Visitors flock to San Juan Island — in Washington State’s Puget Sound — in summer. Yes, it’s lovely to go when the days are long and nights are warm, but we treasure our winter daytrips and weekend getaways to the mellow island. Remember, those hotel stays are less expensive, you (probably) won’t need reservations at a restaurant and the kids get a little more attention from the locals.
What to do, where to sleep and where to dine while on San Juan Island? Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites, mostly centered around the sleepy little burg of Friday Harbor. It’s a quaint, walkable town. Want more? Read my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver to get a more complete picture and additional kid-friendly ideas.
1. Watch a movie: At the simple, low-key Palace Theater, if there’s a family-friendly movie playing (the tiny theater only has room for one flick).
2. Go bowling: At Paradise Lanes, where family-style bowling is available, along with a video game or two. Try your hand at a strike — open bowling all weekend.
3. Eat a waterside dinner: Downriggers serves up platters of fresh, local seafood. Kids will love watching over the boats arriving and departing from Friday Harbor’s pier; there’s a kids menu to keep them happy, too.
4. Color while at the table: Order Let’s Discover the San Juan Islands: A Children’s Activity Book for Ages 6-11 before you go to keep little hands busy during the dinner wait.
6. Curl up with a cozy cup of soup: At Cafe Demeter, served alongside the signature olive oil ciabatta. It’s an informal spot to pick up lunch — perfect with kids.
7. Snuggle with a childhood classic: Head to Griffin Bay Bookstore, where you can browse the children’s department for the perfect Pooh or Potter.
8. Pick out a puzzle, a puppet or a plaything: Among the cluster of shops in Friday Harbor, seek out Osito’s (120 S 1st St), an adorable children’s shop crammed full of imported toys and cute clothing.
9. Go nose to nose with a whale: At the San Juan Whale Museum, where orca skeletons swoop overhead and whale calls echo from a phone booth.
10. Hike with the little ones: Yes, even if the weather is a bit rainy, you’ll enjoy Lime Kiln Point State Park’s trail, which weaves through Madrona trees and sports spectacular vistas to the west (squint, and you may even spot Vancouver Island).
11. Learn a little (piggish) history: In 1849, the U.S. and the U.K. almost went to war. Over a pig. Right here, in Washington State. Learn more about this odd bit of history and help your kids become Junior Rangers at The American Camp. A tip: Print out the workbook ahead of time and read up before your trip on the ferry ride over.
12. Ride a watery roadway: Take a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, whether you wish to travel passenger only or with your car.
13. Catch some zzzs: At Friday Harbor’s Earthbox Motel (go for the suite-style room, complete with kitchen). Or head for the island’s northern tip, to Roche Harbor Resort, where your family can explore the nearby art park from a true home base (check out those cottages!).
If this catches your interest, check in again on Wednesday. We’re going to be having a giveaway…