We were shivering under cloudy skies on the top deck of the 114-foot ferry as it entered Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. The overcast sky suddenly parted, as if on cue, and there was a pretty little town complete with mega-yachts in the harbor and palatial homes amidst dark green forests and fjord-like inlets.
The ferry to San Juan Island was recently ranked #4 out of the top 10 ferry rides in the world! The ride is beautiful and you'll see many islands on the way.
The next morning we boarded Maya’s Whale Watching, which came highly recommended on the web. We saw eight whales (an unusually high number) on our morning trip. They seemed to be performing in the ocean just for us. Captain Jim of Maya’s Whale Watching is very knowledgeable and takes a maximum six people, unlike many boats that carry up to 16 people. He also performs research activities for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). We also saw eagles soaring above hillsides and harbor seals hauling off to nap on the shoreline.
For those who prefer to be landlubbers, a local told me about “Whale Watch Park,” in Lime Kiln Point State Park along a 36-acre rocky shoreline. It features a scenic lighthouse and rough trails winding through gigantic evergreen trees.
The San Juan Islands are considered one of the prime kayaking areas in the U.S., so I did a day-long excursion around San Juan Island with a highly recommended company, Crystal Seas Kayaking. Whale watching season runs from April through September.
Many say the end of August is the best time to visit, with fewer visitors (most kids are in school by then) and lower prices on lodging. The islands are accessible only by water and air, and most visitors travel by the Washington State Ferry system out of Anacortes. There's seaplane transport (from Seattle) for those who prefer to be in the air rather than on the water.