Island Blog

Springtime in the San Juans

Guest Blogger Lisette Wolter-McKinley and her family explore the delights of a restorative and colorful weekend on San Juan Island

Ferry Under Spring Clouds, Photography by Lisette Wolter-McKinley


Chasing the Sun

Let's face it Spring can be a finicky time of year and we could all use a little more sunshine in our lives. Many people do not realize this, but the San Juan Islands are located in the rain shadow which mean the Olympic Mountains acts as a wall to protect the San Juan Islands from the majority of the rain that moves into the Pacific Northwest. Spring on the islands is also a period of renewal where many businesses have reopened after taking a much deserved winter break. The farmers' market is brimming with fruits and vegetables and enough plants to encouraged even the brownest of thumbs to get a little dirt under their nails. Whale watching tours have started back up and are beginning to see more and more whale sightings by the day. If partaking in the local food scene is more your speed, the local restaurants do a fantastic job of serving up some of the freshest seafood and vegetables that you can find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. One things is for certain there is no shortage of things to do in this shoulder season.

Cattle Point Hiking, Photography by Lisette Wolter-McKinley


Springtime Travel Tips

If you are interested in sweeping landscapes, restorative walks, picturesque vistas, and the opportunity to learn something new then San Juan Island is a place which will surely delight your senses. In order to make the most of your time in the islands might I suggest you beat the rush and catch an early morning ferry. Once on the ferry pick up a local map and try your best to get your bearings. When I arrive to the islands on a Saturday morning my first stop is always the San Juan Island Farmers' Market. The farmer's market is truly the heart of the island and is the best place to rub shoulders with the locals and find out where all the interesting things are on the island. The farmer's market is where I first fell in love with barbecued oysters from Westcott Bay Shellfish and where I learned which kind of tomato plants will grow the easiest at my home in Seattle. 


Slow Down to Island Time

After meandering my way through the market I am heavy laden with delicious treats for an afternoon of exploring. I hop in my car and head south on the island to Cattle Point. I might stop for some roadside flowers or at one of the many farm stands which punctuate my journey. The beauty of being on "island time" is there is never any traffic or congestion to waylay me. When I am on San Juan Island pulling off the road to photograph a barn, say hello to a new baby cow or add my contribution to a farm's honor box are truly the punctuation marks of my visit. Over the years, I have found I can do all the planning I want, but it always ends up being the moments in between activities like getting the opportunity to drive a tractor at Heritage Farm or watching a fox cleverly stalk its prey at South Beach at American Camp, which make my time on the islands so memorable. There is no doubt enough tourist activities to keep you busy for a solid week, but those unplanned moments of driving down a new road, interacting with nature or locals which have created the fabric of my memories on the islands.


Head to the Source

Once at Cattle Point I make the short jaunt to the lighthouse and take in the sweeping views. Sailboats, fishing boats and seaplanes entertain me while I search the trees and horizon for bald eagles. After walking along the bluff I hop back in my car and drive to Pelindaba Lavender Farm to stock up on my two favorite treats to give my friends- lavender plants and lavender chocolate sauce. Although they have a store in Friday Harbor, it is always my preference to go the source. To see with my own eyes where things come from, how they are made and what inspired them to be created in the first place. After purchasing my goodies I wander the lavender fields checking for buzzing bees and any signs of purple. If you time your visit just right you can even participate in a farm tour by the owner and founder, Stephen Robins. 


Perfect Picnic Spots

As I continue working my way clockwise around the island I stop at San Juan County Park, a relatively small park on the west side of San Juan Island, but with a ton of diversity. If you did not know what you were looking for it might be easy to drive right pass this little gem. For a small park it has diverse terrain which includes rocky bluffs, a sandy beach overlooking Haro Strait, a small boat launch, picnic areas, camping areas and sweeping views of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island. This is the perfect spot for a late afternoon picnic, a great place to launch a kayak or a good spot to stretch your legs by embarking on one of its short trails.

After watching a heron wade knee deep through the water for an hour I am feeling refreshed and head back on the road headed north to check out Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm. Even though I tried a few barbecued oysters at the farmer's market earlier in the day there is nothing more invigorating for my own creativity than seeing someone in their element doing what they love. Westcott Bay Shellfish is a working farm, so head out onto the docks to get a better view of the action. If Erik or Sam are working on the docks pick their brains about exactly what they are doing. Just by spending a few minutes with these guys you will walk away a little more knowledgeable than when you arrived. Pick up a couple bags of oysters and you will be the talk of your friends at your next dinner party. 


Sunsets & Cocktails

Make certain to time your day just right and head back onto Roche Harbor Road to ultimately end up on the deck of the Madrona Bar and Grill. Be certain to get there with plenty of time to catch the sunset and partake in one of their amazing seafood entree or salads. As the sun sets on the horizon and the silhouettes of sailboats are your back drop for dinner you are reminded how you can feel a million miles away from home just by taking a short plane ride or one of the most breathtaking ferry rides in the world. End your day by day dreaming about all the fun you will have tomorrow with a leisurely brunch, a whale watching tour and maybe a little island hopping and that is just the first half of your day. 

Spring is one of all my favorite times of year to travel. Every where you look the flowers and trees are beginning to spring forth new life and you can almost envision the shackles of winter being removed.  When it is gray and raining in Seattle it is often clear and sunny in the San Juan Islands which makes it the perfect place for a springtime getaway.


Turtleback Farm Inn, Orcas Island

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