The marina at Roche Harbor, on the north western shore of Washington State’s San Juan island, is an immensely popular destination for tourists, boat owners and opulent cabin cruisers, large and small. A great stop-off for kayaking, hiking and orca watching. Complete with historic gardens, buildings and trails, It has one of the region’s better protected anchorages, with San Juan Island to the east, Pearl Island to the north and Henry Island to the west and south. It is also a port of entry for pleasure craft, with Customs and Border Protection agents on duty during summer months. The historic town was named in honour of Richard Roche, who served under British captains Henry Kellet in 1846 and James Charles Prevost from 1857-1860.
A spring afternoon’s stroll along the marina’s gently undulating walkways often reveals far travelled mariners from mainland Washington State and far beyond. Dropping anchor in 35 to 45 feet of water, most have one goal in common: a complete chill-out and escape from life’s hullabaloo in the town’s tranquil and welcoming surroundings.
A great starting point for many a hungry traveller is Lime Kiln Cafe, situated at the end of the historic wharf at Reuben Memorial Drive. It is here that you’ll find the famous Roche Harbor donuts, freshly made daily and voraciously endorsed by countless visitors. Sit yourself down beneath the colourful umbrellas during the warmer months and watch the world and the boats go by. The cafe is a firm favourite with family groups, seeking a wide selection of meals, including caesar salads, cheeseburgers and the evergreen fish and chips. More than once, the cafe has been described as the place for a hearty meal with a great view. During spring and fall, the cafe is open for breakfast and lunches only. In winter, it opens daily from 8am till 2pm. In early summer, 7am till 4pm and in high summer 7am till 8pm.
During these summer months, the town is host to many outdoor art displays of paintings, craft and ornate handmade jewellery. And just to tickle the pallettes of both kids and nostalgic adults alike, the olde worlde Roche Harbor Sweet Shoppe is one not to miss. And you really cannot miss it as it is situated under the huge copper birch tree in the market square. Proud owner, Barb Persinger, makes sure her customers are well looked after. And they keep returning, for she has made variety her spice of life. She has so much to offer. Almost all her candies are English imports. A sweet-toothed journey back in time for far travelled Americans, Canadians and English folk who grew up with Cadburys flake, Fry’s peppermint cream bars and sherbert lemons to name a few. And you’ll find them all there. She opens for business seven days a week in July, August and into September.
Reserving a table at McMillin’s Dining Room – named after a prominent business figure in the town’s history – literally gives the best seats in the house for Roche Harbor’s Colours Ceremony. This is held each night ten minutes prior to sunset during the summer. Both kids and adults, with cameras and camcorders a-plenty, witness the lowering of the Great Britain, USA and Canadian flags to each National Anthem in turn. The finale, a spectacular cannon salute. The restaurant specialises in “small plates” for children, a nutritious alternative to the usual “kids menu.” Because of its popularity, reservations are strongly recommended. To endorse McMillin’s Dining Room quality of service, it was selected as winner of the “2009 Best of Friday Harbor Award” in the seafoods restaurant category. In recognition of the award a plaque was commissioned which is proudly displayed.
Food, however appetizing, is not the only reason travellers visit the town. To really chill out and pamper yourself and your loved ones, make an appointment at the Afterglow Spa. Open daily from 10am till 6pm, it is located in the Quarryman Hall building, next to the Hotel De Haro. It features four treatment rooms, couples massage, manicures and pedicures, men and women’s steam rooms, a relaxation area and a hydrotherapy room. Telephone reservations are required, so call in advance on 360-378-9888.
In order to go orca spotting in the coastal waters, the San Juan Outfitters’ vessel Sea Hawk leaves direct from Roche Harbor. On board, highly trained naturalists will guide you through the Pacific Northwest’s ocean marvels. You can thrill to the sight of pods of orcas in the wild, seals, sealions and the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead. San Juan Outfitters also offer guided kayak tours from the Roche Harbor docks. You need no previous experience to feel at one with nature as you glide effortlessly through the calming water. The peaceful movement of the kayak enables you to view marine life in a temendously personal way.
If your visit is a little more long-term, a place to stay is fairly vital. The resort has more than 50 years experience when it comes to making guests welcome. To that end, the Hotel De Haro is the centre piece. It was built in 1886 and more than 120 years has maintained an historic, intimate atmosphere. The Quarryman Hall is right next door and is the most recent addition. Designed as a boutique-inspired hotel it offers comfort and convenience for the traveller.
The McMillin Suites overlook the resort on the hill facing the marina. Romantic, historic and luxurious, the rooms are ideal for celebrations or a quick weekend getaway. The Condos to the west side of the harbor, allow couples and families a comfortable haven when exploring the rest of San Juan island. Recently upgraded with new furnishings and flat-screen TVs, the rooms are welcoming and cozy. If you are planning a longer stay, the Company Town Cottages on the eastern side of the harbor are firm favourites. The cottages include picnic tables and BBQs. Finally, the Village Homes are rapidly becoming a very popular accommodation for families. Particularly in spring and fall when the weather isn’t always at its most co-operatve. Equipped with gourmet kitchens and spacious family rooms, many offer spectacular outdoor views.
Water plays a major role in Roche Harbor’s livelihood. There can be few doubts about that. But there are other ways to see the glorious scenery, even though it involves sprouting wings. Roche Harbor Airfield has one of the best landing strips on the island. Privately owned, just a mile northeast of the resort, it operates from sunrise to sunset, but offers no night landings.
For single engine planes and helicopters, the landing fees are $10, for multi-engine planes $15 and jets $20. To park planes overnight there is a $5 charge per night. Aircraft parking is provided at the western end of the airfield, but chucks and tie-downs are not included. The parking area has a slight slope. At all times it is strongly recommended to use every caution when using the airfield. That said, once airborne, the views over the whole archipelago take some beating. For more information go to email@example.com.
When you’ve visited the resort once, it certainly won’t be your last. As an all too infrequent visitor to the San Juan islands, and Roche Harbor in particular, there are three words which best describe the town and its surroundings. Relaxing. Quaint. Inviting.
For further detailed information please go to www.rocheharbor.com and start to plan your next visit.