It's hard to do nothing. To be okay with a weekend without deadlines or time frames to consider besides the fact that the hot springs open at 8 am and close at 10 pm. No rushing to popular tourist traps before the crowd arrives or booking reservations out of fear there won't be seating at the restaurant. We often feel like we must be doing something and even planning something else along the way. Not here. Not on Orcas Island, the largest and arguably most beautiful of the San Juan Islands nestled between the United States and Canada. Although the journey is a mere three-hour drive and ferry ride away from Seattle, the serenity and separation make the island feel like it's a world away from the mainland. This horseshoe-shaped island is 57 square miles of green paradise with curvaceous shorelines to explore. Winding hilly roads take you through forests and past picturesque fields dotted by barns and orchards. It's almost startling how empty the island feels. It's as if you could get lost and hopefully never be found in its beauty as you wander between settlements. Located within the "sunbelt", Orcas Island experiences more sunshine than is characteristic of gloomy Pacific Northwest. The epitome of island life can be found here with no traffic lights nor big-name chain restaurants. Instead, you'll find farm-fresh foods, open waters, pastoral vibes, and a community that lives life slowly enough to take in all the island has to offer. You'll wonder if you've slipped into a wonderland off the coast of the world.
STAY: DOE BAY RESORT & Retreat
Clothing optional 102-degree hot springs. That was all we needed to know to book a stay at Doe Bay Resort and Retreat. The sprawling 38-acre waterfront property offers a variety of rustic yet charming accommodations from cabins to yurts, RV sites to tent sites, and even a treehouse. Doe Bay is the retreat you've been waiting for. Hike winding trails through forests that connect various areas of the property or explore their beaches and coves. Meditate a while in the morning mist with deer sitting mere feet away. Opt-in for yoga with views of the San Juan Strait in the day or sing around the fire ring with new friends at night. Dip into the hot springs and feel your blood pressure drop as your worries dissipate with the steam. Need a little more coaxing into relaxation? Book a massage at the wellness studio just steps away from the soaking springs. An on-site organic garden provides ingredients and inspiration for the Doe Bay Cafe which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Cell service is fleeting, TV's and phones are like contraband, and Dr. Bronner's all natural products can be smelled throughout the rooms and common areas. Doe Bay cabins have kitchinettes but there is also a Community Kitchen complete with indoor/ outdoor seating, stoves, outdoor grill, pots, pans, and utensils for use if you're tent or RV camping. There's a two-night minimum stay but with pets allowed, why would you ever want to leave?
Special note: Every year Doe Bay hosts the Doe Bay Fest; a grassroots festival featuring music, local food and drink, yoga, camping and overall comraderie! Tickets sell out fast but you can sign up for updates.
DAY ONE: FRIDAY
10 a.m. Ferrying to the Island
Waiting for the ferry to Orcas Island in Anacortes, WA sets the scene for what lies ahead. Start your island retreat off right by taking it easy. Get there early to avoid rushing and traffic to the ferry terminal. While you wait, lounge on driftwood at the nearby sandy beach. Take in views of the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker off in the distance. A short stroll along the beach brings you to Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve (SHIP). Meandering boardwalk trails guide you through freshwater wetlands where resident marine birds nest and play. Interpretive signs along the trail tell the history of the area and it's earlier inhabitants. As the ferry pulls in, gliding gracefully on blue glass waters, meditate on this quote from a bench in the park adding intention to the journey you're about to begin.
11:30 a.m. Turtle Your Way To The Resort
The ferry docks on the west side of Orcas Island while Doe Bay lies to the east. Luckily, there's lots to explore on your way over. Turtleback Mountain at 1,520 feet is the second highest summit on the island and a popular hiking spot with mosaic forests, wetlands, grasslands, and amazing views of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. The south ascent offers a steeper, challenging climb up undeveloped ridgelines with wide open meadows. That also means more sun exposure whereas the north ascent trails through conifer forests offering shade for you and the mountain's wildlife. There's over 8-miles of primitive trailing to explore and two main trailheads with provided parking. It's the perfect place to stretch those legs after the ferry and before the 40-minute drive over to the other side of the island.
2 p.m. Eastward bound to Eastsound
The only "real" town on Orcas Island is Eastsound which is literally the epicenter of the horseshoe-shaped island. It's where you'll find restaurants, markets, boutique shops, and all the amenities that make a town livable for year-round residents. On the corner of Enchanted Forest Road and Lover's Lane is a local, organic purveyor of preserves; Girl Meets Dirt. As if the storybook location isn't enough, everything is handmade from local fruit and herbs paying homage to the islands orchard heritage. From spoon preserves which you'll recognize as jams to thicker cutting preserves and even shrubs to add a little extra flavor to summer drinks and cocktails. Whimsical flavors like Rhubarb Lavender, Orange Peppered Pear, and Ruby Spiced Apple sound too good to be true. Creative combinations like Pink Bartlett Cutting Preserves pair pears from a turn of the century orchard on the island with pink peppercorn and fresh lemon juice. Besides being organic, they use fair trade cane sugar and avoid commercial pectin instead opting for allowing the fruits natural pectin to do what it does best! The shop offers complimentary tastings M-F until 5 p.m. and houses their kitchen. So, it also smells like a you stepped into a fairytale. A few streets over is the main street running through downtown Eastsound. The patio at Mijitas Mexican Kitchen is perfect for resting and replenishing. Chef Raul draws inspiration from his hometown in Mexico and combines Northwest ingredients. The marrying of the two inspirations is evident throughout the restaurant with an emphasis on wood inside and out, a patio canopied by trees and decorated with brightly colored Mexican streamers. Molded clay walls separate areas of the patio and the blue and white tiled sign swings between wooden posts just like you would find wandering in small Mexican towns. Munch on housemade guacamole or the roasted beet salad, minus the cheese, for starters. Vegan entrees are the greens enchiladas or veggie burritos. Both are flavorful and filling. The fresh blackberry margarita, another mix of Mexican and Northwest, will surprise and delight.
4:00 p.m. Shop Small, Shop Local
In true, island life fashion, most stores close at 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Luckily, the downtown area is lined with gift shops and boutique apparel stores made for quick wanderings since its just a few streets long. If you're in need of any camping, hiking, or biking gear stop in at Orcas Outfitters. The island is known for inspiring art of all kinds and jewelry is no exception. Jillery, a play on the words Jill and jewelry, is a local boutique offering whimsical handmade jewelry and garden art by owner Jill. Visit Material Wit for more minimalist, modern jewelry designs. Jessie Morrow's collections are hand-forged right in Eastsound and take inspiration straight out of the island. Some pieces are cast from pebbles she found while walking while others mimic the movement of the shoreline. And, what retreat is complete without a good book? Darvill's Bookstore is the kind of indie bookstore where they love books as much as they love chatting about books. They offer a great selection of newer and older releases while highlighting local guidebooks and authors. You'll also find organic Pegasus espresso drinks! Before heading to Doe Bay, stop in to Orcas Food Coop to grab a few fresh fruits, snacks, vegan burger patties, s'mores ingredients, vegan ice cream, and/or breakfast items for your stay. The Coop's deli usually has a vegan soup option, several salad creations, and ready-made vegan sandwiches too!
6:00 p.m. Check In to Check Out
It's time to check to Doe Bay but also time to check out of the daily bullshit you're accustomed to. The drive up you may begin to feel lost. Where are the other cars with their noisy motors? Where are the homes with their electrical hums? The twenty-two minute drives feels like forever with what seems to be endless trees spotted by orchard fields, a break in green to blur past Cascade Lake, the occassional biker, then more trees and a road to the unknown. Soon enough you see a carved wooden sign bearing the words you've been waiting to see and two deer. Upon parking, you're immediatly struck with the sprawling landscape of charming logwood cabins ending downward on a beach view of San Juan Strait. The yellow building ahead with the two American flags and two rainbow flags blowing in the wind beckons you to check in. It also serves as the on-site store. There's very little to go over as you're handed a map of the property and encouraged to explore and unwind. As you head back to your car, ready to get to your cabin or campsite, you'll more than likely see towel or robe clad guests scurrying toward and slipping behind a tall wooden fence beyond which lies the spa and hot springs.
8:00 p.m. Sunset at the serenity garden
It's getting late as if the sun is ready to say goodbye to the day. You are too. It's been a journey to get here. You're settled into your accommodations and can already feel the calm calling you as the cool air moves in. Find your way toward that tall wooden gate you saw earlier that read "Doe Bay Spa & Serenity Gardens". It feels as if you're sneaking into a secret place. It's quiet. There's no one there to greet you but a sign in sheet and boardwalk to guide you. First, you hear it. The sound of water moving over rocks. Then, you see it. A roaring brook rushing right up against the soaking tub platform. There's a murmur of laughter and chatter beyond. A glimpse of skin. The slow sway of damp hair rising out of water. They're naked cooling off in the creek, prancing between hot and cold; reality and a dream. Images of nymphs from Greek mythology come to mind as you contemplate your own soon to be nakedness. It’s hard to feel anything but relaxed with the sounds of nature and a tree-rimmed view before you. In those 102-degree soaking tubs worries waft away with the steam and freedom floats in.
Day Two: Saturday
7:00 a.m. Morning at Moran State Park
If you're an early bird, you won't want to miss a sunrise atop Mount Constitution; the highest point on Orcas Island. On a clear morning, the sun kisses Mount Baker in the distance before sharing her glory to the world. There's drive up access so you can come lazy eyed and wake along with the day. Besides Mount Baker, you'll also see Mount Rainier and the Cascade mountain range from this vista point. Feeling up for a hike? Moran State Park is the fourth largest state park in Washington and offers a wide range of trails. Cascade Falls Trail is an easy 0.8- mil hike that suitable for all ages, kids included and allows dogs culminating at the 40 foot Cascade Falls. For a slightly longer trek, try the Cascade Lake Loop which is 2.4 miles of breathtaking views and ample swimming spots including off-shoots to a lagoon or the waterfall.
10:00 a.m. Farmers Market Breakfast & Art
It seems like the whole of Orcas Island converges at Village Green in Eastsound on Saturdays (10 a.m. - 3 p.m.) from May through September for the Orcas Island Farmers Market. Farmers, florists, wood craftsmen, jewelry makers, pottery artisans, glass blowers, photographers, curated eco-friendly clothing, and various makers showcase what the island has to offer. The vibrant reds of vine-ripened tomatoes and strawberries come alive next to bright green cucumbers and zucchinis. Food vendors dish samosas, freshly baked pastries, burritos, and even pizza to hungry locals and visitors. The rainbow of colors and parade of smiles seem to be endless. The chatter is genuine as if everything will sell itself and everyone is here just to commune with one another. It definitely won't be the biggest farmer's market you've ever been to but everything is island grown or island made and comes with the added warmth of island life. To continue getting acquainted with the island, visit Orcas Island Artworks on your way back to Doe Bay. Housed in a historic strawberry barreling plant built in 1938 is a curated collection of the island's finest pieces. Showcases display paintings, pottery, glasswork, one-of-a-kind prints, handcrafted woodwork, sculptures, and wearable art. It seems that this small island draws in artists and creatives of all kind. And, it's no surprise with such awe-inspiring surroundings. The gallery shares the building with Catkin Cafe serving light eats, pastries, weekly specials, coffee, tea, and a small selection of wine and beer. Although the menu rotates based on island offerings and seasonal availability, there's usually a vegan option or vegetarian one that's easily made vegan. Hopefully, they're serving the carmelized lemongrass tofu sandwich, the kale and white bean soup, or the winter squash soup when you're there!
2:00 p.m. Can You Kayak?
It would be a tragedy to visit the island and not explore the coastline from the water. You've hiked it's mountains and forests, explored the local art and community, it's only fair that you view it from another vantage point. Right next to Doe Bay Cafe, you may have noticed a sea kayaking tour kiosk. Twice daily (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) small tour groups depart from Doe Bay with Shearwater Kayaks for a three-hour guided tour. Get up close with seals, sea lions, and otters while viewing eagles, blue heron, and other shore birds in there natural habitats. Piles of purple sea stars and wiggling pink and orange starfish may surprise you. Who knew there were so many color variations? Don't worry! No experience is necessary. The tour provides stable, two-person kayaks, included a basic paddling lesson, and groups are kept to eight people or less. The company has been sharing the beauty of Orcas Island's marine life for over 35 years. You can feel at ease knowing your experience tour guide probably knows the shores more than most people on the island.
7:00 p.m. Downtown Dinner
There isn't a plethora of vegan options on the island but a focus on local produce and healthier living makes finding fresh, delicious ones easier. The Kitchen's comfort asian fusion approach with local ingredients and flavor packed sauces in a cozy cottage is a vegan dream on the island. For starters, veggie filled potstickers, yam fries, and a Thai-style coconut soup make an appearnce on the menu. The main dishes are build-your-own with a Basic Plate, Soup Bowl, or Salad entree. Protein options include organic seasoned tempeh and orgainic firm tofu. Choose between bases like fried rice, brown rice, or wide rice noodles. There are seven creative sauces to choose from like Thai-chili-basil, peanut-lime-miso, or a sweet & spicy Szechwan. Seating is mostly outside with a greenhouse feel where white wooden beams cross one another in squares to allow as much light as possbile through glass panels. If you look across the patio you'll see The Barnacle; a nautical themed bar mixing up cocktails and elixirs fit for a city much larger than Orcas Island. Yet, right at home with warm wooden decor, burly ropes hanging from the ceiling, and stacks of bottles reminiscent of a pirate movie. Inside there's a warm glow from candles and warm feeling from locally produced, house-infused spirits, Northwest wines and island-brewed beers. The bartenders are knowledgeable and seem to have fun with patrons. Not sure what to order? Anything with their house-made ginger elixir is sure to please. Or, allow your bartender to whip together a magical concotion fit for the likes of Jack Sparrow. If you're in town for a special occassion or looking for a fine dining restaurant opt for The Mansion in Rosario Resort & Spa are breathtaking. Located on the original veranda of Moran Mansion, built from 1906-1909, tables enjoy a postcard worthy waterfront view. Reservations are generally recommended but especially for vegans as the menu changes often. There's typically a vegan dish on the menu but if not the chef is quite accomodating to special vegan creations. Savoy Cabbage Rolls with red lentils, vegetable bolognese, and russet potatoes has been known to make an appearance.
Day three: sunday
8:00 a.m. Morning Meditations
The weekend has been filled with activity thus far. This morning, allow yourself time to embrace the serenity of Doe Bay's trails and hidden beaches. It's probably cooler than you expected, even in summer, as the morning mist clings to trees surrounding the property. You get the feeling that even the fog doesn't want to leave Doe Bay as you begin to meditate on your time there. Pull out your map, find Sweet Spot Yurt, near there is a tucked off beach with driftwood for sitting, tight packed sand for stretching, and a small gushing waterfall to help set the background ambience. The water is pretty cold all year round but the shallows extend far enough that a dip isn't a far fetched idea. The magical energy of the island seems to culminate at this laidback resort. It's unpretensious and welcoming. A feeling of connection to something deeper permeates here as you sleep and wander so close with nature. Disconnection from the busy-ness of life happens automatically. And, if you do reach for your phone to share a photo on social media you'll probably hesitate or won't do it at all. The want to protect this peice of peacefulness stops you in your tracks reminding you to just be.
10:00 a.m. What's Orcas Island without Orcas?
The orcas that roam the San Juan Islands are two separate groups called "Southern Residents" and "Transients". Southern Resident orcas were put on the endangered list in 2005 and are a population struggling to survive. In the last 20 years only 25% of babies have survived and a successful birth hasn't happened in three years. Reasons for the decline starts back when orcas were poached extensively in the 70's. More recently, wild salmon numbers have declined due to overfishing, the main and most nutritious food source for Southern Residents. Polluted ecosystems also play a major factor. The whale tours in the San Juans participate in Be Whale Wise which is a set of guidelines on how to responsibly view these majestic animals in the wild. Deer Harbor Charters is the oldest whale watching tour group on the island and the second oldest in the San Juans. Their 10:30 a.m. tour leaves from Deer Harbor and charters the waters resposnibly with fuel-efficient engines that are quiter on idle than normal engines. They also have a naturalist on board guiding guests through the tour including history, geology, and wildlife conservation information. Reading through their core values you can tell that they have learned a lot in the 30 years they've been operating. They no longer operate high speed boats to "get closer faster" nor do they clean their boats with surfectants that are harmful to marine ecosystems. Doe Bay offers a 10% discount to Outer Island Excursions which offers whale watching tours. However, they also offer salmon fishing excursions which seem to defeat the purpose of protecting orcas. Please, do your research before booking any wildlife tours. Now, grab the snacks you bought at the coop because the next 3 - 4 hours are dedicated to what may be the chance of a lifetime at seeing these amazing creatures. Deer Harbor also offers a second ride guarantee if you don't see whales on your first trip! We hope you see them, realize how precious these complex mammals are, and begin to do what you can to protect them.
2:30 p.m. Lunch after Learning
It's quite impossible to go through a whale watching tour and not learn something you didn't know. Just upon seeing orcas glide through the water in pods you learn about their communal nature and matriarchal hierachy. You'll probably wonder how these gentle giants ever got the name "killer whale" when we, humans, are the culprits in killing and harming them at alarming rates. Being flooded with this new information and the rocking of the boat is sure to have worked up your appetite. How about pizza? Yes! There's vegan pizza on the island at Pizzeria Portofino right downtown. Vegan Mozzarella is listed under the "build-your-own" section. They use Daiya cheese but with the new and improved flavor and melt factor you won't even realize it's Daiya. And, with plenty vegetable toppings your belly will be very happy. For lighter fare, try Wild Island where a refreshing menu of juices and smoothies mingle with bagels and bowls. Daily vegan soup servings are inventive and clearly include a little love. How does Golden Milk Soup with cashews, turmeric, coconut, Japanese sweet potatoes, and purple sweet potatoes sound? Or, does Tuscan Vegetable Stew with squash, garbanzo beans, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, and tomatoes get your mouth watering? They also serve a selection of four rice bowls like the Toasty Mushroom which tops organic brown rice, beans, and greens, with a variety of roasted mushrooms and cripsy shiitake chips. They also have a housemade garbanzo tempeh unlike any other we've ever tried!
5:30 p.m. magical doe bay nights
Invite in mindfulness after a day of wonders and a weekend of wandering. Doe Bay has two regularly scheduled yoga teachers and often host yoga retreats too. Props and mats are provided along with breathtaking views of the bay and neighboring islands. If you've never practiced yoga or are a beginner this initimate setting yet spacious studio offers a relaxed environment with certified teachers. After all the hiking, kayaking, and mind opening adventures you've done this week your body will welcome the opportunity to stretch and open. It's also the perfect primer for another evening soak in the serenity garden. Or, after yoga, stroll over to Doe Bay Cafe for dinner. Walking through the double french doors you're greeted by a chalkboard or specials. The decor is minimal with an emphasis on layers of wood and minimal furnishings otherwise. A simple glass vase with a single flower or a collection of forest green pine needle stems grace the tables. The focal point in the center of the room is a bar with wine glasses hanging in perfect alignment around. A sample vegan meal for two could be the marinated olives as a snack paired with your first cocktail. To share: the grilled bok choy is coated in calabrian chilies, cashews, currants and spring garlic. The hand rolled Cavatelli with cherry tomatoes, garlic, chili, and basil melts in your mouth leaving a slight spicy burn behind. The fried cauliflower with olive salad, chickpeas, and herbs tastes like you're in the Mediterranean. Knowing that they grow a majority of the produce makes you want to savor each bite even more. Honestly, calling it a cafe is an injustice. By the time dinner is done the fire ring will be lit and someone will be strumming a guitar. The farewell is looming but for now, the fire is calling and you still have s'mores to make.
Help protect Southern Resident orcas in the area by learning more about them and their plight at The Whale Museum website. Support conservation and education efforts by donating to the museum or adopting an orca. You can actually search through the database of orcas from the three Southern Resident orca pods that frequent the area. It's amazing the information that has been gathered. You'll find pictures of each orca, their age, and even who their parents, grandparents, and siblings are.
Stop eating salmon or at least Chinook salmon, the orca's main food source. Up to 85% of their diet is salmon. Humans do not require salmon to remain healthy. Orcas do. And, salmon numbers are on the decline due to overfishing.