How To Take The Ultimate Vacation On Lopez Island, Washington

Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect trips 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 drives and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.

Below, we chat with Anna McGrady, senior analytics editor 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 “weekenders” for decades. Lopez is one of the first islands in the San Juans, which is off the coasts of Washington and Canada. The island is everything you could want in an escape from the city: rolling fields, beautiful mountain and water views, outdoor activities a-plenty, and a warming and welcoming community of local islanders. For me, Lopez represents serenity, time to reconnect with my loved ones and the opportunity to connect deeper 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 through Labor Day), as that’s when you have the perfect combination of beautiful weather, open commerce on the island and a much friendlier ferry schedule for travel plans.

What’s your best tip for getting there? How can you make the travel as stress-free as possible?

The San Juan Islands are accessibly 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 need to ensure plenty of time to get to the ferry terminal. The Washington State Ferries allow for walk-ons, bikes and cars, but space is limited and there are often multiple islands being served by one route.

It’s highly recommended that you get a ferry reservation if they are available ― otherwise plan to arrive well ahead of departure to ensure a spot if you are driving! Better yet, arrive a few hours ahead of time and grab drinks or a bite to eat in Anacortes before your ferry. The town has a great selection of restaurants and bars, as well as plenty of gas stations and grocery stores to stock up on supplies 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, which is where I stay whenever I visit. That being said, there are many great options for accommodations across the island! The Islander Hotel is a mainstay for visitors to Lopez and includes hotel rooms, a marina for boats, a pool and a bar that is a mainstay hangout for the locals. The Edenwild Inn is a great option for those who want to be right in the center of town and is perfect for couples looking for a bed-and-breakfast experience. Additionally, there are many camp grounds and Airbnbs scattered throughout the island. Make sure you book your accommodations well in advance ― places fill up fast, especially during peak times like Fourth of July!

What are your go-to restaurants or foods to eat while you’re there?

Whenever I visit Lopez, there are always a few must-do culinary 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 generally parked outside Blossom Grocery), and really great deli sandwiches at the Lopez Village Market.

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

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

Sunset over Fisherman Bay.
Sunset over Fisherman Bay.

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

Lopez is full of incredibly talented artists and craftspeople, which makes for very fun shopping! My go-to stops whenever I’m on the island include Chimera Gallery (for a selection of art and souvenirs from around 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 clothes, jewelry and home goods.

What’s your single favorite spot to go for photos and why?

The most amazing sunsets can be seen from the western side of the island: Otis Perkins Day Park will be your best bet. You’ll see amazing shades of pink, orange and deep blues while the sun sets over San Juan Island and the evening ferry glides along in the distance. It’s a sight to be seen!

What tourist attraction should people skip and what should they do instead?

Skip the whale watching tour and rent a kayak (or take part in the community sailing hours) to tour the island yourself.

Where do you feel the most relaxed, calm or happy?

One of my favorite spots on the island is at the end of the Shark Reef trail, which starts down the road from the community golf course. You walk out from the woods onto low cliffs near the water and are greeted with a sweeping view of Cattle Pass and San Juan Island. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a chorus of seals and sea lions barking in the background!

What scenic spots do you recommend checking out?

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

Driftwood logs on a beach at Spencer Spit State Park.
Driftwood logs on a beach at Spencer Spit State Park.

What’s one thing you make sure to pack if you’re going and why?

If you’re planning to bring a car on the Island, make sure to fill up with gas before you get on the ferry. You can pretty much find everything you need in terms of groceries between the Lopez Village Market and Blossom Grocery, but gas is much harder to find.

What are some specific planning tips to know before you go so you’re not stressed?

Lodging and the ferry schedule are always going to be the biggest factors in planning a trip to Lopez Island, as there are limited options and you’re competing with tourists and locals for spots.

As soon as you know you want to visit Lopez, start booking accommodations so you can ensure you have a place to stay on the island. It’s strongly recommended you make a ferry reservation, if the option is available. The most popular times on the Island are the annual Tour de Lopez bike race and Fourth of July (when the Island puts on one of the most impressive firework displays I’ve ever seen). These are two of the most exciting times to be on the Island but prepare for crowds and a long wait for the ferry.

What surprised you about Lopez Island when you went the first time?

Lopez is truly a break from the hustle and bustle of the city ― even if it takes a little planning to get there, it’s totally worth it for the relaxation at the end.

Anything else visitors should know?

Some of the parks on Lopez are part of the Washington State Parks system, meaning you will need to have a Discover Pass or pay for a day pass when you park. If you’re going to be visiting other Washington state parks during your trip, consider purchasing a year pass ahead of time.