Visiting San Juan Island
A Lot to See On Such a Small Island
Sometimes you need a place to get away. San Juan Island is the perfect escape! It's a beautiful rocky island surrounded by the swirling waters of the Pacific Ocean. Sightseeing, wildlife, shopping or just lazing about are all perfectly acceptable options. It's your time, use it the way you choose!
Highlights of Our Visit
If you do find yourself on this lovely rock, we have a few suggestions of things you can see and do. Click the titles below for more information of each place.
This 36 acre day use park is among the world's best spots for whale watching from land. The park boasts trails and a still operational lighthouse, built in 1919. The remnants of a lime kiln are present on the property. The kiln hearkens back to days when lime production was so prolific on San Juan Island. It's a great place to explore, picnic and if you're fortunate, see whales!
Founded in 1998, this 20 acre park displays some 125 sculptures from famed as well as little known artists. Situated in the Roche Harbor area, the surroundings are serene and have a quaint fishing village feel. There are pathways that wind through the various landscapes. The sculptures are on a 2 year rotation, unless sold prior to the 2 year cap. A wonderful place to be outdoors, appreciate the work of a great number of artists and if a piece really speaks to you, and is in your price range, you can even take it home!
And now for something completely different.....(borrowed from Monty Python). Afterglow Vista is the McMillan Family Mausoleum. Sounds like a strange stop for sightseeing, but it's actually a beautiful structure. Positioned atop a small hill, surrounded by forest, this memorial is at once out of place and yet welcoming. An ornate fleur de lis ring sits as a crown upon 6 Roman columns. The open air monument's centerpiece is a limestone table and 6 stone chairs. The base of each chair holds the ashes of a McMillin family member as well as one containing the ashes of the family secretary. While all of this is intriguing enough, there is also a great amount of symbology incorporated in the construct of the place. National Treasure meets Da Vinci Code! John S. McMillin was a Mason, a Knight Templar, a Methodist as well as a wealthy business and family man. You can read the story of our visit here.
An old lighthouse sits high upon a hill on this rocky point. The rolling, grassy hills end in cliffs that butt right up to the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The currents are very powerful and the need for a beacon is obvious. There are trails along the cliff line. Wildflowers, deer, eagles, hawks, osprey, marine life and more are to be encountered here. Beautiful and windswept.
The island has preserved the history of a time when San Juan was occupied by English and American troops. These parks have buildings and trails and what remains from this 1859 time period. There is a visitors center in the American camp with artifacts and a ranger to talk history with. The English Camp boasts beautiful forest paths and some lovely water views. Take a look around both, there is great historical significance here.
The waterfront here is where the ferry landing resides. There is a marina lined with vessels, boardwalks, benches and numerous shops. It is a picturesque setting. You can find a keepsake, take home some locally roasted coffee, enjoy an ice cream cone, stroll the boardwalks as the sun sets, enjoy a meal, even have a cocktail. Many accommodations are within walking distance of Friday Harbor, so getting around is quite easy.
A few Sundays a year the road to the top of Mount Grant is open. If you are present when the road is open, it's a steep but easy drive. The rest of the year you can hike to the top. This peak provides some lovely panoramas of the island. The top has benches and plenty of level areas that would be great for picnicking. Hike or drive, check out Mount Grant!
We have a separate article with more information about the Campaign to Save Mount Grant.
Just a really interesting place to stop and view alpacas. This 80 acre farm has a parking lot for you to stop, get out and roam around. There are some 70 plus alpacas in various fields. There is also a gift shop for purchasing items of alpaca wool.
Go for the marine life, the shopping or to just be somewhere else, but do make a trip to San Juan Island. History, mystery and loveliness await you. If you venture about the island you will assuredly see deer, many many deer. You may also see the iconic black fox that resides here. Whale watching is supreme, you may also see seals and sea lions. Plenty here for the outdoors enthusiast on water and land. We saw a lot over the 3 days we were there, but the pace of the island never felt rushed. Another great PNW destination. Bonus, you get to enjoy a ferry to get there!
Wildlife Seen: Eagles, Deer, Sea Lion, Fox, Osprey, Geese, Camel, Alpaca
A quick video overview of our visit. (2:06)