If there’s one thing that everyone — and I mean everyone — loves about travel, it’s food. Street tacos in Mexico. Croissants in France. There’s nothing better than tasting fresh, local cuisine from around the world.
When you think of planning a "foodie" trip, San Juan Island in NW Washington state probably doesn't come to mind. San Juan Island is famous for incredible whale watching opportunities, which is what most people go there to experience. Having already done two whale watching tours myself, I decided to spend my day on the island doing something a little different: farm hopping!
I grew up in this part of the world, so I've visited San Juan Island many times, but I'd never taken a day to explore all of the wonderful eats, sips, and sweets that are grown, produced, and harvested on the island. To my surprise, the San Juan Islands have a vibrant and sustainable local food system, thanks in part to their "Island Grown in the San Juans" and "Eat Island Grown" initiatives.
Here's a (small) list of what you can find on San Juan Island:
For a full list of farms and produce, check out the farm map here.
Here at PTW, I value food that is fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable, so I boarded the Washington State Ferry to discover the tastes of San Juan Island.
In order to visit every farm on this list, you will need a car, moped, or bicycle to get around the island. Driving your car onto the ferry is the most cost effective option, but reservations need to be made in advance. You can also rent wheels from Susie’s Moped & Bicycles in Friday Harbor.
You will lose service on San Juan Island, particularly in between Pelindaba Lavender Farm and Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. It's pretty easy to find your way, but I recommend bringing printed directions or a map of the island.
You might want to bring home some perishable goods like local goat cheese or a bag of shellfish. Bring a small cooler full of ice and keep it in the trunk of your car just in case.
Tourism on San Juan Island is extremely seasonal and business hours vary month-to-month and even day-to-day. In general, visiting San Juan Island on a Saturday is your best bet.
Even on a Saturday, business hours can be a bit strange. For example, Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. is a small, family-run shellfish farm that was only open on Saturdays from 12-3pm at the time of my visit (April 2019). Pelindaba Lavender Farm, on the other hand, is a larger tourist attraction and was open from 9am-5pm.
If you check everyone’s opening and closing hours in advance and plan your day accordingly, you won’t be disappointed.
My first stop of the day was the San Juan Island Farmer’s Market in Friday Harbor. Like most farmer’s markets, this one only runs until about 1:00pm and the best items sell out early, so it’s a good idea to go here first.
This particular farmer’s market is quite small, but it’s definitely worth a visit as there are a few gems among the vendors. Here you can find local duck eggs, homemade pasta, and herbed goat cheese.
I’m a big sucker for fresh, small-batch baked goods -- especially if they’re unique in form or flavor. The highlight of the market was Cafe Demeter Bakery, which was chock full of treats for every tastebud, from savory to sweet. I know, pastries aren’t exactly a “wellness” food, but I think it’s healthy to treat yourself from time to time. ;)
If you enjoy the scent and taste of lavender, then Pelindaba Lavender is a must-see farm on San Juan Island. Pelindaba Lavender Farm grows organic lavender plants, distills them into lavender essential oils, and handcrafts culinary lavender products like lavender coffee, hot cocoa, honey mustard, and more. This is island-made at it's finest!
I sampled almost everything that was available for tasting, but the highlight was definitely the frozen treats! Pelindaba Lavender partnered with Lopez Island Ice Cream, one of the best creameries in the Pacific Northwest, and created interesting flavors like lavender chocolate chip ice cream and lemon lavender sorbet. I opted for the sorbet, which was absolutely delicious and the perfect size for sharing.
If you’re walking on the ferry and can't make it to the farm, don’t worry, Pelindaba Lavender has a small retail shop located in Friday Harbor that carries a great selection of their products. If you're able to make it to the farm, the best time to go is in July when the lavender fields are in full bloom.
Shellfish lovers, rejoice: Westcott Bay is THE place to shuck and slurp fresh oysters, mussels, and clams on San Juan Island.
Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. is first and foremost a working aquaculture farm, which was very apparent when I first visited in 2015. While their oysters were tasty, their facility was a little rough around the edges. Returning for a second time nearly four years later, I was absolutely blown away by the upgrades they have made to their farm, so much so that Westcott Bay Shellfish is now my #1 pick for a unique island-grown foodie experience.
Their freshly-harvested shellfish is stored in 50-degree saltwater tanks that you get to plunge your hands into (gloves provided) and personally choose each oyster, mussel, and clam you purchase. Take them to go, or stay and eat at one of their on-site picnic tables overlooking scenic Westcott Bay.
I didn't purchase any clams or mussels, but the oysters were very reasonably priced at $16 for a dozen ($1.33/oyster). The staff will give you a free shucking lesson and provide you with all the necessaries you need to get shucked up (rubber gloves, knives, tabasco, lemon juice, etc.). There’s even charcoal bbq’s for those who prefer their oysters grilled.
Visiting Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
If Westcott Bay Shellfish Co. is my #1 pick on San Juan Island, San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider is a close second. This is a 2-in-1 experience where you can taste small-batch spirits and award-winning cider together in one beautiful tasting room, located just one mile from Roche Harbor Resort.
San Juan Island Distillery produces 14 different gins, several liqueurs, and flavored brandys that aren’t available outside the San Juan Islands.
Westcott Bay Cider produces award-winning hard cider made with 100% fresh pressed juice from traditional cider apples that you’ve probably never heard of, with names like Kingston Black, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett and Sweet Coppin. This is the place to go if you like a dry, authentic cider without any gimmicks or frills.
Whether you like hard spirits or not, visiting the distillery and ciderworks is fun and educational. It’s a family-run business and you can tell that the owners are passionate about what they do. I tasted almost every spirit and cider they produce and everything was wonderful. I wasn't charged a tasting fee, either, which was very unusual and generous!
Friday Harbor Chocolates is a boutique shop located in the heart of Friday Harbor featuring gourmet artisan chocolates and an impressive selection of port and dessert wine.
There’s only one or two chocolatiers in the San Juan Islands, so the selection of island-made confections was very limited. However, almost everything was made in the Pacific Northwest, which is good enough for me! The owner, Aylene, is very helpful and will provide recommendations for whatever it is you’re looking for (I recommend the jalapeno salted caramel).
If you love craft beer, then you’ll love The Oar House in Friday Harbor. I’m going to call The Oar House a hidden gem, because it’s literally hidden inside a boat repair shop on the outskirts of downtown Friday Harbor. Seriously, you would never find this place unless you knew it was there and were looking for it, like I was!
The Oar House brews small-batch draught beer that can’t be found anywhere else. Their beer is created no more than 20 feet from where it’s consumed. There’s no bottling, no forklifts, no trucks, and no warehouses involved.
I’ll admit, it’s a bit of a dive. But sometimes the hole-in-the-wall, divey places are the best, am I right?
When researching the best island-grown food on San Juan Island, I stumbled upon a business called San Juan Island Tea Farm, which is currently the only tea farm in the San Juan Islands. They are currently producing the first and only tea grown in the San Juan Islands, which will be available for purchase in 2021, which is very exciting! In the meantime, they offer a hand picked selection of organic single-origin, blended, and flavored teas from around the world.
At the time of writing this post, San Juan Island Tea Farm products are only available for purchase online, but they are currently building a facility to begin accepting in-person visitors starting in September 2019! I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping they offer a British-style afternoon tea experience in addition to a retail store, because there’s nothing better than cozying up to a warm cuppa tea on a damp Pacific Northwest day.
I hope you enjoyed my recommendations! I'll continue to update you as I visit the island and discover more delicious gems. Xoxo