San Juan Islands elopement guide

When people talk about eloping in the PNW, there are three places that come to mind, the mountains, the ocean, and along the waters of the Puget Sound. With that, there are few options that better meld the intimacy, distance, beauty, and special island culture of a wedding on the San Juan Islands. Whether you’re planning a large celebration on Orcas Island or an intimate moment on Lopez Island, there is nothing quite like a San Juan Islands elopement. 

Why have a San Juan Islands elopement?

You’re here for nature. You’re here to be so close to the wilds. The wind will howl. The rain will probably fall. Maybe some fog. Probably some sun too. But whether you’re watching eagles below you from the top of Mt Constitution or just contemplating the flaky bark of a madrona tree that sticks out over the rocky shore, you can’t go to the San Juan Islands and not feel a greater connection to the depth of the world around you.

One of the main draws to the islands, both as guests and as residents is how secluded they are. You live with a moat. It takes a ferry to get there. With that life happens a little differently. But, that seclusion in the woods amongst the waters, you’ll also find a warmth, openness and willingness to share a beautiful life that is hard to find in modern life.

Though you may feel away from it all, there are also quite a few options for enjoying the finer things in life at the resorts around the islands. Whether it be the highest class at Rosario, the hippie experience at Doe Bay or a good start before fishing at the Lopez Islander, there is always a great place to fill your stomach and relax.

As much of the Puget Sound is bogged down with slow traffic and endless highway projects, the knowledge that your trip starts and ends with a peaceful trip across the sound on a Washington State Ferry is always a lovely site. So, have a snack, sit in the sun (or hide from the rain) on the top deck and enjoy your trip because you literally can’t do anything else.

Whether you are lucky enough to see a local pod swim through a channel while on the ferry or sipping your morning coffee, or hop a charter to go whale watching, there are few places that allow for such easy viewing of these majestic creatures that make the north Puget Sound home. 

If you have never seen an orca in real life, consider a trip. It’s mind-blowing. I mean that honestly.

With the 4 main islands of the archipelago, each has a distinct priority. San Juan is the populous one, while Orcas is the biggest. Lopez is the friendly island and Shaw is the one that you go for privacy. With that, there is always a spot that will fit exactly the mood you want for your San Juan Islands elopement.

lesbian couple kisses during wedding at Oddfellows hall on orcas island

How to select a location for your San Juan Islands elopement

Orcas Island elopement locations

Orcas Island is the largest and second most populated island in the archipelago. It isn’t named after the whales, but rather after the Viceroy of Mexico who sent a party to name the area. It’s also a favorite of travelers for the variety of resorts, camping, hiking, eating and other recreation that happens on this island. If you’re heading to have an Orcas Island elopement, you will have all you need to enjoy the day.

Oddfellows Hall

$ | Up to 150 guests | Available year-round | Website

Oddfellows is such a unique little spot. Whether you’re planning to get married on the deck at sunset or have your ceremony somewhere else on the island and then come here to party, this is a wonderful spot. It’s versatile. It’s easy. It’s just fun. I’ve seen parent’s cry here and I’ve seen brides play flip cup. It’s the kind of spot that can be whatever you need it to be.

Moran State Park

$ | Up to 100 guests | Best May – September | Website

Moran State Park is the largest park on Orcas Island. There are hundreds of campsites and plenty of picnic structures that can be reserved for use. It also is home to 5 lakes and Mt Constitution (the highest point in the islands) which are beautiful spots for photos and views.

Doe Bay

$$$ | Up to 100 guests | Open year-round | Website

Doe Bay is a place that is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t been there before. It’s beautiful. There is a wonderful restaurant. There are cabins, yurts, and camping spots. The view is out of this world. The spa is truly lovely.

But, what makes Doe Bay special is that you feel calm and connected to nature the second you pull into the drive. There is a special link between this property and the world that you can only understand once you’ve slowed down to find it.

Inn at Ship Bay

$$$ | Up to 100 guests | Open year-round | Website

This little resort on the water is a beautiful space overlooking the water. Like Rosario, it’s coming off the main waterway between the two arms of Orcas Island. But, the charm of this is the multiples spaces that folks can use and access on the property. Also, a renowned chef!

Rosario

$$$$ | Up to 100 guests | Best May-Sept | Website

Located on a bluff overlooking the bay, there are few more romantic or beautiful spots in the San Jauns. This space is open for small or large weddings and elopements with a variety of location options and all the amenities you could ever need.

Obstruction Pass State Park

$ | Up to 100 guests | Open year-round | Website

One of the least well-known parks on Orcas Island can allow for this to be one of the most secluded and spacial options for an intimate elopement. The rocky beaches with large rocks and overhanging madrona trees are quintessentially connected to these islands. 

Do note, there is a little bit of a hike down to the water. It’s pretty easy but is not an ADA-accessible area.

Episcopal Church

$ | Up to 40 people | Open Year-round | Website

If you want to elope, but enjoy the traditions of a chapel with a white picket fence, these are few more idyllic spots on earth than the Episcopal Church in Eastsound. For information about the requirements of having a ceremony, contact the church directly.

San Juan Island

San Juan Island is second largest, but most densely populated island in the archipelago.

Harbor House in Friday Harbor

$$ | Up to 50 people | Best May – Sept | Website | 866.722.7356 | info@fridayharborhouse.com

Situated on a bluff overlooking Friday Harbor, the Harbor House is a wonderful spot for small weddings and elopements. With all the amenities you’d hope for, but still enjoying the quaint town lifestyle.

Brickworks 

$$ | Up to 150 guests | Year-Round | Website

For larger weddings or elopements on San Juan Island, Brickworks is a great option. Built on the site of a historic brick factory, this public art space is perfect for making the day what you’d hope for. It’s also just a few steps from the ferry, making it easy for anyone to enjoy your wedding or quick to access the rest of the island’s beauty.

Lime Kiln

$ | Up to 20 guests | Year-Round, but best during summer months | Wedding details website

What could be more romantic than a wedding at a lighthouse in the corner of the country? Whether you go for a bright summer day or opt for the wilds or winter, having a small elopement at the historic Lime Kiln lighthouse is a unique spot. 

Note, you can only access Lime Kiln for a 2 hour period, with a chaperone. It’s probably best to just plan your elopement here but then plan a reception/meal somewhere else.

San Juan Island National Historic Park

$ | Best under 50 guests | Year-Round, but best during summer months | Website

With both American and British camps on the Island, there are plenty of land to house your wedding or elopement. Take advantage of the wide open, wind swept and near nature vistas that the park can offer.

Note, to have a San Juan Island National Historic Park wedding, you will need a Special Use Permit. These are almost always needed for weddings within National Parks or Historic areas. To attain one for the San Juan Islands, follow the steps on this page.

Roche Harbor Resort

$$$ | Up to 100 guests | Best May-Sept | Website

Class at the end of the world. With all the amenities you could hope for (including full catering, event and rental staff), eloping at the Roche Harbor Resort is a great option. They also have a variety of elopement locations on the property (and even more just off the grounds) that will perfectly fit your needs. Then sit back and let their world-renown chefs ease you through the rest of your celebration.

Note, KenmoreAir flies directly from South Lake Union to Roche Harbor. This makes it one of the most accessible locations for folks looking to get from Seattle to the San Juans.

Pelindaba Lavendar Farm

$ | NA | Year-Round | Website

Though not a location available for a wedding, elopement or reception, it’s worth noting that the Pelindaba Lavender Farm is available for photos. They offer them free of charge and without reservation if that is part of the story of your day you want to be documented.

Saltwater farm

$$$ | Up to 200 guests | Best May – Sept | Website

The perfect location for a fuller wedding celebration that could take a night or all weekend long. The Saltwater Farm is perfect for a wedding or elopement that takes all advantage of the spaces on the property for communing with nature, relaxing vistas and dancing the night away under the barn.

Indian bride smiles during wedding in san juan islands

Lopez Island

Woodman Hall

$ | Up to 100 guests | Available year-round | Website

A simple space that can be all you want it to be. Whether you’re looking for a space to center your day, or for a reception after an elopement in the wilds of Lopez Island, the Woodman Hall is a great option.

Lopez Center for the Arts

$ | Up to 150 guests | Available year-round | Website

Probably the biggest and nicest community space on Lopez Island. It’s a wonderful venue, complete with big doors to invite (or shut out) the world outside. Also has a kitchen and a cool over-heard walkway to surround your guests.

Spencer Spit

$ | Up to 100 guests | Best June – October | Website

The largest state park on Lopez Island is a great spot for an elopement. You can even reserve a space out at the end of the spit for the celebration. Then, head back to one of the various picnic shelters for the evening and the reception. Spencer Spit even has a shuttle to get you to and from the ferry to enjoy this space if you come without a car.

Edenwild

$$ | Under 30 guests | Available year-round (though might be harder to book in summer) | Website

Rent this lovely space to make your day in this historic homestead. With all the intimate touches you could hope for in the rooms as well as a beautiful grounds, this is a wonderful backdrop for your intimate celebration. It’s also just walking distance from other restaurants or coffee shops to make this space great.

Iceberg Point

$ | Up to 30 guests | Best May-Sept | WTA site

If you’re up for a little hike to elope, there are few better and wilder spots in the San Juans than Iceberg Point. Though it does stretch south towards the peaks of the Olympic Mountains, you probably won’t see any Icebergs. Rather, allow your elopement to be surrounded by the rocks, creeping madrona trees, and sounds of the waves.

washington state ferry in the San Juan Islands on a sunny day

Shaw Island

Shaw is the least populated island of the San Juans. It’s also the one with the fewest amenities, options and public spaces. Pretty much, I’d only suggest a Shaw Island Elopement if you have access to a private property or space. But if you do, you’re in luck because that privacy will open options for you that aren’t available to many others.

Shaw County Park

$ | Up to 100 guests | Best May – Sept | Website

One of the few public areas on Shaw Island, the park and campground is a great option to bring folks together for your celebration.

Island Artist Studio

$ | Up to 15 guests | Year-round | Reservation

A nice little spot. Would be a tricky spot for the wedding itself, but a good option if need of rental space for a wedding on private property.

Season?

If you’re looking for a bright and beautiful day in in the San Juans, your best bet would be to go in the traditional Washington State summer of July 5 – Mid September. The month before and after that window are also often nice. But, it is important to remember that this is so close to the pacific and in the Straight of Juan de Fuca, weather can be unpredictable. 

But, if you are looking for a rainy and moody day, then most of the winter will be a good option. That said, you might also get a sunny day in January too. You just have to plan for everything and hope for the day.

Permit?

The permits will depend on the location and size of your event. If you’re eloping on private property of some sort, then the only permits needed would be with the owner. So, if you’re going to have a wedding or elopement at a hotel or venue, that will be pretty easy. Washington State doesn’t have any specific rules about where weddings can be held. 

If you’re going to get married in a public space (like a state park), you will likely need a permit. A lot of that is about reserving the space. So for something like Moran State Park or Spencer Spit State Park, you will need to coordinate with the Washington State Parks to reserve your place and to make plans. These do also require a photographer’s permit too. 

Lastly, if you choose to elope on an AirBnB or other private rental, it’s always best to be up-front with the owner about your intentions. A wedding surcharge may be applied, but it’s always better than having those assessed after the fact.

How choose a photographer

When picking a photographer for your wedding day, you should find someone who makes images that match your vision for the day. 

I will admit that my style isn’t for everyone, but I am here to help you plan your day. That means planning a story that is connected to your love and documenting it in a way that will not just remind you of what happened on your wedding day, but help you feel what you felt all over again. I make images that hold true to the feeling of what actually happened, with the color correction that is modern but not overedited. We’re going to use film, be creative, respect the world around us, and make memories that will last forever.

It’s also okay to find someone else. A lot of folks in the Pacific Northwest know how to meld the beauty, intimacy, and joy that the San Juan Islands can offer.

Packages available

I work to keep things as easy as possible. All weddings or elopements are all day coverage and start at $5000. That includes travel to the islands and lodging if necessary. I do everything possible to keep it simple. Beyond that, let’s chat and make the exact coverage that’s perfect for your day.

How get there

So, these are islands. That means you have to arrive either by water or by air. The cheapest and usually easiest is on the Washington State Ferries. They all leave from Anacortes and then go out to the islands. Be sure to make your plans and ferry reservations as early as possible (they open up in thirds, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days before sailing). This will give you a spot and you only need to arrive at the terminal 45-60 minutes before the sailing time. I know that kinda sounds like a lot, but it’s way less than the 3-6 hours it used to take. And they do take this seriously. I once missed my reservation by 2 minutes and had to wait 4 hours to go home.

But, the ferries are awesome. Enjoy your time on and it’s the most relaxing way to make your way across the North Puget Sound. Also, you only pay when going westbound. So, for most travelers who are going to one island and then returning to the mainland, you’re paying for a round-trip ticket. You only have to pay more if you decide to continue westward. 

But, if you or your guests need to get to/from the islands a little faster and with a view, the other option is to fly on seaplanes. I know, that sounds pretty awesome, right? There are scheduled flights or charters that are run by Kenmore Air, most of which leave from their South Lake Union airport.

washington state ferry drives across the water during a pink sunset

Where to stay

Hotel

There are a number of awesome hotels, botique hotels and BnBs on the islands. Here are a few that you should look into, depending on which Island you’re eloping on.

  • Orcas Island
    • Doe Bay
    • Beach Haven
    • Outlook Inn
    • Orcas Hotel
    • Inn at Ship Bay
    • Rosario Resort & Spa
  • San Juan Island
    • Friday Harbor Suites
    • Lakeside
    • Snug Harbor
    • Roche Harbor Resort
  • Lopez Island
    • Lopez Islander
    • Edenwild Botique Hotel
  • Annecortes
    • Majestic Inn and Spa
    • Nantucket Inn Annecortes
    • Anaco Bay Inn
  • British Columbia
    • Oak Bay Beach Hotel
    • Travellodge by Wyndham Victoria
    • Brentwood Bay Resort
couple smiles outside brickworks in Friday Harbor on san juan island for their elopement

AirBNB, Vacasa, VRBO

It’s also a good idea to look into renting a home during the event. There are a lot to choose from, but here is a few that I think look awesome. 

Campgrounds

Dogs?

Everyone wants to have their fur-babies at the elopement. It makes sense and in general, the San Juan Islands are fairly dog-friendly. If you’re in a public space, you’ll be expected to keep them on leash, but you can definitely include them in the day.

As with any elopement, if possible, I’d suggest having a designated dog-wrangler on your day. You want to ahve the pup in some photos and at some events, but a wrangler will give you time to focus on other aspects of the day too.

portrait of bride and groom during lopez island wedding

Guests

I have photographed weddings on the islands that have hundreds of guests and ones with just a handful. For many folks who are looking for an intimate elopement, this is one of the best options out there. With any wild locations, many of the parks, venues or spaces used for elopemnts are not ADA compliant. Just keep that in mind if are inviting folks.

But, it is the kind of place that there aren’t unlimited overnight options and it’s hard for even WA based folks to get all the way home after a wedding. So, keep that in mind as you write out guest lists.

Legal

As with elopements anywhere else in Washington, the state doesn’t have any rulse about where you can get married. Marriage licenses must be obtained in Washington State at least three days before day you’re choosing to elope. They can be obtained in the county building of any county in Washington and are valid anywhere in Washington State. If you are a Washington resident, then it is easiest to get your license in your home county, and then bring it to your San Juan elopement. Note: See my How to elope in Washington blog for more info.

If you’re traveling to Washington for the wedding, then make sure you arrive at least three days before your elopement, which will allow you to obtain the paperwork right away. It is easiest for travelers to get it in Seattle at the King County building, which is only a short LINK Light Rail ride from SeaTac Airport (though if you’re going to the San Juans and not taking a seaplane, you’ll have a car). 

I have another blog with more info on all the legal information. It’s a really good comprehensive tool for all you need to elope in Washington.

Bring

Here is your checklist for what you need to bring for your San Juan Islands elopement. I’ll leave the decorating stuff up to you, but here’s the stuff not to forget:

  • Marriage license
  • Special Use Permit (for getting married in the National Park on San Juan Island)
  • Extra layers, including both a warmth layer and a rain protection layer
  • Ferry reservation (on your phone is fine, but just in case)
San Juan Islands wedding guide
San Juan Islands elopement guide