Tourist Spot

How to Take the Ultimate Lopez Island, Washington Vacation

Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect journeys to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo opportunities, memorable rides and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.

Below, we talk to Anna McGrady, Senior Analytics Writer at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put Lopez Island, Washington on your bucket list.

What drew you to Lopez Island as a place to visit or explore?

My family and I have been visiting Lopez Island as “weekend getaways” for decades. Lopez is one of the original San Juan Islands, off the coasts of Washington and Canada. The island offers everything you could want for an escape from the city: rolling fields, beautiful mountain and water views, plenty of outdoor activities, and a warm and welcoming community of local islanders. For me, Lopez represents serenity, time to reconnect with my loved ones, and the opportunity to connect more deeply with nature.

What are the best times of year to visit?

Lopez is amazing year-round, but you’ll get the most out of a visit during the traditional summer months (Memorial Day to Labor Day) because that’s when you have the perfect combination of good weather, open commerce on the island and a much friendlier ferry schedule for travel plans.

What’s your best advice for getting there? How to make the trip as stress-free as possible?

The San Juan Islands are accessible by ferry from Anacortes, Washington as well as from Canada and by private boat. The drive to Anacortes from Seattle can take up to two hours and you should allow plenty of time to get to the ferry terminal. Washington State ferries allow pedestrians, bikes, and cars, but space is limited and there are often multiple islands served by a single route.

It is strongly recommended to get a ferry reservation if they are available ― otherwise plan to arrive well before departure to ensure a seat if you are driving! Better yet, arrive a few hours early and grab a drink or a bite to eat in Anacortes before your ferry. The town offers a great selection of restaurants and bars, as well as plenty of gas stations and grocery stores to stock up on before your trip.

Where do you recommend staying when you go?

I’m incredibly lucky that my family has a shared cabin on the island, where I stay whenever I visit. That being said, there are plenty of great accommodation options across the island! The Islander Hotel is a mainstay for visitors to Lopez and includes hotel rooms, a marina for boats, a swimming pool and a bar which is a go-to meeting place for locals. The Edenwild Inn is a great option for those who want to be right downtown and is perfect for couples looking for a bed-and-breakfast experience. Additionally, there are many campgrounds and Airbnbs scattered all over the island. Be sure to book your accommodation well in advance – places fill up quickly, especially during peak periods like 4th of July!

What are your favorite restaurants or foods during your stay?

Whenever I visit Lopez, there are always a few must-try food stops on the trip: cold brew coffee with Mexican chocolate from Isabel’s Espresso, pastries from Holly B’s Bakery (get there early―they sell out!), pan-fried oysters from the Islander Waterfront restaurant, creative poutine dishes from Poutine Your Mouth (a food truck usually parked outside Blossom Grocery) and great deli sandwiches at Lopez Village Market.

What bars or entertainment venues do you make sure to visit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?

Lopez is definitely not a party island, but you can usually have a good time at Islander Waterfront Restaurant most nights of the week. They have great food and a well stocked bar, as well as a nice lawn for the summer months.

Sunset over Fisherman's Bay.
Sunset over Fisherman’s Bay.

What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you are there?

Lopez is full of incredibly talented artists and artisans, which makes shopping a lot of fun! My must-stops whenever I’m on the island include Chimera Gallery (for a selection of art and memorabilia from all over the island), Studio 45 Glass (see local artist Rahman Anderson work his magic and take home a piece for yourself), as well as the Lopez Thrift Shop and Deja Vu Consignment for great clothing, jewelry and homewares.

Where is your favorite place to take photos and why?

The most stunning sunsets can be seen on the west side of the island: Otis Perkins Day Park will be your best bet. You’ll see stunning shades of pink, orange and deep blue as the sun sets over San Juan Island and the evening ferry glides past. It’s a sight to behold!

Which tourist attraction should people avoid and what should they do instead?

Skip the whale-watching excursion and rent a kayak (or participate in community sailing hours) to tour the island on your own.

Where do you feel most relaxed, calm or happy?

One of my favorite spots on the island is at the end of the Shark Reef trail, which starts on the road to the community golf course. You emerge from the woods on low cliffs near the water and are greeted by stunning views of Cattle Pass and San Juan Island. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chorus of barking seals and sea lions in the background!

What scenic spots do you recommend visiting?

Lopez Island is full of amazing hikes and walks. Some of my favorites include Shark Reef, Watmough Bay, Iceberg Point, Spencer Spit, Fisherman Bay Preserve and Lopez Hill.

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Driftwood logs on a beach at Spencer Spit State Park.

What is the thing that you make sure to take with you if you go and why?

If you plan to bring a car to the island, be sure to fill up with gas before boarding the ferry. You can find just about anything you need in terms of groceries between Lopez Village Market and Blossom Grocery, but gasoline is much harder to come by.

What specific planning tips do you need to know before you go so you don’t get stressed out?

Accommodation and the ferry schedule will always be the most important factors in planning a trip to Lopez Island, as options are limited and you compete with tourists and locals for places.

As soon as you know you want to visit Lopez, start booking accommodation to ensure you have accommodation on the island. It is strongly recommended to book a ferry, if the option is available. The most popular times on the island are the annual Tour de Lopez bicycle race and the 4th of July (when the island has one of the most impressive fireworks displays I have ever seen). These are two of the most exciting times to be on the island, but be prepared for crowds and a long wait for the ferry.

What surprised you at Lopez Island on your first visit?

Lopez is truly a break from the hustle and bustle of the city – although it takes a bit of planning to get there, it’s definitely worth it for the relaxation at the end.

Anything else visitors should know?

Some of Lopez’s parks are part of the Washington State Park System, which means you’ll need to have a Discover Pass or pay for a day pass when you park. If you’ll be visiting other Washington State Parks on your trip, consider purchasing a year-long pass in advance.