Every summer, we visit the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. The islands are bucolic and, I think, one of the most beautiful places in the world. As usual, we started our trip in Roche Harbor, on San Juan Island. This haborside resort is reminiscent of the 1920s, when President Teddy Roosevelt stayed at the Hotel de Haro. I love the old-fashioned feel here, including the tradition of colors every evening at sunset, when the flags are lowered with great ceremony while their anthems are being played, and then the “salute” (a cannon blast).
Rich and I were married here 14 years ago in this church:
Every year, without fail, we boat to Stuart Island – no ferry service here, which makes the island feel remote and quiet, with only a very few residents and visitors. We hike the seven-mile round trip to Turnpoint Light House, which is the westernmost point of land in the U.S. – you look across the water and see Canada. I love this tradition – the markers along our hike (the rope swing, the schoolhouse, the 1940s car slowly rusting away at the bottom of a steep slope), the feeling of standing at the end of the world, the almost overwhelming peace and beauty of the place.
This time, we extended our trip by taking the ferry from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island. We spent the afternoon in Victoria, which frankly I found to be crowded, touristy, and ugly with the exception of the historic buildings along the harbor.
We then drove north to Swartz Bay and caught the ferry to Pender Island – one of the Gulf Islands, which is the Canadian version of the San Juan Islands. This turned out to be my favorite part of the trip this year – the Gulf Islands are like the San Juans were 20-30 years ago, uncrowded, peaceful, an opportunity to really experience island life and get to know the locals. Pender Island is actually two islands, North Pender and South Pender, connected by a little one-lane bridge – we stayed at Poets Cove on South Pender, a beautiful resort built into the side of a cliff. Here’s what it looks like from the water:
Every evening, we watched the sun set on the harbor – so stunning, I failed utterly to capture it on film:
We stayed in one of the Pender cottages, perched on the hillside above the main hotel. Our cottage had a large deck out back with this view:
We had only one full day on Pender, but we packed a lot in. We started our day at the Pender Island Bakery – all I can say is WOW! I couldn’t decide what was best – the big-as-your-head blueberry muffins, the fruit smoothies, or the giant chocolate cookies and homemade pies:
We took our goodies to the local bookstore, which had a surprising big selection and a beautiful display of local art. From there, we went to the Saturday farmers market, which featured exclusively Pender artists and growers – it was hard not to buy everything in sight! Then it was on to a local art show, where the girls got to create and display their own art.
At lunchtime, we drove to the other side of the island (only 15 minutes or so away!) and ate lunch at this waterside cafe on Hope Bay:
In the afternoon, we returned to Poets Cove and rented kayaks. Luckily, they had a two-seater kayak with a little mini seat in the middle, so we could split up into groups of three and two. The girls did a great job paddling, but even so, there were places where the current was so strong it felt like I was paddling and paddling, with no forward movement!
The next morning, we caught the early ferry back to Swartz Bay, then drove south to Victoria and caught the ferry back to the U.S., to Port Angeles, Washington. On the way, we caught our only glimpse of a whale – not sure what kind, as all we could see was its fluke high up in the air before it dove down deep. Such an indescribable sight!
We drove home down the Olympic Peninsula, which was itself spectacularly beautiful and deserved its own trip to appreciate its beauty. Next year, I think we’ll spend the majority of our vacation in the Gulf Islands – I’d like to visit the artists and artisans on Saltspring Island, the wineries on Saturna, and try biking on Galiano. We are very lucky to live relatively close to some of the most beautiful places in the world!Pin It