Standing on our beach, I checked the time on my iPhone and scanned the sky. Our guests collected nearby, murmuring, daypacks in hand. A faint droning sound grew louder until we could see a floatplane in the northern sky, high out over the lake, descending. It continued south before banking and heading our direction. Forty feet away, its engine roared and propellers whirred as the pilot maneuvered the de Havilland Otter sideways, closer to the dock. Then, silence as the engine cut out and the plane drifted a few feet to close the gap. Brian and a couple of guests sprinted to tie it up.
Having a float plane show up on our waterfront to whisk our guests away for a day of adventure was a first‐time experience for us. Our guests, a business group, had booked a custom Kenmore Air flight from our dock to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, where they would spend the day exploring before taking an evening flight back. It was morning, and our guests were a bit on the quiet side as they trooped out to the end of the dock to meet their pilot.
The scene was entirely different at sunset when the plane taxied in for a landing. Every single person—even the fellow who had earlier expressed slight apprehension, since he was prone to motion sickness—had a wide grin on their face. There were lots of hugs and back slaps for the pilot, lots of excited conversations and posing for photos. It was the pinnacle of our guests’ stay.
The highlight? While cruising over the Salish Sea, the pilot had spied a pod of orcas traveling north, and they were able to keep them in their sights as the whales followed the coastline of Whidbey Island. In Friday Harbor our guests rented bikes to peddle down island roads, and they enjoyed fresh, locally caught seafood.
Chartering a floatplane to Friday Harbor was a brilliant idea. Getting there the usual way takes a half day, since it’s a 2‐hour drive north to Anacortes, where you board a Washington State Ferry that takes approximately an hour—and there is always the hassle of getting advance reservations and getting in line long before the ferry arrives. This makes a trip to any of the San Juan Islands only feasible as a multi‐day experience—unless you’re fortunate enough to fly there.
Why visit Friday Harbor? Lots of reasons. While most of our guests with extra time go for the bucket‐list destinations of Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, our guests who headed for San Juan Island found a laidback vibe and less-hectic pace, absolutely gorgeous coastal scenery, quiet country roads, art galleries and fantastic dining (think fresh‐caught seafood).
EXCITING ISLAND EXPERIENCES
Brian and I also had some truly memorable experiences on a recent visit to San Juan Island. Here are our insider tips of things to see and do:
- Stop by the historic 1886 Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor Resort to walk the docks and ogle yachts.
- Wander through the nearby San Juan Islands Sculpture Park to find your favorite artworks.
- Visit English Camp, near Roche Harbor, to explore remnants of where the 1859 Pig War standoff between British and American troops led to resolution of the boundary between Canada and the U.S.
- Explore local culture, history and the unique ecosystems of this area at the newly opened (2022) visitor center at American Camp, where Coast Salish peoples lived for eons.
- Take a short hike out to Cattle Point Lighthouse for sweeping views of the Cascade and Olympic mountains and nearby islands.
- Stop by The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor to learn all about these magnificent creatures.
- Browse for souvenirs in Friday Harbor‘s boutiques and galleries and drop by the San Juan Islands Museum of Art.
- Unwind and take in nature on a sea kayak excursion.
- Look for otters, seals and driftwood forts at South Beach, the island’s longest beach.
- Sample local wines and brews, ciders and spirits at Friday Harbor and nearby tasting rooms.
- Visit Westcott Bay Shellfish for a farm tour (in summer) and indulge in freshly shucked oysters direct from the bay at The Tide Tables restaurant, with tables at the water’s edge.
- Enjoy farm‐to‐table meals starring ultra‐fresh seafood at Duck Soup Inn.
In addition to custom charter flights direct from our dock, Kenmore Air offers a wide variety of flights to nearby U.S. and Canadian destinations from its base in South Lake Union. The company also offers flightseeing excursions around Mount Rainier and Mt. St. Helens and, closer to home, over Seattle.
We feel so fortunate to live in this place where a network of floatplanes take off daily to exciting destinations, from the San Juan Islands to the charming provincial capital, Victoria, to the exciting metropolis of Vancouver, B.C. and beyond. We hope you are fortunate enough to be able to experience your own magical Northwest floatplane experience when the time is right.