On Orcas Island off the northern coast of Washington State, the calm, revitalizing vibe of early spring may just be one of the island's best kept secrets.
It was the middle of the summer the previous time we visited the San Juan islands, and as you might expect, every business was bustling, the farmer’s markets were in full swing, and tourists were everywhere.
While we enjoyed our summer stay on the island enough to want to return, it was our visit this spring that made us want to stay forever (maybe, someday).
Early spring is an extension of the winter slow season on Orcas ("the Rock" in local lingo), and so much of the time, we felt as though we had the whole island to ourselves.
During our time on Orcas Island, we stayed at the Deer Harbor Inn. Once we had settled into our room in the lodge, we set out to explore.
Day Tripping on Orcas Island
Even in the off-season, there are so many things to see and do on the island that we had no trouble filling our days. We were excited to return to some of our favorite spots from our previous visit to Orcas, and the first stop on our itinerary was Orcas Island Pottery.
Following our stop at Orcas Island Pottery, we continued on to Eastsound, the largest of the four hamlets on the Orcas Island.
Shopping & Tourist Stops
Eastsound is home to a wide variety of charming shops, specialty boutiques, and restaurants. It is also where you can find such things as a bank, pharmacy, grocery stores and public library.
I especially enjoyed our visit to Jillery, a favorite shop for locals and visitors alike. Jillery offers an eclectic mix of artisan-made jewelry, art, and personal, home, and garden accessories.
Everyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for long, beautiful earrings (plus I have a thing for mermaids) so it’s no surprise that I fell in love with this mermaid earring holder!
Orcas Island Sweets & Treats
No visit to Eastsound is complete without a stop at Katherine Taylor Chocolates. There you will find island-made artisan chocolates, drinking chocolate, Stumptown Espesso, ice cream, and even a soda fountain!
There are so many beautiful sights to see on Orcas Island that you really do need to take an old-fashioned drive in the country. You never know who you might run into!
We met these beautiful ladies in while driving in the countryside, and stopped to chat for a few minutes. They're pretty great listeners.
Traveling to the east side of the island, you will find the picturesque hamlet of Olga, and the Orcas Island Artworks, a cooperative gallery.
Orcas Island Artworks Gallery Co-op
Artworks, which shares space with the Catkin Café (with its all-scratch kitchen!), and the James Hardman Gallery, is housed in a strawberry barreling plant that dates back to 1938.
The lovingly restored landmark now showcases an extensive collection of work by Orcas Island artists and craftspeople, the Artworks Gallery offers paintings, prints, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, glass, wood, fiber and wearable arts, as well as other locally made items and gifts.
Artworks is owned and operated by the artists themselves, which gives visitors the unique opportunity to meet one or more of them on any given day. The day we visited, we were fortunate to meet raku artist and potter Osa Caudill.
The Moran Mansion Museum
One final stop that we must share: The beautiful Moran Mansion Museum, located on the second floor of the Rosario Resort & Spa. Open daily and free of charge for public viewing, a visit to the Moran Mansion at Rosario is stepping back in time.
This beautiful tribute to the Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century was built Seattle Shipbuilder and Mayor Robert Moran.
The mansion features original photographs from the late 1800's and early 1900's, original furnishings and fixtures, and an extensive display of the ships built by the Moran Brothers Company in Seattle.
The centerpiece of the Moran mansion is the Music Room, which features a two-story 1913 Aeolian pipe organ, a 1900 Steinway grand piano, a Belgian stain-glass window picturing the harbor at Antwerp, and two mezzanine libraries overlooking a Tiffany chandelier.
By the way, if you are lucky enough to be there at 4pm on Saturday afternoon, you will be treated to both music and historical narrative in the Music Room.
More Orcas Island Travel
PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally written Spring 2016. Some of the businesses mentioned here may be temporarily or permanently closed due to the COVID pandemic, so be sure to call ahead first!
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Hi. What's the secret though? Title says best kept secret on Orcas Island but article only talks about local well known on the beaten path places.
Entry title: "The quiet, remote, revitalizing peace of Orcas Island in the springtime may just be one of the island’s best kept secrets.
Paul Huber says
Great article, but several of the businesses that you mentioned are now closed because of the pandemic. Please research, and update. BTW I’m a full-time resident. Thank you.
Thank you for the update, Paul. This post is a few years old. I'll add a Covid-disclaimer. ?
Osa Caudill says
Thank you !!!!
It was great meeting you at The Artworks. Both your writing and photography does our amazing island proud.
June holds our wacky Solstice Parade (one year had "tea ladies" with their sychronized lawn mower formations).
The month of August holds both our Artist's Studio Tour and our amazing Chamber Music festival.
Every month holds gifts of beauty.
Our webpage added a link to your article.
Monica Louie says
You had me at chocolate! What a fun day! Can't wait to hear more about your stay!
Great article! My husband and I fell in love with Orcas about 25 years ago when we visited the islands on a family vacation with our kids. Last September we purchased a home in Deer Harbor and will be retiring there later this year. It's truly a magical place with delightful people. We have already made lots of friends in our future home community.
I find that people either know of it and love it, or have never heard of it. In a couple of weeks we will be taking our friends up with us and it will be our first "spring visit". Looking forward to it.
Renée ♥ says
Thank you, Deb! I checked you Etsy page, and I tried to pick a favorite but failed - they are all beautiful! (I've just started back to painting myself, and even got myself a couple of fistfuls of brand new Daniel Smith tubes. Best paint I've ever owned - I'm so excited!)
Love this! When I was little my family took a camping trip up the Oregon coast to Orcas Island (from Nevada). It was an awesome trip and I loved Orcas Island. I have been thinking about it a lot the last couple years. I really want to go back!
Renée ♥ says
You definitely should. Great new memories are there waiting to be made.
Thanks for sharing...love Orcas and has been several years since we have visited there. Your photos brought back great memories!
I feel silly for not even knowing that this place existed! It is gorgeous and SO close! Beautiful post!
Renée ♥ says
You're not alone, Jenni. I'm always getting surprised by local travel posts. I've lived here forever and there are still places in my own backyard I've never heard of!
Brettni Brumfield says
Love the photos from the pottery shop. =)
Wow, looks beautiful, and peaceful! I've never been out that way but my husband has stayed in the San Juan Islands a few times and I'm always super jealous! We're trying to plan a few semi-close trips for our family this summer and fall, so I'm pinning this one so I don't forget about it.
Great post - it's like a full day itinerary in case going up there, there is a miserable rainy day where we want to be more indoors! The windows of the Moran Mansion are incredible.
Erin @ Platings and Pairings says
I don't know much about Orcas Island, but now I definitely want to go after reading this post Renée!
Catherine @ Ten Thousand Hour Mama says
My husband and I have been dream-planning a trip here for years and years. I've always wanted to go, but it's helpful to know spring might be a better time than summer! It looks like you had an unforgettable trip.