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If you’re wondering about how to get to San Juan Island from the mainland, I suggest taking the ferry from Anacortes. To get to San Juan Island in Washington, you have three choices–hop aboard a seaplane, hire a private boat, or take the ferry. We discovered that the ferry is the most economical way to get to San Juan.
Taking the Ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor–The Background
As we planned our road trip that included two nights in Seattle, a friend I worked with suggested we check out Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. I’d never heard of this area, but since we were considering taking a whale tour, and I discovered this was a popular place for orca-viewing, we made a plan to spend a day on the island.
Knowing what I know now, a day is simply not enough time to enjoy all that San Juan has to offer, especially if you throw in a whale tour. If I had it to do all over again, I would’ve booked a night on the island. Still, we got to experience the highlights, though it was at a pretty quick pace.
It is possible to just walk onto the ferry and walk off when you arrive at your destination. The problem is, you won’t have a car. If you’re just staying in Friday Harbor, that would not be an issue at all. If you plan to drive to various sites throughout the island, you’ll want your vehicle.
If you take the ferry from Anacortes, Washington, you can drive your car onto the ferry and then have it on the island. This is exactly what we wanted to do. The thing is, we live in Missouri and have never had a reason to drive a car onto an enormous ferry and head to an island. The whole idea was completely foreign, and as we tried to plan this part of the trip, I found it stressful. I thought a post about our experience may help other people plan and set their minds at ease about what to expect.
Reserving the Ferry
As we planned the trip, we realized that we needed to reserve our departure and return on the ferry. The ferry actually has stops at three other islands, so the schedule accommodates four stops after leaving Anacortes. Our tour was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., so we needed to plan. We needed to drive to Anacortes from Seattle, and we needed to be in line ready to board at least 30-90 minutes before departure. Reservations are recommended, though there are a few spots for drive-ups and replacements for no-shows.
Since we’d booked our whale tour, we didn’t want to chance not getting a spot. Reservations are released at 2 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days. Two months out, I was on the website booking our ferry times. You use the WSDOT website to book your reservations.
Using the schedule, we figured out that we could go straight to Friday Harbor without other stops if we chose the 9:05 a.m. departure. It takes about an hour to travel on the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. If all were on schedule, we’d arrive a little after 10:00 a.m. ready to explore a little before our whale tour.
Boarding the Ferry From Anacortes
Early on our whale-watching day, we drove from Seattle to Anacortes and found ourselves in the boarding queue about an hour before departure. I’d printed out our tickets, and they scanned them with no problems. Everyone in the queue seemed to turn off the car and get out. We stepped outside to take a look around.
The ferry launch area of Anacortes is a beautiful place.
Before we knew it, the ferry arrived, so we returned to our car.
The boarding process is super easy; everyone is guided on where to go every step of the way.
They have the car-parking down to a science.
After your car is parked, you are welcome to move about the ferry.
Riding the Ferry
After the car is parked, you can join the walk-on passengers upstairs. There are nice places to have a seat.
There are also seats near the windows.
We saw some vending machines, but we didn’t use them on the way to Friday Harbor. We’d nibbled on snacks during the hour-and-a-half drive from Seattle.
We were excited to see what we could see, so we spent much of the ride on the outside decks.
It was a tad chilly, though, even in July.
We loved watching the water and scenery.
This area is gorgeous.
Arriving at Friday Harbor
Soon, we heard the announcement that we arriving at Friday Harbor, and we could return to our cars. Just as efficiently as we’d loaded, we disembarked and found ourselves on San Juan Island. We had some time before our whale tour, so we explored Friday Harbor and visited the Whale Museum. Below are links to two of our adventures on San Juan Island.
Leaving Friday Harbor and Returning to Anacortes
After our whale tour and a quick spin around the island, it was time to go back to the ferry launch. If you are not there at least 30 minutes before departure, you’ll be moved to the standby line. We missed the cut-off by 5 minutes, so that’s where we ended up. I was worried about getting a spot on the ferry, but it all turned out fine. So, if this happens to you, realize that it will probably work out since the island is small and there won’t be a mad rush for people to get to Anacortes.
Once we were parked on the ferry, we headed up to the passenger area again.
I was sleepy after a whale tour in the open air and exploring the island, so I didn’t spend as much time on the decks this time.
The light was beautiful, though.
Once we arrived back to Anacotes, we drove off the ferry, grabbed some fast-food for dinner, and drove back to Seattle. If you’re wondering if you should take a trip to San Juan Islands while you’re in the Seattle area, I’d definitely recommend it! The whale-watching tour was a highlight of our trip, and the island is lovely. Again, I’d recommend staying a night on the island if you have the time. It would have been less hectic if we’d done that, but we didn’t know what to expect. Also, there are some cute restaurants in Friday Harbor. I would’ve loved to have time for dinner on the island.
Give San Juan Island a go. It’s a truly beautiful place!