A Long Weekend in the San Juan Islands

Are you in need of a city escape? A change of scenery? A weekend of whale watching, wine tasting, and wondering if you should move to an island permanently? Time for a trip to the San Juan Islands!

Think the ruggedness of the Greek Isles meets a quaint Maine fishing village, then add the giant PNW trees. The San Juans are an archipelago of about 172 islands and reefs, with four ferry served islands for you to explore. It’s a perfect distance for a long weekend trip from Seattle and a great escape from busy life. Here’s a very customizable itinerary to get you started:

Day/Night 1

Drive from Seattle to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal and head out to the islands. Each island has its own style:

  • San Juan (~4 hours): The most developed island. Friday Harbor is a picturesque seaside town worth exploring. There are some great parks along the shore and bucolic farmlands on the interior.  Suggested Sleeping: San Juan County Park
  • Orcas (~3.5 hours):  “The gem of the San Juans.” Great mountain hiking in Moran State Park with small little villages.  Check out Doe Bay for its hot springs. Suggested Sleeping: West Beach Resort 
  • Shaw (~3.5 hours):  The smallest and the sleepiest of the main islands, home to hospitable nuns. Suggested Sleeping: Shaw County Park

Cabana Tip: Drive times are very dependent on ferry schedules. Ferries do fill up during peak times, so book ahead if you are traveling on peak days, times, or seasons. Make sure to show up to Anacortes at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

Spot orca whales in the summer. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Wegner)

Day 2

Keep exploring the same island or hop on a ferry and explore a new one. 

There is so much to do any time of year! Here are some seasonal favorites to add to your trip:

  • Summer: The most popular time of year to visit. In addition to exploring the beaches and hiking the hills, May to October is the best time to see orca whales, and the San Juan Islands Lavender Festival  takes place in July.
  • Fall: Like most of the PNW, the islands offer mild temperatures and stunning fall views. Farmers’ markets and local restaurants mean seasonal produce aplenty. This is a great time of year to enjoy a bonfire on the beach or try a cider tasting!
  • Winter: If you’re one for peace and quiet, this is the best time to take the popular hiking trails. Enjoy sweets and warm drinks from local bakeries. If you’re a fan of Hallmark movie style towns, don’t miss the tree lighting and holiday market in Friday Harbor. (Here’s the Hallmark movie that is set there!)
  • Spring: With the wildflowers blooming, this is a great time to hike on any of the islands. In April, the non-competitive Tour de Lopez bicycle rally allows riders to see all the beauty of Lopez Island.
Friday Harbor (Photo Credit: Ryan Parker)

Day 3

Keep exploring the same island or hop on a ferry and explore a new one. 


Get started on your drive back to Seattle. There are some really great spots to explore on the way back:

  • Deception Pass: Beautiful spot just outside of Anacortes. There is great camping along the beach and some easy hikes.  
  • La Conner: Quaint little fishing village with a cute downtown full of antiques.
  • Ebey’s Landing: Great windswept beaches with driftwood and so much history.

Day 4

Return the van to your starting point by 11am.

Want to extend your trip? Instead of driving to Seattle, head to Whidbey Island, take a ferry up to Port Townsend, and head to the Olympic Peninsula. (We have a guide for the Olympic Peninsula, too!)

If you're looking for a relaxing trip, check out our Guest Spotlight: 5 Things to "Do" on Your Spontaneous Lopez Island Adventure.

Whenever you make your way to the San Juan Islands, you’re sure to be charmed by the friendly towns and rejuvenated by the island's pace of living. If you’re itching for a wholesome escape, San Juan should be your next destination!

Latest Posts