A family-friend guide to Orcas Island, Washington.
Earlier this month, we took our first family trip to Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, and I’ve been meaning to share some details around the trip ever since. Getting to Orcas Island was a year-long endeavor, actually. I’d been hearing about how incredible the San Juans are ever since we moved to Seattle, but when I set my sights on a getaway there last summer, I found that apparently everyone in Seattle sojourns there in the summer. All the Airbnbs were booked and I was heartbroken. We went to Portland instead, which was great fun, and Orcas Island got pushed off to my “next year” list. This year, I jumped on the search early (in March) and booked a fantastic Airbnb.
This trip was initially intended to be one we were going to take with friends and their kids, but a last minute health issue caused them to cancel their trip last minute. We were super bummed but headed out there anyway. I had once read somewhere that most people look forward to vacations more than the vacation itself, but this trip actually delighted me in a way that I didn’t expect.
You see, Matt and I rarely take extended vacations (this year, our longest vacation was 4 days). We tend to work all day, and are usually back on our laptops at night. A trip out to Orcas Island with our kids was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.
Perhaps because our friends had to pull out, my expectations for the trip were actually pretty low. I knew Orcas would be beautiful, but I was sort of anticipating the trip to be stressful with just the two of us and three small kids. To my delight, 95% of the trip was actually…well, a total delight.
We packed a ton of snacks for the road and drove up from Seattle to Anacortes, where we caught our ferry. If you travel to Seattle, you must make some time to take a ferry to one of the islands (Bainbridge, Whidbey, and Vashon are totally doable day trips). The ferry ride itself is sort of magical. You have your choice of staying in your car, sitting inside, or standing outside in the front or back, and watching the scenery breeze past you. A lot of people bring food, drinks, and board games, and it’s definitely a nice break in what’s otherwise a 3 hour-ish journey. Our kids love riding the ferry — albeit, it’s sometimes a little chaotic for us!
Once we got to Orcas, we drove off from the ferry and headed straight to our lovely Airbnb. Going on vacation with kids, we knew we wanted a place with lots of space to roam around, and we did just that. Neko spent a lot of time hanging out in the hammock, Noah found a dog house (see photo up above, ha!), and Mila explored the garden, picking strawberries and black currants. In the evenings, we roasted marshmallows, drank wine and La Croix, and enjoyed being relatively disconnected (though the house did have excellent internet).
Coming from California, I immediately drew comparisons to Lake Tahoe, where my family has spent many summers, but despite the similarities (loads of tall evergreens and glistening cold blue water) Orcas Island definitely felt unique. A lot of folks told me downtown Eastsound reminds them of Maine: there are several wonderful restaurants, a fantastic bakery, ice cream shops, and a strolling path lined with lavender bushes and colorful flowers.
Since we were there with small children, we planned our days strategically around nap time, but still managed to do a ton! We explored the gorgeous Moran State Park one day (our 4 year old hiked on her own for about an hour and a half while we carried the twins on our backs) and hiked down to a fantastic little beach on another day.
We spent a lot of time collecting rocks on the shore, and even managed to squeeze in a few meals (one of which went great, one of which went terribly). I think my favorite thing, though, was the day we spent hiking out to a beach and then stopping at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm on the way home to pick up oysters and clams. We put the twins down to nap and enjoyed a seafood feast with Neko on the back deck. Another highlight was having our friends Ashley and Gabe and their kids (who randomly happened to be vacationing there at the same time as us!) over for s’mores around our fire fit.
Each day felt full and amazingly, everyone seemed to sleep better. None of our kids woke up before 7 am! Vacation with kids can often feel like routine in another place, but there was something about Orcas Island that really fed our souls and spirits and made me pause and appreciate this time in our lives, despite the ups and downs. I’m looking forward to returning (hopefully with our friends who weren’t able to make it this year!).
Without further ado, here are some of our favorite spots and finds:
Brown Bear Bakery: delicious baked goods and granola; a must-stop for breakfast.
Mijitas: super popular Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating.
Orcas Food Co-Op: a co-op grocery store with lots of locally-made goods and a deli.
Island Hoppin’ Brewery: dog and family-friendly brewery (we really wanted to spend longer at this place but our kids were kind of a disaster, so we had to run out. Next time!).
Girl Meets Dirt: preserves and shrubs. Stop by their brick and mortar (we picked up some incredible plum shrub).
Buck Bay Shellfish Farm: oysters, clams, crab, and more. This place was delightful. Eat there or take your seafood to go.
The Kitchen: really inventive food including wraps, bowls, baked goods, and refreshing drinks.
Clever Cow Creamery: loads of delicious flavors and toppings in a charming location.
Hogstones Wood Oven: we wanted to go here SO badly. Every single person we talked to recommended it. Sadly, it was closed on the days we were there, but we fully intend to go back.
Moran State Park: If you’re sans kids, hike up to Mount Constitution for incredible views, though (hint!) you can drive up to see the views as well. We enjoyed the Cascade Waterfalls trail, and friends also recommended the Mountain Lake loop walk.
Obstruction Pass State Park: beautiful park where you can hike and camp. Friends pointed us to a fantastic short hike (totally doable with kiddos) to a lovely little pristine beach.
Eastsound: downtown is so cute and worth a daily stroll (there’s a great bookstore, and plenty of views and treats along the way).
Doe Bay: another beautiful part of the island. Home of the Doe Bay Music Festival at the gorgeous Doe Bay Resort. We came here with a picnic lunch and enjoyed the grounds / views but hope to get a chance to stay here one day!
Have you been to Orcas Island? Have great recommendations? Or think we should check out other islands in the San Juans? Leave your thoughts in the comments! We love to explore.