Welcome to the Beautiful San Juan Islands
From sea to sky, the stunning surroundings of the San Juan Islands offer a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains, forested islands layered to the horizon, serene waterways and picturesque harbors. All elements combine to support one of the world’s most accessible concentrations of wildlife and marine animals.
The charming Pacific Northwest town of Friday Harbor is tucked away in a scenic bay at the heart of the San Juan Islands. Stepping off the ferry you step into a friendly town bustling with shops, museums, and galleries to explore.
San Juan Island is brimming with wild areas to explore and immerse yourself in nature. There is great hiking throughout the island and several state and national parks that offer some of the best scenic views in the area.
How to Get to San Juan Island
The idyllic San Juan Islands are found in the heart of the Salish Sea. Conveniently located approximately 70 miles north of Seattle, Washington, 50 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia, and about 30 miles east of Victoria, B.C. The natural beauty, agreeable climate and friendly, relaxed life-style make our special island a memorable destination.
People typically arrive one of three ways; the Washington State Ferry, the San Juan Clipper, or a short flight with one of the local airlines. No matter how you get to San Juan Island, it’s an adventure! Your experience here can be done as a day trip or enjoyed over several days. Coming for just a day trip makes for a long day but it is a scenic one well worth the effort if whale watching is on your must-do list!
Washington State Ferries
The Washington State Ferry offers service for cars and foot passengers from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. If you choose to drive, it takes about two hours to get from Seattle to Anacortes. The ferry ride itself is a little over an hour long and there are multiple departure times throughout the day. Make sure you check the most current sailing schedule and make reservations for your car as early as possible. Walk-on passengers do not need reservations. If you are coming to San Juan Island as a day trip, we recommend walking on the ferry and leaving your car parked at the ferry terminal in Anacortes.
San Juan Clipper
Another option is the San Juan Clipper. This is a seasonal passenger ferry that leaves downtown Seattle at 8:15 AM and arrives in Friday Harbor at 12 PM. It departs Friday Harbor for Seattle again at 5:15 PM, arriving back in Seattle at 8:00 PM. This option gives you a window to have lunch or wander around town before joining your tour with us. This service can be used for overnight stays as well, as it operates daily during the summer months.
The fastest way to get here is on a commuter plane or float plane with a company like Friday Harbor Sea Planes, which offer one way and round trip flights to Friday Harbor. It is a quick, gorgeous 25-30 minute flight up through Puget Sound and the islands.
Flights are also available from other mainland and Vancouver Island locations by regional operators such as Kenmore Air, San Juan Airlines, Westwind Aviation and Rite Bros.
Feel free to ask us if you have questions about the best way to get here from where you are starting your journey.
As locals, we have a lot of experience traveling the region & are happy to help make your travels smooth & enjoyable as well
If you have questions about logistics, modes of travel, the ferry system or anything else travel related, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. We’ll do our best to help and if you’re on an adventure we are unfamiliar with, we will find someone who is an expert and look forward to learning about it with you!
A Sense of Place: The Uniqueness of San Juan Island
There are approximately 172 islands in the San Juan archipelago, depending on who’s counting and whether the tide is low or especially high. The four largest islands, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw are serviced by Washington State Ferries and are the most populated.
San Juan Island is a diverse and unique place. There is a lot to do, no matter what your personal interests may be, from hiking to shopping, theater performances to whale watching, beach walking to gourmet dining, live music to open-air markets and more.
You can visit the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce or the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau for events and festivities specific to the time of year you are visiting.
San Juan Island is rich in scenic areas, public land for soaking up the views, hiking, experiencing nature, beach-combing, picnicking and many other outdoor recreational options. From all sides of the island you can catch glimpses of mountains, sky and sea. On clear days you can see Mt. Baker to the northeast and Mt Rainier to the southeast.
The San Juan Islands are of cultural significance to first nations and contemporary inhabitants as well. Our traditions, shared and personal, historic and present, are an honored and integral part of an islander’s sensibility and way of life. Among our communities, one may find a palpable sense of place.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the English and the American settlers, there were many native peoples thriving in the region. The islands and surrounding coastal areas were well established with rich cultural traditions, strong communities and extensive trade routes.
Learn More About the San Juan Islands
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the area and the island, visit the San Juan Historical Museum in Friday Harbor, the interpretive centers at American Camp and English Camp National Parks and Lime Kiln State Park.
Whales & Wildlife in the San Juan Islands
San Juan Island is the perfect departure point for the best whale watching and wildlife tours as it is located in the center of the Salish Sea.
Regardless of the time of year you choose to visit wildlife abounds. The seasons do see some changes in the animals present but any time is a great time to view wildlife.
The marine ecosystem of the Salish Sea support two types of killer whales—also known as orcas—the fish-eating Southern Resident killer whales and the thriving mammal-eating Bigg’s killer whales. While sightings are most frequent from spring through early fall and there is a chance to see them year-round.
In the last two decades we have also welcomed back Humpback whales to the area and now these graceful behemoths frequent our waters in increasing numbers from spring to late fall as they bulk up on food before migrating south to their breeding grounds off of Mexico and Hawaii.
Keep your eyes open for the smallest of our baleen whales, the Minke whale. These little whales look a lot like their larger cousin, the blue whale, but only grow to about a third of the size. This area hosts two feeding populations and from what researchers have found— mostly females! Not much is known about Minke whales and every chance we get to see them leaves us with the possibility of adding more to their story here in the San Juan Islands.
Steller Sea Lions
But the whales aren’t the only wildlife highlights you’ll encounter here. The Salish Sea also plays host to the largest sea lions in the world—Steller sea lions. Weighing in at just over the curb weight of a Fiat 500, watch for the big bulls to argue over who has the best spot on the rocks where they rest. Their smaller cousins, harbor seals, are a year-round pinniped and they’re large eyes and cute faces are a favorite among our crew and guests.
Hundreds of Bird Species
As you’re out and about, whether it’s on one of our tours or back on San Juan Island, don’t forget to look up. The San Juan Islands are home to over 200 species of birds as our varied habitats encourage a large variety of species. From bald eagles to kinglets, from common murres to loons, you never know what you’ll see!
For birders, the south end of the island is a good place to find raptor species, including red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, and kestrels. There is also good cover for bushtits, sparrows, and warblers. In the forests, especially if you’re hiking the trail system at Jackle’s Lagoon keep your eyes peeled for kinglets, brown creepers, and sometimes even a barred owl. Keep going to the shores of Griffin Bay and you can often find mergansers, loons, goldeneyes, and more!
What You Might See in the San Juan Islands
- Southern resident orcas (fish eating)
- Bigg’s orcas (mammal eating)
- Humpback whales
- Minke whales
- Grey whales
- Pacific white-sided dolphins
- Harbor porpoise
- Dall’s porpoise
- Harbor seals
- Elephant seals
- Sea lions
- River otters
- Over 200 bird species, including bald eagles