Known to locals as "Emerald Isle," Orcas Island is a gem with many facets. The horseshoe-shaped island covers 57 square miles and is part of the San Juan Islands archipelago in the Northwest corner of Washington State. It’s accessible by passenger ferry from the town of Anacortes, Wash. or, better yet, by your own vessel.
Orcas features the perfect balance of stunning scenery, history, art, and amenities. The village of Eastsound, located in the center of the horseshoe along the body of water with the same name, is the hub of activity. To reach this pedestrian-friendly community by boat, you must cruise to the end of East Sound, anchor near the shore, and then dinghy to the town dock. Eastsound is alive with art galleries, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. A Saturday farmer’s market is held in the park adjacent to the Orcas Historical Museum. Nearby is Island Market, a well-stocked grocery store for provisioning. Specialty shops carry locally made baked goods, chocolate, and cheese. Browse the books and sip a latte at Darvill’s Book Store, a quintessential independent bookshop overlooking the harbor.
Don’t let the flatness of Eastsound fool you — the tallest mountain of the archipelago is 10 miles east of town in Moran State Park. On a clear day, you can see hundreds of islands as well as both the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges from the observation tower atop 2,409-foot high Mount Constitution. Boaters can dock at Rosario Resort’s marina, halfway up the eastern side of the island from Eastsound. The historic Moran Mansion is the centerpiece of this full-service resort, which features indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, and a waterfront restaurant.
Continuing up the east coast, don’t miss the tiny hamlet of Olga, where boats can tie up for free at a small dock. Visit Olga Artworks, a cooperative art gallery that sells the works of more than 40 island artisans. If you like to cook seafood, stroll over to Buckbay Shellfish Farm to shop their selection of fresh local oysters, crab, clams, and salmon.
At the eastern end of the island is Doe Bay Resort & Retreat. Those who anchor in the bay and dinghy ashore to dine at the Doe Bay Cafe are richly rewarded with gourmet meals prepared with the resort’s own organically grown produce. The historic building has panoramic views of the sea and islands beyond.
Along the western arm of the horseshoe are three communities worth exploring: Orcas Landing, Deer Harbor, and West Sound, all offering fuel and eateries. Orcas Landing provides short-term dock space. Deer Harbor Marina is an important waypoint for boaters cruising in the San Juans and offers sea-kayak and whale-watching tours. The West Sound Marina is the major boat repair facility on Orcas and has 400 feet of transient dockage. The West Sound Cafe, connected to All Dreams Cottages & Kingfish Inn, is definitely worth a visit. Nearby Turtleback Mountain has hiking trails with exceptional views.
Orcas Island is truly a treasure, and offers more than can be explored in one visit. Take your time, soak in the beauty, appreciate the island’s many facets. Then come back again.
Where to Dock
- Rosario Resort & Spa (360-376-2222, rosarioresort.com)
- West Sound Marina (360-376-2314, westsoundmarina.net)
- Deer Harbor Marina (360-376-3037, deerharbormarina.com)
Where to Dine
- New Leaf Cafe (171 Main St., 360-376-2200)
- Roses Bakery & Cafe (382 Prune Alley, 360-376-4292)
- Doe Bay Cafe (107 Doe Bay Rd., 360-376-2291)
- Westsound Cafe (4362 Crow Valley Rd., 360-376-4440)
Cathie Trogdon, born and raised in the state of Washington, has been visiting Orcas Island for more than 30 years via ferry, Boston Whaler, and the motor yacht Bee Weems with her husband, Peter Trogdon, owner of Weems & Plath, manufacturer of fine nautical instruments in Annapolis, Maryland.