San Juan Islands, Washington: Catching the Ferry to Friday Harbor

Day 44 (September 11)
Friday Harbor, Washington

A trip to Northern Washington would not be complete without visiting the San Juan Islands.  From our basecamp at Larrabee State Park, we make the hour drive to Anacortes, where we park the car and catch the ferry to Friday Harbor.

San Juan Islands, Washington

As one of the closest San Juans stops to Anacortes, the ferry ride to Friday Harbor makes for a reasonably priced day trip, as long as you leave your car behind and are willing to walk the island or catch a cab/lyft/uber once you arrive. (Ferry pricing may change by the season? Looking back, I believe that we paid around $18 per-passenger, but the ferry’s website shows current rate of $12.45 per passenger).

Ferry to San Juan Islands, Washington

Despite the chill in the air under cloudy skies, we spend most of our hour-long boat ride on the exterior decks and walk around quite a bit to take in the stunning views in all directions.

We are so busy watching other boats and scanning the water for whales and dolphins that I forget to snap photos of the cabin interior. The inside of the ferry has plenty of seating with windows that wrap around the passenger cabin, and a mini-cafeteria with food and drinks for sale.

Friday Harbor ferry port

Our first impression of Friday Harbor is that of a classic small coastal town, and being in the PNW that means boats, boats, and more boats.

Boats in Friday Harbor

We wander around the docks and waterside for a few minutes checking out the various watercraft. Hunger has set in so we walk a quarter of a mile up the hill to the San Juan Island Brewery, where we enjoy a local craft brew, share a tasty sandwich, and try a unique treat: popcorn with a dash of brewer’s yeast. Mmmm…

San Juan Island Brewery, Washington

Thirst quenched and bellies full, we resume our walk around the island taking in the sights. Within a couple of short blocks, we spy several sweet rides.

We are happily surprised to find that Cecil’s Electronics and Photo stocks film (and LP’s, musical instruments, gifts, art)! And we are even more surprised to see a twin to Robert’s 1950’s Minolta Autocord for sale at Funk & Junk Antiques – the first Autocord we’ve ever seen “in the wild”. We talk ourselves out of buying it, however we pony up $40 for a telephoto lens for the Olympus OM-1. This great antique store. It’s really unexpected to find such a well-curated shop like this an island that can be reached only by boat.

Funk & Junk Antiques in Friday Harbor

We continue our walk around downtown and browse quite a few cute shops. I pick up a copy of The Egg and I at the charming Griffin Bay Bookstore to send to my Mom, and they kindly offer to wrap it up in pretty paper for me.

Friday Harbor business district

The businesses in historic downtown cater to local residents as well as tourists. There is even a bowling alley on the island.

Cask & Schooner Restaurant & Public House in Friday Harbor, Washington

It’s clear that the residents of Friday Harbor take great pride in their town.  Pretty streetside pots spill bright blossoms, and lush green gardens nearly envelop some of the downtown homes. Although the deciduous trees are already showing some autumn color, many annuals and shrubs are still in bloom. Whatever variety of rose this is that I keep seeing on the OR and WA coast has the most gorgeous rose hips.

With a bit of time to kill before the ferry arrives for our return journey to Anacortes, we walk around the docks to admire the wooden sailboats.

Wooden sailboats boats in Friday Harbor, Washington

Just to the right of this dock, we watch a seaplane land right in the harbor, though unfortunately we were not able to get any good pictures.

Boats in Friday Harbor, Washington

Our ride is here! The Kaleetan ferry is massive, but not very crowded on either leg of our trip today.

San Juan Islands Kaleetan Ferry Anacortes to Friday Harbor

The ferry’s empty car deck gives one an idea of the scale.

Car deck, Kaleetan ferry

The air is chilling as the skies have cleared and the sun sinks. Robert grabs a seat inside and takes a snooze on the way back. I split my time between inside and out, and am treated to an incredible sunset.

Sunset from the ferry San Juan Islands

The highlight of my already-great day is spying a small pod of orcas (or much less likely Pacific White-sided dolphins) in the distance. Alas it is too dark to to capture them on my phone or the film camera, but just catching a glimpse of them is thrill enough. On our next trip to the Salish Sea, we hope to take a wale-watching cruise.

Last light, San Juan Islands

Initially we had planned to spend around two weeks in Washington, but cannot get enough of my new favorite state for wandering (sorry New Mexico! I still love you though). We will end up spending almost a month in Washington before moving south again. Although my native state of California is calling, we still have Seattle, our second visit to Mt. Rainier, Mt. Saint Helens, and Bend to look forward to first.

If you’d like to catch up on our Washington travels so far, click here to see our series of Washington posts.

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