From sampling scratch-made goods and sea-to-table cuisine to taking a leisurely sail and visiting artists while they work, a customized itinerary lets you experience the best of island culture at your pace.
Two-hundred and forty-seven days a year with sunshine and half the rain of Seattle or Portland is an easy guess to why hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the San Juan Islands annually. Tucked in between the Washington mainland and Vancouver Island, the only way to access this northwest archipelago, made up of 172 named islands and reefs, is by sea or water. Which is all part of the adventure that makes up the Salish Sea culture.
Offering a temperate year-round climate, the San Juan Islands are a welcome oasis to the outdoor enthusiast, art purveyor, and inquisitive gourmand. It’s one of those places that quite literally has something for everyone.
One thing’s for sure—there’s no shortage of where to stay and play on the Islands. And the best way to maximize your experience is to utilize a local travel concierge service like The Isla Vida Group, founded by two resident islanders, Taryn Hall and Sarah Shaefer.
Taryn and Sarah offer customized itineraries specializing in farm-to-table cuisine, local art tours and the best beachcombing spots on the 375 miles of shoreline—more than any other county in the United States.
Two of the most requested destinations are Orcas and Lopez Island, which each offer a variety of inviting hamlets distinct with their own list of attractions.
Kathryn Taylor Chocolates
Located in Eastsound, this sweet shop crafts handmade chocolates daily with locally-sourced ingredients from organic farms and orchards. Using their combined experience as an Executive Chef and chocolatier apprentice, Ted and Susan Aspinall created Kathryn Taylor Chocolates as a legacy to their daughter, one seasonally-inspired bonbon at a time.
My Favorite: The Fleur de Sel Caramels, featuring a coveted family recipe!
Brown Bear Baking
If the line out the door didn’t tell you this bakery’s goods are worth the wait, the fragrant scent of sticky buns and homemade granola wafting down Main Street certainly will. Owned and operated by husband-duo, David Ellertsen and Lee Hirswill, Brown Bear is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner—sharing a menu fresh out of the oven.
My Favorite: Pain aux Chocolat.
To get a taste of the artist’s culture on Orcas Island, pay a visit to Material Wit and meet minimalist jewelry designer Jessie Morrow. Learn how she finds inspiration on the beach creating pieces cast from pebbles. You may even get the chance to see her work!
My Favorite: The delicate ripple bracelets, especially if you get lucky and catch Jessie working on a piece.
Not your average gas station—this corner store helps you fill up your tank and your belly. Their impressive selection of curated wine and local snacks is perfect for a picnic.
My Favorite: The large selection of organic wine.
Moran State Park
Hike, cycle or drive to the top of Mount Constitution to soak in the majestic views of the San Juan Islands. The 5,000-plus acre park offers a variety of campsites, freshwater lakes, and trails.
My Favorite: Cascade Falls. It’s a short hike with a big reward.
Buck Bay Shellfish Farm Tour
Established in the early 1940s, Buck Bay is a third-generation family farm. It’s run by husband-wife duo, Mark Sawyer and Toni Knudson. The sea-side estate has some of the best fresh oysters on the islands. During the summer months, their onsite seafood store allows you to pick up fresh crab, oysters, clams, and smoked salmon. Or better yet, stick around for a lesson in oyster shucking.
My Favorite: A fresh oyster with just a small squeeze of lime juice.
Not open to the public, a tour through Island Thyme’s farm and workshop is a rare treat. This organic operation harnesses the essence of the islands in its botanically-based skin and body care collection. Made in small batches in the apothecary studio, it uses fresh ingredients grown on the farm.
My Favorite: The rejuvenation toner, especially after a day of exploring the island!
This PNW lifestyle boutique has an exceptional selection of unique gifts and comfortable women’s designer wear—including pieces created by Nicole Kraayeveld, who founded the shop with her husband Jason in 2016.
My Favorite: I couldn’t resist scoring a Northwest-themed sweatshirt!
A Massage by the Sea
For an indulgent afternoon of self-care, this local spa offers everything from hot stone massages to Balinese foot baths. Alternatively, bring along the family to learn, play and relax using chimes, gongs, singing bowls and tuning forks.
My Favorite: Harmonics Sound Therapy, a unique relaxation technique that uses calibrated tuning forks and singing bowls
Doe Bay Wine Co.
For the perfect glass of wine, beer or cider, you’ll find nothing but surprise and delight at this Eastsound store. Offering a selection from around the world, owners Cole and Stephanie Sisson provide a range of services including onsite sommelier, private classes, cellar management, pairing events and tastings, along with their own production of wines under “The Orcas Project,” featuring local winemakers and label artists.
My Favorite: The nightly Wine Experience (offered July 1 through Sept. 30). Tasting flights change nightly, focusing on a theme or specific region. Throughout the experience, guests are treated to unpretentious, yet expert insight.
New Leaf Cafe
Inside the Outlook Inn, Chef Steve Debaste French-inspired cuisine is elegant island dining that lives up to the café’s commitment to “honest and unpretentious” food. The ambiance is warm and inviting, bustling with locals and tourists alike. Plates are filled carefully to the brim—providing the ultimate culinary comfort. The octopus carpaccio and seared scallops in a fresh tarragon beurre blanc are well-known favorites.
My Favorite: The grilled halibut with local field greens. And, you can’t go wrong with the shoestring truffle fries.
For an authentic island nightcap, you’ll love this cozy craft bar and restaurant where custom cocktails and elixirs are created and mixed on the spot. The regularly changing menu features house-infused spirits and locally-brewed beers. Daily specials are often created while the staff prepares to open. And, the jovial vibe promotes mingling with new friends.
My Favorite: The bartender’s creation! Simply tell them your liquor of choice and desired flavor profile (such as sweet, savory or spicy). Then, wait for your personalized cocktail!
This modern American cafe, bakery, and shop share the same holistic vision for products and menu development as many of its island sisters. Focusing on nourishment over convenience, Rose’s is a place to linger over a good meal and talk with friends. One of their most loved specialties are the poached eggs on a potato nest with free-range organic eggs sourced from a local farm.
My Favorite: Poached eggs and greens, which offers a delectable and healthy start to a day exploring.
There are few things quite like being out on the open water, sailing past rocky inlets, and tree-covered hillsides. It’s the perfect place to enjoy everything from quiet moments of solitude to celebratory toasts. And, that’s exactly what the Kruger family offers aboard Winkapew, their 1972 C&C 61′ Ketch. Trips tailored to your group can range from day tours and sunset cruises to long-weekend adventures and surf and stand up paddleboard excursions.
My Favorite: Sitting beside the helm, talking with friends and the crew while soaking in the view.
Lodging: SeaStar Lofts
For the ultimate “beachy elegance” book one of the four apartments at the SeaStar Lofts with a private patio overlooking the shores of the San Juan Islands, in the heart of Eastsound Village.
My Favorite: The view. This cute little one bedroom is tucked at the edge of Fishing Bay and the quaint patio is perfect for relaxing with your morning coffee.
It all started with a love for kimchi and a desire to share his fermented vegetables with the rest of Lopez. Luckily for us, chef Josh Ratza’s ‘hobby’ quickly became an island sensation. The former potter put his molding skills to work, turning out homemade ramen and udon noodles so toothsome they make a lady slurp like a sailor.
My Favorite: The udon noodles. If they’d let me, I would have taken an entire batch home!
Studio 45 Glass
Witness glassblowing demonstrations and shop the gallery for an authentic Lopez memento.
My Favorite: Seeing the artists in action, molding the molten glass with all manner of tools.
A commitment to hyper-local cuisine and exquisite flavors quickly made this Lopez restaurant a dining destination. Opened in 2017 by chef Nick Coffey and his wife Nova Askue, Ursa Minor’s seasonally evolving menu is based off their partnership with local farmers, fisherman, and foragers. The dining room offers the warmth and elegance of a French farmhouse, while the dishes arrive so artfully plated they seem (almost) too beautiful to eat. Fare served in small plate fashion are meant to be shared—a good thing with so many incredible choices. The chicken, an exquisite roulade with crispy skin, has become so beloved Nick and Nova hesitate to take it off the menu. However, this doesn’t keep them from flexing their creative genius as salmon is paired with nettles and lamb with fennel and yogurt.
My Favorite: Snap peas with morels and a cured egg yolk. Plus, the wood-fired sourdough and toasted yeast butter are so wonderful I tried to take a loaf home!
Holly B’s Bakery
A Lopez Island sweet spot, this beloved bakery still embodies the theme, ‘In Love & Butter,’ more than 40 years later. Even when Holly B retired, the current owners Stephanie and Rory Smith maintained the legacy—meticulously following the bakery’s tried and true menu classics, like their world famous cinnamon roll and almond butter horns. Stephanie has also introduced a few new items, like a savory Reuben Roll stuffed with pastrami and local sauerkraut.
My Favorite: The cinnamon roll. Not too sweet and utterly tender.
Lodging: Harvey’s Airbnb
Nestled at the middle of the island, this newly refurbished Airbnb is within walking distance of the beach and just short drive to town. It offers plenty of room to share with family, allowing up to nine guests in three bedrooms. Plus, the house is fully stocked with amenities, allowing you to focus on relaxing and enjoying your island time.
My Favorite: The open great room. Perfect for groups and families, the large space spills out onto a deck and features stunning waterfront views.
How’s a Customized Itinerary Work?
Craving a quiet respite? In need of an active adventure? Want to indulge in all the seafood? Taryn and Sarah from The Isla Vida Group get to know your unique travel style. Then, they use their island expertise and local connections to create a San Juan Islands itinerary just for you.
More Fun Things to do in the San Juans
Studio Potter, Penny Sharp Sky, creates beautiful and functional pieces that inspire you to host a dinner party – just to show them off.
If you’re San Juan bound, don’t miss your chance to snap a selfie by these epic lookouts, historic sites, and cute creatures!
Doe Bay Wine Co. sits at the heart of Eastsound, tucked behind Monkey Puzzle and Clever Cow Creamery. Like the whirlwind love story of the shop’s founders, this quaint libation destination has a knack for drawing you in and bringing you back for more.
247 average days with sunshine, a reputation for wholesome fun, and more than 6 places to get freshly made pastries all make Friday Harbor is the ultimate kid-friendly getaway destination that the whole family will love.
Doe Bay on Orcas Island has long been known for its unique laid-back vibe. But this idyllic destination is as equally prized for its unpretentious, seed-to-table cuisine.
With the sun on your face and two wheels at your command, San Juan Island is yours to explore – as fast or as slow as one of Susie’s Mopeds will take you.
Windswept grasslands and breathtaking views make the southernmost tip of San Juan Island the perfect location for a day hike.