Pacific Northwest San Juan Island, Washington

Thank you for visiting my family vacations on a budget blog. My family loves to travel! However my husband & I are both teachers making a budget all the more important.  We have one child, our son is 13. I want to show him as much of this wonderful world as I can before he is grown. This summer we visited the Pacific Northwest for our family vacation.  We traveled July 11th-20th throughout this beautiful area of the United States. In this blog post I will tell you about our day spent on San Juan Island, Washington: where we stayed, things we did, & travel tips to help you as you plan your next vacation. In the coming weeks I will feature a different destination or travel tip from our Pacific Northwest journey. Subscribe to my blog so you don't miss any of my posts from this fantastic family vacation (on a budget). 
Lime Kiln State Park San Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island is located in far northwest Washington state. The San Juan Islands have 247 days of sunshine each year! The islands are located in a rain shadow & only receive half the rainfall Seattle receives.  Summer temperatures see highs in the 70s F & lows near 50 F. 

Where did we stay?  
We did not stay on San Juan Island instead we stayed on the mainland because we had a free night stay. We spent 3 nights at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Burlington, Washington.  You can see my review of the hotel by clicking here.  As I have stated in a previous blog, if I were to do the trip over again I would have stayed in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island instead of taking the ferry each day. 
We highly recommend the Fairfield Inn & Suites Burlington, WA

How did we get to San Juan Island? We rode the ferry from Anacortes, WA to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island WA.  Of the islands serviced by the ferry San Juan is the furthest from Anacortes at about 1 hour. The day before we visited San Juan Island we visited Lopez Island. For our Lopez Island day we walked on the ferry at Anacortes & then had rented bicycles awaiting us at the ferry terminal. For our trip to San Juan Island we knew we would need our car unless we only wanted to see Friday Harbor.  We wanted to explore as much of the island as possible making the car necessary as San Juan Island is 55 sq miles in size.  At the time of our trip the ferry cost to San Juan Island for an average size car was $84 for the car & 3 passengers.  In my opinion that is about $50 too much!  I guess if you want to see the islands you must pay the toll... I went online to the Washington State Ferry website 2 months prior to our trip & reserved a spot.  I knew we would be traveling during the height of tourist season & did not want to be without a reservation. Washington state ferry system releases spots 2 months, 2 weeks, & 2 days before departure.  If you do not get a reservation at 2 months you can wait until the 2 week release & so forth.  I was able to get reservations 2 months prior to the trip. 
Anacortes Ferry Terminal

It is important to note you will have to arrive 1+ hour before departure time to get in line for the ferry.  If you do not arrive early enough you will not catch that ferry & be placed on stand by for the next ferry, even if you have a reservation.  You only pay for westbound ferries with the Washington state ferry system. My advice would be to take the ferry with your car to San Juan Island & book a hotel there. I would be a walk on passenger for the inner island ferry to Lopez Island. After exploring San Juan & Lopez I would take my car to Orcas Island & spend a night or two there. From Orcas Island I would come back to Anacortes. Traveling the ferry system this way will only cost you one trip with your car instead of two as we experienced with our trip of one day on San Juan Island & one day on Orcas Island with our car. 
Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal
What did we do on San Juan Island?

Our day on San Juan Island was filled with a variety of activities. We wished we could have spent more time on this island but we were limited by the ferry schedule as day trippers. Below are the activities in the order in which we did them.  Our ferry arrived at 10:15 AM & we departed at 6:30 PM. 

The Whale Museum was disappointing
Our first stop when we arrived on San Juan Island was the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. I had read stellar reviews online about this museum so we thought it would be a great way to start our day. We paid $6 per adult & $3 for our 13 year old son admission.  (Senior citizens pay $5 & children 5 and under are free.) The museum is located in an two story old building. There is a small gift shop as you enter where you pay for admission. As we were planning to visit Lime Kiln State Park next, we asked if there was any way to track whale or orca sightings & the young girl at the counter looked at us as if we were crazy & said "not that I know of".  I found her to be quite rude about it to be honest. We then began exploring the museum. We found the museum to be small, crowded, & had dated displays. The staff were unfriendly as well. We spent about 20 minutes total & were finished.  I would not recommend the Whale Museum unless you like to read displays that are decades old & be treated with disrespect by museum workers. 
The Whale Museum was small, crowded, & had dated displays. We would not recommend.

The weather was perfect so we thought a picnic lunch would be nice.  After checking out some reviews of restaurants in Friday Harbor we selected Spring Street Deli.  We were impressed with the quality of sandwiches & the staff who prepared them. The prices were a bit steep ($10 for a 6" roast beef sandwich with au jus) but not too bad, after all we were on an island! After a short wait for our sandwiches we headed out to Lime Kiln Point State Park to enjoy our picnic lunch. 

Lime Kiln Point State Park is a scenic 20 minute drive from Friday Harbor. The day use fee for the state park is $10.  If you plan to visit more than 3 Washington state parks on your trip you should consider purchasing the annual Discover Pass for $30.  To learn more about the annual Discover Pass click here. We did not purchase the annual pass so we had to pay using the kiosk.  Make sure you bring exact change as you pay using an envelope system. 

Lime Kiln Point State Park is world renowned as being one of the best places for whale watching from the shore. With our binoculars & picnic in tow we hiked down to the beach to enjoy our lunch & maybe spot a whale or orca.  As fate would have it, none were to be seen that day but we did enjoy the beautiful views & our hike along the coast to the light house.  At the light house there was a friendly gentleman that was able to tell us about the orca & whale sightings for the past 3 months.  This was the information we were asking about at the Whale Museum only to be treated rudely. After a short hike we headed back to our car to our next destination 15 minutes away San Juan Island National Historical Park English Camp.
Our picnic lunch at Lime Kiln Point State Park was just about perfect! (We did not spot a whale or orca...)
Lime Kiln Point State Park Lighthouse
The English Camp on San Juan Island is a must see!
The National Park Service has 2 locations on San Juan Island commemorating a near war between the U.S. & Great Britain over a pig in 1859. The locations are located on opposite ends of the island, the American Camp & the English Camp.  We only had time to visit one, so we chose the English Camp because of the reviews I read said it was better. I have to say we were not disappointed! The admission cost is FREE! We visited on a Saturday in July & there were re-en-actors to add to the intrigue of this spot. We were able to see a woodworker, spinster, & blacksmith displaying the tools used during the 1800s.  The replica of the English camp has buildings & and English garden alongside a beautiful bay.  We were able to spot bald eagles soaring above as we toured the camp.  Thanks to a telescope we were able to see an osprey nest in the distance. My only regret was we did not have more time to spend at the English Camp on San Juan Island. 
The English Camp from above on a hillside where the officer's quarters were located.

A woodworker demonstrates woodworking skills during the 1800s.

The English garden is beautiful!

An eagle soars above head as we enjoy our beautiful afternoon at the English Camp San Juan Island.

From the San Juan Island Historical Park English Camp we drove 15 minutes to Pelindaba Lavender Farms. As luck would have it we visited during the annual lavender festival.  The festival featured tours of the farm & local artisans selling anything from jewelry to lavender ice cream & lemonade.  My husband & I were intrigued by the story of how Pelindaba Lavender Farms was started. We really liked the owners wanted to make a product that has no waste, all the parts were used for something, & would not harm the land it was raised on. My son enjoyed running through the lavender fields & trying the lavender lemonade. By the way we did not really like the lavender lemonade, a bit too floral flavored for us. The cost for the festival? NOTHING ABSOLUTELY FREE! I did purchase some souvenirs & plan to order more online for Christmas presents as I was impressed with the quality of products. If you happen to be on San Juan Island during the Pelindaba Lavender Festival you must attend, if not during the festival you must stop by the store when visiting the island.
Pelindaba Lavender Festival - When on San Juan Island make sure to visit Pelindaba Lavender Farm
Our tour guide at Pelindaba Lavender Farm explained the uses of lavender & the origins of the company.  VERY interesting!
Stainless steel artwork is found throughout the farm making it even more beautiful!
When we finished touring the Lavender Farm, it was getting close to time to line up for the ferry so we headed back to Friday Harbor, a scenic 15 minute drive.

  • Exploring Friday Harbor, Washington 
We concluded our day by walking the quaint seaside village Friday Harbor.  I like to purchase books about places we visit from the place the book is about.  When we strolled into Serendipity Used Books I knew I would find what I was looking for! This used bookstore has literally thousands of books from which to choose. I was able to find a signed copy of a book about the San Juan Islands & was pleased with my find.  
Serendipity Books has thousands of books to peruse. 

We then set out to explore the rest of town.  I will say for a Saturday afternoon around 5 PM there were very few stores & even some restaurants open.  You would think with it being July, a Saturday, & the height of tourist season more shops would stay open until at least 7 PM. We enjoyed our walking tour through Friday Harbor.

What if you do not bring a car to San Juan Island? 
If you do not want to pay to bring your car to San Juan Island you can take the Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley bus to spots around the island during summer months.  To find out more about cost & the schedule click here
The Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley is a great alternative to ferrying your car to the island.

How was the ferry ride back to Anacortes? 
This being our second trip on the ferry in as many days we chose to ride back to Anacortes inside the ferry instead of outside on the deck.  At a little over half way back to Anacortes the ferry comes to a stop for no apparent reason.  We were thinking it was another Coast Guard drill like we experienced the previous day.  We were wrong! A few minutes pass & the captain comes on the loud speaker.  We were told a fire had occurred on the car deck but that it had been extinguished.  Did I mention there was an oil tanker truck on our ferry? So a bit of worry set in.  After a few minutes the ferry started going slowly in the direction toward Anacortes.  We were able to make it back to Anacortes but we were 45 minutes late.  Little did we know the fire on the ferry that evening would play a crucial part of our day the next day.  Subscribe to my blog so you don't miss how the fire on the ferry on Saturday would cause our Sunday to go so very wrong...

I hope this blog has inspired you to take your family on a vacation, maybe even to the Pacific Northwest as we did this year.  Wherever you choose to go may God bless you each mile of your journey.