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The stunning San Juan State Park. (Image: Richard Schmitz for Seattle Refined){ }
The stunning San Juan State Park. (Image: Richard Schmitz for Seattle Refined){ }
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How to be carefree and CAR-free when you visit the San Juan Islands

Heading to the San Juan Islands? Consider leaving your vehicle behind and go carless.

Park at the Anacortes ferry terminal and walk, or bike aboard to Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, or Shaw Island. It just might be a transformative and eco-conscious decision that enhances your experience of this pristine archipelago.

While these idyllic islands are a popular getaway for Pacific Northwesterners and visitors alike, going car-free offers a unique opportunity to embrace sustainable travel. Immerse yourself fully in the island's natural beauty by being in it.

There are a number of reasons why going carless may prove the best way to see the San Juan Islands.

Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability

As regular travelers, we take a good, hard look at how we travel as part of our sustainability ethos. Environmental preservation plays into the decision process. A large reason we love the San Juans is for their beauty, diverse wildlife, marine life, and breathtaking ecosystems. Yet, while these ecosystems are stunning, they are also fragile.

One way we opt to balance our exploration of these islands is without a car. This reduces our carbon footprint and minimizes the impact we leave behind on the environment.

Getting Into Nature and More Excercise

Choosing an alternative, be it by foot or bicycle, aids your physical well-being, too. There is something healing about breathing in the fresh sea air while strolling a sandy beach or feeling the freedom of the wind in your hair as you bike along quiet island roads.

Some of the island's more stunning spots are accessible only by foot or bike. Connecting closely to nature fosters a profound connection with these places, along with the desire to preserve them.

Sinking Into Island Time

Life in the San Juans moves at a more leisurely rhythm, known as island time. Going carless allows you to sync with this rhythm and embrace this slower way of life.

Walking along town streets, cycling country lanes, or taking public transportation allows you to connect with the locals, discover secret hideouts, and savor those small moments missed when whizzing by in a car.

How To See The Islands Without A Car

Grey clouds loomed in the sky as the Washington State Ferry moved away from its dock in Anacortes. Choosing to leave our car behind, we walked onto the ferry headed for Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Our main destination and reason for traveling an hour across the Salish Sea was to experience this captivating island from the driver's seat of a Fun Utility Vehicle (FUV).

Where did we find an FUV on San Juan Island? We headed to Susie’s Mopeds, located only a few blocks up from the ferry terminal in Friday Harbor. An easy walk to where we would begin our day's adventure.

Susie’s Mopeds

Anna Stevens, co-owner of Susie’s Mopeds, met us out front. She stood alongside the iconic fleet of gleaming, cherry red mopeds, scoot coupes, e-bikes, and the newest addition to the line-up: the Fun Utility Vehicle.

Anna and her partner Greg Lewis took over the ownership of Susie's Mopeds in 2020 after purchasing the business from Susan Doyle. This legendary shop began in 1986 serving as a gateway to experiencing an extraordinary adventure on San Juan Island. Four decades later, the red fleet has become an integral part of San Juan Island’s allure, offering an unforgettable and eco-friendly way to explore these island landscapes.

After Anna provides us with a thorough and quick tutorial, we are ready to set off in our electric FUV for a day around the island. Armed with a map showing us the best route we don our matching red helmets and head towards our first stop, Cattle Point.

Exploring Electric Style

Away from the city center, we cruise along next to grassy meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. Cattle Point is far enough from town that, unless you have a vehicle, it is harder to access, meaning there are fewer crowds.

There is a break in the clouds as we descend along the open, winding road following the Strait of Juan de Fuca on our right. The only sound we hear is the distant caw of a raven. Besides being eco-conscious, our FUV has an electric motor which renders it practically as quiet as the road we are traveling on.

From Cattle Pass, we cruise up the island to Pelindaba Lavender, where we duck inside the gift shop as a shortlived rain squall begins. My favorite treat from these lavender fields is their lavender shortbread cookies. We purchase a bag to munch on as we continue our trek of sightseeing on San Juan Island.

With the wind at our backs and nothing but open road ahead, we relish in the ‘fun’ of the Fun Utility Vehicle and enjoy the ride. We stop at San Juan County Park to take in the magnificent views before venturing further on to Lime Kiln State Park. We pull up for a late lunch in Roche Harbor and spend some time meandering through the San Juan Island Sculpture Park.

Whether exploring the island for your 1st time or 50th, Susie's Mopeds offers an eco-conscious, fun, and friendly way to visit. Renting an electric vehicle grants freedom when touring, all while keeping the island as beautiful as you found it.

Other Ways to See The San Juan Island Scenic Byway

The Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley

If you prefer to kick back and let someone else do the driving, then hop aboard the Friday Harbor Jolly Trolley, which runs from May-September. This open-air, hop-on, hop-off trolley begins in Friday Harbor and stops at over a dozen attractions throughout the island. Plus, listen to a local tour guide narrate the intriguing history of this island as you ride.

The Inter-Island Ferry

Thinking about exploring another of the stunning San Juan Islands? It is an easy trip from downtown Friday Harbor. Simply catch the inter-island ferry to Orcas, Lopez, or Shaw Island and a new adventure awaits. Better yet, it's free to ride between islands. Rent or bring your bike and tour quiet Lopez Island on two wheels. Besides bicycling the loop on Lopez, try scheduling a foraging class with Skarpari as your guide for the day. Learn about the native flora and fauna as well as the climate of these islands. A stay at The Edenwild Boutique Hotel might be in order after a full day of exploring Lopez Island's hidden treasures.

MORE | Your next romantic weekend begins with Edenwild Boutique Inn on Lopez Island

Sail over to Orcas, the largest island in this archipelago. It is a bit trickier to maneuver around this island without wheels, but with shuttle services available into Eastsound, you can be shopping quaint boutiques and sightseeing within 20 minutes.

If you prefer getting out and closer to nature, then pedal power is the way to experience this island's inner beauty. Book a guided tour with Orcas Bikes and immerse yourself in some of the island's most beautiful places.

When the adventures are over, the memories of these magical islands will remain, along with the knowledge you traveled gently through their landscapes. Leaving the car behind opens up a world of possibilities.

Enjoy going car-free and care-free on your next PNW adventure!

MaryRose Denton is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Follow more of her work here. While the products, services and/or accommodations in this story were provided without charge, the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.