Accessible by ferry, seaplane, or regional flight from the mainland, this collection of 172 islands off Washington State’s northwest coast was long ago nicknamed the Gourmet Archipelago, thanks to a farm-to-table scene that dates back to the late-1800s. At that time, its farms and orchards were producing enough meat, seafood, and fruit (particularly apples and native Orcas pears) to supply both islanders and communities across the continental U.S. Today, vineyards, distilleries, breweries, bakeries, and noted restaurants are all drawing fans from Seattle and beyond.
Connect with the local products at spots like the Brickworks (150 Nichols St.; fhbrickworks.com), a bustling food and craft market in Friday Harbor; Buck Bay Shellfish (77 E. J Young Rd.; buckbayshellfishfarm.com), where you can shuck just-harvested oysters, then slurp them onsite; and Once in a Blue Moon Farm (412 Eastman Rd.; onceinabluemoonfarm.com), where you can pick your own fruit from 150-year-old orchards. On particularly fertile Orcas Island, the new chef at the Rosario Resort’s Mansion Restaurant (1400 Rosario Rd.; 360-376-2222; rosarioresort.com) showcases local ingredients like salmon from the nearby Skagit River, the chef at Duck Soup Inn (50 Duck Soup Ln.; 360-378-4878; ducksoupinn.com) peppers the menu with foraged finds, and James Beard Award semifinalist chef Jay Blackinton changes the menu at Hogstone’s Wood Oven (460 Main St.; 360-376-4647; hogstone.com) almost daily, based on what’s available at his nearby farm. Opened this August, Black Fish Bistro (2 Landing Ln.; 360-298-0012) serves seafood with a rustic French twist downstairs, and an extensive martini list in the upstairs bar. From September 22–November 12, the Savor the San Juans festival features farm tours, sheep shearing demos, cider, and fermentation workshops, farm dinners, art and music events, and more, across the three main islands (Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan), while the first annual Salish Sea Festival (October 15) includes seafood-focused tastings and panels, and tours of hatcheries and shellfish farms.
In between all the eating, hike or bike ride among the 38 miles of trails at Moran State Park, or take a “history hike” through the old-growth forests, hilltops, and shorelines of the northern or southern part of San Juan Island, during which a historian-veteran park ranger will detail the area’s Native American and British influences. An orca whale baby boom in 2015 and an increase in humpback whale return visits to the Salish Sea in the past several years have made kayaking and whale watching trips from Friday Harbor more desirable than ever. Sunset sails and multiday kayak-and-camping tours are also available, as are (in season) nighttime kayak trips that showcase the area’s dazzling bioluminescent waters. Or take in the area’s beauty from above with a ride in Aero Classic Aviation’s fully-restored, 1929 open-cockpit Waco biplane, which will fly you over three islands, with views of Lime Kiln Point. The islands’ visual arts programming is another aesthetic draw: along with the public art seen throughout the towns, Friday Harbor’s San Juan Islands Museum of Art (540 Spring St., 360-370-5050; sjima.org) has made a name for itself with exhibits showcasing works by Ai Weiwei and Ansel Adams.
Top spots to stay include the Island Inn at 123 West (from $220; 123west.com), with spacious waterview suites and kitchen-equipped penthouses, and Roche Harbor Inn (suites, from $220; rocheharbor.com), where the variety of accommodations are dotted around a yacht-filled marina, and the jewel-box spa offers herbal soaks and muscle-melting massages. Increasing in popularity over the last two years are upscale, canvas “glamping” tents offered by companies like Leanto and Lakedale Resort (from early-summer to mid-fall), each outfitted with comfy beds and creature comforts, and set among the spectacular scenery.