My husband and I recently traveled to Orcas Island for the first time and fell in love with the horseshoe-shaped island. While I look forward to visiting again in the summer, allow me to take you through what the island has to offer during off-peak tourist season! There is still so much to see and explore! It hasn’t got anything on the landscape of Iceland though, which you will more than likely need a 4×4 rental Iceland car to travel anywhere to go sightseeing.
I would describe the island itself as the more laid-back cousin of San Juan Island, with much less hustle and bustle but still the same sweeping views of the Puget Sound. As James Hardman, the manager of Orcas Island Artworks, put it, “Orcas is a very intentional place. People do not move here for a job.” With these views and the lifestyle, can you blame them?
Taking the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island is your best bet! My husband and I traveled from south of Seattle to Anacortes, which takes about two hours and drove onto the 10:35 a.m. ferry. The ferry ride itself was about one hour and ten minutes, with a stop at Lopez Island before arriving at Orcas Island. You can check out the schedule here. If you plan to visit Orcas Island for the first time, I would really recommend driving. While the village of Eastsound itself is walkable, the island is spread out enough that a car is almost essential (it also a good 8 mile drive from the ferry dock to Eastsound). And a big tip for newbies bringing your car on the ferry – a family in the car next to us had apparently stayed in their car the entire ferry ride back to Anacortes with their lights and radio on. When it was time for everyone to exit the ferry, their car wouldn’t start because the battery died. If you are going to stay in your car, it may be best to turn everything off and take a nap, or get out and relax on the ferry.
Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast
My husband and I stayed at the quaint Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast. Located about 4 miles south of Eastsound on 4.1 acres with five guest rooms (each with private bath), kitchen with breakfast area, common areas, a therapeutic hot tub, gardens, and a deck that overlooks abundant wildlife – it was perfect. Sue and Carl Silvernail have created a home away from home and are very gracious hosts. We happened to luck out and be the only ones staying the two nights we were there, which gave us the opportunity to have an intimate breakfast with them our first morning (breakfast starts at 9 a.m. and the second morning we had to catch the 8:45 a.m. ferry back to Anacortes). They have an incredible life story (ask Sue about the ukulele) and the breakfast served was savory and delightful. The coffee flowed, the conversations were filled with laughter, the birds and squirrels enjoyed the deck feeders and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my morning. We took the bedroom just outside the front door as it was spacious, out of the way and had a nice large bathroom. The room was very clean and well-maintained, the bed was comfortable and Sue even offered me two different bathing suits to wear in the hot tub since I forgot mine! Their hospitality can not be beat and my husband and I didn’t want to leave! If you are a lover of dogs like my husband and I are, then you will also love their little companion, Chuli! Best of luck trying to get him to pose for a photo though – it’s like he knows you are trying to get the camera out and he will walk away!
Inn at Ship Bay
While we did not stay at the Inn at Ship Bay, my husband and I did meet with owners Mary Anna and Geddes and took a tour of the property, which is located about a mile and a half from Eastsound. The Inn offers 11 rooms and a restaurant built on top of a bluff with unobstructed southern views over the waters of Ship Bay. The Inn is built around the historic 1869 Adam’s farmhouse in the center of heirloom plum, pear and apple orchards. Each of the 11 rooms has a king-size bed, gas log fireplace, mini-fridge, private bath, private balcony, and stunning water views. Geddes took us on a tour of the farm and told us about life at the Inn. About fifty percent of their business happens in the three month period over the summer, and the weekends are often busy through the Spring and Autumn seasons too. This just means it’s a great place to stay year round!
Inn at Ship Bay
Unfortunately for us, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays (we visited on a Monday), but everyone we met on the island said Inn at Ship Bay is a must-eat place! The on-site restaurant offers 65 seats for dining and Geddes, who is also the executive chef, buys as much food as he can locally and writes a menu based on what they have at the time. Much of the food also comes from the gardens located right on the property and a nearby farm where Geddes raises his own pigs. We will definitely come back for dinner one of these days!
Moran Lounge at Rosario Resort & Spa
Sue and Carl highly recommended we try the food at Rosario Resort & Spa and we are certainly glad we did. We headed into the Moran Lounge and sat at the bar, ordering a few beers and some light food. I tried the Chuckanut Pilsner and the pork lettuce wraps, made with spicy sesame ground pork, romaine leaves with a side of Sriracha. That pork may have been some of the best I have ever had as it was the perfect amount of savory and spicy. We were told that next time we visit, we must see the Museum! *Note to self: start planning another trip to Orcas Island.*
Clever Cow Creamery
Located in downtown Eastsound, the Clever Cow Creamery is a super cute little shop, which opened in 2015. They offer more than 28 flavors of ice cream and throughout the winter until spring, offer ham and cheese paninis, freshly home made soups and chili, brats and dogs, as well as coffee and espressos. They are open Thursday thru Monday and are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I tried the regular vanilla Sundae topped with sea salt caramel. My husband tried a large chocolate Sundae with deep dark fudge and he added some of his own toppings. Delicious! In my humble opinion, ice cream is good any time of year.
New Leaf Cafe
My husband and I had the incredible opportunity to meet with New Leaf Cafe’s executive chef, Steve Debaste and taste his delectable French-inspired creations. The New Leaf Cafe is located at the Outlook Inn. Steve’s life story makes you want to follow your dreams and if you ever get the chance to meet him, you won’t be disappointed. Steve’s dad was a French resistance fighter and his mother was a MASH nurse in the United States Army. They were married in France after the war and moved from France to Boston, where Steve was born before moving to Washington when he was 5 years old. His mom taught cooking at the University of Washington and Steve had the chance to cook with one of the most famous chefs of all time, Julia Child, when he was 12 years old. After high school, Steve moved to Hawaii and worked at a french creperie and was the head chef of a restaurant by the time he turned 19. Moving back to Washington, he raised his family while working at Microsoft as a corporate chef. This made him able to both work and spend quality time with his family. After spending 13 years at Microsoft and his children were old enough, he went to France for a month with his son and was soon ready to get back into the restaurant business. He met the owners of New Leaf Cafe through Craigslist, did a food demonstration for them one winter and got the job. Eight years ago he moved to Orcas Island and started off living on the second floor of the Hotel, above the bar. Now he lives a few blocks away, but still has the best work commute of anybody I know. His passion is making people happy and being unpretentious. Side note – ask to see his leg tattoo.
Now onto the actual food! Steve brought out each dish for us and told us about the background and history of each one. I cannot even describe the rich, buttery and savory taste explosions that occurred on my palate from each dish. I even went way out of my comfort zone and tried Beef Carpaccio for the first time (essentially raw Wagyu beef), and I was in heaven! My husband even tried mussels for the first time and he thoroughly enjoyed them.
New Leaf Cafe is closed in December and January, with June – September being peak season. In the summer they are open five days a week (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and have a packed house every night. With this food menu and atmosphere, I can see why! Steve also emphasized how the people on the island take care of each other and the Cafe does some charity work within the community, including a fundraising dinner for the Animal Protection Society and making the food for the musicians at the Chamber Music Festival.
Located in the beautiful Moran State Park, Mt. Constitution is a must-see when you visit Orcas Island. Drive to the top and the views are ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. We loved it so much, we went twice. The pictures you take of the views you will see do not do any justice to what actually lies before your eyes. The drive itself takes some time up a five mile and very windy road of switchbacks. Watch out for the endless amounts of deer crossing the road and make sure you catch the sunset from one of the vantage points on the way to the top. You can see Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Vancouver, BC – its breathtaking. We were lucky to catch two beautiful sunsets (with the second day being a little more cloudy than the first).
Located on of course, the northern part of Orcas Island, North Beach has views of Mt. Baker to the right, Sucia Islands straight ahead and Waldron Island to the left. Public access to the beach is very limited (don’t stray too far on either side as it becomes private property). I recommend grabbing a coffee and relaxing for a bit just to enjoy the views.
Orcas Island Artworks
The Orcas Island Artworks Gallery, located in a historic building in the village of Olga, was formerly a strawberry barreling plant in the late 1930’s. The building now sits as a restored landmark, showcasing the best of the island’s crafts and fine art. We met with the gallery’s manager, James Hardman and artist Carl Buttke. The gallery is a co-op with 50 different members and all of the artists live on the island. The gallery has no employees as each artist works on a commission level adjusted by the work they do. The collections include paintings, prints, jewelry, pottery, sculpture, glass, wood, fiber and wearable arts, as well as other locally made items and gifts. Walking around the gallery, both James and Carl told us quick biographies of some of the artists, and it was fascinating to hear their stories behind their pieces. You can also find the artist’s bios here.
My husband purchased a cutting board, created by Emmes Woodshop. I purchased Lavender Rose Cream for the face and body from Island Thyme (made right across the street from the gallery!) and a whale necklace made by Ashley Ryder of Sea Starling Fine Metalwork.
Another beautiful place to grab a coffee or a soda from the local store, sit on the chairs and just chill out. My husband and I drove here just to see what Doe Bay was about and we ended up literally just sitting and watching nature for an hour while sipping on sodas. If you need some time to clear your head and just straight up relax, go to Doe Bay.
Orcas Island is truly one of Washington’s gems. If you are looking for a peaceful fall getaway, its one of the best places to find some much needed relaxation!
Lesley is the founder and editor of What’s Up NW. Prior to creating WhatsUpNW.com, she was the Seattle city editor for AskMissA.com. For both publications, Lesley has covered fashion shows, openings, and local charity events. She has written numerous articles shining the light on local businesses, encouraging readers to always shop local.