Top Tourist Attractions of Puget Sound
With more than 170 islands, Puget Sound has many must-visit island getaways. Just the ferry trip alone can be a delight, as the boat slips smoothly along through calm salt waters. Places out of reach of the ferries can be seen by kayak, and a rare few islands are connected via bridges.
The San Juan Islands are popular with tourists. Small island communities preserve historic buildings dating from the period of British rule. In Friday Harbor, boat trips head out to observe whales in the open sea. Other islands in the San Juans include Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. Further south in Puget Sound, visitors can explore the virtually unspoiled Vashon Island and Blake Island, where Chief Seattle was born. Reaching Whidbey Island is easy via the famed Deception Pass Bridge. Canada, too, is "just round the corner," with a regular ferry service to the pretty town of Victoria on British Columbia's Vancouver Island.
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is the westernmost of the San Juan Islands. The main community on the island is Friday Harbor, where ferries dock. Shops, galleries, restaurants, and accommodations provide everything that a tourist may want. In the pleasant rural setting, San Juan Island National Historic Park is historically significant for the Pig War boundary dispute between the Americans and British in the late 1850s. The park has numerous walking trails and is a popular bird watching spot.
Visitors who are not lucky enough to spot orca whales during a visit, can spend some time viewing the natural history exhibits and skeletons at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. And, housed in the 19th century farmhouse of James King, the San Juan Historical Museum also maintains an old jail, milk house, carriage house, and Scribner Log Cabin on its grounds.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on San Juan Island
Also located in the San Juan Islands archipelago, Orcas Island is known for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. It is the largest of the San Juan Islands and has several communities including Eastsound with its fine dining, shopping, and galleries. In the small downtown, the Orcas Island Historical Museum preserves six original pioneer homesteads from the late 1800s. Donated to the historical society and moved to their present location, the cabins have been furnished with historical displays relating to Orcas Island history. For a taste of the pristine natural environment, Moran State Park offers camping and picnic sites. Most people come here either to camp or hike, as the park offers more than 30 miles of trails.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Orcas Island
Lopez Island is a popular San Juan Islands destination for cycling. This is actually one of the lesser-visited islands but is still easy to reach via the Washington ferry system. From Lopez, it's possible to arrange kayaking and spot whales from shore. And the island has all the usual amenities with accommodation and restaurants. A small but worthwhile stop, the Lopez Island Historical Museum is dedicated to island history. It is located in the center of Lopez and operates from spring until fall.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Lopez Island
Even fewer San Juan visitors sail to Shaw Island than visit Lopez Island. There aren't the usual tourist services (accommodations or restaurants), but the small island community does have a historic general store that has been run by a mix of local families and nuns during more than a century in business. Nature lovers prefer the island for its quiet trails, natural beaches, and campsites in Shaw County Park.
Located between the largest four San Juan Islands and Bellingham on the Washington coast, Lummi Island is a historic farming and fishing community. In recent years, the island's farm-to-table lifestyle has gained a higher profile through sustainable fisheries and organic farms. Nowhere is that more so than at the luxury property The Willows Inn, a top culinary destination on the island. And like most Puget Sound destinations, the shoreline of Lummi Island is trimmed with natural beaches.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Lummi Island
Blake Island State Park
Leaving from Seattle, cruises sail through Puget Sound to stop for a salmon feast dinner and cultural show at Blake Island State Park's Tillicum Village. Olympic Mountain views add to the pleasing scenery. The island is only accessible by boat, and its marine park protects a richly textured shoreline and beaches. Famous leader Chief Seattle was born on this island.
Address: 1101 Alaskan Way, Pier 55, Seattle
Near the south end of Puget Sound, Vashon Island is another farming community with a strong collection of local artist galleries and small country stores. The island is accessible only by ferry from Tacoma's Point Defiance Park. On a clear day, there's an excellent view of snow-covered Mount Rainier from the Point Robinson Lighthouse.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Vashon Island
Editor's Pick Whidbey Island
One of the few Puget Sound islands accessible by car, Whidbey Island has its most famous sightseeing attraction at its northern end. At Deception Pass, a bridge spans the narrow pass where funneled tidal waters create intense rapids. It is the largest island in Puget Sound, reconnoitered by George Vancouver in 1792.
A number of Whidbey Island small towns have tourist attractions, accommodations, and seafood restaurants (including famous Penn Cove mussels). The largest of these communities are the navy-dominated Oak Harbor, the historic farming community of Coupeville, and Langley, a favorite with whale watchers. Near Coupeville, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve preserves the rural history of the Pacific Northwest. Here, visitors will find farm life still carrying on much as it did in the past.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Whidbey Island
Neighboring Whidbey Island and also accessible via a bridge, Camano Island is an example of quiet, rural Washington. Two state parks (Camano Island and Cama Beach) give beachcombing visitors easy access to the shoreline. For outdoor adventure with a little more adrenaline than wildlife watching, the island is also home to a zip line tour.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on Camano Island