Visiting San Juan Island is a popular break for locals and tourists alike. It’s close enough to Seattle that you can get there the same day but it will give you a totally difference experience to what you will get in the city.
One drawback is that it can be a bit expensive to stay on the island, but it doesn’t have to be! We’re going to tell you some awesome things to do for free on San Juan Island. So get your ferry booked from Anacortes and get ready to enjoy San Juan Island on a budget.
1. Visit American Camp
Number one on our list of things to do for free on San Juan Island is to visit American Camp.
American Camp is on the southern coast of San Juan Island and is part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. It’s free to explore and covers a large area. Here you will find beautiful quiet beaches, historical buildings and ranger programs during the summer.
American Camp was active during the 1800s during the British and American occupation of San Juan Island while the two nations were awaiting a decision on a water boundary dispute.
You can learn more about the history of American Camp as well as San Juan Island as you walk around this area. The National Park Service have placed several notice boards on the property showing old photographs and giving loads of detail about the history of this area.
American Camp is well worth a few hours or more of your time. You should consider bringing a towel so you can paddle in the water at Grandma’s Cove.
2. Visit English Camp
You can’t visit American Camp and not go and see the other side of the story. Our second thing to do for free on San Juan Island is to visit English Camp which is on the north west coast of the island.
You can view a number of historic buildings at English Camp including the parade ground, barracks, blockhouse, commissary, and formal garden. It also has a great view out over the water.
An unusual detail you will see is that they have a United Kingdom flag flying at English Camp, a unique sight in the USA I think other than at the British Embassy.
You will find out more about the almost war between America and England while at English Camp. In 1859 these two nations were on the brink of war over the killing of a pig on San Juan Island.
To enter English Camp you have to go down a fairly steep hill and so you have to get back up it to leave. It might be a challenge to some if you’re not in a car. We made it on e-bikes but as a person who cycles only occasionally I wouldn’t have made it back up on a regular bike.
3. San Juan Island Distillery Tour
This is one for if you’re visiting San Juan Island on a Saturday or Sunday. Our third activity to do for free on San Juan Island is to go for a tasting at the San Juan Island Distillery.
From 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays owners Rich Anderson, Suzy and Hawk Pingree open their small batch distillery for tastings – and the tastings are free! You will most likely want to buy a couple of bottles though and they are well priced – a great souvenir from your trip to San Juan Island.
You will have plenty of choice too as they make 14 different gins, several liqueurs, award winning brandies and even cider is made here! You’re sure to find something you like.
4. Visit Lime Kiln Point State Park
Lime Kiln Point State Park is on the west coast of San Juan Island, looking out over Haro Strait. It’s well worth your time to head over here and it’s our fourth thing to do for free on San Juan Island.
This area has some fantastic scenery and was the site of lime kilns from the mid 1800s, hence the name. One lime kiln has been restored as a public exhibit which you can see while in the area. The lime kilns aren’t the reason this state park has made our list though or the beautiful scenery. The big draw to this area is that this state park offers one of the best places in the world to view wild orcas from a land-based facility.
If a whale watching trip from San Juan Island is out of your budget you want to head here. It’s your best chance of seeing orca from shore. Near the light house you will find a notice board which is updated regularly to say when orca were last seen from Lime Kiln Point State Park.
5. Explore Fairweather Park
Fairweather Park is at the waterfront of Friday Harbour, where you will arrive by ferry. This is our fifth thing to do for free on San Juan Island and if you’re visiting the island for peace and relaxation away from the city this is a great place for you to explore.
Within Fairweather Park you will find beautiful landscaped areas with plenty of flowers at the right time of year. You will also see plenty of sculptures, don’t miss the house-post sculpture by Susan Point or “Popeye” who was once a marine resident of Friday Harbor.
Fairweather Park can be pretty quiet as most tourists will walk straight past it on their way to other attractions on the island, so there’s a good chance to have some time to yourself here and take in the views.
After you have finished exploring Fairweather Park you’re in the perfect place to try some of the restaurants and bars in Friday Harbor, although not free we found many to be reasonably priced.
We’ll be writing up a post about our favourite options for food and drinks on San Juan Island. If you want to be notified when it’s posted subscribe to our news letter.