When you have little kids a successful family trip must be kid-friendly! I’m all for exposing our sons to opportunities that help them grow and mature, but let’s be honest if there isn’t a swing set, a local park, or a hands-on-button-pushing experience, the family trip will go sideways fast. The San Juan Islands provided something for all four of us! The kids discovered their favourite play place EVER, we discovered some wonderful restaurants and we all experienced the overall calm from relaxing and unplugging for a few days.
The trip to the San Juan Islands is surprisingly easy from Vancouver. Just head down the I5, get off when you see the sign for Anacortes, and drive until you reach the dock. I fell in love with the San Juan ferries for a couple of reasons. First, ferry fares are round trip and you only pay when heading West. Plan you visit to their many islands appropriately and you only pay once! Second, jigsaw puzzles are left out on the tables for everyone to enjoy. My husband and I, after nearly 13 years of marriage, discovered a mutual and previously unknown love for jigsaw puzzles. There were even kid-level puzzles out so everyone could have fun. Most of all, the ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor is roughly one hour.
Driving off the ferry in Friday Harbor, I felt as though we had been plunked into a scene from Murder, She Wrote. Remember picturesque Cabot Cove? Friday Harbor possesses the same charm and laid-back goodness I recall from Sunday night TV.
When planning a trip to Friday Harbor, or any of the San Juan Islands, be sure to visit the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau website. The site has great resources and a wonderful list of various activities and events happening on the different islands. Our home base for our visit was the centrally located and very charming Earthbox Inn & Spa. Some brilliant individual transformed an old-style motel into a retro inn & spa. The transformation worked incredibly well! Add in a pool and loaner-bikes for all guests and we were happy visitors.
A Place to Play is a must-do experience if you have children aged 8 & under. What a magical place for the kids! A Place to Play is a labour of love for a former kindergarten teacher. You can tell the moment you walk into the colourful space that the place was put together by someone who understands kids. The first thing that struck me was the incredible cleanliness of everything; it looked as though A Place to Play had opened the day prior rather than a year ago. Our 4 & 6 year old boys didn’t want to leave so we spent HOURS there! From a tugboat with life jackets and real boat equipment to the coolest ride-on horses to tables for Lego, water, sand and trains the activities abound. Even after hours of play our boys were still finding new toys and activities to entertain themselves. I wish we had A Place to Play near our home; we would pack our bags and move in!
Another destination absolutely worth visiting is the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park. Twenty acres of rural land have been given over to celebrate art. For a suggested donation of $5 per person, you are welcome to wander the fields and take in the truly spectacular pieces of art. Some of the sculptures are modest in size and some are massive. Everything is outside and exposed to the elements. We happened to go on a stormy evening; powerful Mother Nature combined with the awesome artwork made for a very memorable family outing. Just a word of caution, the Canadian geese love the Sculpture Park as well – be sure to wear shoes appropriate for traipsing around goose droppings and possibly wet fields.
The restaurants are plentiful in Friday Harbor. I strongly recommend an afternoon lunch at San Juan Island Cheese. Talk about owners who love and know their food! We ended up ordering 2 cheese platters because our boys ate my first platter. Delicious! Another great place to eat – which also has a kids’ meal – is the Cask & Schooner. Be sure to order the lamb burger and a pint of the Left Hand Milk Stout! Lunch at Market Chef did not disappoint nor did treats from Bakery San Juan.
There is much charm to be found in Friday Harbor. I loved the story of Popeye – the one eyed harbour seal who has learned to splash visitors to the Fish Market if they don’t feed her in a timely manner. The folks in Friday Harbor have such affection for Popeye a sculpture of her has been installed along the waterfront. The physical geography of the island is exceptional. A drive around the island takes approximately 2 hours and is worth doing. We really enjoyed our jaunt out to the lighthouse. While finding the pathway to the lighthouse took a few attempts, the walk is quick and well worth it.
A few other venues to check out while visiting Friday Harbor on San Juan Island: the Whale Museum which tracks the various pods around the Islands. There are a number of activities for the kids to enjoy. Our eldest enjoyed sitting in the red phone booth listening to whale sounds. When wandering the main street direct your feet to Griffin Bay Bookstore. In addition to looking like a bookstore should, the collection is curl-up-in-a-cozy-chair good. I love finding a bookstore where every book plucked off the shelves is a treasure.
Three days of relaxed exploration in Friday Harbor was a perfect holiday for our family. The kids found their happy place at A Place to Play; we stuffed ourselves silly at yummy restaurants; and we relaxed surrounded by rolling hills, spraying waves and fresh sea air. Add Friday Harbor to your family holiday bucket list.
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