The largest of the San Juan Islands isn’t named for the killer whales you’ll want to see during a visit there, but it is certainly linked to the black-and-white creatures that draw tourists throughout the summer. Getting there requires traveling by plane, car, and ferry, but the reward is well worth the effort. The island’s natural beauty, relaxing pace, and friendly locals will invigorate your spirit and make your vacation truly serene and restful.
For amazing views and a close-up look at arriving seaplanes, there’s no better spot than Rosario Resort & Spa ($119 and up). This was the home of former Seattle mayor and businessman Robert Moran, who spent nearly 40 years on the island after being told in 1904 that he had just a few years to live. Discover the history in a one-hour tour and lecture, accompanied by the 1913 organ every Saturday. Families will enjoy the seasonal outdoor pool and large grassy areas for games.
The spa features the personalized Island Time Massage ($115 and up), fitness classes, and an adults- only, indoor therapeutic pool.
TOP OF THE WORLD
If you’re looking for a glimpse of other islands and the North Cascades, head to Mount Constitution in Moran State Park. Wander into the stone observation tower, built in 1936, as you roam the highest point in the San Juan Islands. Hiking and cycling trails, campgrounds, and lakes are in abundance within the 5,424-acre park with the old- fashioned archway at the entrance.
For seasonally inspired cuisine overlooking Cascade Bay, try the Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort. With ingredients from local farms, chefs create delicious dishes such as delicata squash with farro and citrus aioli ($19) or Lummi Island sockeye salmon with sunchoke puree ($43).
ON THE WATER
An easy hike from Rosario Resort will lead you to Cascade Lake and water-based fun. Rent a kayak, paddleboard, rowboat, or paddle boat from Orcas Adventures ($18 an hour and up) to investigate the lake on your own. Or just relax with a picnic and a scoop of ice cream while children run around the playground.
When you’re ready to explore Eastsound, the largest town, Darvill’s Bookstore is a good place to start. The charming shop opened in 1975, and you will feel nostalgia at every turn while you peruse shelves or chat with amiable employees. This is the kind of place that closes early in bad weather so employees can get home safely. At this epitome of small-town business, you’ll be treated as a friend, too.
THE MAIN EVENT
It’s one of the primary draws and worth every penny, so don’t miss a whale-watching cruise. Family- owned Deer Harbor Charters has excellent naturalists to encourage your curiosity and answer questions about the environment. A three-hour tour ($109) includes the use of binoculars and blankets, and there’s seating available inside and on the deck. There are often specials available online, so you won’t have to pay top dollar for a VIP experience getting close to these enormous mammals in the wild.
DINE WITH LOCALS
You can find a casual meal on the water in the company of friendly folks at The Madrona Bar & Grill. The vibe is rustic, the food is hearty, and the drinks go down more smoothly when you’re taking in the ocean air and gorgeous views. The dinner entrees are elevated with items such as pan-seared scallops with basil pesto reduction ($30) or a Guinness portabella served on a brioche bun ($15).
FIND YOUR BLISS
The bay-view suites at Outlook Inn in Eastsound ($229 and up) feature incredible views, gas fireplaces, and private balconies. The historic main building, built in 1888, served as the post office, general store, and jail. The hotel’s owners are earnest in their desire to provide a tranquil place in the center of town.
TIP FROM A LOCAL
“Want pho on Orcas? We’ve got it at Wild Island Restaurant, which also has lots of other organic choices and a juice bar. And for the best pastries ever, try Brown Bear Bakery.”
—Don Drozd, Orcas Island Resident
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
May 25: The 29th annual pet parade takes place at 11 a.m. Pets and their owners march through Eastsound, and judges award prizes in various categories. Kid-friendly food and activities are available, too. ourkaleidoscopekids.com