washington state ferry: how to get to san juan island
San Juan Islands

13 Things to Do on San Juan Island with Kids

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.

5. Munch a lavender cookie: Pelindaba Lavender‘s Friday Harbor shop sells a variety of herbally scented sweets and salves, but the lavender-chocolate-chip cookies are a family favorite.

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…

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.


  • Denise

    Would LOVE this! I’m from Bellingham and really miss the San Juan islands and would love to show my husband and 4 children a place I once went as a child.

  • Michelle Paige

    I would love to take my family to this resort. My husband, our 6 yr old daughter and 3 yr old twins would have an absolute blast. From coming the shore and inspecting the tidal pools to relaxing and playing and just having fun as family. That is my ideal vacation. I love to teach my kids about new things and especially how they inpact the planet, so it gets them thinking.
    Thank you!
    Michelle Paige

  • julie peterson

    Ah,, tis so beautiful there! We would spend hours holding hands and searching for treasure on the beach! Spotting an Orca would be extra special.. after a cold fun day of beachcombing we would head back and enjoy a nice hot cup of hot cocoa and snuggle! 🙂

  • KathyG

    If we were going to San Juan Island, my guys would be up for the hike first and hanging around at the beach, or maybe hoping for a whale siting. Even in cold weather, the beach is fun for making driftwood forts and looking for treasures in the sand.

  • Sherry Tomt

    We have never been to the San Juan Islands! So we would want to do it all! Would love to take my newly married daughter and her husband and my two sons. This would be a great vaction for our family!

  • Erin

    We so rarely get away with the kids, that I think we would spend the time playing games, doing puzzles, and just hanging out without anything we HAVE to do. I know they would love whale watching, too!

  • Shelley

    We have been to Roche Harbor with friends that have their boat docked there. It is such a magical place. I would love to take my son back as he is 11 now and my 4 year old daughter who has never been. We have such fond memories of walking through the garden and the little gift shop and also how they present colors in the evening.

  • Nicole

    I used to go there when I was a kid with my parents. It’s beautiful up there. That is one time when I could sit in a car while we drove around the Islands and just relax. And riding bikes on the islands and eating a the restuarants and enjoying the scenery. What a beautiful place to remember and to visit!

  • Violet G

    My husband just got back from his 3rd Iraq tour and I’m pregnant with our first child. I’d love to have a babymoon and have that honeymoon we never had before becoming first time parents.

  • Aubrey Toczek

    I would spend the time undivided with my daughter and husband. With jobs, our house, and just coming back from a layoff it would be nice to de-stress as a family.