First Time Tips for Visiting the San Juan Islands

If you're planning your first trip to the San Juan Islands, brush up on some valuable hints below that will make all the difference! The shorter your stay in the Islands, the more important it is to plan ahead. Booking ferry reservations, lodging, activities, and dining in advance will help your trip run smoothly. Here's your guide to your first island getaway! And remember to set your mind to island time and join us in enjoying and protecting the Islands we love.

What are the San Juan Islands?

There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County, however the four ferry served Islands; San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island are the most populous and host the vast majority of lodging and dining options and tourism activities. 

Discover the beauty, history and culture of the islands.

Whether you ride a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, fly from Seattle or SeaTac Intl. Airport on a Kenmore Air seaplane or wheeled-plane or regional flight, rent a car or take an airporter shuttle from SeaTac, or hop on the seasonal San Juan Clipper (not operating in 2023) from Seattle's waterfront, arriving at the ferry terminal or boarding your plane marks the beginning of your San Juan Islands vacation.

Coming up just for the day? Consider leaving your car behind and walking onto the Washington State Ferry, taking a water taxi, or flying via charter plane. No matter where you're visiting from, there are creative transportation solutions to make the most of your day trip. Learn more about day trips here.

FERRY ALERTS: Due to unexpected staffing or mechanical challenges, the ferries can sometimes run behind schedule or may need to be canceled. To be prepared and stay up to date for an upcoming trip, we recommend signing up with Washington State Ferries to get their latest service updates directly to your phone or email.  Sign up for ferry alerts at

Summer in the Islands

Enjoy hiking, kayaking, whale-watching & wildlife tours, biking, and more adventures!

Start Planning

Here’s a delightful dilemma: what will you do first on your visit to the San Juan Islands? Go whale watching? Head out on a kayak trip, cycle around Lopez, or climb Mount Constitution on Orcas? Every island offers you an abundance of choices—luckily, you can’t go wrong.

Coming up just for the day? Learn about how to make the most of your day trip to the San Juans with helpful itineraries.

Each of the islands offers you something different in terms of landscape, dining and amusement, but they all promise high quality accommodations. Private cabins overlooking the water, hotels in the middle of town, cozy B&Bs tucked away in pastoral loveliness, it's all here, offering you different atmospheres and opportunities to enjoy your island getaway. Our lodging listings will help you get one step closer to your vacation.  

Explore Responsibly

The San Juan Islands Pledge is simple: when you act as an ecologically and socially responsible visitor you are actively contributing to the future of the San Juans.

Take the Pledge

Looking for trip planning resources? Request a copy of our visitor guide or view the online copy here! Discover a map of the Islands, highlighted Scenic Byway Routes, notable attractions, and more!

Can I bring an RV? When do the whales swim by? Do I need a passport to visit?  All of these questions and more are answered on our FAQ page. Chances are, you're not the first to have questions about the San Juan Islands and we're here to help! 

More questions? 

Chances are, you're not the only one with questions about the San Juan Islands. Check out our FAQ page to learn more about transportation options, whale watching, RV camping, and more!

Need more help? Give us a call!

Call the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Monday - Friday, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm PST at 1-888-468-3701 or email us at

Request a printed brochure and map here. (or download the  San Juan Islands Map & Brochure)

Contact Us:
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
1-888-468-3701 | (360) 378-9551
P.O. Box 1330, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250
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