10 Thoughts On Living & RVing The San Juan Islands, WA
Back when I had the idea of living on an Island with “the beast“, hubby thought I was slightly mad. I can’t exactly tell you why I wanted to do it, just that I really, really did. Thankfully I’m more stubborn than a dead mule and I have to admit the entire thing turned out quite nicely. We landed a sweet deal, got most of our ferry costs paid for, paid absolutely nothing in camping costs & got to experience true Island living….at least for a month. What an adventure! Of course then we went on to sightsee like crazy and I had so much to blog about that I didn’t actually get around to telling your what our experience here was really like.
So, that’s what this post is for. A wrap-up of our Island experience. What we liked, what we didn’t like and what I might do differently if I could.
1/ Island Living Ain’t Cheap – I knew this coming into the whole deal. I’ve been to other islands (Hawaii) and I know it costs to get things physically hauled over the sea and into these remote spots, so that cost gets transferred to the consumer. This means groceries cost more, gas costs more, eating out costs more. If you stay longer-term expect to hike your budget on groceries & entertainment. It just is what it is.
2/ You Can Find ANYTHING You Need – This was a total surprise to me. I figured we might get lucky to find one decent store and a few greens, but there is more fresh produce on the San Juans than I ever imagined. All the “main” Islands have excellent (really excellent) organic food stores and wonderful farmer’s markets with amazing organic greens and pastured meat…ALL locally raised!! There wasn’t a single thing I needed that I couldn’t find, even my special gluten-free flours and some oddball ingredients. There are farm stands all over the place, we bought local meat, pastured eggs and we ate fresh produce everyday. Wow!
3/ The Ferries Are a Pain In The Butt – Oh, the dreaded ferry. I can’t imagine anyone likes the darn things. Most of the ferries require you to be there an hour or more ahead of time and then you may be stuck waiting for delays due to fog or other issues. In summer the lines can be atrocious and if you happen to get bumped you’ve typically got to wait another 3 hours (!!) before the next ferry. When we went Island-hopping to our neighbors we spent an average of 5 hours total travel time just to get there and back giving us precious little time on the Islands themselves. It’s enough to make you bang your head on the wall. If you have the time, I highly recommend staying overnight (or a few nights) at each Island just to spread out the time spent on ferry rides. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it much more.
4/ Leisure Boating Is Fabulous – If I didn’t get sea-sick I would ditch the RV and spend the entire summer boating around the San Juan’s. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a full summer of boating, if you come here you must (must, must) take at least ONE boat ride (*not* a ferry ride) to go whale watching or visit one of the outlying Islands OR at a minimum get out in a sea kayak. The experience of the Islands from the water is totally different from that on land. It’s amazing, serene, gorgeous and cannot be missed. This is the true spirit of the San Juan’s.
5/ Summer Is Crowded – The San Juan’s are a popular summer destination, and given how short the summer is in the PNW people flock to come here when they can. San Juan is probably the most crowded Island, with Orcas a close second and Lopez much more laid-back. You’ll have people at all the tourist spots, lots of folks in the restaurants and can expect chock-a-blocked campgrounds everywhere you go.
6/ You Can Still Find Peace – Luckily the Islands are big enough that you can find your own little corner if you go a little outside the box. On Orcas we had no-one on the mountain in the early mornings, many of the less popular trails were often empty and we could always find a quiet spot to swim in the lakes. It’s kind of amazing that on an Island you can still find spots to get away from it all, but you really can. You may not have acres of empty space, but you can definitely find a good-sized corner to call your own. Of course if you’re a boater you’ve got the best of everything. No END of spots to be on your own with plenty of active harbors to stock-up inbetween boondocking runs.
7/ Hosting Is The Best Way To RV Here – There are *some* RV parks on the Islands, but they’re really not made to accommodate “beast-size” RVs and even those that do are expensive & basic. Plus, it costs an arm and a leg to ride the ferry over (~$315 for our rig). If you want to bring your RV onto the Islands, hosting is really the absolute best way to do it. When you host you get a nice full hookup site, you get your ferry costs paid for (at least here on Orcas with Friends of Moran) and you get to spend an extended time on the Islands really experiencing them. Volunteering rocks! (Note/ there are also RV volunteer opportunities on Lopez & San Juan Island)
8/ Tenting & Cabins Are A Great Alternative – If I didn’t host here, I would store the rig and either bring over a tent or rent a cabin. RV storage at Anacortes is super-cheap (a local told me he pays $45/mo for his 40-footer!!) and there are no end of choices for places to stay on the Island when you come over by car. Plus, you pay way less to bring the car on the ferry than you do a rig. Also, given how time-intensive the ferries are to ride I would plan to spend a few days on each Island before going back to the rig. Nice, easy, relaxed.
9/ Island Time Is A Real Phenomenon – Many of the negative reviews you see on Yelp from the local restaurants have to do with wait time. People complain about the time to get food, the time to get served, the time waiting for the ferry. It’s part of the local culture that things just take a little extra time to get done and it’s one of the quirks you should prepare yourself for if you come here.
10/ You Just Gotta Go With the Flow! – Slowing down is a part of living on the Islands! If it takes 15 minutes to get your Mocha…well, it’s not going to kill you. Once you’ve lived on the Island for a little while you might even find yourself adopting the same habit. You’ll stop for a chat with folks you know, strike up a conversation with the barista and spend some time getting to know the docents dog at the museum (oh yes I did). In short, you become an Islander. So, just slow down and embrace it baby!
Phew! That was more than I expected to write, but it guess I had a lot to say. The bottom line is our time here has been just fabulous! These Islands are even more diverse and interesting than I ever imagined. The sunrises over the mountain, our swims in the lake, the lighthouses and the people & fellow volunteers we’ve met here will be fond memories forever etched in our minds. If you get the chance to RV here, don’t pass it up. The Islands are a magical place and you won’t be disappointed!
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