Bicycling is a favorite sport of island visitors. Winding country roads are ideal for leisurely trips. If you didn't bring your own wheels, you can rent a bike in Friday Harbor from Island Bicycles, 380 Argyle St. (tel. 360/378-4941; www.islandbicycles.com), which charges $7 to $14 per hour (2-hr. minimum) or $35 to $70 per day. Here on San Juan Island you can also rent scooters and mopeds. They're available in Friday Harbor by the hour or by the day from Susie's Mopeds, 125 Nichols St. (tel. 800/532-0087 or 360/378-5244; www.susiesmopeds.com), which is one block from the top of the ferry lanes in Friday Harbor. Expect to pay $25 to $50 per hour or $63 to $125 per day for a moped or scooter.
If you and a few friends would just like to get out on the water for a leisurely cruise, there are always boats to be chartered in Friday Harbor. Check around the marina for notices. If you're looking for a weeklong bareboat charter, contact Adventure Charters Northwest (tel. 800/258-3119 or 360/378-7196; www.chartersnw.com).
If you want to try catching some salmon, contact A Trophy Fishing Charters (tel. 360/378-2110; www.fishthesanjuans.com).
Believe it or not, scuba diving is also popular in the San Juans. Though the water stays frigid year-round, it's also exceedingly clear. If you're a diver and want to rent equipment or go on a guided dive, or if you want to take a diving class while you're here, contact Island Dive & Watersports, 2A Spring St. Landing, Friday Harbor (tel. 360/378-2772; www.divesanjuan.com). A two-tank dive will cost you $89.
Three- and 5-hour sea-kayak tours out of Roche Harbor (my preference) and Friday Harbor are offered by San Juan Safaris (tel. 800/450-6858 or 360/378-1323; www.sanjuansafaris.com). Tours run mid-April through September and cost $65 to $79.
Crystal Seas Kayaking (tel. 877/732-7877 or 360/378-4223; www.crystalseas.com) does anything from 3-hour tours ($65) and sunset tours ($65) to all-day tours ($89) and multiday trips.
Three- and 4-day trips are offered by San Juan Kayak Expeditions (tel. 360/378-4436; www.sanjuankayak.com), which charges $420 and $520, respectively, for its outings.
Thar She Blows! -- While summer visitors to San Juan have a plethora of ways to go whale-watching, as far as I'm concerned, the best way to search for orcas is from a sea kayak, and the best kayaking company for such an outing is Outdoor Odysseys (tel. 800/647-4621, 360/378-3533 in summer, or 206/361-0717 in winter; www.outdoorodysseys.com), which has been operating in the San Juans for over 20 years. This company's trips start from San Juan County Park and head out through the local orca pods' favorite feeding grounds near Lime Kiln Point State Park. In the summer, you stand a good chance of seeing orcas, and any time of year, you're likely to see harbor seals and bald eagles. Day tours, offered mid-May through September, cost $84 and include lunch.
When it's time to spot some whales, you have three choices. You can take a whale-watching cruise, go out in a sea kayak, or head over to Lime Kiln Point State Park, where a short trail leads down to a rocky coastline from which orca whales, minke whales, Dall's porpoises, and sea lions can sometimes be seen. The best months to see orcas are June through September, but it's possible to see them throughout the year.
In the summer, 3- to 4-hour whale-watching cruises from Roche Harbor Village, on the north side of the island, are offered by San Juan Safaris (tel. 800/450-6858 or 360/378-1323; www.sanjuansafaris.com), which charges $65 for adults and $45 for children 12 and under. This company also runs tours from Friday Harbor. Similar cruises are offered by San Juan Excursions (tel. 800/80-WHALE or 360/378-6636; www.watchwhales.com), which operates out of Friday Harbor. Cruises are $65 for adults and $45 for children 2 to 12.
For a speedier and more personalized whale-watching excursion, book a tour with Maya's Westside Charters (tel. 360/378-7996; www.mayaswhalewatch.biz), which operates the fastest whale-watching boat in the islands and takes out only six people at a time. A 3-hour tour costs $69 ($55 for children 12 and under).
All about Orcas -- Although they are also known as killer whales and were once much maligned as the wolves of the deep, orcas are actually highly intelligent, family-oriented animals. Orcas can be found in every ocean, but one of their highest concentrations is in the waters stretching north from Puget Sound along the coast of British Columbia. Consequently, this has become one of the most studied and most publicized orca populations in the world.
These whales, the largest members of the porpoise family, can grow to 30 feet long and weigh almost 9,000 pounds. In the wild, they can live for up to 80 years, with female orcas commonly living 20 to 30 years longer than males.
Orcas are among the most family-oriented animals on earth. Related whales often live together their entire lives, sometimes with three generations present at the same time. Family groups frequently band together with other closely related groups into extended families known as pods. A community of orcas consists of several pods, and in this region the community numbers around 100 individuals. Three distinct populations of orcas live in the waters off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They are referred to as the northern and southern resident communities and the transient community. It's the southern resident community that whale-watchers in the San Juan Islands are most likely to encounter.
As predators, orcas do live up to the name "killer whale," and have been known to attack whales much larger than themselves. Some orcas off the coast of Argentina even swim up onto the shore, beaching themselves to attack resting sea lions, and then thrash and twist their way back into the water. But not all orcas feed on other marine mammals. Of the three communities frequenting the waters near Vancouver Island, only the transients feed on mammals. The two resident communities feed primarily on salmon, which are abundant in these waters, especially off the west side of San Juan Island during the summer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.