If a relaxing vacation in the Pacific Northwest sounds right up your alley, you may be intrigued by the San Juan Islands.
Located in northwest Washington, these islands are a popular place for whale watching, boating, hiking, and many more family fun activities.
The best time to visit the San Juan Islands is in the spring, summer, or early fall. From April to October, the islands offer amazing whale watching and lovely seasonal weather.
Even though the warmer months come with peak prices, there are still great deals for an affordable and memorable family trip.
Check out the rest of this guide to find out more about visiting the beautiful San Juan Islands, including what to do there and how much to budget for your trip.
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Anytime from April to October is ideal for a trip to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington.
This is because whales migrate along the Pacific coast throughout the warmer months, so your chances of seeing these majestic marine creatures are much higher.
Local whale watching tour companies say 9 out of 10 tours result in sightings of humpbacks and orcas, particularly from mid-June to early September.
The warmer weather and beautiful scenery make for a pleasant trip to one of the northwest’s hidden gems.
With highs in the 60s and 70s, the weather is just warm enough to enjoy kayaking and more fresh air fun without being too hot or uncomfortable.
As this is the busy season, many small businesses are open and there are special events for visitors to check out, too.
A trip to the San Juan Islands in the spring or summer gives you plenty to see and do starting with whale watching – arguably the main event.
Beneath the glistening waves of the Pacific are impressive populations of orcas and humpbacks, and dedicated whale watching tours are the best way to spot whales and sea lions in action.
While on whale watching tours, certified naturalists and tour guides offer an up-close look at native whale populations and explain how to best support marine life.
The San Juan Islands boast the top whale-watching spots in the Pacific Northwest, and the majority of outings result in at least a few sightings, if not more.
Even though whale watching is the top activity on the San Juan Islands, there are many other family-friendly options, including kayaking, hiking, shopping, dining, and sightseeing at all the local monuments.
Boat rentals and historic sites allow you to explore the natural beauty and incredible heritage of the islands on the same trip.
A visit to the San Juan Islands is typically more expensive than staying on the mainland, but most visitors find it well worth it for the abundance of natural beauty and wonderful activities.
It’s a slower pace of life on the islands, so visitors can take a break and disconnect from the stress of everyday life.
To give you an idea of how much to budget for a trip to the San Juan Islands, most hotels range from $150–$300 a night.
Whale watching tours tend to be around $100–$150 per person, and then there’s a mix of dining options to suit both budget-friendly meals and sophisticated splurges.
Overall, a week-long trip to the San Juan Islands often costs just under $2,000 for a solo traveler, $3,500 for a couple, or $6,500 for a family of four.
With a variety of free and paid activities, it’s possible to make this destination work for your vacation budget.
You can always start with the local beaches and docks and then make your way from there.
Getting to the San Juan Islands is a scenic adventure, as you can only access them by ferry or seaplane.
The Washington State Ferry is the most affordable way of getting there, although private ferries are also an option.
Leaving from Anacortes, the state ferry will drop you off at one of five San Juan Islands stops: Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island, Friday Harbor (San Juan Island), and Sidney B.C.
Keep in mind that the ferry ride is around $20 for your vehicle, so it’s a cheap and convenient way to make sure you can get to the San Juan Islands and then navigate around on your own adventure.
Also, it’s about 80 miles or an hour and 15-minute drive from Seattle to Anacortes where the ferries depart every one to two hours.
If you prefer a breathtaking flight over the Pacific Northwest, most services start around $150 a person and go up from there.
One of the best things about the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast is that it’s a family-friendly destination with outdoor activities all ages can enjoy.
Whale watching is a big one, as it offers insights into humpbacks and orcas and their migration patterns along the coast.
In fact, the San Juan Islands are widely considered some of the best places for orca spotting in the world.
Surfing, swimming, and kayaking are other fun family activities to consider. Sea kayak tours are especially popular on the San Juan Islands as the water and weather conditions are usually really nice during peak season.
Sea kayaking can be super fun for parents, kids, and friends.
From boat to bike rentals, beach days to scenic tours, San Juan Islands delivers entertainment in the great outdoors, helping families reconnect and make new memories together.
Even a simple stroll up and down the shoreside streets offers an array of restaurants, shopping, and sightseeing.
No trip to the San Juan Islands is complete without a walk on one of the many picturesque pebble beaches.
Jackson Beach is a popular choice, with sandy sections and rocky nooks for sunbathing, beachcombing, sports, and much more.
Jackson Beach also has volleyball courts and picnic sites to ensure a fun family outing.
South Beach is another San Juan classic, situated within a national historic park and offering unbeatable views of Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Oftentimes visitors spot a whale tail off in the distance, while the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains is pretty spectacular, too.
4th of July Beach is a bit quieter and nice for romantic dates or family photos, while Eagle Cove is shallow enough for swimming and skimboarding.
Granny’s Cove is a gorgeous gem to put on your San Juan Islands bucket list as well, with bald eagles, rabbits, and foxes regularly sighted at this family-friendly swimming spot.
There’s no shortage of beautiful boutique hotels on the San Juan Islands, from quiet bed and breakfast joints to larger family resorts with luxurious pools and other amenities.
Here are some of the most well-known and highly-rated lodging options to consider for a trip to the San Juan Islands:
- Friday Harbor House, San Juan Island
- Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island
- Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island
- Tucker House Inn, San Juan Island
- Outlook Inn, Orcas Island
- Rosario Resort and Spa, Orcas Island
- West Beach Resort, Orcas Island
- Willows Inn, Lummi Island