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.
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:
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.
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).
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!
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.
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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