When a vacation is more than a tick mark on your bucket list or the excitement of exploring a new destination, but a sensory awakening that lingers with you long after your return to life as usual — that’s what I experienced in Washington’s San Juan Islands. This “gourmet archipelago” delights the senses, captivates your heart, and enlightens visitors to the rewards of stewardship of the environment and preservation of the natural world we are fortunate to inhabit.
The San Juan Islands include Lopez Island, Orcas Island and San Juan Island and comprise the San Juan Islands National Monument situated in the middle of an inland sea: the Salish Sea, named for the Strait Coast Salish peoples and the Central Coast Salish languages. Transportation to the islands is via ferry from Anacortes or seaplane. Shuttles to Anacortes are available outside the SEA-TAC terminal for the four-hour trip (reservations required). Depending on how long it takes you to travel to Seattle, you may want to spend a few days exploring this exciting seaside city, or rest up at an airport hotel before making your way to Anacortes. To Friday Harbor on San Juan Island the ferry ride takes about 1-1/2 hours and, at least for visitors, is entertainment in itself: feel the fresh sea breeze, revel in the serenity of the Salish Sea, marvel at the ocean view framed by the Olympic Mountains, check out maritime objects, and take silly selfies.
Disembark and let the peaceful, island life wash your worries away. Squealing like school girls when we caught sight of our cozy harborside home for two nights, we were delighted with the comfortable, modern rooms at the new Cannery Inn, replete with a panoramic view of Friday Harbor and a soothing color palette evoking sea and sun.
The main event for our small group of 3 hungry writers and one benevolent host was dinner at Duck Soup, a restaurant that has been on my radar since reading about it in Sunset magazine years ago. With two hours to spare, Jacqui and I dashed down to the marina where we meandered the streets of this idyllic burgh dotted with maritime-themed seafood restaurants, art galleries, local bars, and cute cafes, all the while seeking a craft brewery. Eureka! Google maps led us wrong, but a local with his son pointed us in the right direction to San Juan Island Brewery — which, FYI, is just a walk up the hill from the ferry landing where a vintage-finished beer silo welcomes you. We bellied up to the bar to quaff from their locally crafted, traditional ales and lagers. I did the Brewers Choice sampler ($13 for 5 – 5 oz. tastes) which included Vienna, Helles, Golden, ESB, and IPA) and my Kiwi friend opted for a custom selection ($15) with a Hefe and a Porter. The seasonal beer list includes humorous anecdotes and tasting notes to guide you.
A scenic 5-mile drive on Roche Harbor Road brought us to Duck Soup, nestled in the woods alongside a pristine Waldenesque pond, half-way between Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor. The rustic cedar-shingled exterior draped in flowering vines opens to a warm, woodsy front room with windows framing views out to the pond. Inside, island-inspired paintings and a flagstone fireplace are the backdrop for creative meals served at comfortable, pillow-lined booths. Since its opening in 1975, Duck Soup has been touted as one of the best restaurants on the island and a romantic spot for dinner. Their legit farm-to-table cuisine has garnered accolades long before farm-to-table became a cliché. Everything is made from scratch daily — a reflection of the island’s commitment to the environment, local growers and shellfish farms, and foraged edibles.
For the record, our evening at Duck Soup was truly memorable and set the tone for my stay in the San Juans. Everything from the real handcrafted cocktails (created by Kari Koski) featuring spirits from local island distilleries infused and garnished with foraged edibles and the sublime regionally-inspired dishes made even more interesting with global flavors, to the kitchen maestros who took the time to describe in detail all that graced our table. Dinner at Duck Soup was indeed the epitome of fresh, seasonal, regional Northwest cuisine and a tough act to follow.
Take a look at the menu below. Our feast began with two vibrant, garden-fresh salads and Crispy Pork Belly where braised leeks and pickled fruit balanced the succulent fattiness perfectly. Every dish was freshness on a plate and, considering you’re in the Northwest, you definitely should focus on the local seafood and shellfish. The unanimous favorite was the Clams Vindaloo with plump clams from Westcott Bay on the other side of the island. Duck Soup’s subtly spicy Vindaloo preparation was outstanding. Other highlights were the delicate, white-fleshed Pacific Seabass and the Spring Pea & Tarragon Ravioli with foraged Morels and Fiddle Heads.
Duck Soup’s beer and wine program is also hyper-local with beers from San Juan Island Brewery, regional ciders, organic estate wines from Lopez Island Vineyards (LIV) as well as other varietals they harvest from Eastern Washington, and The Orcas Project from Willamette Valley.
50 DuckSoup Lane, Friday Harbor, WA
For hours and more information: Duck Soup’s website.
Disclosure: Our dinner was hosted by Duck Soup and Visit San Juan Islands. Thank you for the delicious evening and your warm hospitality. All words and opinions are my own.
We came, we saw, we ate; and so can you at the 11th Annual Savor the San Juans where visitors are invited to taste the food & farm culture of Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands.
Savor the San Juans has grown to encompass film festivals, a farm parade, two vineyard harvest events, harvest dinners and much more. Savor is a great way to ease into a slower time of year while basking in the food, spirits, music, and natural beauty of Orcas, Lopez and San Juan Islands. Returning events this year pay tribute to craft brewing with beer festivals bookending this annual autumnal affair.
When the tide is out, the table is set! Local seafood, oysters, heritage preserves, local sea salt, and lavender products are just some of the artisan producers in the islands. Taste these Island Grown foods and wine, beer, cider, and spirits, during a selection of farm-to-table dinners by local chefs. Take advantage of lodging, dining and transportation specials to affordably savor farm tours, demonstrations and workshops on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands during harvest season.
- Back by popular demand, the 2nd annual Friday Harbor Bike ‘n’ Brew is on September 15th. This event will bring together visitors with islanders on a fun biking tour of the island followed by an evening of relaxing and local island and Northwest microbrew-tasting.
- The Orcas Island Film Festival from October 4th through the 8th, now in its fifth year, features a curated selection of critically acclaimed international films and audience favorites direct from their debuts at the world’s greatest film festivals including Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Telluride, Toronto, New York and Seattle.
- The Friday Harbor Film Festival on San Juan Island, running October 26th through the 28th, features documentary films that Entertain – Inspire – Enlighten us about the people, cultures, and environment that make up the area known as the Pacific Rim.
- All three islands will hold special all-day Farm Tours that include activities such as sheep shearing demonstrations, a fermentation workshop, a sheep dog demonstration, a cider pressing and great snacks such as fruit and cheese sampling and goodies from an outdoor wood-fired baking house. Dates TBD.
- The 2nd Annual Hops on the Rock festival on November 10th is literally shutting down the streets of Eastsound to host a weekend of drinking, dancing and NovemBEER events all across Orcas Island. Live music, local food, and 20+ local breweries from around the region will be in attendance for a destination beer festival like no other.
For more details and a complete list of events, visit www.visitsanjuans.com/savor
What a delicious post Priscilla! It makes me wish even more that I had been on that trip!
Thanks, Dennis! But your group had an Orca sighting! So we’ll both have to go back for the islands we missed 😉