Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands, located off the northern coast of Washington State. Just over an hour by ferry from the mainland city of Anacortes, Orcas is a Pacific Northwest vacation paradise.
Mr B and I took an early spring getaway to Orcas Island and were surprised at how laid back the island's pre-tourist season on the islands was. It may well be the most relaxing vacation we've ever taken.
Table of contents
5 Relaxing Reasons to Visit Orcas Island
The Journey There
When you vacation on an island, getting there is half the fun, and you're sure to see some wonderful sights along the way.
The easiest way to get to Orcas Island is to take the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, Washington. (If you're feeling spunky, you can do what I do and pretend it's a mini-cruise.)
If you go by ferry, be sure to plan a few hours to stroll Historic Downtown Anacortes before you catch your ferry.
Once you're on board, take a seat and enjoy the beautiful Puget Sound scenery from the inside passenger area, or take a walk out on the deck and enjoy the clean, crisp marine air.
The Artisan Community
Orcas Island has a thriving community of artisans that throws open doors of welcome to visitors in studios, shops and galleries all over the island.
We especially enjoy all beautiful, functional art at Orcas Island Pottery. You can spend hours just looking at (or in my case, touching...or trying not to touch, as the situation warrants) these unique, hand-created pieces.
The folks on Orcas Island do not mess around when it comes to creating beautiful, delicious food. We ate often and well.
Read about our experiences at two excellent Orcas Island restaurants:
We were thrilled when Chef Steve Debaste of Orcas Island's New Leaf Café generously shared his recipe for Grilled Halibut over Local Salad Greens with Verjus White Truffle Vinaigrette with us.
The Active Life
Orcas Island offers a multitude of outdoor sports for the active vacationers.
Generally, the San Juans are still a little too chilly in the springtime for swimming; but lots of other activities are definitely accessible, including camping, boating, climbing, hiking, bicycling, and our favorite – kayaking.
You can bring your own gear, or borrow from one of a handful of rental places that freckle the island. Day tours are available through several local companies as well.
The Peace & Quiet
Above all else, it was the tranquility of the island experience that captured our hearts. The landscape is idyllic and inspiring, with open fields and farmhouses inland, wooded countryside, and amazing, sweeping vistas. It is, in a word, bliss.
The quiet, remote, revitalizing peace of Orcas Island in the springtime may just be one of the island’s best kept secrets.
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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girl C says
I am planning on visiting the San Juan islands this summer...everything looks so peaceful!
Orcas has a piece of my heart. I go there often. The food scene is amazing. Find a farm dinner if you can but New Leaf, Hogstone, Inn at Ships Bay, Brown Bear Bakery and Madrina Loft are a few of my favorites. The Saturday farmers market on the Village Green is great. Also you must hike at the top of Mt Constitution -the views are stunning. Paddling and swimming at Casacde Lake is a must on a sunny day too. It's also a great loop hike. There are many great hikes in Moran State Park and also on Turtleback Mountain. The musical historical and pictorial presentation (free) at Rosario is very interesting and you can tour part of the mansion and have a good meal out there too. I could go on and on!
Renée ♥ says
Great recommendations! I'll be covering a lot of them in the upcoming two weeks. We did Mount Constitution last time we were there - what an amazing view! This time, we hiked Turtleback, which we enjoyed equally as much.
Monica Bennett says
Meandering the farmer's market is something not to be missed -- all organic goodies grown by passionate, caring farmers. Many of the restaurants on island source their ingredients from the local farms too. This is only just one of the many things I love about Orcas Island as well as SJI and Lopez too. I see you dined at the New Leaf Cafe -- one of my all time favorites -- Chef Steve Debaste is a true culinary mastermind. Have you tried the smoked salmon eggs benny? TDF!
Renée ♥ says
We went to the Farmer's Market last time we were there, but our timing was off this visit. I'm planning a whole post about our meal at the New Leaf Cafe, which should go up sometime in the next few weeks. I missed the benedict this time, but will definitely put it on our list for next time. Thanks for the recommendation!
Gretchen O'Donnell says
I grew up on Orcas and my sister still lives there. I love to visit whenever I can! Would love to live there again someday. I'm actually attempting to write a book about growing up there.
Loved meeting you on Orcas. I have been lucky enough to live here since 1978 with a brief departure to Tucson a few years back. Love living on our rock and happy to share it. Come visit us at the Orcas Chamber of Commerce.
Renée ♥ says
Thanks so much, Lisa! It was pleasure meeting you as well. Stay tuned - there's plenty more to come.
Liz Stambaugh says
I am very luck and have spent the last 6 summers on Orcas Island and heading back on May 24th. I am excited to continue to read your blog and see what you have to say about this gem! Your pictures are beautiful. Try the float plane to arrive too....Ferry in and ply out - it's a sightseeing adventure for sure!
Renée ♥ says
Thanks, Liz. That's a great idea.
We have been to Orcas 14 times and finally stopped going. Generally unfriendly except in the tourist shops and restaurants. Residents are older, retired, wealthy, while the people who work in lower wage jobs can often barely get by---huge income disparities. Beautiful and great food, though.
Renée ♥ says
We were well received by everyone we met, but I can definitely see where such disparity would be a problem. Unfortunately, it isn't limited to island life.
Lori Hopkins says
My grandparents retired to Orcas Island and I used to spend all my Summers with them. My mom is there now, but with my own family to raise I haven't been back for several (too many) years. Orcas holds a piece of my heart, and someday I'll answer her call and go again. I look forward to reading your posts!
I've always wanted to go to Orcas Island. My husband's family is up on the Kitsap Peninsula, so all our trips tend to revolve around them...but I'd love to take a break from that and head to the San Juans instead!
Renée ♥ says
You definitely should! It's such a beautiful place, and there is something for everyone there. It really gets you away from the hustle of the city, too.
I've only been there for a long Thanksgiving weekend, but wanted to come back when the weather was less rainy and more compatible with outdoor activity, so eagerly await your pointers on good eats! And great shot of the cormorants!
Marlynn [UrbanBlissLife] says
I've never been but I hear AMAZING things about Orcas Island, and I can't wait to read your next post on it! Is that pancetta and polenta with the scallops? Looks so delicious.
Renée ♥ says
You're close! It's a Yukon Gold potato mash with Hemplers Bacon and a fresh tarragon beurre blanc. And yes, it was delicious.