Lopez Island is the third-largest San Juan island in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an archipelago renowned for its stunning coastal landscapes and laid-back, friendly “slow-pez” lifestyle. Due to its small size of almost 30 square miles, visitors can become immersed in all the island has to offer over a weekend.
Expect a slower pace of life and plentiful outdoor activities. Be prepared for Lopezians to greet you with “we’re glad you are here” or their special Lopezian wave. On the island, I discovered a strong sense of community and locals who were itching to tell you their life stories and help with directions.
The Washington State Ferries provide a regular service to the island. The ride takes a relaxing 50 minutes from Anacortes, which is about 2 hours north of Seattle by car. I would recommend arriving at the Anacortes ferry terminal at least an hour and a half before sailing in the summer months. Each ferry takes 120 cars and should be pre-booked on the outbound leg. Enjoy the refreshing breeze and the views of the neighboring San Juan islands from the decks.
Make sure to pack your outdoor shoes and a pair of binoculars. When on the island, look out for orca whales, eagles, seals, and sea lions. The landscape is rural, and with a population of approximately 2,400, which includes second homeowners, the island does not feel overcrowded.
The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, was once one of those homeowners. He owned 387-acres on the Sperry Peninsula, where he built a spectacular glass-fronted vacation home.
Quirky road names seem to be a feature of the island, such as “Wild Goose Chase Way” and “Rum Runner Road”. An absence of traffic lights, combined with reasonably flat terrain, makes for easy driving.
Here is how to spend a weekend on one of the most unspoiled islands in the Pacific Northwest:
Check-in at The Edenwild Inn, just a 10-minute drive from the ferry terminal and situated in the heart of the village. Shops, restaurants, cafes, and galleries are all within walking distance. Their rooms are spacious, with number 6 being the best choice for families as it has a pullout sofa bed.
There are also beautiful outdoor spaces, with seating and tables on which you can play a board game retrieved from the communal lounge. In addition, you can take advantage of bike and kayak rentals from the owners to further your explorations.
In the morning, breakfast is quietly delivered to your door. Chia seed yogurt and berry fruit parfait, along with a locally baked good and a protein such as hard-boiled egg or quiche, is your substantial start for the first full day.
Eat at or get takeout from Ursa Minor: an array of succulent burgers and homemade cocktails, such as the “strawberry blonde” are on their menu.
Stroll along the sandy beach or hiking trails at Odlin County Park, which spans 80 acres. Don’t forget to look out for wildlife such as eagles, ospreys, otters, and orca whales in this rich environment.
Shop in Lopez village
Just Heavenly Fudge is the perfect spot to buy gifts for others and yourself. The store has been a focal point of Lopez village for 14 years and can be found in one of the oldest buildings in the community.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert featured the company in the “small business bump” section. Kenny G, the award-winning jazz saxophonist, contributed to the comical advertisement created for the show. For the curious – watch the clip on YouTube.
Natalie, the co-owner, told me that the business is overwhelmed with orders due to the publicity. The post office is struggling to ship the vast quantity of boxes. She summed the situation up by saying, “it’s been a blessing and a curse.”
The shop can make up to 150 different flavors of fudge, stocking around 20 at a time. Although the most popular flavor is sea salt caramel, one of Natalie’s favorites is spumoni – a three-layered creation of chocolate, cherry, and pistachio. I was curious about a jar on a shelf labeled “Lopez Island slug butter” but was relieved to find out that it was apple butter.
Natalie uses organic butter and pure vanilla in her fudge. However, she does not disclose her recipes. She did admit, “I have a secret ingredient, and that secret ingredient is love.”
Lopez Bookshop is equally welcoming. It has a good selection of local authors and writers from around the world. The travel, fiction, and children’s sections are well-stocked.
Take a coffee and pastry break at Holly B’s Bakery, which sources as many ingredients as they can locally and supports the island’s farmers.
Browse the stalls at Lopez Island Farmers Market and chat with the business owners. Selling candles, farm produce and art, wine from Lopez Island Vineyards, and recycled clothes, the market, which takes place from late May to mid-September, is an excellent way to support local enterprises.
Lunch at Vortex Cafe and Juice Bar. This café, with a relaxed, rustic outside area located next to an old water tower, serves many healthy options created with seasonal produce. You can even taste the legendry Chicaoji Sauce, made by islander, Randall Waugh along with your salad, bowl, or wrap. The sauce is intensely smoky with a hint of spice and sweetness; its main ingredients are goji berry, cacao, and chipotle.
The first non-indigenous settler was Hiram Hutchinson, who arrived on the island in the 1850s from Vermont via California after the gold rush. He settled at Fisherman Bay as a storekeeper, operating his store using a bartering system.
Many of the exhibits are donations from descendants of the first settlers. Mary Reece, Vice President of the museum, believes her great great grandfather, Charles Brown was the fifth settler. She says the role of the historical society in the community today is to “preserve history and provide education in the community, provide historical resources and also to keep safely the materials and heirlooms, which many of us have donated over the years.”
Mary told me that the tourist industry started in the 1950s and 1960s. Before this time, the primary industries on the island were fishing and agriculture.
Hike and look out for wildlife at Shark Reef Sanctuary. Basking or cavorting seals, sea lions, and eagles swooping overhead may reward you after a short walk through some woods. The path meanders along the cliffs overlooking the San Juan Channel and snow-capped Olympic mountains. It is an easy hike with glorious views.
Have dinner at Islander Bar & Grill. Relax and unwind over a beverage and generous plates of food, knowing that service will be accommodating and friendly. There is an outdoor deck overlooking the water, which is perfect for balmy evenings. Take a stroll on the boardwalk after dinner.
Watch the sunset on the eastern shore of the island at Spencer Spit State Park. Unfortunately, the park closes at dusk, so be sure to leave promptly! With panoramic views from the lagoon over the mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it is the perfect location for a few sunset photographs.
Go for coffee at Isabel’s Espresso, where you can expect organic, fair-trade Mexican coffee and organic milk. Then, perhaps, pair it with a pastry for a special post-breakfast treat and enjoy your purchases on their deck.
Visit Chimera Gallery to view and purchase some local art or jewelry. The gallery is run by a co-operative. It is the artists you will often find serving customers. A mix of pottery, glasswork, mixed media, silk, oil paintings, and watercolor paintings are on offer.
Walk along the beach and skip stones at Agate Beach County Park. The rocky shore is located on the southern end of the island. Beachcombing and searching for agates and sea glass is a favorite activity for visitors. Once finished on the beach, climb the metal stairs and cross the road, where you can find an interpretive trail. Watch out for woodpeckers, juicy salmonberries (a fruit that is part of the rose family), and orange honeysuckle – a beautifully fragrant flower that attracts hummingbirds. Lunch at Bucky’s Lopez Island Grill, which is in the village (211 Lopez Road). The menu includes plenty of fresh local fish, such as crab caesar salad and Pacific oysters. From their deck, you can watch the boats at Fisherman Bay.
By the end of your weekend exploring Lopez Island, two things will be certain: you’ll be in love with the locals, and you’ll be planning your next trip back.