7 Hours Exploring San Juan Island from Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island

With its lush landscape and plethora of activities, it can be hard to leave the Emerald City during the summer. Throughout the prized months of sunshine, locals and visitors alike try and soak up every bit of the fun things to do in Seattle. But just at the edge of the US and Canada’s watery border rests a quaint archipelago that beckons those looking for a bit slower-paced adventure.

But exploring a slice of the San Juans doesn’t have to mean giving up a whole weekend. (Though you certainly could and wouldn’t regret it.) Nor does it mean investing several hours in commuting. The San Juans have never been easier to reach, thanks to the new 25-minute scenic flight departing from Paine Field, just outside of Seattle. 

It’s the perfect opportunity to explore some of the top things to do in Friday Harbor and beyond, leaving the rest of the weekend open for Mariners and Sounders games, trips to Pike Place Market, and afternoons watching seaplanes take off from Lake Union. 

The Ultimate San Juan Island Biking Itinerary

San Juan Island by Bike
Photo by Seth Cox of Meat Machines Bicycles

10:00 AM – Scenic Flight to Friday Harbor Airport

Generally, Seattleites make the nearly two-hour drive to Anacortes, wait for the Anacortes Ferry, and then sail to the San Juans. And while there’s some merit in having a set of wheels when you arrive, the three-plus hour commute time isn’t the only way to explore. 

Kenmore Air Express, Kenmore Air’s wheeled plane division, offers regularly scheduled 45-minute flights from Boeing Field and is now offering 25-minute flights from Paine Field! There has never been a faster way to reach the San Juans! The new flights to Friday Harbor Airport offer the ideal alternative to the WA State ferries. 

(Paine Field flights begin July 14, 2022. Online booking is available now.) 

10:30 AM – Pick Up Your Meat Machine e-Bike Rental

Remember that set of wheels we mentioned? An electric bike offers the perfect mix of active fun and leisurely exploring. Friday Harbor’s Meat Machine bike-rental company offers several different e-bike rental options and they’ll deliver it to a requested location. You can also walk to their shop. It’s just 20 minutes from Friday Harbor Airport. Either way, be sure to reserve your bike in advance. Bike rentals are quite popular and there’s no guarantee they’ll have an e-bike if you just show up. 

Getting Oysters at Westcott Bay Shellfish by Sara Satterlee
Photo by Sara Satterlee
Fun at Westcott Bay Shellfish by Sara Satterlee
Photo by Sara Satterlee

12:00 PM – Lunch at Westcott Bay Shellfish’s The Tide Tables 

Westcott Bay Shellfish is the kind of place where you can stand by the beach on a bluebird day, in a perfume of campfire smoke, with the taste of chipotle bourbon butter on your lips. A working aquaculture farm, it’s roughly a 55-minute pedal from Friday Harbor Airport. And worth every bit of the effort.

From the protected shores, they harvest their shellfish daily — a selection of clams, mussels, and oysters. During the summer months, they welcome visitors to their outdoor ‘restaurant’ — The Tide Tables. As the name would suggest, it’s a collection of picnic tables and BBQs nestled beside the water’s edge. You get to shuck and grill your own oysters, and then top them with one of Westcott’s homemade compound butters, should you choose. 

Photo by Sara Satterlee
Afterglow Vista

1:30 PM – Visit Afterglow Vista + Donuts at the Lime Kiln Cafe

Meander the roughly two miles to Roche Harbor Resort, an idyllic slice of historical elegance. Originally a lime kiln factory, remnants of the lime kilns can still be seen throughout the property. At its center, the 1886 Hotel de Haro still stands. And roughly half a mile from the resort’s core, you’ll find Afterglow Vista — a dreamy cemetery. (Yes, you read that right.)

The vista is the founder’s family mausoleum, a massive structure of pillars and limestone chairs encircling a limestone table. Each seat holds the cremated ashes of a McMillin family member. While the location is rumored to be haunted, don’t worry. You’ll be long gone before the sun sets. 

After exploring the mausoleum, head back down to the resort’s hub, where you’ll find the Lime Kiln Cafe situated just above the marina. In addition to hearty diner food, the cafe is renowned for their cake-like donuts. 

Lime Kiln Lighthouse by DonFink

3:30 PM – Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Put that sugar rush to use as you head south along the island to Lime Kiln Lighthouse — one of the best land-based whale-watching destinations in the world. The lighthouse sits atop a rocky outcropping overlooking Dead Man’s Bay on San Juan Island. It was established in 1919 and still helps guide ships through Haro Strait to this day. In addition to spotting whales, you’ll likely see seals and shore birds. 

Friday Harbor House Patio View

5:00 PM – Dinner with a View at Friday Harbor House

Hop on your e-bike for another easy hour ride to Friday Harbor House and ask for a table outside. The expansive outdoor space offers breathtaking views of the Friday Harbor Marina, where seaplanes land and the ferries dock. It’s the ideal location for taking a load off and grabbing a bite. 

6:45 PM – Scenic Flight Back to the Mainland

Enjoy a 25-minute scenic flight back to Paine Field, leaving you plenty of time to get back to Seattle for a nightcap, dessert on the town or an early bedtime. 

Things to do in Friday Harbor FAQs

How to Get to Friday Harbor

Because Friday Harbor is on an island the only way to get there is by boat or plane. You can catch the Anacortes to Friday Harbor ferry. This requires a two-plus-hour drive from Seattle to the ferry terminal, where you’ll need to wait for a ferry and then sail to Friday Harbor. 

Alternatively, you could fly to Friday Harbor with Kenmore Air. We offer regularly scheduled service to Friday Harbor Marina aboard our seaplanes. And, we offer regularly scheduled service aboard our wheeled planes, from both Boeing Field and Paine Field to Friday Harbor Airport. 

What’s the Weather Like in Friday Harbor?

The weather in Friday Harbor is an enjoyable mix of sunshine and moderate temperatures. The San Juan Islands as a whole enjoys an average of 247 days with sunshine, meaning you’ll almost always get a bit of Vitamin D while visiting (especially during the summer).  

Is Friday Harbor a Pedestrian-Friendly City?

Yes, Friday Harbor has a very walkable downtown core where you’ll find a wide selection of art galleries, restaurants, and novelty shops. 

More Fun Things to do on San Juan Island