Weekend Wanderings: San Juan Island + other local getaways

Courtesy Friday Harbor House

In light of COVID health/safety precautions, we know that even local travel is a divisive topic right now. Recently we’ve dipped our toe in some nearby explorations, trying to discover if there are ways to travel responsibly and respectfully this fall.

First up? Magical San Juan Island—a refreshing getaway in any season. (Note that ferries are currently running on an abbreviated, winter schedule. Reservations ahead of time are recommended.)

Photo by Melissa Dismuke

During this most recent visit, we stayed in an incredibly social distancing-appropriate yurt, dined alfresco on patios, partook in only outdoors, fresh-air activities and of course wore masks whenever in public spaces.

Although everyone we encountered was inviting, we know that some islanders might have mixed feelings about welcoming outsiders at this time. As one local put it: “If you own a business, you want people visiting; if you don’t, you might want them to stay away.”

WHERE TO STAY

Lakedale Resort offers 82 acres of tranquil space on which to unwind among the trees. The staff has made COVID-necessary adaptations from volume capacity limitations to contact-less checkin, which help visitors feel at ease the moment they set foot on this special property. The staff says visitors have been not only receptive—but also appreciate—of these thoughtful precautions.

Seven glamp-worthy yurts are especially alluring, and space heaters make colder-month stays enticing and cozy in here, too. Log cabins and rooms in the lodge also stay open year-round.

Highlights of the light-filled, 450-square-foot, luxury yurts include a king-size bed with flannel duvet cover, full-size sleeper sofa, flat-panel TV, wet bar, mini-refrigerator and bathroom. Then there’s the private wrap-around deck, complete with hot tub, additional dining table and chairs, Adirondack chairs and grill. (To say we had trouble leaving after two nights might be an understatement!)

FOOD TO FEAST ON

Delicious, local food abounds on the island, whether you grab takeaway treats from Bakery San Juan or pick up fresh goodies from Westcott Bay Shellfish, open during the off-season for retail sales Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. They urge customers to pre-order via the website; they then bag and tag pick-up orders and have them ready in coolers in the parking area —or on the dock if coming by boat.

Grab a casual lunch in the spacious courtyard at the San Juan Island Brewing Co. (don’t miss their fresh popcorn and beer bratwurst), and enjoy an intimate dinner at Duck Soup, located a stone’s throw from Lakedale.

For the ultimate treat, soak in panoramic marina views from the elevated patio at Friday Harbor House. If the timing aligns, you may be lucky enough to watch a full moon rise above the horizon, as dancing fire pits add to the charmed nighttime scene.

The menu features seasonal specialties and rotates regularly, based on what the culinary team has recently foraged from the island’s natural bounty or picked up at a local farmers market. Be sure to sample the colorful kale salad, seared ahi tuna, perfectly crisped Brussels sprouts and decadent salmon entree, too.

SOCIAL-DISTANCING ACTIVITIES

Photo by Melissa Dismuke

It turns out water activities are perfectly suited for these unexpected social distancing days. While on island time, we enjoyed a blissful, guided paddle with Outdoor Odysseys, marked by pristine blue skies and an abundance of wildlife settings. Though some of their tours have stopped for the season, half- and full-day excursions (plus bioluminescent adventures) continue to run until October.

Our captain aboard an unforgettable Western Prince Whale Watching & Wildlife Tour proved just how seriously he takes safety precautions by revealing an intense mask tan he developed while out on the open waters this summer. All passengers had to wear one, too, and the company had marked off every other row of seats.

On this perfect sun-kissed afternoon, we were lucky enough to spot three orcas early on in the journey. Though our boat had to maintain a safe distance and speed to protect these majestic creatures, we were able to fully enjoy their beauty for several hours, as the onboard naturalist shared info and fun facts to complement the quintessential PNW sights.

Every time we visit this lovely island, we vow to return as soon as we’re able!

Photo by Melissa Dismuke

OTHER GETAWAY OPTIONS

Looking for other nearby getaways? A stay at Kirkland’s Woodmark Hotel & Still Spa offers a retreat on the edge of Lake Washington, with access to dozens of water activities. For a quick-and-casual lunch, pick up an Olympia grinder sandwich, refreshing grain bowl (try the delicious sesame prawns on top) or housemade falafel from Carillon Kitchen, located just across the plaza from the hotel.

Mushroom risotto, courtesy Feast Kirkland

At dinnertime, head to downtown Kirkland’s Park Lane, which becomes a pedestrian street lined with bustling patios during the evening hours. Find a seat at Feast, a welcoming French brasserie with the same ownership as Bottle & Bull, an established favorite among neighborhood locals. Enjoy French fare, tasty cocktails and regional wines; while you can’t go wrong with the American Wagyu steak and frites, other standouts include the charred broccolini, braised short rib and Alaskan halibut with dijon-dusted fingerlings and creamed leeks.

On a different note: travelers can use Marriott Bonvoy’s national park planning website to now take advantage of discounted rates for stays at Marriott’s 406 properties located near national parks, redeem points for America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Passes and to donate points to NPF. The website also provides travel tips and inspiration from Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, offering trip-planning guides from local experts and frequent park visitors. (Here, a Seattle Marriott staycation could be easily combined with day trips or camping adventures to two of our favorite natural treasures—Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks.)

We’ve seen that countless companies are launching campaigns to encourage folks to enjoy small adventures not too far from home. The Shell team, for example, is helping the 69% of Americans who say a road trip could help escape the stresses of COVID-19 plan a safe ‘StateEscape.’ Shell’s travel resources for creating the ideal fall road trip include an interactive map, safety tips and a Spotify playlist.

A couple fun facts they’ve gathered (according to a study conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Shell):
~Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say they would go on a spontaneous road trip
~Over a third (36%) of Americans say that they are more likely to take a road trip now than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak
~Most Americans (61%) agree that working or attending classes virtually means they can vacation or travel without having to take time off work or school
~47% of Americans are willing to work while on a road trip (as a passenger)
~Americans enjoy road trips because it lets them listen to music (73%), stop where they want to and explore local sites (55%) and catch up with other passengers (49%)

Wherever you may wander, we wish you safe and happy travels. And don’t forget to research ahead of time, always respect the wishes of local communities, and kindly continue wearing those masks!