Fall honeymooning in the San Juan Islands

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 28-June 3, 1998
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Fall honeymooning in the San Juan Islands
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Fall honeymooning in the San Juan Islands
Question: My fiancee and I would like to honeymoon in the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound this October. Any suggestions?

Kirk Odegard
Arlington, Virginia

Adventure Adviser: Sure, the San Juans would make a fine honeymoon spot and an October visit should be sun-lit and crowd-free. Might be a little chilly, so be prepared. Without knowing what type of adventurers you are, here are some ideas to get your planning underway. Even though fall is off-season, remember to book well in advance.

Depending on your source, the San Juan chain is comprised of close to 700 islands, all tips of submerged mountains. The majority of the total area is taken up by the three most reachable islands: San Juan — the archipelago's namesake and county seat, Orcas, and Lopez. Each has its signature look and ambience, so it's possible to put together a nifty little vacation by visiting all three. Access to most of the other islands is limited to private boat, and Matia and Turn are two of the smaller islets equipped with state parks and campgrounds. The area's calm waters make the San Juans a hotbed for kayakers, but October might be pushing your weather-luck for an extended water excursion.

Of the three principal islands, San Juan is the most bustling, with lively Friday Harbor brimming with stores and tourists. If you're bird-lovers and want to try some of the island's aphrodisiacal oysters, idle away an afternoon at Westcott Bay Sea Farms (360-378-2489), or enjoy a quiet walk along the secluded beach at Cattle Point. In the harbor, the elegant Friday Harbor House is an Italian-style villa worthy of a honeymoon stay. Outside of town, try Olympic Lights (360-378-3186), where you can settle into a turn-of-the-century farmhouse and gaze out over the water.

Pastoral Lopez is a different world all together. The most agricultural island, it's also the flattest, with miles of unspoiled fields. If you're bikers, and don't like hills, Lopez is the place to spend a day or two pedalling. For accommodations, try the understated but elegant Edenwild (360-468-3238), and ask for a room with a water view. You can also stay at the comfortable Inn At Swifts Bay, a Tudor-style B&B (360-468-3636).

Orcas Island, in my opinion, is the most beautiful and varied. You can hike or ride (okay, you can also drive if you're wedding-worn) up Mount Constitution, at 2,408 feet the island chain's highest point. From the summit in clear weather, you can see the Olympic range peaks and sometimes Hood and Rainier. The San Juan Islands are home to more bald eagles than anywhere else in the continental U.S., and eagles love to soar around Mount Constitution. Elsewhere on Orcas are thick Douglas fir forests and peaceful inlets and bays, ideal for kayaking. An artists' haven, the island is home to many a potter and painter, and there are some great studios, such as Orcas Island Pottery, where you can round out your wedding gifts. There's even a leftover hippy hang-out at Doe Bay, where you can soak away an evening in one of several mineral tubs, or indulge in the three-tiered sauna. Places to stay include the laid-back Turtleback Farm Inn (800-376-4914), Outlook Inn, overlooking Eastsound, and the glitzier Rosario Resort (360-376-2222). Between the latter two is Christina's, the island's best place to dine. Pre-dinner, follow the road just past Christina's down to Madrona Point for sunset.

The San Juans are known for their wildlife. Pods of black-and-white orcas make their way past the islands on their daily rounds. You can often see them breaching offshore, particularly off the west side of San Juan island which faces the main whale-migration channel. Stand guard at San Juan County Park or Lime Kiln Point for prime viewing posts. Wildlife cruises offer the best chance for a close-up encounter with orcas, harbor seals, and tufted puffins. Try Western Prince Cruises (800-757-6722) or San Juan Boat Rentals and Tours (360-378-3499), both in Friday Harbor.

Kayaks offer an even closer view of the wildlife, more independence, and a chance to dart in and out of the many small coves. For rentals, try Lopez Kayaks (360-468-2847), Sea Quest Kayak Expeditions (360-378-5767), and Osprey Tours, for a more historically-oriented tour (360-376-3677). If you'd rather fish, call Captain Monty at Trophy Charters (360-378-2110).

To get to the San Juans, plan on ferrying over from Anacortes, less than a two-hour drive north from Seattle. If you need to spend a night on the mainland, consider staying in funky La Conner.

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