San Juan Islands Gay Guide

San Juan Islands
Chris VR / TripSavvy

The most populous island in the famed archipelago for which it's named, San Juan Island sits just a few miles off of Canada's Vancouver Island, a short ferry ride from Victoria, BC. It's west of, and farther from the mainland Washington ferry terminal in Anacortes, than the other two most visited San Juan Islands, Orcas Island and Lopez Island. In many ways, the San Juan Islands also bear a resemblance to the Gulf Islands in Canada, which are just across the Georgia Strait near Victoria, BC and Vancouver Island. You might even consider planning a trip to both San Juan Island and the most gay-popular of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island.

There's a bit more happening on San Juan Island than its neighbors, making it a favorite of families and those seeking more to see and do. You can find a number of outfitters in town offering whale-watching tours by boat, and you can often view whales (grey, humpback, minke, and orcas), spring through fall, from the shore of Lime Kiln Point State Park, which looks out over Haro Strait toward Victoria, BC. You can also visit San Juan Island National Historic Park, which has two sections on the island, American Camp and English Camp. The park commemorates the peaceful end to the so-called 1850s "Pig War" between Britain and the United States when the two countries came to a standstill over who would ultimately possess San Juan Island, and where the border would fall in Puget Sound and the Northern Straits region between the two countries. Both sides agreed to a joint occupation from 1859 through 1872. Ultimately, of course, the United States was awarded the island, but the stalemate was resolved without any fighting (although one pig lost its life, hence the playful "Pig War" nickname).

Downtown Friday Harbor is the one town in the San Juan that actually has a sizable array of shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafes. It's worth setting aside a few hours to explore this walkable community.

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San Juan Island Hotels Guide - San Juan Gay-Friendly B&Bs and Cottages

A popular spot for same-sex weddings and romantic getaways, Roche Harbor Resort enjoys a beautiful seaside setting on the northern end of San Juan Island
photo by Andrew Collins

San Juan Island has a good variety of places to stay, including a few relatively economical motels, like the gay-welcoming Earthbox Inn & Spa (410 Spring St., Friday Harbor, 360-378-4000), which is right in the heart of lively Friday Harbor, close to a number of restaurants and bars. Perks are many at this hip little hideaway that's just four blocks from the ferry dock, making it a nice option if you visit the island without a car - the inn rents out complimentary bikes to guests, and rooms have free Wi-Fi and iPod docks. There's also an indoor pool, and a spa offering a full range of treatments, and you can grab an espresso in the on-site coffeehouse. The rooms, some of which are pet-friendly, are available as queens, kings, and rooms with kitchenettes - nice if you're staying for a while.

Elsewhere in and near Friday Harbor, there are several gay-friendly inns and B&Bs. Another part of the island that's popular with visitors is Roche Harbor, home of the famous and historic Roche Harbor Resort (248 Reuben Memorial Dr., 360-378-2155), an expansive and gorgeously situated hotel and marina with three restaurants and myriad accommodations - waterfront one-bedroom modern condos and suites, 29 rooms in the historic 1880s main building and nearby cottages, and three- to four-bedroom "village homes" perfect for families, groups, and longer stays. The resort has become popular for same-sex weddings and is a very fun spot for boaters, kayakers, fishing enthusiasts, and the like.

Just a short drive from Roche Harbor and offering a more intimate setting and vibe overlooking a peaceful harbor also on the island's western side, Snug Harbor (1997 Mitchell Bay Rd., 360-378-4762) is a collection of one- and two-bedroom cabins and cottages, some of them newly built in 2013 and featuring the most deluxe amenities, but all of them quite comfy and bright, with expansive windows overlooking the marina. Some have cozy loft bedrooms.

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Orcas Island Washington Gay Guide - Planning a Gay Weekend on Orcas Island

Orcas Island ferry terminal
photo by Andrew Collins

Geographically the largest of the scenic San Juan Islands, an archipelago at the north end of Puget Sound, just a quick hop by ferry from Victoria, BC and about a three- to four-hour combined ferry ride and drive north of Seattle, Orcas Island has a year-round population of about 4,000, although that number increases substantially in summer, when the many B&Bs, small resorts, and vacation rentals fill up (this can also be the case on spring and fall weekends).

For tourism information on the island, check in with the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, which has a wealth of info on restaurants, inns, attractions, and the logistics of getting here by ferry or plane.

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Orcas Island Hotels Guide - Orcas Island Gay-Friendly B&Bs and Cottages

Doe Bay Resort, Orcas Island, WA
photo by Andrew Collins

Quite generally, the San Juan Islands are a tolerant and gay-welcoming part of the Northwest, and on Orcas Island, you can expect a friendly welcome just about anywhere. There are no large hotels or chain properties on this rugged island, but you will find some smaller resorts as well as bucolic waterfront compounds of cottages and bungalows, and several charming B&Bs.

One of the only gay-owned accommodations here, the Inn on Orcas Island (114 Channel Rd., Deer Harbor, 360-376-5227) enjoys a spectacular setting in peaceful Deer Harbor - on the western side of the island.

Overlooking the water and with some of the most luxurious rooms on the island, the inn has standard rooms, roomier suites, and two ultra-romantic detached units, a waterside cottage with pitched ceilings, a jetted tub, fireplace, and stunning views; and a lovely carriage house with full kitchen. The former is an ideal roost for a honeymoon getaway, while the latter is great if you're planning a longer stay - it has weekly rates, and the kitchen is nice for cooks who want to take advantage of the island's bounty of fresh produce and local seafood. All of the suites and rooms here are wonderfully inviting, however.

At the opposite end of the island, down beyond stunning Moran State Park (home to the highest point in the San Juans, 2,400-foot Mt. Constitution) and the endearing Cafe Olga, you'll find the lovely Doe Bay Resort (107 Doe Bay Rd., Ogla, 360-376-2291), where the office-shop-restaurant building is hung with welcoming rainbow flags. A secluded hideaway situated on a bluff overlooking the bay for which it's named (watch for playful sea otters and abundant bird and marine life), the resort comprises several casually charming cabins on a gentle hillside, an affordable hostel (it has a couple of private rooms as well as a dorm-style room where rates run as low as $45 nightly for a bed), campsites, and pet-friendly modern yurts, which are among the most distinctive and fun options.

They're a great value, have use of shared bathrooms, and really combine the best of camping (without having to bring your own equipment) and sleeping in a cozy room with a spectacular view. There's a spa at Doe Bay, a yoga studio, and magnificent gardens. But the very best draw here may well be the stellar Doe Bay Cafe, which serves some of the most creative and delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners on the island, with most of the food sourced organically and locally.

Consisting of a series of self-contained beachfront bungalows on President Channel, on the west side of Orcas Island but just a short drive from the main town of Eastsound, the laid-back West Beach Resort (West Beach Rd., 877-937-8224) has units directly on the beach or on a hillside just steps away - each has one or two bedrooms, a wood-burning stove, a deck, and a full kitchen. They're great for friends traveling together - opt for one of the more recently updated ones for a few more perks and amenities (including wonderful comfy beds with plush linens). There are also tent cabins, as well as camping and RV sites, and on the property is a camp store with an espresso bar (using excellent Caffe Vita beans from Seattle) that also serves a couple of beers on tap and delicious Lopez Island ice cream. You can buy snacks, beer, wine, and other necessities in the store, which adjoins a long fishing pier and small marina; kayaking, canoeing, and motor boating rentals are available, and plenty of other activities are on-site, too, including fishing, crabbing, and soaking in a hillside hot tub.

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Lopez Island Gay Guide - Spending the Weekend on Lopez Island, WA

Lopez Island ferry terminal
photo by Andrew Collins

With nearby Orcas Island and San Juan Island, little Lopez Island is the smallest and least populous of the San Juan Islands serviced by ferry, with the exception of even tinier Shaw Island (which has no accommodations or real infrastructure to speak of). Pastoral Lopez Island, with its sheltered bays and undulating farmland, is one of the most tranquil and relaxing getaways in the Northwest, an easygoing community with a relatively sizable number of lesbian and gay residents.

There are just a few accommodations on the island, and the one town - quaint Lopez Village - has nearly all of the dozen-or-so restaurants, some of which are quite good.

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Lopez Island Hotels Guide - Lopez Island Gay-Friendly B&Bs and Cottages

Mackaye Harbor Inn, Lopez Island, WA
photo by Andrew Collins

Lopez Island has no properties that are especially known to gay travelers, but there are a few very nice places to stay, and the overall vibe on the island is welcoming and friendly. You'll find more properties that market more directly to the LGBT community on other islands in the San Juan archipelago, including Orcas Island and San Juan Island, and you can easily make a day trip to Lopez by ferry from either of the other two islands.

One property that has made a point of actively courting LGBT guests is Lopez Farm Cottages and Tent Camping (555 Fisherman Bay Rd., 800-440-3556), a 30-acre farmstead near the north end of the island, less than 3 miles from the ferry terminal and only a mile from tiny Lopez Village center, which contains most of the island's businesses. Done in a contemporary Scandinavian style, the five airy and bright cottages are geared for couples (but can sleep up to three with a futon) and have microwave, refrigerator, sink, and dishes - perfect for light eating but not full cooking (there are no ranges or ovens, except in Cottage 5, which has a range that is well-suited to longer stays). Cottage 1 has a Jacuzzi and a grill - it's a bit more deluxe than the others and great for special occasions. Continental breakfast is included.

Set overlooking a stunning bay in the quiet and somewhat remote southern end of Lopez Island, the MacKaye Harbor Inn (949 MacKaye Harbor Rd., 888-314-6140) is a beautiful inn known for its great bird-watching and lovely water views.

There are three rooms and a suite, all comfortably furnished. If you'd rather be within walking distance of Lopez Village's handful of restaurants and shops, consider the Edenwild Inn (Lopez Village Center, 800-606-0662), a grand Victorian-style B&B that's open year-round and has eight suites and rooms.

You'll find more going on at the island's one full-service hotel, the moderately priced Lopez Islander Resort (2864 Fisherman Bay Rd., 360-468-2233), which is just down the road from Lopez Village, with a marina overlooking serene Fisherman's Bay. A variety of simple but pleasant rooms, all with decks and expansive water views, are available. It's not fancy, but the owners have made a number of improvements in recent years, including a new pool and Jacuzzi, gym, and massage center.