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Every year, a group of friends and I do an annual summer camping trip. We all lived in the same dorm in undergrad, so it’s a super cute way for us to catch back up and reconnect. But in 2018, ONE OF US -cough Keenan cough- decided to get deployed to Germany so our yearly trip would also be a goodbye celebration. We let Keenan pick the trip, and since there are so many things to do on Orcas Island, he decided on that destination.
Well, and his family had a house there so. Gotta make the party accessible to his other friends and fam.
Anyways, onto the travel guide portion of this post. We spent three days on Orcas Island, with plenty of shopping, hiking, eating, and bonfires to keep us busy. It isn’t a huge island, so it is a perfect weekend destination!
Orcas Islands: The Basics
- State: Washington
- Population: 4,453
- Ancestral land (for all of the San Juan Islands): Central Coast Salish people; Lummi, Sooke, Songhee, Saanich, Samish and Semiahmoo
- Distance from Seattle: ~3hours (including 1.5hr ferry)
- Best season to visit (in my opinion): Summer, though if you want to visit when there are fewer crowds, September is good as well!
- Vibe: Slow, small-town feel
- Price range: Affordable, but the food is a bit pricey
- Transportation: You will need a car.
Getting to Orcas Island
If you are located in Seattle, you can actually hop on a quick flight to Orcas Island. Otherwise, you’re going to have to take a ferry from Anacortes, Washington. From Seattle, the drive to Anacortes is about 1.5 hours north. Then you will need to take the San Juan Ferry to the island, which is another 1.5 hours.
Since my friends and I were driving from Portland, Oregon, that made the journey to Anacortes about 4 hours then the ferry to Orcas Island, so a total of 5.5 hours.
You can either pay to leave your car at the ferry terminal, or bring your vehicle with you on the ferry to Orcas Island. I would recommend bringing your vehicle, as it will make getting around the island a lot easier.
You can book your ferry reservations online! If you are bringing a standard vehicle, your ticket will cost $55USD. However, if you have a larger vehicle (like an RV) or are under the age of 19, the price will increase. Every additional passenger in the car will be an added $13USD. It’s an additional thirteen dollars for every passenger in the car. There is also a nifty phone app that makes it super easy!
Details about the Ferry
Since the ride wasn’t that long, I actually stayed in my car the whole time on the ferry. But if you want to stretch your legs or look around, here are some quick details.
- ADA friendly: the car deck and restrooms are wheelchair accessible. There is an elevator that can take you from the car deck to the ferry’s passenger cabin. When boarding at the terminal, let the ticket window person know if you need a car spot next to the elevator (as the cars are packed pretty tightly!)
- Food: it isn’t fancy by any means, but if you’re hungry, it gets the job done. Think usual American gas station food. Condiments are self-serve.
Where to Stay on Orcas Island
Camping is always a great choice! And it’s one of the best things to do on Orcas Island! Immerse yourself in nature! You have a few options for camping on Orcas Island, like Moran State Park (which has 3 campgrounds) and Mt. Baker farm!
During peak season (summer), standard campsite reservations range between $27USD and $37USD. In the winter, the fee drops to $20USD. Prices also change if the campsite has additional amenities (like electricity hookup), or if you have an extra vehicle. Check the Washington camping site for more camping fee information!
Since our friend’s family had a house on Orcas Island, we actually just camped in the back woods of their property.
But on the last night, it started raining heavily so we snagged a last-minute hotel room at the Orcas Hotel. It wasn’t fancy, and the bathrooms were shared, but it got the job done. It is also pet friendly!
I also think it would be worth looking into the Outlook Inn! I didn’t personally stay there, but it looks beautiful and is attached to one of my favorite restaurants on the island, New Leaf Cafe!
Things to do on Orcas Island
Thankfully, a weekend is the perfect amount of time to experience all of the wonderful things to do on Orcas Island. No matter your activity level or interests, you will be able to find something to entertain you on the island!
Hiking is one of the best things to do on Orcas Island. If you decide to camp on the island, many trail heads are close by the state park campsites. Starting from the easier hikes, Cascade Lake Loop (2.9 miles) is a relatively flat trail that goes around the beautiful lake and lagoon.
Turtleback Mountain (6.6 miles) was the first hike I did on Orcas Island and it KILLLLED me! If you do the whole trail, it will take about 2.5 hours. But you can stop at any of the viewpoints along the way!
Arguably the most challenging, but most rewarding, hike is to the summit of Mt. Construction (7 miles). It will take around 3-4 hours, so make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. It’s pretty steep, but the summit will give your 360 degrees of the entire island. That said, if you’re not quite up for the whole hike, there IS a nice paved drive up to the summit. Two other great hikes are also accessible from the Mt. Construction parking lot, Cold Springs Trail (2.5 miles) and Cascade Falls (0.25 miles).
I was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant selection on Orcas Island! Although it is a small island, there a handful of restaurants for each meal, giving you enough variety for the whole weekend!
One of the best ways to start your day on Orcas Island is by grabbing a bite to eat at New Leaf Cafe. It is a casual French restaurant by night, but in the morning it has a great breakfast menu – and mimosas and bloody marys! Order any of the dishes with eggs, and you’ll be happy, especially the eggs benedict!
Island Skillet is another great breakfast option, and has slightly cheaper prices! Both places have very minimal vegetarian options (pancakes/french toast), but not sure about much they can accommodate for vegan substitutions.
Speaking of! If you are vegan or vegetarian, or just want a healthy meal option, Wild Island Restaurant has a lot of dish options for you, and they are open for all meals of the day! Plus, they make a meannn smoothie! Pro-tip, get some extra “wild sauce” on the side!
Roses Bakery Cafe is a super cute family-owned spot, focused on well-balanced and healthy meal options. Although they also serve a great breakfast, you HAVE to stop by for lunch. Their food is delicious, and they support local farmers and sustainable local fishermen. **UPDATE – now closed 🙁
And then there’s Brown Bear Bakery – you’ll smell it before you see it, and that’s how you know it’ll be good! Though the line does get a bit long 11am-1pm, but since I went during a weekday, I got lucky! Their sandwiches are a little pricer ($15-18USD), but they are incredible! Plus, you HAVE to try some of their pastries! I’d highly recommend their tea cake and cinnamon rolls, but honestly, you can’t go wrong!
Surprisingly, there’s a Mexican restaurant on the island! Mijitas is another family-run restaurant, and the menu is inspired by owner and chef Raul’s hometown in Mexico, combined with northwestern ingredients. Coming from Los Angeles, yes, I’m a snob about Mexican food – but yooo! IT WAS GOOD!! It is usually pretty busy, so expect a wait.
I absolutely loved dinner at The Inn at Ship Bay. It is an upscale restaurant (entrees $25-30USD), but the seafood dishes are unmatched on the island! The restaurant is on the waterfront, so it also makes for a great special occasion dinner!
You can’t come all the way to the Pacific Northwest and NOT checkout the local brewery. For a very casual pub, get a table at Island Hoppin’ Brewery. They have fantastic beers and ciders (and non-alcoholic drinks as well!), and the bartenders and waiters are the friendliest on the island. They even have ping pong tables and corn hole. It’s a super fun place, a little pricey (the beer flight is $15USD), but worth it in my opinion. You can even bring in food from other restaurants!
The Barnacle is a fun speakeasy-esque bar with creative cocktails and tasty tapas. The drinks are moderately priced, so I would recommend stopping in before or after dinner to get the best bang for your buck! Their drink menu is always changing, so whenever you come back there will be something new waiting for you!
You can also pick up wine to go from Eastsound Liquor & Wine or Orcas Island Distillery if you want to bring the good times back to your lodging.
Desserts and Snacks
You HAVE to grab ice cream at Clever Cow Creamery! My digestive system can’t even handle dairy, but I still had to grab a double scoop! The place is small, but super cute. Plus, they have bangin’ milkshakes!
If you’re in the mood for chocolate, or want to pick up a cute souvenir, head to Kathryn Taylor Chocolates! I actually don’t like chocolate, but my friends said they were tasty!
While hiking in Moran State Park, you may come across the Sugar Shack, which sells paninis, sandwiches, hot dogs, and ice cream from local Lopez Island Creamy! Their second location, at Cascade Lake, also sells lake floaties, swimsuits, and souvenirs!
Annnddd for anything else food related you may need, there’s always the Orcas Food Co-op! The prices are higher than normal grocery stores (it is an island after all), but they are very involved in the community and offer some unique items and high quality produce!
One of my favorite things to do on Orcas Island, and frankly anywhere. But since there’s not too much to say about shopping, I’m going to bullet them below!
- Nest: floral shop
- Monkey Puzzle: handmade jewelry shop
- **Update: the owners have retired and the store has closed** Art of the Salish Sea (Indigenous-owned): art, gifts, and jewelry by local and Coastal Salish artists
- Olga Pottery: handmade pottery
- Cottage Gift Shop: Orcas Island souvenir shop
- Darvill’s Bookstore: ADORABLE bookstore with cute gifts. they also showcase local PNW authors!
- Kay’s Antiques & Collectibles: Antiques! no, it’s not my store.
- Local Goods: they sell locally made artisan food products from the San Juan Islands. They also have an online store!
- Pawki’s for Pets: pet supply store
- Printshop Northwest: custom print shop. They have premade designs, or you can print your own. Just make sure you have proper licensing if the design is not your own!
- Siren’s Boutique: women’s boutique
- Pelindaba Lavender: lavender store
- Faraways Boutique: women’s boutique
- Material Wit: minimalist jewelry and home goods
- Token Herb: cannabis dispensary
Whale Watching and Kayaking
I mean…the island IS named after the orca. Whale watching is one of the top things to do on Orcas Island, and if you visit during the whale season (April-October), you have a pretty great shot at spotting some! I would recommend touring with Outer Island Excursions, and prices are $99USD for adults, $89 for seniors, $79 for youth under 17, and $59 for children under 12. Toddlers and infants under 2 years old are free!
The company is locally owned and many of the captains have a background in marine biology and sustainable eco-tourism. So you can get all of your whale questions answered! Plus, if you don’t see a whale, you get a free ticket to come back again!
They also offer guided kayak tours or kayak rentals if you want to head out onto the water yourself! The guided kayak tours can be 3 hours, or even a full day tour!
Visit a Museum
If you’re a museum person, you’re in luck! Although they aren’t large, Orcas Island does have a few to check out. To learn more about the history of the island, visit the Orcas Island Historical Museum. It’s personally not my favorite, just because I wish it focused more on Indigenous history and the people of the island, but it does give a lot of information post-colonization.
The Funhouse Discovery Center is a great option if you has kids, as it is a non-profit learning center with activities and a playground!
Things to do on Orcas Island: Conclusion
Anddd that’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this weekend travel guide to Orcas Island! It’s a great getaway from Seattle, and one of my favorite places in Washington State! Have you ever been? How was your experience?
Speaking of Seattle, one of my favorite artists, Chihuly, has a museum in Seattle! Conveniently named the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum! I highly recommend stopping by on your way back from Orcas Island!
16 thoughts on “Things to do on Orcas Island: Weekend Travel Guide”
Beautiful post! Amazing photos! Thanks for sharing !
Thank you for reading!
I really love places like this that have plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. I would love, love, love to see those Orcas playing in the ocean. That made my heart happy to see that! This seems to be a very cool place that I would love to visit!
Yeah! I feel like you’d probably love it there then! Thank you so much for reading!
I sea kayaked around Orcas Island before and it was gorgeous. We even saw the orcas( but from the shore). It’s great to know all the great things to do on the island. Looks fabulous.
My favorite activity! I’m so glad you had a great experience! Thanks for reading!
Oh the food looks good! Seems like a very cute place to visit… I think you got me on “Bakery!” Pinning this for later when I get to this part of the world.
I still dream about that bakery!!
Great information and your pictures are absolutely stunning. I’ve never been out this way before, but after reading, I’d love to! Thanks for sharing!
It’s a great destination! Thanks for reading!
Things are a bit different this summer here on Orcas Island due to COVID-19.
Many of the named resturants have changed their hours of operation and all are at 50% capacity due to state mandate. This increases wait times. No more than five people per table and masks required.
Due to COVID-19, the ferries are no longer offering food service as well as running on a Winter Sailing schedule with many delays. Advise grabbing food in Anacortes before heading to the ferry.
Thank you for the real-time perspective! I appreciate your input! My trip was from 2019, so I didn’t experience COVID-19 conditions during my time on the island. This was also written with the intention of providing information for travelers after it is safe and recommended to do so. All travelers should adhere to local requirements and restrictions in the USA for travel during the Covid-19 pandemic (2020). Aka – I wouldn’t even recommend visiting now imo haha
Thank you!! The state of Washington is presently under a esstenial travel mandate.
The same here in Oregon! I usually love visiting Washington in the summer but alas – hopefully next year!
Sadly, Roses closed it’s doors also Tre Fabu.
oh noooo!!! Thanks for letting me know – gonna update now.