San Juan Island, Washington in the Summer

San Juan Island, Washington in the summer: American Camp, English Camp, hiking, restaurants, and the best places to catch the sunset (and maybe even whales)

 

The best way to have a great getaway to San Juan Island, WA in the summer is to plan way in advance. I know that’s hard for some people to do, but the further ahead you book your hotel and ferry reservation, the easier your trip will be. If you plan on camping at San Juan County Park, try to get your reservation as soon as it becomes available 90 days in advance. I would also recommend dinner reservations at any nicer restaurants a few days to a week in advance if possible. The major holiday weekends (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day) are all going to be especially busy.

https://secureapps.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/Reservations/Vehicle/default.aspx
https://secureapps.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/Reservations/Vehicle/default.aspx

Friday Harbor/San Juan Island is the busiest of the San Juan Islands, and has the largest town. If you want to go when the weather is still nice but less crowded (no guarantee for nice weather in the Pacific Northwest, however), try going in May before Memorial Day weekend or in September after Labor Day Weekend. This is the shoulder season and while it is still popular with travelers, most of the families have kids in school then and take their vacations in July and August.

Friday Harbor ferry
Friday Harbor ferry
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

The best way to enjoy San Juan Island in the summer is to get out of town (don’t spend all your time in Friday Harbor). I strongly recommend bringing a car or a bicycle to see the island, as public transportation is limited to the tourist shuttle and doesn’t give you much freedom to get around the whole island. Mopeds and buggies can also be rented, just try to stay in the bike lanes as much as possible when you rent these, and be prepared for glares from locals if you rent the buggies. If cost is a factor, it will be less expensive to bring your car on the ferry than it will be to pay for parking on the other side and rent a moped. Bicycles can be rented at Island Bicycles if you want to bike the island and don’t have your own.

I won’t cover everything there is to do and see on San Juan Island, but I’ll give you my favorite summer adventures. Grab a picnic lunch at King’s Market in Friday Harbor or from the Market Chef Deli and head out for the day.

 

American Camp and the South End

There was once American and British occupancy on San Juan Island in the Civil War era, and someone shooting a pig on the island almost started a war between the US and Great Britain in 1859. There is a visitor’s center, and lots of details about early settlement of the island on plaques throughout the park.

The history and old military buildings are interesting, but the main reason to come to American Camp is the natural beauty. Miles of unspoiled beaches and golden grassy hills with ample amounts of primitive walking trails comprise the park. This is raw island beauty at its finest, and I used to spend hours walking the trails and coastline here as a kid.

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Griffin Bay, San Juan Island
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American Camp, San Juan Island
American Camp beach San Juan Island
American Camp beach

American Camp San Juan Island

American Camp San Juan Island

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American-Camp-San-Juan-Island

Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of some of the local island foxes

San Juan Island fox
Island fox

The best beaches on San Juan Island are on the south end, most of them are in American Camp. South Beach is the largest, with ample parking and pit toilets. When heading through American Camp on Cattle Point Road, the South Beach road will be on the right and is well marked.

South Beach from Mt Finlayson
South Beach viewed  from Cattle Point Rd

Eagle Cove Beach is outside of American Camp park, and is the number one local favorite on San Juan Island. It is one of the only beaches on the island that is sandy, and the tide often goes out pretty far in the summertime. It does get extremely busy in the summer, I would recommend going earlier in the morning to get a good parking space and catch the lowest tides. You can find a tide schedule here. To get to Eagle Cove, take a right off of Cattle Point Road onto Eagle Cove Drive just before the American Camp sign. Follow the residential road and the small grassy parking lot will be on your left.

Eagle Cove Beach in the summer
Eagle Cove Beach at medium tide in the summer

If you want a sandy beach but want to avoid the crowds, Granny’s Cove in American Camp is another option. Park your car at the American Camp Visitor’s Center (take a right off of Cattle Point Road just after the American Camp sign) and follow the grass trail opposite the Officer’s Quarters down towards the coast. Veer to the right when you reach the coastal cliffs and the beach will be at the bottom of a short but steep trail down the cliff.

Granny's Cove San Juan Island
Granny’s Cove at high tide

The Cattle Point Lighthouse is another one of my favorite sights on the south end. The parking lot is managed by the state, so note that a discover pass is required to park there. The trail is short and easy, and the views are stunning. There is another little rocky beach near the parking lot as well.

Cattle Point Light House
Cattle Point Light House

Cattle Point Light House San Juan Island

cattle point lighthouse san juan island

Cattle Point Light House San Juan Island
Cattle Point Light House San Juan Island
Cattle Point Beach San Juan Island
Cattle Point Beach

 

 English Camp

On the north part of the island, you’ll find the historical remains of the British occupation of the island in the 1800’s. English Camp is very geographically different than American Camp. Instead of sweeping, wild coastal plains, you’ll find grassy fields and orchards, an English rose garden, a rocky beach home to many shellfish, and several woodsy hiking trails.

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English Camp, San Juan Island
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English Camp, San Juan Island
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English Camp, San Juan Island
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English Camp, San Juan Island
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English Camp, San Juan Island

There is a visitor’s center with historical information and videos, a decent sized parking lot, and pit toilets.

One of the best view hiking trails on San Juan Island is the Young Hill trail, departing from the English Camp parking lot. The hike is about a mile long uphill, gaining 600 ft of elevation to gorgeous views at the top. Locals call it Mt Young, but it really isn’t much of a mountain.

Young Hill San Juan Island
Young Hill view, image from http://blog.kenmoreair.com/index.php/2-san-juan-island-hikes/

 

Roche Harbor and the Mausoleum

Roche Harbor is the only other part of the island where you will find some sort of civilization outside of Friday Harbor (i.e. cell reception). There isn’t a lot there, but you’ll find a harbor, a cafe, grocery store, gift shop, old historic Hotel De Haro, and remains of John McMillan’s lime quarry. McMillan’s Restaurant in the Hotel De Haro is pricey but very good. The restaurant and hotel are rumored to be haunted. Paddy worked with a guy who used to work there and he has stories of lights and radios coming on by themselves when he was alone at night closing the kitchen in the winter. In the summer you’ll find Roche Harbor bustling with wealthy tourists, the harbor full of expensive yachts. It is pretty though, and worth checking out.

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Historic Hotel De Haro at Roche Harbor, San Juan Island
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Roche Harbor chapel, San Juan Island
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Roche Harbor, San Juan Island
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Roche Harbor, San Juan Island

 

If you peer over the edge of the docks you can often see the white sea anemones metridium senile growing on the docks.

metridium senile anemones
metridium senile anemones
metridium senile anemones
metridium senile anemones

 

Near the entrance to Roche Harbor next to the airfield is one of my all time favorite places to see on San Juan Island, The Mausoleum.

The Mausoleum was built by Roche Harbor founder John McMillan as a final resting place for his family.

Parking is in a gravel lot facing the private airfield, and the trail is just up the road a few feet. An easy half mile hike through the woods takes you past several old tombstones that are gated by wire and picket fences.

The Mausoleum Roche Harbor
The Mausoleum

A windy little path through the woods meets up with a wide path that leads to the Mausoleum, “Afterglow Vista.”

It is beautiful and eery at the same time. The structure contains symbolism of the Masonic order. Grecian style columns surround a marble and stone table on a stone platform with six chairs surrounding it. Each chair contains the ashes of a family member, as well as his secretary. One of the columns was built purposefully broken.

 

 The West Side

The West side of San Juan Island is the favorite place of many of my fellow island friends. It is most popular for watching the sunset from the rocky cliffs just off of West Side Road. There is parking at Lime Kiln State Park (Discover Pass required) and there are also a few pull off parking spots along West Side Road. There is a light house and the remains of old lime kilns from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. When I was growing up we always called it “Whale Watch Park” because the West Side is the best place to try and catch a glimpse of whales from the shore.  At dusk and dark you can see the flickering lights of Victoria, BC across the sound.

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Watching the sunset on the West Side
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Watching the sunset on the West Side
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Watching the sunset on the West Side

 

Also on the West Side is Pelindaba Lavender Farm. If you like lavender and lavender products, this place is also worth a stop, if only to get a nice photo in front of the lavender fields. They also have a shop in town.

Pelindaba Lavender Farm
Pelindaba Lavender Farm

 

 

Go on a Whale Watch  Tour

If you can swing a reservation (book far in advance for summer), a small boat whale and wildlife tour with Maya’s Legacy Charters is well worth it. Maya’s Legacy has small boats only, so you aren’t on a crowded boat straining to see around all the other tourists. They  depart from the West Side at Snug Harbor. Leaving from the West Side where the whales are means you get more time with the whales and more out of your tour. They also have a naturalist on most of their tours to explain more about the wildlife. You can read about my recent tour with Maya’s Legacy Charters here.

Kayak tours are also a great way to get out on the water and see some marine life. You can book a tour at www.Sea-Quest-Kayak.com or www.CrystalSeas.com.

Photo from www.legacycharters.org
Orca whale breaching Photo from http://sanjuanislandwhalewatch.com/
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Sea Lions
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Sea Lions
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Humpback whale
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Humpback whale

 

Where to Eat

My two favorite places for a nice dinner on San Juan Island are the Duck Soup Inn (about 4 miles north of Friday Harbor off of Roche Harbor Road) and the Backdoor Kitchen in Friday Harbor. Both close down for all or part of the winter season, so if I’m on the island in the summer I usually try to make a point to go to one of them.

The Duck Soup Inn is an old island establishment and recently changed ownership. I haven’t been there since the new owners took over, but hopefully it is still as amazing as it was last time I went. Entree prices are around $28-$37 a plate, but include both a cup of soup and a small starter salad, as well as their delicious signature anchovy spread and fresh bread. For fine dining, it’s a pretty decent deal for the price.

Duck Soup Inn
Duck Soup Inn
Duck Soup Inn
Duck Soup Inn

The Backdoor Kitchen is a little hard to find (I think the owners kind of like to keep it that way). One of the owners also runs a landscaping business on the island and the outdoor patio seating is amazing on a nice summer evening. It is a little pricey, but the food is organic and high quality. Cocktails are inventive and the menu has an international flair. Service is always fantastic.

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Entrance to the Backdoor Kitchen
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My parents waiving to us on the Backdoor Kitchen patio
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Romantic little table in the outdoor patio at Backdoor Kitchen
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Carlton Farms pork chop with goat cheese and roasted poblano cream sauce, pinto beans, lime, and cilantro
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Fresh fish of the day
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Pan seared sea scallops with ginger sake beurre blanc and sesame scallion rice cakes
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Cheesecake with fresh organic berries
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Summer fruit crisp

I had the pan seared sea scallops last time I was there and they were delicious.

For lunch, my favorite spot is the Market Chef Deli in Friday Harbor, but they are closed on Saturdays and Sundays so if you are on the island during the weekend, you are out of luck. Their sandwiches come on fresh homemade bread and everything I’ve ever had there has been amazing.

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The Market Chef, Friday Harbor
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The Market Chef, Friday Harbor
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The Market Chef, Friday Harbor
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Tuna sandwich (my favorite) at The Market Chef, Friday Harbor
Other restaurant suggestions:

 

A good place for either pub grub or more upscale dining is the Cask and Schooner in Friday Harbor. Another place for decent relatively inexpensive pub grub is Haley’s Sports Bar and Grill. The Hungry Clam is a great place for a greasy diner breakfast while waiting for the ferry.

I’ve also heard great things about Cafe Demeter (80 Nichols Street) for coffee and pastries, and Tops’l Seafood and Sushi (1 Front Street, above the Cask & Schooner) but I have not yet had a chance to eat at either of them.

In the summer, I would also recommend just packing a picnic lunch and heading out to the West Side for a spectacular sunset dinner. You might even see some whales.

 

Where to stay:

Being former locals, we haven’t stayed at a lot of places on the island ourselves. However, we know a bit about a few of them and here are my suggestions:

Juniper Lane Guest House

Juniper (the owner) is a friend of mine and has done an amazing job of blending cozy island style with hip, modern decor to create a warm, inviting, and affordable B&B. Juniper Lane Guest House also offers a cabin for rent and two backpacker/family rooms that can accommodate up to 6 people with bunk beds. Children must be 12 or older to stay. The Guest House is not very far from town (a little bit of a trek but still walkable) and offers beautiful grounds and pastoral views.

Juniper Lane Guest House Friday Harbor
Image from http://juniperlaneguesthouse.com/
Organic Green Tea Room Juniper Lane Guest House Friday Harbor
Organic Green Tea Room (Image from http://juniperlaneguesthouse.com/)

 

Lakedale Resort

I used to work at Lakedale Resort many years ago and therefore know it pretty intimately. If you are looking for secluded peace and quiet or a romantic getaway, this is your place. The resort offers 9 lake view lodge rooms with jacuzzi bathtubs and gas fireplaces, as well as 6 cabins and one three-bedroom lake house. Cabins and the lake house enjoy shared use of a hot tub in a centrally located gazebo. “Glamping” cabins and a campground provide more outdoorsy yet still very nice accommodation options.

Be aware that it is four miles from Friday Harbor town so you will need to drive into town for meals if you stay at the lodge. Cabins have full kitchens and accommodate up to 6 people with one bedroom, a loft bedroom, and a futon in the living room.

Lakedale Resort Lodge Great Room Friday Harbor
Lakedale Lodge Great Room
Lakedale Resort Lodge Room Friday Harbor
Lakedale Resort Lodge Room

 

Lakedale Resort cabin Friday Harbor
Lakedale cabin (image from www.lakedale.com)
Island Inn

I haven’t been to the Island Inn, but I’ve heard great things. It is centrally located in town within easy walking distance to everything. The rooms look modern from the photos and many appear to have great views of the harbor. They have some budget friendly-options as well.

Island Inn Friday Harbor
Image from www.123west.com
Friday Harbor House

Paddy and I stayed at the Friday Harbor House once in November, and it was really nice. The prices in the summer are atrocious, and even in the winter it is a bit of a splurge but much more reasonable. Most rooms offer views of the harbor, gas fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. The complimentary continental breakfast in the morning was outstanding, including house made quiche and coffee cake. Location is ideal–easy walk from the ferry and everything in town.

Friday Harbor House room Friday Harbor
Friday Harbor House (image from www.fridayharborhouse.com)

 

There are a ton of places to stay on the island, including many B&Bs. The above places are just a few suggestions, but there are a lot of other great accommodations as well. A good place to look is on Tripadvisor and http://www.friday-harbor.net/accommodations/index.shtml.

 

San Juan Island is a great place to visit in the summer, but make sure you plan ahead. Never show up to the island without a hotel reservation in July or August. Growing up on San Juan Island was a unique experience, and I’ve had many magical summers there in my youth. Friday Harbor changes every time I visit, but the beauty and serenity of the island remains the same.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Four days in Las Vegas, Nevada on a road trip in 2011: Red Rock Canyon, The Neon Boneyard, The Mermaid Lounge, showgirls, and giant cocktails

 

Las Vegas is one of those places that always makes for a great quick getaway. Flights are usually pretty cheap from most places in the US, and you can also find great rates on hotels. These days, The Strip isn’t as cheap as it used to be, however and you will have better luck staying off The Strip at a hotel that provides a free shuttle service (we stayed at the Orleans and it was great and affordable.)

There is a lot to see in Las Vegas, and we didn’t see it all. This was our second time here. We still have yet to make it to Fremont Street, which we will do next time. This trip to Las Vegas was part of a week and a half long road trip around Nevada, with a focus on seeing as much weird Americana as we could see.

While you could easily spend a week or more in Las Vegas and still not see it all, we don’t recommend more than four days. Las Vegas gets to you after awhile. The clanging slot machines, tourists, flashing lights, and lots of booze get to be a little much and Las Vegas is best seen in smaller doses.

 

Excerpt from original post Nevada Road Trip 2011. Read about the rest of our adventures touring the weird and wild sights of Nevada here.

 

Day 1:

 

Las Vegas sign

We arrived at The Orleans in Las Vegas around late afternoon, checked in,  and relaxed for a bit. This was actually our second time in Las Vegas. We opted for The Orleans as our friend recommended it. It was a really good price for the quality, and though off the strip there was a convenient free shuttle every 15 minutes or so to the strip. Last time we had stayed at the Mirage in 2003, which was also really nice. It seems that prices in Las Vegas aren’t what they used to be though, and the strip these days is kind of expensive all-around.

That evening we had an underwhelming meal at the TGI Friday’s in the casino, just because we didn’t really feel like going anywhere that night. We played some games and had a few drinks and relaxed. We had our cooler with us and there was a convenience store near the hotel we could walk to, so we stocked up on beer and wine there to save a little money and used the ice from the ice machine to fill the cooler.

Day 2:

The next morning, our friends Stephen and Heather flew in from Seattle to join us for the Las Vegas portion of our trip. When they had had a little rest, we all took the shuttle to the strip and walked around a bit, and did some shopping in the Forum shops at Ceasar’s Palace. Las Vegas had great spring weather, warm enough to wear a tank top and shorts during the day. It was a nice change from frigid Ely. I was particularly fond of the Bettie Page store, with retro-style dresses and accessories. Since this trip, they’ve opened up a location in Seattle. I’ve been trying to keep myself away from it as I need to save money for other things….like travel.

In the afternoon I was hell-bent on seeing the mermaid show at the Silverton Casino, which is 6 miles from the strip and pretty out of the way. It’s more of a local spot, which our cab driver confirmed on the way there. We had some food and drinks in the Mermaid Lounge which had a nice atmosphere and a great view of the fish tank, but horrendous service. There was barely anyone there and we had to wait forever to get any service. I did really enjoy the jellyfish tank above the bar. The mermaid show happens in the fish tank several times throughout the day–consult website for times.

The mermaids put on a great show, even posing for pictures and interacting with the spellbound little girls pressed up against the fish tank.

After we had our fill of the mermaids, some food, and a few drinks, we caught a cab back to our hotel.

We gussied up a bit and caught another taxi to The Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge on the strip. The Peppermill has your standard diner fare, and seems to be a good spot for late night breakfast or to cure a hangover the morning after. With it’s flourescent pink lights, giant indoor fire place, and pink velvet furniture, it is everything over-the-top about Las Vegas that one could hope to find. We weren’t there for food, though, we were there for the cocktails in the Fireside Lounge. Particularly one cocktail–the infamous Scorpion Bowl. The Scorpion bowl is a fish-bowl sized drink  with all kinds of booze and juice in it, along with your choice of 1-4 long straws to share the drink with.

After our scorpion bowls were dry and we had a slight buzz going, we decided just to head back to the Orleans where the drinks were cheaper and play some slots and hang out.

Day 3:

As we had a car with us this trip, we decided to head out of Las Vegas and do some sightseeing in Red Rock Canyon. If you don’t have a car or want to rent one while you are in Vegas, you can easily find tour groups to Red Rock Canyon online or while in Las Vegas.

We weren’t really outfitted for some serious hiking, so we drove around the scenic loop stopping at the view points and did a very easy walk in Lost Creek, which has views of cliffs with old petroglyphs on them.

We got to see some of the Las Vegas suburbs on the way to Red Rock Canyon, and it was row upon row of the same house. Strip malls and cookie cutter housing complexes. I can’t say Vegas really appeals to me as a place to live.

We got back to the hotel and spent some time relaxing at the Orleans pool. It was warm enough to lay out in the sun but not super hot. There was a bar at the pool that served frozen drinks that were very refreshing. Overall, the Orleans pool isn’t one of the best pools in Las Vegas, but it was nice enough. After cold rainy Seattle and freezing cold Ely, we were ready for some sunbathing and swimming pools.

That evening we walked around the strip a bit. Eventually we were hungry for dinner and felt like splurging on something a little nicer. We walked around and decided on Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Las Vegas casino hotel. It was packed even at 9:00 PM but we got on the waiting list and were seated at 9:30 outside. It was a warm night and the restaurant has a nice view of the Bellagio fountain show across the strip. I don’t recall everything we had but I do remember a very nice duck leg confit and a side of garlic spinach that were very tasty. I think Paddy had steak frites. It was all very good and we would definitely go back.

When we left the restaurant, it was already 11:00 PM and we had a tour planned for the next morning, so we headed back to the Orleans for a few more cheaper drinks before calling it a night.

Day 4:

One of our main priorities in Las Vegas was visiting the Neon Boneyard. We had to make tour reservations in advance as they can only take a certain amount of people per day and you can only visit on a guided tour. The Boneyard was definitely a top highlight of our trip. It is a where all the neon signs of Vegas go to die, and an amazing walk through the ghosts of Vegas past. Our tour guide gave us an informative tour of all the old signs and Las Vegas history. I would highly recommend booking a tour here.

That afternoon I really really wanted to see an Elvis impersonator (it’s just so classic Las Vegas). Unfortunately, Elvis impersonators are not as prevalent as in days past but I managed to find one free show with Big Elvis at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon on the strip (I believe he has now moved his show to Harrah’s).  We got to Bill’s and ordered some drinks, but unfortunately Big Elvis was out sick that night, so we got Chuck. Chuck looked much more like a Roy Orbison impersonator but sang all Elvis songs. Honestly, the show would have been much better if he had just gone with a Roy Orbison routine. I was a little disappointed, but we still got a classic Vegas lounge act in and had fun.

Chuck the Elvis impersonator Las Vegas
Chuck the “Elvis Impersonator”

After the show, we split off from Heather and Stephen and went to Jubilee at Bally’s, which is one of the most classic Las Vegas shows there is. Lots of showgirls, feathers, glitter, and synchronized dancing. It was a great show. We had purchased some of the cheaper tickets and were on the isle. Shortly after the show began, we noticed the usher picking people off the isle to go down to some open seats in the front. He hadn’t picked us, so Paddy went and asked him if there were any front seats open that we could move to, and he found some for us.

**Tip: If you need to book a cheaper seat, book an isle seat and ask the usher if it might be possible to move to open front seats if available. You might get lucky like we did.

road trip 021

 

After four nights in Las Vegas, we were ready to leave and get back on the road. Vegas is fun, but it’s definitely an “in small doses” kind of a destination. I wouldn’t recommend more than 4 nights. The slot machine clanging and cigarette smoke get to you after awhile.

If we go back to Las Vegas (which we probably will, eventually) I’d like to stay near Fremont Street and spend some time checking out old Vegas. I’d also still like to see a real Elvis impersonator (not Chuck) if such a thing still exists, and a Cirque de Soleil show.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Two days/three nights on Isla Mujeres, Mexico–just a short shuttle and ferry from Cancun. A laid-back island with great beaches and plenty of culture

 

Excerpt from original post Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico 2009: Isla Mujeres, Chichen Itza, and Tulum

This trip to Mexico in 2009 was one of our favorites, and Isla Mujeres is a place we always talk about going back to. I always recommend it to people looking for a quick and easy tropical vacation on a budget. It was so much less expensive than Hawaii or the Bahamas, and you can get a beautiful white sand beach and a little Mexican culture (without the mega resorts) only a half hour shuttle and a quick ferry ride away from the Cancun Airport.

 

Day 1:

We arrived in Cancun in the morning after a night flight with a layover in Miami, on the day of Paddy’s 40th birthday. Our first destination was Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancun. I had scheduled a shuttle with Best Day shuttles for $8.00 each to the Isla Mujeres ferry dock, and everything went as planned.

**Tip: People accept US dollars here as well as pesos. Bring some $1 bills with you so that you have some small bills to tip with when you arrive. Tipping in Mexico is a big part of the culture and will be expected. This began the second I got off the plane and went to the restroom–there was a lady handing out paper towels for tips. Tip your shuttle drivers, hotel maids, bartenders, and your restaurant servers. We always tip at least 20%.

After a 30 minute shuttle to the Isla Mujeres ferry, it wasn’t long before the next boat arrived. We purchased our tickets and got some cash from the ATM at the ferry terminal (the guidebook told us that sometimes the island ATMS occasionally run out of cash to dispense). A short ferry ride later, we walked off the pier to the town of Playa Norte and found our hotel.

Our hotel on Isla Mujeres was Suites Los Arcos in the center of town. After reading Tripadvisor reviews about street noise, we had requested a room at the back of the hotel and they honored our request. Check in was easy, and the room was immaculately clean. It was a great deal for $60 a night, with a deck, air conditioning, a mini-fridge, coffee maker, and microwave.

Click on any image below to view larger

 

Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

Above: Suites Los Arcos from the street

Below: Room interior and deck

Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

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Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos
Suites Los Arcos Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres–Suites Los Arcos

**Note: Stock up on bottled water the second you arrive. Don’t ever drink the tap water and brush your teeth with bottled water. If venturing outside of a touristy area, don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables as they may not be treated to remove the bacteria that makes foreigners ill. Also avoid ice outside of tourist areas. You can always ask your server if the ice is purified. Be wary of crushed ice, the purified ice usually comes in the tube cubes.

After a shower and a nap, we headed out into the humidity to find some food and walk around. We had dinner at a little beach bar by the pier, then ended up having some celebratory birthday margaritas and shots at a little Tequila bar not far from our hotel. If you like tequila, I recommend Aja Toro Anejo. It’s a top shelf tequila that is very expensive in the US, but is reasonable in Mexico. It’s so smooth you can sip it.

Isla Mujeres

We arranged a snorkel tour with a guy offering snorkel tours across the street from our hotel. We had to put $20 down and then pay $20 the next day, and he wrote us a voucher. We weren’t sure what to think, but his shop was right in front of our hotel and we figured at worst we would be out $20.

Day 2:

The next morning we had some huevos rancheros at the little cafe across from our hotel and met up with the snorkel tour, which was completely legit. They took us out in a boat with some other tourists down the coast of the island, and we snorkeled back along with the current.

**Tip: I bought a waterproof waist pouch online before this trip, for storing money and keys so I didn’t have to leave valuables in the empty boat with the guides. I’m sure they were trustworthy, but you can never be too careful. Also a good idea for going into the water when at the beach. You don’t want to leave your valuables on the shore.

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

One of our guides was feeding the fish tortillas, which is why there are so many of them in this video:

Snorkeling Isla Mujeres Mexico

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Isla Mujeres snorkeling

Snorkeling Isla Mujeres Mexico

After seeing lots of colorful fish, we got back in the boat and I promptly got a bad bout of motion sickness while we waited for everyone to get in the boat. Fortunately I didn’t puke, but spent some time with my head between my knees when we arrived at the beach. We stopped at a beach on the southern part of the island for a delicious barbequed  fish lunch before heading back.

After we arrived back to Playa Norte and took a rest in the air-conditioned oasis of our hotel room, we walked around the town a bit.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

I was in love with the local cemetery. The colors, individual trinkets and offerings to each person’s resting place were so personal and endearing.

Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery
Isla Mujeres Cemetery
Cemetery

Below: Handcrafted “Catrina” dolls for sale in our hotel. I really wanted to buy one, but didn’t think it would survive the trip home.

Catrina dolls, Isla Mujeres
Catrina dolls
Catrina dolls Isla Mujeres
Catrina dolls

I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I do remember that we only spent about $15 each including drinks. I was nervous about consuming ice but whenever I asked our server if the ice was purified,(hielo purificado) it always was. We never got sick.

Day 3:

The next day was our last full day on Isla Mujeres and we weighed our options of what to do. We could either rent a golf cart (there are no cars on the island except the few owned by locals) for $40 and see the rest of the island, or we could spend the day at the gorgeous beach in the town. We opted for a beach day.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

Most of the beach chairs were owned by some of the beach front hotels, but we found a row of them that were owned by the proprietor of a small restaurant on the beach. We approached the chairs and he came dashing over to explain the deal. We could sit in the chairs as long as we wanted, as long as we spent $11.00 over the course of the day. No problem at all.

Below: the view from the water facing the distant bar/restaurant that owns the beach chairs

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

Getting a chair and umbrella was imperative. The September sun was so scorching hot that even with SPF 50 sunscreen on we felt like we were going to burst into flames. When we weren’t in the water, we would move our chairs along with the shade and pull all our extremities into the shade like vampires.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

We spent the late morning and early afternoon reading and swimming and taking in the beautiful powdered sugar beach and crystal blue water. It is truly one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever been to. The fact that it is in the town and in walking distance from everything is a huge plus as well.

Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte
Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Playa Norte

The guy from the restaurant came around a few times in the morning to take orders. We weren’t hungry yet or ready for a beer and he didn’t pressure us. Around noon we asked for menus and ordered some fish tacos, nachos, beers, and margaritas. We each had a couple drinks over the afternoon, and as more people arrived we watched our poor waiter hoof it back and forth across blazing hot sand in the midday sun to fetch food and beverages for everyone. When we were ready to leave, we asked for the bill. All that –drinks, food, service, and use of beach chairs for a total of $25.00. You sure can’t get that in Hawaii. We made sure to leave a fat tip for our hard-working friend for his excellent service.

fish tacos Playa Norte Isla Mujeres
Fish taco and nachos on the beach

 

That night we found an Argentinian restaurant where Paddy had a perfectly cooked filet mignon for $15.00. Gotta love Mexico.

Isla Mujeres restaurants

 

 

We will definitely be going back to Isla Mujeres. While the off-season in September was nice without the crowds, it was a bit too hot for us. Summer and early fall are the hottest months. I would like to go in June, however because summer is when whale sharks are in the area and you can take a tour out to snorkel with them. It sounds terrifying to be in the water with such huge animals, but for that kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience, I’d suck it up and go for it.

Lopez Island, WA Fourth of July 2015

Fourth of July weekend on Lopez Island, WA: A relaxing getaway in the San Juan Islands without the tourist crowds, and some of the best fireworks in the state.

 

Growing up on San Juan Island, I always thought Lopez Island was boring. There is barely a town, and it’s mostly flat. This trip as an adult made me appreciate Lopez Island for exactly that–quiet, peaceful, not much going on. A friend of mine from San Juan Island inherited her grandparents’ property on Lopez Island and has been spending Fourth of July there with friends every year, while renting it out to tourists the rest of the summer. We had no Fourth of July weekend plans this year, and when she invited us to join her and her husband and friends, we figured why not?

Prior to the new ferry reservation system for the San Juan Islands that began this year, we would never have considered going up to visit the San Juans over Fourth of July weekend. Fourth of July weekend (especially for Friday Harbor/San Juan Island) is kind of like Black Friday is for shopping malls. It is insanely busy. I’ve heard stories of past ferry lines stretching miles away from the ferry terminal all the way into Anacortes town. Having grown up in Friday Harbor and worked many Fourth of July weekends in various tourist industry jobs, it is hell week for Friday Harborites, but also the weekend the tourist industry people make the most money.

But now we can make reservations. There is much controversy over this new policy with the locals, and I think they still have a few things to iron out. For us however, we made our reservation a couple months in advance, arrived an hour before the 12:35 boat to Lopez Island, and sailed right on with no problem. You can make reservation here up to three months before you head up to the islands. They release 1/3 of the reservations three months ahead, 1/3 a couple weeks ahead, and the remaining 1/3 two days ahead. If you can’t get your reservation, keep checking back.

Day 1: 

Our friend Brooke joined Paddy and I for the weekend on Lopez. We had a smooth sail on the ferry with much fewer crowds than the Friday Harbor sailing. We watched a never-ending line of walk-on tourists board the ramp for the Friday Harbor ferry before the Lopez/Orcas ferry departed. We were on the brand new ferry boat, which had a nice sun deck up top for viewing.

Anacortes Ferry Terminal beach
Anacortes Ferry Terminal beach
Mt Baker, viewed from the Lopez Island ferry
Mt Baker, viewed from the Lopez Island ferry
San Juan Island ferry
Passing another ferry
Lopez Island Ferry in summer
Arriving Lopez Island, walk-on passengers departing. Photo by Brooke Richard

There is no town at the Lopez Island ferry terminal, not much of anything there at all. We drove off the ferry with little traffic, and headed towards Lopez Village.

Our friends’ house is a short ways past Lopez Village, with a gorgeous view of Fisherman Bay. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the deck and making food for dinner. I made a cherry cobbler with some cherries I’d picked from another friend’s cherry tree and it turned out great.

**Note: You can rent this house June through August through VRBO.com (except Fourth of July weekend, that weekend is always reserved for the owners).

Lopez Island house
Our friends’ house on Lopez Island
Fisherman's Bay, Lopez Island
Fisherman’s Bay, Lopez Island
Paddy making a salad for dinner
Paddy making a salad for dinner

Relaxing and watching the sunset

We went into the Lopez Village Market to pick up some ice cream to go with the cobbler. Lopez Island Creamery makes some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Be sure to try some while visiting Lopez. You can also buy it by the cone at the market or in town at the Just Heavenly Fudge Factory in Lopez Village. I highly recommend the raspberry lemon if you can find it.

Lopez Island Creamery ice cream
Lopez Island Creamery ice cream

**Note: This isn’t the mainland. The Lopez Village Market is the only game in town for groceries, wine, beer, and booze and it closes at 7:00 PM every day. Make sure you get all your beer and supplies before then. There is a store on the south end of Lopez as well called the South End General Store, which is open until 7:30 and also serves food.

The rest of the evening we hung out and had drinks on the deck, BBQ’ed, and played some cards. The sunset was phenomenal.

Sunset over Fisherman's Bay
Sunset over Fisherman’s Bay Lopez Island

Fourth-of-July-on-Lopez-Island (8)

Sunset Lopez Island
Watching the sunset

 

Day 2:

The next morning was the Fourth of July. Every year, the Lopez Library has an annual book sale to raise money for the library. We ate breakfast and headed into the village early to get there before it got too picked over. We were handed a red sack at the front door which we could fill up as full as we wanted to for $20.00. Five of us filled it to the brim with lots of interesting books. You can also buy books individually.

Saturdays in the summer (mid May through mid September) are also the day for the Lopez Farmers Market from 10:00 to 2:00. It’s a great place to get locally grown veggies, but there are also many other booths selling local crafts, baked goods, tacos and tamales, jewelry, and other items.

Lopez Island Farmer's Market
Lopez Island Farmer’s Market
Lopez Island Farmer's Market
Lopez Island Farmer’s Market
Lopez Island Farmer's Market
Lopez Island Farmer’s Market

One thing I love about Lopez Island is how accepting everyone is. There are a lot of hippies, artists, and free spirits on Lopez and they welcome diversity. I was wearing some funky sunglasses and a vintage-style sundress showing off my tattoos and got lots of random compliments from strangers– as opposed to judgemental “you folks ain’t from around here” looks common in many small towns across America. People from foreign countries and gay and lesbian travelers will feel welcome on Lopez Island as well.

After the Farmer’s Market, it was almost time for the Fourth of July Parade. We drove back towards the house on Fisherman Bay Road and were able to pull over and park near the start of the parade. We easily found a spot on the front of someone’s lawn on the side of the road.

The parade wasn’t much to write home about, but it was full of heart. It seems all anyone really needs to be a part of it is an interesting car or a funky outfit. My favorite part was the lack of crowds and low-key, low-stress vibe. That, and the random giant paper-mache Oscar Meyer Weiner float.

Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade
Lopez Island Fourth of July Parade

 

The parade wasn’t very long, and afterwards Paddy and I explored some of the south end of Lopez Island. We drove to Watmough Bay, but took a wrong turn along the way and ended up on a private road (I think to Paul Allen’s property). We turned around and found our way to the parking area for Watmough at the end of Watmough Head Rd.

Lopez Island --End of Sperry Rd
Lopez Island –End of Sperry Rd
Lopez Island Map
Lopez Island Map

Watmough Bay is touted by locals to be the best beach on the island. It is often very busy on summer weekends. I think we lucked out because everyone was at the Fourth of July BBQ in the village–there was a parking space and only a few people at the beach.

The bay reminded me a little of Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. No white sand–a little rocky and lots of seaweed in the water but still beautiful and very Northwest.

Watmough Bay Lopez Island
Watmough Bay
Watmough Bay Lopez Island
Watmough Bay

I found a beached lion’s mane jellyfish on the sand. If you see one of these, don’t touch it or step on it. The bell of the jellyfish is harmless but the tentacles will give a painful sting even when it is dead.

lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)
lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)

 

We hung out at Watmough for a few and then decided to move on. Next we went to Shark Reef Sanctuary, which is accessed by a short trail through the woods to the rocky coast of the southwest part of the island. You can often see seals basking on the rocks here. We didn’t see any seals, but the views are still stunning. You can see Cape San Juan on San Juan Island across the channel, and kelp forests in the water below. There were a few kayakers out enjoying the coast.

Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Kayakers at Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island
Kelp beds at Shark Reef Sanctuary Lopez Island with Cape San Juan in the distance

 

We were starting to get hungry, so we ventured back into the village. Our friend Brooke joined us and we decided on Bucky’s Lopez Island Grill, which has a nice deck out back. Paddy and I both had the cajun ahi tuna taco special, which was great. Brooke and I each tried a glass of the Madeline Angevine from Lopez Island Vineyards.

Ahi tacos at Bucky's Lopez Island Grill
Ahi tacos at Bucky’s Lopez Island Grill
Lunch at Bucky's Lopez Island Grill
Lunch at Bucky’s Lopez Island Grill

There isn’t a lot to Lopez Island Village, but there are a few shops to explore. After lunch we walked over to the Lopez Island Vineyards tasting room to taste their wines.

Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards
Wine tasting at Lopez Island Vineyards

You could taste three wines for $5 or six for $10–we each opted for three. We all tasted the Siegerebbe (pronounced zee-ger-eh-beh) which is a very fruity and refreshing white wine grown on Lopez Island. The white grapes for the Madeline Angevine are also grown on island. The other grapes are imported from other drier, sunnier parts of Washington in the Yakima Valley, but all the wine is made on Lopez Island.

Paddy and I also tried the Sangiovese and the Malbec which he loved. I liked them (I like most wine, really) but the Malbec was a little tart for me (I’m more of a Syrah and Cabernet person). Brooke tried the Dry Rose and the Raspberry dessert wine. She said the Raspberry wine was very sweet and tasted just like raspberry juice. She bought a bottle of the rose so I tried a little later that evening. I didn’t think it was that dry, it was kind of sweet. Not super sweet though. We bought a bottle of the Siegerebbe to take home for later this summer. Most wines are $25 a bottle.

The vineyard itself is located on the way to the ferry from the village, you can see the grapes growing from the side of the road. There were signs in the tasting room for a summer Shakespeare play in the vineyard in the evening–it looked like fun.

Lopez Island Vineyards
Lopez Island Vineyards

We checked out a few of the other little shops in the village. There is a cute little consignment shop (mostly women’s clothing) next to the coffee shop that is worth a peek. Brooke found an awesome lime green vintage 60’s go-go dress.

Lopez Village
Lopez Village
Lopez Village
Lopez Village
Deja Vu Consignment Boutique
Deja Vu Consignment Boutique

Lopez Village doesn’t have a lot of restaurants, but there are a few options. I’ve only eaten at a couple of them other than Bucky’s, and that was 10 or more years ago, but I remember them being pretty good. Bucky’s and The Galley have burgers and salads and are a couple of the more inexpensive places to eat in town. The Bay Cafe is probably the nicest dinner restaurant. For breakfast I highly recommend Holly B’s Bakery–their bread and pastries are outstanding. Isabel’s Espresso is the local coffee joint, featuring organic coffee and organic milk. You can find a list and short description of all the restaurants on Lopez Island on the Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce website.

We spent the rest of the afternoon making food for dinner and relaxing. Near sunset people began setting up on the side of Fisherman Bay for the fireworks show, and more and more boats showed up to anchor out in the bay. I took a walk down the road to catch some views of the sunset, which was amazing.

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Chairs set up by the side of the road for the Fourth of July Fireworks

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Lopez Island is renowned for it’s Fourth of July fireworks display. They have always had the best fireworks in the San Juan Islands, and I’d go so far to say that they may be the best in the whole state of Washington. Our friends told us that this year they raised $80,000 for the show, which was twice Friday Harbor’s budget. It’s pretty impressive for such a small island. Lopezians take a lot of pride in their fireworks and always have.

Once the sun was set, Friday Harbor began their fireworks at dusk and you could see them across the sound in the distance. Lopez patiently waited until their show was done.

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island
Sunset over Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island

Once Friday Harbor wrapped it up, Lopez gave a 10 minute firework warning, and then a 5 minute warning. Then the show began. It was hands down the best fireworks display I’ve seen. It wasn’t only the volume of fireworks, but the types they had. Some of them I hadn’t even seen before. The show lasted about 30 minutes. I took some photos, but they really don’t do it justice.

Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks
Lopez Island Fourth of July fireworks

 

Day 3:

Lopez voted no last year to the ferry reservations, so you can make a reservation going to Lopez but not to leave Lopez Island. The day after Fourth of July can be very crazy with long lines for the ferries, and because it was also a Sunday, we figured we were best off getting up early and trying to make the 7:15 AM boat. We got in line at 6:30 or so, and the line was already backed up down the road. Fortunately, the boat was large and only loading cars from Lopez to Anacortes, and we made it on. We were tired, but also beat the holiday weekend traffic and made it back to Seattle by 9:45 AM. It was well worth it.

Paddy and I fell in love with Lopez island a little this trip. After growing up with the insanity of the tourist season in Friday Harbor, it was so nice to be able to have an island summer getaway that was laid back and crowd-free. We will be back for sure. There is more of Lopez we’d like to explore–other hiking trails, etc. If you are in the mood for a lazy, low-key San Juan Islands vacation– Lopez Island is perfect.