Hiking on San Juan Island
Pelindaba Lavender Fields
San Juan Island Mausoleum - Thomas Ashcraft
San Juan Island Mausoleum - Thomas Ashcraft
E.g., 2018-11-20

San Juan Island - Off the Beaten Path

Updated April 2017

I love San Juan Island and make a point to visit at least three times each year. I love how everything slows down as soon as you set foot off the ferry – island time. I love that even in the midst of August when the entire world is coming to visit, the island folks are smiling, waving and telling, as if for the first time, where to go to best see orca whales. I’m fascinated that this tiny piece of paradise, the size of Manhattan, even after two decades of exploring, still has places and things to do I have never heard of. If you are like me, a diehard island fan, who keeps coming back for more, check out these 10 little known things to do:

  1.   Roche Harbor Mausoleum

I first found the Roche Harbor Mausoleum because I took a wrong turn. After entering the resort on the other side of San Juan Island through an arch, you turn left to get into the resort proper and to the waterfront. One day, I inadvertenty turned right and saw a rather unobtrusive little sign mentioning Mausoleum parking. I parked and started to walk on a small trail into the woods. I came by what I later learned are graves of Japanese slaves. Whenever the trail forked, there were posts with arrows. I followed. Suddenly there it was, surrounded by majestic Madronas, the stunning McMillen’s family Mausoleum. Built by John McMillen, out of the lime stone the family mined, symbolizing the Masonic Order and the stages of physical & spiritual life of man. That’s all I’m gonna tell you…

  1.   Granny’s Cove

For the longest time I believed that there were no sandy beaches on San Juan Island and that you couldn’t swim in the ocean, unless you had a wetsuit or were a child. And then on a hot San Juan Island afternoon, I went down to American Camp to cool off. I parked by the visitor’s center, thinking that up on the cliffs I would catch a nice breeze. I strolled amidst foxes and bunnies when I came to a steep trail going down to the water and was greeted by a lovely cove with a sandy beach. The water there is so shallow that the sun actually warms it up. A sand castle and skinny dip later it felt like being in the tropics rather than in the Pacific Northwest.

  1.   Hike above Deadman Bay

Deadman Bay is a very special place to me. It was my late husband's favorite beach. A friend showed me this lovely hike into the woods above the bay, by some old lime kiln ruins, through Lime Kiln State Park and back. About ten minutes into the hike, after oohing and ahhing at the most amazing madrona and cedar trees, you will arrive at my favorite tree. My tree grows sideways out of a rock, is half burned, lost his crown and I love him. Please say “hi” for me when you walk by him.

Hiking on San Juan Island

Even though this hike is a loop, it is possible to get lost up there. So, please stay on the trail, take the second left when the trail forks and you will be back at Deadman after about 45 minutes.

  1.   Back Door Kitchen

There is virtually no way to find the aptly-named Back Door Kitchen by accident. It’s a tiny, family-owned restaurant, serving local, organic faire with an Asian twist. They are open from Spring through Fall and have an incredibly beautiful garden/outdoor seating area. I recommend their soup of the day and one of their signature cocktails. My fav is the No 6, the Ketel One Ginger Lemon Drop.

  1.   Friday Harbor Chocolates & Port Wine

A few steps from the corner of Spring Street and Argyle Street you'll find a new chocolatier in town: Friday Harbor Chocolates & Port Wine specializes in small, local, regional and international, small batch, award winning treats and the port to go with it. The Hawaiin Salted Caramels are out of this world.

  1.  Westcott Bay Shellfish Co

There is nothing like slurping a raw oyster fresh out of the water. Located just north of English Camp on scenic Westcott Bay, Westcott Bay Shellfish Co.  is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. They have communal picnic tables where you can shuck your own oysters and watch the farm’s operation during low tide. I just love the owners Erik & Andrea’s story: after 30 years of visiting the farm almost every year and secretly dreaming of working there in some point of time, the place became for sale. They re-established Pacific oyster and manila clam beds, as well as Mediterranean mussels. With their hard work and dedication they established themselves not only as a scenic place with extraordinarily tasty products, but also as a responsible and sustainable aquaculture farm. Bring your own Tabasco and lemon.

  1.   San Juan Distillery Tour

Right on the other side of Westcott Bay is San Juan Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider. I like knowing who makes my food and drink and from what. Their spirits are art, make great gifts and are rarely distributed outside San Juan County. I make a point of stopping by the distillery every time I’m up there. There you will find Madrona infused Brandy and Lavender Wild Rose Liqueur. What makes me coming back though is the Pommeau, a luscious, yet not too sweet, dessert wine I find hard to share. Just seeing their shiny copper still warrants a trip to San Juan Distillery, which is open for tastings (the other great reason to visit) every Saturday, 1-4, between Memorial Day & Labor Day. - See more on our sister blog.

  1.   Swim & fish in Egg Lake

On Egg Lake Road off of Roche Harbor Road, there is a tiny, lovely trout stocked lake with a wooden dock. I love to bring my rubber boat and just float around while the kids jump from the dock into the water and the dog, still after all those years, tries to jump, but is too scared. The lake has the perfect temperature on those sunny seventies San Juan Island days. There is not much parking, which is great crowd control.

  1.   Catholic Cemetery with Glockenspiel

I have a thing for old cemeteries. The Catholic cemetery on Madden Lane is one of my favorites. It’s tiny white chapel plays a delightful Glockenspiel on the hour. Ancient Gary Oaks shade elaborate old gravestones, overgrown with lichen and moss in fantastic colors. In the summer the graves are islands of wildflowers. And I have yet to see another (living) person there.

San Juan Island wildflowers

  1.  Mt Grant Preservation Trust Hike

Mighty Mt Grant, now the highest publicly accessible mountain on San Juan Island, is adjacent to Trout Lake, Friday Harbor’s watershed. It’s a 141-acre property which was supposed to be developed into subdivisions. The fantastic people at the San Juan Preservation Trust have partnered with the San Juan County Land Bank and weren't going to let that happen. They purchased the property with lot's of support from folks like you and me and converted it into a nature preserve. I’m in awe of the dedication to preserving wild land on the islands. I guess living on one makes you acutely aware of how fragile & precious things like drinking water really are. I easily found the preserve entrance off West Valley Road. It’s quite an elevation gain, but so worth the view. From the top you can see three of Washington’s five volcano’s: Mt Baker, Mt Rainier & Glacier Peak. There are old growth Douglas Firs, rare wildflowers & birds and did I say views? Stick to the roads until SJPT can establish a trail system. This is going to be so cool to follow the preserve’s development.

"What a delightful place to stay!...

The staff is wonderful and the little extras

make it a comfortable place to stay."

--TripAdvisor®
1