Rolling pastoral farmland, rocky shorelines, and windswept hills offer a pristine, sun-filled oasis in the far reaches of the Salish Sea. Here, outdoor activities abound, ranging from thrilling whale watching adventures to brilliant sunset strolls. Among the most popular of the archipelago, you’ll find a plethora of things to do on San Juan Island this summer. Discover some of our favorites!
Looking for the fastest and most scenic way to travel up to San Juan Island from Seattle? Skip the ferry lines and hop aboard a 50-minute flight departing from Lake Union (1 hr. 20 min. from Kenmore) to Friday Harbor Marina or a 25-minute flight departing from Seattle Paine Field to Friday Harbor Airport.
40 of San Juan Island’s Top Things to Do This Summer
1. Cattle Point Lighthouse
At the southernmost tip of San Juan Island, Cattle Point Lighthouse sits prominently overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The grassy hillside and rocky shoreline were first populated by cattle in 1853, brought by the Hudson’s Bay Company. A navigational lantern was placed at the sight of the lighthouse in 1888.
The beacon was given a permanent home in 1935 — the lighthouse we now see today. In addition to the stunning views, the grounds are known to be a good place for spotting deer, eagles, foxes, and marine mammals.
2. Whale Watching
The San Juan Islands have become internationally renowned for their whale watching opportunities. Prime whale watching season runs from May through October, when visitors are most likely to see orca whales, humpback whales, and gray whales in the surrounding waters.
3. Lime Kiln Lighthouse
The Lime Kiln Lighthouse — also Known as the “Lighthouse of the Whales” or “Whale Watch Park” — Lime Kiln Lighthouse is located on a rocket outcropping along the western side of San Juan Island. Renowned as one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in the world, orca whales have been spotted as close as 20 feet from shore.
What makes this bit of shoreline unique? No one knows for sure, but scientists theorize it’s thanks to the underwater cliffs that drop steeply down beneath the surface. They believe the orcas use the rocks to herd salmon.
4. Whale Museum
Located in Friday Harbor, the Whale Museum offers a unique combination of education, research, advocacy, and hands-on learning.
5. Sea Kayaking
No other vessel allows you to get up close and personal with San Juan Island’s rocky shores quite like the sea kayak. These shallow-bottom, man-powered boats glide over the water’s surface, allowing you to easily navigate past rocks and through kelp forests.
6. Roche Harbor Donuts
Baked fresh daily, the cake-like donuts at Roche Harbor’s Lime Kiln Cafe have earned a cult-like following. During the summer months, it’s not uncommon for them to sell out, so head to the cafe early to ensure you get your fill.
7. Scoot Coupe
A Scoot Coupe gives you all the fresh-air freedom of a moped combined with the sturdy dependability of three wheels. Holding up to two passengers, these fun little vehicles can be rented from Susie’s Mopeds and used to explore the island at your own speed.
Want a little physical activity with your fresh air goodness? An e-bike allows you to pedal as much (or as little) as you prefer.
9. Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm
Home to over 50 alpacas, the 80-acre estate at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm is breathtaking. The sunny slopes and grazing herd seem like they’re plucked from a storybook. While petting isn’t allowed, visitors can explore the gift shop to get a feel for the glorious fibers these curious creatures produce.
10. San Juan Island Farmers Market
Housed in the historic Brickworks Events Center (formerly the Friday Harbor Brick & Tile Company), the San Juan Island Farmers Market runs from April through October on Saturdays. It features a wide array of local farmers, artisans, and food purveyors.
11. San Juan Island Sculpture Park
Spanning 20 acres, the San Juan Island Sculpture Park is nestled beside the entrance to Roche Harbor and Westcott Bay. Hosting an evolving collection of sculptures, you might see anywhere from 110 to 150 installations. Five easily navigable trails wind throughout the grounds, often intertwining with one another. You’ll also find some interactive exhibits, like the 30-foot Friendship Totem, upon which you’re invited to engrave your name.
12. Local Brews at San Juan Island Brewing Co.
With a town hall vibe, San Juan Island Brewing Co. is a favorite among locals and visitors. The beer is brewed on-site. The pizzas are grilled to perfection. And the mammoth burgers don’t disappoint.
During the summer months, the outdoor patio and grassy lawn are ideal for letting kids run free and soaking up the sun.
13. Sunset at Westside Preserve
Just south of the Land Bank’s Deadman Bay Preserve, a unique public trail runs along the coast, offering epic views. And while parking is minimal, it means there’s typically minimal foot traffic — making this the ideal place to watch for marine life and soak in the sunset.
14. Pelindaba Lavendar Farm
Situated on 25 acres of San Juan Island’s most beautiful farmland, Pelindaba Lavendar Farm is a riot of purple and fragrance. Self-guided tours are free to visitors. Those who want to harvest their own lavender can do so in the designated cutting garden. Don’t forget to leave time to visit the on-site farm store, where you’ll find a wide array of lavender products ranging from essential oils and lotions to culinary delights, like lavender-infused honey.
15. South Beach Hiking Trail
Spanning windswept grasslands and winding through American Camp, the South Beach Hiking Trail offers access points to South Beach. This is the longest stretch of public beach on San Juan Island. Here, driftwood and pebbles abound.
16. Mount Finlayson Trail
Near South Beath Trail, the Mount Finlayson Trail offers a jaunt through deep forest lagoons and some of the same sweeping grasslands. Water views glimmer, as does the iconic Cattle Point Lighthouse that looks nearly petite in the distance.
17. Afterglow Vista
While the ‘views’ at Afterglow Vista don’t include water outlooks, this stunning hike is an easy trek to an IT-worthy backdrop. The destination — an open-air rotunda — is the McMillin Mausoleum. A slightly eerie and unquestionably beautiful cemetery where the founding family of Roche Harbor rests.
18. San Juan Vineyards
Family-owned San Juan Vineyards was established in 1996. Specializing in estate-grown wines, it uses sustainable and organic farming practices. The tasting room is housed in a 1895 remodeled school house, just outside of Friday Harbor. It’s the perfect place to sample and relax. Often, you’ll even have a chance to meet the winemakers.
19. San Juan Distillery
Located just over a mile from Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island Distillery is known for its award-winning brandy and incredible cider. The tasting room is typically open on Saturdays, though check their website for the most up-to-date openings.
20 San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA)
Unlike most of Friday Harbor’s downtown core which is housed in historic buildings, the San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA) is a glassy, cutting-edge building. While small, the museum attracts arts from all over the world. Throughout the year, it showcases between 8-10 exhibits.
21. Westcott Bay Shellfish Company
Renowned for its fresh seafood, incredible waterfront views, and sea-to-table dining, Westcott Bay Shellfish Company is a can’t-miss. You can get as hands-on here as you’re like, shucking and grilling your own oysters. But during the summer months, don’t overlook The Tides Tables — the outdoor ‘restaurant’ where you’ll find an inventive menu that delights.
22. Crabbing Adventure
Want to try your hand at crabbing? San Juan Adventures crabbing excursions allow you to get as hands-on (or hands-off) as you want. But no matter how involved you are in the catching process, all guests (and anyone else they invite) can be treated to a freshly-cooked grab boil as soon as you reach the shore.
23. Paula West Studio
Often covered in clay, you’ll find Paul West often covered in clay, working from her small San Juan Island studio. The converted garage isn’t abnormal here in the San Juan Islands. Nor is the artistic talent you’ll find at this quaint island destination. Come here for a sample of the island artist’s life and leave with a souvenir you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
24. Dinner at Cynthia’s Bistro
Located on the upper side of downtown Friday Harbor, what Cynthia’s Bistro lacks in water views (there are none), it more than makes up for in flavor. Priding herself on making good food — the kind she would serve to family and friends — Cynthia Burke has turned a restored 1920s home into an edible destination. Brunch here is a delight on the weekends, but the new star is her dinner service which features a seasonally-inspired menu that’s loaded with flavors and textures.
25. Fireside Cocktails at the Friday Harbor House Restaurant
Farm from nestled at the backside of town, Friday Harbor House is tucked on the bluff just above the marina. It offers stunning views of seaplanes landing, ferries docking, and boats resting. Inventive cocktails and a menu focused on locally-sourced ingredients make this a favorite dining destination. But for the full experience, ask for a seat on the patio where firepits flicker and lounging is encouraged.
26. Crab Tots at Downriggers
Those who want to eat by the water won’t get any closer than the hip and modern Downriggers. Located in Friday Harbor Marina, the seafood-infused menu features a selection of fresh grilled delights and inventive twists on comfort food — like their Dungeness crab tots!
Tidepooling is the perfect activity for kids (big and full-grown). It allows you to get up close and personal with everything from kelp crabs to starfish.
28. American Camp
American Camp sits on the dramatic southern hook of San Juan island, featuring sprawling grassland and offering views of the Olympic Mountains. Despite the beauty and strategic advantage of this location, it was a harsh environment for soldiers thanks to the punishing winds that causes trees and shrubs to grow sideways.
29. English Camp
On the flip side, English Camp is nestled along the protected shoreline of Garrison Bay at the northwest side of San Juan. While it doesn’t offer sweeping mountain views, the waterfront property is equally as beautiful and undoubtedly more hospitable when the weather turns.
30. Top of the Town Lounge
A sultry speakeasy vibe isn’t what one would expect to find in the San Juan Islands, but the small watering hole offers just that. Marked with a glowing red shoe, the little bar can be hard to find — but that’s part of what makes it special. For an intimate feel, snag a table in the back. But the real delight is saddling up to the bar, where the cocktails are crafted with care and flair.
31. Roche Harbor Artist Booths
During the summer months, Roche Harbor hosts a curated selection of artists at its marina. Wander through the small booths, meet the artists, and find delightful new pieces to add to your collection.
32. San Juan County Historical Museum
Also known as the San Juan Island Historical Museum, the San Juan County Historical Museum is comprised of eight historic buildings. It offers a look at what life was like in 1894 when residents were at the mercy of seasonal harvests and the ocean’s tides.
33. Pizza at Bakery San Juan
Open Monday through Friday, Bakery San Juan is renowned for its freshly baked bread and daily pizza offering. A humble affair, its entrance isn’t fancy and neither is its dark, relatively un-populated pastry counter. (You’ll find just a handful of outdoor seats and inside bar rails for those who want to linger and nosh.) But you don’t go here for a cafe-style atmosphere. You go to Bakery San Juan for the baked goods (and a view of the active bakery, which can be seen through the glass divide).
The farm-to-table menu at COHO is dominated by sustainable, local ingredients. It’s a quaint affair that offers leisurely dining worthy of a celebration. Just don’t come expecting salmon. The locally-owned restaurant took salmon off its menu permanently in 2018 in an effort to help protect the Southern Resident Whales.
35. Young Hill
During a visit to English Camp, be sure not to overlook Young Hill. Also known as Mount Young, it stands at 650 feet. The peak offers stunning views and can be summited along a gradual incline, making this a gentle hike with big rewards.
36. Colors Ceremony at Roche Harbor
A tradition since 1957, the Colors Ceremony at Roche Harbor Resort starts 10 minutes before sunset during the summer months. It features the retiring of the flags, including: Roche Harbor, Washington state, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. But undoubtedly, the most exciting moment is the cannon shot that booms through the harbor.
37. Duck Soup
This upscale restaurant is tucked in the woods outside of Friday Harbor. Thanks to its relatively remote location, it feels like a bit of a hidden gem. But don’t assure that makes scoring a table here easy. Reservations fill up fast, so call early.
38. Reuben Tarte Memorial Park, San Juan Island
Located on the Northeast side of San Juan Island, Reuben Tarte Memorial Park is comprised of two, small pebbly beaches. The beaches are separated by a rock bluff. Views here abound, including a straight shot to Orcas Island.
Oysters. Champagne. Potato waffles loaded with goodies like Dungeness crab and spot prawns. It’s a little bit of everything at the casual picnic-esc style Oystertale in downtown Friday Harbor. Located just above the Friday Harbor Marina, the restaurant does indeed specialize in picnics, offering to-go fare perfect for enjoying in Mother Nature. But there’s something to be said for sampling their exceptional wine menu and inventive cocktails with a view of seaplanes landing as cars wait for the ferry to arrive.
Yep, we said it. This list of the best things to do on San Juan Island this summer wouldn’t be complete without this recommendation: come to the islands and treat yourself to a bit of doing nothing. Enjoy an hour (or a few) of just being. Find a bench or a park or bit of driftwood by the water and just spend some time sitting.