15 Best Things to Do in San Juan Islands

San Juan Islands
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The San Juan Islands in Washington are miles above any other destination in or out of the U.S when it comes to beauty.

This archipelago takes the cake when you consider awe-inspiring landscapes, picturesque panoramas, and an endless collection of magnificent photo opportunities that will likely leave you speechless the moment you set foot onto its heavenly ground.

The locals know it, too.

One of its most historically distinguished regions, Friday Harbor, boasts vibrant seaside scenery, and Lime Kiln Point State Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts who also enjoy the occasional whale sighting while strolling along the decks of local excursion boats.

The San Juans and Gulf Islands make up the "Gulf of Georgia Culture Area" because of their shared similarities in various aspects of their history, including formal archaeological findings.

Here, you can stop by their favorite restaurant for a quick bite if sightseeing’s made you hungry or/and visit one of their charming inns to rest your head at night under the stunning star-filled skies.

You’ll find crystal-clear waters where you can swim or kayak and wander through vast green forests with evergreen trees covering the mountainside.

You can also book a tour to learn about this island's rich history by visiting one of the century-old lighthouses.

Now let's look at the 15 best things to do in San Juan Islands.

Witness Largest Whales at the Gorgeous Lime Kiln Lighthouse

View of Kiln Lighthouse
Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.com

Found on a rocky bluff at the edge of the western part of San Juan Island and in the heart and soul of the Pacific ocean, Lime Kiln Point is no doubt one of the world's best whale-watching spots.

The Lime Kiln Lighthouse is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also one of the largest island sceneries in the entire Pacific archipelago.

Its natural beauty is complemented by remarkable views of whales frolicking in the water below.

Closer View of Kiln Lighthouse
Patricia Thomas / Shutterstock.com

With a history that goes back to the 1860s, the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse in Washington State was built around a lime kiln in the whaling era.

It watched over the waters just before they became a major route that linked Puget Sound in Seattle to Canada.

The Lime Kiln Lighthouse stands as a reminder of the many who sacrificed their lives to make daily life better for tourists and locals alike.

Try the Best Espresso Drinks in SJI at Crows Nest Coffee Shoppe

If you're visiting the San Juan Islands, make sure to stop by Crows Nest Coffee Shoppe at 70 Spring St, Friday Harbor.

They have fantastic Italian-style espresso and the friendliest staff you'll ever find!

Take your time enjoying a good book on their sunny sidewalk patio because they can get super busy in the mornings.

But once inside, you’ll enjoy a friendly chat with the baristas while they take time to steam milk for your custom cappuccino.

Their breakfast wraps are to die for, and their chefs are exceptionally talented at what they do.

Their workers here will do whatever they can to serve you faster and faster with smiles on their faces.

They're by far the most dynamic business in the town of Friday Harbor and have ties to all of our local institutions.

Have an Epic Kayak Tour With Outdoor Odysseys

When you arrive in Friday Harbor, the small yet bustling tourist center of the San Juan Islands in Washington State, you'll be greeted with picturesque surroundings.

Breathtakingly beautiful islands for miles around promise a great week of kayak touring with awesome people.

Adventures are prepared for you by outdoor Odysseys' expert guides who are also passionate wildlife enthusiasts.

They are not only fantastic kayak tour guides but also great wildlife enthusiasts skilled in spotting orcas, eagles, seals, and other awesome critters.

You can find Outdoor Odysseys at 86 Cedar St, Friday Harbor, and they offer top-notch customer service.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience on your next adventure in the San Juan Islands, look no further than the incomparable kayaking tours offered by Outdoor Odysseys.

Whether you’re looking to enjoy scenic views on one of our half-day tours or even get up close and personal with orcas during our family kayak tour, rest assured that your journey will be unique and filled with unrivaled fun.

Explore American and English Camps

San Juan Island National Historic Park
Tomas Nevesely / Shutterstock.com

The American and English camps, also known as the San Juan Island National Historic Park (NHP), are two historic sites on San Juan Island in Washington, which tell you about the Pig War.

This site takes you back during the time of the Pig War, the time that the U.S. Army and Royal Marines stormed San Juan Island and had a boundary dispute regarding ownership of the island.

It's a truly wondrous place with a rich history that will fascinate you.

American and English Camps were recognized as National Historic Landmark in 1961 and awarded National Register of Historic Places status in 1966.

San Juan Island National Historic Park
Tomas Nevesely / Shutterstock.com

That's the same year that the act of the United States Congress combined the two to form the historic San Juan Island National Historic Park.

These sites are now some of the most picturesque places in the area and make for excellent scooter or biking destinations.

At American Camp, you can check out an Osprey nest; and over at English Camp, you can watch a short film about the founding of their country set to music.

Follow the Journey of Southern Resident Killer Whales at The Whale Museum

The orca whale is an animal of fascination for many and an endangered species that lives in the aquatic wilderness of the Salish Sea.

For these reasons that The Whale Museum in the beautiful Friday Harbor exists.

They have spent nearly four decades promoting stewardship, responsible travel by ecotourists, and understanding and conserving this magnificent creature with its "resident" family, including SRKWs (Southern Resident Killer Whales).

One way in carrying out this mission is through research and the immediate availability of the gathered information to their members and anyone interested in whales.

We all know the Southern Resident orcas are at critical risk.

You can help them by doing anything from adopting an orca, making a donation, to even joining The Whale Museum team.

You can also meet some of these rare and beautiful creatures by visiting their Gallery of Whales, where individuals, students, and families can view the spectacular mammals up close.

Enjoy the Sweet and Fruity Taste of Madrone Cellars' Madrone Cider

Madrone Cellars is a wine artisan company started by Shaun and Amy Salamida two years ago.

Alsatian & Rhone Dry Whites, Bordeaux Reds, and French Champagne inspired them to create their now beloved Madrone Cider.

They realized people missed the tastes of their homeland, so they started to craft it in the winter of 2017.

Their cider has grown in popularity and is now available in local and regional stores because half the time, you just want to drink something that reminds you of where you came from.

Now they have a steady stream of customers coming into their tasting room in Friday Harbor, and they have received many accolades for their product – all of which has been a local and tourist favorite.

The wines at Madrone Cellars strive to create are minimal intervention, reflecting the purest essence of the grapes themselves.

They are passionate about natural farming methods, which is why they hope one day to bring an organic vineyard to fruition on San Juan Island.

Breathe the Scent of Lavender at Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Lavender at Pelindaba Lavender Farm
Jennifer Reeson-Ho / Shutterstock.com

Pelindaba Lavender Farm is an incredible spot for growers looking in the Pacific Northwest area.

They've managed to establish themselves as one of the biggest names in lavender, and you'll see several Pelindaba's selling their products around the region made out of lavender.

The best time to visit is when the San Juan Island fields are in full bloom, from July through August.

That's when their purple lavender plants will contrast against the green landmass of this beautiful island off of Washington State’s North West coast.

Don't forget to include a few snaps alongside your Instagram-worthy photos showing just how beautiful the bright greens and the deep purples of blooming lavender plants are.

Check the Fantasy-Inspired Tomb Afterglow Vista

One of the most extraordinary things about Northern San Juan Island is that there are so many unique sites to see, including Afterglow Vista.

Its beautiful architecture gives it an otherworldly feel, and the spectacular views of the Seattle skyline just add to its magic.

The name itself refers to something out of a fantasy story!

John S. McMillin worked for years as a successful lime manufacturer.

After retiring, he built this amazing site where his family could be laid to rest, surrounded by symbols representing their faith and Masonry ideals.

Funerary monuments of this style receive admiration for their majestic and airy appearance.

The mausoleum is within the place known as Roche Harbor, which you can access with a boat or through the green, overgrown trail in the local cemetery.

Once you enter the sunlit path after coming in from stage right, it's not too much farther before you see "Afterglow Vista," marking the entrance.

Discover the Best Viewpoints of San Juan Island at San Juan County Park

You can’t go to San Juan Island without taking in its beautiful views, and you should stop by at least one of its viewpoints while you’re here.

The best viewpoints are usually on high points overlooking either a small coastal area or a larger body of water, and they typically feature panoramic vistas and benches to enjoy your time here.

At San Juan County Park, one such viewpoint allows you to sit and enjoy stunning views of Vancouver Island or the Olympic Peninsula while eating lunch, reading a book, or just staring out into space.

San Juan County Park is a twelve-acre campground located on a beautiful, scenic stretch of coastline.

It's about twelve acres in size, so it's a pretty large park!

Reservations are strongly recommended during the summer months because this site gets pretty busy.

There are twenty campsites (and a group campground) with amenities, including potable water and flush toilets, picnic tables, a small picnic shelter, a boat launch, and a beach.

There are no electrical or water hookups.

You'll find plenty of options for smaller RV and camper vans at San Juan County Park.

Pets can come along, too, so long as they're leashed and attended carefully by you the whole time.

The view is stunning during sunset.

Take an Orca Whale Watching Tour With San Juan Safaris

San Juan Safaris in Washington
Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

San Juan Safaris offers killer whale watching tours through the peaceful waters of the Pacific Northwest.

With more than 55 whale species to see, San Juan Island off Seattle is America's #1 place to view the oceanic wonder.

Since 1995, San Juan Safaris' experienced whale watching guides have enthusiastically offered expert advice on spotting whales, orca pods, and dolphins.

You can take the newest vessel, The M/V Osprey, if you're with your family or a group.

It features a 360-degree sightseeing deck (and an upper deck), a large windowed, heated cabin with galley and booth seating, two restrooms, and comfortable seating.

The price to rent the boat is $120 per adult and $89 for children two years old through 12 years old.

They also provide special tours for groups of 8 years old and above on another one of their vessels for $139/person.

If you're looking for a safe and comfortable way to get up close and personal with the natural elements of the stunning San Juan Islands, you'll want to consider taking a trip out on the high-speed adventure vessel that is The M/V Kestrel.

Equipped with an all-weather viewing deck and state-of-the-art exposure suits, guests on this catamaran will be able to get a glimpse of some seldom-seen wildlife without having to worry about staying dry or warm.

And if you'd like to experience your excursion from the comfort of your bathroom, fret not; there's one located here too!

You will find San Juan Safaris right next to the ferry landing at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

Visit Cease and Desist Brew House for the Tastiest Beers on San Juan Island

For a friendly brewpub with an extensive menu, Cease and Desist is just about perfect.

Located in 10 Front Street #105, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Cease and Desist Brew House is an excellent stop for anyone traveling to Friday Harbor.

Cease and Desist overlooks the marina, with a view of sailboats drifting along the water.

The beer lineup will keep microbrew fans happy too.

Its proprietors pride themselves on their commitment to brewing quality beer on-site.

The drinks on tap include a good selection of local brews from the Pacific Northwest.

There's a relaxed atmosphere, and it's an excellent place for couples and groups to come together and enjoy themselves.

Enjoy Fun Rides With Susie’s Mopeds

Want to cruise around San Juan Islands ​on your moped?

Visit Susie’s Mopeds at 125 Nichols St, Friday Harbor, and find the perfect ride for you!

Susie’s Mopeds offers scooters in various sizes and models.

Whether you’re looking for something simple or with a bit more kick, they have them available to fit your needs.

Their expert staff will help you find the perfect fit for your group or family.

They offer Pedego Electric Bikes, Scoot Coupes, Kymco Scooters, and much more!

After your ferry ride, grab your quad or quad-styled scooter or enjoy all of San Juan Island over the lush island terrain with an electric bike.

Can’t decide between two excellent modes of transportation?

Why not both?

View the Stunning Sunset from Cattle Point Lighthouse

Sunset from Cattle Point Lighthouse
Matt Ragen / Shutterstock.com

Cattle Point Lighthouse is a charming local attraction in San Juan County, Washington.

The lighthouse perches on the edge of San Juan Island and overlooks beautiful water and plenty of sun-kissed beaches.

Although this stunning landmark is accessible, it's important to remember that it serves as a navigational tool rather than a tourist site per se.

It sits adjacent to a seaside park in Washington and has become part of San Juan Islands National Historical Monument since 2013.

Sunset from Cattle Point Lighthouse
Edmund Lowe Photography / Shutterstock.com

The defining and memorable concrete lighthouse comes with an octagonal design and towers 34 feet above the ground.

It's an eye-catching landmark first publicly lit in 1935, replacing the compass station that the Navy once used.

The lighthouse has a lantern room and other shapes attached to it, and people who know about lighthouses thought that this was too much – the structure was not at all like a lighthouse!

There is a shelter close by that visitors can use for picnics, and trails lead to the lighthouse from here.

Experience the Art of the San Juan Islands With SJIMA

San Juan Islands Museum of Art is a world-class art museum that highlights island art along with renowned artists from around the globe.

Located in the middle of San Juan Island, the Museum is a modern-looking museum that sits at the center of a vibrant and bustling community.

The museum itself is a remote location where visual artists on hand will guide you through rotating exhibits each day and offer workshops and lectures during your visit.

It offers beautiful views and rotating exhibits—like regionally inspired art and culture—every day,   except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11 am to 5 pm.

Artist renowned for his sculptural art with wire, Francie Allen celebrated his career in this museum with 'On Being Alive!,' a multi-sensory installation filled with multiple sculpted fluid wire figures bursting with shadow puppetry and music by Nick Tipp.

So if you need something cultural to do in San Juan Islands, check out SJIMA for some inspiration.

Enter the Golden Age of Reading With Griffin Bay Books

When you're strolling down the little town of Friday Harbor and happen to pass a gold-lettered sign out front saying 'Griffin Bay Books,' then stop for a moment.

With its charming stock dating back to 1979, this cozy local establishment opens its doors every day from 10 am to 4 pm on Tuesday to Saturday for your shopping pleasure.

This shop is chock-full of rare books that are sure to satisfy even your most eclectic literary tastes.

It’s one of the best places on Friday Harbor to spend an afternoon, no matter if you have kids or not.

If you've been struggling to find new books that your little ones will love, then Griffin Bay Books has everything you need.

And it’s not just for kids; there are many fantastic book series that adults will love too!

Perfect for fans of fantasy or romance, you’ll find everything from JRR Tolkien’s "The Hobbit" to Harper Lee’s famous novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Final Thoughts

Whether you're taking a sightseeing holiday or you're crossing the San Juan Islands off your bucket-list on your way to Outdoor Odysseys (if you're into Kayaking), rest assured that you'd have unforgettable fun in San Juan Islands.

No matter what brings you to this beautiful archipelago, I'm sure that there is a welcoming and homely place around here for you to call your own.