We spent the last four days visiting the San Juan Islands, an archipelago west of Anacortes. We visited the three main islands Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez. Each island had its own personality, from introverted to festive to friendly, and each island was worth the visit.
We landed on the horseshoe shaped Orcas island on June 29. As we made our way around the island to the hiker/biker site at Moran State Park we had several challenging climbs to overcome. Even on the side roads there was a lot of traffic, and drivers didn’t seem keen to share the road with us.
We also didn’t encounter any public spaces to take a break and to take in the coastline, which was lined with houses and plenty of no trespassing signs. At the village of Westsound there were no benches or any places to admire the harbor. We had to eat lunch under a private pier on a little strip of beach made from broken shells.
It wasn’t until the village of Eastsound that Orcas became more welcoming. Like an introvert, the longer we got to know the island, the more it opened up. Smiling people walked in and out of the co-op market and laughed with each other at the tables outside a cafe. It’s amazing that once people are out of their vehicles how quickly the atmosphere changes for the better.
After we set up camp at the hiker/biker site in Moran State Park we met another cyclist named Dave, who is a high school teacher in Bellingham. Dave and we decided to ride up to the top of the 2,400-foot Mount Constitution together at dusk to take in the supposedly killer view. The ride up wasn’t easy but without our luggage it felt like we were flying. On the way we passed probably eight deer, all of whom didn’t even budge when we came within feet of them.
Once at the top of the road we had to ride up a short gravel path to get to the viewing area. That’s when our jaws dropped. Before us was one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever experienced. Dave being a local was able to point out what we saw. We could see the distant mountains of Canada, the bay that’s home to Bellingham, the smoking oil refineries of Anacortes, and of course the majestic Mount Baker. On a clearer day he said we could have seen Mount Rainier.
So despite the cold introduction, Orcas revealed that it was a nice place to visit. I can only imagine how much nicer it could be if only the locals were allowed vehicles on the island and tourists were required to take small buses, cycle, or walk. The reduction in traffic would make for a far better experience.
San Juan greets you right as you disembark the ferry. It’s the island that’s that’s always having a good time. The village of Friday Harbor is festive and welcoming. The small streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, hotels, and all the other normal tourist businesses.
The party really started once we arrived at the hiker/biker site at the county park. We arrived midday and already there were five or so tents pitched and lots of bikes resting in the bike racks. By the evening the cyclists probably outnumbered car campers, which must be some sort of American record.
Because the tents were in tight quarters it was only natural that we got to know our neighbors. We ended up hanging out on a grassy hillside looking out to Vancouver Island with a large group of Washington State locals, sharing stories and drinking bourbon while the sun said goodbye for the evening in spectacular fashion. It was the first bike touring party we’d attended and it was a blast.
The next day we took a kayak trip that left from the county park. The hope was to see some orca whales that frequent the waters, but all we got was a face full of wind in choppy waves. It was the least fun I’d had in a kayak and I truly wished we’d gotten a refund. Even the enthusiastic and friendly guides couldn’t make up for the lousy conditions.
Although we left the shore with bad attitudes returning to the hiker/biker site raised our spirits. There were even more cyclists than the last night. There were at least forty bicycles filling the racks and leaning against the logs that penned us in. We rejoined some of our new friends from the previous night and had another evening of merriment.
Lopez island was the last and friendliest. We tagged along with our new friends Sarah, Steve, Scott, and Rachael, through rolling farmland to a state park hiker/biker campsite. The rest of the day we lolligagged on a small beach overlooking other islands and then ate dinner and chatted by a fire ring.
The next day Carrie and I rode around the island. Our main goal was to sample the tasty bites at the famed Holly B’s Bakery. We’d heard good things about this island institution from several people. Holly B didn’t disappoint. It was busy and we’d come a little late so the selection was limited but the butter almond buns we chose were delightful.
The rest of the ride around the island was pleasant. We were able to stay on quiet rolling roads and the drivers that did pass us almost always gave a wave. It felt like we were in Ireland again except with good weather. The Lopez islanders seemed to embody the laid back island life that was missing from Orcas and San Juan.
After fond farewells with our new friends we headed back to the ferry to scuttle us back to Anacortes. From there we headed south to Whidbey island and Deception Pass State Park. It was July 3 and we were worried that the park might not have a campsite for us. The lady at the toll booth however allayed our fears. There was plenty of room at the hiker/biker site. After camping with the cycling crowds at the San Juans we were back to life as the odd ducks. Despite the fireworks that evening we slept soundly.