Lorin Lindell | 07/11/2022 | Updated | Adventure - Outdoors, Family Fun, Sightsee, Tours, Water Adventures |   

Discover the San Juan Islands on a Small Ship Cruise out of Bellingham

Bellingham is the perfect place to board a small-ship cruise through the evergreen San Juan Islands.

Within view of downtown Bellingham, the San Juan archipelago encompasses 172 islands and rocks in the Salish Sea, including 75 sites officially designated the San Juan Islands National Monument. 

Three local cruise companies out of Bellingham offer a variety of one-day and overnight options for sailing, whale watching, and exploring the San Juan Islands from May through October: 

If your schedule only allows for a day or an evening in the San Juans, it's easy to get out on the water from Bellingham (without waiting in ferry lines). Here are some options to explore.

San Juan Cruises offers a full-day Friday Harbor Sightseeing Cruise. The voyage is popular for its onboard bar, interpretive narration, and three-hour shore excursion in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island before returning to Bellingham. Voyagers depart from Bellingham at 10 a.m. and return at 5 p.m.

A Whale Watching Lunch Cruise is also available through San Juan Cruises on Saturdays and Sundays in May and daily from May through September. The trip departs at 11 a.m. and returns at 5 p.m. with a complimentary lasagna lunch offered onboard. The trip is a great option for a weekend visit to Bellingham. You're also guaranteed to see whales or your next cruise is half off!

San Juan Cruises also offers a full-day Bird Watching Cruise in June and July. Naturalists help guests locate bald eagles, great blue herons, cormorants, Caspian terns, rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, and more.

Another option is spending a full day on the Sucia Island Picnic Cruise. Sucia Island is a Washington State Park that is only accessible by private yacht or charter vessels. The gorgeous 564-acre island includes a trail system and 77,700 feet of shoreline. Departing Saturdays and Sundays in July and August, this cruise includes a picnic lunch and nature walk on the island.

Evening dinner cruises on Bellingham Bay are an additional specialty for San Juan Cruises:

The Schooner Zodiac offers a variety of brunch and dinner sails. This is a great opportunity to enjoy a beautiful Bellingham sunset out on the water, and get a “taste” of the Zodiac experience. 

See below for more information on the Zodiac's multi-day experience.

The Ales N' Sails Brewery Dinner Cruise hosts a different local brewery on each voyage, with a unique meal created to pair with the beers. Sample the flavors and discuss the process with the brewers, all while savoring a magnificent Whatcom County sunset.

The largest of the Bellingham fleet is the majestic Schooner Zodiac, with the tallest working mainsail on the West Coast. Step aboard and admire the enormous wood masts, the spacious wood deck, and the vintage helm. The view below deck is even more impressive. Originally built for the Johnson & Johnson family in 1924, the Zodiac has been meticulously restored with polished trim, fixtures, bookcases, and tables. Sleeping berths and cabins can accommodate up to 20 passengers for overnight sails.

Passengers learn to raise and lower the massive sails, take the helm and man the charts. Of course, everyone looks forward to the dinner bell, as hearty meals pour forth from the galley.

Relax while sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee at daybreak, watching the sun rise over Lopez Island, as if the rest of the world was a million miles away.

Trips on the Zodiac focus on a variety of themes throughout the summer, including lighthouses, breweries, seafood, wine, and even knitting. 

The Schooner Zodiac’s 2022 schedule is now available for booking

Another meticulously restored wooden boat is the David B, operated by Jeffrey and Christine Smith of Northwest Navigation. What the Zodiac offers in spaciousness, the David B delivers in adorable coziness.

Two key features endear passengers to the David B: her antique engine (Jeffrey’s baby) and her antique wood burning stove (Christine’s baby). The couple bought the boat in 1998 and lovingly restored it to begin offering trips in 2006. 

The 65-foot workboat, built in 1929, can carry up to 6 overnight passengers for relaxed luxury cruises in 4 inviting cabins. Each cruise emphasizes nature, local history and gourmet cooking.

“No pre-made bread is ever served on the David B,” says Christine. Each morning she wakes up at 5 a.m., to light the fire and have coffee ready by 6:00 a.m. (for the early risers), homemade muffins at 8:00 a.m., and bread rising while Jeffrey takes passengers ashore at mid-morning. 

By lunchtime, the cabin smells delectable, and the table is set with china for a feast. Christine also takes special care to serve local Northwest ingredients, which are plentiful in the summer months.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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