Orcas Island is a small island in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington that offers some of the best Pacific Northwest experiences in the whole state. Rolling island hills filled with farms build up to gorgeous mountain tops and fall back down to incredible beaches. From hike trails to some of the best fine farm to table dining, there is so much to do!
One of the most popular activities on the whole island is visiting Moran park! This park is a treasure trove of hiking trails, swimmable lakes, waterfalls and incredible views. It is a ten minute drive from Eastsound, but it feels like another world! Take the road to travel up Mount Constitution; a two thousand plus elevation journey to the Observation Tower (the highest point in the San Juans). At the tower take in the insane view of the islands ( you can see Mount Baker from here!). On your way back down the mountain be sure to stop at Mountain Lake for a walk, Cascade Falls for some beautiful sights and finally back down to Cascade Lake at the foot of the mountain, for a swim! Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards are all available for rent at Cascade Lake. There is camping throughout the whole park, just visit my last article to find out more!
Just past Buck Bay, lies a mile hike (round trip) that leads out to the best beach on the island! The hike is a sweet little walk through the woods and oceanic cliff sides and ends at the campsites at the beach. The beach itself is a pebble beach, with just a little stretch of sand. The views here are breathtaking! I love coming here with some floaties and a picnic to really enjoy an afternoon.
Orcas Island Pottery
The Orcas Island Pottery claims to be the oldest pottery studio in the northwest! This shop has been an island institution since the late 1940’s! Some of my first memories of the island were here, walking around the gardens with my grandmother and mother and being mesmerized by the beautiful colors of the pottery. Utilizing the beautiful gardens some of the pottery is displayed outside, where a swing set and treehouse await the kids, while most of the pottery is set inside the studio. The back gardens have the sea and islands as the backdrop, it is such a lovely view! Whether you’ve come to the shop or just to wander the gardens, you are sure to love it!
Orcas Island Kayaking
Out of all the fantastic things there are to do on the island, kayaking is my favorite here! Not only do you have the couple of lakes in Moran state park to paddle around, but you have all the sea! And there are so many different places to go it can be a bit overwhelming, so here’s a list!
Just outside of Eastsound you’ll find the charming Crescent Beach. This beach is home to lots of little fish and many types of shellfish. Follow the sound around madrona point to see all sorts of little starfish and fish. The last time I was kayaking out here, I saw a seal! You can bring your own paddle boards or kayaks or rent from the beach shack across the road from the beach. They charge either 18 dollars an hour or 50 dollars for a half day. The owners here are very kind and will show you how to paddle if you’re a beginner. This is probably the best sea kayaking for younger children.
This kayak guiding group operates from a couple different places on the island. From West Beach Resort you can take the sunset tour and paddle the most serene area of the island while viewing the best sunset on the island. From Deer harbor, they have the option for either a three hour trip, or an all day kayaking trip from Deer Harbor to Jones Island State park. Shearwater even does a kayaking trip from Rosario Marina!
Set sail from North Beach in a kayak and you’ll be set for adventure! Outer Island Excursions is one of the best kayak rentals on the island and will take you on what I consider to be the most beautiful kayaking trips on the island! You can either take a three hour trip guided trip or go solo to the illusive Point Doughty Park! This park is surrounded on all sides by private property and so can only be reached by boat! The park is sweet, with really cool tide pools to look into (I’ve seen crabs here playing with other crabs, as well as starfish and seals!) and little camping spots complete with grills!
Outer Island will also take you to Sucia Island! This is an all day trip to a small island three miles off the shore of Orcas. They take you to the island with a power boat and then equip you to kayak for several hours around the guarded shores of Sucia.
In addition to these awesome trips, Outer Island will also rent their boats to any location on the island. You can pick up the boats, or they will also deliver for a small fee.
Orcas Island Whale Watching
The San Juan Islands are known for their whale watching! We have a group of whales called ‘Resident Whales’. There are a few different pods with eighty four whales in total! There are many different groups willing to take you to see these majestic creatures.
This group will pick you up from either Deer Harbor or Rosario for a three to four hour whale and wildlife sighting trip.
In addition to the kayaking tours they do, Outer Island also does whale watching! They have the highest rate of sighting of whales and say if you don’t see any whales on your trip, you can come again for free! They launch out of Smugglers Villa and will go as far as Victoria to see those whales!
With Eclipse Charters you’ll on the water for three and a half hours. Their tours depart from the ferry dock and from Eastsound.
Orcas Island Fishing Tours
The fishing opportunities on Orcas Island are incredible! To experience these sweet fishing waters, climb on board with one of the few fishing tours on the island.
Outer Island also does fishing tours! They do a bottom fishing tour and salmon fishing tours each by the hour and have several different boats to choose from.
North Shore specializes in sport fishing and charters. They’ll take you ‘bottom fishing’ for up to three hours and salmon fishing for up to four hours. They also do private charters where (depending on the season), they’ll do crabbing and prawn fishing.
Need a soak while on the island? The Doe Bay hot tubs are a lovely way to relax after a long day of sightseeing. You’ll find Doe Bay past the Olga area on the island and enter the ‘Spa’ area. The fee is fifteen dollars for the day. Three different hot tubs feature three different temperatures on a deck overviewing the bay. There is also a sauna!
Orcas Island Restaurants
There are some really fabulous restaurants on Orcas island. With the booming farm culture on the island, the farm to table trend in laced into the food that is created here. Not to mention all the fresh and local seafood!
Buck Bay isn’t really a restaurant, but it is so much fun! Overlooking the bay, the Buck Bay Shellfish farm is a special place to bring friends (and a bottle of rose!) and crack open your own oysters! Buck Bay grows their own oysters and clams and also brings in some other oysters from the coast. They also cook have fresh and cooked crabs as well as other fish and sometimes prawns! Their smoked salmon and ceviche is to die for! You pick out your own oysters and they’ll equip you with an oyster knife and accoutrements. So much fun!!
Also not a restaurant, but a super fun beer experience, the local island brewery has a beautiful tap room where they serve at least seven of their delicious beers in flights or by the pint. They serve snacks as well that you can enjoy on their sweet patio or inside the taproom. Come for a beer and snacks after your kayaking trip!
The Inn at Ship bay is known as the best restaurant on the island. They grow almost all their own produce in their greenhouses and orchards, raise their own mangalitsa pigs and oysters and whatever they don’t raise comes locally from the other islands or the Skagit Valley. Their fish is all sourced local as well. The chef himself is an incredible curator of taste and flavors and the sommelier brings in incredible organic and bio dynamic wines. The service is all fine dining styled so not only is your food amazing, but so is your experience. Treat yourself to the best meal of your life with their chef’s tasting menu!
New Leaf is another restaurant known for sourcing locally on the island. They are located in eastsound in the Outlook Inn overlooking the beautiful sound. The menu is delicious and very trendy. Their carpaccios are really fun, and they have locally made wines available. They have patio seating available as well.
Roses is a bakery and restaurant combo that serves breakfast and lunch. In the bakery side they bake their own bread and pastries as well as have a deli and awesome wine collection. The bakery also makes sandwiches ready to go (perfect for that whaling trip!). On the cafe side the food is fresh, locally sourced and carries the sort or European influenced vibe from the imported cheeses and wines over on the bakery side.
Doe Bay offers awesome farm to table dining with a focus on ‘vegetable forward’ menus. I had the best waffle of my life here! They grow most of their own produce and source from local farms of course. The restaurant sits on a cliff overlooking the bay, and offers patio tables as well as indoor tables.
Mijitas offers the best mexican food on the island! The menu brings a lot of seafood options to fresh and delicious mexican food. They also have a yummy margarita list (the cocorita is my favorite!) and a big patio to enjoy the summer sun.
Things to Do on Orcas Island with Kids
If you’re bringing the kids with you on your Orcas Island adventure, there is a lot to keep them busy! Moran Park is an amazing place for kids to run around the trails on the lakes, or climb trees, and if the weather allows, canoe around the lakes. Sea kayaking is a little bit harder for younger kids, but any ages will love whale watching and fishing tours!
Things to Do on Orcas Island in the Winter
In the winter, the island slows down from the hecticness of summer. The island becomes a haven for people trying to get away!
Things to Do on Orcas Island in March
March can be windy and still a little bit wet. Whale watching may be good as well as fishing.
Things to Do on Orcas Island in June
In June the heat picks up! This is a good time to go on whale watching tours and fishing. Hiking is also really good this time of year, as you will see a lot of beautiful wildflowers!
Things to Do on Orcas Island in July
July can be hot! Lake swimming is my favorite way to spend July, but of course whale watching, sea kayaking and hiking is all going to be very good this time of season.
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