-acre grounds. The organic lavender farm is home to more than 50 varieties that bloom from early May through as late as October.
Beloved for its picturesque setting, the farm is also deeply committed to sharing the multiple therapeutic uses lavender offers, from its antiseptic qualities and sedative effects to its ability to serve as a topical anesthetic. Not to mention the fact that it’s a natural insect repellant, makes for surprisingly delicious ice cream, and offers a unique twist to traditional meals you’d cook up in the kitchen!
Housed in a 120-year-old-house, this funky old bookstore is a veritable maze of treasures. But don’t assume you have to hunt for a new-to-you title. The 40,000+ selection has been computerized, so all you need to do is ask, and they’ll help you find it.
38. Tour the Art Galleries
A hub for local artists, Friday Harbor is home to a plethora of art galleries, including Arctic Raven Gallery, Friday Harbor Galley, Harbor Song Art Gallery, and Waterworks Gallery. Take a stroll. Explore the local arts scene. You might even meet one of the artists delivering new pieces.