December 8, 2016

Insiders Guide to San Juan Island's Slow Season

Mt. Baker overlooking Haro Strait

Ready. Set. Sloooow. 

San Juan Island is magical all year around, but especially so in the winter months. Travel to San Juan Island in the slow season for few crowds, storm watching, holiday activities, and migratory wildlife. Located just 90 miles northwest of Seattle, San Juan Island is an easy day or weekend get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. 


American Camp - National Park Service San Juan Island
American Camp

Have San Juan Island to Yourself

San Juan Island is home to only 7,000 year-round residents. On a busy Saturday in July, there could be as many as 15,000 visitors traveling throughout the San Juan Islands! Beat the crowds by planning a quiet weekend getaway October through March in the quant town of Friday Harbor or the seaside village of Roche Harbor. Both towns are located on San Juan Island.

Aside from a few locals and the resident Columbia black-tail deer or red fox, San Juan Island’s national, state, and county parks are deserted. Stop in to the San Juan Safaris office to pick up a map of the many island parks which include expansive overlooks atop Mt. Young and American Camp’s vast natural prairie land with rocky beaches.  

Many accommodations have discounted lodging specials to entice travelers to visit San Juan Island during the slow season. Our favorites seasonal specials are Lakedale Resort’s Do Nothing Special and Harrison House Suites’ Fire Sale Special. These are just two of San Juan Island’s many lodging options

Stormy Lime Kiln Lighthouse - San Juan Island
Stormy day at Lime Kiln Point State Park / Photo by Kevin Culmback

Watch the Storms Roll In

Storm watching is a favorite past-time of Pacific Northwest visitors. Many regional photographers flock to the west side of San Juan Island to watch storms roll in from the vast Pacific Ocean. You don’t have to been a photographer to enjoy a brisk afternoon of storm watching, however. Just be sure to bundle up, pack your rain jacket, and a thermos of hot chocolate! Our favorite location to storm watch from San Juan Island is Lime Kiln Point State Park. The Lime Kiln Lighthouse is perched on a rocky outcropping that juts into Haro Strait, which is the waterway that separates San Juan Island, Washington from Vancouver Island, Canada.

After storm watching, head to Riptide Café for a hot expresso drink, or explore an indoor education exhibit such as the Whale Museum. Both are open 7-days a week in Friday Harbor! 

Downtown Friday Harbor Tree Lighting Ceremony
Island Lights Festival / Photo by Kevin Culmback

Brighten Up Your Holiday Season

Western Washington and the San Juan Islands were recently voted as Lonely Planet’s #2 Best Destination to Visit in 2017! But why wait until the new year to visit quiet San Juan Island for a weekend getaway? San Juan Island buzzes with holiday spirit beginning in early November. Locally owned businesses in downtown Friday Harbor blink brightly with Christmas lights, and the crisp bite in the air signals a change of seasons from autumn to winter in our temperate Pacific Northwest climate.

Choose from a variety of holiday activities and events ranging from the annual Island Lights Festival tree light ceremony to the historic Brickworks San Juan Island Holiday Farmers Market. You’ll find island made crafts, art, and sundries all created locally here in the San Juan Archipelago. Buddle up for Santa’s arrival to San Juan Island on the Christmas Ship and stay for the Lighted Boat Parade in the Friday Harbor Marina, both hosted by the Port of Friday Harbor.

Warm up with a festive holiday drink at one of Friday Harbor’s water view restaurants overlooking the marina. The Restaurant at Friday Harbor House and Downriggers Restaurant both recently reopened with new menu items. And their views are the best on San Juan Island. 

Stellar's Sea Lion at Cattle Pass - San Juan Island
Stellar's Sea Lion / Photo by Caitlin O'Brien

Encounter Migratory Wildlife

Every autumn and winter, San Juan Island welcomes a variety of migratory birds and marine mammals. Birders especially will rejoice; San Juan Island is located along the Pacific Flyway migration route. Protected lagoons and shallow bays attract migratory sea birds such as the bufflehead, snow goose, harlequin duck, and red breasted merganser. Head south to American Camp, or north to English Camp for the best protected viewing locations to spot these migratory avian visitors. Both parks are members of the National Park Service.

The more exposed waterways surrounding San Juan Island offer the best chance to spot migratory marine mammals. Hop on a boat based whale watch and wildlife tour to increase your chances of encountering migratory Stellar’s sea lions and dall’s porpoise. If you are lucky, you may even encounter humpback whales or mammal-hunting orcas. Although humpbacks and orcas do live is the waters surrounding San Juan Island all year around, they are not commonly spotted in the Salish Sea in December and January.

If you search for migratory marine mammals from shore, visit the Cattle Point Natural Resources Conservation Area. The swift moving and nutrient rich waters of Cattle Pass separates San Juan from Lopez Island and attracts migratory Stellar’s sea lions. Visit Lime Kiln Point State Park for a chance to see humpback, orca, or dall’s porpoise. Bring your binoculars, a good book, and lots of patience. 

Filed by:

Communications Manager


Share This Report: