Travel: Lopez Island

Relaxing on the patio of the Nowak House after a day of riding

For a low-key weekend getaway, I always gravitate to the tranquility of the islands.  One of my favorite spots is Lopez Island: part of the stunning San Juan chain of islands in Washington.  All of the islands have a mellow vibe, but Lopez in particular strikes a nice balance between countryside-mellow and small town activity.

Here is how I like to roll when I head to Lopez:

Biking

I never travel to Lopez Island without my trusty bicycle.  All of my senses are heightened when I experience the island on two wheels.  I smell and see everything, and not to mention, work up a healthy appetite to enjoy the good eats on the island.  The terrain is flatter than most of the other San Juan Islands, but bikers beware, this isn’t a flat Midwest jaunt.  Gentle rolling hills with a low volume of cars make this a great bike training ride.  I recommend the 30 mile loop which stretches along MacKaye Harbor to Outer Bay and hugs the coastline.  You can do the ride in one day if you start early, but I have friends who prefer to segment the ride into days by breaking it up in-between with a stay at a bed and breakfast.

Eating

Surprising for a population of less than 3,000, this island has its share of good eats:

  • Love Dog Cafe - The restaurant has an old-fashioned vibe with pale wood chairs, outdated carpeting and mis-matched furniture.  Don’t let the odd  interior fool you into thinking they don’t have their shiz’ together.  This cafe has a large imaginative menu with fresh seafood entrees, Asian stirfries and pizzas.  Chef White Bear (I am not joking.  That is really her name.) somehow manages to nail almost every dish, and on the rare occasion a dish doesn’t completely gel, I respect how she takes risks with her menu and experiments.
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    In the summer, I generally order the locally caught salmon and trust Ms. Bear to prepare it in a simple way that allows the freshness of the fish to come through.  I always start off with a house salad.  In fact, I am so obsessed with Love Dog’s house dressing I always make it a point to tuck one or two bottles into my limited-space bike panier (they sell them.  I don’t mean steal them).

    When it is sunny, I make a run for their patio.  They are serving brunch again which makes me happy, and they are open for lunch and dinner.  The casual interior and bright lighting (mostly natural light) make me feel like this is more of a brunch/lunch place than dinner, but a great option if  you are with the kids or craving something ultra casual.

  • Holly B’s Bakery - I am convinced Holly B is the friendliest lady in the universe.  Although I don’t think her pastry presentation or texture stacks up against Seattle’s famed bakers (James Miller’s Cafe Besalu), I like that her pastries taste like they are something your mom or aunt would make fresh for you out of the oven.  I can picture Holly picking berries from her garden, concocting them in a compote and then kneading the dough.  Although people rave about her cinnamon rolls, I am all about Holly B’s fruit squares.  During my last visit, I compliment Holly on the tastiness of her strawberry rhubarb fruit square and then see her hurriedly scurry behind the counter to whip out a well-used binder filled with all of her recipes.  She turns to the page detailing how to make her famed fruit squares and encourages me to write down the recipe.  So kind of her to share what could be considered a Trade Secret.

Basket of rhubarb rasberry squares - Rasberries picked from Holly's garden earlier that morning

  • Bay Cafe - Although they change their menu regularly and I only recognize a handful of the items from the old menu, I know I can still order a bowl of mussels and a glass of white wine and enjoy the view.  Bay Cafe looks like a facade from an old western movie, and so it is one of those restaurants I would be tempted to overlook if I were on the mainland.  However, the service is always stellar and the food nicely celebrates local island ingredients.

Lodging

  • Nowak House - My FAVORITE place to stay on the island.   Oftentimes, island lodging consists of rustic b&bs, cabins, yurts and sometimes even pitching a tent.  All great options, but sometimes the “big city” girl in me comes out and I crave modern aesthetics.  The contemporary one-bedroom loft Nowak House was built in 2008 and is situated on the south end of Lopez with panoramic views to the west of MacKaye Harbor and Salmon point.  I love kicking back in the evening on one of the wicker chairs out on the yard with a book in one hand a mug of tea in the other, while admiring the sunset.  I always feel like I can sit there forever.

View of the sunset from the upstairs loft bedroom

  • Lopez Farm Cottages and Tent Camping - Lopez Farm is a gem and also easy on the wallet.  Surrounded by 30 acres of pristine land, the cottages and camp spots are only a few miles from the center of town.  The cottages remind me of the frequently found “hittas” scattered throughout Norway and Sweden you find in the backyards of people’s homes as they are self-contained (hardwood floors, queen-sized bed, bath, sink, microwave), clean, and charming.  BBQ and jacuzzi included, too!  Bonus:  If you are staying in a cottage, expect a fresh continental breakfast delivered to your doorstep every morning (homemade piping warm scone, anyone?).

The tent sites are a steal and suitable even for the most reticent of campers.  Only a mile away from restaurants and shops, the tent spots feel secluded and private and they have the nicest campsite bathrooms I have ever seen. The website even touts they are the only campsite on the island with showers.  Complimentary coffee included.  Sorry, no kids or RVs allowed.

Other activities

  • Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
  • Sunbathing and picnicking at Odlin Park and Agate Beach
  • Lopez Island Farmers Market
  • Island hopping – Pop over to Orcas Island or Friday Harbor.  They are just a short ferry ride away.
  • Tour de Lopez bike ride - The annual ride held in April is a great way to ride with a bunch of other cyclists.

How to get there: ~2 hour drive on I-5 north from Seattle to Anacortes.  The ferry ride is about 40 minutes.

Tips:

  • If you are heading there on a Friday, hop on a  4ish ferry.  That may mean skedaddling out of work a little early to beat rush hour traffic and make the ~2 hour ride to Anacortes a little bit more bearable.
  • Bike or walk on if possible – I generally dump my car in the ferry terminal parking lot and bike onto the ferry with a backpack or bike trailer to store my gear and supplies for the weekend.  Traffic volume on the ferries can get pretty intense during summer months and it can be frustrating queuing up for the ferry and missing the cut-off.  If driving, I recommend showing up 1.5-2 hours prior to sailing time.
  • On the island, bikers and cars share the road and there aren’t a ton of shoulders so it may not be suitable for kids or riders with vertigo:-)

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3 Responses to “Travel: Lopez Island”

  1. Suz
    May 25, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Lopez is the best!

    Two other spots that are “must see”…
    Shark Reef (look for the small center channel island that the sea lions sun themselves on and out west for the whales) and Iceberg Point (amazing view…sheer drop cliffs…the roar of the ocean…)

    Love the new site Jen! If I thought I could keep up – I’d roll with you all the time.

  2. Jen
    May 25, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    Suz – Thanks for the tips on Lopez! I will definitely check out Shark Reef and Iceberg Point the next time I am there.

    Thanks for checking out the site.

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