Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island, Washington – without a car!

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car

If you’re from the Pacific Northwest, you’re probably in love with the San Juan Islands. If you’re not, you probably don’t know that they exist—which is ok, because they’re seriously magical and we’d like to keep them all to ourselves.

No Pacific Northwest summer is complete without a trip to the islands. So when spring rolled around, I began doing what I do best: planning a vacation months in advance.

Having both never owned cars, my partner and I are pretty much experts at car-less travel…but getting to and around the islands seemed like a daunting task for the vehicle-challenged. And I didn’t want to rent a car, because renting a car while under 25 is demoralizing and wallet-draining.

Luckily, I discovered after a bit of research that Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is easily accessible without a car, and that the island itself is quite easy to get around without a car as well! Also, I found out that there is an alpaca farm on San Juan Island, which pretty much sealed the deal.

I planned a trip to San Juan Island for Memorial Day weekend (also my birthday weekend, yay) with my partner. After a long weekend of sunshine and seafood, I’m more than happy that I did! Here’s my guide to a long, car-less weekend on San Juan Island.

Disclosure: This post is not sponsored. The outfit links are affiliate links.

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car

Getting there and getting around

We took the Clipper passenger-only ferry from Seattle to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This was super easy! Having taken the car ferry from Anacortes to the islands before, I can verify that the passenger ferry is much more painless.

The town of Friday Harbor itself is tiny, so getting around town is pretty straightforward. We stayed a short walk away from the ferry landing, and walking from one end of town to the other took maybe 15-20 minutes.

Getting around the island without a car can be achieved through the San Juan Island Transit shuttle or the Jolly Trolley. I recommend the shuttle as it’s easy and inexpensive ($5 one way). You can also rent bikes and mopeds at various shops around Friday Harbor or take taxis.

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car:

Sea kayaking on San Juan Island
Sea kayaking for the first time! No one died!

1. Go sea kayaking!

Not gonna lie, I was terrified of capsizing and drowning (not being able to swim does that to ya). However, I pushed aside my intense fear of the ocean and allowed myself to drift out to sea inside a pointy fiberglass tube—and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been kayaking before, but never in the ocean, and never in the understated scenic majesty of the Pacific Northwest. We saw lots of cute harbor seals and snacked on seaweed fished right out of the ocean. By the time our three-hour trip was over, I almost didn’t want to leave the turquoise, jewel-like waters.

Check out San Juan Kayak Expeditions for family-friendly, guided kayak tours! They provide transportation to and from Friday Harbor.

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car
Whale watching at Lime Kiln Point State Park. Striped set from Reformation, straw bag from 31bits, sandals from Nisolo.

2. Watch whales and other wildlife at Lime Kiln Point State Park.

June-September is prime whale watching season, but we were lucky enough to catch sight of a couple of harbor porpoises off the shore of Lime Kiln Point State Park! Even if you don’t get lucky, the park is a gorgeous place to take in the coastal scenery and get some space. We also saw a pair of bald eagles just chilling in a tree, which was an amazing sight.

I recommend bringing snacks and just staying for a while (but of course, clean up after yourself and don’t leave trash behind, which can hurt marine life).

3. Bike through the island’s pastoral scenery.

San Juan Island boasts some of the prettiest farms you’ll ever see, and you can see quite a few of them if you bike along any of the roads. Biking is also a great way to get around the island if you don’t bring a car. We rented fancy e-bikes from Discovery Sea Kayaks, which propelled us up hills at 15 mph!

We biked from Friday Harbor to the other end of the island, Roche Harbor, in about three hours with multiple stops (including the lavender and alpaca farms) along the way. At Roche Harbor, we caught the San Juan Island Transit bus to get back to Friday Harbor (a 20 minute ride).

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car
Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm (not captured: me squealing for 20 minutes straight)

4. Make some fuzzy alpaca friends at Krystal Acres!

One of the highlights of my trip was simply seeing alpacas in their full fuzzy glory! We actually caught them right before they got their haircuts after the long weekend. There isn’t much you can do at this farm, honestly, besides stare at the alpacas, unsuccessfully get them to come closer to you, and buy expensive alpaca sweaters in the gift shop, but I personally think it was worth going! I mean, they’re adorable.

5. Try lavender ice cream and sorbet at Pelindaba Lavender Farm.

July is peak lavender bloom season, so we came too early for the blooms. However, we were able to try the farm’s lavender ice cream and sorbet, which was pretty dang delicious.

If you don’t want to make the trip, you can get the same ice cream at the Friday Harbor Pelindaba Lavender store, near the waterfront!

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car
Dinner at the Duck Soup. Dress from Reformation, straw bag from 31bits, sandals from Nisolo.

6. Have an unforgettable meal at the Duck Soup.

The Duck Soup is a gem nestled in the woods, overlooking a scenic pond. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d drive right by it. The food is thoughtfully made from local and sustainable ingredients, some from island farms and some picked straight from the chef’s garden.

We came here for dinner to celebrate my birthday, taking a taxi to and from the restaurant. I’ve had my fair share of fancy meals by now (because I disproportionately spend my money on food, lol), but this stood out as a uniquely beautiful experience.

I really enjoyed my meal, but I think the best part was being in a secluded and beautiful part of the island, and feeling like we were removed from the usual pace of everyday life. I think I’ll hold onto the memory of sitting by the pond after dinner, time slowing down as the dragonflies danced around the water and the sun set lazily over the trees, forever.

7. Spend a Saturday morning at the San Juan Island Farmers Market.

We stumbled upon the farmers market on our way to brunch, and I’m so glad we did! It happens every Saturday during the warmer months. Farmers markets are always fun, and this one in particular was incredibly lively and colorful despite its small size.

There were delicious pastries and other foods, local artists showcasing their work, and gorgeous wildflower bouquets. We bought some yummy snacks from Cafe Demeter‘s stall (they also have a shop on the same street as the market) and a seaweed print from a local artist.

Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island without a car
Enjoying the views at Lime Kiln…the only thing that could’ve made it better would be a cheese board! Striped set from Reformation, straw bag from 31bits, sandals from Nisolo.

8. Grab a cheese board from San Juan Island Cheese for a picnic.

This is something we didn’t get to do, but I wish we did. We ate at San Juan Island Cheese for lunch on our first day and it was really tasty! I’d suggest buying a cheese board here and taking it to Lime Kiln for some whale watching. This was what we’d planned to do, but unfortunately, the shop was closed when we tried to pick up a cheese board. Anyway, go live out my dream!

9. Spend a relaxing evening at San Juan Island Brewing Co.

I usually don’t enjoy breweries much, because they’re loud and most of the time, don’t serve anything I like to drink. But San Juan Island Brewing Co. is such a friendly, lovely place that we went twice during a four-day trip. They serve a nice selection of beers, with one cider on tap (I enjoyed the blood orange cider they had while I was there), wines, and a full food menu.

10. Learn all about whales at The Whale Museum.

The Whale Museum, near the waterfront, is another place we found when exploring town. It’s all about…you guessed it, whales. In particular, the exhibits focus on orcas, or killer whales, which are a big deal because there are three pods of resident orcas that live around the island. Despite its small size, this museum was actually one of the more interesting ones that I’ve been to. You can go see a conjoined harbor seal pup skeleton (as freaky as it sounds), learn the weird names of all the resident orcas (one is just named “Surprise!”…like, why), and sit under an orca skeleton.

Where are your favorite destinations for car-less vacations? Let me know if you have any fun summer plans coming up!

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26 thoughts on “Top 10 things to do on San Juan Island, Washington – without a car!”

  • This seriously does look like a magical vacation and you look beautiful! Is that dress from Reformation? The alpacas are soooo cute I love them! If I ever go to the pacific northwest, I definitely want to check out San Juan island. 🙂

  • I’ve visited the PNW area twice and fell in love both times. I’ve never visited the San Juan Islands though so I guess this means I have to go back! I would love to see a blog post about how you live without owning a car. I currently live in a city that makes car-less living difficult but it is an idea that intrigues me and I want to try it someday.

    • You definitely do! They’re the best secret of the PNW 🙂 It’s really easy to live without a car in Seattle, since the city is small and public transportation is pretty good. It really helps to live in the center of the city, too, but then you kind of trade the costs of a car with the cost of rent haha. Great idea..I’ll have to keep it in mind for future posts!

    • Omg haha that’s what sold me too! It’s supposed to be even better in the summer, with the lavender blooms, but it’ll be packed!

  • wait! Did you see whales? I planned a trip to the San Juan island for Toan’s birthday but had to cancel because of the weather. I’m dying to go there soon!

    • We saw porpoises! So…kind of but not really lol, too early in the season. Aw that sucks but you definitely have to try again!

  • I love this list! I love you conquered a fear (sea kayaking), saw fuzzy alpacas and gave so many trip for a car free trip.

    You are right I had never heard of this place but so glad I know about the San Juan Island now!!!

  • This all looks so peaceful and a great place to spend a few days to relax and unwind. I like how you give a range of activities that visitors can enjoy.

  • Washington has some incredible whale watching opportunities. You look like you had a lovely trip! I’d love to visit that farmers’ market.

  • Oh my GOSH! I’ve been looking for a good list of things to do in the San Juan Islands and you certainly delivered! Thank you so much for the inspiration, and knowing that it’s totally okay not to bring a car! You’ve definitely inspired a trip for us this summer! Thank you!

  • I’ve only been to the San Juans twice, once for kayaking and once for whale watching. I was just thinking today I’d like to go back and explore more! Thanks for sharing these ideas.

    • Me, too, only to Orcas and now San Juan. There’s so much to do there, or you could just relax and enjoy the views and peaceful surroundings…I always want to go back!

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