This is the sixth in our ongoing series called “5 Favorites” in which we’ll explore a range of topics including memorable anchorages, marina showers, cruise-in breweries, parks of the Gulf Islands, the joys of winter cruising, fun things to do, meals to make aboard and much more. The aim is not to make a list of “bests” or to rank things, but rather to provide an entertaining and insightful look at what we’ve enjoyed while cruising the Pacific Northwest. And since every boater has their favorites, we invite you to share yours in the comments below.
Fuel, water, provisions, a trip to the chandlery, showers and laundry, and the proposition of a hot meal cooked by someone else are some of the many things that boaters look for when stopping during a cruise. Most experienced Pacific Northwest mariners have their favorite marinas and ports of call along the way, and whether they’re utilitarian, charming or both, one of the great things that makes cruising the Salish Sea so special is the immense amount of quality stops we can make. Just like all my 5 Favorites articles, my top five cruising towns were difficult to narrow down. But here goes…
In a way, San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor has turned into a home base for us while cruising the San Juans over the past three winters. For cruisers who are paying a quicker visit, though, there is U.S. Customs & Immigration, ferry and floatplane service to drop and pickup guests, ample room to anchor, a welcoming marina operated by the port, two grocery stores for provisions, boating services, a fuel dock, a small chandlery, a hardware store and more. Friday Harbor also houses several great restaurants and bars on or near Spring Street, a welcoming library, numerous specialty shops and is home to The Whale Museum, which promotes “stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education & research.”
Beyond all of that, we’ve found the town to be particularly welcoming to our family and have met residents during the offseason that befriended us like we are one of their own. For the boys, the Family Resource Center, library story times, A Place to Play and the pool at San Juan Island Fitness are all great entertainment, especially during the wetter and darker days of winter. And joining in the town’s Halloween festivities and Turkey Trot for Thanksgiving have been highlights of our time there.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: Haley’s Sports Bar & Grill
We consider Ganges to be our Friday Harbor of the Gulf Islands, or maybe Friday Harbor is our Ganges of the San Juan Islands. Either way, this is a place we love to stop and spend a few days getting the boat and ourselves ready to head back out again. Similar to Friday Harbor, there are a number of services for boaters, a hardware store, suitable anchorage, two grocery stores, ferry and floatplane service, and an abundance of good dining options. Unlike Friday Harbor, there are a couple more moorage options such as the public wharf, Ganges Marina and Salt Spring Marina.
Located on Salt Spring Island, Ganges has a laid back and eclectic feel to it that is exemplified in its Saturday Market. Here you’ll find colorful folks, tasty food and numerous vendors to browse in the city’s main park. We’ve met some great friends during our time in town and the boys frequent the elementary school’s early learning program and several playgrounds. Also, if you’re feeling adventurous on a hot summer day, the island’s bus service passes several freshwater lakes that are perfect for cooling off.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: Moby’s Pub (Treehouse Cafe is a very close second)
For us, a visit to Sidney, British Columbia always entails three things: laundry, showers and groceries. This trifecta is a cruising ritual that we pull off over and over again while cruising the Salish Sea, but it always seems to be so easy in Sidney. Port Sidney Marina has a welcoming staff, excellent laundry and shower facilities and is a short walk to three grocery stores, shops, restaurants, a hardware store and a beautiful waterfront trail and park. It also grants easy access to Victoria International Airport and the ferry to Friday Harbor and Anacortes. Van Isle Marina is located to the north in Tsehum Harbour and is a simple bus ride from town. Anchoring can be done off Sidney’s Beacon Wharf and Avenue, but it’s fairly exposed so should be considered in settled weather only.
A trip to Sidney typically involves a visit to the Centre for the Salish Sea aquarium, which captivates the boys, and several family friendly restaurants are good for a night out. One of the main things we’ve come to love about stopping in Sidney is how close it is to several great anchorages and parks. Sidney Spit is a short hop east, Portland and Russell islands are less than 10 miles north, as is Bedwell Harbour to the east-northeast. Well stocked, clean and set to roll, we always feel refreshed and ready when we leave town.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: Woodshed
Similar to the Friday Harbor-Ganges comparison, Anacortes is akin to Sidney in many respects. Like Port of Sidney, Cap Sante Marina is the hub for cruisers when stopping in town and within walking distances to multiple grocery stores, hardware stores, restaurants, cafes and more. Commercial Street is the main thoroughfare and pretty much everything can be had on or near it. Between West Marine and Marine Supply & Hardware, you’ll find what you need for the boat and services like rigging, sailmaking, engine repair, you name it, are nearby.
This is another stop where we’ve made some wonderful friends over the years, which is part of what keeps us coming back. Anacortes has a charm to it that we love and you can tell why many resident and boaters enjoy living here. For cruisers, anchorage in Fidalgo Bay isn’t the best, but there are some excellent parks and anchoring opportunities nearby including Saddlebag Island and Cypress Head, Eagle Harbor and Pelican Beach all on Cypress Island. Of course, it’s also an easy passage west to the San Juan Islands.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: The Brown Lantern
Good old Ukee! Whether rounding Vancouver Island counterclockwise or sailing up from the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Barkley Sound, Ucluelet is your main option for provisions, services and a chance to get the boat and crew clean in an otherwise wilderness-laden area. In the northwest corner of town is the small craft harbor where transient boaters find themselves mixed in with the charter and commercial fishing fleets and the atmosphere on the docks is lively on a summer day. If anchoring is more your speed, you can drop your hook just outside the marina to the north.
Though Ucluelet has a healthy amount of services for the cruising boater, the jewel of the area is its access to sections of the Wild Pacific Trail and the many beaches that accompany it. Also, a short hop north along the two lane highway and you’ve got even more beaches that are ripe for surfing or relaxing and then the uber quaint tourist hamlet of Tofino. If you’re visiting Ucluelet, an excursion to both is worth it.
Yahtzee’s restaurant of choice: It’s no longer there so we’ll be finding a new one soon!