Top 10 Quiet Season Activities
There is always a reason to visit Friday Harbor and San Juan Island. It offers spectacular beauty any time of year. Because Friday Harbor is our county seat, it is more likely to be bustling during the quiet season. Here are ten reasons to visit... okay, we have 12 here as well!
Just outside Friday Harbor is San Juan Vineyards, a family-owned winery that offers Chardonnay, Estate-Grown Siegerrebe, Madeleine Estate-Grown Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine, Riesling, “Afterglow“, Merlot, Cabernet-Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mona Vino (the last one is affectionately named after the island’s only resident camel). Tour the winery, participate in tasting, and join their wine club. Or purchase a bottle of Washington state produced wine at one of our many casual and elegant restaurants on the island.
During the summer months, you have so many great restaurants to choose from you might wish to sample appetizers at one, entrees at another and dessert at yet another! Or just plan to spend enough days on the island to indulge in each of the delicious fares. Pacific Northwest cuisine, oriental dishes, and a variety of deli’s exist to delight your palette.
If you love art and learning, you will stay busy on San Juan Island. Visit the San Juan Island Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden for a truly unique experience. At the Whale Museum, you will find much more than a static display of whales, it is an organization committed to the preservation of orcas, the stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea environment.
Pelindaba Lavender is open year round in down town Friday Harbor. The shop contains essential oils, handcrafted personal products, and much more.
Open year round, this Island Jewel offers fresh from the Island cuisine.
A trip to San Juan Islands is not complete without learning about the infamous Pig War, a little known conflict between the USA and Great Britain that started over a pig’s death in 1859 and was not settled until 1872. Visit American Camp and English Camp for an interesting view into the politics of the time. Friday Harbor is steeped with history as well.
Yes, you can do that anywhere! But a true romantic knows that the right kiss at the right time at a spectacular place can be a memory of a lifetime. Friday Harbor has some places that are so famous for kissing they ended up in a book about the Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest!
Whether you are with your sweetheart or a novel you have been longing to read, Friday Harbor ’s cool summer evenings and winter rainy days give you the perfect excuse to turn off the cell phone, shut down the email, and build a cozy fire in your suite at the inn. Lose yourself for hours wrapped in a warm blanket, gazing into the fire or into that special someone’s eyes.
Friday Harbor people love music, food and culture. We have two thriving theater companies, and we use any excuse or holiday to have a parade and eat! Check with your innkeeper a couple of weeks before your trip about which plays and festivals will be happening when you are on the island.
Relax those muscles and especially that brain as you ease into island time while soaking in the hot tub. A glass of wine, a fantastic sunset, and the world is yours again.
Get away from the routines, the soccer practice, the piano lessons and the minivan for a few days! Bicycle around the island, go to a small town play, stroll along the docks and admire the big boats. Reconnect with your family in a laid back atmosphere.
Looking to add that Rhinoceros Auket to your birding life list? Or perhaps you would like to stand on a shore and watch bald eagles dip and turn in the sky above you? San Juan Island is home to many species, from finches to shorebirds. Bring your binoculars!
Every other Tuesday at 7 p,m., through winter and spring, the folks at the Friday Harbor Film Festival will be showing a selection of films from the very successful 2013 festival. Below are descriptions of each film to whet your cinematic appetite! (excerpts taken from the FHFF website). You can also view the trailer for each film on the website – I did, and I can’t wait to see some of these amazing films!
January 7 - Smokin’ Fish: Cory Mann is a quirky Tlingit businessman hustling to make a dollar in Juneau, Alaska. Smokin’ Fish relates his efforts to negotiate between survival in the world’s economy as an entrepreneur, and retention of his cultural identity as a member of the Thunderbird Clan. His business travels take him across the Pacific to various Asian countries, but the lure of smoking fish and nostalgia for his childhood draws him to spend a summer smoking fish among relatives near Klukwan, Alaska. The unusual story of Mann’s life and the untold history of his people interweave with the process of preparing traditional food as he struggles to pay his bills and keep his business (mass producing and importing Tlingit artwork and wholesaling it to the tourism industry) afloat. Mann’s casual style makes him very effective as the cultural broker, bringing the varied scenes of Tlingit cultural life to those of us who know little, if anything, about it.
January 21 – The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: Filmmaker Lucy Walker set out to make “a visual haiku about cherry blossoms” in Japan, but changed her plans radically following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March of 2011. Taken with the cherry blossom’s beauty and ability to symbolize the ephemeral quality of life, Walker links the disaster with the power of Japan’s most beloved flower to heal and inspire. Walker’s stunning visual poem opens with a long clip of jaw-dropping real-life footage of the tsunami, showing water sweeping houses and buildings along like toys, lifting up cars, and swallowing people. It then moves to interviews with survivors from a northern Japanese village in the heart of the disaster, who share their traumatic personal experiences of the tsunami against a backdrop of cherry blossoms — a symbol rooted deep in Japanese culture that suggests rebirth.
Honor and Sacrifice: Roy Matsumoto, the man whose fascinating story is told in this film, is actually a resident of San Juan Island, and recently celebrated his 100th birthday here. His story is that of a Japanese immigrant family ripped apart by World War II. The Matsumoto family included five sons, two who fought for the Americans and three who fought for the Japanese. The eldest, Hiroshi (Roy) fought against the Japanese with Merrill’s Marauders, an American guerrilla unit in Burma. He became a hero when he used his Japanese language skills and military training to save his surrounded, starving battalion deep in the Burmese jungle. At the same time his parents and sisters were living in their family’s ancestral home, Hiroshima. The story is told by Roy’s daughter Karen, as she discovers her father’s work in military intelligence, kept secret for 50 years.
February 4 – Girl Rising: Girl Rising is a groundbreaking film, directed by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins. It tells the stories of nine extraordinary girls from nine different countries; each story was written by a celebrated writer from the girl’s own country and is narrated by a renowned actress. Girl Rising showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. The featured girls face arranged marriages, child slavery and other heartbreaking injustices. Despite these obstacles, the brave girls offer hope and inspiration. By getting an education, they’re able to break down barriers and create change. The girls are unique, but the barriers they are forced to deal with are universal. Sixty-six million girls around the world can only dream of attending school. By sharing their personal journeys, the featured students have also become teachers. Watch Girl Rising, and you will see that one girl with courage is a revolution.
February 18 – Taylor Camp: In 1969, a small group of young men, women and children – refugees from campus riots, Vietnam War protests and police brutality – fled from the mainland to the island of Kauai. Soon they were arrested and sentenced to 90 days’ hard labor for having no money and no home. Island resident Howard Taylor, brother of actress Elizabeth, bailed them out of jail and invited them to camp on his vacant oceanfront property. Soon waves of hippies, surfers and troubled Vietnam vets found their way to this clothing-optional, pot-friendly tree house village at the end of the road on the island’s North Shore. Taylor Camp reveals a community that created order without rules, rejecting materialism for the healing power of nature. We come to understand the significance Taylor Camp’s eight-year existence through interviews made 30 years later after the filmmakers tracked down the campers, their neighbors and the government officials who finally got rid of them.
March 4 – The Whale: The Whale tells the true story of a wild killer whale, an orca named Luna, who somehow gets separated from his family off the west coast of Vancouver Island, BC. He turns up alone in a narrow stretch of sea between mountains, called Nootka Sound. Because orcas live in tight-knit family groups and are clearly social animals, one who gets separated from family usually dies. Without familiar orcas nearby, Luna seeks out the attention of people in boats and on the shore. This contact does not turn out to be simple. As rambunctious and surprising as a visitor from another planet, Luna endears himself to humans with his determination to make contact, leading to laughter, conflict and unexpected consequences. The Whale celebrates the life of a smart, friendly, determined, transcendent being from the other world of the sea who appeared among us, reminding us that the greatest secrets in life are still to be discovered.
March 18 - Black Wave: In the early hours of March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil supertanker ran aground in Alaska, discharging millions of gallons of crude oil and thus becoming the biggest environmental catastrophe in North American history. In a flash, dramatic images shot across the planet: thousands of carcasses of dead seabirds and sea otters covered in oil, a thick black tide rising and covering the beaches of once-pristine Prince William Sound. For the next 20 years, Riki Ott and the fishermen of the little town of Cordova, Alaska, waged the longest legal battle in U.S. history against ExxonMobil, the world’s most powerful oil company. In this compelling documentary, we learn about the environmental, social and economic consequences of the black wave that changed their lives and the lives of thousands of people forever. And we learn that the horrific legacy of the Exxon Valdez still lives today.
April 1 – Eastern Rises: In Eastern Rises a courageous band of fly fishermen risks everything in one of the last wild places on earth, the Kamchatka Peninsula of the Russian Far East. It may as well be at the end of the earth. Its enormous, wild landscape is threaded with rivers, teeming with massive mouse-eating trout, bugs and bears. In other words, this place is the Holy Grail for truly obsessed, halfway insane fly fishermen. They brave Cold War helicopters, grizzlies, massive mosquitoes, and even Bigfoot in search of rainbow trout, salmon and the ultimate fish story. The cynical narration of filmmaker Ben Knight (from Felt Soul Media) pulls viewers along on this humorous and intriguing tale in which fishing is poetry, Sasquatch lurks in the fog, and fishermen risk life and limb to explore rivers that have never before been fished. The cinematography is superb, the storytelling excellent, and the angling inspirational.
Red Gold: The Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska is home to the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers, the two most prolific sockeye salmon runs left in the world. Two mining companies, Northern Dynasty Minerals and Anglo American, have proposed an open-pit and under-ground mine at the headwaters of the two rivers. The area has the second largest deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum ever discovered, with an estimated value over $300 billion. Despite promises of a clean project by mining officials, the accident-plagued history of hard rock mining has wrought one of the biggest land use controversies Alaska has ever faced. Red Gold gives a face to the issue, and a voice to the people who depend on this extraordinary fishery. This documentary gives all sides a chance to be seen and heard. For the first time, Bristol Bay’s subsistence, commercial and sport-fishing communities have joined together for a common cause.
April 15 - Back to the Garden: n 1988, Seattle filmmaker Kevin Tomlinson interviewed a group of back-to-the-land ”hippies” who had isolated themselves from mainstream culture by living off-grid in rural Washington State, practicing peace and love. In 2006, Tomlinson returned to their community to learn what had become of their utopian dreams. He talked again with the original interviewees, as well as their children, to determine how living this alternative lifestyle actually played out. Back to the Garden is an extremely poignant time-lapse view of these idealists, told with moving personal stories. It offers profound insights into one of the most iconic social movements of our time, speaking to all of us who grew up in the 60s or were affected by the counterculture of those days. The non-conformist lifestyles of these aging hippies and their now-thriving families – all firmly insulated from global economic shocks — today looks ahead of its time and wiser than ever.
Tiny: Tiny is a documentary about home, and how we find it. The film follows one couple’s attempt to build a “tiny house” from scratch, and profiles other families who have downsized their lives into homes smaller than the average parking space. Featuring homes stripped down to their essentials, exploring the owners’ stories and the design innovations that make the houses work, the film raises questions about good design, the nature of home, and the changing American Dream. That dream for some may focus on flexibility, financial freedom, and quality of life over quantity of space. Tiny is a coming-of-age story for a generation that is more connected, yet less tied-down than ever, and for a society redefining its priorities in the face of a changing financial and environmental climate. More than anything, the film invites its viewers to dream big and imagine living small.
May 6 – Keiko, The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy: In this film, fans of the international icon Keiko learn what happened when the Free Willy star became the first and only captive orca to be released back into the wild. Torn from his family at the tender age of two, Keiko spent 14 years in captivity as a performing tourist attraction before Hollywood discovered him for the title role in the 1993 blockbuster movie, Free Willy. When his millions of fans realized that Keiko was not free like his on-screen character, a crusade was launched to save him. The decision was ultimately made to return Keiko to his native waters off Iceland. After spending two years in Oregon regaining his health, he was airlifted to Iceland in the fall of 1998, and lived his last years in freedom. But until now, exactly what happened after he went back to his native waters has never been revealed.
May 20 – Good Food: Something remarkable is happening in the fields and orchards of the Pacific Northwest. Small family farmers are making a comeback. They’re growing much healthier food, and lots more food per acre, while using less energy and water than factory farms. For decades Northwest agriculture was focused on a few big crops for export. But to respond to climate change and the end of cheap energy, each region needs to produce more of its own food and to grow food more sustainably. Good Food visits producers, farmers’ markets, distributors, stores, restaurants and public officials who are developing a more sustainable food system for all. Within the context of the history of Pacific Northwest agriculture, the film features some of the places where many of the region’s vegetables, fruits, grains and animal products are produced. Farmers and farm workers speak about their businesses, marketing, and the reasons they are committed to producing food that is healthy and environmentally-friendly.
The sun is starting to make its triumphant reappearance here in the San Juan Islands! Thanks to the “rainshadow effect,” we enjoy an average of 250 or more sunny days every year, and receive only about half of the rainfall that our friends to the south in Seattle receive! The “banana belt,” as our area of Washington is called, is protected on one side by the Olympic Mountains and by the Cascades on the other. So the worst of the rain, wind and general grayness is swept up over those peaks and kept away from us.
As fortunate as we are to get so much sun, we do get our share of cloudy days, especially in the off-season. If you’re visiting us during this time, I’m here to help you figure out what to do so you make the best of your vacation! Don’t forget, there are plenty of good points to visiting a summer tourist destination in the fall and winter – less crowds and lower prices, just to name a few! So check out our Top 10 list and check some of them off on your next trip. And as always, we’d love to be your home base for your adventure!
1) Catch a film or play in town.
Every Tuesday night at the San Juan Island Grange through May 20, check out a provoking new film for free! The folks at the Friday Harbor Film Festival will be showing a selection of films from the very successful 2013 festival. All films show at 7 p.m. For a full schedule, click this link.
You can also take in a play or even the opera, or maybe take an art workshop and learn a fun new skill! The opportunities for a little culture are endless. Take a look at our events calendar for ideas!
2) Go bird watching.
Birding is a hugely popular activity all year round on San Juan Island, and with good reason! There’s no shortage of amazing, beautiful flighted creatures to spot. Bald eagles are our classic, but you can also see red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, rhinocerous aucklets, great blue herons, and so much more! My personal favorite winter bird has to be the breathtaking trumpeter swan. Here’s a tip – the last few weeks, they’ve been hanging out in a field near a pond on Douglas Road. Just follow Spring Street out of town; that turns into San Juan Valley road, and Douglas is your first left. You’re likely to spot the swans just down that road to your right! But they can be spotted in many lakes on the island, notably Sportsman’s Lake (on the way to Roche Harbor).
3) Curl up with a good book in front of a crackling fire.
In a world of big-box bookstores and the E-reader craze, I’m grateful for the Griffin Bay bookstore, located on Spring Street. You can browse the latest new releases or old favorites, and they’ll order anything you’d like for you while you sip on an amazing cappuccino. Grab a great read and retire to your room at the inns – chances are, it has a fireplace or wood stove, and I think that losing yourself in a great story while your toes warm by the crackling flames is a top way to pass any cloudy afternoon.
4) Visit the Whale Museum.
Nearly every day of the year, you can dive into the world of Salish Sea marine life with a visit to the Whale Museum. For
just $6 general admission, you’ll be able to explore amazing exhibits, hear the calls of our resident orcas, watch thrilling videos of shore encounters, even touch a whale bone or harbor seal fur. There are plenty of activities for the kids, too – keep them busy coloring their favorite sea creatures while you tour the museum. Downstairs, there are even a few totally free exhibits – most notably one on L-112, or Sooke, who washed ashore completely intact in 2012. The gift shop is my personal favorite, with hand-crafted jewelry and accessories, books and videos, toys, apparel, and so much more – all benefiting research on our southern resident killer whale community.
5) Have dinner at Coho Restaurant.
Right now we’re open Wednesday through Sunday at Coho, and we have plenty of specials to keep your palate guessing! Visit us on Wednesday for Global Cuisine night; we’ll explore a different country through its local culinary specials every week, with great wine and spirits pairings to boot. Or make a reservation for one of our exciting upcoming wine dinners – there’s one next week! Enjoy a sampling of a local Washington winery and a 5-6 course meal structured around those wines. There’s always the chef tasting, daily from 5-5:45, for one of the best dinner values on the island. Our intimate atmosphere and seasonal, hand-crafted gourmet cuisine is sure to please every member of your party. Check out our menu and specials and call us to book your table!
6) Explore your sophisticated side with a little wine and cheese.
There’s a new place to get your wine on, right around the corner from the inns. San Juan Island Cheese is both a cheese/wine shop and a cafe. Owner Richard Daly and his friendly staff are always ready with a smile and a pairing recommendation. I can also personally attest to the mouthwatering deliciousness of their sandwiches (the grilled cheese is a favorite). You can enjoy a cheese plate with a friend or take home a chunk of your own to try. They also host regular wine-tasting events. They’ll be reopening for the season April 1!
7) Treat yourself at the lavender shop.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm is famous in Washington for its fresh-grown lavender, stretching out in brilliant purple waves as far as the eye can see in the summer. A visit to their farm might include a musical performance, the chance to pick your own bunch of lavender, a lesson on how its grown and harvested, and of course, plenty of free samples of lavender ice cream, iced tea, cookies, and more. But you can also visit the retail store, right in the center of town on First Street. Pick up some bubble bath, all-natural cleaning products, dog treats, gourmet sauces and chocolates, stuffed animals, clothing items, and so much more – all infused with lavender! (My mom bought me a lavender orca plush when she was here in the summer of 2013, and he still smells of lavender every time I hug him!) Go pick up something for everyone on your list.
8) Relax in a hot tub.
There’s something so luxurious about being caressed by warm, bubbly water, even on a chilly or cloudy day. Add a few jets and lights, a glass of wine or two, and a blissfully soft towel waiting, and you have yourself a totally relaxing afternoon. Many of our accommodations come equipped with two-person jetted bathtubs or outdoor hot tubs. What are you waiting for – the water’s fine!
9) Find a treasure in a thrift shop.
As many stores and items that are priced for those well-off folks as there are in Friday Harbor, there’s something for the frugal shopper too! Just a block away from Friday Harbor Market Place on Mullis Street, you’ll find the Thrift House, with an ever-rotating selection of glass and kitchenware, clothing, outdoor supplies, even Christmas decorations. If it’s something stylish you’re craving, check out Girlfriends’ Consignment or Second Act, both located in town. I’ve scored so many cute tops from both places at jaw-dropping prices. Funk ‘N Junk, right across from Coho, is an antique hunter’s dream. Finally, Consignment Treasures, located just a ways out of town on Roche Harbor Road, is another fantastic place for deals, most notably on furniture and home furnishings. You can easily kill a whole day wandering the aisles of these shops!
“Hold up!” you’re thinking… “Whale-watching is the number-one thing to do there, and you can only do it in the summer…right?”
On the contrary, many whale-watching operators on San Juan Island go out all year. Two of the best guys I know, and most
reliable as far as sightings, are Captain Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters and Captain Hobbes Buchanan of San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours. They will both take you out almost any day you’d like to go, and if there are orcas anywhere near the islands, they’ll find them! And of course, the orcas don’t care what the weather up here is like – in fact, I’ve noticed that they are often more active on cloudy days, perhaps because the rain brings out their favorite food, salmon! Even if you don’t see orcas, you’re very likely to see a huge variety of other wildlife, including steller sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, multi-colored starfish, and the exotic sheep and deer of Spieden Island. It will be an adventure you’ll never forget, sun or no sun!