Orcas Island Explorations – 5 “Western Arm” Gems
Believe it or not we’re only a few days away from leaving Orcas Island. Our 3 weeks here have sped by and soon our Island-hopping days will be over. The end of summer is near, cooler weather is nipping at our heels and the southward chapter of our RV travels is starting.
My oh my how life flies by.
But rather than sound like an old codger bemoaning the loss of my youth, I’m going to throw off the reminiscing and take you on an exploration of the Western Side of Orcas Island. A few posts back I revealed some hidden secrets on the Eastern Side, and to be honest that’s where we’ve spent the majority of our time here. But the “Western Arm”, albeit a little sleepier and perhaps less glamorous than the East hides some excellent gems which deserve a post of their very own. Here it goes….
Hopping Eastsound Village
Technically Eastsound is really in the smack middle of Orcas right between the two dangling arms of the Island. You literally can’t miss driving through here and it’s much, much more than just a passing stop. Eastsound is the beating heart of “town” life on the Island. This is where you find the cool organic stores (The Food Co-op is a wonderful store, as is the local IGA), the farmers market (a very vibrant market each Sat AM), the art stores, the restaurants (over 15 of them!), the bakeries and just about every other activity known to man. I could do an entire post just on all the little gems in this town and we’ve certainly spent more than our fair share of time hanging there, but instead I’ll give you just a few of our favorite stops:
- Best Bakery – Hands down the best bakery in town is also its most popular, Brown Bear Bakery and with 60 yelp reviews, all 5-star I know I’m not the only one that thinks so. There’s a few, select gluten-free options here and the Mocha’s are pretty darn good too. Just be prepared to wait in line. It’s worth it.
- Best Breakfast – In my mind, the most laid-back breakfast place in town is The Island Skillet. Big, tasty portions with plenty of gluten-free options too.
- Best “Fast Food” – The Kitchen is the local go-to place for easy, Asian food. They actually call themselves “fast enough” Asian and really do take their time to cook everything to order. Very fresh concoctions for very reasonable prices.
- Best Museum – Well OK I admit it, the Pioneer Museum is the ONLY museum in town, but it’s really worth the mention. A fabulous museum with detailed info on early Orcas settlers, historical finds, displays and more. For a mere $5 this is a “must do”.
- Best Dinner with a View – The Madrona Bar & Grill has by far and away the best view in town IMHO. Decent food (not great, but decent) with the waves lapping right at your feet. Get an outdoor table and try their fish and chips.
And of course you can just wander around and enjoy. Eastsound typically always has something going on with open galleries and (often) live music on the grassy lawn in the center of town. No trip to Orcas would be complete without a stop here, so make sure you put aside a few hours to munch some local nosh and take it all in.
Note/ Several of the Eastsound restaurants have outdoor seating areas open to dogs including Brown Bear Bakery, The Island Skillet and The Kitchen. The Museum is not dog-friendly, but the weekly farmers market is.
Cool Island Pottteries
Pottery on Orcas is actually quite a particular thing. The Island boasts the oldest active potteries in the northwest, spanning back 150-years of continuous art in clay. Even if you have NO practical use whatsoever for pottery (say, you live in a bleedin’ RV for example), it’s totally worth the trip just to gawk at the local art and admire the creations.
Orcas Pottery is the oldest on the Island and is located in a gorgeous spot atop a 100-foot ocean bluff right near West Beach. A forested 1-lane road takes you to an enchanted paradise with tables of beautiful pottery, a gorgeous garden and a super-cool tree-house (seriously!).
Crow Valley is in an 1866 log cabin on the main road to the ferry and is more of a combined gallery of art (painting, glass, jewelry etc.) rather than a pure pottery, but also has an excellent collection of items. I was blown away by the artistry at both these spots and had a blast of a time just visiting the stores. Honestly, don’t miss this!
Note/ No doggies allowed in the potteries. Kind of makes sense, but wanted to point it out anyway.
The west side may not have much in terms of actual towns, but it’s got its own little set of sleepy harbors with pretty enough views for a pleasant day-trip.
Deer Harbor is about as far west as you can get on the Island and has a little store & marina, plus the two guys that own the place are a hoot. When I asked them who they were they promptly informed me they “owned the Island”. With a little more prompting it turns out one of the two was an avid RVer with a 40-foot rig parked in Anacortes (go figure).
West Beach Resort is a cute cove with a very nice beach as well as the one and only real RV park on the Island. If you’re anything bigger than a truck camper this is your best bet, period. It’s not much more than a large grassy parking area with limited hookups, but some of the sites do have slice-views and you could fit a beast-sized rig in here with some maneuvering.
More Butt-Busting Trails
Although not nearly as “famous” as Mount Constitution, the west side of the Island has her own little mountain in the form of Turtleback Mountain Preserve. There’s a good 8-miles of trails here rising up to ~1,500 feet, mostly empty with some great views from the top. So, if the one mountain isn’t enough for you, well…you’ve got two.
Note/ Turtleback Preserve is entirely dog-friendly, so feel free to bring pooch along for the hike.
And A Brewery….
What????? An Island brewery??? Yup, believe it or not there is a local, on-island brewery right next to the airport on the northwest side of the Island. Island Hoppin’ Brewery is a cute, little spot which offers some very decent brews, all local and perfect for a post-hike drink. They’re still young and developing their craft, but they’ve already got a steady local clientele. A partially-covered outdoor area is open to kids & dogs, and if you buy into the “mug club” you get your own mug (that you can store on-site) and a regular discount on the beer.
Now all this place needs is a local winery….Oh wait, they already have one!!
That about closes my Island walk-about for you. I’ll probably write one more post to wrap-up our time here with my general thoughts on living & RVing the Islands. Plus I DO need to let you know how/if we make it down the mountain (oh yeah, it’ll be another adventure for sure). Still can’t believe this time is almost over, but there you go. The seasons march on and so do we. Next stop…Oregon!
P.S. Thanks to all who commented on the whole extrovert/hermit thing in my last post. It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one with this weird dual personality split. Outgoing hermits unite!
Useful Links & Info:
- Orcas Island – Download visitor map HERE
- Orcas Potteries – Link to Orcas Pottery HERE and Crow Valley HERE
- Turtleback Mountain Preserve – Hiking trail map HERE
- Island Hopping Brewery – Link to the brewery HERE
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this blog post may be affiliate links, so, if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Amazon, the Amazon logo, AmazonSupply, and the AmazonSupply logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. WheelingIt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Alison Erickson says
Perhaps you mean Deer Harbor is about as far west as you can go…you are doing the same thing I used to do (I am from Miami) when I came out here, mixing up east and west due to the water orientation!
Oh yes. You’re right!!! Just corrected it. I constantly get my East & West mixed up (my left and right too, by the way). Thanks for catching it!
I learned a good way to remember west vs east in elementary school. The two put together spell WE. Shouldn’t be too hard to remember now. I hope your drive down Monday goes smoothly!
That’s not bad. I have a left/right trick too. Only your left makes an L when you look at your hands from the top with your thumb stuck out to the middle. Problem is I have to look at my hands every single time. You’d think by now I’d have it down??! Needless to say Paul doesn’t like directing me and has learned to point rather than say left and right tee hee.
As a serious prospective future volunteer there, I am really eating up all your informative posts about the San Juan Islands. Can’t wait to hear your general thoughts and read all about the adventurous descent with you at the wheel!
Cool! I think it’s a pretty sweet gig. We’ll likely be doing something else next year so the gig will be opening up for others.
Ross Starkenburg says
Yes time goes by quickly. We have followed your hi jinks for a while now and we’re hoping to meet up with you. We live in Cayucos ca. Near Hearst Castle and have been traveling up the coast. We are now in Anacortes. Hope to be in Friday harbor on Monday then hopefully in Orcas the next day. After the first we go to port Townsend, sequim, port Angeles on onward to the Olympics. Perhaps we will say hello yet.
Oh bummer! Looks like we are crossing ferry paths. We’re scheduled to leave Monday AM and will likely get the first or second ferry off the Island. Enjoy your time up here.
By the way, that Brown Bear Baking place has a really interesting history that would make me want to visit it, even if it were the worst bakery on the island: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/09/26/the-flap-over-a-flag-on-orcas-island
Very interesting. I’d not seen that article. Cheers for the link!
I like the laid back lifestyle that comes thru your writing about the island life. Another fun post about the islands. It’s really been fun taggin’ along as you’ve been exploring Washington this year. Interesting to see an outsiders perspective of my home state. Hope you’ve enjoyed it enough to return in the future summers too.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our first proper foray into the State. It’s been a great adventure and the truth is we’ve only seen a small portion of it too. There’s lots to come back for.
OMG! As a former Seattleite (25 years there post-college living in Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond on the eastside plus the world famous South Park industrial area just south of downtown) and now desert dweller in Las Vegas I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading your travelogues. After reading your last few posts I am SO ready to hit the road and spend extended time in the San Juan’s if only real life would allow it. But time passes like you say and soon enough I’ll be living the RV dream too! Thanks again for stoking my travel fires with your fun descriptions of my lovely northwest.
Really happy you’ve enjoyed the posts. Sounds like you’re well on you’re way to living the RV dream yourself. Good luck with the journey!
Judy Crankshaw says
Thanks for the tour. Terrific photos.
I enjoyed all your adventures on the islands. It seems like yesterday that you were climbing to the mountain and soon we will be hearing your drive down.
Time has really sped by here, but I figured it would. Three weeks of “Island time” is like one week on land 🙂
I would almost ferry back to Orcas for the Brown Bear “Morning Bun,” Latte’, and French Radio soundtrack experience alone!
I will be thinking of you on Monday morning as you round those Constitution Curves!
I’m nervous and excited for our Mon AM trip. We’ll be coming down super early so by the time you arise we should be at the bottom, fingers and paws crossed.
I’ve got a knot in my stomach just THINKING about your trip down the mtn on Monday! The month up there sure did fly by. Good luck!
LOL I’m not too worried. We’ll take it in low gear with plenty of time. There are a few pull offs on the way down if we need to rest the brakes too, but I figure our gears and the engine brake will do most of the hard work. Should be fun!
Jodee Gravel says
Treehouses are to us what lighthouses are to you so the pic at the little pottery place was a real treat! I was less surprised at there being a brewery than I was about it being near the airport – airport? Guessing a very small, rural one :-). I envision the locals waiting at “the bottom” on Monday morning to witness the great descent! Will you be leading or following in the car??
The treehouse was fabulous. Very impressed! I guess being a treehouse nutter you’ve watched “Treehouse Masters”? If you haven’t you must go see it. It runs on Animal Planet and the designer is a pure genius. We caught it by accident a few weeks ago and we were hooked! Never knew treehouses could be so creative.
The airport is a rural one for small planes, mostly private ones. Each Island has one. I gather flying into the Islands is almost as popular as boating them. The airports are always busy.
And I think I’ll be taking the wheel on Monday in the big rig. Paul got to drive up, so I can’t let him have all the fun!
Jodee Gravel says
Oh yes – we are big Pete Nelson fans :-))!! How fun that you’re taking your turn – have a ball!
John and Pam says
What an amazing place! Thanks for this awrsome tour!! You are making the most of your time.
We’ve had a blast here. So glad we got to explore real Island living!
Steve Nelson says
We love Orcas…glad you are enjoying it too!
We’ve had a blast. Very glad we came.
I am finally back in the land of internet and blog catching up. I would say outgoing hermit describes the cowboy quite well. More hermit than outgoing! Can’t believe your time is almost up–on to Oregon??
I can definitely see you as an outgoing hermit…totally! I’m starting to feel I have alot of company here.
Oh, I can’t believe it’s already time for you to leave Orcas! But I’m really happy that you were able to come over to Lopez for a quick visit. You’ve definitely made the most of your time in the islands — it’s been so much fun accompanying you on your explorations!
I’m really glad we made it over there too. I totally understand why you never leave the Islands while you’re hosting. You have everything you need here!
Nina regarding Cape Disappointment State Park, are there fresh water faucets for filling the RV in the camp? We are staying in 126 C
Sorry, I don’t recall off-hand. I know there’s water available, but can’t recall where the spigots are.
It’s hard to believe three weeks has already flown by. Thanks for taking us along on your island adventure. Good luck on getting down that mountain!