Sometimes we have no idea where our travel itch should take us, and other times we know exactly what kind of trip we are craving. When planning a spring getaway, we knew we wanted somewhere nature-focused and far from the crowds. I just wanted to curl up in a cozy bed and stare at the ocean. Orcas Island proved to be the perfect option and conveniently close to our other stop at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
Getting to Orcas Island, Washington
After admiring the northern Washington blooms, we took a short drive over to the ferry terminal in Anacortes. The ferry was very reminiscent of the inter-island views in New Zealand and it was a wonderfully smooth ride. There were some snacks, drinks, and small meals available for purchase on the short trip. The ferry (run by the Washington Department of Transportation) services all of the San Juan Islands (which we can’t wait to go explore more of), and Orcas was the third stop – taking a little over an hour to get to. Ferry bookings can be limited depending on the season, so booking ahead is recommended.
While bringing a car is a more expensive ferry ticket, we do recommend it for this island since things are a bit spread out. Plus, you wouldn’t want to miss out on driving up Mount Consitution to take in the views – a definite highlight!
Where We Stayed in Orcas Island
I had a few requirements for our hotel for this trip and was worried they were unrealistic, but the Outlook Inn on Orcas Island really came through with what I was dreaming of. It was the coziest room, with an ocean view, dining options within walking distance, and a luxurious soaking tub. We spent so much time in this room and have no regrets about it. So lovely!
Since it was located in the popular East Sound area in the middle of the island, there were plenty of dining and drinking options and even the best little natural grocery store I’ve ever had the pleasure of wandering (and Down to Earth in Hawaii is pretty top notch!) Definitely swing into Orcas Island Market for quick pre-made lunch options and other healthy goodies.
Driving Up Mount Constitution – THE Orcas Island Must-Do!
If you tell us there is a great view and we can just drive to it with limited physical effort, we will always be in. This is especially true when it is cold and rainy. As much as we love to hike, sometimes we just want a chill day of exploring and we definitely didn’t have a day to dedicate to scaling a mountain.
We really can’t recommend driving up Mount Consitution enough. It is stunning up there! This is the highest point in the San Juans, and if you luck out with clear skies (which we MIRACULOUSLY did in April!), you can see the other islands surrounding you. It is one of the prettiest views we’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the U.S. and it was a bonus to have snow at the top of the winding road!
The little fortress was neat as well, but be careful if it has been cold because the steps get slippery. Totally worth checking out and going up though – especially if the viewpoint below is crowded.
Other Orcas Island Activities
There is actually quite a lot to do on this comparatively large island in the San Juan chain. Here are just a few highlights …
Drinking and Eating
We had the pleasure of meeting the owner of the local distillery and did a tasting with him and his colleague. We also went by Girl Meets Dirt for another lovely (free) tasting of their yummy products. There is a brewery and winery on the island as well that we didn’t make it to. But, we did pop into The Barnacle on one dreary night for some amazingly hipster drink concoctions and vibes.
For food, I already mentioned the market, but Voyager is great for sandwiches, Mijitas has delicious Mexican, and Matia is a very popular upscale option we didn’t try because we aren’t fancy, but apparently, it books out well in advance. They actually have quite the foodie scene on Orcas! And there are more options outside of East Sound, like the Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort & Spa.
There are a handful of pretty waterfalls to hike to all in the Moran State Park area. You do need a day permit to park here (and go up the mountain), but it is totally worth it. We hiked the short trails to Cascade Falls and Hidden Falls.
This is the big thing to do in the San Juans. We were hoping to hop on a tour to go see the island’s namesake (Orcas), but the weather was just too dreary for us to want to commit to a half-day on a boat. This was probably for our benefit since we were in desperate need of sleep-ins and naps after running ourselves ragged for a week on this multi-stop trip (we had spent a few days visiting family in New Mexico and Texas before arriving in Washington). But, we will definitely take a tour next time!
I‘m sure Orcas Island and the San Juans have a different vibe in the summer, but if you want a very low-key trip with just enough activity and dining options to keep you interested without being overwhelmed and tight for time … a spring trip to Orcas is for you! Just be prepared for cold, windy, and rainy weather if visiting at this time! It just adds to the peaceful ambiance to me though.