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Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands

  • Written by David B. Clark

A map of the Salish Sea can look like the early phases of a Jackson Pollock painting. With the blue of the water set as a canvas, a scattering of seemingly unconnected islands acts as paint blotches. Yet, nestled northeast, as close to Canadian waters as you can get while staying stateside, is the collection of San Juan Islands.

Getting to the San Juan Islands can be remarkably difficult during the summer. Drawn by the almost definite months of unaccustomed sunshine, tourists and locals both scurry from the mainland inevitably jamming busy ferry lines.
Yet, there’s a clear cut and quick way north that nixes the chaos and saves money and time while offering a truly unique experience. In lieu of rolling around to Anacortes and waiting hours to hopefully snag a spot for your vehicle, passengers can hop on Clipper Vacations’ catamaran from Seattle that will land you directly in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands major hub and jumping point for endless activities. Additionally, Clipper offers package deals providing accommodations through three partners: Friday Harbor Suites, Earthbox Inn & Spa, and Friday Harbor House. Leave the car at home and enjoy a break from the headache-inducing traffic.

Camping is another phenomenal option that can help cut the cost and highly enhance your experience. Several different campgrounds and county parks provide camp sites. Some even provide a teepee or other accommodations. Bring your own tent and you can pay as low as $40 with a reservation beforehand. The San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau can provide you with invaluable resources and are amazingly courteous and helpful. (VisitSanJuans.com)
Clipper Vacations provides this stellar transportation daily until September 9. For travelers that are keener on beating the crowds and the heat, the Clipper offers weekend departures from Seattle: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, September 14 through October 14. All departures from Seattle set sail at a firm 8:15a.m. and arrive in Friday Harbor at 11:45a.m. The trip up to the islands is glorious itself but Clipper also offers a Whale Watching and Sealife Search all summer long that allows for attendees to spend a long day out on the water with opportunities to spot orcas, humpback whales, and bald eagles among countless other aquatic and airborne animals.

Friday Harbor is also the host to the first ever whale museum dedicated to whales living in the wild. The Whale Museum (whalemuseum.org) promotes stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea through research and education. This institution is involved in the protection and study of the Southern Resident orcas that are endangered. These magnificent creatures spend 4-7 months annually in the surrounding waters and are one of the best studied populations of orcas in the entire world. This museum allows you an up-close look at the bones of the extremely intelligent whales that live in the area. Through interactive exhibits, guests can learn why plastic is such a horrific problem for aquatic life, how to participate in low-impact whale watching like land-based viewing and kayak tours, and where on the island they can promote responsible tourism. With accommodation, recreation, and education accounted for, it will certainly be time to dine.

San Juan County has 408 miles of marine shoreline; more than any other county in the United States. Adventurers can make it to Lopez or Orcas Islands easily, but when arriving in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the most populated island, eating options are aplenty. The biggest town boasts a brewery (sanjuanbrew.com) and countless restaurants that are hyper-focused on locally sourced ingredients. Cask & Schooner (caskandschooner.com) is an exceptional public house and eatery that procures their ingredients from over 15 San Juan Islands providers. The rustic restaurant proudly states, “As a proud member of the Island Grown program, we want to encourage a sustainable future by supporting the agricultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the use of local foods.” The Dungeness Crab risotto and local Bangers & Mash are stapled favorites.

There are no traffic lights anywhere on the islands. No one honks, everyone floats along on “island time” and enjoys the stunning views and easygoing atmosphere. When families, couples, and courageous thrill seekers all look for their next summer adventure out of the city, they won’t have to travel far or spend much to experience something truly unique, special, and quintessentially Pacific Northwest.

While prices fluctuate depending on the day and time of year, roundtrip tickets for adults to Friday Harbor are never over $97.50. Coupled with Clipper’s Whale Watching and Sealife Search the total’s ceiling is $138.50. Please visit clippervacations.com/seattle-san-juan-island-ferry for more info on package deals, including accommodation.

For other camping accommodation please visit: visitsanjuans.com/members/san-juan-county-parks-camping

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