Do you want to see killer whales in the wild? Then you need to visit San Juan Island (SJI), Washington.
The promise of seeing these gorgeous creatures was enough to get me to travel halfway across the U.S. And it did not disappoint: we saw about 15 orcas swimming, feeding and breaching. It was like an episode of National Geographic — but in real life!
SJI is the flagship of four islands generally known as the San Juan Islands. It’s a two hour drive north of Seattle plus an hour ferry ride. Definitely not the easiest access, but worth staying for a few days — there’s lots to do! These were my favorite activities.
Visit Lime Kiln State Park
It’s the spot to see orcas. Bring binoculars and a camera to capture the magic. There’s also a lighthouse, stunning views and numerous spots for the perfect picture. It gets cold and windy, so dress in layers.
Rent e-bikes from Meat Machines Cycles
We told Meat Machine we wanted “regular” bikes. They politely suggested e-bikes, and we begrudgingly accepted. Well, friends, listen to the experts. Without the e-bikes, we would’ve never made it out of downtown! The hills are real. We rode from the shop to Lime Kiln, which was about 18 miles roundtrip. Locks, helmets, flat kit and bike packs are included.
Eat and drink
San Juan Island Brewing has a great menu and more beer than you know what to do with. Plus, it’s down the street from Meat Machine — so treat yourself after your bike ride!
Make dinner reservations at Duck Soup well in advance for an intimate and exceptional dining experience. They locally forage for their ingredients! It doesn’t get fresher than that. This s’mores brownie was heavenly.
Stop by San Juan Island Distillery. It’s a small operation run by a passionate team. We tasted gin, cider and brandy, and bought an excellent bottle of cider to go. Check their hours before visiting — they aren’t open every day.
I also loved lunch at Madrona in Roche Harbor so much that we went twice. Get the catch of the day tacos and prawn and avocado cocktail — trust me. It’s also walking distance from the San Juan Island Sculpture Park, which brings me to …
Stroll through SJI Sculpture Park
I could spend hours at SJI Sculpture Park. The beautifully manicured park is peppered with 150 sculptures from around the world which were selected via a blind juried process. Many of them include a note from the author. There’s a pond, trails and plenty of places for a picnic. The art rotates often and is for sale. Admission is by donation.
There are lots of hiking options on SJI. My favorite was Young Hill at English Camp. It’s about 2 miles (1 mile out and 1 mile back) and relatively steep. When you think you’ve reached the top, find the trail that’s a little hidden and keep going for another 5 minutes. When you see this tree and these views, you’ve made it.
Take a trail ride
I grew up riding horses and the obsession still lies deep inside me. My husband insisted we go on a trail ride since it was so gorgeous outside. Ok, twist my arm! Horseshu Ranch was recommended by our AirBNB host, and it did not disappoint!
Pelindaba Lavender Farm — if it’s in season
We visited SJI in early June, about a month before prime lavender-viewing. I imagine it’s a sight to see when fully bloomed. It was still nice to walk the grounds and browse all the lavender products in the shop.
Question: What’s the coolest whale-watching experience you’ve had? Any hot whale-watching spots I should know about?