This post is a series installment of unofficial guides I wrote for those who want to visit the Pacific Northwest, but not necessarily Seattle. If you want more ideas check out the "Not Seattle" tag.
Want to see a cool place and feel like you are thousands of miles from home, but not have to deal with the hassle of actually leaving the country or flying six hours? Great. Me too. Tall order right? Actually, no. I'm happy to report it isn't impossible. Last summer The Doctor in Denim and I were planning some "Not Seattle Adventures" and stumbled across this cute destination in the San Juan Islands called Friday Harbor. A charming seaside town that flirts with the border British Colombia and feels so far removed from your ordinary life, you'll feel like you are far from home. When in all actuality it can be done as a day trip, and without a car.
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island located amid the small, but mighty, archipelago of islands to the north west of Seattle. If you want to think of these islands in terms of Hawaii then Orcas Island is Kona, San Juan is Oahu, Lopez Island is Maui and so on. We chose San Juan Island based on its car-less accessibility.
Take the Interstate 5 North from Seattle (assuming you are generally south of Everett, WA.) and pick up the SR 20 to Anacortes, WA. (Your GPS may have you take some goofy back roads to avoid traffic. This can be done. The bonus is that in the summer time you will pass lots of local produce stands.) Drive to the Anacortes ferry terminal. From there you can either park your car and walk on to the ferry (or drive if you want to putter around the island.) Tickets can be purchased online or day of at the terminal. You'll want to pickup the Anacortes to Friday Harbor route. The voyage itself is an hour of stunning views as you meander your way through tiny islands in the Sound. You'll quickly forget you are on mass transit and feel like you are on a sightseeing tour.
The summer is obviously going to be a more spectacular time of year to visit. The shops and tours do settle down during the winter. But, if you can time your trip when the weather breaks I'm sure any time of year would be beautiful in its own way. If you travel in the summer get to the ferry terminal early. Parking fills up quickly and the lines to board the ferry are stress-fully long (walk-on and especially drive-on).
Check out https://www.wsdot.com/ferries/schedule/scheduledetailbyroute.aspx?route=ana-sj for sailing times and fees.
What to do:
There are whale watching tours, sunset cruises, and kayak treks to be had if you plan ahead. (Don't try to wing it on these things. They book up early.) You can make the excursion a day trip or stay for a few days. There are plenty of cute hotels and camping options available. If you choose to go car-less there is a hop-on-hop-off open air tour bus that drives around the island. It is a nice sampler of what the island has to offer. Once caveat is that each stop is an hour between pickups. If you have a lot of time available, then by all means see the lavender farm and State park. Otherwise just enjoy being driven around and seeing the sights from the open air bus. If you choose to visit the main part of Friday Harbor, there is still plenty to do.
The moment you disembark from the ferry you'll see the town straight ahead. Bear right and head up the hill and you'll be amid all the cute restaurants, local shops, and independent bookstores (gasp! Yes, those still exist). If you want to spend your day simply watching the boats in the harbor, there are ample park benches and eateries that will allow you to do just that. The route around town is easily done on foot and with children in tow.
Places/Services We Love:
The Jolly Trolley https://www.fridayharborjollytrolley.com/
Downriggers Restaurant http://www.downriggerssanjuan.com/
Lavendera Massage http://lavenderamassage.com/
Griffin Bay Bookstore https://www.griffinbaybook.com/
Things to note:
Many places on the island are cash only. (The Jolly Trolley is one of them) Due the remote location the local ATM's run out of cash quickly. Make a mental note to dash to a nearby bank and get some cash before departing the mainland.
The ferries are prone to delays. Weather, boat traffic, whales (yes, whales) all slow down the ferry schedule. Have this in the back of your mind when planning other activities.