About 100 miles north of Seattle, the San Juan Islands attract road-trippers with their dreamy seascapes and stunning mountain views near the Canadian border. The ferry system accesses just four of the 170 islands, and this itinerary focuses on the two largest — Orcas and San Juan — a route designated a Washington State Scenic Byway. This 1,000-acre archipelago, collectively protected as a national monument, sprawls within Puget Sound’s “banana belt” — a drier, sunnier pocket — making this an adventure you can enjoy anytime of the year, though some restaurants and hotels close during winter.
Day 1: Seattle to Orcas Island (23 miles by ferry, 95 by car)
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From Seattle, cruise 80 miles north on Interstate 5 and State Route 20 to Anacortes, where you’ll catch the ferry. But first, stop for a snack and leg-stretching stroll around this charming coastal community.
Fuel up at Adrift, in the compact city center, trying favorites like Dungeness crab cakes and the sesame-ginger stir-fry. Take in downtown’s 160-plus murals of residents, including a local legend: Bigfoot!
When you’re ready to catch the ferry, head 4 miles west on Route 20 to the terminal. Queue up early: The pandemic has disrupted sailings and also stopped service between the San Juans and Canada (Sidney, British Columbia). Weather permitting, spend the 50-minute trip to Orcas Island on deck, scanning for eagles and marine life.
Once you land, drive 8 miles north on Orcas Road to Eastsound, the island’s main town. If your lodging has a kitchen, watch for roadside pop-ups selling goodies such as freshly caught crab, as well as honesty stands with eggs, produce and even grass-fed lamb. (Be honorable and leave the requested amount of money!) Finish stocking up at the foodie-friendly Orcas Island Market in downtown Eastsound.
Where to stay: Rent one of the 21 cabins at the West Beach Resort, which also has tent and RV sites. For an ADA-accessible room, opt for the Rosario Resort & Spa, a 1909 grand dame on the National Register of Historic Places. Check in for two nights.
Day 2: Exploring Orcas (34 miles)
Immerse in the island’s three pillars: art, nature and gourmet grub (that you can savor while wearing a fleece and jeans). Start by heading 13 miles southeast on Olga Road to Obstruction Pass State Park. Here, madrone trees stand sentinel — their leathery evergreen leaves create a striking contrast to paper peels of cinnamon-colored bark. Two miles of hiking trails descend rocky cliffs to one of the island’s rare public beaches. The ocean bathes multicolored pebbles in this lovely and tranquil spot, which also has 10 first-come-first-served campsites.