San Juan Island

San Juan Island

I finally made it to San Juan Island, Washington. I left the island kicking myself for having waited so long to visit. I have every intention of getting back to the islands again soon for some biking and kayaking. And eating. In the meantime, I need to befriend one of these titans of tech in Seattle and land an invite to one of their waterfront mansions.

I went to the island because a friend of mine, Zoe, was in town to visit her mother, who lives in a fantastic, old house that has a great backstory (will save that for another time). It was a quick little vacation to see an old friend. I didn’t take very many photos or write down travel-related details, which means I’m probably breaking rule #1 for an aspiring freelance photojournalist/writer – if it’s not magazine ready, don’t post it. I don’t think I like that rule, at least not across the board.

There are a lot of ways to get to San Juan Island from Seattle. I settled on the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. Google Maps estimated the driving time between Seattle and Anacortes to be about 90 minutes. If you’ve ever driven along I-5, though, you know that there are always problems. I had to take care of some things Thursday morning, and I missed my departure time. Remarkably, there weren’t any accidents along I-5, and I made it to the Anacortes ferry terminal with time to spare.

I parked my car at the ferry terminal, making a couple of rookie mistakes in the process. First mistake – I parked further away than I probably needed to. I imagine on summer weekends the lots get pretty full, but it probably would have been worth it to at least check the other lots. Parking isn’t free, but I didn’t see any pay kiosks. Second mistake – I pulled into slot 844, but I didn’t like that spot, so I moved to 842. Which number did I remember? You guessed it – 844. The “pay for parking” machine is outside the terminal’s waiting area. I think it cost $10 for a 24 hour period. It’ll end up costing me another $30 if I can’t convince the company that runs the lots to take pity on me for entering the wrong parking space number.

The waiting area has a cafe and vending machines. I heard the cafe crew mention that there was also food on the boat, so I just grabbed some coffee. The boarding process was smooth, and I went directly to the cafe. If you walk on the ferry (no vehicle) and are hungry, I recommend heading quickly for the cafe. I was indecisive and waited. When I went back, all the hungry people who drove their vehicles on had made their way up to the cafe. The wait wasn’t that bad. I have a weakness for soft pretzels, so I got one of those and a Rainier. Next time I think I’ll pack a lunch or just wait until Friday Harbor. It’s only about an hour or so.


I didn’t see any whales.



The ferry I was on didn’t have an upper deck exit ramp, so as we neared Friday Harbor, the walk-ons moved to the main deck, from which we disembarked ahead of the vehicles. From the ferry, the town of Friday Harbor looked like a postcard ready seaside town. I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad, whether it would be laid-back or overly cute and kitschy.



Zoe was waiting for me at the dock, and we drove to Bakery San Juan for a slice of pizza. If you like pizza, I recommend it. Cool place. We ate at one of the picnic tables outside and then wandered around the San Juan Co-op. Great little store. Even if you don’t need or want anything, I think it’d be hard to walk out of there empty-handed.

After that we opted for some culture and made the short drive to the San Juan Islands Museum of Art for their First Nation Legendary & Emerging Artists exhibit. Zoe’s mother suggested we start with the Inuit artists and finish with the artists from the Coastal Pacific Northwest tribes. I forgot to ask her why she suggested that order. Both exhibits were great, and with some help from Zoe, I re-learned what lithographs are.

The pieces from the artists of the Coastal Pacific Northwest tribes included incredible masks, large wood carvings, and even a canoe. In general, I don’t love mask art. I can definitely appreciate the artistic talent that goes into them, but I’ll admit it, they sometimes make me a little uneasy. I think it stems from growing up in Arizona and being surrounded by Kachina dolls. They were beautiful, but I remember sometimes feeling like there were other people in the room. I regret not learning more about them at the time. I didn’t like all of the masks at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art exhibit, but they are worth seeing.


From there we drove to Zoe’s mother’s house. And once again I have buried the lead (lede). It was the highlight of the trip. The house has a great view of the water and the Olympic Peninsula. We caught up for a while before starting in on preparing the feast. I use the word we because I chopped an onion (very important), opened a bottle of wine, and shucked some oysters. Zoe and her mom took on the easier tasks of making a delicious salsa, amazing enchiladas, and a rhubarb crumble.





The chorizo and potato fry-up for breakfast Friday reminded me that Zoe and her mother should open a restaurant. The food would be a hit in its own right, but the presentation would also be top-notch. Zoe takes better iPhone photos of the food she makes than I’d be able to take with my Fujifilm XT2. Throw in a very cool dog hanging around the restaurant and before you know it, Melissa Clark would be looking at some stiff competition.

I was aiming for a mid-afternoon departure, so we kept Friday simple. We started with the Pelindaba lavender farm. If you visit San Juan Island, try to work this place in, even if it’s just a quick stop. Those purple fields are something else. I had no idea that there were so many varieties and uses for lavender.


We then traded purple for reds, whites, and roses at the San Juan Vineyards. You can’t beat their tasting menu – 3 choices for $5. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the gentleman behind the bar. For that $5 we got a comprehensive, casual overview of the wines on offer, the history of the vineyards, and the inside scoop on one of San Juan Island’s most famous residents, Mona the Camel.


We finished the day by splitting an order of fish tacos at the Market Chef. I loved that place. The fish tacos were perfect, and it was nice being able to sit outside on their deck. I even did something I rarely do – got one of their chocolate chip cookies to go. I haven’t got much of a sweet tooth, but I couldn’t resist.