Orcas Island's picturesque village is worth a visit.
ORCAS ISLAND, A SCENIC AND mountainous landmass split by two fjordlike inlets, is both the largest of the San Juan Islands at 58 square miles and home to their highest point: 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution. The people on this horseshoe-shaped island hold strongly to certain ideals of remote living, with self-sufficiency and environmental responsibility high on the list.
Recently, Arlene and I travelled up East Sound to visit the charming picturesque seaside village that bears the same name as the inlet but is spelled as one word. Eastsound is the commercial and geographic center of the island. The seven-mile-long inlet almost divides the island into two parts, which gives Orcas its shape.
DROP THE HOOK
Eastsound is a rewarding stop for boaters, but if there is a down side it’s that there is no marina or mooring buoys, so visitors are required to drop the hook south of town in a depth greater than 25 feet of water, over good-holding mud/sand bottom to protect fragile eelgrass that lies inward. The anchorage is open to southerly winds, which pick up speed as they move up the sound, in which case the best protection is to the west in Judd Bay. A small 40-foot day-use guest dock 1 is provided for dinghies only, on the east side of Madrona Point, the short peninsula between crescent-shaped Ship Bay and Fishing Bay. The dock is normally available from April through mid-October and removed for the winter. From the dock, it’s an easy four-block walk to town.
Madrona Point, once a Lummi Indian burial site 2, is still considered a sacred place. Visitors are welcome to this area, known as Tsel Whi’sen, property of the Lummi Indian Reservation. Trails wander through the tall grass of this preserve, and the view south makes the sound look like it’s endless.
Eastsound has an easily walked business district filled with historic turnof- the-century buildings, and its many one-of-a-kind shops are where locals and island visitors purchase most of their goods and services. Two of the island’s three gas stations are here as well as the only full-service market, a health food store and a movie theater.
Eastsound is where most of the island’s cultural events take place. A majority of island bakeries, cafes and restaurants are here, as well as the Village Green County Park 3; the park’s outdoor stage is a venue for concerts and the summer Farmers Market.
Treat yourself to a gelato or a pint of ale and a burger at Lower Tavern 4 . Sip an espresso from Teezer’s Cookies and Coffee House 5 while you peruse rare finds at several boutiques. Orcas Outfitters 6 provides clothing, footwear and gear for every outdoor pursuit.
GRAB A BITE
We began our visit by indulging in a leisurely breakfast at the Island Skillet 7 , which offers all-American fare: shrimp and avocado omelets, eggs benedict, breakfast burritos. Arlene went with the eggs benedict and I ordered the all-American plate with locally roasted coffee. The food and the service were excellent and the casual atmosphere made for an enjoyable meal.
On North Beach Road is the Orcas Island Historical Museum 8 , built from six relocated settlers’ log cabins. In the 1950s and 1960s, several heritage- minded island families donated six original homestead cabins built during the late 1800s. Volunteers disassembled the structures at their original sites, then moved, reconstructed and linked the structures together to create the museum. The cabins are now more than 125 years old and house a collection of pioneer artifacts and Native American objects.
ACT LIKE A LOCAL
After strolling around town,stopping occasionally to poke our heads into a shop or two, we hit the Farmer’s Market, which was more than a market. It was easy to see it was also a gathering place for the island locals to catch up on island news. On Saturdays during the warm weather months, the Farmer’s Market is held in the Village Green open field just north of the museum. Four rows of white tent-tops shelter locally grown organic produce, shellfish, home-baked goods and handcrafts.
The friendly village of Eastsound is well worth a visit.