Secret Coves of San Juan Island

As spring and early summer approaches, hidden gems worth exploring are not just reserved for mainland outdoor enthusiasts. Board a ferry at Anacortes, Washington State, and head for the San Juan Islands and their beautiful beaches and coves. Then, be prepared for the pace of life to slow to a sedate crawl.

Below, you’ll find not-to-miss sites of the area. Explore the area with beautiful scenery, wildlife, and a relaxing atmosphere.

people sitting on rocky outcropping and watching ocean and kayakers

You can enjoy the views on San Juan Island, including the wildlife and kayakers. Photo: Nigel Boney

Grandmother’s Cove

Tranquility, privacy, and fine clean sand – Grandmother’s Cove is the quintessential away from humanity hideaway where islanders often go just for that very reason: no developments, no snack bars, benches, or restrooms.

Instead, you’ll find just two rocky headlands protecting a crescent-shaped beach with great little tide pools and smooth pieces of driftwood. The cove is a pleasant 15-minute walk along a meandering trail through mixed grasslands which finally slopes steeply down a sandy walkway. You can access this walk from the American Camp Visitor Centre, which recently reopened after 1.5 years of construction on a brand facility.

If you are fortunate, deer are sometimes seen in the tall grass along the cove. Moreover, river otters, orcas, and seals often swim along the shoreline. Enjoy wildlife watching and beachcombing the waterline looking for beach glass or shells. Thus, the cove is an ideal retreat for soaking up the sun and simply chilling out.

Cattle Point

On the southern tip of San Juan Island, windswept Cattle Point has possibly the finest beach scenery on the island. With two beautiful sandy beaches with rocky edges perfect for searching through tide pools at low tide, the area is open grassland with some awesome views over the narrow channel towards Lopez Island.

Cormorants, eagles, sea lions and seals, deer, and foxes all add to the variety and diversity of the area’s wildlife. Wander along the trail to Cattle Point’s Lighthouse – originating in 1888 – for visitor information and even more superb views over the water and the southern end of the island.

San Juan Island: whale in the distance with fence in foreground and open sky in background

The opportunities for whale watching are abundant! Photo: Nigel Boney

Three Coves Hideaway

Positioned on the spectacular west coast of San Juan Island, this stylishly appointed holiday home has everything necessary for a truly memorable vacation.

The views it offers across Haro Straight to Victoria are breathtaking. The sunsets over Vancouver Island and twinkling lights of Victoria at dusk are serene, and daytime sightings of orcas are not unusual. Plus, San Juan County Park is just moments away and is one of the most popular destinations for kayakers worldwide and a very popular campground.

Moreover, a private trail leads to an enchanting beach cove. With wide choices of high-quality amenities to suit most sizes of family. Three Coves Hideaway is a jewel of a retreat. It offers one of the best locations and accommodations for enjoying a glorious getaway in the San Juan Islands. Featured in an episode of ‘Vacation Home Search’ on the Travel Channel, check out more of what this secluded holiday haven has to offer the Three Coves Hideaway listing on Airbnb.

Read More: Roche Harbor: More than Just a Marina

Eagle Cove

Located on San Juan’s southwest coast near American Camp, Eagle Cove is a firm favourite among islanders. The cove’s protective shape, sandy beach, minimal waves, and friendly local faces mean you can bring a picnic and stay the whole day. You can find the beach off Cattle Point Road, and it is a popular spot for swimming and wakeboarding if you don’t mind the cold water temperature.

Eagle Cove is a great place to enjoy various pursuits. Volleyball, fishing, skimboarding, cliff jumping, frisbee throwing, swimming, and kayak launching are the most popular. Moreover, its flat beach is safe for children to swim from, and parking is available at the top of the hill, with the cove lying a short 100-yard walk away.

Dead Man’s Cove

If you hike along a short trail from Lime Kiln Point State Park, you’ll find Dead Man’s Cove. Beautifully peaceful with a pebble beach, the cove is at the base of a steep forested hillside. Because of its position, it is not uncommon to see orca whales passing through the channel during the summer months.

Popular for beachcombing, hiking, photography, rock climbing, and kayak launching, the cove has a rather colourful history. But, this shouldn’t deter you from what is a hidden gem.

Read More: San Juan Island’s Whale Museum: Far More Than Just A Walk-Through

hilly grassy trail with ocean in background

You can find many hidden gems – coves and beaches – while at San Juan Island. Photo: Nigel Boney

Fourth of July Beach

Around 7 miles (11 km) from Friday Harbor, Fourth of July Beach is a small picnic area with restrooms and a car park. It is a little less popular than nearby South Beach and much quieter than other beaches on San Juan Island. Hiking along the forested trail brings you to the clearing at the beach. Here you can ‘log hop’ or walk over the pebbles.

The Beach forms part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park, and because of these historical links, any natural or archaeological features or ruins must be left undisturbed. Campfires are permitted on the beach below the tide line, and there is a secluded picnic area with basic essential restrooms. However, you must leash pets within the park’s boundaries. Also, swimming is not advised because of potentially strong currents.

With a northeastern view, you can see Griffin Bay, Lopez Island, and Jackson’s Beach. Moreover, if you venture far enough, you will eventually reach Jackals Lagoon.

Why not hike the ‘Old Town Lagoon Beach Walk‘ by heading south along the shoreline past the saltwater lagoon. This brings you to the site of the original San Juan Village. No vestiges are remaining, but this was the San Juan Islands’ first non-Native American community. The village was destroyed by fire in the early 1890s and was abandoned for the then-developing town of Friday Harbor.

Read More:
River Sports in Friday Harbor: Washington State
Sea Kayaking with Outdoor Adventures: Lopez Island and More

Snug Harbor

Visitors return year after year to Snug Harbor, and the reasons are plentiful. Located on Mitchell Bay, the resort offers waterfront cabins and features a sheltered marina for overnight mooring, including a boat launch.

Just beyond Snug Harbor’s protected marina, the waters are ideal for many activities. Try orca spotting, fishing, crabbing, and sea kayaking, just short steps away from its waterfront vacation rentals.

A mere 7 miles (11 km) from Friday Harbor, national and state marine parks nearby include Lime Kiln State Park, Westcott Bay Sculpture Park, and English Camp.  Reserve online or call (360) 378-4762 for more details.

What are some of your favorite sights, coves, and beaches on San Juan Island? Please share your thoughts and recommendations with us in the comments below.

This article was originally published on April 2, 2012. Susan Wowk updated it to remove outdated information and include new links on May 4, 2021.

Read Next:
The San Juan Islands: Hopping Around the Archipelago
The Forgotten San Juan Islands: Spieden and Lummi

About the author

Nigel Boney

I started writing for Northwest.com in 2010, with 37 articles published. I have strong links with the Pacific Northwest. UK based, I also wrote for Mobbly News Written by You - 73 articles mainly under showbiz & entertainment. Recently I published on MusicVita. I have a Diploma in freelance journalism and I'm currently writing on Blasting News US.

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2 Comments

  • Great idea… but your info is sadly out of date. Lonesome Cove Resort and Mar Vista are permanently closed after being sold for private use. The Three Coves Hideaway website link doesn’t work because it’s an airbnb / vrbo vacation rental now. Snug Harbor hasn’t had camping sites or a general store for decades – but good news!! it does offer high end cabins and is in business! It’s a great resort we are enjoying right now on December 20, 2020.

    • Jason, thank you so much for your comment! I sincerely apologize for the outdated info and have completed a much-needed update of the article. I greatly appreciate your thoughtful input, and I hope you had a wonderful time at Snug Harbor! -Susan, SSM Editor