Looking for a place in the U.S.A. to get away and find activities with social distancing? One of our top picks is Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest, located in the Salish Sea. It’s the largest of 172 islands in the San Juan Archipelago.

There’s plenty to see and do while exploring the island year round. Our summer days have been filled with hiking, cycling, kayaking, whale watching and stocking up on berries, greens and heirloom tomatoes at the local Farmer’s Market. It’s an idyllic place to reconnect with nature.

Orcas Island is home to a community of artists, farmers and chefs. Its pristine lakes, stunning sea coves, sustainable farms, and abundant wildlife create a magical setting.

How to Get Here? Take the Washington State Ferry at Anacortes to Orcas Village or fly Kenmore Air to Orcas Island.

Sharing our recommendations on where to stay, dine, spa & what to do on Orcas Island. For more photos, visit our instagram page.

Important! Due to the ever changing covid-19 restrctions, check the local and state mandates prior to traveling. Also, some of our recommendations below have essential protocol to follow and some opening hours can vary. We found Orcas Island to be very mindful of social distancing and respecting each other’s space. There is a mandate to wear masks, wash hands, sanitize often and maintain 6 ft distance in public.

Stay

Outlook Inn at the Water’s Edge: There’s quite a history to Outlook Inn…founded by settlers in 1888, revived by hippies in the 1960’s, and refined in the 2000’s by island lovers like present owner Sara Farish and her family. The Farish Family have created a haven of tranquility at Outlook Inn.

photos courtesy of Outlook Inn

Upon arrival, we felt the peace and calm that this island gifts its visitors. We stayed in a Water’s Edge Suite at Outlook Inn in the town of Eastsound. The 375 – 500 sq. ft modern luxury suites are well appointed with king size beds, fireplaces, private 100 sq. ft. balconies, flat panel TV’s, heated bathroom floors, and some have soaking tubs. Each suite has original fine art oil paintings and ceramics made exclusively for Water’s Edge, fine linens, beverage coolers, nespresso machines, plus more amenities like Beloved natural luxury bathing products.

There are five new Water’s Edge Suites close to the water’s edge, each with stunning views of Fishing Bay, Indian Island, and beach access. Guests find this location central to many activities on the island, with a lovely strolling garden adjacent to the suites, and shops, art galleries, restaurants just a few minutes away.

Outlook Inn is comprised of a group of buildings (historic building, east wing, Waters Edge Suites) with a total of 40 rooms. The inn’s restaurant, New Leaf Cafe has an outdoor patio and a French-inspired menu with a Pacific Northwest twist. For brides looking for an island destination wedding, inquire about planning your dream day at Outlook Inn – the setting is stunning with nature’s backdrop just feet away. Book your room and restaurant reservations at: info@outlookinn.com.

Light Haus Vacation Rentals – If you want to consider a rental (short term or long term), consider Light Haus on Prune Alley in Eastsound: We felt right at home in our bright, modern and centrally located abode in Eastsound. Light Haus vacation rentals are stylishly decorated and ready to accommodate your dreamy island getaway. 

Perfect for two couples or small families, their two or three bedroom/two bath homes sleep up to 6 people and feature high-end, plush king beds, luxury linens, decks with beautiful views and fully appointed kitchens.

We were impressed with how immaculate and clean the home was and it was superbly equipped. Everything from games, children’s toys, fine quality of kitchen ware, books and bathroom supplies. Owners Carolyn & Bill are locals to the San Juan Islands and are very helpful if you need anything during your stay. 

Dine

Madrona Bar & Grill: The Madrona is located directly over the water in Downtown Eastsound.  Sweeping views and rustic decor give The Madrona an inviting atmosphere, taking in the view from almost every table.

Their Northwest inspired menu features fresh produce, fresh seafood, gourmet sandwiches, Angus burgers & steaks, as well as pasta.   Our dinner included their popular crab artichoke dip, and for the main, we selected fish n’chips, grilled salmon – all delicious! Excellent service.

We dined outdoors on the deck and watched the sunset and can’t wait to return to sample more items from this menu. Open daily for lunch and dinner; check their schedule for happy hour 3-6pm.

Buck Bay Shellfish Farms: Dine at one of our favorite places on Orcas Island, where you can find a table outdoors at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm (in the charming hamlet of Olga) and enjoy some of the freshest seafood on the island. We loved the atmosphere here where we watched eagles flying over Buck Bay while sampling Buck Bay Oysters with apricot spring onion vinaigrette, Dungeness Crab mac n’ cheese, spot prawns and a bowl of clam linguine.

Mark and Toni Knudson are the owners and operators at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm and also oversee the Buck Bay Getaway where guests can stay the night. They cultivate their own vegetables and produce at their farm, which they use at this wonderful bay bistro. In addition to the full seafood menu at the bistro, the adjacent deli store offers a variety of seafood for takeaway including crabcakes, smoked salmon or ceviche. You can also purchase fresh oysters, clams and crab to go.

Mijitas: Craving Mexican food? Book a reservation to dine on the patio and order the popular Crab Enchilada and the Carne Asada with mesquite grilled skirt steak, perfectly marbled and tasty.

Chef Raoul Rios creates dishes inspired by family recipes from his hometown in Mexico and uses produce from the island’s Black Dog Farm and other local northwest ingredients. He and his wife Lisa are the owners and their restaurant was named Mijitas, translating to “My Darlings”, for their two daughters.

Toast to this family with a margarita – you can choose from 9 variations! Keep a lookout for Raoul’s mom who makes hand-made tortillas at the restaurant.

Loft at Madrona:  (Temporarily Closed during covid-19 crisis) We dined here last autumn. Dine on Orcas Island’s only rooftop patio and enjoy a classic craft cocktail by Spencer, while taking in the views of the sound.

Chef Avery Adams presented for starters – Judd Cove oysters fresh from the waters just in front of the restaurant.  Dip the housemade sourdough bread into the summer fruit marmalade, and savor the glazed carrots topped with walnut brittle and drizzled chili hollandaise.

For the main, a parade of platters with roasted beets, grass fed beef shortribs with pears, Buck Bay clams and pepper brood, and another plate of squid ink tagliolini!  After tasting a trio of desserts, we were in a food coma.  A memorable meal while watching the sunset in the Eastsound.

More dining favorites below – courtesy of Lighthaus owners and other locals:

DINNER FAVES:

  • New Leaf Cafe (French/Local) – reservations accepted
  • Roses Cafe (Nouvelle/local) – reservations accepted
  • Hogstone Pizza (artisanal wood fired pizza) – reservations accepted
  • The Kitchen (farm to table plates) – more casual, eat on their picnic tables or takeout 

COFFEE FAVES: (Eastsound)

  • Brown Bear Baking Company – where you can find GIANT pastries & croissants
  • Darvill’s Bookstore 
  • Enzo’s Italian Cafe

STORES:  Shop at the Co-Op Market, or Roses Cafe & Bakery has a small foodie shop with lots of wine and high end imported food and kitchen items that are fun to browse.

DO:

Fly a Biplane over the Islands! Fly a biplane over the San Juan Islands with Cap’n Mac! We flew over Orcas Island & Sucia Island in a restored 1927 TravelAir 4000 Biplane in an open front cockpit.

Our 40 mins flight took us up to 3,000 ft over top of Mt. Constitution & we had 360 degree panoramic views of the San Juan archipelago.

Cap’n Mac’s Magic Air Biplane provides leather helmets, goggles & a warm jacket.  Stuart & Roni MacPherson will take you on a flight of a lifetime. Email biplanerides@outlook.com to book a flight OR call (760) 688-6679.

Kayaking Tour from Deer Harbor:

Sign up for a 3-hr kayaking tour from Deer Harbor Marina with Shearwater Kayak Tours.  We kayaked in a two-person kayak through the Wasp Islands, saw seals, and even got out of our kayaks for a walk on one of the islands.

Shearwater Adventures offers tours and instruction throughout the San Juan Islands to explore some of the best nature around.  The company thoroughly cleans all equipment and covid-19 safety protocols are in place. All the necessary kayaking gear, dry storage bags are included.  Our professional guide LeAnne was fabulous!  Additional kayak trips from Deer Harbor include Spring Wildflower Tours, Paddle & Picnic, Moonlight Tours, Bioluminescence Trips, Family Tours and Custom Trips. Note: Please check with Shearwater Kayak Tours to confirm tours available during the pandemic.

Play Golf! Orcas Island Golf Course

Don’t forget to pack your clubs when visiting Orcas Island. Ten minutes outside of Eastsound, is the Orcas Island Golf Course and it is well worth a visit. This is one of the friendliest, most inviting courses you will ever play. The course plays to a par 34 and includes a driving range and a well maintained practice green. Either play nine holes, or switch tee boxes to stretch the course to a full 18. Rental clubs are also available.

Orcas Island Golf Course is laid out over an old Mustard Seed farm that was originally homesteaded in the late 1800s. Water comes into play on a couple of holes and the rolling terrain places a premium on accuracy off the tee. The greens run true and are very consistent. There is a healthy number of members from the local community that makes the course a social gathering point on the island where multiple generations have grown up playing. It’s a great spot to add to your island adventure.

photo credit: Orcas Island Golf Course

Go Sailing! We found a couple options for sailing on Orcas Island from a 33′ wooden boat to a 54′ yacht. Details below.

  1. Emerald Isle Sailing Charters: We spent an afternoon on a beautiful 54′ sailboat named  the S/V Na’walak sailing around Jones Island with Captain Dave Lutz.

Choose a day sail with friends and family, or multi-days around the San Juan Islands. Captain Lutz and crew can help you fish or crab from the boat or launch kayaks and venture out around the islands. You can request a private charter as well. Consider booking a 2021 reservation to sail the Inside Passage and experience the Great Bear Rainforest with Dave, who is a naturalist as well.

He will guide your small group in an intimate exploration of wildlife and natural splendor. Enjoy feasting on gourmet northwest cuisine tailor-made to your dietary preferences, and relax on this comfortable yacht.

The entire vessel is heated, and the large pilothouse allows passengers to comfortably sail any time of year, while still enjoying the panoramic view. Wind and solar generation provide clean and quiet onboard power to help lighten the yacht’s “footprint” on this delicate environment.

Email: charters@emeraldislesailing.com to book your Pacific Northwest sailing adventure!

2. Northwest Classic Day Sailing: On a classic 1948 wooden 33 foot sloop named “Aura” with Captain Ward Fay. Book a 3-hour afternoon or evening cruise departing from Deer Harbor Marina.

Capt. Ward gave us the option to steer the boat, adjust the sails, or to sit back and relax. No sailing experience necessary. Bring your own picnic to enjoy during the cruise.

Book a reservation at tel. 360/376-5581 OR email: wardfay@rockisland.com Good to note: during this time, Northwest Classic Daysailing is only booking private trips, where the only passengers will be your party.  Boat is cleaned and disinfected between sailings. Important to wear a mask.

Row a Boat, Paddle a Canoe or Kayak: We stopped at Orcas Adventures where you can rent a paddle board, canoe, row boat, paddle boat or kayak on Cascade Lake & Mountain Lake in Moran State Park.

We rowed our boat around the lake for a couple hours, then rewarded ourselves with ice cream in a gourmet waffle cone at Sugar Shack, located on the beach near the dock area. There are 12 flavors of local Lopez Island Creamy Ice Cream to choose from, plus lunch items, espresso, trail-maps.

Good to note! A Park Pass is required to park your car anywhere within the park. Click here to get a park pass.

Hike:  the local Tourism Office gave us helpful maps for 38-miles of hiking trails and camping throughout the island.  A few favorite hikes include Turtleback Mountain (use the south trailhead off Deer Harbor Rd.) lots of elevation gain but spectacular views, and Cascade Lake Loop Trail flat trail around picturesque lake in Moran State Park where you will find five freshwater lakes. For hikers ready for a challenge, go up the switchback trail from Twin Lakes to Mount Constitution at 2,409 ft, highest point in the San Juans. There’s also an easier trail to Obstruction Pass near Olga. You’ll need to buy a day pass from the ranger station to park anywhere in the park.

Whale Watching: Between March and November, Outer Island Expeditions offers whale watching tours to see Orca, Humpback, Gray and Mike Whales. Chances are good to spot porpoise, seals, sea lions and eagles too.

Sucia Island: Take a day to visit Sucia Island, only a 10 mins boat ride from North Beach on Orcas. Take a water taxi and explore Sucia’s trails, beaches, fossil beds and caves. Outer Island Expeditions rents bikes and kayaks too.

Once in a Blue Moon Farm: Some of the island farms offer private tours. We visited Once in a Blue Moon Farm and Sarah and Shawna showed us their goats, sheep, geese and chickens, and shared what a typical day is like for them at the farm.

Be sure to purchase some fresh eggs before you leave their farm. This working farm uses very little grain and the chicken, geese and ducks have free reign of the land, making their eggs some of the best in the PNW.

Orca Song: Visit Orca Song, a botanical farm and garden, where you can pick your own lavender from the lavender fields.

Wine Tasting at Orcas Island Winery: Visit this family owned boutique winery with a tasting room and vineyard. Located on Crow Valley Road with views of Turtleback Mountain, you can enjoy your wine tasting and picnic outdoors!

Doe Bay Spa:  Check on state mandates if spas and salons are open at this time. If yes, request an outdoor massage by Kerstin Nash, LMT kerstin@attunemassage.net Most likely the resort’s sauna and soaking tubs (clothing optional) will be closed until restrictions are lifted.

Orcas Island Pottery: Stop at Orcas Island Pottery, the oldest pottery studio and cooperative in the PNW, near the West Beach to see a variety of pottery designs by local artists. The pottery is displayed outside in beautiful gardens and also in 1866 trapper’s cabins, surrounded by old growth cedars and Douglas fir, on a 100 foot high bluff overlooking President’s Channel.

You can visit daily all year between 10 am – 4 pm.

Ceramics: Contact Chandelle to see her beautiful ceramic products for sale. Her dishes, bowls and vases have an elegant and refined design.

Island Thyme  Let your nose lead you to this boutique filled with the aromas of the Pacific Northwest – lavender, cedar, spruce….and buy some body oils, creams and other products, so you can take home the PNW scent when you return home.

Farmers Market  Saturday 10-3pm, in the center of Eastsound.  Check the schedule since we visited the last outdoors market end of September.

Shearwater Kayaking: Book a kayak tour with Shearwater Adventures and choose from a few locations on the island (West Sound, Rosario, or Deer Harbor). We spent a few hours kayaking around the Deer Harbor area and enjoyed seeing the marine life – seals, otters, porpoise and many birds including eagles. We kayaked around the smaller islands and enjoyed the pristine beauty surrounding us.

Fly Over the San Juan Islands: One of the most popular activities on the island is to fly with Cap’n Mac on his bi-plane over the San Juan Islands. Take off from the airport on Orcas in his spectacular bi-plane and see the islands from above. Highly recommend doing this – it gives you a great orientation of the islands and it’s a memorable experience. Best souvenir to take home!

Take a drive and see panoramic views from Mt. Constitution observation tower and Turtleback (south trail), as well as the drive to Deer Harbor and beyond to West Sound is mostly along the water and very picturesque.

Shop at Darvill’s bookstore and Crow Valley Pottery in Eastsound, or visit the small town of Olga where you can find artwork at Orcas Island Artworks Gallery (a co-op with dozens of local artists represented).

Good to Know:  Ferry Information — You will want ferry reservations, which can be made at the WSDOT website. Check the sailing schedules.  If you still can’t get your desired time, keep checking back since more tiers of reservations will be released both 2 weeks and 2 days before every sailing date. 

-New reservation tiers are always released exactly at 7am PST and it pays to be online a few minutes before, with as much of your info pre-selected as is allowed. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thank you to those mentioned in this article for hosting us during our stay.