This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of 425 Business.
Take a break from business and visit summer hotspot San Juan Island for a cozy winter getaway.
You’ve been overworked and stressed all year. Now that holiday work and school breaks are finally here, you have the chance to burn through some of that vacation time you’ve been stockpiling since your last summer trip. But it’s winter here in the Pacific Northwest — a time few consider our most attractive season. Can’t afford to go to Maui? Visiting in-laws not allowing enough time for a vacation to Mexico? Then a trip to San Juan Island might be just the thing to break out of the doldrums of another winter staycation on the Eastside.
We know what you’re thinking: San Juan is a summer destination, right? Don’t be so quick to judge. A trip to San Juan in the dead of winter is a downright cozy experience. So get comfortable and allow us to throw a few more marshmallows in your hot chocolate as you read on.
The San Juan Islands dot the Salish Sea between Seattle and British Columbia’s largest cities, Vancouver and Victoria. There are more than 170 named islands and reefs, with more than 400 cumulative miles of coastline, in the archipelago. The San Juans embody tight-knit island culture that comes with geographic seclusion. Of these islands, the largest are Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, and San Juan — where Friday Harbor, the islands’ largest town, is located.
Traveling to Friday Harbor in the offseason lets you avoid the thick summer crowds, and Washington State Ferries offers slightly cheaper rates in winter. Don’t forget to reserve a spot on the ferry; otherwise, you may have to wait on standby. (We may or may not be speaking from experience.)
Where to stay
The Island Inn at 123 West is conveniently located near Friday Harbor’s ferry dock. If you were so inclined, you could leave your car on the mainland and save some major cash. The inn is contemporary with a streamlined yet warm ambiance.
If you are looking to be swept up in an aged motif, consider Roche Harbor’s historic Hotel de Haro. The hotel’s furniture dates back to its 1886 opening, but modern conveniences like Wi-Fi also are provided.
Nestled deep in the woods and accessible by winding country roads lies Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes. Lakedale offers accommodations in its main lodge in the offseason, but its log cabins are the coziest accommodations. Each of Lakedale’s cabins has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, and a small kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, range, and oven. The kitchen comes stocked with all the dishes, silverware, bakeware, and accessories one could need.
“There are lots of reasons to come to Lakedale — the coziness of the property for one,” General Manager Karl Bruno said. “Also, the fact that the island has about 70 percent less people than it does in (summer) is a big draw. It really becomes quiet here. It’s almost tranquil; it’s all about really getting away without going that far.”
If you are looking for a complete escape from the office, you will be delighted to know that mobile-phone networks have yet to permeate the thick foliage surrounding the resort. Bruno says this is by design. “I’m not going to put in a tower. Certainly I can do that, but we talked about it and we feel it detracts from the ambiance of the entire facility,” he said.
If you can’t completely unplug from those work-related emails, never fear: The resort has Wi-Fi.
What to expect
Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, San Juan Island experiences a fairly mild winter. Winter temperatures on San Juan are similar to those on the Eastside, but Friday Harbor gets far less rain than Bellevue — 2.5 fewer inches, on average — in December.
Nevertheless, dress with layers, preferably with a top layer that repels water.
Where to eat
Lodging with kitchens like those in Lakedale’s cabins lets you take full advantage of bringing your own food to the island. Since most goods on the island have to be imported by boat, they’re more expensive than on the mainland.
If you arrive sans food, you can stop by King’s Market in Friday Harbor; it’s right up the street from the ferry landing. Stock up on essentials like milk, bread, and eggs on the way to your cabin.
Alternatively, if you would rather test the local fare, consider stopping by Blue Water Bar & Grill. By day, it’s a decent spot for a family lunch with a view of the harbor. By night, it’s a great venue to watch a football game. Snack on the grill’s coconut prawns ($12.95) served with spicy mango rum sauce and sip its signature Sweetwater drink ($8) made with Jeremiah Weed sweet-tea vodka, lemonade, orange juice, and soda.
In our opinion, it’s never too cold for ice cream. Take a stroll over to Yo Friday Harbor for a milkshake, ice cream cone, or frozen yogurt. It’s open all year, so clearly the business agrees that anytime is ice-cream time.
How to unwind
If, like Frank Costanza, you require “serenity now!” then San Juan is definitely the right spot for your winter break. Need a little help letting go of tension you’ve been carrying since your last vacation? Cue Pelindaba Lavender.
Pelindaba features a plethora of lavender products,
from essential oils to cookies. All Pelindaba’s products are made from lavender grown on its farm, making it the largest on-farm producer of handcrafted lavender products in the country.
The farm sees heavy foot traffic in summer, but during the winter months the retail location in Friday Harbor gets the brunt of the clientele.
Pelindaba Quality Control Officer Sadia Khan says lavender products can help an individual unwind on a winter escape. She recommends the Lavender Day Tripper Collection ($25), which includes Pelindaba’s best-selling lotion, essential-oil shampoo, Castile bar soap, and essential oil.
Don’t worry about using up the product before you go home — all the bottles are TSA-approved if you’re hopping a plane home.
What to do
Bruno recommends fishing at his resort. Lakedale has rental fishing gear and an array of different boats for venturing out onto one of three lakes on the grounds.
“The fishing is pretty good here year-round; we stock all of our lakes,” Bruno said. “(Fishing) is an activity that, surprisingly, a lot of couples enjoy doing together. It could be January, and they’ll be out in the boat fishing.”
Each cabin at Lakedale is equipped with a pair of binoculars and a small library of bird-watching books. Grab a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate and do some birdwatching by the lake on your cabin’s porch or simply enjoy the stillness and absence of noise pollution.
“We are home to the white swan; they are very cool,” Bruno said. “This particular species is hard to find, but they come to San Juan — specifically to these lakes — in December and January. They hunker down for about 60 days, and then they’re gone.”
If you feel like venturing out, there is plenty of fun to be had around the island.
Bundle up and take a brisk hike at Lime Kiln State Park, but you’ll need a Discover Pass to park there. It’s a short five-minute jaunt down the path to the water, where you can take in the views and check out the Lime Kiln lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear seals barking in the distance, and don’t forget to bring the binoculars from your cabin so you can keep an eye on the water for the occasional whale surfacing.
Most of the whale-watching tours don’t run during winter, but you may be able to compensate by checking out The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. The museum is jam-packed with everything you’d ever want to know about whales. Make sure to check out the trash exhibit, which shows the manmade contents of a deceased whale’s stomach. The trash includes a golf ball, a Capri Sun pouch, and discarded clothing. Kids love it, and it’s a reminder not to litter.
If you’re a history buff, you’re in luck because San Juan Island National Historical Park is close by. It offers a wealth of breathtaking views, potential wildlife sightings, and information about how the area was settled. According to the National Park Service, the park “celebrates how individuals and nations can resolve disputes without resorting to violence. For it was here in the mid-1800s that Great Britain and the United States settled ownership of the island through peaceful arbitration.”
Visitors can tour both the English and American camps and take in the rich history of a simpler time. There is a junior ranger program in place for children, and it’s a great place to bring a leashed pet for a long walk.
If the weather is too chilly for the little ones, A Place to Play for Kids offers a warmer indoor alternative. The center features a safe, engaging play place with a nautical theme. For an admission fee, children ages 1 through 8 can ride mopeds and horses, captain a boat, build a sand castle, and splash around at a water table.
Whether you choose to stay in your cabin and play board games or spend the holiday exploring the island, one thing is for sure: You won’t want to go back to reality, much less back to work.
If San Juan Island isn’t right for you, turn the page to see a few other getaways that allow you to take a break from business.
Make sure your passports are up to date, because we’re heading north of the border. Take the train or the Clipper from downtown Seattle and enjoy the view, or pack the family in the car and drive until you hit the Peace Arch. Just get there.
In Victoria, take a stroll around the harbor and window shop, enjoying a low exchange rate. Or take an after-dark tour of the city and see the Parliament buildings illuminate the harbor with more than 3,000 lights.
If you’re up for adventure, head to Whistler Blackcomb. The resort has more than 8,000 acres of terrain between the two mountains. Enjoy skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, and zip-lining on fresh powder or immaculate groomers. If you’re new to snow sports, they have lessons for all levels and ages.
Looking for a small-town atmosphere, dearie? What better place than the town of Storybrooke, Maine? Okay, so actually it’s Richmond’s village of Steveston, but the village’s main street is used for outdoor filming of ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Stop by the visitor’s center for a map so you can check out Granny’s Diner (The Cannery Café) and Mr. Gold’s Pawn Broker (It’s Posh).
Want to get off the grid without going too far? Strap on some tire chains and head for Mount Rainier. It isn’t too far from the Eastside, and it allows visitors to completely disconnect.
Mount Rainier stands at 14,410 feet in elevation. The park is 235,625 acres, 97 percent of which is designated wilderness. More than 2 million people visit each year.
There is a plethora of rustic lodging options in and around the park, including the Silver Skis Chalet at Crystal Mountain, which puts you in a prime location for fantastic skiing and breathtaking views on the Crystal Mountain Gondola.
Plan ahead before journeying to Rainier — know which roads are closed in winter and check weather reports often to keep on top of conditions around the park. While Rainier is full of winter fun during the day, plan to spend your evenings cozied up indoors by the hearth reading or playing board games. Don’t forget the hot chocolate.
Sitting upon 6,300 acres in Kittitas County, the Lodge at Suncadia is less than two hours from the Eastside and has an array of mountain lodging and winter activities. Suncadia has a wealth of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, and tubing. There’s great ice skating, and a snowshoeing expedition that ends at a heated grotto where guests will enjoy a tasty barbecue.
If all of this sounds a little too strenuous for you, consider taking one of Suncadia’s relaxing fly-fishing excursions. The guided adventure will take you floating in a drift boat down the crystal-clear Yakima River in search of trout.
Too cold to venture outdoors? Suncadia’s Glade Spring Spa is just what you need to rejuvenate and forget about all the stresses of work. Get a couple’s massage or soak in one of many hot spring-inspired outdoor mineral baths as you take in the spa’s nature-inspired ambiance.