Island Experience

Brighten up the Holiday Season - Island Style

Snug firesides, uncrowded shops and artisan gifts bring sparkle to a winter getaway

The holiday season in the San Juans is a bit like "It's a Wonderful Life," with small-town traditions, locals greeting each other on the street, and time to reflect on what really matters. This season, celebrate with a winter forest hike or walk on a stormy beach, a great meal fireside, and holiday spirit with friends new and old.

 

Celebrate Holiday Cheer on Each Island

Tree lightings and holiday markets, as well as lodging and dining  specials can be found on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island.

Lopez Island: In Lopez Village, a holiday tradition brings the town together in the Village for cookies, cider and caroling. Enjoy small-town charm and island hospitality at its finest.

Orcas Island: On the Village Green in Eastsound, Santa and Mrs. Kringle visit with local children and the Orcas Island Community Band plays holiday favorites. Stand in awe as  the 20-foot evergreen in the center of town is lit with hundreds of lights and the community celebrates the beginning of the holidays.

San Juan Island: In Friday Harbor, the Winterfest celebration includes a tree lighting at Memorial Park, an old fashioned Christmas market, a holiday concert, and more! Hundreds of people gather to drink hot cider and watch as the two Dutch Elm trees in town illuminate the waterfront, while carolers ring in the holiday season.

 

Good Food, Good Wine & a Great Night's Sleep

A comfortable bed is a vacation all its own, and there are many cozy hotels and bed and breakfast inns in the islands that are open all year round - some that have in-room fireplaces, so you can snuggle up with a good book, a glass of local wine and let your worries melt away.  You'll find fireplaces to flip the switch on in rooms at Island INN at 123 West, Roche Harbor Resort, Friday Harbor House, Tucker House Inn, Bird Rock Hotel and others on San Juan Island, Rosario Resort and Inn at Ship Bay on Orcas Island, and The Edenwild Boutique Inn on Lopez Island and others. There are also some great hotel lobbies, such as Lakedale Resort, Earthbox Inn and Roche Harbor Resort, where you can warm up with a cup of coffee. You'll also find fireplaces in some island restaurants, including McMillin's Lounge, or Cask & Schooner's back room on San Juan, or Inn at Ship Bay on Orcas Island.

 

Pamper yourself with a Spa Treatment and a Fancy Cocktail

After you've checked your list twice, celebrate with a relaxing spa treatment at Rosario Resort & Spa, or Roche Harbor's Afterglow Spa. Afterwards, cozy up to one of the island's great bars for a festive cocktail. The lounge bar at The Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort is the perfect setting,  with its huge mosaic fireplace and comfy couches. At Friday Harbor House, the creative cocktail menu features local botanicals and great snacks for much-needed post holiday shopping refreshment.

 

Wonder at Old-Growth Driftwood or Take a Winter Hike

South Beach in American Camp National Historical Park is the longest public beach in the islands, with views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains. All along this pristine two-mile pebble-and-sand beach, a wide swath of massive driftwood has washed up and been bleached in the sun for decades. A wonderful place to take photos, enjoy a brisk walk for exercise, or a slow stroll for beach combing, For a rejuvenating winter hike, visit Moran State Park, where you can take a 4-mile walk around Mountain Lake in a pristine, quiet forest of cedar and fir trees surrounding the placid lake. On Lopez Island, walk out on Spencer Spit State Park to beach comb or watch shorebirds work the shoreline. Afterwards, nothing is better than treating yourself to a massage or spa treatment at one of the San Juans many spas.

 

Gallery Hop to Shop for One-of-A-Kind Gifts

Around the holidays, the islands become a gift-giver's paradise, with artisan fairs, winter crafts markets and gallery shows galore. At artisan fairs on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island, you can find an amazing array of gifts from jewelry to wearable fiber art, from handmade pottery to beautiful landscape paintings and multimedia art that will remind you of your time in the islands. Often, the person behind the table is the artist themselves, and they can tell you all about how they knitted your new favorite mittens from silky island alpaca wool, or which vista is represented in a painting. 

Art galleries and museums also are having their winter shows. After lunch in Friday Harbor, Eastsound or Lopez Village, there are several galleries to browse for art by local and regional artists. Each winter the new Islands Museum of Art (IMA) has their Artists' Registry Show, which features Island artists - and most of the pieces are for sale, making it an amazing place to find a piece like no other.

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Ferry in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Photography by Barbara Marrett

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