Five locals on five isles—San Juan, Whidbey, Vancouver, Anderson, and Galiano—dish on how to make the most of your next island sojourn.
SAN JUAN ISLAND
STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA, WASHINGTON
by John “JB” Boyd, marine naturalist and whale watch tour guide
My wife and I lived in Oregon in the early ’90s—after moving from Texas—and one day, sort of just on a lark, we took the motorcycle out on the ferry to San Juan and cruised over to Lime Kiln Point State Park, where we heard there were orcas. When we got there someone said: “About five whales came by about an hour ago; you missed it, though.” And so we sat there and waited and waited and, all of a sudden, after about two hours of sitting, we heard the blast of a whale blow. It was just my wife and I and the park ranger and we had like 35 whales come swimming right by. I said, Okay, this is a magical place and one of these days I’m going to move here. In 1997 we sold everything we had and moved to Friday Harbor. I’ve been with Western Prince Whale and Wildlife Tours (360-378-5315; www.orcawhalewatch.com) since 2004.STAY
Sleep at the Olympic Lights (360-378-3186; www.olympiclights.com) a bed-and-breakfast on the south end of the island. That’s the first place I stayed here. My wife and I sat on the back deck and heard whales vocalizing over the water. It was beautiful. And the people who run it, Christian and Lea Andrade, are wonderful. When we left we had to catch an early ferry, so they made us a special box breakfast to take with us.
For a place in Friday Harbor stay at Earth Box Motel (360-378-4000; www.earthboxmotel.com). It was an old-fashioned motor inn, but it’s gone through a big modern remodel and I’m impressed with its services, including a spa where you can get a massage.
The other place in town I’d recommend is Bird Rock Hotel (360-378-5848; www.birdrock hotel.com)EAT
I love the Duck Soup Inn (360-378-4878; www.ducksoupinn.com) five miles north of Friday Harbor. Especially table number six, because it’s right next to the fireplace. (Hopefully this revelation doesn’t mean everyone will start booking that table.) Gretchen Allison, who’s owned the place for forever and a day, is an amazing chef. She prepares the best filet mignon I’ve ever had—and that’s coming from a guy who grew up in Texas.
Grab a quick lunch in Friday Harbor at Maloula Restaurant (360-378-8485; www.maloula.com). We go there for lamb gyros. It’s kind of a secret spot. They have a nice outdoor dining area where you can sit and watch the harbor. Sometimes Ivan—captain of the Western Prince II—will have parties for the crew and he’ll have Maloula cater it. Never had a bad thing from there.
Definitely go kayaking. The best outfit is Discovery Sea Kayaks (866-461-2559; www.discovery seakayak.com). You’ll have an absolute ball. And you’ll see eagles, and seals will come by your boat.
When my family came to visit they rented these little three-wheeled scoot cars from Susie’s Mopeds (360-378-5244; www.susiesmopeds.com) and they had a blast. Those cars only go about 25 miles per hour. It makes you slow down and really take in everything. Be sure to motor over to Pelindaba Lavender Farm (www.pelindaba lavender.com) where you can pick your own lavender.
Also, don’t miss Lime Kiln Point State Park, the only dedicated whale-watch park in the continental United States. There’s a hydrophone that allows you to hear what’s under the water’s surface. Take a radio out with you, because there’s this one-watt tower connected to the hydrophone, and if you tune your radio to 88.1 FM and the whales are going by, you can hear them vocalizing on your portable radio.
NORTH PUGET SOUND
by Marshall Bronson, bed-and-breakfast owner
After 31 years in the Navy, stationed at embassies and in DC, I wanted a life that was more tranquil. So in 1992 my wife and I took over the Compass Rose Bed and Breakfast (360-678-5318; www.compassrosebandb.com) in Coupeville. As soon as you get on the ferry to Whidbey from Mukilteo you experience a psychological drop, the sense that you’re leaving the congestion and the busyness of the metropolitan area. And once you’re on the island you instantly feel the openness and the trees and greenery. And the island isn’t flat, so you’re constantly going up and down and around things, which is interesting. Also, no traffic. Three cars, that’s a traffic jam here.STAY
If you’re on the south end of the island, stay at Eagles Nest Inn (360-221-5331; www.eaglesnestinn.com) in Langley. It’s set in the woods and looks out on the Saratoga Passage to the east. The woman who runs it, Joanne Lechner, has a very thorough understanding of the surrounding trails. A Tuscan Lady (360-331-5057; www.atuscanlady.com) in Freeland is in a semiresidential area, but once you go within the walls you’ll see: It’s been magnificently done up like Tuscany.
In Coupeville, in addition to the Compass Rose, there’s The Blue Goose Inn (360-678-4284; www.bluegoosecoupeville.com), comprised of two restored late-1800s houses. Really nice rooms.
The place to dine in Coupeville—people come up from Seattle all the time—is The Oystercatcher (360-678-0683; www.oystercatcherwhidbey.com). They have one variety of fish, fowl, meat, and vegetarian dish at a time. The menu changes, and therefore they dedicate themselves to turning each dish into an excellent thing. The restaurant at The Inn at Langley (360-221-3033; www.innatlangley.com) is probably the most elegant place to eat in Langley.
At Frasers Gourmet Hideaway (360-279-1231; www.frasersgh.com) you can sit and see the chef, Scott Fraser, preparing your meal. One more thing: Don’t leave Whidbey without eating Penn Cove mussels, which are sort of the sine qua non dish of nearly every restaurant here.PLAY
The whole center of the island is Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (www.nps.gov/ebla), which is part of the National Parks system and the country’s first historic reserve. That includes Coupeville, the second oldest town in the state. You can do a historic walking tour (www.nps.gov/ebla/upload/walkingtourpanels.pdf) of it in no time at all.
Another activity which is absolutely wonderful—people come from all over—is to hike Ebey’s beach and Ebey’s bluff (www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/ebeys-landing). It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour walk, during which you overlook the Admiralty Inlet. That is an absolutely delightful thing to do. Traveling north from there, it’s also fun to visit the Lavender Wind Farm (360-678-0919; www.lavenderwind.com).
STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA, BRITISH COLUMBIA
by Daniela Cubelic, tea store and spa owner
Growing up in Victoria, I always wanted a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, so I fled to Europe and Asia. But 18 years ago I moved back to open Silk Road (250-704-2688; www.silkroadtea.com), an import tea store and spa, and I discovered that all I ever wanted from a city was right here in Victoria. We have all the amenities of bigger cities, but we’re also surrounded by nature. I also love that Victoria’s a really great walking city. You can walk almost everywhere and have it be a relatively short distance. And everywhere you go, there’s the ocean. I’ll look over and I’ll see the Olympic Mountains across the water on the U.S. side. We don’t have the Olympic Mountains on this side, but I think we actually get luckier because we get to see them. Those poor people in Port Angeles! They’ve got the mountains behind them, so we’re the ones that get to enjoy the view.STAY
The Inn at Laurel Point (250-386-8721; www.laurelpoint.com) is phenomenal. It’s right on the Inner Harbour, so you get amazing views of the water. One of the wings of the hotel was designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, and it overlooks this Japanese garden and a big pond, so you get this really interesting effect with two layers of water, the pond and the ocean. It’s very tranquil and serene.
The Oswego (250-294-7500; www.oswegovictoria.com) is a boutique hotel that just opened within the last two years. They have kitchenette suites, and it’s modern and stylish and just steps from the Inner Harbour. If you want the classic Victoria experience stay at The Fairmont Empress (250-384-8111; www.fairmont.com/empress). The patio area is fabulous, and you really feel like you’ve stepped into another era.
One of the things that’s so exciting about Victoria right now is that it’s turned into a foodie paradise. Fifteen years ago I was hard pressed to think of three places I wanted to take out-of-town guests. Now we have this incredible food scene.
I’ve had unbelievable desserts at Niche (250-388-4255; www.nichedining.com), including this interesting chocolate and tobacco ganache. They actually used real tobacco leaves with chocolate. Tobacco has a honeysucklelike note to it. I’ve also eaten amazing salads there, with sorbet dressings that melt over the salad.
Brasserie L’École (250-475-6260; www.lecole.ca) is also great. There’s a strong connection between local food producers and chefs here, so we get food that’s locally grown and chefs who bring out the flavors, and that’s definitely on display at Brasserie L’École.
My favorite breakfast place is Rebar (250-361-9223; www.rebarmodernfood.com), where their focus is on healthy food, and they have amazing juices.
A really fun activity is to rent bicycles from Coastal Water Sports (250-391-1980; www.coastalwatersports.com) and go on the Galloping Goose Trail (www.gallopinggoosetrail.com), which is an old railway line that’s been turned into a cycling and walking path. It’s a pleasant trail with low grades. Ride in the direction of the Saanich Peninsula, which is where we have a lot of our local farms, including Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse (250-544-4824; www.seacider.ca), an organic cidery and orchard with a view of the water. They have really great tasting plates of cider samples and you can enjoy those while taking in the scenery: rolling farmland and hills.
SOUTH PUGET SOUND
by Lucy Stephenson, museum docent
FOR NEARLY 20 YEARS my family and I traveled from our home in University Place to spend weekends in a rustic cabin on the island. In 2004 we moved here permanently.
We had lovely home and nice neighbors in University Place. But now I have so much room to garden, and I have lots of apple trees and peach trees. It’s how I’ve always wanted to live. Also, I like the people. Even if you’re a tourist, I guarantee, when you get off the ferry and drive down the road, everybody on the island will wave at you. Everybody knows everybody here, so when you see a car, even if you’re not sure who it is, you better wave.STAY
You’ll see the Inn at Burg’s Landing (253-884-9185; www.burgslandingbb.com), right when you get off the ferry, directly to the left. It’s a bed-and-breakfast with a beautiful view of the mainland and Mount Rainier. And they have cute little rooms. Very antique—wonderful old, old things that must’ve been in their family for years.
I love the personality—and the cooking!—at Sweet Woodruff Bed and Breakfast (253-884-2180; www.sweetwoodruffbed andbreakfast.com), which is in the central part of the island in a quiet, wooded area. And the people who run it, Bill and Catherine Spears, can tell you anything you want to know about the island.
Barbara Lake runs Anderson Island Inns (253-377-6467; www.andersonislandinn.com) and she has several excellent properties that she rents out and provides breakfast for.EAT
The Riviera Lakeshore Restaurant (253-884-3344; www.rivieraclub.org) is on lovely Lake Josephine, and you can sit there and watch ducks swim in formation. And the sunset is reflected on the water. It’s just so serene. I usually get a six-ounce sirloin. They have quite a good cook and friendly people.
The Anderson Island General Store (253-884-4001; www.andersonislandgeneralstore.com) includes a terrific deli and it’s sort of a gathering place, where you get all the news and get to see everybody. And they have a nice sandwich and soup selection, which you can eat out on the porch, and that way you don’t miss anyone who’s coming and going.
Right next door is the Nisqually Coffee Café (253-884-1644). The owner, Angela, is a delightful lady. Sometimes she’ll have a blueberry muffin and she cuts it into several pieces and passes it around. She also has this darling cat that sometimes comes inside and curls up on the chair next to you.
Lots of people rent from Anderson Island Kayaks (253-884-6911; www.andersonislandkayaks.com) and paddle around Lake Josephine. Some kayak all the way across the Sound to Steilacoom.
For hiking you can’t beat Andrew Anderson Marine Park. The trail there makes for a beautiful walk—with Douglas firs and a beach filled with shells and driftwood—and leads to one last surprise, a look at the Olympic Mountains.
Don’t miss The Johnson Farm Museum, site of Anderson Island Historical Society (www.anderson islandhs.com) and community activities. I and other society members give tours of the museum, which has fabulous old vehicles and farm equipment. And islanders hold events there nearly every summer weekend, including band concerts and dances. And nothing costs a dime. Not really. When a band plays, they just pass the hat.
GULF ISLANDS, BRITISH COLUMBIA
by Alison Colwell, bookseller
AFTER YEARS OF LIVING in the city of Vancouver and a short while on Gabriola Island I moved to Galiano in 1996. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love the small community, where everyone knows everyone. You know, farming didn’t come to Galiano as early as it came to the other Gulf Islands. It was a fishing community and stayed heavily wooded, which eventually attracted hippies and other creative types. That attitude is still here. Author [and gay rights activist] Jane Rule lived here, and she was a big influence on the community. When I’m not working at Galiano Island Books (250-539-3340; www.galianoislandbooks.com), I’m at the beach. The kids and I go six times a week.
The Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa (250-539-3388; www.galianoinn.com) is more of a swanky city place, with a spa and contemporary furniture, something more like you’d find in Vancouver, while the The Woodstone Country Inn (250-539-2022; www.woodstoneinn.com) is more classic and old-fashioned. There’s also the Cliffhouse Cottage (250-539-5239; www.cliffhousecottages.com) a wood-slatted cabin hanging right on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
The Wisteria Dining Room (www.woodstoneinn.com/dining) at the Woodstone Country Inn is where locals go to celebrate a birthday. Gail Nielsen is both chef and owner, and she makes really great home-cooked meals like duck and grilled tuna. The Max and Moritz Spicy Island Food House (250-539-5888) is a wee little trailer that locals frequent, often for lunch. They serve German and Indonesian food (currywurst!). At the Sturdies Bay Bakery and Cafe(250-539-2004) the owners are chatty, the food is good, and it’s a great place to while away a morning.
The hiking and kayaking here is absolutely amazing. For hiking, scale Mount Galiano—the view at the top is astonishing. You can see the whole island and beyond, even to nearby Mayne Island. Another great hike is in Bodega Ridge Provincial Park; the four-kilometer trail includes a steep 30-minute climb to the top of the ridge to a more mellow path along a cliff’s edge, where you can take in views of the water and Vancouver Island. Rent a kayak at Gulf Islands Kayaking (250-539-2442; www.seakayak.ca) and paddle through Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park to the spectacular basalt cliffs in Grey Peninsula. You’re always sure to see seals, and there’s a cormorant colony. *