Whale Tales

WHALES GATHER in the cool waters of Washington from roughly April to September. And the 170-odd islands of the San Juans offer prime spotting territory for orca, gray, minke, and humpback.

Three distinct orca social groups—the J, K, and L pods—dwell near the islands. San Juan Excursions (www.watchwhales.com) makes tracking their movements a snap. Climb aboard the 65-foot twinengine Odyssey for daily tours, or get dorsal fin–level with a guided sea kayak excursion. Either way, the odds are very good you’ll see orcas.

In fact, Island Adventures (www.island-adventures.com) in Anacortes guarantees sightings. Otherwise, visitors receive a “fluke pass”: a voucher to return free, for life, until they hit pay dirt.

To add tours of lighthouses to your whale-watching, charter a cruise with Orcas Island Eclipse Charters (www.orcasislandwhales.com). And on Friday Harbor’s docks, link up with San Juan Outfitters for either leisurely motor vessel tours or self-propelled kayak tours (www.sanjuanislandoutfitters.com).

Land lovers can also learn plenty about the islands’ rich ecosystem, including sea lions and porpoises, thanks to the Whale Museum (www.whalemuseum.org), or head to Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island’s west side (www.parks.wa.gov). Many consider this state park the best land-based whale-watching vista in the Lower 48, if not the world. —AMANDA CASTLEMAN

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Read More About The Islands

5 Side Trips

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Meet The San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands are a quintessential getaway for a reason: from orcas and organic farms to mountains and mopeds, they offer a unique adventure for everyone.

Accessible Escapes

About 25 miles north of Seattle, catch the Mukilteo ferry to Whidbey Island for a diverse day trip.

From our Archives

Sea Fare

The San Juan Islands are surrounded by deep, cold saltwater: a boon for salmon, crabs, fishermen, and foodies alike.

Whale Tales

WHALES GATHER in the cool waters of Washington from roughly April to September. And the 170-odd islands of the San Juans offer prime spotting territory for orca, gray, minke, and humpback.

On the Surface

Waters are so clear I can eye sea stars and huge Dungeness crabs.

Painted Trails

ABOUT 30 MILES — and a ferry ride — north of Seattle, on a long, puzzle piece of land, resides what’s often known as the Puget Sound’s largest artist colony: Whidbey Island.

Friday Harbor

AN HOUR-LONG BOAT RIDE from Anacortes is all that separates mainland day-trippers from the shores of Friday Harbor, the gateway to San Juan Island.

Two If By Sea

I PULL HARD on the paddle, launching the kayak into the cold, clear Salish Sea—the coastal waterways surrounding southern Vancouver Island, Puget Sound, and the San Juan Islands. Heading for open water, I inhale the salt air off San Juan Island State Park. Its sandy, protected beach serves as a popular launch site for kayakers.

Ambrosial Atolls

From Whidbey to Orcas Island, isolation and a bounty of seafood make the area a mecca for esoteric wines, palate-cleansing brews, crisp ciders, and herbal spirits.

Island Spice

Savor a slow, dry visit to the San Juan Islands.

Dual Charms

Whidbey and its neighbor Camano woo visitors.

See Worthy

From the air, the San Juan Islands look like a necklace of gleaming emeralds, a chain of 172 pristine islands strewn across Puget Sound.

Island Lore

THE PIG WAR was a dispute over San Juan Islands territory, the only casualty of which was a single swine.

Idylls in Island County

Small-town friendliness mingles with international acclaim in local art scenes. “People don’t live here by accident.

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