MLTJ Destination: San Juan Islands, Washington

The archipelago nestled between Washington’s coast and Canada’s Vancouver Island makes for a great nature escape.

Main Line native Derek Anderson had heard about the serene bits of land that comprise Washington’s San Juan Islands. Seeking a mixture of solitude from the buzzing world, a nature experience, and something tinged with romance, he and his wife set off for the West Coast to explore the region between the U.S. and Canada. Here, he shares his recommendations.

From left: orcas; Orcas Island

The Place Restaurant

The Place Restaurant & Bar

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About his trip: It’s not entirely straightforward to get to the San Juan Islands, but they are worth the visit. My wife and I flew from Philadelphia to Seattle, where we rented a car, driving up to Anacortes. We spent a night in the town, which is charming in a constant-flow-of-tourists way. The next day, we took one of the big car ferries from Anacortes to San Juan Island, where we spent four days enjoying the quiet atmosphere. The ferry ride through the sound is one of the most peaceful rides I’ve ever taken. After four days on San Juan Island, we took the ferry to Orcas Island, where we spent another four days, before returning home, refreshed and somewhat out of touch with technology.

His recommendations

Restaurants: On San Juan Island, we went to The Place Restaurant & Bar. It’s right on the harbor with lovely views of the ferries and boats coming and going. It had many couples and had a romantic vibe, plus the food was amazing. The local oysters were just right and the filet mignon was done perfectly. We also really liked Café Olga on Orcas Island. We stumbled on it by accident while out driving around, but it had a very cozy, quaint atmosphere and great seasonal salads.  


Roche Harbor

From Left: Roche Harbor; Rosario Resort & Spa

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Accommodations: We stayed at Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. Despite its name, it’s a really lovely spot and has a spa and good dining on property. The view over the water was also nice and the rooms were well appointed, plus the outdoor garden area was very pretty. On Orcas, we stayed in a somewhat quieter part, further from the harbor, at the Rosario Resort & Spa. It’s a little bit old, but it possesses elegance and incredible views.

Experience: There is surprisingly lots to do and we took advantage of hiking and biking trails. Moran State Park on Orcas has lots of trails. I’d definitely recommend going kayaking—those views are a dream—and whale watching. We went out with Deer Harbor Charters and were so lucky to get very close to a pod of, appropriately, orcas. San Juan Vineyards was also a nice little stop. They have a quaint shop and nice wines.

Something you won’t find in guidebooks: The Pelindaba Lavender Farm is a real gem. It’s free to visit and it smelled out of this world. It almost felt like being in Provence, France. We brought some oils and soaps home with us, as well.

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