“Look mum, a giant dolphin!” I spun around and tossed my half eaten sandwich in the air and there it was.
Grabbing my 5 year old, Daisy, I frantically lept off the picnic rug and stood on top of the jagged rocks. I could taste the salty ocean spray as the large, shiny black and white creature powerfully thrusted itself out of the ocean and made an enormous splash. An unfamiliar screeching sound pierced my ears…like a loud radio screeching out of frequency.
Moments later, I jolted out of my trance like state, as I heard my 4 month old baby giggle on the rug behind me, my upside down camera lay beside him covered in lettuce. In the distance I hear high pitched chatter as a flurry of asian tourists run along the cliffs edge towards me, all eager to catch a glimpse of what we had seen and what (to them), seemed like a lost kodak moment. But, the moment was not lost on us…that was no ordinary ‘Flipper’ in front of me. It was a giant, magnificent killer whale…an Orca.
I looked down at my wide-eyed daughter and the twinkle in her eyes said it all! We hugged it out, squealed and danced in pure exhilaration…both had lived THAT moment. It was OUR moment.
The joys of travelling with kids is showing them the world, immersing them in new cultures and experiences and, in this instance, sharing the most wildest animal encounter ever! For the most part, killer whales in the wild are visible only when they are at the surface, so to see it spy hop out of the water, exposing its head, was a real ‘WOW’ moment.
Welcome to San Juan Island, Seattle. Relax—you’re on “island time” now. One of the most enchanting places you can visit in your lifetime. And its not just about the wildlife encounters, its the scenery, the quaint historical seaside harbour, the people and the fact you are on an island, only an hour from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, Washington US.
Lets start with Friday Harbor – a charming, historic and walkable seaport, which you can only reach by ferry, boat or sea plane. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time into this compelling and attractive, idyllic township full of art galleries, antique stores, cafes and bookshops – the sweetspot and gateway to the San Juan Islands. You could literally spend hours dangling your feet over the various old wooden jetty’s and enjoy the comings and goings of the boats, ferries and sea planes. The local fisherman are busy doing their thing, the all american charm of the local islanders is authentic and friendly with shopkeepers out on the street chatting to passers by. Old time music plays at the port and, at night, the street comes alive with all the taverns open and magical fairy lights twinkling in the reflection of the harbour. We even spotted deer in the main street!
As well as walking the town, you can also drive, cycle, hike or kayak around the entire island in less than a few hours. You can admire the sweeping valley’s and rolling farmlands full of cows and sheep, visit the alpaca ranch, lavender farm, two light houses, vineyards, beaches and of course if you’d rather check it out from the sea, then a whale tour is a must! We ended the day with a beautiful seafood sunset dinner on the deck at Downriggers with both kids in tow. They have amazing seafood, desserts and a cocktail list to rival any other, alongside stunning views over the water.
Once you are on the island, life quite simply slows down and you will be reluctant to leave this enchanting place. Even as the ferry horn bellowed and we were onboard waving farewell, it was hard to not get sentimental over this mellow, picturesque island of escape.
Oh and remember as you sail out of the harbor, to keep an eye out for those ‘giant dolphins’.
We stayed at the Earthbox Inn close to the Friday Harbor ferry landing and in the heart of downtown, it’s classic retro chic and perfect large rooms for families! Check out www.visitsanjuans.com for a variety of Inns, hotels, B&BS, camping and even glamping options!
San Juan Excursions Whale Watch and Wildlife Tours was our pick and it didn’t disappoint! Fantastic crew onboard with naturalists there to involve the kids and almost guaranteed sightings of the resident Southern Resident Killer Whales (orcas) that visit the waters surrounding San Juan Island chasing salmon every summer. Get your cameras ready!
There’s no need for a car to see Friday Harbor. Everything is within walking distance of the ferry landing, and it is easy to get around, including shuttle buses and a trolley to take you around the island, as well as bike, three-wheeled Scootcoupe, and moped rentals. From Friday Harbor you can also catch an inter-island ferry to Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands.
You can get there several ways. Whether you ride a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes (you can make a reservation here), fly from Seattle or SeaTac Intl. Airport on a Kenmore Air seaplane or wheeled-plane or regional flight, rent a car or take an airporter shuttle from SeaTac.