Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the good old days when everything was a lot less complicated. Time moved at a slower pace and the transfer of information and images weren’t instantaneous. You actually had to wait to see, anticipate and look forward to how a photograph would turn out. You were forced to take the time and develop a roll of film. The end product was twelve to twenty-four tangible 4 x 6 rectangle pieces of smudgeable photo paper, which captured the moment in an instant, but displayed it only through a prolonged process. Sure, the end product was a little grainy and the picture quality was significantly less, but sometimes it was nice to have an imperfect photo to remember a place by. You not only could remember the place but also the time in which you stood at that very location. The photograph represented an actual moment in time rather than a blur of 300 plus shots saved on a memory card.
There’s a reason why some of the greatest photographers such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange will forever be remembered. They had to work for it – to achieve the best picture quality they could with what they had. Although, of course, today it’s fun to manipulate a digital picture into a perfect scene, there’s something about film that will always hold a distinct place in my heart. So here’s to the good ol’ days, to the wonderful world of film cameras and to a very special place where the clock ticks just a little bit slower…
Like the medium of film, the San Juan Islands force you to take a step back and allow you to return to a normal pace. There’s no need to rush. No need to check your iPhone every couple of minutes. Travel across the islands only takes a short time and cell phone service is sporadic. Access to the internet is a luxury; not a necessity. If you want, you can go completely off the grid and pop back up a week later to find out what you missed. The islands sit back and allow the onlooker to capture timeless stills of a place where it’s still sometimes easier to have a face to face conversation rather than send an email. The San Juan Islands are the Northwest’s treasured secret and although a part of me would like to keep the islands all to myself to enjoy for many years to come, more and more people are already discovering the enchantment of this special place.
Every time I step onto the ferry from Anacortes, WA to the San Juan Islands, it feels likes traveling through a magical wardrobe into an alternative world like Narnia. As the ferry makes its way to each island, it slowly weaves in and out of evergreen covered mounds of land popping out of the shiny blue water. Depending on which ferry you hop on and what island you are headed for, will depend on how long the ride will be, but in all cases you will be at your destination in under an hour and a half.
The San Juan Islands, comprised of four main islands, including San Juan, Orcas, Shaw and Lopez, provide visitors with tons of interesting areas to explore. Each island is unique and has its own highlights.
Arguably my favorite and the largest island in the San Juans, Orcas Island is well-known for its artistic flair with various pottery shops and art boutiques scattered about. Must see pottery digs are Orcas Island Pottery and Crow Valley Pottery, both of which are located in the Eastsound area. I’ve collected a lot of pottery from the island over the years, and every time I go, it’s essential to purchase a new piece.
If you’re visiting Orcas Island, it’s also well worth taking a trip through Moran State Park up to the top of Mt. Constitution for great views of the sound and/or hike around one of the five fresh water lakes within the park. Then drive down to the community of Olga for a stop off at Orcas Island Artworks where you can find all kinds of art from over forty different artists from the islands. Also, while touring the island, take time to stop off at Howe Art, located off Horseshoe Highway near Eastsound, to discover metal sculptures constructed on the property and throughout the trees. You’ll know when you’re close to the turn off to Howe Art when you see several metal sculptures twirling in the trees along the highway.
Although I have yet to explore Lopez Island, it’s notorious for bike riding due to its flat landscape. Shaw is the smallest of the main islands (10 square miles total) and has no markets, restaurants, or hotels, but it’s a fun day trip and a quick ride to and from Shaw by hopping on the inter-island ferry.
San Juan Island is the second largest and very popular among first timers to the islands. Famous for the town of Friday Harbor, consisting of multiple restaurants, shops and lodging options, it’s always easy to find something to do on San Juan.
Coincidently, San Juan actually has some of the best whale watching along its western coast compared to its sister island Orcas. You can drive along the coastal highway and easily scan the ocean for Orca whales traveling up the coastline. One of the best places to spot Orca whales in the world is at Lime Kiln Point State Park, usually from mid-May to mid-October when the salmon are running. But in case you miss the whales in the wild, you can also visit the Whale Museum in downtown Friday Harbor.
Other fun things to do on San Juan are visiting the Pelindaba Lavender Farm or Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm where you can buy local products.
There is also a historical English Camp in the San Juan Island National Historical Park and a lighthouse at Cattle Point to explore.
Aside from Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor is a fun place to walk around, especially to get a look at many of the large yachts sailing throughout the islands.
But above all else, two of the best things on the islands are the summer sunsets and the madrona trees. In the summertime, the sun doesn’t set until ten or eleven at night, and as the sun lowers to the horizon, a cast of colorful light fills the sky. The madrona trees are also a beautiful part of the islands due to their redish-orange color which accents the sunset perfectly.
A San Juan Island Sunset
Every time I come and go, the character of the islands is always the same; the feeling of stepping into a whole new realm never seems to wear off. It’s always bittersweet as I drag myself back onto the ferry to return home to the fast-paced world we live in. But not without evidence of a place that will hopefully stay extraordinary for a long, long time to come.
~ Quick Tips ~
- Beach Haven – Cabins nestled into old growth forest along a private beach near Eastsound. If you decid to stay at Beach Haven, drop a crab pot into the water or take a boat out to fish for ling cod.
- Inn at Ship Bay – Situated on Ship Bay, only minutes from Eastsound, it’s a beautiful property to explore and relax.
- Rosario Resort and Spa – Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s a well-known lodging option.
- Outlook Inn – Located downtown Eastsound, it’s a perfect place to stay if you want to be in the middle of shopping and eateries.
- There are also several B&B’s on both Orcas Island and San Juan to choose from.
- Reasonably Priced Good Food on the Water: Madrona Bar and Grill (Eastsound)
- Tasty Lunch: Roses Bakery Cafe (Eastsound)
- Also consider grabbing some food from the local grocery store, Island Market, and having a picnic in Moran State Park.
Pottery Shops and Other Art Boutiques to Visit:
- Orcas Island Pottery (338 Old Pottery Rd. Eastsound, WA 98245)
- Crow Valley Pottery (2247 Orcas Rd. Eastsound, WA 98245)
- Howe Art (Located off Horseshoe Highway at 236 Double Hill Rd)
- Orcas Island Artworks (11 Pt. Lawrence Rd. Olga, WA 98279)
San Juan Island:
Affordable Place to Stay:
Juniper Lane Guest House – It’s not as private as a regular hotel, but the accommodations are great and it’s a perfect way to meet other travelers if you so choose.
Local and Fresh Food with a Great Atmosphere: Cask and Schooner Public House and Restaurant (Friday Harbor)
Places to Visit:
- Pelindaba Lavender Farm (45 Hawthorne Lane, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, but it’s a bit outside of Friday Harbor)
- Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm (3501 W. Valley Rd.)
- Lime Kilm State Park
- Also consider taking a kayak or other boat tour to spot whales while on San Juan.
Final Note: With the exception of a few of the pictures in this post, all the photos were taken with a 35mm film camera.
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