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Monday, April 6, 2020

Get Out of Town: Orcas Island

Orcas Island, the largest of the four ferry-accessible destinations within the San Juan Islands, presents visitors with miles of rolling farmland, a bustling arts community and a multitude of waterfront views.

A round-trip ticket to take a car over to the island costs just over $40 and walk-on tickets are cheaper at $13.25 per passenger. The ferry ride departs from Anacortes and takes visitors on an hour-long journey with views of beautiful natural landmarks, such as Mount Baker and Decatur Island. The ferry offers a snack bar or passengers can pack a picnic to munch on along the way.

The view from the peak of Mount Constitution in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. The vista is a popular tourist attraction for hikers.

However, the ferry ride is just part of what brings tourists to the island. The 57-square-mile isle offers many attractions, ranging from participating in nature-related experiences to supporting the local artists at gallery shows and small businesses. To start, after sailing into port, travelers are introduced to the island vibe by the artisanal grocery store Orcas Village Store and the Orcas Hotel, which opened its doors more than 100 years ago, both of which are located a few steps from the ferry line.

The allure expands beyond the dock, as many visitors are drawn to the Eastsound neighborhood. This locale is the island’s closest thing to downtown. Eastsound consists of restaurants, art shops, a co-op, small businesses and the Outlook Inn. Summer is peak season for Orcas Island, as the population doubles during the warmer months of the year. It is during this time that most of the island’s tourist opportunities are open to the public.

Orcas offers many activities accessible to both overnight guests and travelers who want to check out the island for a day. Here are a few popular destinations and recreation opportunities on the island:

Whale Watching

The island offers tourists the possibility to catch a glance at the behemoth mammals that reside under the water’s surface. According to the Orcas Island Whale Watching Tours website, the peak season for whale sightings is between March and September, making Orcas an appropriate summer excursion for whale enthusiasts. Charters usually offer three-hour tours with prices ranging from $55 to $65 for children and $85 to $99 for adults.  

Brown Bear Baking

The pastries at Brown Bear Baking are so popular that the line of customers will spill onto the wrap-around porch that surrounds the bakery on any given weekend morning. The artisanal shop is located smack-dab in the middle of Eastsound and boasts display cases stuffed with buttery croissants, open-faced croque monsieurs and other delicacies.   

Island Hoppin’ Brewery

Located between the Orcas Island Airport and the Kitten Room (part of the Orcas Island Animal Shelter, where anyone can play with the kittens that are currently up for adoption!), Island Hoppin’ Brewery has more than just a fun name. The brewery has a family-friendly tasting room with air hockey, foosball, board games and ping-pong — and for those who care more about the beer than the entertainment, the brewery also serves seven house-made beers on tap.

Orcas Island Farmers Market

The Orcas Island Farmers Market consists of vendors touting a variety of goods including produce, clothing, art and jewelry. Everything sold at the market is either grown on the island or crafted by island artists. The market sets up every Saturday morning throughout the summer at Village Green Park in the center of Eastsound.

Hiking

Orcas Island offers many hiking opportunities. A tourist favorite, and the highest point in the San Juan Islands (2,409 feet), is Mount Constitution in Moran State Park. At the top of the mountain hikers are rewarded with a view of the other San Juan Islands, Vancouver, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. The trek is 6.7 miles round trip. If spending a few hours sweating up a trail isn’t your forte, you can scale the mountain from the comfort of your car— there is a route all the way to the peak. Hikers and other visitors can also camp in Moran State Park, which has three different campgrounds on the shore of Cascade Lake.

Potential visitors can view ferry schedules and buy tickets on the Washington State Department of Transportation website. Interisland travel is free, giving visitors a chance to check out other destinations within the San Juans such as Lopez Island and Friday Harbor.

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