Roche Harbor by Jack Riley
Roche Harbor Resort by Jack Riley
Photo by Jack Riley

You don鈥檛 have to be a boat lover to enjoy this boater鈥檚 paradise. Roche Harbor鈥檚 richly preserved history offers nineteenth-century clapboard buildings, old gardens, and incredible sunsets 鈥 all perfect for relaxing. Enjoy local seafood, some of the best doughnuts in the Pacific Northwest, and views of the surrounding mountains. 

Whether you arrive by boat or seaplane, be sure to keep an eye out for pods of local orcas. They can frequently be seen playing in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, especially during the summer months.

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Exploring Orcas
Orcas Island Summer Getaway

A towering peak, protected pebble-covered beaches, and a thriving farm-to-table food scene has earned Orcas Island a cult-like following. Visitors and locals alike rave about the horseshoe shaped gem, where the sun is more likely to shine than not and the views abound. While it鈥檚 hard to go wrong with any activity, the following showcase some of our favorite things to do on Orcas Island this summer.聽

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Nancy McDonnell Spaulding
San Juan Island Artist and Author Nancy McDonnell Spaulding

鈥淥ne of the things that drives my art is the desire to protect beautiful places,鈥 said . An accomplished San Juan Island artist and newly published author, Nancy鈥檚 work does so by showcasing simple pleasures 鈥 often found tucked among awe-inspiring sights.聽

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Emerald Queen Casino de Havilland Otter
Emerald Queen Casino Seaplane

While technically a part of Washington State, San Juan Island feels a bit like a foreign country. Heck, some of its rocky coves are closer to Canada than the American mainland. And traveling from Tacoma to San Juan Island is no small feat 鈥 until recently. Reaching the quaint Olympic Rainshadow destination is now as simple as catching a 55-minute scenic flight from Tacoma鈥檚 Ruston Way seaplane terminal. 

Located within the Olympic Rainshadow, San Juan Island offers a sun-filled reprieve from the drizzle of T-town. The following outlines the four most common ways to travel from Tacoma to San Juan Island.聽

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Friday Harbor House Fire Pits
Fire Pits at Friday Harbor House

Island life is slow and beautiful in Friday Harbor. Here, the streets feature roundabouts rather than stoplights and restaurants showcase farm-to-table cuisine. Perched one block above the Friday Harbor Marina, is ideally positioned for the ultimate weekend getaway. 

This quaint San Juan Island hotel offers expansive views of seaplanes landing and ferry boats docking. It鈥檚 conveniently located within walking distance of the entire downtown core, while still feeling removed enough to give you a sense of solitude. Not to mention, it鈥檚 home to one the best restaurants on the island 鈥 The Restaurant at Friday Harbor House. 

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Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor Resort. Photo by Jack Riley
Roche Harbor Resort Hotel de Haro. Photo by Jack Riley

While summer boating roots run deep at Roche Harbor, this historic destination also blooms during the shoulder season. The site 鈥 a former lime quarry and manufacturing plant in the late 1800s 鈥 is now the pinnacle of luxury on San Juan Island. Modern lodging options (along with more modest historic ones), a host of dining establishments, and a plethora of nearby things to do make Roche Harbor the ultimate destination for families, couples, and gal-pal getaways.

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Sunrise from Mount Constitution by Travel Trend
Mount Rainier at Sunrise from Mount Constitution by Travel Trend

Sunsets in the San Juan Islands are visceral. Visits here seem to draw you to rocky shorelines and towering peaks (we鈥檙e looking at you Mount Constitution) to bask in the burst of burnt oranges and bright magentas as they fade into gentle pastels. While no one island in this remote archipelago far surpasses another, Orcas Island sunset locations do include the tallest peak and most convenient 鈥榯own鈥 access.聽

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Family Shoot on the Beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
Family Shoots on the Beach. Photo by Satya Curcio
An insider鈥檚 guide to taking the best share-worthy photos in the San Juan Islands. Photo by Satya Curcio.

From family vacations and romantic getaways to the ultimate girls鈥 trip, the San Juan Islands offer a backdrop for magical moments. While the remnants of such memories can be lovingly preserved in a half-faced selfie, such pictures are rarely worthy of a Christmas card. What鈥檚 more, often key players (ahem mom) remain neatly tucked behind the camera. 

For many, booking a professional photo shoot isn鈥檛 high on the priority list when planning a vacation. Where to sleep, eat, and play takes center stage. But for those wise souls who slip in a rendezvous with a photog, the result can be much more powerful than just a great Instagram post. 

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Hiking on Orcas Island
looking at the view on Orcas Island

Orcas Island has all of the ingredients for a perfect getaway in the Pacific Northwest. There are beautiful lodging options, miles of hiking trails that traverse a rich topography and offer stunning views. You鈥檒l find a plethora of fresh seafood, farm-to-table cuisine, and locally-crafted libations. 

This isn鈥檛 the destination for a fast-paced dance club, though you will find several restaurants and bars host live music nights. But the things to do on Orcas Island abound. Artist studios. Golfing. Farmers markets. Clothing optional soaking tubs. The list goes on and on. These are some of our favorites. 

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New Leaf Cafe at Outlook Inn
New Leaf Cafe on Orcas Island

Nestled along the inner edge of Orcas Island鈥檚 57-square-mile 鈥榟orseshoe,鈥 has long been recognized as a culinary gem. The hotel and eatery can trace their roots back to the late 1800s, when the site was first opened as a general store of sorts. Both the hospitality and the culinary prowess has evolved (thankfully). The island鈥檚 jail is no longer located out back and dental services are no longer offered next to bulk staples, like rice and beans.

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