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.
Editor's note 4/29/15: Amended to reflect that Maloula Restaurant is now closed.