By Matia Schwartz
San Juan Island is one of the most beautiful places to vacation any time of year; but there are so many different things to do here, often you can get lost in the choices. Friday Harbor is by far the biggest town on the island, but be sure to visit Roche Harbor too in order to get a feel for the other side of things. When you do why not make a day out of it? Here is a plan for you to get the most out of your day trip to Roche Harbor.
Your Roche Harbor Itinerary
Breakfast is delivered to your suite at the Harrison House Suites or Tucker House Inn. You will find a tasty meal of house made granola and a hot plate that changes every day. After you’ve had your breakfast you’re now ready to start your day in Roche Harbor.
Find a spot for the car and walk over to the tent vendors or the café to grab a cup of coffee then head down the docks. This is the best boat viewing location in any of the San Juan Islands. Some of the most extravagant boats visit or live in this marina. Don’t forget to head to the breakwater, the farthest dock from the shore, to see the biggest boats. They dock on the farthest ends of the marina due to their size, so you’re bound to see some interesting ones out there. The really big ones moor in the harbor and “dinghy” in.
Make your way over to the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve. The sculptures rotate all the time and new pieces come in as old ones are sold. The idea of the park is to see nature and art working together in harmony. A slow walk around one of the larger loops takes around 30 minutes and if you want to stay longer there are side loops you can explore as well. This is an amazing spot for kids and dogs to run around and to enjoy. There is a $5 suggested donation for adults; kids are free. The park is a nonprofit organization run completely by volunteers. Donations go toward new art in and upkeep of the grounds.
Time for lunch! If you enjoy oysters, Wescott Bay is the place for you. They are a shellfish farm that offers the ideal picnic atmosphere. After parking, you’ll walk down a path made entirely of oyster shells to, what can best be described as the quintessential beach barbecue. Put in your order for as many of these fresh bi-valves as you please, then choose your sauce. While you wait, head into their store to pick up a glass of wine, beer, cheese and crackers or other sides to accompany your lunch. Then, kick back in one of their many comfy Adirondack chairs to take in the beauty of the bay. They’ll even give you an oyster-shucking lesson if you’re new to the craft. As a bonus, you get to pick each one by hand that you want out of the salt water tanks.
To continue the vacation vibe, why not try some spirits from our local distillery? This one you might want to drive to, it’s about five minutes by car and 15-20 minutes by foot. San Juan Island Distillery offers tastings from 1-4pm every Saturday and Sunday. They offer small batch ciders, 14 different types of gin, several liquors, and flavored brandies. Including their award- winning apple brandy! With so many different options you’re sure to find something you enjoy. Take home a bottle. It makes a great souvenir for either yourself or friends and family back at home.
Now that you’ve let lunch settle, it’s time for an activity! Are you ready for some disc golf? If you haven’t played it before, it’s very much like regular golf but instead of balls and clubs, you’re using flying discs/frisbees. The game is designed to be enjoyed by old and young alike. It’s fairly simple but just like regular golf, it will test your skill in trying to hit the targets. The course is a part of a large trail system through Roche Harbor and if you decide disc golf isn’t for you, the course is still a beautiful spot to walk through. If you’re feeling ambitious, the Forrest Glen Loop trail starts at the disc golf course and is about 1.9 miles long and has a nice little pond to enjoy for a short portion of it.
There’s one stop in Roche that you just can’t miss and that’s the Mausoleum. Back in the late 1800’s John S. McMillian owned a monopoly on all of the lime manufacturing west of the Mississippi, including a large streak of it that ran through San Juan Island. At the time, this was mainly used to make concrete. After the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906 he played a major role in reconstruction through his lime exports. Because of which, he decided to build a monumental mausoleum as a tribute for him and his family to honor his achievements and connections.
This is now the final resting place of the McMillian family. The structure is a large set of columns, on the inside of which is a dinner table with chairs surrounding it. In the order of which they sat at their dinner table every night is the order of which their ashes have been placed in each of the chairs. This location is spooky yet beautiful. Especially in the afternoon as the sun streaks through the trees. It is a great historical location and holds many different symbols throughout the structure.
Time for dinner? The Tucker House Inn concierge has made dinner reservations for you at McMillian’s so all you need to to do is show up. The restaurant is located above the Madrona Bar and Grill where you had lunch. It offers a completely different atmosphere. The newly renovated dining room offers a modern-American- themed menu with a great selection of house made cocktails and an award- winning wine list. The decor is elegant in a very traditional manner and it is perfect for a nice night out in Roche Harbor.
The sun is setting soon and it’s time to make your way down the docks for the colors ceremony. Just before sunset every night during summer, the dock staff retires the flags of Roche Harbor, Washington State, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Music is played while the flags are lowered and as the American flag is taken down. This is a tradition you are sure to remember and in our opinion, an experience worth being a part of.
Time to head back to the inn and curl up in bed before another big day on San Juan Island tomorrow.
Always remember, here at the Harrison House Suites & Tucker House Inn we are more than happy to share our local knowledge and favorite spots to visit , and what food tastes good. We will also make any arrangements you might need to ensure your trip is everything you want it to be.