From kayaking with orcas to hiking up mountain trails that offer jaw-dropping vistas, the best things to do in the San Juan Islands are as diverse as they are captivating. Read on to discover the activities, sights, and attractions that will turn your San Juan Islands trip into the vacation of a lifetime.
The San Juan Islands—a dreamy archipelago that beckons travelers with its sapphire waters, lush landscapes, and a sense of adventure that’s hard to match. Nestled in the Pacific Northwest, just off the coast of Washington State, these islands are a paradise waiting to be explored. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history fan, or someone who just wants to kick back and soak up the serene vibes, the San Juan Islands have something for everyone.
Imagine waking up to the sound of waves gently lapping against the shore, the salty sea breeze filling the air. Picture yourself kayaking alongside playful orcas, hiking through dense forests, or simply enjoying a picnic with a view that looks like it’s straight out of a postcard. Yes, this is the kind of magic that awaits you here.
If you’re planning your next getaway and craving an experience that combines natural beauty, rich history, and a dash of adventure, look no further. Get ready to discover the best things to do in the San Juan Islands. Trust us, it’s a trip you won’t forget.
Eager to dive into the ultimate island adventure? The San Juan Islands are calling your name, offering a variety of experiences that go beyond the ordinary. From hidden cultural gems to jaw-dropping natural wonders, this is the place where your vacation dreams come to life.
Craving the buzz of local art scenes or the serenity of secluded beaches? No worries—our curated list of the best things to do in the San Juan Islands has got you covered. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a peace-seeker, we’ve rounded up the must-see attractions that will make your island escapade truly unforgettable.
If you’ve ever wondered what lies beneath the surface of the San Juan Islands’ crystal-clear waters, Rosario Beach is the place to find out. This popular diving spot is a gateway to an underwater world teeming with marine life, from colorful fish to intricate coral formations. The visibility is excellent, often extending up to 30 feet, making it a favorite among both novice and experienced divers.
The beach is part of Deception Pass State Park, one of the San Juan Islands attractions you won’t want to miss. Besides its underwater allure, the area is also perfect for picnics, with several tables and grills available for public use. So, after your diving adventure, you can enjoy a meal with a view of the ocean.
The coolest activities in the San Juan Islands often involve getting up close and personal with nature, and Rosario Beach is no exception. Local diving schools offer courses and guided dives, ensuring a safe and educational experience. Whether you’re looking to get your diving certification or simply want a one-time adventure, Rosario Beach has options to suit your needs.
In terms of marine biodiversity, Rosario Beach stands out. You’ll encounter various species of fish, starfish, and even the occasional seal. It’s a vivid reminder of the ecological richness that makes the San Juan Islands so special.
Moran State Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise, offering some of the best places to go in the San Juan Islands for hiking. With over 38 miles of trails, you can choose from easy walks to challenging hikes that lead you to stunning viewpoints. One of the most popular trails is the 4-mile round trip to Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. From the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views that stretch as far as Canada on a clear day.
The park is also home to several lakes, including Mountain Lake and Cascade Lake, where you can go fishing or take a refreshing swim. These lakes are often less crowded than the beaches, providing a tranquil setting for relaxation or a picnic.
For those interested in bird-watching, Moran State Park is a haven. You’ll find a variety of species, from bald eagles to woodpeckers. This makes it one of the unique places in the San Juan Islands for nature observation. Guided tours are available for those who want to learn more about the local flora and fauna.
If you’re looking to camp, the park offers over 100 campsites, each with its own fire pit and picnic table. It’s an ideal way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the islands and make the most of your visit.
If the ocean calls to you, there’s no better way to answer than by embarking on a whale-watching tour. The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, particularly near Friday Harbor and Orcas Island, are among the best places in the world to see orcas in their natural habitat. These magnificent creatures are often spotted frolicking in the waves, offering an awe-inspiring spectacle that you won’t soon forget.
For those who are considering the best San Juan Islands things to do, whale watching should be high on the list. Experienced guides lead tours and share fascinating facts about orcas and other marine life. You might encounter humpback whales, minke whales, and even dolphins on these tours. The boats are equipped with hydrophones, allowing you to listen to the enchanting songs of the whales.
Adding a whale-watching tour to your itinerary is a must when visiting the San Juan Islands. Not only does it provide an opportunity to witness the grandeur of these marine giants, but it also offers a unique perspective of the islands themselves. As you sail through the waters, you’ll pass by scenic coastlines and hidden coves. This makes it a comprehensive experience of natural beauty and wildlife.
If you’re concerned about the ethical aspects of whale watching, rest assured that the tours adhere to responsible practices to minimize disturbance to the animals. This ensures a respectful and enriching experience for both you and the whales.
For history lovers and curious travelers alike, the San Juan Island National Historical Park is a must-see in the San Juan Islands. The park is divided into two main areas: American Camp and English Camp. These areas commemorate the peaceful resolution of the Pig War. It was a boundary dispute between the U.S. and Britain.
American Camp offers sweeping views of the ocean. It is home to the visitor center where you can learn about the history of the islands. English Camp, on the other hand, features well-preserved barracks and beautiful gardens. Both areas offer excellent hiking trails, so you can explore the natural beauty while soaking up some history.
One of the best things to do in the San Juan Islands is to join a guided tour at the park. These tours delve into the fascinating stories behind the Pig War and offer insights into the lives of the soldiers who were stationed here. You’ll also learn about the native Coast Salish people who originally inhabited the islands.
The park is also a great spot for bird-watching, with a variety of species often seen in the area. From bald eagles to songbirds, the diversity of avian life adds another layer to your visit.
If you’re looking for a unique and aromatic experience, Pelindaba Lavender Farm is a must-visit. This charming farm is a sea of purple blooms during the summer months, filling the air with a calming lavender scent. It’s a feast for the senses and one of the places in the San Juan Islands to visit that offers something different from the usual outdoor activities.
The farm features a variety of lavender-based products, from essential oils to culinary treats. One of the fun things to do in the San Juan Islands is to participate in a lavender cooking class at the farm. You’ll learn how to incorporate this fragrant herb into dishes and desserts, adding a unique twist to your culinary repertoire.
For those interested in the farming process, guided tours are available. You’ll get to see how lavender is harvested and processed, and even have the opportunity to pick your own bunch to take home. It’s an educational experience that provides a glimpse into sustainable farming practices.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm also hosts events throughout the year, including the annual Lavender Festival. The festival features live music, food stalls, and workshops. This makes it a vibrant celebration of all things lavender.
For an unparalleled view of the San Juan Islands, including San Juan Island itself, consider taking a San Juan Islands scenic flight tour. These tours offer a bird’s-eye perspective of the archipelago, showcasing its diverse landscapes—from rugged coastlines to lush forests. Pilots often provide commentary, pointing out landmarks and sharing tidbits about the islands’ history and ecology.
If you’re a photographer, this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss. The aerial views provide a unique backdrop for capturing stunning photos. This makes it a memorable addition to your trip. It’s also a great way to get a sense of the islands’ layout, especially if you’re visiting for the first time.
One of the coolest things to do in the San Juan Islands, a scenic flight tour offers more than just stunning views. Many operators offer customizable experiences, allowing you to combine your flight with other activities like whale watching or island hopping. It’s a versatile option that caters to a range of interests.
For those who consider it the best thing to do in the San Juan Islands, the experience is often described as transformative. The sheer beauty and scale of the islands become even more apparent from above, deepening your appreciation for this unique destination.
For an ethereal adventure, consider kayaking through the bioluminescent waters around the San Juan Islands. As you paddle, the water sparkles with a magical glow, thanks to bioluminescent plankton. This natural light show is not just beautiful; it’s downright mesmerizing.
Popular spots for this experience include Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor. Both are known for their calm waters and high concentrations of bioluminescent organisms. Local operators like San Juan Outfitters and Discovery Sea Kayaks offer guided tours, providing all the equipment you’ll need.
Adding this to your list of best things to do in the San Juan Islands is a no-brainer. The phenomenon is most vivid on moonless nights, so timing is crucial. Tours often include an educational component, where guides explain the science behind the bioluminescence. This makes it a learning experience as well.
Bioluminescent kayaking is a unique thing to do in the San Juan Islands, blending adventure with natural wonder. For eco-conscious travelers, these tours are designed to minimize environmental impact, using kayaks that don’t disturb the delicate plankton.
Cattle Point offers an adventure that’s both educational and fascinating, especially if you’re keen on marine biology. The area is a treasure trove of tide pools, home to starfish, sea anemones, and crabs. This makes it a top San Juan Islands attraction for families and anyone interested in ocean life.
The tide pools are near the Cattle Point Lighthouse, making them easy to access. Families often find this a rewarding outing, as there’s always something new to learn. Local experts sometimes conduct tide pool tours, offering valuable insights into the marine creatures you’ll see.
Exploring tide pools at Cattle Point is among the enriching activities in the San Juan Islands. It goes beyond mere observation; you gain an understanding of marine ecosystems. Bird-watching is another popular activity here, giving you more reasons to visit.
Timing is crucial for the best experience. Check tide charts before your visit, as low tide offers the most vibrant display of marine life. Is this among the top things to do in San Juan Islands? 100%!
For those who love to hike, Mount Constitution offers an experience that combines physical challenges with breathtaking views. As the highest point in the San Juan Islands, it’s a must-see in the San Juan Islands for anyone looking to capture the archipelago’s beauty in one sweeping gaze.
The hike to the summit is about 6.7 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. Along the way, you’ll pass through lush forests, encounter local wildlife, and cross several streams. The trail is well-marked, but it’s always a good idea to carry a map or use a GPS device for navigation.
Reaching the summit is often described as the best thing to do in the San Juan Islands by those who’ve made the trek. Once at the top, you’re rewarded with panoramic views that stretch across the islands and even as far as mainland Washington. It’s a moment that captures the essence of the San Juan Islands, making all the effort worthwhile.
For a different experience, consider visiting during different seasons. The landscape changes dramatically, offering a new perspective each time. In winter, the trails are less crowded, and the summit occasionally gets a dusting of snow.
A sunset cruise in the San Juan Islands offers a magical end to any day. As you glide over the calm waters, the sky transforms into a canvas of oranges, pinks, and purples. It’s an experience that captures the essence of island life. This makes it a popular choice for couples and families alike.
The cruises usually last about two to three hours, providing ample time to soak in the scenery. You’ll pass by iconic landmarks like Lime Kiln Point State Park and Orcas Island, offering excellent photo opportunities. Some cruises even include a gourmet dinner, adding a touch of luxury to the experience.
For many, this is one of the best things to do in the San Juan Islands, especially if you’re looking to unwind and take in the natural beauty. Local operators like San Juan Excursions and Mystic Sea Charters offer a variety of options, from private charters to group tours.
A sunset cruise should be high on your list if you’re considering activities in the San Juan Islands. It’s a chance to see the islands from a different perspective, and the tranquil setting makes it an ideal way to relax and reflect.
Eastsound Village, located on Orcas Island, is a hub of local culture and a must-see in the San Juan Islands. With its charming boutiques, art galleries, and cafes, it offers a slice of island life that’s both relaxed and vibrant.
The village is compact enough to explore on foot, making it easy to hop from one attraction to another. Don’t miss the Orcas Island Historical Museum, where you can delve into the island’s past. For those with a sweet tooth, Brown Bear Baking is a must-visit for its mouthwatering pastries.
Among the best places in the San Juan Islands, Eastsound stands out for its community atmosphere. Regular events like the Eastsound Art Walk and the Orcas Island Farmers Market offer a glimpse into local life, making your visit more than just a sightseeing tour.
If you’re into outdoor activities, Eastsound also serves as a gateway to nearby hiking trails and water sports. Whether you’re interested in history, food, or the arts, Eastsound Village has something for everyone.
Doe Bay Hot Springs, located on Orcas Island, offers a serene escape for those looking to relax and rejuvenate. It’s a unique place in the San Juan Islands where natural hot springs meet the cool ocean air, creating an atmosphere of pure tranquility.
The hot springs consist of several soaking tubs and a sauna, all overlooking the beautiful Doe Bay. The facility also offers spa services like massages and facials, elevating your relaxation to the next level. It’s an adult-only space, ensuring a peaceful experience.
For many, a visit to Doe Bay Hot Springs ranks as the best thing to do in the San Juan Islands when it comes to relaxation. The setting is intimate, allowing you to truly disconnect and focus on well-being.
If you’re staying overnight, Doe Bay offers a range of accommodations, from camping to more luxurious options. It’s a destination that caters to different tastes and budgets, making this best thing to do on the San Juan Islands accessible for everyone.
Searching for insider tips on the best things to do in the San Juan Islands? Dive into these frequently asked questions that I’ve answered to help you craft the perfect island itinerary.
The San Juan Islands are a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and local culture. From hiking the trails of Mount Constitution to kayaking through bioluminescent waters, the islands offer a wide range of experiences that are hard to find elsewhere.
What do people do on San Juan Islands?
The San Juan Islands, located off the northwest coast of Washington State, are a popular destination for both relaxation and outdoor activities. Here’s what people typically do when they visit the San Juan Islands:
- Whale Watching: The waters around the islands are one of the best places to spot orcas. There are many tours available that offer the chance to see these magnificent creatures, as well as humpback whales, gray whales, and minke whales.
- Kayaking: Paddle around the islands’ sheltered bays and harbors, exploring the coastline and enjoying the serene environment.
- Hiking: There are numerous trails on the islands, ranging from easy walks to more challenging hikes, all offering stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.
- Biking: The islands’ quiet roads and scenic routes make it a popular destination for cyclists.
- Visit Historical Sites: Explore English Camp and American Camp, remnants of the 19th-century “Pig War” standoff between British and U.S. troops.
- Fishing: The waters around the islands are rich in salmon, halibut, and other fish, making it a popular spot for anglers.
- Boating and Sailing: The calm waters and numerous harbors and bays make the San Juan Islands a boater’s paradise.
- Visit Local Farms: Many farms on the islands offer tours, allowing visitors to learn about local agriculture and even pick their own berries or buy fresh produce.
- Art and Culture: Explore local art galleries, studios, and museums. The islands have a vibrant arts community with many artists drawing inspiration from the region’s natural beauty.
Absolutely! The San Juan Islands offer a diverse range of activities and sights that cater to all types of travelers. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or someone looking to relax, you’ll find something that makes your trip worthwhile.
Orcas Island is often considered the best for walking due to its varied terrain. It features an extensive trail network, including the hike up to Mount Constitution. The island offers a mix of forested paths, coastal walks, and mountain trails, providing options for walkers of all levels.
The most common ways to reach the San Juan Islands are by ferry from Anacortes, Washington, or by seaplane from Seattle. Both options offer stunning views and a sense of adventure as you approach the islands.
The San Juan Islands are rich in wildlife, including orcas, humpback whales, bald eagles, and various species of seals. Wildlife tours are a popular way to get up close with these magnificent creatures.
How many days should I spend on San Juan Island?
The ideal duration for a visit to San Juan Island largely depends on your interests and how much you want to explore. However, for most visitors 3 to 4 days is a recommended duration for a trip to San Juan Island. Here’s a general breakdown of how I would spend my time there:
- Day 1: Arrive and get settled in. Explore Friday Harbor, the main town on the island, with its shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visit the Whale Museum to learn about the orcas that frequent the surrounding waters.
- Day 2: Dedicate this day to outdoor activities. Go on a whale-watching tour, rent kayaks, or explore some of the island’s hiking trails. Lime Kiln Point State Park is a great spot for both hiking and whale watching from the shore.
- Day 3: Delve into the island’s history by visiting sites like English Camp and American Camp. If you’re interested in agriculture, consider touring some of the local farms or lavender fields. End the day with a relaxing evening at a local restaurant or cafe.
- Day 4: Use this day for any activities you might have missed or particularly enjoyed and want to revisit. This could also be a day for leisurely exploration, biking, or simply relaxing by the beach.
Yes, the San Juan Islands are a fantastic destination for families. With activities like tide pooling at Cattle Point, exploring Eastsound Village, and taking part in family-friendly hikes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
The San Juan Islands are a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. From the serene beauty of Doe Bay Hot Springs to the bustling charm of Eastsound Village, there’s something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a bit of both, you’ll find it here.
One of the most captivating aspects of the San Juan Islands is their versatility. You can spend your morning hiking up Mount Constitution, your afternoon kayaking alongside orcas, and your evening enjoying a sunset cruise. It’s this diversity of activities that makes the islands a must-visit destination.
If you’re planning a trip, our list of the best things to do in the San Juan Islands is a great place to start. Each activity offers a unique way to engage with the islands’ natural beauty and local culture!