Residents of Los Angeles wanting a beach vacation will find the San Juan Islands off Washington State a striking contrast to the Santa Monica pier, the expanse of Zuma Beach in Malibu, and beach volleyball in the South Bay.
Angelenos should make an effort to visit the San Juan Islands at least once to gain a different perspective on the ocean, beaches, and surrounding mountains.
We paid less than $270 per person on Virgin Atlantic for airfare from Los Angeles to Seattle, and the two-hour flight makes the Pacific Northwest accessible.
The 40-minute ferry trip from Anacortes, Washington, to Lopez Island offered an understanding of the intricate and vast inter-coastal waterway.
The number of islands and views of snow-covered Mount Baker to the east and the snow capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the south made it seem like we were motoring around an enormous lake and not a waterway to the ocean.
We docked at Lopez and drove under a canopy of foliage to our camp at Spencer Spit State Park.
Living in Los Angeles numbs you to rural life near the beach. If you manage an escape to Catalina Island, a barren environment waits you and shade is a rare commodity.
Lopez Island surprised me with the greenery and sheer number of small farms dotting the landscape. These aren’t garden patches, either.
The island is only twelve miles in length and a few miles wide and yet farms have cattle herds, horses, sheep, and goats grazing in pastures along country roads that reminded me of my childhood home in western Pennsylvania.
Berry patches for both pay-to-pick-your-own and free were plentiful and in late July the blackberries and sala berries were turning ripe and ready to eat.
Farms on Lopez Island will stimulate the veteran urban dweller and get you close to the soil.
Pass a cyclist on Lopez Island and they will wave and you’re expected to return the greeting. A wave is a long-standing tradition among the island’s 2,300 residents, and I admit there were times I forgot to wave back.
Lopezians, as they refer to themselves, have an honor system for buying local produce. We stopped at one south of the island’s airport on Shark Reef Road where a sign invited passersby to stop and make a purchase.
The stand was made of shelves and there were fresh marion berries, strawberries, and zucchini to select. Prices were written on each item and a bucket filled with money was available to plunk down your dollars and cents.
The bucket wasn’t attached or covered in any way. You were trusted to pay and get the change you needed, if any.
Lack of Crowds
A lack of crowds was refreshing. We camped on Lopez during the last week of July with only one morning of fog and sunny skies every other day.
There were other tourists and residents around but we had plenty of space and none of the crowds that typically bump and grind into you in Southern California.
Village Bikes, rider owned and operated, was patient in adjusting our rental bike and attached tag-a-along to pull our six year old.
Holly Bs Bakery had chewy cinnamon rolls and only one other patron on the Saturday morning I stopped in shortly after it opened at 7 a.m. This is far different from the doughnut shop near our house in Pasadena where a line about 10 deep has formed during its rush hour.
Lopez Island is awash with a variety of views. Drive along one road and you’re in the middle of a pastoral scene. Turn to the right through thick woods and you can find a rocky beach looking like New England.
Spencer Spit State Park where we camped is rich in berries and cedar trees. Greenery forms a natural wall to separate one campsite from another and paths winding through forests to the bathrooms, the playground, and the beach add to the character and turn a stroll into an adventure.
Bays were calm and wave tossed. Skies were clear, fog raced in with a chill, and then cleared once more.
We spotted seals near Shark Reef Sanctuary and witnessed a trio of kayakers paddling hard against the incoming tide and bobbing on the waves before turning zipping north with the current. There were plenty of crabs trolling the sand at Spencer Spit but I was surprised there wasn’t more marine life in sight.
Spits of sand form from the waves wrapping around the large and small islands pushing up the grains and stretching it to a fine line. During low tide, it’s possible to walk along the “spits” and feel like you’re a part of the ocean.
The mountains surrounding Los Angeles and beaches to the north and south have their own beauty. Lopez Island and the other San Juan Islands showcase the Pacific in a way that is worth viewing and visiting.