Sneak Away to the San Juan Islands at Snug Harbor Resort

Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

When you make a reservation at the Snug Harbor Resort on Washington’s San Juan Island, you get a confirmation from the email address “[email protected].” As my husband Alan and I found on a recent island getaway, a stay at this secluded Pacific Northwest cottage resort really does feel like you’re sneaking away from civilization.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not a roughing-it kind of escape. Owners Erik and Tamara Nelson, who took over the property in 2011, have rebuilt this lodging from the ground up, adding nearly all the creature comforts you’d want for a modern-day sneak-away. Here’s the scoop:

Cottages, Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

Guest Rooms and Amenities

At the Snug Harbor Resort, guests stay in one of 16 cabins and suites, all with views over Mitchell Bay. The “waterfront” cabins are just that — directly facing the water — while the “waterview” units are higher on the hill, with equally good (and sometimes better) views in exchange for a one- or two-minute stroll down to the shore.

Most of the accommodations are stand-alone cottages with gently sloping roofs, with three additional suites located above the lobby in the main lodge building. All were built new in the last two years; during our visit, four additional cottages were under construction, scheduled to open in early summer (2015).

Cottage living room, Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

Each pine-paneled unit with rustic wood floors has one or two bedrooms, with overstuffed beige sleep sofas atop striped earth-tone rugs in the living rooms. The one-bedroom units measure 450 square feet; the two bedrooms are 650 square feet.

All have gas fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, and decks with gas BBQs. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available in every unit. You may not have a cell phone signal (we didn’t); of course, if you’re sneaking away, you may not care about cell phone service.

Each unit has a fully-equipped kitchen, with cherry cabinets, granite countertops, stove, fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, and tea kettle. Dishes, glasses, utensils, pots and pans are provided, enough for at least four people in the one-bedroom units and more in the larger cottages.

If you do plan to cook, stop at the grocery store in Friday Harbor, where the ferry docks (it’s nine miles from the resort) or bring your food from the mainland. Except for a small lobby shop selling snacks and drinks, there are no provisions close to the resort. San Juan Island has a Saturday Farmer’s Market, and – in a sweet touch – each room at Snug Harbor has a basket that you can use for market shopping.

Cottage bedroom, Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

The bedrooms in the cottages and suites aren’t large, but they’re comfortable with either one queen or two twin beds and handy bedside reading lamps. Bathrooms are modern, with foot-massaging pebble floors in the showers.

Staff provide housekeeping service every third day, although you can request a light cleaning or fresh towels as necessary.

Rates in the summer high season start at $289/night.

Main lodge, Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

Facilities and Activities

Adjacent to the lobby is Mitchell Bay Coffee, a cozy coffee shop brewing espresso drinks and serving a light breakfast: Umpqua oatmeal, make-your-own Belgian waffles, plus a few muffins from the local grocery. If you’re a pastry person, though, I’d recommend picking up yours in Friday Harbor at Café Demeter, an excellent bakery, and eating them on your terrace overlooking the bay.

If you’d like to toast marshmallows or just sit in the flickering firelight, ask in the lobby for some wood and build a fire in one of the property’s firepits overlooking the bay.

Marina, Snug Harbor Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

Snug Harbor Resort has a small exercise room with a couple of cardio machines; staff said that it’s scheduled for a much-needed upgrade this year.

With the resort’s location on the waterfront, I’d take my exercise outdoors anyway. Kayaks, canoes, and a standup paddleboard are available for guests’ use, and you can borrow one of the resort’s bikes to venture farther afield.

You can also book a kayak excursion or a whale watch tour leaving from the marina directly in front of the resort.

San Juan Islands Museum of Art, Friday Harbor, WA

What’s Nearby?

Washington State Ferries run to San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor several times a day from Anacortes, Washington; the trip takes just over an hour on a direct boat. You can also catch a 90-minute ferry to or from Sidney, British Columbia, near Victoria on Vancouver Island.

If the point of your sneak-away holiday is to escape from the modern world, you’ll have no trouble at Snug Harbor, since the property is set on a secluded bay. If you do want to explore, it’s an easy drive into Friday Harbor for restaurants, shops, and other entertainment.

In town, the San Juan Islands Museum of Art has a striking new building that’s worth checking out; admission is by donation.

At the north end of the island, near Roche Harbor, there’s also a very cool outdoor sculpture park.

Lighthouse, Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island, WA

From May through August or early September, you can often spot whales and porpoises just offshore at Lime Kiln Point State Park, which is five miles south of Snug Harbor. Even if there’s no aquatic activity, you can take an easy walk along the shore to the Lime Kiln light station (above).

For a more strenuous hike, Snug Harbor staff recommend the climb up Mount Young, for panoramic views across the water.

But at Snug Harbor Resort, you don’t really need to do anything other than cocoon in your cottage. After all, when you’re sneaking away from civilization, you have no obligations — except to relax.

Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller, author of the books, Moon Handbooks: Ontario and Living Abroad in Canada. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Snug Harbor Resort hosted my stay for review purposes.


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