If you could only choose one for a two day trip, which would you choose? Also, would it worth it stopping in friday Harbor for 5 hours on the way to orcas?
Good advice above. I prefer Orcas--I think it's more scenic, and it has better restaurants--but the National Historic Park on San Juan is very worthwhile, and in summer you can whale watch from shore at Lime Kiln Park, so SJI has its attractions too.
You say 2 day stay--is that only one night? Have you looked at lodging? Many (most?) places have minimum stays, so depending on when your trip is, you might end up on the island where you could find lodging for only a single night.
This is such a great question! Hands down I would have said ORCAS ISLAND on any day between 1989 and july 18th, 2013. The little town of East Sound really enjoys it's visitors, the range of accommodations is great (besides camping, I think there's still a hostel at Doe Bay or Deer Harbor, and there are first class hostelries all over the island), Mt. Constitution gives breathtaking views as well as being a thrilling climb or drive, and even if you just spend a few hours at the ferry dock you can still enjoy the local beach and charming little shops (at least when they're open). Without a car, transportation on Orcas is more challenging, the hills can be very steep for biking, and it's a long hike from the ferry dock to town (8 or 9 miles?). there is some shuttle and taxi service, but it's still worthwhile in my book. After all, they call this Orcas Island for a reason, we've seen lots of whales around this island!
But July 18th this summer, I was talked into a no-car trip to Friday Harbor. It has grown so much since my last visit (in the late 80s) and I was totally charmed. Everything within walking distance has become better (as well as more plentiful). The prices are reasonable (I thought they were too expensive on my last visit-30 years ago!). There's great shuttle (bus) service to points of interest like Lime Kiln Lighthouse. The harbor has become so lively! It's kind of like a miniature (and not so polished) version of Avalon, on Catalina Island. And bicycling is easier here than on Orcas.
I'll definitely be taking more trips to SJ-Island now.
(PS there are lots of other attractions on the other Islands, Lopez is great for bicycling too).
I have been more times to Orcas, but spent a couple of days on San Juan recently. I also really enjoyed the time we spent in Friday Harbor. It reminded me a lot of some of the small coastal towns I grew up near in New England. We had terrific food there and spend most of our time at the Parks whale watching. You can not go wrong either way.Edited: 05 August 2013, 00:05
Yes, either way is fine. We prefer SJI for the many things to do and to see and much more access to the ocean. We observe wildlife and birds, so SJI wins on that count. You need a car on SJI and Orcas Island. Friday Harbor is only the tip of the iceberg of what to see on SJI.
If you have the time, base on one and spend a 1/2 to full day on the other.
San Juan Islands This article provides specific information, not all but the highlights, on what to see and to do on the major islands, with key websites. Best seen by basing on one and visiting the others as day trips. Recommend at least two nights. tripadvisor.com/Travel-g58727-c102104/San-Ju…
Hiking in the San Juan Islands, WA http://tinyurl.com/2furs3
In FH, while awaiting the Orcas ferry, you can walk the town, visit galleries, dine at restaurant and/or tavern.Edited: 05 August 2013, 03:46
"After all, they call this Orcas Island for a reason, we've seen lots of whales around this island!"
Orcas Island was not named after the whales; rather:
The name "Orcas" is a shortened form of Horcasitas, or Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791.
Also, I'm surprised that you've seen lots of whales around Orcas; not many Orca view sites are available and the whales tend to be seen as shown here:
WHERE TO SEE THE WHALES This map shows, among other species, Orca whale sightings around the Salish Sea (and why the west side of San Juan Island is so popular for Orca watchers, from land and from sea). www.orcanetwork.org/sightings/map.html#mapEdited: 05 August 2013, 03:53
Voyaging is right. Of course it is possible to see whales from Orcas, but much bertter chance from San Juan. A young friend of ours was taking a Summer class at the Whale Museum, and got hourly updates. The two days we were there we saw whales on two different occasions includin about 50 one day. They were sighted off the Wesrside of San Juan and further North in the Salish Sea only.
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