Orcas—recently released from Sea World and ready to frolic—didn’t exactly await our arrival to the San Juan Islands. However, Nate, Alex, and I were not disappointed. Friday Harbor Island—even for just one day in the off-season—is packed with plenty of things to see and do.
From Anacortes, Friday Harbor is the third ferry stop—just two hours past Lopez, Shaw, and Orcas Islands. Brightly colored hotels and restaurants rise up over the harbor as the ferry docks, so if you don’t want to use a car, many dining and lodging options are easily accessible by foot. However, to really experience the “island life,” we recommend a car in order to explore the beaches, parks, lavender farm, alpaca farm, and vineyard.
We brought our family car, so when we received the signal to go, we cruised a short distance through a roundabout and past a couple of streets to our hotel at the Tucker House Inn. Actually, Nate had reserved the Roche Harbor Cottage on the Harrison House property, which is a separate site nearby, but owned by the same Tucker House innkeepers.
Checking into our Suite
For check-in, we entered the green Victorian house, which is the “inn” proper. The green color is especially brilliant on a bright and sunny day. According to the Tucker House Inn website, green was not the original color for this house built in 1898 by Mr. And Mrs. Clarence Tucker. The house was white and fashioned after a simple design, but decorated with gingerbread for ornamental effect. When the new owners, Anna Maria de Freitas and Dave Pass renovated the house, they added a “splash of color—in keeping with the historical palate” (www.tuckerhouse.com).
At the Inn, a staff member enthusiastically greeted us and showed us to our cottage suite, which was part of a 1905 Craftsman style home, done in a subdued yellow. Inside, bright palates of color defined the kitchen and living room spaces. Antiques and whimsical lampshades of the Victorian era added to the charm. Outside on the patio, we discovered our private hot tub, for which we had forgotten our bathing suits. We figured that we could at least stick our toes in later on that night. While there are guest robes hanging in the closet, there are no guest bathing suits, probably for good reasons.
What to do with a Chocolate Shooter?
The kitchen had been stocked with snacks and chocolate “shooters,” which we gobbled down the minute we unpacked.
“Do you just drink it all at once?” Alex asked.
“Typically, yes—but these look like they have been frozen and chilled,” Nate replied.
“Use a spoon,” I suggested, so that it might be easier to get to the white chocolate and dark chocolate layers.
“The spoon won’t fit,” Alex complained.
So, Nate took matters into his own hands and used the handle end of the spoon. We imitated him and thanked our lucky stars that no one who actually knew how to enjoy a chocolate shooter was watching us.
Touring the Island
After a quick lunch in town, we hopped into the car and headed for Lime Kiln Point State Park. All of the parks require a pass, which is just $10 for a whole day or $30 for an entire year. Passes can be bought right on site from stations set up in the parking lot—or ahead of time online. We came here in hopes of seeing whales or orcas. We were told that some people were lucky enough to have seen them earlier in the day. However, we weren’t so lucky. Still, we ended up with beautiful pictures of mountains, the Puget Sound, and various sailboats. A quick hike upwards led to an actual lime kiln oven where lime was “fired” as part of a functioning quarry operation that dated back to 1860 according to the Washington State Parks website.
Next, we drove to the nearby English camp
It is a settlement of wooden structures in a grassy field, abundantly littered with seashells from the nearby beach—and seagulls. According to a large Washington State Highway Commission and State Parks sign, visibly posted near mossy paths, England and the United States nearly battled each other all because of a pig. In 1859, a pig was killed, territorial lines were drawn, English and American camps were built, and the troops kept watch. However, neither side actually battled. Arbitration in 1872 resolved the matter peacefully: the San Juan Islands would belong to the United States, which meant that the British could leave.
By the time we made it to the beach below the settlement, it was low tide at 4:42 p.m. Nate believed we could at least find starfish amid the tiny pools in the rocks now exposed on the shore. We eagerly stumbled across them for a good half hour without seeing any starfish. However, we were lucky enough to see crabs, snails, sea anemones, and the “breadcrumb sponge,” which, according to the Slater Museum of Natural History’s website for the Puget Sound, is one of the starfish’s favorite foods. So, we must have been close.
Finally, we headed to the American camp and the lighthouse outlook for a few more pictures before tidying up for dinner.
Time for Dinner at Coho Restaurant
The Tucker House Innkeepers also own a restaurant nearby called Coho. We made reservations for the three of us and arrived hungry. The restaurant was cozy and comfortable, filled with elegant honeymooners.
And then, there was our family:
We couldn’t seem to figure out how to eat a delicious “bite” the chef had prepared. It was a cucumber, spread with a creamy herb mixture and topped with fresh, salmon.
“Do we use a knife?” Alex whispered.
“Do we use our fingers?” Nate asked.
“Why are the two of you asking me?” I whispered back. “I have no idea.”
“But you read all of the cooking magazines and watch of the cooking shows,” Nate said.
“I was paying attention the ingredients, not the utensils,” I said.
“On the count of three, we just pick it up and shove it into our mouths,” Nate suggested. “One, two, three.”
After “three,” we all glanced over our shoulders to make sure no one was looking and we devoured our “bite” in a flash. Some of the herbed cream though, ended up on the corners of my mouth. I think the couple sitting caddy corner to us noticed. (I wish to apologize to that couple right now.)
The great bread conundrum – How much is too much?
Our server was extremely courteous and attentive. He didn’t seem to mind filling our breadbaskets often.
“Do most families eat this much bread?” Alex asked.
“Probably not,” I said.
“Is it good to eat this much bread?”
“Probably not. Hey, Nate—maybe we should slow down on the bread. I think we’re the only ones requesting bread every two minutes.”
However, our server cheerfully brought us more bread and offered to bring us a “wine bag” for the bottle Nate and I ordered, but couldn’t finish.
The main dishes: halibut, steak, and ravioli
Nate ordered the halibut, which looked perfect. Alex ordered the hangar steak medium rare because that’s the way he likes it. I was hoping he wouldn’t finish his meal, so that I could eat his leftovers, but he is a growing boy who can finish an entire large pizza and still be hungry. Yet, I was able to sneak a few bites of his whipped potatoes when he wasn’t looking. They were creamy and rich.
My roasted eggplant and goat cheese ravioli were finished in a delicate marinara sauce, which seemed to include a hint of celery. Of course I asked for more bread so I could soak up the sauce!
Breakfast Service in the Morning
The next day, we were served a full breakfast in our cottage. It consisted of an “Asian bowl,” filled with brown rice, eggs, marinated vegetables, and sausage. Fresh milk, juice, and fruit—along with a serving of homemade granola—came with the main dish. Since our ferry wasn’t leaving until nearly 2 p.m., we could linger at breakfast and still have time to browse the shops.
Shopping in the Little Town of Friday Harbor
Pelindaba Lavender Farm gift shop
We first stopped at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm gift shop. Nancy greeted us warmly and told us about all of the products, which come from the lavender farm on the way to Lime Kiln Point State Park. This farm holds 45 acres of 50,000 lavender plants. According to Nancy, the lavender is harvested in small amounts and most of it goes right to the “still” for products. Otherwise, if it sits for too long, it will mold. Dr. Stephen Robins, she said, bought the land and spent ten years researching the proper ways to grow and harvest lavender.
This farm serves a purpose, according to the Pelindaba website. This purpose is to serve as an “open-space preservation project.” The name Pelindaba, in fact, is a Zulu word for “Place of Great Gatherings” (www.pelindabalavender.com). All of the lavender is certified organic and created for the enjoyment and education of the public. We sipped a peony infused lavender tea and hungrily gathered tips for planting lavender bushes this summer.
Harbor Song Art Gallery
During another stop, we visited Harbor Song Art Gallery, owned by artists Tom and Mary Garrels. Tom welcomed us into the shop and shared the techniques he and his wife often use in their artwork. His stories about making a living “doing what you love” in such a breathtaking setting, were inspiring. All around us, it seemed that chefs, entrepreneurs, and artists managed to craft a successful and meaningful living.
Time to Say Goodbye
By the time we pulled into the ferry dock, we felt refreshed and renewed. Though we should have been exhausted from our whirlwind tour, we decided not to sit most of the way boat ride home. Instead, we stood outside in the fresh breeze and watched the horizon and the rippling waves for signs of sea life. Sure enough, a spinner dolphin leaped into the air just in time for us to notice.