San Juan Islands, Washington
Wildlife-watching opportunities are magnificent in the San Juan Islands — 172 named islands and reefs in the Salish Sea between Anacortes, Washington, and Vancouver Island. Filling the waters and sky are three pods of resident killer whales (orcas), minke whales, Steller sea lions, seals, otters and bald eagles.
And the views aren’t too shabby either. “The Olympic Mountains, the Cascade Range and the Canadian coastal range offer a 360-degree view of snowcapped rugged mountains,” says Jennifer Hanna, captain of motor yacht Jamal.
Begin your five-to-seven-day vacation in Bellingham, Washington, and cruise toward uninhabited Sucia Island’s Echo Bay, where you can set crab pots, hike some of the 10 miles of trails and tour nearby Clements Reef’s seal colony.
The next morning, cruise south to the archipelago’s largest island, 57-square-mile, horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, docking at Rosario Marina. Here, explore the hiking trails in Moran State Park, then climb or drive up 2,409-foot Mount Constitution for views over the San Juan archipelago, Vancouver and the mainland, including Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.
Over the next several days, continue exploring the archipelago, stopping into San Juan Islands’ Friday Harbor, a two-square-mile town with galleries, bookstores, boutiques and whale and historical museums; Vendovi Island, a preserve with several short hiking trails; Stuart Island, with its one-room schoolhouse and famous Turn Point Light Station; and Lopez Island, the least hilly island and, thus, particularly conducive to cycling.
Orcas typically appear in groups of 20 to 80, and the best time to observe them is between late May and mid- October. Their favorite feeding grounds include the waters off San Juan Islands’ Lime Kiln Point State Park, Stuart Island Marine State Park and Sucia Island Marine State Park.
With half the rainfall of nearby Seattle and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, this temperate destination is ideal for adventurers who might not suffer intense heat well, but still want to wear shorts occasionally.
On Orcas Island, dig into local oysters, Northwest seafood chowder and seared scallops in the historic Rosario Resort & Spa’s Mansion Restaurant, near the Rosario Marina.
Sips around town
Exploring makes one thirsty — so it’s a good excuse for sampling these locally produced drops: San Juan Vineyards’ Madeleine Angevine, Island Hoppin’ Brewery’s Elwha Rock IPA and Westcott Bay Cider Traditional Dry.