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Island update

What's old is new in beautiful San Juan Islands


The San Juan Islands have always been a region of excitement and change, from the arrival of Hudson's Bay Company's loggers and trappers in the mid 1800s, to the 12-year “Pig War” stand-off between British and American troops, to the fruit and fishing booms of the early 20th Century. This year marks such milestones as San Juan County's 130th birthday, and the Washington State Parks' Centennial year; recently more than 1,000 acres of beautifully protected beaches, forest and farmland throughout the islands were designated a national monument, preserving them for future generations to enjoy.

Recent years have proved as dynamic as the area's fascinating history, with each island – Lopez, Orcas and San Juan – developing its own economy and culture, from a slower, agricultural pace on Lopez that speeds up during the annual Tour de Lopez bicycle ride; to the 5,252-acre Moran State Park and a burgeoning farm-to-table movement on Orcas Island; to Friday Harbor's bustling shops, art studios, history museums and theatres on San Juan Island. Not to mention some of the world's best kayaking, hiking and whale watching.

Of course, each island has a bit of everything, and there is so much to see, do, eat and drink, that it is a challenge to distill down the best choices – best to leave that to San Juan Island Distillery. The “Gourmet Archipelago” is coming into its own, and recent additions to the culinary and cultural scene highlight the abundance of fresh, local products they have to work with, as well as the creativity, resiliency and ingenuity of islanders, past and present.

Here's a selection of some of the exciting new developments in island outdoor adventure, history, art and culture, and farm-to-table finds.

What's News, What's New

  • One thousand acres of beloved San Juans Islands Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands were permanently protected by presidential proclamation in March 2013 as one of the nation's newest national monument
  • San Juan Island was chosen “Top Island in the U.S.” by TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Islands Award for 2013 and #4 island on the world list--the only U.S. island on the world list.
  • Lonely Planet chose the San Juan Islands as the #3 pick for “Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013”
  • Byway Gets Better: The San Juans are Washington's newest scenic byway has expanded its routes and schedule to include daily summer service on Orcas Island. Signs will go up this summer noting significant places to stop and travelers' amenities Get around the byway without your car, in summer, a shuttle with free companion pass, will operate on Orcas and San Juan Islands' scenic byway. Also included with a day pass is a free ride back to the ferry the next day. Or, rent a car, bike, moped or scoot car,
  • The Whale Museum, an engaging first stop to learn more before whale watching in the wild, opened a new exhibit this spring on L-112 or Sooke, a 3 year-old female orca whale who died under mysterious circumstances. Also, a new interactive exhibit on grey whales tells the life history of these behemoths from birthing in Mexico's lagoons to their migration to feeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Outdoor Odysseys Foodie Kayak Adventures 3 Day Beer Tasting & Kayaking (guided kayaking, guided tasting of micro brews from Boundary Bay Brewery, Bellingham) 3 Day Wine Tasting & Kayaking (award-winning Pacific Northwest wines served by winemakers).
  • San Juan Outfitters Gourmet Kayak Cruise, revised Savor Seattle menu and 3-day program, features locally harvested veggies, fruit, and seafood. Highlights the concept of farm to plate dining in a world class environment.
  • In summer, the San Juan Island National Historical Park produces an ever-changing array of family activities from reenactments and encampments to contra dances, lectures, nature and tide pool walks The park just installed a new dinghy dock for visiting boaters and are creating trails through over 300-arces of recently acquired property adjacent to their English Camp location. .
  • Brickworks Plaza, home to the San Juan Island Famers' Market, will have its historic building renovated by summer, giving vendors their first permanent year-round market facility. Taking its name from the site of one of Friday Harbor's prominent historical buildings, the project includes the repurposing of the original building, along with an outdoor plaza, green and stage, to provide a community gathering place for food-based, educational and cultural activities and events
  • The First Annual Three Lakes Triathlon at Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island is June 22. A fun event for athletes, both competitive and casual, and for their families with a post-race BBQ at the lovely lakeside resort for all to enjoy.
  • First Annual Friday Harbor Film Festival 10/11 – 10/13/2013 "Stories from Around the Pacific Rim" will present award winning documentaries about island cultures and the marine environment of the Pacific Ocean. Directors and producers will be on hand to introduce their films, give workshops, mingle with film goers and Q & A. The Pacific Rim focus relates to our Islands in the Salish Sea being part of the entire Pacific Ocean ecosystem. Contact: Lynne Danaher, Website:
  • Wanderlust Hospitality offers movable glamping sites in 2013. Camp without all the work. Hotel suite meets safari-style canvas tent plunked right into your favorite camping spot in the San Juan Islands. 877-589-3226,
  • First annual Pioneer Family Festival, September 21, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., admission by donation , 360-378-7040 At the San Juan Island Historical Museum, Friday Harbor Exhibits, weaving, butter-churning, apple-pressing demonstrations, games, food and more. Battery D Pig War re-enactors from the National Historical Park will add drama & color Food, Farms and Fun (Oh, My!)
  • San Juan Island Cheese, a new cheese shop and wine bar, will open in June, at 155 Nichols Street, opposite the Brickworks Farmers' Market in Friday Harbor. A full stock of artisan cheeses and wines ready for retail, along with prepared products from regional small food producers will be offered. Their goal is to carry 100 cheeses, from the Pacific Northwest (WA & OR), California, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Europe. Contact: 360-370-5115, or, or Facebook.
  • Friday Harbor will soon have its first vegetarian restaurant. The Green House Café and Juice Bar, which was slated to open late May, will open for lunch, then branch out to breakfasts. Featuring fresh from scratch soups, wraps, pastas, salads, and pizzas from the stone oven, the simple menu will also include vegan and raw fare with mostly locally-grown organic ingredients. 180 Web St. Jeff Altman (360) 378-0099 (Facebook page under construction)
  • Mike Sharadin owner/winemaker of Northwest Totem Cellars will open Mike's Wine Bar and Café with retail shop in early June, on 2nd Street in Friday Harbor. Offering a savory and sweet menu of lite (totally vegan!) bits and bites paired with Washington beer and wines. The tapas style menu will include many gluten-free items. The wine bar will have wines by the glass and flights; beer on tap will be from Island Hoppin' Brewery on Orcas Island.
  • Farms & Tables on Orcas Island: The farm-to-fork movement is growing on Orcas Island, with two new restaurants opening, and a wine festival in June. Maple Rock Farm owner John Steward, along with Inn at Ship Bay chef/owner Geddes Martin have brought their farm to the table with their new pizza restaurant, Hogstone, featuring stone-oven-fired pies made with local produce and Mangalitsa pork they raised on Orcas. The Barnacle is a new cocktail bar featuring house-infused Northwest liquors and small plates made with farm-fresh organic produce. The Doe Bay Wine Fest on June 16th will bring a dozen Washington winemakers together to pair their wines with food made by Doe Bay Café chef Jon Chapelle, Buck Bay and Taylor Shellfish Farms oysters and more. Contact: Shannon Borg,

Photos, from top: Kayakers enjoy San Juan Island sunset; Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island; Bicylists enjoy ride near Pelindaba Lavender Farms (Lavender Festival is in July)

Photos courtesy of the San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau; sunset photo by Mark B. Gardner

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you are looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Salish Lodge, Skitchine Lodge, Lake Chelan and the Rocky Mountaineer.

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