Designer Chad Dorsey and builder Kurt Bielawski fell in love with Washington state’s San Juan Island more than 20 years ago, in awe of the archipelago’s natural beauty. They lovingly established a second home there back in 2016, and have been enjoying summers there ever since.
We chatted with Bielawski and Dorsey about why they fell in love with this Pacific Northwest jewel and how others can make the most of their trip to the island.
Get in touch with nature.
From shimmering water and wooded coastlines to snow-capped mountains in the distance, there’s a little bit of everything here. Be prepared to spot some wildlife too; the couple says they frequently see foxes and eagles on the island and orcas, flying fish, and jelly fish in the water.
Whet your appetite.
Whether you want to try out your culinary skills or let someone else do the cooking, the food and drink options on the islands are top-notch. Stellar produce, fresh seafood, and inventive spirits are all in heavy supply. “There are some really interesting restaurants, not only on our island—you can island hop,” says Bielawski. “It’s a great place if you’re a foodie.”
Choose your own adventure.
There’s a variety of extracurricular options here to suit your speed, whether you want to unplug and unwind or stay active. Bielawski and Dorsey love to sea kayak and hike but spend plenty of time cooking or reading at home. The Roche Harbor resort and Friday Harbor areas—both bustling in the summer months—have great eateries and well-curated shops.
How to Get There
Fly into Seattle (SEA) or Vancouver, British Columbia (YVR). Drive to Anacortes, Washington, to take the Washington State Ferry to the Islands. Or take a seaplane to San Juan Island’s Roche Harbor or Friday Harbor. Kenmore Air and Friday Harbor Seaplanes both fly direct from Seattle. (Bielawski recommends first-timers take the ferry for the most picturesque approach.)
On the Itinerary
Bielawski and Dorsey’s must-dos for a trip to San Juan Island
Hike American Camp, located on the south end of the island; English Camp, on the north side; or Mount Dallas, on the west side.
Picnic at Cattle Point, located on the southernmost tip of the island. “A sunny day is a must for this,” says Bielawski, who brings a takeout Cuban sandwich from the Spring Street Deli in Friday Harbor.
Rent a ride through Susie’s Mopeds, the easiest way to get around the island. They have e-bikes, single mopeds, and two-seater scoot coupes.
Book a sea-kayak or boat tour to get up close and personal with orcas. “It’s amazing to see them in person,” says Bielawski.
Enjoy pastoral views and feed an alpaca or two at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. Shop throws, hats, socks, and more—all made from alpaca fiber—in the on-site store.
Have happy hour at Madrona Bar and Grill in Roche Harbor. Come at sunset to take in the nightly “Colors Ceremony,” in which the flags are lowered and national anthems are played. To secure a spot on the deck, it’s best to make a reservation.
Imbibe at San Juan Vineyard, San Juan island Brewing Company, or San Juan Island Distillery.
Dine at one of the island’s many delicious restaurants. For breakfast, grab donuts at Lime Kiln Cafe. For lunch, Bielawski and Dorsey like the BBQ oysters at Westcott Bay Shellfish Company or the salmon burger at Downriggers in Friday Harbor. Dinner favorites include the picturesque Duck Soup, McMillin’s Dining Room for prime rib and a martini, or Vinny’s Ristorante for unassuming Italian fare. During the week, Bakery San Juan is a must for bread, pizza, and cinnamon rolls.