Family Vacations to San Juan Islands, Washington

Seal in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
Harbor seal in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington (Sunny Walter/courtesy, Washington State Tourism)

San Juan Islands Family Travel Tips

The San Juan Islands, located in the Pacific Northwest and a part of the state of Washington, are the United States’ portion of what’s known as the San Juan Archipelago (Canada’s share are called the Gulf Islands). Of the many islands only 15 are accessible by public ferry, six on the American side. The Washington State Ferries system takes vehicles and passengers from Anacortes, Washington to four of the six inhabited U.S. islands: Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan. Private, seasonal, passenger-only ferries travel to more islands.

The San Juan Islands are geographically diverse: a blend of peaceful and treacherous waters, sandy and rocky beaches, mountains and valleys, forests, farmlands, and towns. The weather is mild: the winters can be cold and windy but it rarely snows, the summertime highs are around 70 degrees, and the area gets considerably less rain than nearby Seattle.

The San Juan Islands are popular with nature lovers, offering abundant opportunities to witness wildlife like orca whales, seals, sea lions, otters, deer, heron, and other seabirds. Before heading out to go whale-watching, visit the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor to learn more about these giant sea mammals that make the area their home. There’s no closer way to see the whales and other wildlife of the San Juan Archipelago than by getting in the water, and the area’s pristine waters are a popular spot for kayaking. Try outfitter Discovery Sea Kayaks for a three- to six-hour—or three- to five-day—guided kayaking tour.

Head to the west side of San Juan Island and visit Lime Kiln Point State Park, where visitors can catch orcas playing in the harbor and visit an interpretive center and lighthouse. Spencer Spit State Park offers rugged camping and hiking trails on Lopez Island. In Eastsound on Orcas Island, visit the The Funhouse Discovery Center of Orcas Island to find hands-on, interactive activities that kids will love; then head to Moran State Park for an easy, family-friendly hike. There’s plenty to do in the San Juan Islands whether you’re planning to stay a few days or a few weeks.


Published: 2 Apr 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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