Exploring Friday Harbor, Washington and searching for Orcas

My entire life I’ve been obsessed with orcas (killer whales.) Growing up I was going to be a killer whale trainer. Not wanted to be – going to be. When I found out we were going to Seattle I knew I was going to be as close to orcas in the wild as I ever had been in my life.

I set my expectations very low on seeing orcas, but the timing was just too perfect. June is apparently one of the best months to see orcas in the San Juan Islands. On one of my wandering days I walked down to Pier 69, which is about a 15 minute walk from Pike Place Market to book our tickets.

Our three-hour cruise was rather dreary as you can see from the photo below. It was so dreary they had to push back our whale watching  portion of the day in hopes the skies would clear.


When you arrive in Friday Harbor you are dropped off at an adorable little pier area. A Washington State Ferry is also making trips to the harbor.


We chose to visit Friday Harbor on a Saturday which also happens to be their farmer’s market day. It was such a delight to see the locals selling their hand-crafted items. This gentleman below was making drip coffee.



This one woman was making dog beds out of old sweaters. I really wanted this orca sweater dog bed for my Jack Russell Terrier, Eva, but I just couldn’t justify it. It was sopping wet because of the rain and I was going to have to lug it back to California.


The island is filled with many small boutique shops. We came across a cute two-story house with a used book store inside called Serendipity.

My favorite view of the town was up on a hill with a whale fluke statue. Despite the rain and fog I still like how the photo turned out.


For lunch we stopped at a kitschy diner called Hungry Clam. I’d been craving fish and chips so my husband and I split a plate of  the fried goodness. This was some of the best fish and chips I’ve had in my entire life. I had low expectations so I’m not sure if that contributes to my review or not. The service here left something to be desired, but I will give them a pass because there seemed to only be a couple of servers for a lot of customers.

The design inside was all over the place, but somehow still charming.

Now on to the whale watching. The weather had cleared a little, but it was still overcast. Upon boarding, we were notified that we were in luck. Just outside the harbor a humpback whale had been spotted. Woo hoo! Surely an orca wouldn’t be too far away either!

I’ve done a couple whale watching cruises in Southern California, but nothing prepared me for the chaos I was about to experience. About 10 – 15 boats of different sizes were all on the same mission as our boat – find whales.

Every time the whale would surface the boats would rush to get as close as possible to where they thought it would next come up for air. After a few times of doing this I began to feel really bad for the whale.


This is about as much as we saw of the whale. About every third breath the whale would go for a deeper dive which would give us an opportunity for a whale fluke photo, but then they were gone for about five minutes while hundreds of people stood scanning the top of the water for the next surface. We followed this whale for about 45 minutes before we finally moved on.


This picture below is my favorite photo from our trip to Friday Harbor. It’s like the seals were checking us out. We really weren’t that close to them and I had my camera zoomed in as far as it would go. It’s like they are saying “Hey, you’re interrupting our nap people!”



The last interesting thing we saw before the three hour trip back to Seattle was a few birds running around on the ground, one of which was a young bald eagle. The naturalist onboard thought that they might have been hunting down dinner.


Speaking of dinner, we mistakenly decided to eat a meal onboard this boat. We split clam chowder, a hot dog and chips. I’ll say this, it could have been much, much worse. But, I would bring my own snacks next time.


If you are in Seattle and want an easy way to maybe see some whales I would recommend Clipper Vacations. They were clean and reliable. Was I upset that we didn’t see any orcas? Of course, it’s a life long dream of mine to see an orca in the wild. But, I realize they are free to roam the ocean so there is no telling where they will be.

We really didn’t want to rent a car and try to make it to the island so if you are in Seattle this is probably the best way to do some whale watching.

Since I didn’t see any orcas I don’t want to leave you without seeing one too. Enjoy this video of an incredible orca encounter. This will happen to me someday. Let the Alaska trip planning begin!


One thought on “Exploring Friday Harbor, Washington and searching for Orcas

  1. Pingback: Seattle revisited: A look back at this week | This Traveler Heart of Mine

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