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Before we began planning a road trip that included a few days in Seattle, I’d never heard of San Juan Island. When I discussed our travel plans at work, a coworker suggested we add San Juan Island to our trip because her sister loved it so much. Well, my coworker’s sister was right! San Juan Island is an adorable place to visit with historic sites, whale-watching opportunities, and beautiful overlooks of the sea.
Getting to San Juan Island From Seattle
Since we didn’t initially plan to visit San Juan Island, we could only set aside one day for the side trip. To get to the island, you have to take a ferry or a plane. We opted to go with the more popular and cost-effective option–taking the ferry from Anacortes.
Since we’d never driven our car onto a ferry, this turned out to be an adventure unto itself. Anacortes, Washington, the place where the ferry launches, is only about an hour and a half away from Seattle, but the ferry schedule forced us to plan carefully with little room for mistakes. Throw in the whale-watching tour we’d booked, and I was anxious. Spoiler alert: it all worked out.
Boarding the Ferry at Anacortes
We made out reservation for the ferry two months out. We chose the 9:05 time slot, so we had to leave Seattle by 7:00 a.m. It takes about an hour on the ferry to get to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island from Anacortes. Upon arriving in Friday Harbor, we planned to see The Whale Museum and explore the area a bit before our tour. To read more about our entire ferry experience, click here.
Arriving at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island
When we docked at Friday Harbor, we waited briefly on the ferry until it was our turn to drive onto land. We found a place to park, and the exploring was on.
If I were to plan a trip to San Juan again, I would’ve allowed for more time and stay the night on the island. A whale-watching tour really cuts into your island time, and we felt rushed to see everything we hoped to see. Keeping to the ferry schedule also limits your time. San Juan Island is worth the visit, though, even if you can’t make an overnight trip of it. An entire weekend on the island would be perfect!
Whale Museum on San Juan Island
We parked about a block away from The Whale Museum, and we headed there first. This small museum was worth the stop for us.
Exploring Friday Harbor
After our museum stop, we walked around Friday Harbor. I loved the atmosphere!
Friday Harbor is a cute area, and I wish we could’ve spent more time there.
Kristin is always on the lookout for ice cream.
We found some right by the shore.
Whale Watching Tour With San Juan Safaris
Before long, it was time for our whale tour with San Juan Safaris. The office was a tad tricky to find, but we made it there eventually. Soon it was time to line up and board the boat. Taking the tour and seeing the orcas was definitely a highlight of our entire road trip. To read more about our whale-watching experience, click here.
American Camp on San Juan Island
After our whale-watching tour, we grabbed the car and set out over the island. You can take a loop around the island, but you need to be aware that the correct way is not always clear. Other roads connect to the main loop, and it’s easy to get off the main road.
Our first stop was at the American Camp. In the mid-1800s, the United States and England both claimed the island as their territory. In 1859, the United States and England decided they would both occupy the island until they could agree on the water boundary of the countries. Camp San Juan, as it was known to the Americans, was a military camp until 1874.
We walked around the American Camp briefly.
The officer quarters looking over the ocean paints a nice picture of the past here.
Pelindaba Lavendar Farm
Our next stop was at Pelindaba Lavender Farm. We’d never been to a lavender farm before, so we were curious.
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Following the loop, we arrived at Lime Kiln Point State Park. This is a beautiful place.
This area is also known as a great place for whale watching; however, we don’t think we spotted any. If you do see a whale, it’s at a distance. The rugged coast is gorgeous, though.
One thing you won’t want to miss–checking out the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. This is a view of it near the observation area.
English Camp on San Juan Island
The English Camp is on the opposite side of the island from the American Camp.
This is a lovely area to explore.
The most memorable difference between the camps is the English gardens in this camp.
This was such a peaceful place during our visit. We were the only ones here.
Back to Friday Harbor to Catch the Ferry to Anacortes
After exploring the English Camp, we made a wild dash back toward Friday Harbor. This is why I would recommend more time, especially if you are doing a whale-watching tour while you are there. We simply didn’t have enough time to really take our time. I’m glad we went and were able to experience what we did, though!
We were supposed to be back at Friday Harbor and in line for the ferry 30 minutes before departure. After a wrong turn near Roche Harbor, we made it back to Friday Harbor five minutes late. If that happens, you are placed in the standby line. If the ferry is busy, you may be bumped. Luckily, we were able to board with no issues, which was great because we would’ve had to take a ferry two hours later. That would have put us getting back to our Airbnb in Seattle much later, too.
Once parked on the ferry, we could leave our car and relax on an upper deck. We were pretty tired but happy. San Juan Island is a fun place to explore, and Friday Harbor feels like a hometown in days gone by. If you have more time, I would definitely stay a night or a weekend here instead of just a day trip. I hope we can return someday!