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Orca watching in San Juan Islands

If you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the Seattle metro area, make sure to spend some time exploring the San Juan Islands. Friday Harbor is a great town to start. There are lots of fun things to do in Friday Harbor, plus it’s the gateway to Lime Kiln Point State Park, the best place to go orca watching.

Orca watching in San Juan Islands

We started our family gap year in the Pacific Northwest simply because we had never been there before! And since our long-term plans would take us east, we wanted to go northwest before we were too far away. So we booked our first Airbnb on Whidbey Island and began our PNW adventure.

Some friends of ours insisted that we must visit Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and go orca watching, and well, we agreed!

Exploring Friday Harbor and San Juan Island

One of the things we loved about living on an island in the Puget Sound was the ferry rides! We never tired of driving our car onto the ferry and heading upstairs for a snack and to work on one of the puzzles they set out on the tables.

Ferry to Friday Harbor

The ferry ride to Friday Harbor was longer than our usual trip to Seattle, but we enjoyed the view as we made our way among the San Juan Islands to our destination.

Driving off the ferry and into Friday Harbor was like driving onto a movie scene. Friday Harbor is the most picturesque, quintessential little harbor town and totally looks like it’s from another era.

Friday Harbor

Visiting The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor

Our first stop was, appropriately, The Whale Museum. Our plan was to spend some time there, learning about orcas, and then head over to Lime Kiln Point State Park to have some lunch and look for the whales themselves.

We loved the Whale Museum! I can respect a museum that’s just the right size — plenty to see and do but not so much that you’re overwhelmed. We spent a couple of hours exploring every room and learning about the orca pod that visits the nearby waters. They had lots of hands-on exhibits about the orca whales and other wildlife on the island, plus up-to-date information about the latest orca sightings.

When we felt fully prepared with our newly-acquired information about orcas (and hungry for lunch!) we headed out to grab some food and hopefully see some orcas!

Whale watching in Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Park was on the opposite side of the island from Friday Harbor, but just a short, 20-minute drive. Once we parked, it was a little hike through the park to get to the shore, where we ate our lunch and scanned the water for signs of whales.

The best time to see orcas in the San Juan Islands is April–October, and we were there in mid-September. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, so we took our time and relaxed on the big rocks, taking turns looking for whales.

Orca watching at Lime Kiln Point State Park

We went into the lighthouse, where they were charting the orca activity, and we learned that some orcas had been spotted while we were at the museum! We were sad we missed them, but it’s hard to predict when they’ll be nearby.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Finally, we spotted some porpoises playing in the water! Not orcas, but we were glad that we were able to see some marine life while we were out there!

Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm and Country Store

We had one more thing to do before getting back on the ferry and heading back to Whidbey Island: visit the alpaca farm!

Alpacas are like llamas’ cute little brothers. And there was a whole farm of them on the island at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm! We stopped by to say hi and browse their cute Country Store.

Other things to do on San Juan Island

After such a fun-filled day out in the sun, we were ready to head home on the ferry. We parked in the ferry waiting area with some time to spare, so we walked around Friday Harbor for a little bit. They had some delicious-looking seafood restaurants and an art shop with gorgeous paintings of the island. The best shopping is on and around Spring Street, if you want to take home a souvenir of your time on San Juan Island.

If you have more time to spare, stop by the Pelindaba Lavender Farm for gorgeous views and lots of lavender products. See if any events are happening in Friday Harbor, such as the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Visit The San Juan Islands Museum of Art or any of the smaller galleries around town. Check out a local brewery or just enjoy some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat!

I think most of us slept through the ferry ride home. We were tired but so glad we took the time to visit Friday Harbor and the San Juan Islands. It’s definitely one of the places on our list to visit again, and next time we hope to spot the orcas!

Ferry through San Juan Islands
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