Of course, there is no shortage of amazing ways to fill your days right here on San Juan Island…but the beauty of our archipelago is that each of our ferry-served islands (San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw) are all unique, and have their own unforgettable experiences to offer.
This week, I’d love to share a bit about Orcas Island with you. I was fortunate enough to spend the summer of 2012 there, and while it is very different from San Juan Island, I found it every bit as delightful.
San Juan Island is the “hub” of the islands, as we have Friday Harbor, the only bona-fide proper town in the archipelago. We are known for a little bit of everything – art, culture, shopping, restaurants, hiking, biking, kayaking, whale-watching, bird-watching, the list goes on.
Orcas Island is called “the emerald isle,” and with good reason. It is the largest of the islands and also the most mountainous, with an endless supply of hiking trails and unspoiled wilderness. It is only two square miles larger than San Juan Island, but a bit more spread out than we are. Most of its roads are very hilly and rural; if you’re a biker, make sure you are prepared for some grueling uphills! The island is known for miles of nothing, interspersed with charming old barns and eclectic artists’ studios.
Orcas is also the home of the almost-6,000 acre Moran State Park, a breathtaking place with almost 40 designated hiking
trails. It is a camper’s dream, but if you’re only there for the day, you can enjoy a leisurely kayak or canoe paddle, or just breathe in the sunshine and marvel in the chance to immerse yourself completely in nature. It has stunning waterfalls and lake vistas, as well as very challenging trails. Most notably, it has Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juans. You can drive to the summit or hike – either way, it’s completely worth the effort. The view from the top is unbeatable – you can see the entire archipelago in one glance, as well as snow-capped Mt. Baker.
Eastsound is the main “town” on Orcas, although as it is only a couple of streets wide, perhaps “hamlet” is a better word. It’s an incredibly charming place, with a handful of beautiful art galleries, excellent restaurants, and historic homes. There is also a full-service grocery store and a post office. You can take a taxi from the ferry landing to Eastsound; during the summer, you can utilize a shuttle service as well. Parking is much more laid-back there than in Friday Harbor, so feel free to take your car. Don’t miss the very impressive farmer’s market on Saturdays, which takes place on the village green and can easily take up a couple of hours.
Just outside of Eastsound proper there is a little beach called Crescent Beach, given of course due to its half-moon shape. It is nestled perfectly into the land by stunning mountain peaks, and when the tide goes out, the flat beach is a perfect place to hunt for little sea creatures and even sea glass.
Olga, on the other side of the state park from Eastsound, is home to the famous Orcas Island Artworks, with a large selection of pottery, artwork, jewelry, glasswork, and woodwork by more than 50 island artists.
You can easily see the highlights of Orcas Island in a full day, then take the ferry back to Friday Harbor and retire to your suite, exhausted and sun-kissed!