Exploring Whidbey and San Juan Islands: The Ultimate 4-Day Weekend Getaway

Seattle - Whidbey Island - San Juan Islands 4 Days Itinerary

This article records a long weekend during the summer of 2023, in which we arranged a four-day, three-night self-driving trip to Whidbey Island near Seattle. We then took a boat to the San Juan Islands for a three-day, two-night itinerary that included hopping between San Juan Island and Orcas Island. Actually, our trip was quite rushed. The reason was that we originally planned to visit North Cascade National Park, a place we had never been to before. We had booked our flights and accommodations, but two weeks before departure, wildfires broke out near North Cascade National Park, and we had to painfully give up on that plan. Since the plane tickets were non-refundable and the vacation days were already requested, we had to change our itinerary at the last minute and decided to visit the vicinity of Seattle instead.

With only two weeks to make last-minute arrangements, we managed to successfully book ferry tickets to the San Juan Islands, the last reasonably priced hostel bed on San Juan Island, and a popular campsite on Orcas Island.

While researching, I found that although these places near Seattle are quite popular local attractions, there isn't much shared information about them. Therefore, I've specially organized this trip for friends who might have the chance to visit the Seattle area to use as a reference. These spots may not be as famous as Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park, but they are definitely worth a visit.

Below, I will outline our itinerary in chronological order over the four days and three nights.

Day 1 | Seattle -> Whidbey Island

On the first day of our trip, we flew into Seattle airport early in the morning and rented a car to head straight for Whidbey Island. Whidbey Island is an island in the northern part of Washington State, located about 30 miles north of Seattle. The island boasts picturesque scenery with spectacular coastlines and pleasant bays, several state parks, and national historical parks, making it a great weekend travel destination for those who enjoy outdoor activities. To save on travel time, we decided against taking the ferry and instead drove overland, taking the I-5 to Highway 20, then heading south over the bridge to our main destinations, Deception Pass State Park and Ebey’s Landing. Details of the attractions can be found in this article.


On the first night, we stayed in Anacortes, located to the north of Whidbey Island, in preparation for our early morning trip to San Juan Island the next day. Anacortes, situated on Fidalgo Island, is a scenic peninsula town known for its proximity to Deception Pass State Park. Since it is the primary departure point for ferry services to the San Juan Islands, it attracts many tourists and is considered one of the larger and more convenient towns in the area.

Restaurant | Vagabond Station

  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $$

That evening, we dined at Vagabond Station, which was close to our hotel. It's actually a bar restaurant, and we didn't have high expectations when we ordered their signature fried chicken and ribs, along with salad and a couple of beers. However, the fried chicken and ribs turned out to be a pleasantly delicious surprise.

Lodging | Sunrise Inn

  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $$$$

We stayed at the Sunrise Inn, and in Anacortes, due to the high number of tourists, accommodations are not cheap on weekends and holidays. The Sunrise Inn is not a luxury hotel. The room was quite clean overall, and for a one-night stay, it is totally acceptable.

Day 2 | Anacortes -> San Juan Island

Early in the morning on the second day, we drove to Ship Harbor in Anacortes to catch the ferry. We had reservations for the ferry ride both ways, so there was no need to arrive too early. Upon entering the terminal, they first confirmed our reservation. More information on transportation can be found in this article.

While waiting in line with our car at Ship Harbor, we noticed a picnic area nearby that actually had a small trail. If you arrive early enough, you could easily spend twenty to thirty minutes exploring it, and the scenery is quite beautiful.

Taking the Washington ferry for the first time was quite a novel experience for us. We were on an early morning ferry that was supposed to go directly to San Juan Island, but in a very laid-back fashion, we were informed after boarding that we would be making a detour to Lopez Island to pick someone up. This casual approach to the ferry schedule was something we would come to understand more deeply as our trip progressed.

Indeed, the ferry took us all the way to Lopez Island just to pick up one person. However, it turned out to be a nice detour since we didn't plan to stop at Lopez Island on this trip. So, it was quite nice to get a glimpse of the island and say hello.

We had a six-minute delay but successfully arrived at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island to start our itinerary. The main attractions on the island are American Camp and English Camp. After visiting these two places, we circled around all the other natural attractions on the island before returning to San Juan Island Brewery in Friday Harbor for dinner. That night, we stayed at San Juan Hostel in Friday Harbor. There are actually quite a few attractions on San Juan Island, and I have detailed them in this article.

Day 3 | San Juan Island -> Orcas Island

On the third day, we had breakfast at Salty Fox Coffee and initially planned to take the early ferry to our next destination, Orcas Island. However, the capricious nature of Washington ferries struck again, and they canceled our originally scheduled ferry. We could only try to catch the afternoon ferry. So, in the morning, we visited San Juan County Park, which we had missed the previous day, and discovered that it was actually our favorite spot on San Juan Island. Missing the ferry gave us the opportunity to enjoy this lovely place. We took our chances and went to San Juan's Westcott Bay Shellfish Co., where we surprisingly managed to get a table. After lunch, we returned to Friday Harbor, however the ferry still wasn't running. So, we explored all the other open attractions on San Juan Island, and they were quite enjoyable as well. You can find more details about our experiences in the article I mentioned earlier.

Finally, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, a ferry was available to Orcas Island. When we boarded the ferry, we noticed that there were very few passengers on the Inter-island ferry, which was quite different from our experience when coming from Anacortes. It's no wonder it kept getting canceled.

After finally arriving on Orcas Island much later than originally anticipated, we decided to make a quick stop at Island Hopping Brewery for some beer before having a hasty dinner. We managed to reach our campsite at Moran State Park just before it got dark. You can find more details about our accommodation and dining experiences in the article I've written about Orcas Island.

Day 4 | Orcas Island -> Seattle

Due to the delay in our previous day's schedule, we had booked a ferry back to Anacortes at 2:30 PM, which left us with just a little over half a day on Orcas Island. We woke up early and completed all the trails we had planned to hike. For detailed experiences and itineraries, please refer to my Orcas Island travelogue. Orcas Island is a very serene and relatively untouched place, quite different from the touristy atmosphere of San Juan Island. Perhaps there will be a chance to visit again in the future.

The return ferry finally wasn't canceled, but it remained just as spontaneous. This ferry was originally supposed to go directly to Anacortes but decided at the last minute to stop at Shaw Island to pick up a vehicle. On the way to Orcas Island, we picked up a passenger, and on the way back, we picked up a car, which made us appreciate the flexible ferry schedule. However, it didn't significantly affect our itinerary, and we got to see Shaw Island as a bonus. Collecting photos from all four islands was a nice achievement.

After returning to Anacortes, we immediately drove back to Seattle. We decided to use the remaining time to explore new Seattle dining. This time, we spent the last two hours by heading to Fremont Brewing Company to sample some beer. After finishing a beer flight, we had plenty of time to calmly catch our 9 PM flight back home.

Further reading

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