Get Away with a Fall Visit to Lopez Island
The most rural of the three major San Juan Islands
Story Marguerite Cleveland
The minute you board the Washington State Ferry in Anacortes heading toward Lopez Island, your stress begins to slip away. Lopez Island is less visited than its larger neighbors Orcas and San Juan Island. Rolling farmlands, woods and open spaces with views for miles draw visitors to the island who want to disconnect and relax. It is known as the friendliest of the San Juan Islands, with a local custom of waving to passing cars. There are less restaurants, shops and businesses on Lopez Island, but the tradeoff is worth it for less people. Plan to spend your time taking quiet walks with public access to beaches and forests, or just reading and relaxing.
To get to Lopez Island, take a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, Washington. Make sure to make a ferry reservation—and note that you cannot make a reservation for your return trip. Plan to allow time on your last day to wait in the ferry line. Weather in the fall can be anywhere from warm and sunny to wet and cold, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Where to Stay
The best place to stay on the island, with the most amenities, is the Lopez Islander Resort, which overlooks the scenic Fisherman Bay. The on-site restaurant offers waterfront dining and is known for its prime rib and fresh seafood dishes. There is a variety of lodging options from hotel rooms to vacation home rentals. Camping is available at the resort as well as a full-service marina. All have access to the heated swimming pool and jacuzzi. If you decide you don’t want to drive your car, you can park it in the resort’s parking lot and walk or bike onto the ferry. You can arrange a complimentary shuttle pickup with the resort. The location is convenient to Lopez Village, which is home to most of the shopping and restaurants on the island.
Where to Eat
There are a limited number of restaurants on the island, and the summer of 2020 was a tough one as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on their peak season. The two well-known restaurants in Lopez Village only offer takeout at this time. The Islander Bar and Grill at the Lopez Islander Resort is open for dine-in or takeout, and is a good option if you prefer a sit-down meal.
One restaurant that has adjusted is Ursa Minor. “When our dining room was forced to close in mid-March, we knew that our survival depended upon our immediate action. We quickly pivoted our business model depending on what our customers needed at that exact moment in time. We soon realized that our business would never be the same,” said co-owner Nova Askue. “Beautifully plated conceptual dishes just didn't seem appropriate at the time, so we launched 'Comfort Food To-Go'; comforting meals for uncertain times. Something we had thought would only be temporary lasted 16 weeks, and to this day we are still serving up fried chicken to-go.”
They have also paired with Holly B’s Bakery, using her sweet corn cookies with their Ursa Minor house-made ice cream to create the ultimate ice cream sandwich. They strive to source locally and support island farmers as much as possible.
Haven Kitchen and Bar has a lovely waterfront view from its location in Lopez Village. It is known for its imaginative menu filled with a variety of dishes to include local ingredients and fresh seafood with international influences. They also offer fresh in-house baked goods.
What to Do
Lopez Village is the commercial heart of the island and has a grocery store, pharmacy and an organic grocery. There are some cute shops, galleries, a coffee shop and a bakery. Grab a coffee and wander through the shops in this waterfront hamlet at a leisurely pace. Everything seems to just slow down on island time.
Before you head out to Lopez, call and book a time to pick up some local wine at Lopez Island Vineyards. At this time, the tasting room is closed, but you can see the grounds when you pick up your wine. Owner Brent Charnley is one of the original pioneers of Washington wine. The first winery in the San Juan Islands, he and his wife Maggie have organically grown grapes on their land for over 30 years. Don’t miss the Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe varietals, both estate grown. In 2017, the Madeleine Angevine made The Seattle Times list of the top 50 wines of the year.
You can’t visit the island without planning to spend some time outside. Lopez is popular to cycle, as it offers some of the easiest terrain in the area. Think sloping country lanes with no traffic and wide-open spaces. In the fall, you will need to bring your own bicycle, as no rentals are available outside of the summer season.
Hiking is a joy with so many options. In addition to a state park, there are a variety of local parks. One must-do hike is the Shark Reef Sanctuary. It is tucked away on the west side of the island. The 1-mile round-trip hike begins in a forest before opening on a bluff overlooking a rocky shoreline with absolutely stunning views. Seal and sea lion sightings are common. It is well worth the short trek.
Another great outdoor space is the Watmough Bay Preserve. Park in the lot and follow the trail leading right to the beach. The protected natural bay is calm and secluded with a smooth, rocky beach surrounded by natural stone cliffs. What strikes most people when they visit is how quiet it is. It is a lovely space to explore, even on a rainy day.
Referred to as “The Heart of Lopez,” Lopez Hill is a Pacific Northwest rainforest that gives you a sense of being isolated from civilization though just a short distance to homes and roads. There are 4 miles of primitive trails with limited signage, but it is pretty easy to keep on the trail. It is the place locals visit to renew their spirits.
When traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to have safe practices during this time. Make reservations for everything you can. Check the Visitors’ websites for your destination for updates. Call your lodging a day or two before you travel for specific information as well as any business on your “must see” list. Wear a mask and wash or sanitize your hands often. Travel with a few extra provisions in case the situation changes so you will have something to ear. Lastly, spend what you can to help these small local businesses survive.
For more information, visit the San Juan Islands Official Visitors’ site, VisitSanJuanIslands.com or the Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce site, LopezIsland.com for updates on COVID-19 and what is open. Typically, many restaurants and some businesses are closed early in the week. Make sure to verify hours and make reservations for hotels and restaurants.
Where to Stay
Lopez Islander Resort - LopezFun.com
What to Do
Lopez Island Vineyards - LopezIslandVineyards.com
Lopez Hill - LopezHill.org
Where to Eat
Ursa Minor - UrsaMinorLopez.com (take-out only)
Haven Kitchen and Bar - LopezHaven.com