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To Seattleites, perhaps nothing symbolizes getting away from it all as aptly as the ferry ride from Anacortes to San Juan Island, where time, for the most part, has been standing still for decades. Driftwood-festooned beaches, winding country roads, seaside ice cream stands and spirited whale-scouting tours are tonic to weary city souls. But just because we’re setting our watches to island time doesn’t mean we have to forgo the cultured life. Friday Harbor, the only incorporated town in San Juan County, is a bustling metropolis compared to anywhere else within an hour’s boat ride. Whether you linger over roasted beets with goat cheese, followed by pan-seared sea scallops in the plush dining room at Backdoor Kitchen, or get takeout from Mi Casita or China Pearl and scarf it down on the rocks at Lime Kiln State Park as the sun slips behind Vancouver Island, you’ll be glad Friday Harbor was there for you when you needed it.
Travel Time From Seattle: 30 minutes by air and 3–6 hours by car and ferry
The hottest new restaurant/bar in town is The Bluff, in the middle of Friday Harbor’s busy waterfront scene. The menu delights from stem to stern, but local favorites include the braised short ribs and the Kobe beef burger. Small-plate and signature-drink deals abound during happy hour (4–6 p.m. Tuesday–Friday). Save room for dessert.
What To Do:
Visit the Whale Museum. Started by whale researchers more than 30 years ago, this pioneering research-and-education nonprofit has been instrumental in convincing individuals and governments that protecting cetaceans and their habitat is good for business. Regardless of politics, the kid in everyone loves standing beneath a genuine orca skeleton while listening to recorded underwater whale calls—perhaps the most virtuous $6 you’ll spend in Friday Harbor. Once you’ve learned about whales, try seeing them in action. San Juan Outfitters takes grownups and kids out on the 32-foot MV Sea Hawk into Haro Strait where orcas congregate in the summer months. Expert guides from Discovery Sea Kayaks lead half-day, full-day and overnight paddling trips around the San Juans that are hard to beat, whether or not an orca breaches dramatically close to your kayak.
Where To Stay:
Make a night of your visit to The Bluff by booking a room upstairs in the urbane Friday Harbor House ($215–$360 per night). With views of the bustling marina below, the well-appointed rooms seem more like those in a high-rise hotel on the Vancouver waterfront than in an island inn.
Get a Glamp Stamp
If you like nature but aren’t necessarily willing to hoof it into the backcountry, Lakedale Resort might be right for you. The 82-acre private retreat between Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor on San Juan Island is situated on three serene freshwater lakes. A smart and stylish 10-room central lodge (which can be rented for weddings and business retreats), six log cabins (each with two beds/baths, a gas fireplace and a full kitchen) and a similarly appointed three bed/bath lake house for bigger groups comprise the traditional lodging options at Lakedale. Those willing to do without some of the comforts of home can “glamp” (glamour camp) in one of Lakedale’s 13 lakeside canvas cabins—charming, 225-square-foot platform tents each with a queen bed (with bed and bath linens), a table and chairs, and a deck-top fire pit perfect for roasting marshmallows to the sounds of loon calls. Or take your own tent and pitch it along the lake at one of more than 80 campsites. A general store (with WiFi) and shower/bathroom facilities help campers tend their worldly needs so they can fo