San Juan and the Gulf Islands
San Juan County © Michael Feist
The San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf islands form one of the most scenic boating routes in the world. The hundreds of islands are separated by nationality but are part of the same scenic, rugged archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Washington State.
Much of the area is in a rain shadow behind Vancouver Island, making a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest. Little island communities, great wildlife, and the open water provide a retreat from the mainland. Frequent government ferry services connect the mainland and larger inhabited islands to each other, but many are only accessible by smaller shuttle boats and yachts.
Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination. Seemingly out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the islands contain many little farms and fisheries, and agri-tourism has become an important part of the island's tourist trade. For the most part, farms that take part in agri-tourism are the island's beautiful wine farms, where guests stay in charming cottages overlooking vineyards and learn more about grape growing and wine making. However, there is also a lovely lavender farm and a somewhat more unexpected alpaca farm. Anchorages are bustling throughout summer, but largely empty in other seasons. Yacht charters are available out of Bellingham.