This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Orcas Island Get Away!

This past week I spent 3 enjoyable days with my 6th graders from Lincoln Elementary School out on Orcas Island, one of the larger inhabited islands of the San Juan Island group.

The San Juan Islands are a part of the San Juan Archipelago at the north end of Puget Sound here in Washington. The archipelago is split into two groups of islands. The San Juan Islands are part of Washington state, while the Gulf Islands are part of the Canadian province of British Columbia. There are over 450 islands in the entire archipelago but only a few are inhabited.

Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands. Roughly horseshoe shaped with the fjord-like East Sound running up its middle, Orcas is accessible by the state ferry system or by plane. At the north end of the fjord is the small community of East Sound the largest town on the island.

Down the eastern leg of the horseshoe the small village of Olga can be found. The Olga Cafe is a popular cafe and art gallery in a former strawberry-barreling plant, where a local artist's cooperative sells their work. It also serves up delicious homemade pastries, desserts, breakfast and sandwiches and soup at lunch.

Just up the road is the turn off for Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan islands. The drive to the top takes about 15 minutes and provides a dramatic 360-degree view around the islands and the sound. Absolutely breathtaking!

Just outside East Sound, about 2 miles from the village is the YMCA Camp Orkila. This was our destination and home sweet home for the three days we were away from school. We have been taking classes out to this camp for the past 15 years. It is a lovely, forested place of tranquility situated right on the water. In fact our girl's cabins are so close they can toss a rock into the sound. The boy's cabins are situated across an open meadow but also with a beautiful view of the water. Here at camp students are challenged on low and high ropes courses, a climbing wall, and lots of activities designed to challenge students and help them set realistic goals for themselves. Along with that are also activities that teach about the environment. Lots of hiking, time to sit and think, play games, archery, boating and sports to name but a few options available to everyone.

At least one morning while at Camp Orkila, I head into East Sound to stop at my favorite shop--Roses Bakery Cafe. Roses started out years ago as a small shop tucked far back in the breezeway of a strip of shops a block over. There they managed to pack a lot of wonderful things into a very small space. A lovely wine selection, fresh baked breads and pastries, a remarkable cheese selection and lots of high end cooking accessories--knives, pots and pans, casseroles, etc. It was a sweet intimate little shop where you almost always managed to have a conversation with the very friendly owners who really understood good, well made food. A few years ago, they had the chance to grow and opted to take over an unused firehouse in town. They converted it into a larger version of what they already had but this time adding a cafe where folks can sit and enjoy what they previously had to take home to eat. While there this time I bought a bit of two kinds of Welsh cheeses--a Tinturn herb and an Ale and Mustard from the same cheese maker. I also went for a sturdy baguette covered in a variety of seeds. Made with King Arthur flour and only barely out of the oven it was delicious! I remembered they sold a variety of salts and after my recent wine dinner at the Willows on Lummi Island (another of the San Juans) I was hoping to find the truffle salt Chef Sundstrom had used on his potatoes. Sure enough, there it was on Roses well stocked shelf.

You can find accomodations on Orcas to fit any budget--1 star to 4 stars. Stay at one of the easy to find beach cabins or stay at the The Inn at Ship Bay or Rosario Resort. Rosario's main building was built in an arts and crafts maritime style 100 years ago by Robery Moran, a Seattle shipbuilder. The building is a stunning place to visit. Try visiting on an evening when the organ is being played in the library. Sadly, there are no guest rooms in the main building and the guest rooms are not at all a reflection of the architecture found in the original building. The resort was recently purchased by a new owner who promises some changes. The Inn at Ship Bay is a newer property but very classy. Rooms in high season can be had for $150 or $100 in low season. All have a view of the East Sound fjord. The restaurant there was recently named one of the best 25 in America by Men's Health Magazine. It specializes in northwest cuisine using fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables presented in a healthful way.

Orcas is an island to visit all year round. We love it there in the off season when a winter storm keeps you inside watching the waves crash over the rocks and the wind blowing through the pines. A good book, a roaring fire and cuddling up with your best friend--Life doesn't get any better than this. Or go at the height of the summer and camp at Moran State Park, hike over the miles of trails, kayak into the hundreds of coves or over to another island, go whale watching, watch a sunset, or any of the dozens of outdoor or indoor activities available on Orcas Island.