San Juan Islands, Washington

Best Places to Retire in Washington


San Juan (population 6,500), Orcas (population 4,500), Lopez (population 2,100) and Shaw (population 230), which is primarily owned by a Catholic Order, are the largest of the 172 San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. The Washington State Ferry System, as well as commercial air service, seaplanes, and charter aircraft serve all four. There are no highway connections to the mainland. These forested islands, known for their spectacular views, natural beauty, and safe, protected waters are located in the northwest corner of the state, 80 air miles from Seattle and a few nautical miles from Vancouver Island, B.C. The island area boasts a large population of Orca whales, bald eagles, falcons, porpoises and seals. An estimated 100,000 people visit San Juan Island each year for whale watching.

The principal resource communities for the islands are Anacortes, where the ferry departs from the mainland, nearby Mount Vernon, and Bellingham. The nearest large population centers are Victoria, on Vancouver Island, B.C., Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle. The largest island community is Friday Harbor (population 2,900) on San Juan Island. It is the county seat of San Juan County and has the largest contingent of retirees.

San Juan Island is the western most island and only a few nautical miles across Hara Strait from Vancouver Island, B.C. It is a 55.3 square mile Island with approximately one-third of its total population at Friday Harbor, a quaint seaport town and county seat. Shopping at Friday Harbor includes a dozen or more art shops and galleries, specialty stores, and some grocery shopping. There is also an active arts and entertainment calendar, and plus nearly 30 choices for eating out. These places offer fast food casual grills or pubs, seafood houses, or upscale dining.

Roche Harbor Village is another waterfront community on the north end of the island, about 10 miles away. It also has an airstrip, marina, restaurants, and some shopping. Outdoor activities on the island include boating, charter fishing, whale watching, cycling, camping and hiking, golf, swimming and scuba.

Orcas Island, somewhat to the north, has the largest land area with 56.9 square miles. Its Mount Constitution (2,409 feet) is the highest point on all the islands, offering panoramic views as far away as Mount Rainer. The island is a mix of lush forest, farmlands, pristine freshwater lakes, and beautiful mountains.

Historically, Orcas Island was the summer shell fishing grounds for the Lummi Indians. As settlers arrived, farming, fishing, and logging became the principle industries. Eastsound, which is the commercial center, is located on the north end of the island. Its numerous restaurants offer casual to fine dining, and it has a number of boutiques and galleries. There are also cultural activities including a community theater and a number of festivals. Other settlements are Deer Harbor, Westsound, and Olga where you will find the works of the local artists, potters, and handcrafters. Outdoor activities on Orcas Island include boating, charter fishing, whale watching, kayaking, hiking and cycling, camping, golf, swimming, scuba, and more.

Lopez Island is the first ferry stop from the mainland port of Anacortes. This 29.5-square-mile island is the flattest of the San Juans and therefore the most attractive to cyclists. Historically an agricultural island, its landscape includes open farmlands as well as forested areas with many beautiful views. Its population includes farmers and fishermen, artisans, musicians and others who either have historic ties to the island, or have discovered its friendly, comfortable way of life. The island offers many outdoor activities, including its uncrowded beaches, a golf course, boating, charter fishing, scuba, whale watching, kayaking, and hiking or bicycling. There are several restaurants, including fine dining, shops and art galleries. There is also a grocery store, bank, post office, and a gasoline station.

Arts & Culture

San Juan Community Theatre and Arts Center was opened in 1989 in Friday Harbor after a very successful period of fundraising and volunteerism. It hosts live theater, chamber orchestra, touring artists and special events year-round.

San Juan Library, Friday Harbor –

San Juan Historical Museum, Friday Harbor –

The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor –

Arctic Raven Fine Arts Gallery –

Gallery San Juan –

San Juan Vineyards is the only commercial vineyard on the islands. It offers tours and wine tasting.

Orcas Island Public Library –

Orcas Center, the performing arts center in Eastsound, hosts community theater productions, high school performances, classical music, receptions and special events, and serves as an art gallery.

Orcas Island Historical Museum –


Washington State Ferry Service offers regular trips to Sidney, B.C. on Vancouver Island. Travelers can visit Butchart Gardens with hundreds of trees and masses of flowers and shrubs. The ferry system also provides double decker bus service into the capital city of Victoria, which is a 17-mile trip.

Lopez Island: Spencer Spit State Park is a 138-acre marine and camping park on the eastern shore of Lopez Island. It is regarded as excellent for crabbing and clamming.

There are five county parks on the island.

San Juan Island: San Juan County Fair is held annually at the county fairgrounds on the island.

San Juan Island National Historical Park is a preserve consisting of 1,752-acres with hiking trails, beaches, coves and picnic sites. It memorializes the site where General George Pickett landed with his small band of troops to protect the rights of American citizens against the British.

San Juan Golf & Country Club has a 6,694-yard, 18-hole course that is open to the public.

Orcas Island: Moran State Park is a 5,252-acre camping park with magnificent panoramic views of the surrounding island, the Cascade Range and several distant cities. It has five freshwater lakes and over 30 miles of hiking trails. Mount Constitution (2,409 feet) has a stone observation tower at the summit.

San Juan County maintains two day-parks in the Eastsound area: Eastsound Waterfront Park with beachfront and picnic areas, and Eastsound Village Square which is in the shopping district. Orcas Island Country Golf Club is a 5,803-yard layout built in 1960, and is open to the public.


Skagrit Valley College at Friday Harbor offers academic, technical and life long learning classes. It also hosts the largest Elderhostel program in Washington State.

Senior Programs

San Juan County Health and Community Services Department, with support from the Senior Services Council, offers a number of senior services. Its senior centers on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands serve as resource and information center for all senior over age 60.


Inter Island Medical Center – (360) 378-2141 
Orcas Island Medical Center – (360) 376-2561
Lopez Island Medical Clinic – (360) 468-2245

Airport & Ferry Service

Friday Harbor Airport offers direct connections to Bellingham, Anacortes, Seattle and other islands with daily commuter service from three airlines. It has a 3,400-foot runway.

Port of Friday Harbor International Seaplane Base is outside the main breakwater. Regular service is available from Anacortes, Renton, Seattle, Bellingham and Anacortes.

Washington State Ferry –


The San Juan Island area enjoys 247 days of sunshine and half the amount of rain of Seattle. The average low temperature in January is 32 degrees, with an average high of 44 degrees. The July average temperatures are a high of 71 degrees and low of 55 degrees.


San Juan Journal –

Property Taxes

San Juan County Assessor –

State Taxes

Chamber of Commerce

San Juan Chamber –
Orcas Island Chamber –
Lopez Island Chamber –

State Aging Agency


NOTE: Anacortes is the ferry landing point for the Washington State Ferry serving the San Juan Islands. Therefore, the mileages are all from Anacortes.
Mount Vernon – 17 miles
Bellingham – 41 miles
Everett – 53 miles
Seattle – 80 miles

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