Published February 2014

Orcas Island Style

Five reasons to visit the largest island in Washington’s San Juan County

BYNancy Mueller
Surrounded by the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest landscape, the 90-minute ferry ride between the coastal town of Anacortes, Wash., and Orcas Island provides passengers with an opportunity to meander through the San Juan archipelago — one of the most scenic waterways in North America.
 
As the mainland recedes, and snow-topped Mount Baker slowly slips from view, the old-growth forests and rugged shorelines of these islands take center stage. You might even glimpse a pod of orca whales or playful seals leading the way.
 
At nearly 60 square miles, Orcas is the largest of the San Juan Islands and has just under 5,300 year-round residents (read about the second-largest of the San Juan Islands here).
 
Shaped like a horseshoe, the island’s Eastsound inlet (the middle) distinguishes its east and west wings. Ferry travelers arrive at the west side of the island’s southernmost point. The Victorian Orcas Hotel, overlooking the harbor, welcomes visitors and locals alike.
 
Whether savoring regional cuisine, seeking outdoor adventure, or sampling the creative arts scene, here are the top five reasons Orcas Island lives up to its moniker as the “Gem of the San Juans.”
 
1. Eastsound Village
From the ferry terminal, take a leisurely drive northbound on Orcas Road, and begin your explorations at Eastsound Village, the island’s main commercial hub. But, be sure to enjoy the views of Eastsound Bay along the way.
 
Rose’s Bakery Cafe, a popular local bistro, showcases an ever-changing menu that highlights the area’s seasonal ingredients. Proprietors Jodi and Jim Trumball have created a bright, open kitchen space that features fresh, organic produce in flavorful soups, salads, and sandwiches. After lunch, don’t miss the chance to try a delectable bonbon from Kathryn Taylor Chocolates. These award-winning, handcrafted bites come in unique flavors, such as burgundy pear and ginger plum, though it’s hard to go wrong with salted caramels.
 
The eclectic selection of small shops and galleries in the village, starting along Main Street, offers hours of browsing bliss. Favorite stops include the Crow Valley Pottery & Gallery (though the studio lies outside of town) showcasing paintings, pottery, and woodcuts by island artists. Bibliophiles, writers, and music-lovers of all ages will find delight in Darvill’s Bookstore right next door.
 
 
2. Rosario Resort and Spa
Follow Crescent Beach Drive east out of the village onto Olga Road, heading south along the bay for the short drive to the historic Rosario Resort and Spa. Self-made millionaire, shipbuilder, and two-term Seattle mayor Robert Moran built the site’s original structure — a 54-room mansion — between 1906 and 1909 as his retirement home after doctors mistakenly informed him that he had organic heart disease and only a short time to live. Moran went on to live almost another four decades, and in his prospectus, Rosario: An Estate in the Pacific Northwest, credited his longevity to the island, as: “a wonderful place in which to forget one’s troubles and worries and get back to Nature in her happiest moods … a delightful place in which to regain health — physical, mental and spiritual.”
Kathryn Taylor Chocolates, located in Eastsound Village, offers award-winning bites in a variety of flavors
Kathryn Taylor Chocolates, located in Eastsound Village, offers award-winning bites in a variety of flavors
Rosario Resort and Spa's original structure was built by Robert Moran between 1906 and 1909
Rosario Resort and Spa's original structure was built by Robert Moran between 1906 and 1909
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