How to plan the perfect San Juan Islands Elopement
(Written by a Washington Elopement photographer + updated for 2023)
Why Elope on the San Juan Islands?
The San Juan Islands are a channel of Islands just off of the Northern Coast of Washington. Just a short distance from Seattle depending if you are arriving via Sea Plane, boat or Ferry. The islands consist of these different Islands:
- San Juan Island (the biggest one, which is home to Friday Harbor)
- Orcas Island
- Shaw Island
- Sucia Island
- Lopez Island and many other smaller islands!
The islands are all a little different from each other, but there is no shortage of things to do + romantic get aways to have, making it a perfect place to elope. Especially if you are looking for the vibe of your wedding to be low-key, relaxed, adventurous and quiet.
Best Island to Elope on
The top two Islands we recommend for your elopement day are San Juan Island and Orcas Island. We suggest these two mainly because there is so much to do one them and accommodations. The other islands are definitely options to consider or take a day trip to during your stay on one of the bigger islands. In this blog we will tell you everything you need to know about eloping here or planning a small wedding.
Before we dive into these two places separately….
- Why Elope on the San Juan Islands?
- When is the best time to visit the San Juan Islands of Washington?
- How to get to the San Juan Islands?
- Orcas Island Elopement Tips
- Friday Harbor Elopement Tips
- How to get legally married on the San Juan Islands, WA
- San Juan + Orcas Island Elopement Packages
- San Juan Island Elopement Photographer
When is the best time to visit the San Juan Islands of Washington?
The prime time to visit the islands is April to October. The best months based on weather, crowds and more would be – May, June and October.
As you may imagine, July + August are super busy because they are the warmest and sunniest. This also means this is the more expensive time to visit and more difficult in planning your ferry travel. While more ferries are running to accommodate the summer traffic, the ferries also fill up faster, making traveling without a reservation more difficult. While the Winters are not the most ideal, they are also not too bad! The islands get less rain than the Seattle area, but winter is for sure the “wet season.” However, the temperatures almost never drop below 30 degrees. Making the islands a great location for a Winter wedding, if you do not mind those moody Pacific Northwest vibes!!
Best Time to Visit San Juan Islands for Whale Watching?
The best time to visit the islands to see Orcas whales is May to October. However, Mid-June to September is prime season to see any of the whales that habit the area like gray whales! Note though, you can see whales year round from the San Juan islands. Taking a whale tour will raise your chances of seeing the whales especially when it is not peak season.
How to get to the San Juan Islands?
You need to catch the Ferry from Anacortes, WA to get to any of the islands. Anacortes is about one and half hours North of Seattle and about 45 minutes South of Bellingham, the two cities where your two closest major airports are. We highly recommend booking your ferry reservation ahead of time at either the two month out date from your travel date or two week time period as that is when tickets are released.
We recommend that you arrive at the ferry terminal at least one hour before the ferry is set to depart. The ferry has a strict cut off period where you must check in and be through the booth thirty minutes prior to boarding. If you were to arrive twenty-nine minutes prior to departure, you lose your reservation and have to head into the stand-by lane, which arriving that late in the summer means you’d be very unlikely to make that ferry. There are spots available onto the ferry without a reservation, but you may be waiting in line all day until the last ferry of the day. We also recommend booking a round trip ticket so you are not stuck on the island. The ferry cost about $75 dollars for a round trip ticket in a car, depending what type of car. You can also walk onto the ferry for a cheaper ticket, but we don’t recommend doing this unless you have a way to get around once on the islands. For ferry information and tickets please visit the states website.
The other way to get to the island is by a Sea Plane from Seattle or elsewhere. You can book a private company for this. Again, if you book a seaplane to get to the islands be sure you have a way to get where needed, as things are not close together. For Seaplane rides we highly recommend booking with Kenmore Air. Outside of ferry + planes you can get to the islands by boat! There are many harbors around the islands so you can take a private charter or your own boat in.
Orcas Island Elopement Tips
Orcas Island is a true gem with lots of camping, several long and short hiking trails, all around ocean access, lakes, the small quaint town of Eastsound and waterfalls. It is a magical place to go get some rest, quiet, peace and adventure. It is a great access point for whale watching or to some of the other smaller islands. From the island on a clear day you can see Mount Baker from the North East side and Mt Rainier from the other side. Most of the island is dog friendly as well!
Where to Elope on Orcas Island:
There are two state parks on Orcas Island, perfect for your elopement ceremony. They are Moran State Park where you can camp, kayak or hike. Then there is also Obstruction Pass State Park with great ocean views for sunset.
Wedding Venue on Orcas Island
Why would you want a venue if you are eloping? We recommend for eloping couples to have a total of 15 people or less for an elopement out on the trails/beaches. This is due to the ability to follow Leave No Trace, typical permit rules and regulations and simply logistics. If you have more than 15 we suggest booking a venue for the ceremony and or dinner portion of your adventure elopement.
What is great about doing your ceremony at a venue if you plan to have guests and then going out for your adventure on your elopement day is that you have less restrictions and rules to deal with surrounding permits if the ceremony is on private property. It is also important to note that on Orcas Island, restaurants close very early so having a location for your ceremony also may make it easier to accommodate for food on your big day.
Where to Stay on Orcas Island for your Wedding?
The three wedding venues we mentioned above are great places to consider staying while visiting the island for your wedding day. Outside of those here are a few more recommendations:
- Bay side cottages – these are separate properties that are beautifully designed.
- This Airbnb with the dreamiest hot tub views ever. This modern touch is a lovely option for a stay on the island.
- Rustic cabin with adventure right in the back yard with a perfect area for a backyard dinner with your wedding guests.
- West Beach Resort for glamping, camping or beautiful cabin stays right in the West bay. This location is perfect for watching sunset, having bay access and a whole experience with just you two or the whole group. West Beach Resort hosts a bonfire every night at 9pm, has a store on property, wifi and tons of activities.
Tips for booking the best place to stay for your elopement or small wedding.
- If you are booking a place on Airbnb or VRBO and plan to have a photographer come in or have dinner, there you need permission from the home owner. Have a polite conversation where we suggest avoiding the word wedding and being clear your ceremony wouldn’t be happening there.
- Book a place that has good light and is spacious if taking any photos at the location for the best outcome for beautiful images. Good light, means lots of window!
- Book a place that checks all the boxes. If you are bringing your dog, make sure it’s dog friendly. If you need to be near a certain side of the island, make sure that works. If you are hosting dinner there, make sure it can seat everyone at the table. Etc.
What to do on your elopement day on Orcas Island
- Write your vows on the ferry ride over or play games
- Go Kayaking in the lake or in the ocean
- Go on a whale watching tour with Deer Harbor Charters or on a private sailing tour.
- Book a sea plane ride into the North Cascades, Alaska, Seattle or an airal tour of the islands
- Camp – we LOVE West Beach Resort
- Read a book on the beach
- Go on a bike ride
- Have a picnic
- Go on a horse back ride with Orcas Trail Rides
- Take your pup out on an adventure
- Go to the winery for a tasting
- Go eat! Our top recommendations on the island are The Kitchen, Madrona Bar and Grill and Mijitas.
Friday Harbor Elopement Tips
The San Juan Islands is a super romantic place to elope with stunning sunsets, beautiful ocean views, and lots to do! If you are thinking of eloping here, the best time of year is between April and October, but just like Orcas Island, you can expect lots of visitors on here in July and August. While the San Juan Islands are made up of Orcas Island, Shaw Island, Lopez Island, and San Juan Island, here I will tell you everything you need to know about eloping on the main one, San Juan Island! The town of Friday Harbor is super cute, and as soon as you get off the ferry, you feel right at home in this cozy town! As you travel around the island, look for views of Mt Baker and Mt Rainier, on a clear day you can see their beauty from the island. This island is perfect for a small, intimate wedding or an elopement with just you two!
Best Locations for your San Juan Island Elopement:
- any of the beaches! A couple of examples would be South Beach or Grandma’s Cove.
- any of the trails! There are many trails on the island!
- the Lime Kiln Park near the light house
- on a sail boat
Wedding Venues on San Juan Island
- Salt Water Farms – perfect for a laid back vibe, beautiful views and a cozy set up
- Lakedale – this is at a camp site with several lakes and cabins, great for a group stay for the weekend and wedding!
- Roche Harbor – Roche is on the North side of the island and you guessed right, it is a harbor on a beautiful bay with a dog park, kayak rentals, restaurants, shopping, and more!
Where to stay on San Juan Island for your Wedding?
- There are several Airbnbs and VRBOs options on the San Juan Island ranging from glamping, rustic, beautiful, waterfront etc. Here are one of our favorite rentals on the island: Beach Front Cabin
- Lakedale Resort – Glamping options on the lake and at a resort if you do not want to camp
- A hotel or resort! There are many options here on the island from right in the heart of Friday Harbor to a more secluded area of the island. The Earth Box Inn is near town, with free bikes to explore the town and fresh rooms. If you would like to reserve a room there click here.
- Roche Harbor
What to do for a full day elopement on the San Juan Island?
- Elope! The obvious and most important part is to get married, lol. Share your vows and have connected moments together seaside or on the trails.
- Bike around the island via coast line or through the center exploring the beautiful farm lands. You can bring your own bike or rent a bike from many local locations.
- Take a whale watching tour with a company like Western Prince. You can also see whales via a sail boat tour.
- Take a Sea Plane to see the other islands from up above.
- Explore the town of Friday Harbor and enjoy local foods, drinks, museums and shopping. Be prepared to have cash for some of the cash only spots like the popular ice cream shop near the ferry.
- Visit local farms like the Alpaca Farm or Lavender Farm or visit a winery.
- Go Kayaking
- Go on a horse back ride at Horseshu Ranch.
- Explore the other nearby islands
- Rent the red mopeds in town for an island tour.
- Go zip lining!
- Have a coastal picnic or enjoy a dinner in town.
- Roast your own oysters
- Go eat! Some of our favorite places to eat are San Juan Brewery, Friday Harbor House, Downriggers, Duck Soup and McMillians
The best vendors for a San Juan Island Elopement, WA
- There are many locations where you can pick up a beautiful floral arrangement right on the side of the road from the local farms. How to find them? Take a drive around the island!
- For a florist we recommend Mama Bird Farm on San Juan Island and for Orcas Island we recommend working with Nest.
- Cama’s Design
- If you are coming straight from Seattle and eloping the next day, you could pick up flowers from the Pike’s Place Market and bring them onto the island with you.
- We recommend Joey’s doing Your Make Up for Hair + MUA
- Then of course you can hire us for Photo, Video + Officiating!
- No matter which island you are going to you can take a Whale watching tour from Anacortes! For this check out Outer Island.
How to get legally married on the San Juan Islands, WA
The San Juan Islands are apart of Washington State so you need a marriage license from Washington to get married here. There are local clerk office’s on both islands, you would need to call to make an appointment. Keep in mind Washington has a three day holding period once you do get your marriage paperwork, so you need to plan your travel around that or get it online before hand from Whatcom County. Furthermore, in Washington you need one officiant and two witnesses to your marriage. If you are eloping with us as your team, we are both ordained and can assist with that and/or sign as witnesses.
San Juan + Orcas Island Elopement Packages
We are a husband + wife team offering elopement packages on the San Juan Islands. Our Packages include:
- Officiating and/or being witnesses as needed
- Putting together a timeline for your day
- Family Timeline
- Recommendations for the area
- Assistance in Planning
- Downloads with printing rights + slideshow
- Same day sneak peaks
We are very familiar with the Islands and love capturing couples special days there. We are available to capture your small wedding or elopement on the islands from April to October and in December + January. Our packages start at $6000 and go up to multi-day options. We also offer video coverage as an add on our our packages. We do focus on adventure driven weddings. In the past we have had couples visit different islands and camp and we have had couples take sea planes around the islands. We are here to help you plan the most you day at whatever level of adventure that may be!
San Juan Island Elopement Photographer
Hi! We are Traci + Bill and heck yes we will kayak with you at sunrise as you write your vows to capture the serenity of these islands with mountain views. We are local Washington Elopement photographers and we live right next to the mountain you see here in this behind the scenes photo.
We love spending time on Orcas + the San Juans and are located not too far from the Anacortes ferry dock. We have been visiting these areas for years now and truly believe in how special they can be for your wedding day. We would love to work with you in capture your authentic selves on your most epic adventure yet, your wedding day! We believe your wedding day should be a true reflection of your relationship and how you want your marriage to start off + we are here to help you make that happen in every way that we can!
“AMAZING! Traci and Bill from Adventure&Vow were absolutely wonderful. They made sure to personalize our wedding/elopement experience to exactly what we envisioned. They tailored the experience based on questionnaires to get to know us and what was important for our wedding day. Not only were they accommodating regarding the wedding, but Traci gave us so many great recommendations for lodging, food, and locations to visit while in the area. The day of our wedding we had some unexpected road closures due to weather and we were quickly able to change up the plans last minute (which turned out to be a better experience than what we had originally planned!). We were constantly being kept up to date with all the plans and we could not have asked for a better wedding day.. and the photos/video were incredible! If you’re looking for a fun and adventurous wedding tailored to what’s most important to you and your partner we would highly recommend Adventure + Vow!”– Kristin M
Check out more elopement stories and guides for eloping in Washington State: