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Dog jaunt: Visiting San Juan Island, WA with a dog

Photo by kimbol

We’ve been going to San Juan Island since 1999, and we love it. We love the ferry ride, which threads through a constellation of islands (collectively called “the San Juans,” they include three other big islands — Orcas, Lopez and Shaw — and dozens of small ones), and we love Friday Harbor, the main town on San Juan Island. It’s a cheerful hurly-burly in the summertime, and it’s restful and mellow the rest of the year. All year round, the island is beautiful, with rolling countryside in the interior and miniature cliffs and forests (and two adorable lighthouses) on the coasts.

Where to stay

You’ve got a few good options in Friday Harbor, and a couple more in the hinterlands (keeping in mind that the entire island is only about 15 miles long and 8 miles wide).

In town, your options include Earthbox Motel & Spa, a former motel that’s had an appealing, eco-friendly facelift. According to its website, “pets are allowed in designated pet rooms and you might even meet one of our black labs in the pet area.” There is a $15 fee per pet per night. Nearby is the reliable Best Western Friday Harbor Suites. They have three rooms where pets (no size limit) may stay, for no additional fee.

Slightly closer to the ferry landing is Harrison House Suites, a B&B with suites that include kitchens. The largest suite (three bedrooms, two baths) occupies the first floor of the main house and sleeps up to 10 people; the smaller suites sleep up to 4 people. Dogs under 25 lbs. are welcome, for a $25 per day fee. According to the website, “the inn’s specially prepared ‘doggy’ biscuits or muffins will be offered for breakfast.”

[8/29/11 I’m happy to report that the two most glamorous hotels in town now welcome pet dogs. Friday Harbor House, on the bluff overlooking the marina, has three pet-friendly rooms and charges a $50 fee per stay. The Island Inn, just next to it, has two pet-friendly rooms and also charges a $50 fee per stay.]

Outside town, your best option is the Lakedale Resort, rapturously described in an earlier Dog Jaunt post.

Where to eat

When it’s warm, your dog can join you on a variety of restaurant patios. If it’s too chilly for outdoor dining when you visit, however, wear your dog out on the beach or at the dog park and let her snooze in her travel crate while you go to a restaurant, or assemble a picnic you can eat in her company — at your hotel or, bundled in blankets, at a scenic spot.

For pastries, cookies, ice cream or a really excellent breakfast sandwich, go to the Doctor’s Office, located in a green Victorian house directly opposite the ferry landing (you can order at the walk-up window across from the ferry waiting lot). There are signs on the deck saying that dogs are not allowed, but the proprietors will step, smiling, over your dog, on the way to your table. (It’s best to test these rules with a mellow, sleepy dog, however.) The San Juan Coffee Co., located at Cannery Landing (which flanks the ferry landing) also has pastry and coffee, plus a large chocolate display, and the water bowl outside their door indicates that dogs are welcome at their deck tables.

For a serious breakfast (involving eggs and very good bacon), sit with your dog on the deck of the Blue Water Bar & Grill. Blue Water, across from the ferry landing and a couple of doors down from the Doctor’s Office, also serves a very acceptable lunch and dinner.

You can get tasty sandwiches, soup, sides and desserts (plus a modest selection of gourmet groceries) at the Market Chef, just up the hill from the ferry waiting lot, on “A” Street. Here too a mellow, sleepy dog will be overlooked on the front deck, or walk with your dog on the unmarked path around the right of the restaurant to the shaded tables in the back. The Market Chef would also be a fine place to get lunch to go, or stop by Sweet Retreat, a tiny walk-up counter in the center of town on Spring Street, for excellent sandwiches and soup. The Sweet Retreat proprietor will likely hand your dog a huge Milkbone treat when you visit — it’s that kind of place. Alternatively, shop for picnic supplies at King’s Market, also on Spring Street. For a small town on a small island, it has terrific groceries and excellent wine.

For fish and chips, or grilled or fried seafood in baskets, go to Friday’s Crabhouse, located directly across from the ferry landing and between the Doctor’s Office and Blue Water. It’s only open seasonally, since it’s just a series of decks overlooking the harbor, but it has a great view and leashed dogs are welcome. Step across the street when you’re done and get yourself an ice cream cone at the Friday Harbor Ice Cream Co. (the Doctor’s Office is another good source).

Your best choice for dinner is the Backdoor Kitchen, cunningly concealed in the middle of a nursery and behind a warehouse parking lot — but well worth the search. Follow the directions on their website to reach a serene, comfortable patio (where leashed dogs are welcome) and excellent, Asian-inspired meals (served Thursday through Sunday nights).

Things to do

San Juan Island has something for everyone: boutiques and spas for strollers and shoppers, drives through the island’s central farmland and along its beautiful coasts, hikes and beach walks, whale watching, and, for the more adventurous, kayaking, sailing and scuba diving. Here are the activities we look forward to when Chloe’s with us:

Visiting Roche Harbor and the winery

The other community on the island is Roche Harbor, a former company town for the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company. While the charmingly old-fashioned Hotel de Haro is not pet-friendly, it’s a pleasure to see from the outside (pick up your pup or tie her outside briefly, and duck inside to look at the lobby, which is a slice of history). The garden that stretches from the hotel to the marina is truly lovely. Walk down the boardwalk to the Lime Kiln Café and eat at one of the outdoor tables — the fish & chips are good, though the café is known for its doughnuts.

Drive back to Friday Harbor on Roche Harbor Road, and you’ll see a small white chapel on your left, with a couple of barns beyond. You’ve reached San Juan Vineyards, and you should certainly turn in and go wine-tasting. Are dogs welcome? “Of course,” I was told — in fact, you’ll likely meet a resident dog when you visit. The wines are very drinkable — our favorite is the Siegerebbe, made from the vines you see. The vineyard describes it as having “a romantic floral and tree fruit nose with crisp citrus and pear flavors finishing with a hint of grapefruit.” We call it a good summertime wine, refreshing and cool, like the wine equivalent of iced tea.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed at Pelindaba Lavender Farms, another island must-see, because the farm is organic (and dog poop, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, is unpleasant stuff). However, be sure to visit the Pelindaba store in Friday Harbor and buy a bottle of the lavender-based pet shampoo. Chloe has never smelled so good!

Walking on the beach, visiting the sculpture park

The island has a number of beaches, of the pebbles-rocks-driftwood variety. Our favorite is the largest, South Beach, which is long and windswept. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier, some 125 miles away. Leashed dogs are welcome on the beach, and trash cans are available, but bring your own poop bags.

As an alternative, walk along the trails criss-crossing the 19-acre Westcott Bay Sculpture Park, open every day from dawn to dusk. It’s near the entrance to Roche Harbor, so you might want to combine visits.

Hiking and biking

We’ve really enjoyed a loop trail that begins at Jakle’s Lagoon, across from South Beach, and goes up Mount Finlayson, but there are plenty of others. Check out this useful site describing several San Juan Island hikes and providing PDF maps. Your dog is welcome but must be kept on a leash.

The island is also the home of several geocaches. If you’re new to geocaching, you’ll want to visit to learn how it works. If you’ve looked for a geocache before, you’ll know what a fun combination of hiking and puzzle-solving it can be. Geocachers typically create caches in interesting places that are off the beaten path — our last one on the island took us to a tiny, charming harbor that we had thought was entirely private. Chloe sniffed around happily while we peered and poked and consulted the magic (GPS) device.

If you’d prefer to cover a little more ground, rent a bicycle at Island Bicycles and take to the roads. San Juan Island is hilly, it has to be said, so you may prefer to catch a ferry and bike on Lopez Island instead — but if you’re up to the challenge, San Juan is a beautiful place to peddle. Check out Dog Jaunt’s posts about biking with a small dog.

Whale watching or kayaking

One of the most riveting experiences I’ve ever had was hanging over the side of a stationary and silent whale-watching boat in the San Juans as a pod of orcas passed by and underneath us. The only company that allows dogs on board, and they need to be small dogs, is Western Prince. Let them know that you would like to bring your dog with you when you make your reservation, so they can clear it with the boat’s captain, and be prepared to keep your dog either on a leash or in a carrier.

While the whale-watching boats make every effort to find orcas for you, the inter-island ferry simply chugs around the islands at stated times. Look at the Washington State Ferries schedule (download the PDF version) and find the eastbound vessels that do not continue to Anacortes (they are highlighted in red on the PDF version). You may see wildlife, or you may not, but you’re guaranteed beautiful scenery, and the ferry is free from Friday Harbor. Consider hopping on board with your dog in her carrier and spending a sun-soaked afternoon making the circuit.

Another favorite way to whale-watch is to visit Lime Kiln Point, a 36-acre park on the west side of the island. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park, and a short walk along the trail leads to you the shore and one of the adorable lighthouses I mentioned earlier. Pack a picnic, seat yourselves at one of the picnic benches, and keep an eye out for orcas — they’re often seen here (notices are posted on the near the lighthouse door, telling you when the pod was last seen). Another trail takes you to an old kiln, not so much restored as stabilized. It’s a pretty walk and an interesting glimpse of a forgotten industry.

I called all of the kayak rental agencies on the island, and found one that would allow you to kayak with your dog. San Juan Outfitters rents kayaks from the marina in Roche Harbor, and also runs a variety of kayak tours. The rental kayaks are sit-on-top kayaks suitable for dogs. Dogs are not permitted in the sea kayaks used on the tours.

One last thought — before taking your dog onboard a whale watching boat or a kayak, you might want to take her to the San Juan Island dog park to wear her out a bit. It’s an excellent place — one of Chloe’s favorites — and a few minutes of hard romping there will make your boating experience more serene.

What if you decide to go day sailing or scuba diving, and just can’t bring your dog with you? Your best option is the Animal Inn, which offers boarding (including day boarding), grooming and medical care. There are both indoor and outdoor runs, fenced play yards (for either individual play or supervised play shared with no more than 2-3 dogs), and leash walks. The cost is $30/day (includes two playtimes); current vaccinations are required.

What if you had to leave your dog at home, and need a dog fix? Go to Friday Harbor’s animal shelter (see below for contact info and hours) and take one of the dogs for a walk or for a drive — or romp around the dog yard with the residents. Pet a cat too, while you’re there!

Getting to San Juan Island

Most visitors arrive by Washington State ferry. It’s my preferred way, since I can bring a car with me if I choose to. Several ferries travel daily between Anacortes and Friday Harbor, and one a day travels between Sidney, B.C. and Friday Harbor. If you arrive early at the Anacortes ferry terminal (and you should arrive at least an hour early), make your way down to the beach for a walk along the shore while you wait.

Victoria Clipper‘s passenger-only catamarans make the trip from Seattle to Friday Harbor in about three hours. The service is seasonal — daily from May 21 to September 6, and weekends-only from September 7 to September 26. Dogs are allowed onboard, for a $10 fee. Large dogs must travel on deck in a hard-sided crate (available for rental), but small dogs may travel inside in a carrier. If you make your reservation online, be sure to follow up with a call to reserve a spot for your dog.

There is a seasonal ferry, the Victoria Express, between Victoria and Friday Harbor. During the summer (this year, it’s between June 25 and Sept. 6), and only Friday through Monday, this small ferry boat chugs over from Victoria at 9:30 am and leaves Friday Harbor at 3:30 pm. Visiting Canadians can make it a day trip, but if you’re going the other way (from Friday Harbor to Victoria and back again) you’ll have to spend the night in Victoria. Dogs are allowed onboard; remember to prepare ahead for Canada’s and/or the U.S.’s import requirements.

Kenmore Air seaplanes land and take off from Friday Harbor throughout the day. Small dogs are allowed on board — let Kenmore know you will be traveling with a dog when you make your reservation, and pack light (your dog’s weight counts towards your luggage weight allowance).

Four other airlines serve San Juan Island.  Westwind Aviation provides charter flights to a variety of locations in the Pacific Northwest, including Friday Harbor. Dogs are allowed onboard, but bring either a carrier or a towel with you to keep dog hair off the seats. Northwest Seaplanes provides charter flights to Friday Harbor, among other locations. Small and medium dogs (not pit bulls) are allowed onboard, either in your lap or on the floor. Island Air, based in Friday Harbor, provides charter flights throughout the region. Small dogs in carriers are particularly welcome; medium dogs are also welcome, but large dogs pose weight-allocation and weight-shifting problems they’d rather avoid.

San Juan Airlines, serving the San Juans and British Columbia, offers charter flights to Friday Harbor from Seattle or Renton and scheduled flights from Anacortes and Bellingham. They allow one pet per flight onboard, and it needs to be lap-sized (larger dogs are allowed on charter flights or on otherwise empty scheduled flights). Pets should be on a leash, not in a carrier, and bring a towel to keep pet hair off the seats. Like Kenmore, San Juan Airlines will refund your fee or reschedule you on a later flight if a fellow passenger prefers not to travel with a pet onboard.

Getting around the island

If you arrive at the island on foot, how will you get to all of these places I’ve told you about? Friday Harbor itself is small and very walkable, but to visit locations outside of town you’ll want to rent a bicycle, as I suggested above, or (for the less athletic among us) rent a car, take a taxi, or ride the island bus.

M&W Auto Sales and Rentals is located near the airport (about a 15-minute walk from the ferry landing) and offers daily rentals — and even shorter rentals if you prefer, on a first-come-first-served basis. My in-laws have rented cars for a day at a time over the past ten years from M&W, and have always been happy with the service and cars they’ve received. Dogs are allowed in the M&W cars but should be in a carrier to keep hair off the car seats and to keep door handles from being scratched.

There are at least three taxi services on the island, but their fares for destinations outside Friday Harbor are very high. Call Friday Harbor Taxi (360-298-4434), Classic Cab (360-378-7519‎) or Bob’s Taxi (360-378-6777), but your better choice, I believe, is to rent a car for a day.

Well-behaved dogs are welcome on the island bus (San Juan Transit), which carries passengers to the major island attractions, including the lavender farm, Lime Kiln State Park, English Camp, the Krystal Acres alpaca ranch, the Westcott Bay Sculpture Park and Roche Harbor (alternatively, the direct route goes from Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor by way of Lakedale Resort, the vineyard and the sculpture park). You can get off at a stop and explore before catching a later bus to succeeding stops. The fare is $15.00 for an all-day transit pass (no fee for dogs).

Is there a pet store on the island?

There certainly is, and it’s splendid. Check out an earlier Dog Jaunt post for the details.

What if my dog needs a vet?

There is medical care available at the Animal Inn, a boarding and day care facility with an excellent reputation on the island.

The Islands Veterinary Clinic, on Mullis Street across from the airport, also gets rave reviews. A March 2009 article from the San Juan Journal is a testimonial to the wonderful quality of care provided to a local dog attacked by a trio of pit bulls by Islands Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Sonja Webster-Hills (with help from the Animal Inn’s Dr. Michelle Loftus).

The island does have a problem with unrestrained dogs. Usually they menace livestock, especially sheep — an in-town attack like the one described in this article is rare. Chances are that you and your dog will be fine doing the kinds of activities listed in this post, but when you’re hiking or visiting farmstands, keep an eye out for groups of dogs without an owner.

Islands Veterinary Clinic
850A Mullis Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
T: 360-378-2333

Animal Inn
25 Boyce Road
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
T: 360-378-4735

What if my dog is lost?

San Juan Island has an excellent animal shelter, called the Animal Protection Society. It’s open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am to 2 pm. Someone is there, however, from 8 am to 3 pm. If you lose your pet, call 360-378-2158 to contact or leave a message at the shelter. Also consider calling the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office at 360-378-4151.

Animal Protection Society
111 Shelter Road
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Addresses and locations

Doctor’s Office
85 Front Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

San Juan Coffee Co. (just below the Harbor Bookstore)
18 Cannery Landing
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Market Chef
225 A Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Friday Harbor Ice Cream Co.
1 Spring Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

South Beach
San Juan Island National Historic Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park
1517 Westside Road
Friday Harbor, Washington 98250


  • It’s a bit of heaven on earth, we think — you guys will have to take the Winnebago over when you come west. I’ve left all of Orcas Island — the other big island, and it’s equally lovely and fun — for you to discover and write about!

  • Rachel

    What great timing! My husband and I are planning a trip to Portland, up scenic Highway 101 to Seattle and San Juan Island in August! You are such a wealth of knowledge, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if you have any recommendations for blogs I should look at for great things to do in these areas, aside from San Juan Islands, which you have generously covered here!

  • Julie Bennett

    Excellent article, super helpful thank you so much. It answered many of the questions I had about a possible visit to San Juan islands with our dog/car. All I need to know now is the cost of the ferry tickets from Anacortes for us humans! 🙂

  • Shaun Andres, Owner, Trumpeter Inn Bed & Breakfast

    You left us out! We are the 3 ranked B & B on San Juan Island by Tripadvisor! We have three K9 Kid friendly rooms and we especially love larger dogs. With five acres, five goats, five alpacas, a pond and our two own K9 Hosts Jenny and Joey. It’s a vacation for the canines as well as their humans. Now open throughout the year!!

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