Nothing inspires adventure like driving your car aboard a ferry and sailing off to parts unknown! So during your visit to Washington’s Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands be sure to plan a day trip to the San Juan Islands.
The ferry to the San Juans departs from Anacortes; and because schedules vary by season, check the website for current information. Also, some ferries on this route pass between Canada and the US, and those vessels will be subject to US Customs and Border Inspection. Therefore, it’s a good idea to take your passport and your pet’s rabies certificate in case the most convenient sailing happens to be a ship en route from Canada.
Pets are welcome aboard Washington State ferries, and the rules regarding animals passengers are pretty simple:
The weather was iffy during our crossing – and you all know how Ty feels about being out in the rain – so the boys opted to hang out in the car on the ride over. We only saw a couple of pets on the ferry, and they were small enough to be in their carriers in the passenger cabin.
Scattered between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the number of islands making up the San Juans depends on whether the tide is in or out. At the average high tide, the archipelago includes over 400 islands and rocks, 128 of which are named. Ferries serve the four primary islands, Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. Visiting San Juan, the largest of the islands at 55 square miles, is something we’ve wanted to do ever since our friends at Dog Jaunt wrote about it! The ferry crossing took about an hour, and this view greeted us as we arrived in Friday Harbor:
With the commercial district just steps from the ferry terminal, Friday Harbor is bustling when the ships dock. Rather than subject Ty and Buster to the crowds, we opted to follow the scenic byway out of town and counter-clockwise around the island. Much like Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, San Juan is very agricultural. The first stop we made was at the San Juan Vineyards, where the vines were draped in gauze.
The vineyard is dog friendly, but it felt a little early in the day to settle in for a wine tasting, so we continued on to the San Juan Sculpture Park at the northern tip of the island.
Criss-crossed by five trails, this 20-acre park was the perfect place to take a walk with Ty and Buster! There are more than 150 sculptures to admire, a poetry path, trails that take you through the woods and down to the marsh, and beautiful gardens throughout. Dogs are welcome, and the fee to enjoy all of this is just a donation requested at the gate.
There are also picnic tables here, and if we’d packed our lunch (next time!), this would have been the perfect place to enjoy it! Instead, we continued around the corner into the picture-perfect town of Roche Harbor.
Now a resort town, Roche Harbor was formerly a company town supporting the Roche Harbor Lime Company, which was incorporated in 1886. Lime production was one of the island’s primary industries for a time, and the huge lime kilns are still standing right in town.
Now the marina and tourism drive the local economy, and the Hotel de Haro sits in the center of town with its suites, cottages, condos, spa, shops, and gardens. While it’s not pet friendly, it certainly provides a lovely backdrop to the surroundings.
Fortunately, lunch was easy to come by! There are several restaurants with pet friendly patios, and more places that will be happy to prepare your meal to go if you’ve discovered a view you want to take in.
Roche Harbor also provides easy access to several trails if you want to get off the beaten path. And, if your pups are looking for a place to romp, there’s a lovely, fenced dog park up behind the gas station.
From Roche Harbor we made our way south to Lime Kiln Point State Park, where the interpretive center and restored lime kiln explain in more detail how this commodity was processed and shipped. In addition, this is one of the island’s best spots for whale watching, and observations on the sightings of local Orcas are recorded here.
With the 1919 Lighthouse in the background, Ty and Buster kept an eye out – unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales during our visit.
Ty insisted he could sense whales better with his eyes closed, but I think it was getting close to his nap time, so we hopped back in the car and drove to the far southern tip of the island while he had a snooze.
South Beach is a two-mile stretch of pebble-covered beach facing the Olympic Peninsula and providing great views of the Olympic Mountains. Just down the way is Cattle Point, which has it’s own historic lighthouse and trails along the waterfront. Both are good places for more whale watching.
There’s so much to do on San Juan, it was late afternoon by the time we got down to Cattle Point! We would have liked to have visited Jackson Beach on our way back to Friday Harbor, but wanted to be back in town for some pictures before the sun went down. We’ll have to see Jackson Beach on our next trip!
Compared to Roche Harbor, Friday Harbor feels less like a resort and more like a working town. That being said, it’s a lovely harbor town in its own right, and there are a variety of businesses catering to the island’s many visitors. You’ll find hotels and other accommodations, along with museums, galleries, whale watching tours, restaurants, and shops.
The cozy, pet friendly seating area at the Blue Water Bar and Grill has a great view of the harbor. We had a bite to eat while we waited for our ferry back to Anacortes to arrive.
It got dark just as the ferry pulled out, so we weren’t able to watch for dolphins and whales on the trip back home. The next time we make this trip, I’ll book a night on whichever island we choose to visit.
It cost us $60 round-trip to take the ferry, and there were a lot more activities than I expected – more than we could cover in a day! We were hustling to see as much as we did, and spending the night would have allowed us to relax, see the things we missed, and travel back on the ferry during daylight, so we could have enjoyed the views on the way.
Hopefully this give you an idea of what it’s like to visit the San Juan Islands! If you’ve been there and have any tips for the rest of us, please share!
You might also be interested in: Exploring Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands with Dogs