San Juan Island Ferries
First get a copy of the schedule and rates from the ferry terminal(Most likely anacortes).
Next unless going all the way to Victoria or from Victoria you only pay tolls on West Bound trips. They don't take credit cards at most of the island ferry terminals except Anacortes so remember to have some cash.
For the more popular routes and days, get your car in line early. We did see some cars have to wait for the next ferry. We did weekday travel which didn't seem bad but we'll bet the weekend travel requires some waits. The ferries occasionally run late but I wouldn't count on it. Most of the one's we saw left within minutes of their scheduled time. If you are walking or biking you just need to get there in plenty of time to actually get on the ferry.
Finally if you are bringing your bikes, use a rear carrier not a roof carrier. Due to height restrictions you may be forced to pay a larger toll and are put in the oversized section(the middle of the ferry)
You can get to the San Juan...
You can get to the San Juan islands a number of different ways. If you are coming from Seattle you can fly here via either West Isle Air (phone info # 800 874 4434) or Kenmore Air Harbor(Seaplane) and their # is 800 543 9595. The private company Victoria Clipper has passenger ONLY boats from Seattle. They have a web site at http://www.victoriaclipper.com/san%20juans.html
The Washington State Ferry comes from the town of Anacortes. That's how most people get out to the islands. They have a web site at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/
If you can stand the waits in lines and have a few days to see the islands, it is best to bring your own car. For a day visit in the summer my advise would be to walk on the ferry and use the San Juan Transit shuttle van. They have a web site at
I haven't actually been to Friday Harbor except on the ferry from Anacortes to Victoria on a bus tour.
The web page is a harbor cam for Friday Harbor
Crossing Time: Approximately 70 minutes
.Vehicle & Driver (for vehicle under 20 feet): $39.50
Daily Leave Anacortes
AM 6:10 7:45 9:35
PM 2:40 5:05 6:00 8:25 9:30
All passengers boarding in Friday Harbor and their belongings are subject to U.S. Customs and Immigration inspections.
- Family Travel
Two Ways to Get Here
There are two great ways of transportation to get to the Island. The first is the Washington State Ferry System, which departs from Anacortes or Sydney BC. You can walk on, bring a bicycle, or drive your car on the ferry. The ferry goes to the four major islands in the San Juans. You can also fly in a small airplane or float plane, either arriving at the Port or at the Airport. This is quick and convenient, and you can rent a car when you get here. The flying experience is a senic ride that gives you plenty of time to learn about Friday Harbor.
A Popular Boating Destination
Friday Harbor is a great place to visit by boat. There is transient moorage at the Port or at Roche Harbor. There are also many State Parks in the county that are only accessible by boat. Seeing the islands by boat is a unique experience, whether you are staying in the area or passing through on your way to Canada or Seattle.
Popular Boating Destination
Friday Harbor is a great place to see by boat. There is transient moorage at the Port or at Roche Harbor. There are many beautiful State Parks in the area that are only accessible by boat. This is a great way to gain a unique view of the islands, whether you are visiting or just passing through.
They are really not kidding...
They are really not kidding when they say plan on a two to four hour wait if you are coming to and from the island via the ferry system with your car. Going back to Seattle, my friend and I were there three hours ahead of our desired 1 pm sailing and were turned away until the 5 pm sailing! Luckily, I was ever curious and we ended taking another ferry to Orcas Island, with a departure for Anacortes that ultimately got us back into the city earlier than if we had stayed in Friday Harbor. The ferry system is wonderful, comfortable, convenient, but really does get bogged down with all the summer tourism. Plan ahead.
I would not have wanted to be there without our vehicle... we might have missed so much of the island. However, we did see couples cruising around in cute little egg-shaped motorized carts. Looked fun. Maybe next time!
The Ferry! But walk on and...
The Ferry! But walk on and rent a car or moped here. It will minimize your wait time for the ferries dramatically.
Bicycle, car or moped. When you are in town, parking can be a huge challenge in the summer.
beware of taxi fares
I took a taxi out to Roche Harbor and didn't know that there are NO published rates on Friday Harbor, so they charged me $35.00 - two people, 2 bags. Unreal. Turns out there is another taxi that only charges $20.00 for the same trip, so be sure you find out the fare before you get into that cab!
- Budget Travel
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- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Direct Seattle - Friday Harbor Boat: The Clipper
While the Victoria Clipper primarily aims its sights at Seattle to Victoria service all year, and the name "Clipper Vacations" implies they are a package tour company, the fact is their primary revenue is their small fleet of boats that provide passenger only ferry service to various locations. This includes a seasonal passenger-only trip that operates one round trip per day from Seattle to Friday Harbor directly. Without this ferry service in place, you must either find your way north to Anacortes and then take the Washington State Ferry over, or take the Kenmore Air float plane service. While the Victoria Clipper option looks expensive the reality is that the other two options aren't cheap either.
The boat has compact restrooms, outdoor viewing decks, some seats with tables, and a simple but reasonably good snack bar which of course also offers coffee (a vital part of Pacific Northwest culture these days).
The trip north or south is far more scenic on the water than it is on Interstate 5 - even though it does not go through Deception Pass.
The departure from Seattle is at 7:45 am and arrives in Friday Harbor at 11:15. The southbound trip departs Friday Harbor at 4:30 and arrives in Seattle at 7:15.
Sometimes it is possible to find special package deals for the trip on the Clipper web site. The trip I decided to take in late September was $67 for the Seattle - Friday Harbor trip + the Whale Watch trip. This makes the trip one of the better deals as most of the whale watch trips out of Friday Harbor are in the $78 or so range. However, the Victoria Clipper is also a large boat, and therefore due to the sheer number of passengers on the upper observation deck at the same time it is difficult for some of them to see.
Also something to keep in mind: smoking is allowed on the middle level deck that faces aft. I didn't smell any smoke during the trip for the most part, but there were fairly strong winds most of the time. Every other location on the vessel smoking is prohibited.
You will want to bring Warm Clothes!! as temperatures on the water are always quite a bit colder than they are in downtown Seattle.
Included with the trip is Clipper's "The Explorer" trip guide, which includes coupons, a simple Friday Harbor map, and wildlife information. It isn't especially complete, but it is enough to satisfy the needs of probably 99% of the people who take this trip with the clipper.
I would also point out that on the trip I took, the Victoria Clipper book provided as part of this trip, includes a coupon valid for the purchase of the companion book for a trip with San Juan Safaris - so if you want a Victoria Clipper transportation to Friday Harbor plus a Whale Watch trip from a local, you have an option there.
My Personal Story:
The late September trips are only on weekends. The friend I have in Seattle was willing to let me stay overnight on Friday, and so I left from the Magnolia area on bus route #18. The #33 is closer, but the 5:50 am trip seemed much too early, and the 6:50 trip seemed a bit late. Using the #18 I arrived at 4th and Cedar and walked downhill to Pier 69, and arrived there just a few minutes after 7. What I arrived into was total bedlam, and made me wish I had grabbed the 5:50 bus out of Magnolia, or maybe the #18 that went by at 6:11 rather than 6:41. The 7:30 departure for Victoria and the 7:45 departure for Friday Harbor were both boarding at the same time, and the crowd in the ticket processing line was pretty amazing. They were pretty good at processing everyone, with priority of course going to those with tickets on the 7:30 departure for Victoria, then the 7:45 departure for Friday Harbor, and then the 8:30 departure for Victoria. It was an awful lot of passengers trying to be processed at once and so I suggest getting there earlier than I did.
I also found that by the time I was processed, many of the good seats (ie, window seats) were already taken, and in fact all the seats facing forward had already been taken. So, if you really want decent seats you need to show up even further ahead of time than 45 minutes before departure. I wound up sitting in the outside on the upper deck most of the trip, which was OK as I brought warm clothes and I was already in place for the Whale Watch trip.
The Victoria Clipper takes a fairly scenic trip on the water, and if the weather and tides allow they pass through Deception Pass (see my Deception Pass State Park page and photos from passing through Deception Pass on the Victoria Clipper) and encounter a few wildlife encrusted rocks on the way up and back. The trip is far, far more scenic than the concrete channel of Interstate 5, even on a day that is partly or mostly cloudy and it is not possible to see any of the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
As advertised, the ship went right through Deception Pass and arrived pretty much right on time in Friday Harbor around 11:15. After discharging those passengers only using the boat as a ferry to get to Friday Harbor, the Whale Watching and Wilidlife trip commenced.
The return trip to Seattle takes a more direct route, but it does stop at Minor Island for a brief time, which is a small island in Puget Sound where water wildlife may be seen.
On the way south I was debating what to do about dinner. The Clipper food isn't exactly a bargain, but I wasn't sure about the amount of time I would have to find a quick dinner before leaving for my trip south. At 6:00 they announced the last call for hot food service, and therefore all bowls of clam chowder were $1 until they were gone. Two of those provided a wonderful and economical dinner as far as I was concerned.
All five of the photos on this tip were taken on the trip of 22 Sept 2012. This should also give you an idea of how variable the weather can be over the course of one day, due to the distance and various microclimates scattered around Puget Sound.
The Victoria Clipper III is similar to that used on the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, but is smaller and has the upper outdoor deck. For the most part the design of the ship is similar with various types of seating - tables, and seats facing forward, and a snack bar. See my Victoria Clipper to Victoria tip for photos of this boat, which is extremely similar.
I also have 8 Photos from Deception Pass and 5 photos from Minor Island, which is a small island in Puget Sound where wildlife is visited on the way back from Friday Harbor.
My Seattle Victoria Clipper Whale Watch Tip is also relevant, as the Seattle - Friday Harbor transportation service is also part of the Whale Watch trip that comes out of Seattle.
Washington State Ferries: How Most People Arrive
The San Juan Islands services are the most complicated of those offered by the Washington State Ferry system. Ships depart Anacortes, and run direct to Friday Harbor. Other trips stop at Lopez and/or Shaw and/or Orcas island before arriving at Friday Harbor. Some trips operate from Anacortes direct to Friday Harbor and then continue to Sidney, British Columbia. Inter-island trips that don't go to Anacortes but instead only opeate Friday Harbor - Orcas Island - Lopez Island are also in the mix, usually provided by the Evergreen State as it is now one of the smallest ships in the fleet.
The typical ships used on this service are the Evergreen State (usually operating between the islands, or "interisland service" as it is called on the Washington State Ferries web site), the Elwa, the Hyak, the Yakima, or similar vessels. The Chelan is specially outfitted for international traffic from Anacortes to Sidney, and makes seasonal stops in Friday Harbor. There are usually four or so ships in circulation on the various combinations of terminal cities.
Fares are seasonally adjusted: there is a peak tourist season fare for bringing your car along which is only in effect during the warmer months (typically May through September).
It is possible to make reservations for your vehicle on the Friday Harbor to Sidney portion of the ferry route only. Everything else is first-come, first-served and there are times when the receipt for payment is required to prove what order you need to be loaded onto the ferry. See the information on how to do so on the Washington State Ferries web site.
On the Anacortes end of things, it is possible to get to the Anacortes ferry terminal by public transit using Skagit Transit, but a more direct (and more expensive) service is offered by Island Airporter, and an intermediate service is offered by Belair Airporter. This service is designed for the SeaTac airport to San Juan Island demand but may also be used by those wanting a faster way to get to the ferry terminal than that offered by the mixture of services needed to connect by using Skagit Transit.
See my Anacortes Ferry Terminal Tip for more information about that end of the ferry route.
The ferry terminal in Friday Harbor does not have overhead walkways for walk-on passengers. This means bicyclists and walk-on passengers are boarded on the auto level, and are simply given a head-start before the ferry crew turns the road traffic loose behind them. Eastbound walk-on traffic is not charged, nor is there a charge for going between islands for walk-on passengers. The waiting room is small, with most of the waiting area outdoors (see photo 3). The entrance to the boarding passenger area is on the north side of the auto ramp area, and if you come from downtown while the ferry is unloading its auto traffic it does mean having a bit of a conflict with the long stream of autos existing the ferry. Passengers exit the ferry on the ramp on the south side of the auto ramp.
As with most of the ferry services, the auto lines in Friday Harbor can get quite long (see photo 2). Plan to spend some time in line on weekends especially during the summer months.
The fares are charged in Anacortes for walk-on passengers with no charge for the return trip. Anacortes to Friday Harbor is $12.45 as of this writing (November of 2012) and $34.10 for a vehicle under 14 feet long. Friday Harbor to Sidney, British Columbia are charged $6.90 if they are walk-on passengers and there is a $11.65 fare for a vehicle under 14 feet. Inter-island trips depend a bit on where you are going and where you are coming from, and some of them have no charge at all even for a vehicle (for example Friday Harbor - Orcas Island under the current fare scheme).
The ferry terminal in Friday Harbor has no real services in and of itself. There is a small indoor waiting room, and other than a few community bulletins the only real interesting feature is a small bookshelf with surplus books on it. You are requested to donate $1 to the lock box on top of the book shelf to take a book. The money goes to the Friends of the Friday Harbor Library.
There are, however, several coffee shops and similar places very close to the ferry terminal, and the Doctor's Office directly across the street is particularly popular just before ferry departures.
Most of Friday Harbor, including the most distant hotels from the ferry, are within reasonably easy walking distance. However, there are taxis available directly in front of the ferry terminal. The San Juan Transit bus (seasonal service only) is located in the auto staging area close to the Doctor's Office Cafe (which opens very early in the morning to serve ferry traffic).
Afraid you might be bored on the ferry? While the trip is very scenic at times, in the dark you can't see much - as is the case with fog. So, inside the very small indoor waiting room area of the ferry terminal you will find a small bookshelf. These are books contributed by the local friends of the Friday Harbor library. Plop $1 into the donations box and take any book. See photo 4.
See also my Photos from 3 May 2013 and 10 June 2013 for some examples of what you might see from the ferry under the right conditions.
For additional photos of the Firday Harbor Ferry Terminal, see my Photos around the Ferry Terminal travelogue.
Please Note You May Need a Passport: If the ferry you want to board happens to be the one arriving from Vancouver Island, only passengers getting off in Friday Harbor go through customs here. If you get on that boat going to Anacortes, you will have to go through customs and need your passport, even though you have not left the country. My understanding is that the practice of boarding domestic passengers onto the international ship has ceased, but for a time it was being done. I have never traveled on this particular trip yet so I don't know what the full story is, or how likely it is to resume.
- Road Trip
Susie's Mopeds (+ "scootcars" + other vehicles)
As a general rule, brining a car to the San Juan Islands comes with its own set of headaches, including trying to get it on the ferry during the peak periods.
You may be better off trying to rent something when you arrive. The rental choices are a bit limited in Friday Harbor, but Susie's Mopeds has a few choices for you. This includes mopeds, of course, as well as a somewhat larger three wheel vehicle called a "scootcoupe" and they also have full size car rentals.
It should be noted that the scootcoupe is by far the most expensive rental, even though it is a smaller vehicle, but they seem to be quite popular here and I saw many around town (or maybe the same several over and over and over again).
Reservations must be made by phone, and they do not offer any insurance of any sort - that must be proven upon rental. Renters must have a valid driver's license. For the "scootcoupe" the passenger must be at least 5 years of age.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to rent any sort of vehicle from Susie's but it certainly seems like a decent option compared to trying to bring a car over on the ferry.
Address: 125 Nichols, Friday Harbor. This is just uphill from the ferry landing. Go uphill one block on Spring Street, then left on 1st Street, then follow A street to Nichols Street. Due to the one way grid pattern in the area around the ferry terminal area this doesn't work too well if you are driving, but if you are driving you don't need to rent a moped as you brought a vehicle with you!
- Road Trip
Island Bicycles (Bicycle Rental)
There are considerable advantages to using a bicycle when visiting the San Juan Islands. It does mean being prepared for whatever the weather is throwing at the islands but at the same time you don't have to worry much about getting on the ferry as there is always room for one more bicycle (this is not so with automobiles).
Island Cycles seems to be the only bicycle rental place in Friday Harbor. At least it is the only one that shows up on Google Maps or in the common tourist brochures.
You will want to pay close attention to the rental office hours as the open hours depend a lot on the season. They are open 7 days a week during the peak tourist season but winter hours has them closed three days a week.
Rates range from hourly rates (two hour minimum) to weekly rates. They also rent bike racks, trailers (both child and cargo) and other accessories. However, it appears that helmets and certain other important gear must be purchased, so it may be best to bring your own equipment for this rental.
Their web site also features a few maps that may be useful for those visiting the island, by bike or otherwise.
Location: 380 Argyle Avenue, Friday Harbor, WA, Located somewhat up the hill from the ferry terminal. Two blocks up the hill on spring street, then left onto Argyle which runs at a diagonal to Spring Street.
- Budget Travel
San Juan Transit (Seasonal Bus Service)
NOTE: The photo above does not show the San Juan Transit bus stopped at the ferry terminal. It is stopped in traffic. The actual bus stop for the ferry terminal is to the left of this view, in the auto staging area of the ferry terminal. There is an actual bus stop sign at this location. Thee actual bus stop is shown in photos 2 and 3. In photo 2, this tiny strip of concrete between the auto staging area for the ferry (right) and the through traffic area (on the opposite side of the bus) serves as the bus stop here. As you can see from the various signs, it is reasonably well marked.
While most everything truly in Friday Harbor that is of any real interest is within walking distance of everything else, the vast majority of the island isn't within walking distance, and the roads are not at all suitable for walking once you leave the confines of Friday Harbor as they are very narrow and people drive like idiots on them.
NOTE: There are a lot of places that will give you a Friday Harbor address that is nowhere near the actual town.
Adding a bit more flexibility to this is San Juan Transit, which operates a seasonal bus service that has three basic routes:
+ Friday Harbor to Lime Kiln Point State Park (continuation to San Juan County Park must be made by reservation)
+ Friday Harbor to Roche Harbor, in a loop that includes English Camp of San Juan National Historical Park
+ Friday Harbor to American Camp of San Juan National Historical Park
All of these routes start operating during different seasons of the year, so read the timetables for them carefully. During the early part of the tourist season (May) (and sometimes September) they only operate a few days a week, during those times they operate at all. As the demand is highly dependent on the tourist traffic, unlike many transit agencies this means that reduced service is mostly oriented around weekends. For example, one year their service during May was Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. By peak season they switch to every day. During some years all routes stop operating completely by early September, but as of the 2014 schedule they will be offering some service in September.
The company is a private company, and so prices are a little higher than what you would expect to pay for a fully publicly owned transit agency. At the same time, the prices are far cheaper than taxi fare or car rental: $5 one way, $10 round trip on any route, or $15 for a day ticket for any route. Exact change is desirable, but it isn't mandatory as the driver is able to make change. (Prices and status as of July 2013)
For additional photos including the bus stops at a few of the locations, see the tips I have also written at various locations served by San Juan Transit:
San Juan Island
Lime Kiln Point State Park
American Camp (San Juan Island National Historical Park)
English Camp (San Juan Island National Historical Park)
- Budget Travel
Fastest Way to Get Here: Kenmore Air
While Friday Harbor does in fact have an airport, many of the flights don't actually leave from the airport. Instead, they depart and arrive right on the water. Kenmore Air is the most frequent flyer in and out of Friday Harbor, with flights originating near downtown Seattle at the south end of Lake Union. They do offer some flights with wheels (which go to the Friday Harbor Airport, but those depart from the Boeing Field Airport (NOT SeaTac) in the Georgetown area of Seattle.
There are severe luggage weight restrictions of only 25 lbs per passenger total for those flights which use the water. Wheeled flights have a bit more flexibility.
The price is certainly the most expensive way of getting here, at $150 or so ($130 or so for wheeled craft). However, it is also the fastest and it is one way to see the San Juan Islands in a unique way. Considering the sometimes two hour or more wait in the ferry lines during peak tourist season if you drive, and the long series of bus transfers that can be necessary to make the trip by public transit, the 45 minute trip by plane from Seattle can make this a very economical option when the value of the time is taken. Perhaps it will give you an additional activity you can do before you leave, rather than an expensive overnight stay?
The only problem is that sometimes the weather causes cancellation of the flights. Remember: they land on the water, and if it is a bit rough they can't land on it. There are no runway lights on the water either.
Wheeled flights have somewhat fewer restrictions in terms of taking off and landing with weather problems, but even so the Friday Harbor Airport is very simple and resources are a bit more limited than a much larger city airport.
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