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Places We Love: 9 Things to Do on Orcas Island

 

Scenic views, scratch-made food and handcrafted collectibles. There are many reasons to love Orcas Island. Shaped like a giant horseshoe, this destination is one of our favorites.

From cocktails and brunch to shopping and hikes, this gem has it all. Here are some of our top things to do during a weekend getaway. 

Hike Cascade Falls

While we like a good challenge, sometimes minimal effort and maximum reward are ideal for the leisurely getaway. The hike to Cascade Falls in Moran State Park offers just that. The trek to this sun-dappled waterfall can be as short as half a mile round trip.

Simply follow the well-maintained trail as it departs from the clearly labeled parking lot just off Mt. Constitution Road. It descends past a series of smaller falls, following Cascade Creek, a fresh-water creek that provides a natural spawning ground for trout. 

The falls are open year-round. However, they are particularly breathtaking following a heavy rain.

 

Find Hand-Made Gems at Material Wit

From its laidback vibe to its jaw-dropping views, Orcas Island’s long been a hub for artisans. These creative individuals frequently attribute their work to the island’s inspirational setting, as does minimalist jewelry designer Jessie Morrow.

Owner of Material Wit, a small jewelry studio in Eastsound, Jessie forges each piece in her island studio. Her newest collection features pieces cast from pebbles collected on the island’s beaches.

 

Savor Seed-to-Table Cuisine

With its clothing-optional spa and stunning Rosario Strait views, it could be said Doe Bay Resort & Retreat is the quintessential hub of Orcas Island. Accommodations at this quaint destination offer rustic charm. So too does the resort’s Doe Bay Café, where chef Jon Chappelle’s unpretentious cuisine is downright drool-worthy.

We love that the seasonally changing menu is seed-to-table. It highlights island-grown fruits and vegetables, primarily harvested from the resort’s own sustainable garden. Seafood is ethically sourced from local purveyors, ensuring only the freshest catch makes it onto your plate. At dinner, we’re partial to the clams, served with a generous hunk of sourdough. Brunch here is also not to be missed, as waffles may be spiked with pumpkin and eggs might be olive oil poached and served with local salmon.

 

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Shuck Your Own Oysters

A third-generation oyster farm, Buck Bay Shellfish is run by husband-wife duo Mark Sawyer and Toni Knudson. We love visiting their seaside estate. Located beside the shores of Buck Bay’s protected inlet, their onsite seafood store is open seasonally. You can pick up fresh crab, oysters, clams and smoked salmon to go. But we prefer to stick around, snagging one of the picnic tables and shucking our oyster right there.

 

Indulge in Fresh Baked Goodies

Small towns and long lines are generally counterintuitive. But one whiff of the fragrant sticky buns from Brown Bear Baking and we’re all quickly to join the crowd. This locally owned and operated bakery’s scratch-made goods have earned them a cult following.

Opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we recommend visiting with a friend who likes to share. After all, who wants to choose between the croissant aux amandes, seasonal galettes, and creamy quiche?

 

Enjoy a Free Concert

Tucked into the horseshoe of Orcas Island, the historic Moran Mansion at Rosario Resort is home to more than just a picturesque setting. The elegant estate’s museum features both a 1913 Aeolian pipe organ and a 1900 Steinway grand piano. 

The museum is open daily for self-guided tours. But the real treat is to come on Saturday for one of the free organ concerts at 4 p.m.

 

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Discover a New Keepsake

The long dirt driveway may make you feel like you’re lost, but that’s part of Orcas Island Pottery’s charm. Opened in 1945, it’s the oldest pottery studio in the northwest. The idyllic setting on a 100-foot bluff overlooking President’s Channel houses a rich collection of hand-thrown wares.

From plates and cups to whimsical garden creatures and wall décor, you’ll be hard-pressed to leave without a new keepsake. Be sure to take a moment to also visit the studio’s first home – a log cabin. The cabin was originally the home of a fur trapper, who traded it to the studio’s founders, Joe and Marclay Sherman, for just four plates and four bowls!

 

Order a Toast-Worthy Cocktail

Treat yourself to an authentic island nightcap at The Barnacle. What this cozy craft bar lacks in space, it more than makes up for in flavor. The jovial staff creates custom cocktails and elixirs daily, featuring their latest concoction on a blackboard beside the bar.

But for the real deal, we’re partial to the bartender’s creation. Tell them your favorite liquor and preferred flavor profile (such as sweet, savory or spicy). They’ll personalize a drink for you!

 

Stand at the Top of the San Juan Islands

Home to the most diverse topography in the San Juans, Orcas Island’s crowning glory is Mount Constitution. Standing at 2,400-feet, it’s the tallest peak in the archipelago. It is located in Moran State Park, a 5,000-acre park where hiking trails and recreational activities abound.

You can hike to the top of the mountain, but driving is also an option. At the top, we like to climb the stairs of the stone lookout tower. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, it offers panoramic views of the surrounding islands, the Cascades, and beyond.

 

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Take a Scenic Flight

Ferries are lovely. Chartered flights will do. But, when you’re traveling to Orcas Island, nothing quite compares to a 45-minute scenic flight on Kenmore Air. They offer regularly scheduled service between Seattle and Orcas Island.

A family-owned and operated airline, this local business is a bit different than the supergiants you’ll find at Sea-Tac. You might even call the low-key check-in intimate and the terminals ‘airy.’ Many of them are picnic tables and docks — as Kenmore air flies both wheeled planes and seaplanes.