Over the years, plenty has been written about the inspiring beauty of the San Juan Islands. No need to repeat those flowery descriptions here, where we primarily focus on beer. Suffice it to say that the San Juans never fail to deliver on every promise, but they can be intimidating for travelers. Yes, it’s beautiful up in the islands and life seems to move at a slower pace, but there are challenges. Ferry boat travel is a bit daunting these days. Lodging is not cheap.
If those kinds of obstacles are stopping you from visiting the San Juan Islands, I have a suggestion. Walk aboard a ferry bound for Friday Harbor and leave the car on the mainland in Anacortes. Log some island time without logging any miles on the car. Below, I offer some advice for a walk-on adventure to San Juan Island and a relaxing day of beer strolling in Friday Harbor, the home of two great beer destinations, and more.
“I’m on a Boat!”
Let’s get you there. Mind the ferry schedule because you’ll want to sail on an early boat to get the most out of your day. There is ample parking available at the Anacortes ferry terminal. The roundtrip, walk-on ticket is about $15 per person, with a $4 upcharge for a bicycle (summer 2021 prices).
Based on the 2021 summer schedule, I’d recommend getting on the 9:05 AM boat, which gets you to Friday Harbor at 10:10 AM. There is an earlier boat if you want it. Return to Anacortes on the 6:30 PM or 10:00 PM boat. No guarantees about those times, but those are the scheduled departures. Of course, you could spend the night, too. You don’t need a car to do that.
Drinking beer is not the only thing to do on San Juan Island, and we’ll discuss some of the other opportunities later. If you start with beer, you’ll probably finish with beer, so I’d recommend getting out to see some of the sites first. Use the beer as a reward for a day of exploration.
San Juan Island Brewing
The island has a namesake brewery: San Juan Island Brewing Company. It is a beautiful, large brewpub with a full kitchen. The brewery poured its first pints in July of 2017. As you leave the ferry, walk straight up past all the cars in the holding lanes and follow A Street for about two more blocks. You can’t miss the brewery. It’s at the end of the street (410 A Street, Friday Harbor, WA).
The menu is focused on pizzas and sandwiches along with some other options. Note that on Tuesday and Wednesday, the menu is limited to just a few items (typical 2021 staffing issues). Speaking of staff, I was very impressed with the friendly, fast service on a busy summer afternoon.
In a town like Friday Harbor, the economy is fueled by tourists who often do not have the most adventurous beer palates. I imagine San Juan Island Brewing selling a lot of Afterglow Golden Ale and Harbor Hefeweizen. That said, the beers do not disappoint. The Yachter’s Daughter Helles and the San Juan Pilsner were especially tasty on a hot, sun-splashed day. Other faves included the Turn Point Mosaic IPA and the Light Keeper XPA. Among others, the menu also included a Belgian-style summer ale and a farmhouse-style ale.
Cease & Desist – a Friday Harbor Beerhouse
Running a business on an island is not necessarily easy. It can be difficult to procure things. To a certain extent, you get what you get. This must make it very difficult to operate a top-notch beer joint like Cease & Desist, a surprisingly urbane and hip basement bar on the waterfront in Friday Harbor.
Beer is a labor of love for the owners, Justin Heikkinen and Phil Carvalho, who are obviously passionate about beer and spend a lot of time on the mainland hunting down the good stuff. On Instagram, the bar is described as “a safe space for self-important out-of-towners.” One local referred to Cease & Desist as “Underrigger’s” because it is located below a harborside restaurant called Downrigger’s.
Whatever you call it, this place is pretty awesome. In addition to a location that you simply cannot beat, the draft lineup wouldn’t disappoint you even if you were in the big city. They have an equally impressive list of bottle options.
What to See on the Island
As I discuss below, you can get around the island without a car. Points of interest you’ll want to see on San Juan Island include American Camp and English Camp, which are both National Historic Parks. If you’re not careful, you might learn something. Also, Lime Kiln Point State Park is considered one of the best whale-watching spots on earth. There are other popular destinations, like the Alpaca Ranch and the Lavender Farm, it depends on what you want to see and do. Of course, Friday Harbor has no shortage of shops, galleries, and other retail opportunities for shopping enthusiasts.
If I were only going to hit one of the destinations, I’d head for American Camp and go for a nice long walk and take in the panoramic views and wide-open spaces. You can take a short stroll or a considerably longer, proper hike. Pack a lunch, enjoy it out on the trail somewhere, then plan on dinner at the brewery.
Getting Around the Island
There’s more to do than drink beer on San Juan Island but you’ll need some wheels to do it. When you come ashore at Friday Harbor, you have a number of different transportation options available.
San Juan Transit offers a bus service that will get you out of town, shuttling you to and from all of the most popular destinations on the island. You will see the bus waiting for passengers as you leave the boat — it is timed for the boat’s arrival. They will explain it all to you as you board the bus.
There are also a number of scooter rental and e-bike rental companies within a couple blocks of the ferry terminal. It will be hard for you to miss them: they want your business. Of particular interest to me, Gilligan’s Island Style Ebike Rentals will set you up with an electric bike for your island adventure.
Gilligan’s offers a couple different bike models from Rad Power Bike, with lots of different options/accessories. Rates vary depending on what you want, starting at $30 for 90 minutes, $45 for a half-day, and $65 for a full day (2021 rates). They provide a map and suggested bike routes.
Don’t be intimidated by the San Juan Islands. Yes, there are challenges and logistics to consider, but if you plan it right and just go with the flow, there are all sorts of lovely, relaxing rewards awaiting you. Including beer.
Looking for more info about visiting the San Juan Islands? The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau has a great website.
Looking for more beer travel ideas, check out our Beer Travel page.