Photo Courtesy of visitsanjuans.org
If you have ever considered spending the Holiday Season in the San Juan Islands, you are in for a delightfully festive experience. Each island has unique traditions for you to enjoy. Orcas Island kicks off the season during the last weekend in November, when you can see the Olga symphony perform and enjoy the Eastsound Artwalk to pick up some unique, locally handcrafted gifts. Throughout December you should also plan a visit to the Rosario Resort, which features Christmas Trees decorated by local non-profit organizations. Tickets are only $1, all proceeds go to non-profits, and the cost of admission also buys you into a raffle drawing where you can win spa visits, dinner at the Mansion restaurant, and other fun prizes. There are several plays and concerts throughout the month, but you shouldn’t miss the Holiday Tree Lighting on the Village Green or the arrival of Santa at Deer Harbor. Both of these events take place the first weekend in December.
Friday Harbor features a Tree Lighting and Caroling celebration during the first weekend in December. Meet at the Village Green to listen to classic Christmas songs sung by a local barbershop singing group, then participate in singing some carols! The official tree lighting happens after dark, and all the local shops are fully decorated and ready to help you find the perfect gift. The Friday Harbor lighted boat parade and Santa’s arrival is a unique way to celebrate the season in the islands. Throughout the month, in addition to taking in shows and concerts, you can also take a special tour of the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. If you want to end the season on a high note, also plan to join in San Juan Island’s New Year’s Eve Community Celebration. It is an alcohol free celebration featuring music, entertainment, games, and dancing, and is open to the whole family!
The Lopez Island celebrations kick off early; their tree lighting celebration takes place during the last weekend in November, followed by the island’s pre-school holiday bazaar which features over 70 artists selling homemade gifts, a bake sale, music, entertainment, and the opportunity to get pictures with Santa. Foodies should plan to stay at the MacKaye Harbor Inn in order to savor the annual Traditional French Christmas Dinner taking place on the second Saturday in December. The weekend before Christmas, visit the Lopez Center for the Community and the Arts, where visitors are treated to a unique Winter Solstice Concert that features traditional and original songs not typically heard at other holiday concerts.
Winter is a great time to see a unique side of the San Juan Islands that most summer visitors never get to see. Since it’s the off season for tourism, all the islands offer hotel and restaurant deals during the holidays as well. Visit the San Juan Islands Holiday Visitors page for more information.
Cypress Island from Eagle Harbor
Photo Courtesy of threesheetsnw.com
Cypress Island is a small island sandwiched between Blakely Island and Guemes Island, just south of Bellingham Bay. Although about 40 people live on the island, the Washington Department of Natural Resources manages the vast majority of the acreage and leaves it in its natural state. Cypress is heavily forested and has an extensive trail system linking various parts of the island. In roughly the center of the island is a large, 7 acre lake, and on the southeastern corner is a sheltered bay that contains a salmon fish farm. Cypress is extremely popular with sea kayakers due to its close proximity to the mainland as well as its two public camp sites. It is one of the most “untouched” islands in the San Juan Archipelago.
There are three bays offering public mooring on Cypress Island. Cypress Head is located at the southeast end of the island, and is best suited for anchoring small boats. Eagle Harbor is on the eastern side of the island and is the most popular moorage among our charter guests. It has about 15 mooring buoys available for those who prefer not to anchor. The northestern end of the island is where you’ll find Pelican Beach and its six mooring buoys. All three of these sites have firepits and picnic tables ashore, as well as access to trailheads leading further into the island. Please note that potable water is not available on the island
The most popular trail, leading up to Eagle Cliff, has its trailhead at Pelican Beach. The Eagle Cliff trail is closed from February 1-July 15 in order to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitat, but if you’re visiting mid-summer it is worth the trek. The view from the top is said to be one of the best spots in the island to watch the sunset.
Visitors to the Bellingham area especially enjoy strolling through the historic Fairhaven district, where there are plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy. Unique shops, locally owned restaurants, green spaces, and beautiful views of the bay and the San Juan Islands are some of the attractions to the district. The brick buildings and roads and the charming Victorian homes dotting the hillside above Fairhaven all tell the story of the neighborhood that was the first of three towns that later combined to become modern day Bellingham.
Before the first European settlers came to the region in the mid-19th century, the only inhabitants were the Salish coastal tribes that made their homes along the shoreline and on all the islands dotting the Puget Sound. In 1858 the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush attracted thousands of miners to the area from California. Unfortunately, due to mining permit regulations, the boom quickly went bust, and the population dropped almost as quickly as it had grown. In the early 1890’s three railroad lines arrived, which connected Fairhaven to the rest of the nation. Due to the ease of transport out of the area, the lumber industry exploded in the region, again bringing large numbers of laborers and their families. The lush and plentiful forests surrounding the township supported thousands of workers, who eventually formed the three towns of Whatcom, Sehome, and Fairhaven. Fairhaven was officially incorporated in 1890. In addition to the success of the lumber industry, the water front in 1890’s Fairhaven was home to several salmon canneries, the evidence of which you can still see in the bricks, concrete, and debris visible along the shoreline of Bellingham Bay. There are a lot more stories to hear about the historic Fairhaven district and its inhabitants. You can use this map to take a self-guided tour of Fairhaven and hear some of the stories for yourself.
The San Juan Preservation Trust is a non-profit organization in Washington State dedicated to conserving land in the San Juan Islands for use as public parks, nature preserves, and other uses. One of the Trust’s most recent conservation projects is Vendovi Island, a mysterious 217-acre island located off the southern tip of Lummi Island just south of Bellingham Bay. Historically, the entire island has been privately owned, but the owner put it up for sale in 2010. The SJPT jumped at the opportunity to purchase the island, which is one of the last remaining islands in the San Juan Archipelago that remains almost entirely untouched by human development.
By purchasing Vendovi Island the Trust is aiming to achieve two stewardship objectives: to protect the island and its delicate ecosystem, as well as making it available for education, scientific research, and low-impact public access. For the San Juan Sailing charter guest, Vendovi Island has a lot to offer: miles of pristine beaches, ancient and lush Pacific Northwest forests, native grasslands, and rich wildflower meadows. The island is open to the public between May 1st and September 30th. Moorage is only available at the resident caretaker’s dock and is available daily from 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Boaters and kayakers alike are encouraged not to anchor near the island or land their crafts at any location other than the caretaker’s dock, as there are fragile eelgrass beds offshore and harbor seals use Vendovi’s beaches as haul-out sites. Visitors to the island can spend the day hiking through the forest, enjoying expansive views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and surrounding islands, beachcombing, and watching for birds and wildlife. If the caretakers are available they can give a guided tour of the 2 acres of the island that has been developed and teach guests about the rich history of Vendovi Island.