Our quick weekend getaway to Orcas Island, WA: Rosario Resort and the Moran Mansion, farmers market, great food, and beautiful island scenery.
Paddy and I are originally from San Juan Island, a neighboring island to Orcas Island in the San Juan archipelago. Even though we grew up close by, we have really only been to Orcas Island a handful of times in our lives.
While most tourists bypass the other islands and head straight to Friday Harbor and San Juan Island, Orcas Island is not to be overlooked. It is geographically the largest of the four main San Juan Islands, and has some of the most stunning scenery combined with small town laid-back island life.
We made our ferry reservations in advance, and caught the 6:30 PM sailing on Friday from Anacortes. We left Seattle at 3:30 and traffic wasn’t too bad. We arrived the Anacortes ferry terminal within about two hours. We grabbed a snack at the little Cheesecake Cafe ferry terminal kiosk and soon were loaded onto the boat heading to Orcas Island.
*Note: Ferry reservations strongly recommended for Friday evening sailings, and are an absolute must in the summertime.
There was a spectacular fall sunset on the way, and the weather was weirdly warm despite the strong October breeze.
We arrived Orcas Island starving, and followed the train of cars through the dark about 15 minutes into the main town of Eastsound in the middle of the island. After a quick stop at the Island Market for beer, wine, and some light breakfast items for the morning, we walked next door to the Lower Tavern for dinner.
*Note: The grocery stores close around 8:00 to 9:00 PM, so be sure to get your snacks and beverages early.
The Lower Tavern is your basic local bar with a variety of burgers and pub grub. There is a pool table, neon beer signs, good beer selection, and locals a plenty. Service was good, and the food was your average pub fare. This is one of the less-expensive places to eat on Orcas Island if you are looking for somewhere casual.
After dinner, we drove another 15 minutes east and then south to Rosario Resort, one of the oldest hotels on Orcas Island. Rosario is the 40 acre former estate of Seattle shipbuilder and mayor Robert Moran, who built his mansion here over 100 years ago. The mansion is now the main building at Rosario, hosting a spa, bar and restaurant, and a museum of the upper floors of the Moran mansion.
Surprisingly, Rosario had the best priced room I could find on Orcas Island. We had reserved the least expensive room, a hillside king at $120/night. It was a bit far from the main mansion, down the road and up a steep hill. The room was nice, and included cable TV, a fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and a nice balcony overlooking the bay. We were visiting in October, and the price of the room drops further in the winter season to $99/night (when I last checked, anyway). The only complaint we had is that the water pressure in the shower was pretty low. Other than that it was a very nice room.
We slept in the next morning, enjoying the view from our room and the sound of the waves on the shore below. We had coffee and snacks we had bought the night before in our room for a light breakfast, and then headed down to the Mansion to check out the museum.
The upstairs floors of the Moran Mansion are preserved as a historical museum of the Moran family. There is the main music room in the middle, with a two story pipe organ. I read that every Saturday you can come hear an organist play the organ and then have access to the library rooms on the third floor mezzanine, which are otherwise closed to the public.
The museum has a lot of the original furniture from the Moran family, as well as photos of the Moran family, models of Robert Moran’s ships that he built, and other early turn of the century artifacts.
Rosario Resort also has two outdoor pools for the summer season, including one for adults at the main mansion and a larger one for families down by the harbor.
After touring the museum, we headed back to the town of Eastsound for the Orcas Island farmer’s market. In the fall it is located indoors at the Oddfellows Hall on Saturdays from 11:00 to 2:00.
The farmers market had lots of locally farmed fruits and vegetables, hand crafted jewelry, felted hats, and other gifts. Island made foods such as sausages, chocolates, baked goods, pasta, coffee, and jams were also available for sale. I scraped together some cash to purchase some huge and amazing-looking gloves of garlic from the farmer with the sausage (his credit card square wasn’t working on his phone). Bringing cash is recommended.
Paddy tasted a bunch of jams from Girl Meets Dirt at the table next door and said they were all delicious. He bought her peach chamomile preserves and miraculously got his card to swipe on her phone square. With flavors like rhubarb lavender, pear balsamic, and fig basil it was difficult to choose.
I also recommend Island Thyme bath and cosmetic products–especially the lip balms and the bar soaps. My Mom on San Juan Island often puts them in my Christmas stocking. I’m a lip balm and lip gloss junkie, and theirs is one of my favorites.
If you can’t make it to the farmers market and still want some preserves or other locally made products, you can visit the Orcas Island Food Co-Op which is open daily in East Sound.
After the farmers market we were hungry, so we decided to have lunch at Rose’s Bakery & Cafe in Eastsound. It was a nice little spot and the food was good, although a bit overpriced for what you got. Our sandwiches were $16.00 each, Paddy’s mole chicken sandwich came with about two tablespoons of coleslaw and my fried green tomato BLT came with about two tablespoons of potato salad. I know that things are more expensive in the islands, but cabbage and potatoes aren’t high-end ingredients. It seems that the side could have been at least a half cup’s worth. When we left Paddy was still hungry. Not exactly what you want to feel like after spending $16.00 on a sandwich. Good quality, but not sure if we’ll be back based on the prices.
After lunch we headed east towards Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park. Moran State Park is host to several hiking trails, a campground, and two large lakes–one with a nice swim beach in the summertime. The last time we were on Orcas Island was about 12 years ago in October, and we tried to go up to the top of Mt Constitution to see the view from the tower but about three quarters of the way up the mountain we found ourselves in a dense fog prohibiting any kind of view whatsoever.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves in the same situation again as we ascended the mountain. We did enjoy the spooky mist and forest views, however.
When we neared the top, instead of this:
We got this:
*Note: Go to Mt. Constitution on sunny days only if you want to see the view. Also, be sure to have your Discover Pass with you for parking.
The rain was getting heavier, and we kind of felt like hibernating. We made a quick stop in Eastsound for an afternoon snack at Brown Bear Baking. After surveying several delectable items including chocolate croissants as big as my face, I selected a chocolate muffin for Paddy and I to share. It was delicious–very chocolatey with a nice crunchy top. We headed back to the room for some R&R.
The sun broke through the clouds around 4:30 as we were watching the tail end of Footloose on TV. (Side note curiosity–how long did it take for Kevin Bacon to stop finding glitter everywhere after filming the end dance scene?)
We were getting hungry and were trying to decide where to go for dinner. We decided on the Inn at Ship Bay just east of Eastsound. We called to find out if we needed reservations and were informed that they were completely booked for the evening but there were some spots at the bar open at the moment. We jumped in the car and snagged a couple of the last spots at the cozy little bar with a view of the sound.
Dinner was outstanding. It was a splurge, but well worth it. I ordered the Apple Pye cocktail, with apple liquer, bay leaf, vodka, and ginger beer. It was fall in a glass, and very strong.
For dinner, we started with the Mangalitsa pork belly appetizer and the tomato goat cheese tart. Both were fabulous. The pork belly was nice and crispy on the outside and the quince and apple puree complimented it nicely.
For entrees I had the weathervane scallops with the sprouted lentil salad, and Paddy had the sirloin steak. We also couldn’t pass up on dessert–the goat cheese bourbon cheesecake with apples. It was a perfect fall meal, and we would recommend Inn at Ship Bay highly for dinner.
After dinner, we headed back to Rosario. Paddy wanted to have a drink at the Mansion bar, and I wanted to go soak in the hot tub in the basement spa.
I had stayed here at Rosario once when I was a kid with my parents in the 1980’s. The indoor pool back then was a big, white, milky, creepy experience with pipes going across the room over the pool. It kind of felt like being in the belly of a flooded ship.
I was pleased to see that they had re-done the entire pool and that it was much nicer looking. There was also a sauna.
I got a locker padlock and a towel from the front desk lady in the gift shop area at the spa entrance, and made my way back to the little changing rooms and lockers. The changing rooms are all individual and unisex and just outside the main pool area. One thing that I’m pretty sure hadn’t changed since the 1980’s was the dingy green carpet in the changing room area and hallway that smelled like about 30 years worth of chlorine that had dripped off of hundreds of wet bathers festering away in it’s fibers. I have no idea why this area is carpeted, and is something that they should probably address.
Around the corner from the small wall of lockers is the hall leading to the outdoor adult pool and a very creepy exercise room. If there is one area that is haunted in this 100+ year old mansion, it is the exercise room. I am sure of it.
I found the womens showers and rinsed off, then climbed into the jacuzzi tub. The tub was huge and no one was in it, which was very nice. It was heavily chorinated, however. I smelled like chlorine the rest of the night, despite rinsing off afterward. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to evaluate the chlorine levels before getting in.
After I changed I found Paddy at the Mansion bar, which was hoppin’ busy. There was live music and a roaring fire in the fireplace. We headed back to the room to relax and watch a movie.
Sunday morning brought beautiful rays of sunshine. It was a shame we didn’t have time to go up to Mt. Constitution to take in the view before catching the ferry, but we had reservations for the 8:45 sailing back to Anacortes.
We got in line for the ferry about half an hour before boarding, and walked down the hill to the little Orcas Village Store in search of coffee and sustenance.
We ordered some espresso at their coffee/deli counter and some surprisingly delicious chipotle bacon breakfast burritos sitting pre-made in their warm food cabinet near the counter. There were also pastries, bagels with salmon cream cheese and other deli items for purchase. The breakfast burritos were really good.
Soon enough the ferry rounded the corner and we were loaded onto the boat, which made stops at Shaw and Lopez Islands as well.
It was a nice little weekend getaway. When we come back to visit Orcas Island again, we’d like to see a bit more of the island itself–hiking in Moran State Park, Cascade Falls, Deer Harbor, and Doe Bay. We’ll be back.