When I first moved to Seattle and people affectionately talked about the San Juan Islands, I wondered why so many Seattleites made weekend trips to a city in Puerto Rico. I’ve since learned the San Juans are located in the beautiful Evergreen State and only a ~2 hour drive and a picturesque one hour ferry ride away.
The Anacortes car/passenger ferry makes stops at Shaw Island, Lopez Island, Friday Harbor and Orcas. I’ve spent the most time at Lopez and Orcas. When I want to see more rabbits and deer than humans, I opt for Lopez. It’s not as rugged as Shaw (which has one general store, but no restaurants or b&bs), and if you’re traveling by bike, Lopez is easier on the quads than Orcas. It’s by no means flat but has gentler rolling hills. We always look forward to staying either at the modern Nowak House or camping at Lopez Farm and Cottages.
Orcas is my type of island because it provides a well balanced experience – killer biking (as in, killer views and some of the gigantic hills may actually kill you), beautiful hikes around Mount Constitution, a chill non-overcrowded vibe you’d expect on an island, and it’s rich with edible amenities.
I like nature and I love food so naturally my favorite trips are the ones that include the best of both: Pizza that’s about on par with my favorite pizzeria in San Francisco, Mexican food Seattleites would die for, a bookshop, and a bakery that churns out nutella-filled croissants and crqoue monsieurs…all just within a few blocks from one another.
Here are my favorite eat spots:
Oysters at the Orcas Island Saturday Farmers Market: The oyster dude has expanded his service offerings to include pasta so now he is referred to as the local pasta and oyster dude. For 10 bucks, you get a plate of handmade pasta and three oysters of your choice (raw, grilled or pan-fried).
Hogstone’s Wood-Fired Oven: Hogstone’s pizza dough is on par with Una Napoletana (which Seattle chef Matt Dillon has referred to as “God’s pizza”). At Hogstone’s, you can also order “oysters from 344 feet away.” If you’ve fully embraced the mellow island life and don’t feel like making any decisions, you can trust the staff with your dinner for $50.
Brown Bear Baking: Nothing unifies a town more than a bakery, according to my friend. I think she’s right. Since Chefs David Ellertsen & Lee Hilands Horswill took over the Wildflour Bakery spot last year, they’ve catapulted the space into a pastry destination in its own right. Even though Yelp makes me think less of humanity most of the time, I think yelper Phillip C is spot on his take of Brown Bear: “Their bread loaves would make a 19th century french artisan baker weep, perfect crest, chew, aroma, flavor!”
To learn more about Ellertsen and Horswill’s bakery and their story, check out this piece from The Stranger.
Mijitas: This spot has probably been around longer than the time I thought the San Juans were in Puerto Rico. Regulars and long-time staff make Mijita’s feel like you’re eating at someone’s house or back patio when the weather is nice. The Dungeness crab guacamole and rockfish tacos are my top picks. And the Carne Asada is pretty awesome too. Although one should freak out over paying $20 for a grande margarita, it was delicious and I think the alcoholic mellowed me out too much to care (locals refer to it as “island prices”).
Roses Bakery and Cafe: A few locals were trying to cajole us into Island Skillet for brunch, but we couldn’t miss Roses for weekend brunch. The baked eggs served with a baguette and jam on the side reminds me of Paris. Roses is also a great spot to pick up treats for enjoying on your hike as they’ve got a great selection of cheese, pate and fresh-baked loaves. Tip: Don’t pass up the monkey bread or the Devil’s cupcake.
Where to stay
Doe Bay, located on the eastern tip of Orcas, is uber-peaceful and has amassed a cult following. They’ve got cabins, yurts and we’ve camped there a few times. They’ve got a great cafe and clothing optional soaking tubs. Moran State Park is another great spot for camping. Although there are 151 spots, I’ve been eyeing the ones near Mountain Lake.
On our latest trip, we discovered the greatness that is West Beach Resort. Located 10 miles from the ferry and just a few miles from the Eastsound, it will be hard to stay anywhere else on subsequent visits to Orcas. Right on the beach firepits, an abundance of deer, best sunset viewings, and a front desk office loaded with ice cream from Lopez Island, espresso and beer. I can see why this has been a destination since the 1930s.
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