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San Juans: vacation part two

April 24, 2019

When I was a grad student I spent a summer interning at Microsoft Research. At that time Microsoft gave interns $300 to buy a bike to encourage us to bike to work instead of driving, so many of us had bikes. One of the interns also had a pickup truck, so one weekend a bunch of us threw our bikes in the back of his truck and headed to Anacortes to catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands. We biked around Orcas Island for the day, and then caught an inter-island ferry to poke around Friday Harbor on San Juan Island before heading back to the mainland. I really enjoyed the day; I like spending time on the ocean, and I find the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest lovely, so it hit two of my favorites.

I’ve always wanted to go back, but a good opportunity never really presented itself until this year. When considering how we might spend our daughter’s spring break, I brought up the possibility of visiting the San Juans and combining it with visiting another city. We’d just visited Vancouver last summer, so that was out. Seattle was a possibility (we lived there for awhile and could visit with old friends), but in the end Victoria won out.

After spending several days in Victoria, we caught a ride to Sidney and boarded a Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor. The ferry was a total blast from the past; I don’t think they’ve update the interiors since I visited the San Juans in the 90s. The linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting really made my nostalgic for that previous visit.

I don’t think Washington has updated the interiors of these ferries since the 90s
The San Juan Islands: still pretty

The ride to Friday Harbor took a bit over an hour, with pretty scenery all the way. Friday Harbor hadn’t changed too much from what I remembered; there were a few more buildings and many had been updated, but otherwise the downtown looked much the same.

Downtown Friday Harbor

We’d opted to stay at the Bird Rock Hotel right in downtown. It turned out to be a good choice: centrally located, nicely appointed, free breakfast, and we got a suite so that our daughter could have her own room (increasingly important as she gets older).

Our first day we just wandered around town and then kicked back and read at a coffee shop right on the water. The next day turned out to be drizzly on and off (our only day of stereotypically drizzly Pacific Northwest weather), so we started out by visiting the Whale Museum. After that we opted to hop on the inter-island ferry and ride it between the islands (Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, and then back to Friday Harbor). Since the inter-land ferry is free for walk-on passengers, it was a free 3 hour boat tour of the islands.

Riding the inter-island ferry on a drizzly day
A ferry in the distance heads back to Anacortes

The next day the weather cleared right up, so we borrowed three of our hotel’s bikes (they have beach cruisers for guests to use), bought sandwiches from the Spring Street Deli, and rode the Pear Point Loop. The ride was roughly 6 miles and relatively flat, although we missed having gears on a few of the hills (why do people like fixies so much?). We stopped off on Jackson Beach for lunch, and we periodically pulled off the road to enjoy the scenery.

One of the things I often wonder when visiting a place on vacation is whether I could live there full time. I really like the San Juans; they’re a lovely place to visit. And I could totally see myself spending a few months there: spending time outdoors, relaxing and writing, writing a bit of code with a view of the ocean. But I’m not sure I could live there for a sustained period; after awhile the smallness of whatever island I was on would probably get to me. And then there’s the need to hop a ferry anytime you actually want to go anywhere.

But even if I couldn’t really imagine living there full-time, the San Juan Islands are a lovely place to visit.

Friday Harbor at sunset

From → Travel

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