The islands that dot the region are little adventures waiting to be discovered. And one of the best times to go is when everyone else is leaving — autumn. The weather is still warm, the leaves are changing color and there is more space to just be. And if you’re lucky, it could be more affordable, too! What are you waiting for?
The San Juan Islands
Each of the islands really has its own personality. A scenic ferry ride will get you to Orcas, San Juan, Lopez or Shaw. Or hop on a Kenmore Air flight from Seattle’s Lake Union or Boeing Field and be on an island in less than an hour — they offer several package adventures, too. The Victoria Clipper also offers vacation packages from Seattle to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C.
The busiest and biggest of all the San Juan islands, San Juan Island has something for everyone. If you are looking for a romantic getaway for two, or a family-friendly trip, this is a good bet. Friday Harbor is full of cute shops and eateries. Roche Harbor on the north end has beautiful gardens to explore and is on the National Register of Historical Sites. The Roche Harbor Resort is a favorite, the 10-mile drive between the two main hubs makes you feel like you really have escaped. Signs along the road beckon spontaneous adventure. Wine tasting? Check. Lavender farm? Sure!
Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island is one of the pioneers of glamping (glamorous camping with luxuries like canvas tents, real beds and chandeliers). Space is limited and books fast, especially in spring and summer. There is a small window of time left to try it; glamping ends Sept. 30. “We also have a program called Gourmet Glamping, where we bring the top chefs from Seattle here and they provide a hands-on group cooking class and dinner coupled with a Washington winery. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” says Karl Bruno, general manager at Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes. You also can try a retro camping experience in an over-the-top Airstream, tent camping, cabins, or rent the Lake House May-Sept. And the hotel lodge is open year-round.
Lopez Island is nicknamed the “Friendly Isle” because its 2,500 residents — many artists and farmers — are so welcoming. Good news for people who like to bike and hike and be one with the land and nature. From here, take a kayak and paddle to the nearby National Wildlife Refuge islands, where nature abounds and people aren’t allowed to step foot. Catch the last weekend of the Lopez Farmers Market Sept. 13 in Lopez Village. The Village boasts art galleries, a bookstore, and the Lopez Island Historical Society and Museum, where you can learn about homesteaders, the islands’ natural history and native artifacts.
Moran State Park and the view from on top of Mount Constitution make a trip to Orcas Island a must for people who truly want a birds-eye view of beauty. The beaches are also beautiful, and beachcombing is a year-round experience because the weather here tends to be a bit milder that some of the other areas in the Pacific Northwest. Orcas is a fun visit thanks to its little villages — Olga, Deer Harbor, Westsound and Orcas Village — that offer different experiences. Head to Madrona Point in October and November for the Farmers Market.
It’s only 10 square miles, and you don’t hear about as many people heading to Shaw Island. A lot of people take a day trip here from the other islands because there are no amenities beside the general store. So pack a lunch and walk on to a ferry (foot and bike passengers are free) and head to Shaw. The beaches won’t be crowded. You can stay longer camping at Shaw County Park. Or you can visit Our Lady of the Rock monastery, where you can stay for a day, or arrange for something longer. And yes, the nuns have plenty of work for you to do on this 300-acre farm.
Bainbridge Island is a short 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Many people head there for the day for shopping and dining in Winslow. Or to hike or bike, but it’s also a great place to stay and unwind. You can stay at Eagle Harbor Inn. It’s close to the ferry terminal, the marina and Pegasus Coffee. Or maybe you want to sleep somewhere a little closer to the water?
Kelsey Reckford, owner of Vocal Design Company on Bainbridge Island, recommends going through VRBO to stay on a sailboat instead of a hotel. “Sleep in a boat on the marina, just a few steps from the shops and restaurants.”
There is a lot to see and do on this 27-square-mile isle — including some destination dining spots not to be missed, including Hitchcock, for a truly fresh and gourmet experience with items such as Giant Pacific Octopus. Or go to Via Rosa 11, worth the drive for the best homemade pasta and sauce you ever will eat. They also have a market of imported Italian olive oils, wine and treats you can take home. There are several winery tasting rooms to explore, too. Check
out Eleven Winery for a fun tasting room experience.
Camano Island is about an hour from Bellevue. And guess what? There is a bridge, so you can avoid the whole ferry thing! Camano Island is pretty — and home to two state parks, Camano Island State Park and Cama Beach. The visitor Information Center is located next to Camano Island Coffee Roasters and is a good place to start. Make sure to check out the beautiful views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains across the Saratoga Passage. Cama Beach State Park has year-round cabin rentals near the beach with amazing views. The 1930s fishing resort was restored a few years ago, and the cabins are charming and inexpensive. Iverson Spit Waterfront Reserve is a good place to hike, see birds and wildlife and put your toes in the soft sand.
Vashon Island is a short ferry ride from Seattle. The island is busy in the summer months but gets a lot more manageable come fall. It’s a great place to visit as the leaves begin to turn orange and yellow. Its raw beauty, small-town charm and organic farmland make it a place many artists call home and where many people have second homes. The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie has a lot of history; it is the home of Jim Stewart’s original coffee company, The Wet Whisker, which eventually became Seattle’s Best Coffee. For a romantic evening, eat at La Boucherie and order something fresh — a serious farm-to-table experience. Check out the Hardware Store, no hammers here; just a gluten-free paradise and other stuff. Stay at Plum Lodge B&B or the historic six-acre Betty MacDonald Farm.
Whidbey Island is 50 miles long and thanks to the Olympic Mountain rain shadow, gets less annual rainfall than Seattle. And this charming and scenic island is easy to reach by frequent ferry service from Mukilteo. There is a lot to see and do.
Deception Pass State Park is known as one of Washington’s favorite state parks. Ala Spit has absolutely beautiful views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island. Fort Ebey State Park is part of the original “Triangle of Death” that protected Puget Sound from invasion. Ebey’s Landing is the nation’s first reserve, mostly an area that is privately owned yet dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of historic lands and buildings. Kettles Trail Park is the island’s newest trail; it connects Coupeville and Fort Ebey and features unusual ice-age geologic hollows formations made by a retreating glacier known as “kettles.”
Whidbey Island offers a great seafood foraging experience. Just make sure to check with the state website and get your shellfish license, then go out there with some shoes you don’t mind dirtying up and have some fun catching dinner. Or enjoy Coupeville’s fresh Penn Cove Shellfish, purchased from local retailers.
Nosh on delicious pie from Whidbey Pies & Café. What started with loganberries blossomed to a pie-making destination at Greenbank Farm. You can find the slices served around the island, or go straight to the source and eat at the café. Or just get a whole pie to go for $18. Or two. Have you tried the salted caramel apple? Check out the local wineries and fall events like the Autumn on Whidbey Wine & Art Tour Nov. 8-9.
There are several places to stay and eat amazing food on Whidbey Island — make sure to take your time and explore Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Langley and make a trip to the islands an annual event.