In some cultures, “island time” looks like a slow-swinging hammock and a Mai Tai that takes an awfully long time to arrive at your poolside chaise. In this corner of the country, however, “island time” translates to kayaking adventures near jumping orcas, playful seals and majestic bald eagles, then eating dinner in a harborside pub full of friendly Northwest folks who have hearty characters and kind souls. After spending just one day in the tranquil San Juans, you’ll find that your pulse has begun to slow, and you’re already breathing a bit easier. Exhale.
EverGreen Escape’s all-inclusive, small-group tour “San Juan Kayak & Ferry Adventure” begins with a crack-of-dawn downtown pick-up. Despite the early wake-up call, the day gets off to a great start, as you and the group enjoy the beautiful Washington landscape from your luxury van. You travel to the ferry terminal in Anacortes, where you join the queue of island-bound passengers, fueled along the way by EverGreen snacks like zucchini bread, ginger tea and a steaming cup of joe. The almost hour-long ferry ride passes quickly thanks to stunning mountain (and sometimes wildlife!) views and a group effort to assemble a colorful puzzle that’s been spread out by the last load of passengers on a lounge table.
The second you arrive at Friday Harbor, island charm takes hold. The van winds its way to equally-endearing Roche Harbor (with a lucky sighting of the island’s resident camel en route). Once there, you pop into the welcoming general store (est. 1886) for provisions; next, your trusty guide—who already feels like a friend—gives a quick kayaking tutorial before helping you and your paddle partner push off across the placid, steely gray waterways.
For the next three hours, you follow your guide into a magical water world, where you lose track of the number of eagles swooping overhead and the amount of curious seals who pop up near your kayak to say hello. As you hug the rugged coastline and ogle jaw-dropping views of the Olympics and Mt. Baker, you take occasional breaks to gaze out for porpoises or whales and to gawk at the myriad birds soaring overhead and jellyfish bobbing at your side. You pause to float in a surreal kelp forest (even taste-testing one of the long, silky strands) and to learn about floating rockweed, which reveals an aloe vera-like substance once it’s been burst open and squeezed.
After your arms begin to ache and your stomach begins to rumble, you enjoy the grand reward of a gourmet picnic lunch on Posey Island State Park. Think greens topped with spiced pears and blue cheese, a quinoa dish with butternut squash and roasted tomatoes, skewers of grilled chicken and apricots, plus a dessert of crumble berry bars and decadent macaroons. And, if you’re really wanting to feel like you’re on vacation, you wash down the delicious meal with some local wine.
Though the afternoon itinerary varies for each tour (the naturalistic guide can cater to the wishes of that day’s group), all options are alluring. Wander Lime Kiln State Park, considered one of the best places for observing orcas from land in North America. Go beachcombing at South Beach, hike to the top of Young Hill, explore the island’s historic British and American “Pig War” camps, sip local varietals at San Juan Island Winery, or inundate your senses at a nearby lavender farm. After a full day experiencing the island’s riches, you and your crew then head back to Friday Harbor where you grab some dinner (Cask and Schooner is a great, cozy option) before boarding a return ferry or a float plane, if that’s the option you’ve chosen.
Once back on the mainland that evening, you fall into bed with sea legs—feeling sun-kissed, windswept, simultaneously exhausted and refreshed. Thanks, EverGreen Escapes, for yet another memory-making day spent exploring the splendor of the Pacific Northwest.