Each of the major ferry served islands in the San Juan has its own flavor, topographically, culturally, aspiration-ally and economically. The various differences among the islands are minor compared to the similarities. The choice to live here is intentional, and for many it is a complex mixture of delight and challenge. For both visitor and resident, stepping off a ferry onto one of the islands brings a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude, of coming home.
Lopez’s natural beauty and quality of life have attracted a variety of residents—artists, craftspeople, entrepreneurs, musicians, farmers, fishermen and nature lovers. Scandinavian farmers arrived here in the 1850s, drawn by the island’s gentle topography, and Lopez Island farms today raise an eclectic range of products, from sheep to llamas, wine grapes to apples, pears to kiwis.
Horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, called “the gem of the San Juans”, is a eclectic combination of shoreline, the highest mountain in the islands, and a handful of tiny hamlets. Eastsound is the only village and the hub of most activity.
Most of Orcas Island’s 57 square miles are rural and hilly, a challenge for cyclists, with curving roads that wind through forests and past artists’ studios, fields with old apple barns, and the occasional turn-of-the-century prune drying barn.
San Juan Island: an alpaca ranch, a sweeping valley dotted with cows or sheep, the terraces of a lavender farm, vineyards, deep forest giving way to shining sea, a pod of orca whales in the distance, and two iconic lighthouses, anchored by the town of Friday Harbor, center of county government and commercial activity.