The San Juan Islands have long attracted travelers seeking a stunning natural setting, charming island villages and exciting outdoor experiences. Add a robust local food scene to the three main islands of San Juan, Orcas and Lopez, and the result is a rewarding destination that keeps people coming back for more.
What is it about the San Juan Islands’ culinary scene that’s so enticing? A magical combination of land and sea and the people who source the best ingredients from both. Ingredients from fresh shellfish to farm-fresh produce to foraged foods and much more make up a mélange that those who appreciate great food find so enticing.
Let’s start with wine. Five wineries call the San Juan Islands home. As part of the cool-climate Puget Sound AVA, two wineries—San Juan Vineyard on San Juan Island and Lopez Island Vineyards on Lopez Island—grow estate varietals for their Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe wines. Wine lovers should make a visit to these tasting rooms a part of their exploration of the islands to sample these light-bodied, delightful wines. Three other wineries—Orcas Island Winery on Orcas Island and Madrone Cellars & Ciders and Archipelago Beverage Company, both on San Juan Island—source fruit from Eastern Washington for their fine wines. Use this guide to tour the islands’ tasting rooms.
Speaking of liquid refreshments, San Juan Island Distillery uses locally foraged botanicals, such as salal, seaweed, madrone bark and juniper berries, in their impressive lineup of at least 10 different small-batch gins distilled from Washington-grown apples. Blackberry vodka, a variety of fruit brandies, eau de vie and ciders round out their offerings. A visit to their tasting room is an adventure in island flavors.
Small-batch creameries are on the three main islands. Taste the seasons pass in the local cheeses—spring grass produces sweeter cheeses, and later in the year the flavor of the grass and, hence, the cheese becomes more earthy. Visit the Orcas Island Food Co-op, San Juan Island Food Co-op or Blossom Grocery on Lopez Island to purchase local cheeses.
At the end of the 19th century, the San Juan Islands produced the bulk of the state’s fruit. As production opened up in other parts of Washington, the islands’ production waned. But nobody told the trees. Today, the islands are graced with productive heritage orchards that produce a bounty of cherries, apples, plums and pears. High-quality preserves, whole fruit and, of course, baked goods are the happy result.
Other island creators make natural sea salt, forage seaweed, grow culinary lavender, and grow hops for locally made beer. Some island farmers grow grains for locally made breads. Lamb and pork ranches on the islands raise sought-after meats with a stellar reputation among local chefs.
Island restaurants that feature local ingredients are perfect places to sample island flavors. Savor the San Juans in the fall offers a lineup of events, including farm tours, to celebrate the island foods and farms. And it even includes the Friday Harbor Film Festival, Orcas Island Film Festival, and Hops on the Rocks and Oktoberfest beer festivals.