family. adventure. never ending learning

San Juan Island: Pause for Family Bliss

San Juan Island:  Pause for Family Bliss

Pause a moment on life’s highway.
Enjoy our beautiful State…yourself, and the ones you love.


Hurray to what has been a beautiful summer! Before we settle in to autumn and start the school year, we carved out a 3-day family visit to San Juan Island. We went with our two children, aged 6 and 5, and our 12-year-old dog.


Why Visit San Juan Island

It’s a phenomenal place for a family vacation. It’s laid back. It’s very dog-friendly.

The senses can take a feast. There are great eats! Fresh farm produce and seafood abound in the farmer’s market. As the scent and sight of lavender clear your mind, the kids can have their own taste of heaven-on-earth with lavender ice cream.

There’s a National Park, where eager children can earn Junior Park Ranger status and where we can all learn history’s lesson on peaceful dispute resolution.

It’s a place to learn about whales, birds, wildflowers and some really big, but cool words: environmental stewardship.

“We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.
      Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle


Taking the Ferry: Anacortes to San Juan Island

Washington State Ferry

The coming and going are part of this adventure.

Four of the San Juan Islands – San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw – are serviced by the Washington State Ferries. Reservations can be made ahead online.

From Anacortes – about 80 miles, an hour and a half drive from Seattle – we took the Super-ferry MV Kaleetan to San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor. The ferry ride was a little over an hour.

While we waited in line to board the ferry, friendly folks also taking the ferry to SJI said hello. A lady pointed us to the beach where we had a little stroll and took in the salty air.

Things Begin with Friday

Friday Harbor

Landing on Friday Harbor, we go on holiday mode. Streets have a cheerful, relaxed vibe.

We settled in our Friday Harbor Hideaway, a guest suite of architect David Waldron in Spring Street. It’s very close to the ferry landing, cozy, and had all that our family needed for this low-key holiday. The pluses: no additional pet charge and breakfast coupons for Rocky Bay Café and Cynthia’s Bistro included.

Rocky Bay Café provided us with power breakfasts, really filling for days of adventures. The café is in a convenient location in Spring Street, walkable from the Hideaway. The place is popular so yes, there may be a little bit of a wait.

Cynthia’s Bistro is classic farm-to-table. Cynthia also offers an extensive selection of tasty pastries.

Things to do in Friday Harbor: stroll, relax, people and boat watch. Have ice cream or coffee. Have a good meal. Enjoy art.  Just be.

Fish & Chips


Whale Watching

Whale Watching – Western Prince

We had a beautiful morning with the captain and naturalists of our whale watching boat.

We saw brother orcas: T101a and 101b.  Our naturalist guide told us that humpbacks and minkes can also be spotted in the area. We also saw porpoises, harbor seals and bald eagles.

The Whale Museum

Mural at the Wall of the Whale Museum: For the Orcas, by Lindsay Carron

The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor is a great place to get to know more about marine mammals, the cetaceans. Dolphins and porpoises are part of this group. Learn about whale behavior, the family tree of resident orcas and stories of individual whales in this small but wonderful museum.

We’re proud to announce that our family adopted a whale! Her name is Kiki. She’s named after Chief Seattle’s daughter, Kikisoblu.  We couldn’t bring her home. She must stay with her pod and we wish her to be happy in the big open wild. Resident orcas like Kiki are endangered but there are things we can do to help.

Would you want to adopt a whale too?

Doggie Day-care

On the day that we took the whale watching boat ride and visited the Whale Museum, we left our canine family member at the highly recommended Animal Inn & Wellness. He was well-taken cared of by the friendly staff.

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Lighthouse at Dusk
After picking up our dog, we went to Lime Kiln Point, a popular whale watching location.  We spotted porpoises.
At the lighthouse, we were warmly welcomed by volunteers.  We climbed up the lighthouse, which was built in 1919 and still guides ships in the Haro Strait.


The Pig War:  San Juan Island National Historical Park

“Mommy, did pigs in the island fight with one another?,” our five-year old asked.

Premise of the Pig War

He found the answer to his question in the Park, where he watched with great interest the film on the Pig War twice, once in the American Camp and a second time in the English Camp.

The Pig War was named so because one pig got killed – the only casualty of this “war”.

American Camp

The Treaty of Oregon signed in London in 1846 defined USA and Great Britain territories, setting the boundary of the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island then south through the channel to the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and west to the Pacific Ocean.

Problem: there is not one channel but two, the Strait of Rosario and the Strait of Haro, with both countries citing reasons for legitimacy of possession.

In 1859, American Lyman Cutlar shot a pig that belonged to the British Hudson Bay Company.  It was rooting in his garden.  When the British threatened to arrest Cutlar, and evict the American “squatters”, American troops were sent to San Juan Island.  This led to 12 years of joint occupation of San Juan Island.  Fortunately, wise leaders averted war.

In 1871, the Treaty of Washington was signed by the Great Britain and the United States.  A year afterwards, an arbitration commission established the boundary line through Haro Strait.

The San Juan Islands belong to the United States.

The flagpole from which the Union Jack is flown at the English Camp has this inscription: This flagpole is a gift to the San Juan National Historical Park from the people of the United Kingdom in recognition of the long friendship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

English Camp – Garrison Bay

Living History

On Saturdays, there are reenactments in the camps.  The kids strung beads to make bracelets and got to keep them as mementoes. They asked the soldier what the bayonet was for. Since there was no fighting, the bayonet found use as a candlestick holder and for cooking speared meat or to hold a kettle over the fire.

Junior Park Ranger Program

South Beach – American Camp

The children earned a Junior Park Ranger patch and badge after hiking, tidepooling, learning about nature and history.


Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Lavender Field

Here’s an invitation to relax.  Take deep breaths.  The Pelindaba Lavender Farm is absolutely beautiful and smells oh, so good!

Pick up a lavender present for someone special in their gift shop.


Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor

We spent an easy afternoon at Roche Harbor, at the northwest part of the island that faces the Haro Strait and the US-Canada border.

We strolled down history lane again:  over the brick road in front of Hotel de Haro and the hotel itself.

The hotel was named after Spanish explorer Gonzalo López de Haro, who was the first European to explore San Juan Island. Yes, Spain, too, left its marks on the San Juan Islands. The name San Juan actually originates from Juan Vicente de Güemes, the second Count of Revillagigedos who sponsored the expedition to the archipelago.

Roche Harbor became a company town when John McMillin established Roche Harbor Lime Company in  1886. The hotel building dates back to 1886 and had hosted Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Roche Harbor is now a resort.  There is an off-leash dog park and the Sculpture Park, also dog-friendly is in the area.

Historic Hotel de Haro
Bricks at Roche Harbor


Sculpture Park

Sculpture Park

This dog friendly park at the entrance of Roche Harbor features sculptures in a beautiful outdoors setting.

Our children enjoyed the Starfish project, signing the totem pole and sounding out the gong.

Farmers’ Market

In San Juan Island’s Farmer’s Market, find fresh farm produce, seafood, colorful bouquets and artwork.

Our best find in the Farmer’s Market: San Juan Paellas.

Paella with fresh seafood…mmmm, taste of true bliss.



Thanks for reading our blog post!
-Kathleen PB

Travel Resources:
Washington State Ferries
San Juan Islands
San Juan Island National Historic Park
Whale Museum
Western Prince Whale Watching
Lime Kiln Point State Park
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
San Juan Island Farmers Market
Hideaway Guest Suite

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12 thoughts on “San Juan Island: Pause for Family Bliss”

  • East coaster here, never been to that part of the world and had no idea there was a san juan island out west! I thought it was Puerto Rico! this looks so quanit and new englandy! Beautiful! Need to get out to the Pac NW… high on my list!

  • We just came back from a lovely August visit to Seattle and had plans to visit the San Juan Islands but…..we waited too long and all the lodging options were full! I LOVED your itinerary and hope to use it the next time I am in the surroundings. I’d say, make sure to book lodging early if you are going in the high Aug summer season——two weeks before travel was just too late to find a place to stay! Thanks for sharing this wonderful trip Makes we wanna go even more!!

    • Brandy, I agree with booking lodging early! We didn’t have enough time but if you visit and do, I’d also suggest Westcott Bay for an aquaculture farm experience and Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm.

    • Definitely come visit Washington again! So glad to come across #CulturedKids. Converted to Gutenberg this weekend and still figuring out how to put the code for the link.

  • I am pretty sure I did this when I was about 8, during a huge road trip on the West Coast with my parents. It certainly rings a bell. What a fabulous itinerary and great photography. Thanks for linking up with #CULTUREDKIDS.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment, Scarlett! Glad to be included with #CULTUREDKIDS. There’s so much for our children and the children in us to learn in this amazing world.

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