Island Experience

10 Ways to Add Romance to Your Winter Getaway to the San Juan Islands

Quiet beaches, tranquil forests and fireside dining make the San Juans an easy way to decaffeinate and reconnect with nature

Storm at Deadman's Bay, San Juan Island, Photography by Kevin D. Holmes

Go storm-watching along rocky shorelines

Each island - Lopez, Orcas and San Juan - have some of the most beautiful beaches in the northwest - and some of them are amazing places to watch big waves and feel the salt spray on your face. In the San Juan Island National Historical Park, South Beach's two-mile long strand scattered with old-growth driftwood is a favorite of storm-watchers who love to watch the waves roll in. At Lime Kiln Point State Park, the rocky waterfront sends huge waves spraying high along the shoreline, with a historic lighthouse flashing a warning to passing ships since 1919, with electricity operating the light since 1962. On Orcas, sit on the cliffs above Point Doughty State Park or Obstruction Pass State Park to see the waves crash on the beach.

Hike and bike a quiet forest

Only in winter, you can mountain bike in Moran State Park. In the summer, the trails are reserved for hikers, but in winter, the park is silent and tranquil, and you can ride the wide, soft pathways and steep, windy trails among old-growth cedar and Douglas fir. Hiking is great here, too, and you may have the four-mile trail around peaceful Mountain Lake to yourself. On Lopez, hike the rocky outcroppings of Chadwick Hill, the open prairie of Iceberg Point or the pebbled beaches of Spencer Spit State Park. On San Juan Island, the newly opened Mount Grant has both trails and a road to the top to see stunning views of the San Juan Islands.

Give a gift of local flavor

The shelves of island shops and farmers markets are stuffed with products made with love by local producers. Delicious preserves made from heritage orchard-grown fruit by Girl Meets Dirt, such as Pear Balsamic or Italian Prune with Anise Hyssop Spoon Preserves; or Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam from Red Rabbit Farm, may make you buy a case to stockpile this delectable harvest. Pelindaba Lavender Farm creates more than 250 products made right at the farm from the lavender cultivated there, from Lavender Balsamic Vinegar to Lavender Rooibos Tea to lotions and dog biscuits. You can find many of these products at the San Juan Island Food Co-op, the Orcas Island Food Co-op, and Blossom Grocery on Lopez Island.

Indulge in chocolate and espresso treats

Chocolate and coffee are two passions many islanders share, and you can find them in many forms. At Kathryn Taylor Chocolates on Orcas Island, chocolatier Susan Aspinall creates rich, delicately flavored (and award-winning) truffles using island-grown herbs and fruits. Try Ginger Plum with Italian Prune Plums from Emily's Orchard in West Sound, or Rosemary Caramel with rosemary from Red Wing Farm in Crow Valley. Their drinking chocolate - especially when infused with Mexican spices - is a truly special treat. Brown Bear Bakery in Eastsound features their popular chocolate muffin, full of, yes, chocolate chips - not to mention, house made chocolate croissants. On San Juan Island, the perfect ending to an amazing Italian-inspired meal is the affogato at Coho Restaurant, try a scoop of cherry ice cream with a shot of Amaretto and a demi-tasse of espresso to mix and match as you wish. On Lopez Island, check out the brownie at Vortex Juice Bar & Cafe, and fine espresso at Isabel's Espresso.

Savor Island-Grown foods

After a long day of hiking, biking, shopping or browsing art galleries, museums or bookstores, a gourmet dinner or glass of wine is on the menu. Each island has their own collection of great dining options, where you can grab a burger, enjoy a bowl of steamed clams or fish and chips, or tuck into a steak. Check out dining establishments on Orcas Island, Lopez Island and San Juan Island/Friday Harbor.

Discover the allure of island history

Drizzly days are perfect for stepping back in time to early history of the native people who first inhabited the islands of the Salish Sea, and later Europeans, Asians and Hawaiians that developed the agriculture, logging and fishing and tourism industries in the islands. The Orcas Island Historical Museum is built of 6 original settlers cabins, dissembled and reassembled in Eastsound. The Lopez Island Historical Museum has a great collection of historical photographs and farming implements. The San Juan Island Historical Museum has a new Museum of History and Industry focusing on fishing, farming, logging and limestone.

Browse galleries and shops for inspiration

On islands full of artists, you are bound to find a hundred "perfect gifts". Take time to browse, and you'll find  one-of-a-kind pieces with an incredible range of materials and techniques. A range of galleries on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan support hundreds of local and regional artists who produce amazing work in ood, glass, metal, fabric, stone and more. You can see beautiful Arctic and Northwest Coast Native work at Arctic Raven Gallery in Friday Harbor, paintings and prints at Chimera Gallery on Lopez Island, or pottery made at Orcas Island Pottery, one of the oldest potteries on the West Coast.

Love the local liquid arts

With an agricultural past as rich in fruit production as the San Juan Islands has, it is surprising there aren't more wineries, cideries and distilleries in production. The reasons for that are complex including the completion of the railway and irrigation in Yakima Valley, Prohibition in the 1930s, the rise of the islands as a draw for tourism more than industry in the 1950s onward. But with the resurgence of craft beverages, from cider to gins, ales and even bitters, the islands are slowly but surely tapping into their rightful heritage as a top-notch region for our beloved beverages. San Juan Island Distillery is winning awards left and right for their island-foraged botanical-based gins, apple liqueurs and ciders. Lopez Island Vineyard and Winery has been growing and producing organic wine for more than 20 years. San Juan Vineyards has award-winning estate wines to try at their historic school-house tasting room just a few miles from Friday Harbor. Find out more on our Local Liquid Arts Itinerary.

Luxuriate in a couples massage

Many beautiful spas in the San Juans offer a relaxing respite from your day-to-day stress, where you can get a mani-pedi, healing stones treatment, nourishing body wraps, facials - and for a couple's getaway, a massage for two. On Orcas,  A Massage by the Sea in the heart of Eastsound has a lovely suite for romantic couples or duet massages.  Rosario Resort & Spa offers couples massages in the historic rooms of the Moran Mansion, overlooking the water. At Roche Harbor Resort's Afterglow Spa on San Juan Island, sink into a eucalyptus bath for two followed by a side-by-side massage.

Sleep in a cozy hideaway

In winter, your room choices go up, and their rates go down. The larger hotels lower their rates, and although some small bed and breakfast inns may be closed for a month, you can usually find the perfect room for a pleasant price.  There's nothing like staying in a hotel room - whether charming or luxurious - for a break from daily stresses. Sleep in in the morning,  and you're ready for an active day walking on the beach, hiking the woods, visiting local galleries, bookstores or quaint shops, enjoying a long lunch or dinner.  And after all this, enjoy a bubble bath and a glass of local wine by the fire before floating into bed.