I cherish the fact we have seasons in our gorgeous Washington State. I love the deep blues of the sky and the Salish Sea when the sun shines. I love the rain, washing everything clean and keeping our place green and lush, even in the height and heat of Summer. I love the cold snaps, giving the apple blossoms their signal to emerge and making the wine grapes sweet. And I love the Fall, the abundance of harvest, the clean, crisp air, the colors.
So what is the best time of the year to visit San Juan Island? The short answer is: anytime! Each season has its own charm and reasons to visit. Find the San Juan Island season right for you!
San Juan Island is nestled in the Olympic Rain Shadow, gracing it with over 247 sunny days per year. That is not to say, we won’t occasionally get blustering Winter storms, 50 mile an hour winds and seven foot waves. But if the leaden sky over Seattle has you down, chances are, you’ll see plenty of rays on San Juan Island. Cool rays, so bundle up!
Being on an island is expensive. Just think that everything, from gasoline to coffee, needs to be shipped or flown over. Property, wages, taxes and utilities, especially drinking water, are a lot higher than on the mainland. If Summer island prices are a bit steep for you, come visit in Winter, when we run amazing specials, the ferry fares are cheaper and you’ll find no lines anywhere.
- Things to do
Home to over 300 migratory and non-migratory birds, Winter is a birder’s paradise. The islands lie within the Pacific Coast Flyaway, which extends from Alaska to South America, making it a popular stop for migratory birds, like the majestic Trumpeter Swan, who spends our temperate winters with us.
There is nothing like an exhilerating hike on a clear Winter’s day, before dining at your favorite Farm-to-Table Restaurant in town.
Spend a rainy day exploring the cute coastal town of Friday Harbor, with its shops, galleries and museums. Go to the movies or the theater, listen to live music and dance like nobody is watching.
Spring is the time of the year to travel with your entire wardrobe, because anything can happen. Okay, maybe not anything. Layers are the answer, lots of layers and being ready for anything, like sunbathing at Granny’s Cove with your toes in the water while wearing your Winter coat, wool hat and boots on your hike back to the car.
Lodging and ferry prices are still low in Spring.Consider visiting mid-week or leaving your car in Anacortes and walking on the ferry for extra savings.
- Things to do
The whale watch tour and kayak outfitters, as well as the zip line operators start running in March. There is something special about going on one of the first kayak trips of the season, when the Orcas and Humpbacks are returning to the Salish Sea.
By May, San Juan Island is carpeted with wildflowers. Head to Mt. Finlayson in American Camp National Park, Mt. Young in English Camp National Park or Mt. Grant in the center of San Juan Island and find Blue Camas, Fawn Lilies, Indian Paintbrush, Buttercups, the charmingly-named Death Camas and the Prickly Pear Cactus, the only native cactus this far north.
Summer is delightful on San Juan Island with balmy 70 degree highs in July and August and cool nights. We have experienced more “heat waves” in the last few years—though keep in mind, we are surrounded by cooling summer breezes, so heat is relative. If you do find yourself on the isle during a hot spell, check out these tips on 10 Island Places to stay cool in Summer.
July and August are San Juan’s high season. If you are on a budget and don’t want to miss out on all the Summer fun, check out Bird Rock’s Queen rooms, several of them are very economical, European-style rooms with a shared bath--for the best island Summer lodging deals. For budget conscious travel tips, check out this article on 10 totally fun things for under $10 on the isle.
In addition to all the Winter and Spring favorites, check out the Friday Arts Market, the County Fair in August, the Pig War re-enactments at the National Historical Parks every Saturday, the Lavender Festival, the Family Arts Days at the San Juan Island Museum of Art, free live music in the park, the Orca Sing at the Whale Watch Park and have at least one big ice cream cone from the Friday Harbor Ice Cream Company down by the waterfront.
The long, dry, sunny Autumn days on San Juan Island are my favorite time of the year. The colorful leaves on the majestic Garry Oaks and Maple trees dotting the isle, while farm stands bow under their Fall bounty. Pack for warm and cool weather alike and remember: layers, layers, layers.You never know when you might end up on a cozy cove nestled from the wind where you can lounge in the sun, almost imagining it’s still summer.
September weekends are almost as busy and cost as much as during the high season. Try visiting mid-week or coming back in October and November for great lodging values.
Eat. Farmers and Fishermen bring their harvest to market and the outstanding island chefs create amazing menus around the Fall myriad. The Fall Harvest parade launches Savor the San Juans, a month-long feast to celebrate all senses with culture, food and libations (and amazing specials). Don’t miss the acclaimed Friday Harbor Film Festival and the last whale watch tours of the season in November.