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The Short Version: In the watery distance between Seattle and Vancouver are the romantic and beautiful San Juan Islands. Visitors flock to this Pacific Northwest archipelago to enjoy relaxing holidays, engage in outdoor adventure sports, and, in some cases, to say “I do.” With a wide variety activities, fine dining, and art, the San Juan Islands allow couples to immerse themselves in local culture and history or just spend the day on the beach. The scenic seascapes and forested-covered mountains offer idyllic backdrops for destination weddings. Here, brides and grooms can relax and let the local professionals bring their big day to life in breathtaking venues. In the San Juan Islands, say goodbye to worry and hello to the contagious mellow island vibe.
Destination weddings have become a popular way for couples to celebrate their big day with friends and family in new and often stunning locales. In fact, nearly 20% of couples are now exchanging vows away from home — and for good reason. The mind-blowing backdrops for photos, unique venues, and novel options for entertainment make tying the knot at a new location a seductive option.
When it comes to the most sought-after places to start their lives together, an increasing number of couples are “seeking new-to-them locales that they can share with loved ones,” according to the Destination Weddings Travel Group’s annual report. And the natural beauty, relaxing atmosphere, and welcoming community of the San Juan Islands are attracting soon-to-be newlyweds in droves.
This beautiful archipelago in the Pacific Northwest delivers it all — from seaside panoramas to forest-covered hillside retreats. But the scenery is not the only draw. The islands are rich in culture and offer an array of activities to keep you busy and entertained.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or planning seaside nuptials, the San Juan Islands will have something amazing in store.
Three major islands make up the archipelago: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. No matter which you visit, the laid-back vibe and friendly greetings you receive from all you meet will have you on island time in no time at all.
Barbara Marrett, Communications and Stewardship Manager for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau, told us, “One of my favorite times on the island is the ‘golden hour,’ when the sun is low on the horizon and the afterglow lingers until 10 p.m. Miles of stunning waterfront parks and beaches allow couples the intimacy to enjoy this colorful end-of-day display without interruption.”
“The islands are also the perfect place for those who unwind by being active. We’re known for our hiking, biking, and kayaking,” she related. “And, on a rainy day, there are plenty of indoor options, such as an art or historical museum. Friday Harbor’s Whale Museum is the perfect place to learn about marine mammals before seeing them in their natural habitat. The islands are one of the best places in the world to see orca whales in the wild as well as seals, porpoises, dolphins, and sea lions. There are also more nesting pairs of bald eagles in San Juan County than any county in the lower 48.”
Don’t let their remoteness fool you — there’s tons to do on the San Juan Islands. On the main isle, San Juan, enjoy the fragrant air while walking through a local lavender farm, or head to a vineyard tasting room located in a historic schoolhouse. Later head out on a whale and wildlife-watching tour. In the evening head out to Friday Harbor and choose from a dozen restaurants featuring stunning cuisine.
Speaking of food, the islands are home to a fantastic culinary scene.
“There’s a very vibrant food scene here in the San Juan Islands,” Barbara said. “Our chefs are nationally recognized. One of our chefs was featured on the cover of Food & Wine Magazine as one of the top young chefs in the country.”
With an island-wide focus on sustainability and eating local, it’s no wonder the destination is attracting so many foodies.
Couples looking for a little intimate tranquility will love Lopez Island — which is full of quiet bays, rolling farmlands, and quaint shops, cafés, and galleries. Take your lover on a boating adventure for the day and settle in for the night at Ursa Minor for a menu of inventive small plates and natural wines. Lopez Island is a place to really relax, let go, and enjoy quality time with the one you love most.
Orcas Islands will be a second home to the adventurous couple who enjoys time together in nature. Spend your day hiking up Mount Constitution or horseback riding through Moran State Park. The island also has fishing boat charters, kayaking, and hilly roads for cyclists to enjoy their days. Head to The Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort to enjoy drinks by the fire and a romantic dinner overlooking the water.
Whether you’re planning an epic event or an intimate affair, the San Juan Islands have everything you could ever desire for a perfect wedding day. The Island boasts 26 wedding-ready venues, from resorts to boats.
“Couples enjoy getting married in outdoor venues like flower-filled fields, the summit of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island, or by the Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island,” Barbara said.
In addition to venues, the islands also host a group of destination wedding professionals with intimate knowledge of the area. Photographers will know where to take the best sunset pictures. Rent a Jolly Trolley to shuttle wedding guests around Friday Harbor. Find a locally sourced caterer and book a pre-wedding couples massage to get rid of any last-minute jitters and to loosen up for the reception’s big dance.
There are also tons of activities for wedding guests to enjoy before and after the wedding. Take your wedding party kayaking on any island and then to one of the many local breweries. Have a bridesmaid luncheon at one of the wineries where you can enjoy natural wines in a beautiful setting. Or treat your whole group to a paddle boarding session. There’s so much to do your guests will be begging for some down time on the beach or in front of a cozy fire.
Once you have hiked yourself out, head to one of the museums to learn the history of the San Juan Islands. Visit Doe Bay Resort and Retreat, which was once a New Age commune called the Polarity Institute. Now it’s a rustic and charming retreat with cabins, yurts, a spa, and a seed-to-table café nestled on the eastern side of Orcas Island. Doe Bay Resort is the perfect place to do a little digital detoxing.
The waterfront Doe Bay Café is dedicated to celebrating the unique seasonality, flavor, and freshness of Orcas Island farms, foragers, and fishermen with every plate that comes out of the kitchen. The café is committed to creating delicious and nutritious food sourced almost entirely of organic ingredients from their seed-to-table garden, neighboring farms and orchards, and including specialties from fair trade and small-scale regional producers.
Listen to local poets at Lopez Island’s intimate library or take in some Shakespeare Under the Stars. Immerse yourself in local art at one of the many galleries the islands have to offer.
“I suggest timing a visit to enjoy one of our festivals, such as Pelindaba Lavender’s festival in July or fall’s Savor the San Juans. Savor incorporates film festivals, harvest dinners, and farm tours,” Barbara related. “There’s a growing movement of small farms producing sustainable foods. Island grown foods are served at imaginative hyper-local restaurants and sold at well-stocked co-ops and vibrant farmers markets.”
Classical music enthusiasts also want to be sure to catch the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival.
Whether you and your beloved are avid adventurers, foodies, looking for a little R&R, or want to wow guests at a stunning destination wedding, the San Juan Islands are the perfect place to spend some time away from the everyday.