An expedition to Friday Harbor, queen hamlet of the San Juans, is normally no prospect for a day trip ― the drive, ferry queues, and sailing will inhale half the day in travel. But at 110 knots, a 10-passenger de Havilland Otter seaplane makes the excursion from Seattle a true breeze, leaving plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping on San Juan Island.
And from an altitude of 1,000 feet, the panorama of the emerald San Juan archipelago and the vast rinse cycle of tidal currents churning around it is worth the price of admission alone.
If you prefer to travel by sea rather than air, Washington State Ferries (888/808-7977 or 206/464-6400) provides several daily sailings from Anacortes to Friday Harbor (and Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw Islands). Tip: Avoid weekend ferries in summer months if you're driving; waits can be several hours. For seasonal schedules and fares, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.
Kenmore Air Splurge on your very own seaplane. (Feels that way, at least.) Several daily liftoffs from Seattle's Lake Union and Lake Washington to Friday Harbor and other destinations in the San Juans. INFO: Round-trip $198 ($258 starting May 1; reservations required); 950 Westlake Ave. N., Seattle; www.kenmoreair.com; 866/435-9524.
Susie's Mopeds Friday Harbor offers plenty of shopping, but if you want to see more of the 55-square-mile island, hop on a moped or a two-passenger scooter. INFO: Rentals from $63 per day; 125 Nichols St.; 360/378-5244.
Discovery Sea Kayaks The San Juan Islands form one of the world's great sea-kayaking venues, full of wildlife from sea stars to orcas. Discovery Sea Kayaks offers guided day trips geared to the beginner. INFO: $69 half-day, $79 full day; reservations required; 1 Spring St.; www.discoveryseakayak.com; 360/378-2559.
Island Museum of Art Don't miss this showcase of work by local and Northwest artists. INFO: Closed Mon; free, donation suggested; 314 Spring St.; www.wbay.org; 360/370-5050.
Arctic Raven Gallery Features the majors in native Northwest, Inuit, and Alaskan art. INFO: 130 First St. S.; 360/378-3433.
Serendipity Books Unearth all sorts of tattered titles at this cottage overflowing with both paperbacks and hard covers. INFO: 223 A St.; 360/378-2665.
Backdoor Kitchen Few visitors ever find this fine restaurant, squirreled away in a courtyard adjacent to Green Man Nursery. Enjoy Vietnamese rice noodle bowls and assorted curries in a setting of bamboo leaves and garden sculptures. INFO: $$$; 400 A St.; 360/378-9540.