San Juan Islands National Monument is made up of a collection of islands off the coast of Washington State in the Salish Sea. The islands are renowned for their beauty, rich marine wildlife, as well as their history and the arts. I was eager to visit because there is a great opportunity to see orca whales. You can reach the islands by the Washington State Ferries and right as you get to the harbor you will relish in the splendor.
Since you have to be to the ferry early, you may as well scan the waters. It was certainly late in the season, and correct me if I’m wrong because I’m certainly no whale expert, but are these the dorsal fins of an orca!?
I believe so. So here is your first choice, which island? We chose the namesake San Juan Island because it has the biggest tourist infrastructure and so much to do. The ferry ride was lovely – go outside for some fresh air or stay in the cabin to warm up, and you can bring your car along!
After we landed on the island we drove out to Cattle Point to take a look at the cove, the colors of the water were so pure and mesmerizing.
We were soon joined by a harbor seal and a loon.
From the viewpoint it is a short walk to get to the nearby lighthouse you will have noticed on the drive.
While it isn’t open, it sure is picturesque and nice to stretch your legs. Driving around the island you’re sure to swoon at the views. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, they’re all over the place!
Next stop was to Lime Kiln Point State Park, but we decided to park just outside of the park so we didn’t have to pay. There is a view point right by the mile marker 9 and if it isn’t full, it’s find to park at and walk on in. We were hoping to see some more orca action, but that wasn’t in the plans for the rest of the day. However, we didn’t leave disappointed because the park is home to another post-card worthy lighthouse and more!
Some shy sea lions and one ham of a harbor seal graced us.
There are two national historic parks on the island, American Camp and English Camp. In the 1800s there were tensions between American and English over who owned the islands. You can learn more about what happened, although you can likely guess how things turned out. A hike up Young Hill is an easy 1.8 miles round trip with 650 foot elevation gain. Along the way you can stop at an English cemetery before reaching views that are as stunning as they are strategic to soldiers.
With a few more hours of daylight we ventured to San Juan Sculpture Park to enjoy nature melded with the arts. This park was expansive and very unique. There were so many pieces that spoke to me like this,
I loved seeing a rendition of the Winged Victory which brought me back to Paris.
I also appreciated the poetry panels that were scattered along the trails, they added a literary element to the setting I have never experienced before at a sculpture park.
Also, the birding was great in the park, especially at the little lake,
that was home to many ducks, and a gorgeous marshland home to a noble heron.
The final stop of the day was for dinner at Duck Soup Inn. We were there a bit before our reservation so sitting by the pond watching the sun go down was just fine. Inside the décor is classy, service is attentive, and food is perfection. I went for a few small plates as my meal, a creamy cod soup – a light salad with seasonal fresh greens, some parsnips with thick cut bacon, and a sensational chocolate hazelnut and meringue cake!
Every aspect of this day was a smash hit, this island is pure magic. I would love to return to this national monument to explore the additional islands, preferably in a warmer month and kayak to search for orcas!