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Travel Articles
When it comes to family vacations,
Washington State's San Juan Islands are Rated "E" for Everybody
(appeared in Family)
By Heather Larson


Discover your own slice of paradise by escaping to the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Surrounded by vibrant blue pristine bays, channels and straits, the islands themselves boast rolling hills, lush green forests, country farms and the blending of history and nature. The mood is slow and laid back, the panoramic view breathtaking and island bliss makes it easy to leave the rush of city life behind. No rush hour traffic here and the only stoplight in the entire county is in a museum.

If you're tired of the rain and the steel grey skies prevalent in western Washington during the winter, the San Juans average 247 sun-filled days each year and only get half the rainfall Seattle because they nestle in the "rainshadow" of the Olympic Mountains. This creates the warmer, dryer island weather.

Rated "E" for everybody, the San Juan Islands holds attractions for each and every family member. For Dad, there's the rich military history, all kinds of boating and a slew of museums. Mom will want to shop the boutiques, browse the art galleries or be pampered at a spa. Kids can bowl, hike, explore and more and best of all, take a rest from computer and television screens.

From McChord Air Force Base, Ft. Lewis or Camp Murray in Tacoma; from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island; or from the naval installations in Bremerton, Everett or Bangor, you'll want to drive to Anacortes, Wash. and take the ferry to one of the larger islands, most likely San Juan Island, which is the largest. Only 20 of the islands out of hundreds in the archipelago are inhabited. Most of that population lives on San Juan, Orcas or Lopez, the three largest islands. For lodging, dining, shopping, and outdoor activities, San Juan Island has the most options. You can always hop on the fee ferry during your stay and visit Orcas or Lopez islands.

In the 1800's both British Columbia (English) and the United States (American) claimed San Juan Island because of its proximity to both places. Sometimes minor disputes arose, but for the most part both countries occupied the island and waited in peace for 12 years for a war that never happened. In 1872 the dispute over ownership was settled by arbitration and the British left San Juan Island. English Camp, just south of Roche Harbor on Garrison Bay, still exists. It houses the original structures, including the blockhouse, used during the British occupation plus a formal English garden and forest trail.

American Camp contains the officers' quarters and several hiking trails. There's even a self-guided history walk where you can relive the Pig War of 1859. When a settler killed a pig on San Juan Island, England and the United States almost went to war over territorial rights. But in the end the pig was the only one that gave his life. "The Pig War" a children's book by Betty Baker makes good reading either before or after a visit to English Camp and American Camp.

In Friday Harbor, the largest town on San Juan Island, you might want to visit the American Legion Museum, which is devoted to local military history and the San Juan Historical Museum which depicts island history. The whole family will enjoy the Whale Museum.

San Juan Island is also home to at least 20 galleries, many of them within walking distance in Friday Harbor. Try The Mystical Mermaid for crystal balls, fantasy figures or soapstone carvings. The Arctic Raven Gallery showcases authentic Native American art.

And for the kids, one or more of the alpacas at Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm might be hungry for an apple. Just check with the owners, Kris or Albert Olson, first. Each alpaca is registered and named just like a pedigreed dog. The wool from one of these animals is enough to make four or five sweaters. Alpaca sweaters are for sale in the country store.

Downriggers Restaurant in Friday Harbor, one of the locals' favorite places to dine, provide a children's menu and a paper tablecloth children can color. Jimmy's Paradise Café, at the bowling alley, serves kid-friendly entrees like macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and hot dogs.

Additionally, if you want to prove to your children that they can survive without television, one of the local bed and breakfasts would be a good choice. States Inn and Ranch, a working ranch with sheep, alpacas, horses and chickens, serves out-of-this-world breakfasts and the innkeepers, Angel Michaels and Richard Foote, let their younger guests help them gather eggs from the chickens.

For more information, go to www.guidetosanjuans.com.


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