Of the four San Juan Islands reachable by ferry, San Juan Island is my favorite car-free family getaway for its dozens of restaurants and great lodgings, most within walking distance of the ferry dock.
Thanks to the tourist-friendly town of Friday Harbor, San Juan Island is usually quite crowded in summer. No reservations? Wait until fall. If ever there was a Northwest weekend destination to save for the off-season, it would be San Juan Island. The small island towns and pastoral landscapes of San Juan Island possess unique charms in the cooler months, not the least of which is very few tourists. Come November, ferry lines shrink to a trickle and inn vacancy is plentiful. You’ll also be able to find great off-season rates. And perhaps most importantly, with a little luck you can escape the endless drizzle here–the Olympic mountains create a “rainshadow” effect for the islands.
STAY: Book a room or suite with kitchenette at Earthbox Inn downtown Friday Harbor ($150-$250 per night). This refurbished motor inn not only has an onsite spa and indoor pool, their jewel-toned pedal cruisers are complimentary for guests to take for a spin around town. Read reviews | Book a room.
EAT: Stop in at Van Go’s Pizza for delicious thin-crust pizzas the whole family will love, from good ol’ pepperoni to prosciutto & pear.Overlooking the harbor near the ferry landing is Downriggers, where entrees range from local seafood to chicken tenders and kids will love watching the boats come in and out of the harbor. For an affordable lunch or dinner try inspired Mexican fare like chipotle red snapper tacos, coffee-braised pork tacos or kale and cheese empanadas at Pablito’s Taqueria.
DO: Take a hike! Kids will love exploring the tidepools and interpretive nature trails at San Juan Island National Historical Park. On the island’s west shore, Lime Kiln State Park is known as a great spot to see passing orca whales (more plentiful in summer), but it also boasts 1.6 miles of hiking trails through a hillside forested with madrona trees. Kids will learn all about the amazing orcas at The Whale Museum (open daily 10am-5pm, admission $3-$6, kids under 5 free).