25 Things To Do In The San Juan Islands (2024)

Orcas Island Spring

The San Juan Islands span 172 named islands and reefs, however just three are served by regularly scheduled flights from Seattle; San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Best known for their epic views, untouched wildlife, and regionally-inspired cuisine, the San Juans offer a wide range of things to do for families, couples, and friends.

1. Whale Watching

Orca killer whale off the coast of Canada

The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands are internationally renowned for whale watching. The best whale watching season is May through October, when you are most likely to see orca whales, humpback whales, and gray whales. However, these nature excursions aren’t just about whales. The rocky shorelines and salty water team with a wide variety of wildlife. Seals and sealions abound. Bird enthusiasts will be pleased to see bald eagles, Pacific Loons, four gull species, white-winged scoter, and more!

2. Kayaking

Kayaking in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Sara Satterlee
Photo by Sara Satterlee

One of the most unique views in the San Juan Islands is from the water. Sea kayaks have shallow-bottoms, allowing you to glide over the surface, easily navigating rocks and kelp forests. 

3. Crabbing

Crabbing in the San Juans by Sara Satterlee
Photo by Sara Satterlee

There’s crab. And then there’s crab pulled fresh from the water and boiled on the dock that same day. Some might say this is a Pacific Northwest right of passage. And it’s one you can experience easily in the San Juan Islands with a guided day on the water.

4. Rent a Scoot Coupe

Riding a scoot coupe and moped on san juan island
Photo by Adam Gilani

Susie’s Mopeds in Friday Harbor offers scoot coupe and moped rentals, allowing you to explore the island at your leisure. This is a fun and easy way to savor the views and visit some of the most iconic spots throughout San Juan Island.

5. Stay at the Waters Edge on Orcas Island

Orcas Island Resorts. Outlook Inn

There’s a host of lodging options on Orcas Island in the San Juans, but none gets you closer to the water than the Outlook Inn’s Waters Edge Suites that sit perched above Fishing Bay. During high-tide you’ll be right above the water. And for those who like to explore tidepools, the beach is easily accessed.

6. Explore the Liquid Arts Trail

The San Juan Islands are no stranger to spirits. It’s home to three vineyards, two breweries, one cider/distillery, and several tasting rooms featuring local and Northwest wines, beers, and locally distilled spirits. Cidermakers and distillers can frequently be found pouring beverages and helping customers, making this a great opportunity to learn about how the tasty beverages are made. Sipping and savoring your way through the Liquid Arts Trail will take you to all three of the major islands in the San Juans — making for a great excuse to extend your stay or plan more than one trip!

7. Visit Local Farms

Pebble Cove Farm. Lambs Grazing

Nestled within the Olympic Rainshadow, the region enjoys an average 268 days with sunshine a year. In addition to offering a healthy dose of Vitamin D, the sunshine supports the thriving farmland. During the fall, each island offers its own farm tours (2024 dates have not yet been released). Some farms also have farm stores onsite, allowing you to visit the farm and pick up some island-grown goodness:

8. Indulge at Award Winning Restaurants

Tuna Crudo at Matia

Thanks to the abundance of fresh goods from both the land and sea, the San Juan Islands have unofficially been dubbed Washington’s “Gourmet Archipelago.” They are home to some of the region’s best restaurants, having earned prestigious James Beard awards and New York Times recommendations. Among the top restaurants is:

9. Oysters Straight from the Sea

shucking oysters

Tidal lagoons and freshwater springs make the San Juan Islands one of the best environments for oysters. Each of the three main islands have their own shellfish farms where the rich and buttery shellfish are grown and harvested. On San Juan Island and Orcas Island, the farms even feature outdoor restaurants where you’re invited to shuck your own oysters. 

Keep in mind, the shellfish farms are open seasonally. Check their websites for the most accurate openings.

10. Hiking

Cascade Falls

Discover a hiking haven in the San Juan Islands, where thousands of acres of public lands await your exploration. Wander along rocky bluffs and beaches adorned with driftwood, encountering historic lighthouses and breathtaking Salish Sea views. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or a challenging climb, there’s a trail for every skill level. These are some of our favorites:

11. Biking

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

If you’re eager to discover the island while incorporating some exercise, consider renting a bike! Meat Machine in Friday Harbor provides a range of bike rentals, including various options for e-bikes. The added convenience? They offer bike delivery services. (Explore our seven hour San Juan Island biking itinerary.)

With its hilly topography, Orcas Island offers undoubtedly the hardest bike routes. Wildlife Cycle’s e-bikes offer a good assist for getting up the big hills. Those who want a gentler riding experience will want to opt for Lopez, where the roads are mostly flat and island page tends to be even slower than the other major island. You can find bike rentals on Lopez at Village Cycles

12. Tidepooling

A family looking in a tide pool finds any number of treasures. Photo by Zargon Design.

The diverse habitat formed by the rocky shorelines encircling the San Juan Islands teems with life. Sea anemones inhabit the crevices alongside mussels, while barnacles thrive near starfish. Various seaweed species flourish, and shore crabs scuttle about.

Engaging in “tidepooling” is a beloved activity for those exploring these miniature ecosystems, each one distinctive and influenced by the changing tide. Explorers are always in for surprises, as the contents of the same cove (or pool) can vary from day to day.

13. Wander Through the Lavender

Lavender

Nestled on 25 acres of San Juan Island’s picturesque farmland, Pelindaba Lavender Farm is a stunning display of purple hues and delightful fragrances. Visitors can enjoy complimentary self-guided tours. For those interested in harvesting their own lavender, a designated cutting garden is available. Make sure to allocate time for a visit to the on-site farm store, where a diverse range of lavender products awaits, including essential oils, lotions, and culinary treasures like lavender-infused honey.

14. Explore Local Art Galleries

A hub for local artists, the San Juan Islands are home to a plethora of artists and art galleries. Among the local art scene, you’ll find:

15. Bird Watching

Bird watching in the San Juan Islands is a captivating experience, with diverse avian species and stunning natural landscapes. Explore the islands’ rich birdlife, from majestic bald eagles to colorful shorebirds. 

16. Soak in a Private Hot Tub with a View

Nestled just beyond Olga on Orcas Island, you’ll find Doe Bay Resort & Retreat – a hidden gem on the island’s east end. The lodging leans toward the rustic, with shared bathrooms that add a refreshing outdoor stroll to your routine. Yet, the payoff comes with breathtaking views, especially when enjoyed from the clothing-optional soaking tubs. Spa access is limited to overnight guests. So if you want to take a dip, be sure to book your room.

17. World Famous Donuts

Roche Harbor Donuts

Roche Harbor’s Lime Kiln Cafe makes fresh donuts on a daily basis, frequently selling out during the summer months. These cake-like babies come tossed in sugar and dripped in chocolate or vanilla. They come with sprinkles and occasionally cookie crumbles. The trick is to make sure you get there before they’re gone!

18. Witness Bioluminescence

Embark on a magical bioluminescent paddle around Roche Harbor. Bioluminescent is when tiny living organisms in the water light up. In the San Juans, this phenomenon is most active after hot and sunny days and is most visible during the new moon. 

19. Visit the Whale Museum

Whale Museum Parking Lot

Located on First Street, just one block above the Friday Harbor Marina, the Whale Museum was founded in 1979. The museum introduces visitors to orcas, invites them to learn about the orcas’ habitat, and encourages visitors to participate in the preservation of these gentle giants. 

20. Visit Historic Battle Encampments on San Juan Island

English Camp

While the death of a pig nearly brought the United States and Great Britain into war in 1859, cool heads prevailed. But not before soldiers from both countries established their own encampments. The remnants of these can still be seen today at English Camp and American Camp. 

21. Orcas Island Historical Museums

The Orcas Island Historical Museums consist of six charming log cabins from the late 19th century and the 1888 Crow Valley School Museum. These structures, along with the artifacts they hold, are not just exhibits – they’re living historical artifacts. They play a crucial role in preserving the rich stories and lifestyles of Orcas Island’s Native Americans and the early European-American settlers.

22. Local Baked Goods

San Juan Bakery Pizza

The Pacific Northwest is known for its fresh seafood and lush mountainscapes. But speckled throughout the San Juan Islands, you’ll also find baked delectables that’ll make you want to ooh and aah. 

23. Farmers Markets

San Juan Islands Farmers Market

Brimming with fresh produce, artisanal crafts, and regional delicacies, the farmer’s markets in the San Juan Islands showcase the agricultural richness of the region. Engage with local farmers and artisans, savoring the unique community spirit while enjoying the diverse offerings that characterize these lively markets. 

24. Colors Ceremony at Roche Harbor

Dating back to 1957, the Colors Ceremony at Roche Harbor Resort has been a cherished tradition. As the sun begins its descent during the summer months, the ceremony kicks off ten minutes before sunset. The highlight includes the retiring of flags (Roche Harbor, Washington state, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States). However, the true thrill comes with the resounding boom of the cannon that echoes through the harbor. It’s a moment that never fails to captivate. 

25. Sip Craft Cocktails

MONTI on Orcas Island
Photo provided by MONTI.
Barnacle

As with most things in the San Juans, the islands’ cocktail scene is surprisingly delightful. The drinks are inventive, often infused with locally sourced ingredients. House-made shrubs, island-fruits and island herbs often take center stage. These are just some of our top places to explore new libations and classic cocktails: