The quiet season on San Juan Island is a delight. It is an opportunity to have an island adventure without the bustle of the summer season. The pace slows down, allowing you to interact with natives who have wonderful tales to share. Visit with shopkeepers who toot the praises of local products. Enjoy uncrowded restaurants with hearty winter menus. It is a time to disconnect and interact with others. Here is what we learned during our family's journey.
Plan your visit. Start with the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau's website (VisitSanJuans.com). This is one of the best travel websites I have ever seen. Everything you need to plan your trip, from ferry information, restaurants, things to do and accommodations, is available. In addition, you can tailor your trip based on what you want to experience.
"Quiet season means you may have a forest trail or a beach walk all to yourself. Quiet season means you can feel your spirit come alive as you hear the sounds of nature around you: the splash of a fish, or thrill of an eagle. Quiet season means you can paddle a kayak to a tiny island park, warm yourself by a fire (only allowed in fire rings) and enjoy the solitude," said Barbara Marrett, communications and stewardship manager of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.
After planning, make reservations for the ferry. Even though it is a slower season, weekends can be busy at peak times. Note that prepaying for the ferry and making a reservation are two separate transactions. Payment is not a reservation. Visit wsdot.wa/ferries.
Where to stay. The Lakedale Resort is a short drive from Friday Harbor. The property is wooded and has a nice rustic vibe. It feels like the middle of nowhere, but you are only 10 minutes from restaurants and shops. We stayed in a two-bedroom real log cabin with a lake view. The family-friendly accommodations were stocked with everything you need for a getaway. There is a television (only DVDs) and free WiFi. Outdoor amenities include a barbecue, picnic table and a fire pit with chairs. The front desk has s'mores kits for purchase. At this time of year, the resort is very quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed unplugging from technology and playing the many games available in the cabin. It was nice to come back "home" to the cabin after a day of sightseeing. The well-stocked kitchen makes it a breeze to whip up a meal if you don't feel like going out.
Lakedale Resort, 4313 Roche Harbor Rd., Friday Harbor, 360.617.2267, lakedaleresort.com
For couples, I would recommend the Roche Harbor Resort. There are a variety of accommodation options. The resort is located on the harbor with a large marina and restaurants, shops and a spa on site. This is a beautiful resort with a long history. It is worth a stop, even if you don't stay.
Roche Harbor Resort, 248 Reuben Memorial Dr., Friday Harbor, 360.378.2155, rocheharbor.com
Where to eat. Most of our meals were at family-friendly restaurants. We did manage to have a special-occasion couples meal one evening at Roche Harbor.
Our family loved the Hungry Clam, a 50s-style diner, so much we ate there more than once. Breakfast is bountiful and tasty. The restaurant is known for its fish and chips, and it is a popular dish. I recommend breakfast or lunch rather than dinner.
Hungry Clam, daily, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., 205 A St., Friday Harbor, 360.378.3474
Vic's Driftwood Drive Inn is the closest thing you'll find to fast food on the island, but that just doesn't do it justice. You order at the counter from the extensive menu on the wall, and everything is cooked to order. Good quality burgers and fries.
Vic's Driftwood Drive Inn, Mondays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m; closed Sundays, 25 2nd St. N., Friday Harbor, 360.378.8427
The anticipation built as my husband and I wove down the hill that leads into Roche Harbor. Lights twinkle off the boats in the marina while the historic buildings and artifacts give you a sense of stepping back in time. McMillin's Dining Room and the Fireside Lounge offer an intimate venue overlooking the harbor. The seasonal menu is chock full of fresh products from local waters and fields. Food was superbly prepared and the service attentive but not cloying. Alas, we visited on a weekday and were unable to partake in McMillin's renowned prime rib, which has been prepared since 1958 and is slow roasted in special ovens. Next visit for sure.
McMillin's Dining Room, Thursdays to Mondays, 5 to 10 p.m., 248 Reuben Memorial Dr., Roche Harbor, 360.378.5757,
Fireside Lounge, Thursdays to Mondays, 3 to 10 p.m.
Look for Part 2 of "Quiet Season on San Juan Island" next week, when I delve into all the activities on the island.