The ultimate day trip to the San Juan Islands is easy from Seattle. Getting to and from San Juan Island is a breeze with the Washington Ferry system. It has a ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island. If you bring your car you’ll be able to explore the island with ease. You can see all sorts of wildlife from sea otters to bald eagles to whales (depending on the season of course). And don’t forget to stop for lunch and dinner at some great restaurants before heading back home.
Morning | San Juan Island Day Trip by Ferry from Anacortes
You can fly into the island or take a Washington State Ferry over from Anacortes. The island is best explored by car, I suggest reserving a spot on an early ferry for your car. I also recommend that you purchase your tickets online before you go. You will need to take the ferry from Anacortes which takes about an hour and half to get over to San Juan Island. Plan on being at the Washington State Ferry terminal at least an hour before the ferry leaves. It is a busy ferry, especially during the summer months.
If you are doing a day trip to the San Juan Islands from Seattle, the drive to the Anacortes ferry terminal takes about 2 hours. Make sure you add the extra drive time to your departure time from Seattle. Stop at the Whidbey Island Bagel Factory for a bagel and a latte before you get in line. There is not a lot to do at the Washington State Ferry terminal in Anacortes, so be prepared with things to do while you wait.
Tips for the Ferry Ride on Your Day trip to San Juan Islands
Once on the ferry, they have a little café and vending machines if you need a snack. They also have restrooms and tables to sit at. Have cash on hand if you want the vending machine, we couldn’t get any of the credit card stuff to work and was glad to have some cash. We also brought a couple of games and I had my Kindle to pass the time. As you get closer to the San Juan Islands, I like to go out on one of the observation decks and watch the island go by.
For your day trip to the San Juan Islands, instead of a car, you can also chose to take a bike on the ferry. Getting around the island via bike is easy and great way to spend the day. The other option without a car would be to walk on and take a guided tour of the island. You could also plan on renting a scoot coupe to see the sights.
1st Stop | American Camp
Once off the Washington State Ferry, I would bypass stopping in Friday Harbor unless you need snacks or water. I would start my day by heading on over to American Camp to do some exploring. Take a pair of binoculars, a camera and a windbreaker (if you are there in the morning) so that you don’t miss anything while you are out exploring. This is a great way to get a feel for some of the history of the island and is the perfect starting point for your San Juan islands day trip.
At the American Camp, they have a visitor’s center and you can visit the Officer’s quarters. There aren’t as many buildings to visit as the English Camp, but there are several trails you can meander and interpretive signs along the way. The visitor’s center has some brand new displays installed to give you an idea about the history and people of the area and American Camp. It is really well done and worth the stop in before you start exploring the area. The volunteer staff and rangers are also really helpful and can give you some great tips on what you should do on your stop there.
Grandma’s Cove and South Beach
After stopping at the visitor’s center, start down the trail towards the parade grounds. Then follow signs to Grandma’s Cove. It isn’t a long walk, but it’s a great little beach where you can swim or check out the driftwood. You can sometimes spot animals there as well – we saw a bald eagle and a sea otter. After exploring the cove, walk back up the trail. I really appreciated having my hiking sandals for this hike since it was a combo of sand and dirt that I was walking on. Meander around some of the trails that go along the rugged coast line. They have cliff views, blackberry bushes and sweeping meadow views. It’s an incredible hike! From these trails you can make your way towards South Beach , the longest beach on San Juan island. It has views of the Olympic Mountains and known for having driftwood on the beach.
From South Beach, head back on the marked path towards the visitor’s center. Make a stop at the parade grounds and officers quarters to see how the Americans spent their time on San Juan island. After you see the Officer’s Quarters, make your way to the parking lot and head on out towards Roche Harbor.
2nd Stop | Roche Harbor
Head over to the Roche Harbor Resort to grab some lunch at the Lime Kiln Café. This place isn’t fancy but the food is really delicious and the views of the harbor are gorgeous. I recommend the Café Carvery Dip Sandwich with the fries, so good! There is a lot more to see on your San Juan Island day trip so after your delicious lunch, explore Roche Harbor for a bit. You can walk along the harbor or check out some little shops. You can see where the lime kilns used to be. There isn’t much left there but it is cool to learn about why they started processing lime. It was to keep the British soldiers from getting bored and to learn about the process. Over by the kilns, there is are bocce ball courts, play a game and then head out to English Camp.
3rd Stop | English Camp and Alpacas
English Camp is only a few minutes down the road from Roche Harbor resort. It is a great stop to see how different the English were living compared to the Americans. With British territory so close and more support for the outpost there, the English had plenty of supplies. They made the camp look more like home compared to the bare bones American Camp. When you visit, there is a formal garden to walk through, some buildings from their time there and a cemetery. During the summer, the visitor’s center is open and some reenactments of the time are done. There is also a steep trail that takes you to where the officer’s built their houses while stationed there.
After exploring the area, head over to for a stop at The Farm at Krystal Acres to see the Alpacas. For a small fee you can also feed them. There is also a little gift shop where you can purchase Alpaca related items. From there, head off to Lime Kiln Point State Park, your next stop on your San Juan island day trip!
4th Stop | Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park is home to 1.6 miles of hiking trails and a lighthouse. It is also one of the best places in the world to view whales from land. Explore the light house, then walk along the rocky trails to see if you can spot an Orca. There are benches and rocks you can sit on to take you time to spot a whale. That really would really make the ultimate San Juan islands day trip! The best time to see the Orcas are from August to late September. I recommend taking a pair of binoculars with you to better spot some sea life. Also, have some shoes with grip if you are going to explore the rocks or go for a hike. The views are spectacular they have some informational signs you can check out on the trails.
Last Stop | Friday Harbor and back to Anacortes
After whale watching, head back to Friday Harbor to grab an early dinner and check out the shops – a great way to finish your ultimate San Juan islands day trip. Friday Harbor is the only town on the island and has plenty of shops featuring local artists. Don’t miss stopping by the Penlindaba Lavender Farm store and the Rookscroft & Company shop, featuring products by local artist and author, Jayne Siroshton. Grab an early dinner at the San Juan Island Brewing Company. They have a great menu and of course, a great selection of beers to try. We really enjoyed the pretzel and the salmon burger while we were there. The space is great if you have a large party or kids that want to run around for a bit.
Returning from Your Day Trip to San Juan Islands
After dinner, head to the Washington State Ferry terminal area to get your car in line for the ferry. The ferry terminal is in the middle of town, so you can leave your car while waiting. Grab a beer at Cease & Desist with harbor views or some ice cream at Friday Harbor Ice Cream Co. Hop on the ferry and enjoy the views of the other islands as you sail back to Anacortes. If you are doing a San Juan islands day trip from Seattle, don’t forget you have a couple hours in the car after the ferry.
Of course, if you had the time to stay longer, there is still plenty to do! Whale watching tours, kayaking, renting a bike or hoping over to Orcas or Lopez islands. I hope you get the chance to experience the ultimate day trip to San Juan Islands. It really is a breathtaking place!
Let me know if I missed any of your favorite activities. What you would add to your day in the comments.
Want to check out some other ways to explore Washington State? Check out our other posts about the area to discover more.
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