An iconic Pacific Northwest archipelago known for breathtaking landscapes and wildlife; the San Juan islands are like no other. As the noise, pollution, and animosity of urban life drift away by boat or plane, individuals can find peace within each of the distinct San Juan Islands. Native flora & fauna roam free in pristine comfort alongside island residents ranked nationally for quality of life and both physical and mental health. While the archipelago encompasses over 100 islands and reefs, today we will be delving into the unique features of each of the four largest islands.
Shaw Island is the smallest of the four, with a land area of about 20 square kilometers and a year-round population of around 200 islanders. Shaw is beloved by locals as the quaintest and most private of the four, offering a small county park, general store, library & museum, and a timeless community. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Holy Island’, a local order of nuns once diligently operated the island's ferry landing for over 27 years, welcoming tourists, high-profile residents, and faithful islanders alike. Whether permanent or temporary, if you are looking for unparalleled privacy, Shaw Island is the place for you.
Lopez Island is the third largest of the islands, with a land area of around 48 square kilometers and a year-round population of 3,000 islanders give or take. Lopez Island provides the same quaint charm as its neighboring island Shaw, but provides a variety of activities, shops, and food. Given its flat topography, Lopez is arguably the most bicycle friendly! Its unique landscape also allows for a number of beginner-friendly hikes: Point Colville is a charming forested walk away from stunning views and Watmough Bay, a secluded beach on the southeastern part of the island. Spencer Spit State Park features a rare saltwater lagoon, camping, and water activities. Lopez also yields numerous county parks for patrons to relax and take in the serene landscape of the island. After a day of adventuring, Lopez Village offers hungry travelers a variety of options. The Islander Bar & Grill is a local treasure, featuring live music, crafted cocktails, and fine waterfront dining since 1852. Haven Kitchen & Bar is a brand new restaurant nestled in the heart of Lopez Village, offering outdoor seating to soak in ocean views. The Lopez Village Market has been serving the island since 1965, delivering its patrons quality within every department. With its mix of quaint charm, active experiences, and quality local sustenance, Lopez Island holds its own special place within the archipelago.
San Juan Island is the second largest of the islands with an area of 142 square kilometers, and the most populous with over 9,000 year-round residents. Arrival via Washington State Ferry unloads patrons onto the bustling streets of the town of Friday Harbor, the major commercial center of the San Juan Islands. The town welcomes all island foodies with exquisite options ranging from Downriggers waterfront dining to the cozy and industrial atmosphere of San Juan Island Brewing Company, check out the dining full list here. Scour for local island treasures along the humming avenues from locally made clothing and souvenirs, to fine art, books, and a beloved candy store and ice cream shop. Also made up of relatively flat topography, the hiking trails and beach walks are beautiful and abundant! Young Hill Trailhead offers sweeping views of the neighboring harbor, Vancouver Island, and the historic English Camp. Lime Kiln Point State Park is the prime spot for whale and bird watching from atop its rocky cliffs or the iconic Lime Kiln lighthouse established in 1914. Roche Harbor, located on the northwest side of the island, is absolutely worth the drive; boasting rich island history, exquisite dining, an extensive trail system and its distinctive atmosphere. For a more vibrant lifestyle, San Juan Island combines striking natural beauty with a lively social charm.
Orcas Island is the largest of the archipelago at 148 square kilometers with a year-round population of 5,000. This horseshoe-shaped island is referred to by visitors and locals alike as “the gem of San Juans”, and for good reason. Steps off the Washington State Ferry, patrons are greeted by the Orcas Village Store and the Orcas Hotel, locally cherished for their family owned and produced charm. A 20 minute scenic commute lands you in the heart of the island, the Eastsound village. Stop for a coffee or fresh baked specialty at Olga Rising, and stroll across the street to the endearing book and gift store of Darvills. Wander along the beaches of Crescent and Eastsound Waterfront, and depending on the tides, take the gooey-duck spotted sand bridge to Indian Island. Enjoy waterfront dining and drinks at the White Horse Pub, settle into the comfort and delight of Mijitas Mexican Kitchen or pick your own favorite from the village's list of local and delicious options. The topography of the island is the most diverse out of the four, creating the perfect mix of oceanside and mountain top views for all. Moran State Park is an explorer's wonderland, encompassing miles of woodland and lakeside hiking trails, campgrounds and swimming, boating and ice cream, and the unbeatable views of Mount Constitution. An hour drive from one end of the island to the other, pick your favorite community from the western boaters paradise of Deer Harbor to the remote allure of Doe Bay. For the best ratio of nature to community, the lifestyle on Orcas Island is nothing short of an islanders dream.
While some simply seek temporary retreat in our Pacific Northwest Paradise, others feel drawn to dig in their roots and become permanent island residence. Whether you’re “just visiting” or hoping to transform yourself into a full-time islander, come visit us for a tour of the idyllic Islands of San Juan at 217 Main Street on Orcas.