We celebrated my birthday with a quick trip to Orcas Island, midway between northwestern Washington and Canada’s Vancouver Island.
Orcas Island is lushly green, blessed with beautiful views of the Salish Sea as well as rolling valleys, forested hills and mountains.
It’s a magnet for hikers and bikers — but not a place to visit if you’re addicted to always-on smartphone access or texting. Cellular coverage is spotty, at best.
We stayed at The Inn at Orcas Island in Deer Harbor, at the southwestern corner of Orcas Island.
The inn is an upscale B&B, much like a European boutique hotel. Its setting is glorious, perfect for sunset watching or canoeing the tidal inlet that leads to Deer Harbor. The innkeeper is very welcoming, and makes guests feel quickly at home.
Deer Harbor is a favored destination for boaters and hikers — people who want to avoid the tourist congestion in Eastsound. The islanders who live there consider it to be very remote (a 20-minute drive from Eastsound).
We had hoped to bring kayaks and/or our tandem bike, but were discouraged by a rainy weather forecast. (Luckily, the rain storm arrived a day late.) The weather would have been perfect for either kayaking or biking.
Hiking Along the Shore
Instead we spent the morning on a 6-mile hike, basking in the unexpected June sunshine, and working out kinks from the long drive. Our walk took us to the end of the road, along the shoreline. The public path featured harbor views, long vistas overlooking the Salish Sea — and blooming trees and gardens everywhere.
Along the way we strolled through a tidal preserve at low tide. Multiple types of seaweed, algae and tidal pool creatures were on display. My husband, a former biologist, could have spent hours examining that beach…
Extensive logging throughout Cascadia means it’s easy to spot magnificent examples of driftwood along the water’s edge. Atlantic driftwood seems puny when compared to these Western giants.
Much of Orcas Island is rural, home to small family farmers and crafts people. As a result the Saturday morning farmers’ market abounds with handicrafts, artisanal cheeses, fresh produce, local fish, meat and dairy products.
At the farmers’ market we discovered and fell in love with Monastery Cheese from nearby Shaw Island, a raw cow’s milk cheese with a flavor/aroma profile reminiscent of French cheese. This cheese is made in tiny batches by an order of Benedictine nuns who live in the Our Lady of the Rock community.
Eastsound restaurant owners pride themselves on buying from local farmers, foragers and fishermen — their source of ultra-fresh, farm-to-table goodies and shellfish.
We had planned to explore several restaurants, but found our innkeeper’s breakfast to be so bountiful that it was easy to skip lunch. On Thursday night we enjoyed a spectacular dinner at Sazio di Notte, an Italian eatery in Eastsound — one we highly recommend. The chef waited on us personally, and explained the provenance of all the key ingredients and his inspiration for each preparation.
On Friday night we were invited to dine at a friend’s nearby home. We feasted on wild salmon he had caught the day before, as well as fresh greens and peas picked shortly before dinner. Happily, we had brought along a bottle of Avennia’s sauvignon blanc to complement the meal.
Home to Artists and Craftsmen
We recovered from our hike with tours of local art studios and pottery shops, before heading back to the inn for showers and dinner.
We fell in love with Orcas Island Pottery, a seaside studio that features a truly spectacular setting for displaying handmade pottery. Many of the wares are displayed outdoors in the gardens, grouped by color, artist or style. On a sunny day the ocean view must distract the shoppers…
My husband had a fun time shopping there, choosing a set of serving bowls for my birthday gift. We put them to good use when we got home, filling them with super ripe strawberries and cherries from a roadside stand in Anacortes.
Orcas has become a popular getaway destination, so ferry lines can be long. If you miss the ferry, you could wait several hours.
We misread the ferry schedule, and found ourselves with 3 unexpected hours to spend in Anacortes. Luckily, we stumbled upon a fabulous spot for lunch, the A’Town Bistro, located in the historic section of Anacortes. Like the Orcas Island restaurants this bistro prides itself on local farm-to-table ingredients and hand-crafted beers and ales.
Plan on at least 5 hours to get to Orcas Island from the Seattle area (driving + ferry + wait times). For weekend commuters with plenty of money, flying to Orcas is a faster alternative.
No matter how you get to Orcas, it’s well worth the trip for foodies, weekend athletes or boaters. Or people who just want to relax at an island inn, or hang out in the charming shops and cafes in Eastsound.
We can’t wait to return to Orcas.