Orcas Island, WA: Secluded Pacific Northwest Paradise / by Bradley Hanson


No matter where I travel, I want to see what makes each place unique, to get away from the tourists and to have time to soak in the local vibe. I had heard about the San Juan Islands in Washington State almost immediately after moving to Seattle, WA in mid 1997. Through some meteorological aberration, this area gets about 255 days of sun a year in a part of the country justifiably famous for being perpetually damp. Western Washington State has the only rainforest in the entire US, and it's constant mist is beautiful but can be challenging to those affected by the Vitamin D deficit caused from infrequent exposure to regular sunlight.

I am lucky to have photographed many weddings in the San Juan Islands. Although all of them are beautiful in their own way, my favorite venue is an aging, charming and secluded venue called Rosario, which sits perched on the edge of a bluff overlooking this pine tree-lined peninsula. If you were to see it on a map, it appears to be a stones throw from Canada (assuming you have a strong arm). Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands cluster.

The ferry dock in Friday Harbor

I've been all over the world and I haven't encountered anything like the beauty of this part of the United States. The ferry ride from Anacortes, WA (80 miles north of Seattle) is about 45 minutes through the Strait of Juan De Fuca (a complicated channel from the Pacific Ocean) and has a magical, transformative quality. This middle of this same body of water is the international border between Canada and the United States. The sound of seagulls, the distant hazy mountains, the smell of the salty air, the amber glow of the seemingly omnipresent sunshine and the isolation of the destination make it feel like the western edge of the Earth. The ferry offers wine, a great selection of micro-brews, as well as Ivar's clam chowder. I recommend all three. If you want another way home, you can take a pontoon plane all the way back to Seattle.

Once you arrive, the main highway cuts right through the middle of the island to a quaint town called Eastsound, WA. It is the most populated area on all of the islands and looks like it was built in the late 1920's. Aside from the modern conveniences like a couple hotels, grocery stores, bookstores, library, coffee shops, restaurants and sushi, it still feels like it's original spirit remains largely intact. Park anywhere you can find parking (good luck on weekends in the summer!) and everything you want is within walking distance, including the smooth, rich espresso that has always made the Pacific Northwest a coffee mecca. You can rent bicycles and check out the local farmer's market! To my surprise, there is one of the largest skateboard parks in the US and a golf course 20 minutes from Rosario. There is whale watching daily at the Rosario Marina and several other worthwhile tours if you want to explore with a group.

Every time I arrive the area takes my breath away. As soon as I leave I start making plans to return. There is nothing like it and that alone is worth the trip.

Sunset through the dense cloud cover during the ferry ride from Anacortes, WA to Orcas Island.

Sunset from Rosario resort

My wife Jackie on the deck of the ferry

Looking out the front of the ferry during the journey

Morning is a great time to explore the natural beauty. This is Olga, the southern tip of the island.

Orcas island is a minimalist paradise, teeming with seagulls and whips cirrus clouds.

The heated salt water pool is part of the wonderfully preserved facilities at Rosario Resort

Magical morning walking around Rosario

The view of the bay and harbor from our hotel room

Countless islands pepper the Straight Of Juan De Fuca, the salt water inlet between Washington and British Columbia.

Looking out the back of the ferry from the top deck

Reading on the ferry

The deer come right up to the balcony outside your room at Rosario

Panorama mode shot from Eastbound, WA

Wedding on the Point Lawn at Rosario, overlooking Cascade Bay below

Wedding on the Point Lawn at Rosario, overlooking Cascade Bay below

Guests at the wedding reception on the dock at Cascade Bay

Groomsmen during a wedding ceremony on the Point Lawn, overlooking the bay

Wedding guest dances out to the deck on water level

Rosario at night

From the ferry in the morning (taken with my iPhone 5)

From the ferry in the morning (taken with my iPhone 5)

All images copyright by Bradley Hanson. When I'm not exploring with my camera, spending time with my family or on my bicycle, I'm photographing weddings all around the world. 

My wedding portfolio is here: www.bradleyhanson.com

My Facebook business profile: facebook.com/bradleyhansonphotography

To read more about what to do while in the area, check out this page from Rosario Resort: http://www.rosarioresort.com/activities.htm