I don’t have to tell you how busy we all are these days. Finding time and space to relax and disconnect is increasingly difficult for many of us. Too often when we travel, we fill our days with hectic schedules making us feel like we need a vacation after a vacation just to catch up on sleep and unwind.
For me, the Pacific Northwest is one of those tranquil, serene destinations where the pace of life is s-l-o-w and island time controls the clock. So when my husband and I needed a quick getaway to decompress, I chose Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands in Washington State where there’s no guilt in doing nothing at all. Here are 10 ways we found to unwind on this island retreat.
1. Stay on a farm. Pebble Cove Farm is one of the island’s farms that offers guest accommodations and a true agritourism experience. There are seven waterfront suites and a freestanding cottage, all with cozy, rustic accommodations and kitchenettes.
Shortly after we arrived, I left my husband to explore while I went off to work on a story. I returned later that day to find that he had taken full advantage of “farm life.” He picked berries in the organic garden, gathered a bucket of clams at the water’s edge (it doesn’t get any fresher than that) and got acquainted with all the farm animals—Buddy and Hank, the ponies; Herman and Bernie, the mini Juliana pigs; the sheep, Tempeh and Tofu; and a number of free-range chickens. A farm stay may not offer the amenities of a luxury resort, but it offers the luxury of relaxation. You can just while away the day in the hammock, take the rowboat or kayak out into the bay, soak in the hot tub or warm up by the outdoor fire pit. And we took full advantage of all those things. It was a strange paradox of having nothing to do but having plenty to do.
2. Taste the island’s bounty. Many of the island’s businesses have “roots” in agriculture, and specifically the island’s historic orchards, dating back over a century ago. Visit Girl Meets Dirt, a producer of small batch organic preserves from the island’s legacy fruit trees. You’ll find everything from preserves to shrubs to tree bitters in some pretty awesome combinations like pear balsamic, apple caramel, Shiro plum with mint, Italian plum with anise hyssop, Orcas pear with fresh bay, and quince marmalade. These products make great gifts.
3. Drink the island’s bounty. Yep, the island’s legacy fruits also find their way into beverages. Make an appointment at Orcas Island Distillery, a beautiful drive up into the mountains, where the owner, Charles, produces spirits distilled from the island’s heirloom fruit—apple brandy, pear brandy, Genever-style gin, single-malt whiskey and vodka. You’ll also find many of his spirits in cocktails in restaurants around the island.
4. Spend an afternoon at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. Grab a picnic table overlooking the bay, order a glass of chilled wine and shuck a few fresh oysters (if you need a quick lesson, Buck Bay’s owner Toni is there to help). It’s the perfect spot to spend a lazy afternoon. You can also purchase locally caught crab, prawns, salmon, halibut and other seasonal seafood.
5. Meander through Eastsound Village, the island’s pedestrian-friendly downtown. You can fill an entire afternoon just wandering through quaint galleries, parks and boutiques. Brown Bear Bakery served what might be the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life, although their oversized pastries are pretty irresistible. If you’re needing a pick-me-up in the afternoon, stop into Kathryn Taylor Chocolates where the chocolates are as beautiful as they are decadent.
6. Pop into the Orcas Island Winery where you can taste nine different varietals from the San Juan Islands. It’s a family owned and run winery where you can really get a flavor for the region and taste some unique Pacific Northwest wines.
7. Visit a bit of history. Tour the Moran Mansion at the 40-acre Rosario Resort & Spa. The mansion is a national historic registry site built by local shipbuilder Robert Moran in 1906. The mansion’s museum includes the home’s original furnishings, fixtures and photos from the late 1800s. Rosario General Manager and historian Christopher Peacock performs an organ concert every afternoon on the Mansion’s 1913 Aeolian organ’s 1,972 pipes.
8. Visit one of the nation’s most beautiful parks, Moran State Park. It covers 5,252-acres dotted with lakes and more than 38 miles of hiking trails. You can drive, bike, or hike up Mount Constitution, the islands’ highest point, for a spectacular view of the islands and snow-capped Mount Baker.
9. Dine on the bay at the Inn at Ship Bay. The restaurant is known for its Mangalitsa pork, pigs valued for their fat-marbled flesh and somewhat difficult to come by. Let’s just say it was pure, unadulterated decadence! Virtually everything on the menu comes from the nearby garden and orchard, including the surprising entree of cold pear soup.
10. Enjoy the journey. Of course, getting to Orcas Island is half the fun. The ferry ride offers spectacular views of the San Juan Islands and plenty of wildlife spotting. If you’re flying in/out of Seattle, spend a night at Cedarbrooke Lodge, a surprising find and relaxing resort tucked into a neighborhood just minutes from Sea-Tac. You can enjoy a farm-to-table menu at Copperleaf Restaurant overlooking the resort’s garden.
Our visit was hosted by San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.