Last year, for my birthday in August, my boyfriend surprised me with a three-day trip to Alderbrook Resort in Union, Wash.

Ok, so you can't see the Olympic Mountains at this angle and it's a smidge cloudy, but look how happy I am!
Ok, so you can’t see the Olympic Mountains at this angle and it’s a smidge cloudy, but look how happy I am!

We went stand-up paddleboarding in the Hood Canal while sea lions swam around our boards. We painted under the veranda. We ate the best omelets I’ve ever had for breakfast. It was relaxing and romantic and fun. I felt absolutely spoiled. While I was there, I would laze in a lawn chair and look out at Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains. I couldn’t help but think, ‘I want to go there.’

There’s a surprising amount of my home state (including the Olympic mountain range) that I haven’t been to.

For a while now, I’ve been daydreaming about visiting the San Juan Islands when my birthday rolls around again. I would go kayaking and catch glimpses of orca whales, maybe even bike around the island and go ziplining!

So, I was playing around with a route to get there. I added a sidetrip to Jetty Island to break up the driving, and then I figured if I’m going to the San Juan Islands, I might as well head over to Victoria, B.C…and, well, this happened:

The ultimate August birthday trip around Washington
The ultimate August birthday trip around Washington

As you can see, the route is shaped like a wonky ampersand, as though it’s trying to tell me to add more destinations. Jetty Island, San Juan Island…and?

Let me explain the rough itinerary I’ve mapped out here.

1. Jetty Island Park in Everett, Wash.:  This is a fantastic sandy beach in Everett that would make a perfect picnic spot while heading up north. In August, you’re guaranteed to have kiteboarders playing in the water, practicing amazing tricks. There’s a $3 fee for parking at Jetty Landing.

Checking out the kiteboarding competition a few years back for an article. Note the sunburn beginning to develop. Sunscreen is crucial on Jetty.
Checking out the kiteboarding competition a few years back for an article. Note the sunburn beginning to develop. Sunscreen is crucial on Jetty.

2. Anacortes, Wash.: This is the jumping off point for the ferry to the San Juan Islands. If you take an early lunch at Jetty Island, you might catch the tailend of the Saturday market. Otherwise, you could walk the Old Town area and around the marina. Deception Pass State Park is very popular and scenic. I stopped to check out the bridge once on my way to Whidbey Island with a group of friends. You could either stay the night in Anacortes or take the ferry straight to the San Juan Islands.

3. Friday Harbor, Wash.: Friday Harbor is the main hub on San Juan Island, the most populated of the islands. Like I mentioned earlier, you can go whale watching, kayaking, biking, hiking, etc. This place, however, is known for its slower island vibe. So you could just take in the scenery and relax. Hotels can be a bit expensive here; I may opt to go camping somewhere else along the main island.

4. Victoria, B.C.: From the Friday Harbor ferry terminal, you can hop over to Sidney, Canada and drive a bit south to get to Victoria. The best way I remember experiencing Victoria as a kid is on foot. It’s a pretty pedestrian friendly city, and if you’re staying at a hotel, you could just ditch your car there. Right by the ferry terminal, you’ll stumble upon a farmer’s market. From there, you can see gardens, castles and the beautiful parliament buildingIf you like shopping, Market Square is a historic area littered with boutiques. And, this is all within walking distance. I honestly might get a little confused if I tried to drive around there. Then again, that depends on how much of Victoria you want to explore.

Victoria B.C. via
Victoria B.C. via

5. Port Angeles, Wash.: Like Anacortes, Port Angeles is a cute little ferry terminal town. If you get off the ferry early in the day, you could go to the farmer’s market. If you get off the ferry in the evening, you might catch the summer concerts on the pier. I’m thinking this would be a good spot to catch your breath before the next spot.

6. The Enchantments in the Wenatchee/Leavenworth area: The Enchantment Lakes area is a backpacker’s delight. It takes a while to hike in, but it’s well worth it. The Enchantments is a high alpine basin full of lakes, mountain goats and granite rock formations in the Cascade Mountains. If you’re lucky enough to get a permit, you can explore the area, take some stunning photographs and go swimming (not sure how warm the water is).

The Enchantments via
The Enchantments via

7. Leavenworth, Wash.: Not too far from the Wenatchee National Forest is a Bavarian Village. Yes, Bavarian. There’s a summer theater group that performs “The Sound of Music” among other plays and there are festivals and lots of community activities going on year round. Hotels can be a bit expensive, so I would only stay one night here.

8. Mount Rainier National Forest: Within the forest is a massive volcano, gorgeous old growth and wildflowers. That’s all you really need to know about camping in this area.

Ok, my plan is a little ambitious. It would require, at minimum, an entire week off of work to complete the trip. August really is a perfect month to visit Washington, though, because it’s within the state’s short time frame of sunny, warm weather.

2 Comments on Planning a road trip to the San Juan Islands got a bit out of hand

    • That’s a good point! I realized after posting, not knowing how the ferry system works, that you cannot go directly from Friday Harbor to Victoria, B.C. anyway. You end up in Sidney, a bit to the north, and then you have to drive to Victoria. I’ll have to think about that one and post a revised map. For now, I’ll edit the post, assuming you’re stuck with your car.

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