Hey there friend! I’m Alexandria, and I’ve found home in the mountains of WA. Like you, I personally thrive and feel so fulfilled in small groups, intentional moments, and love photos to remember days by.
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The Islands will always hold a special place in my heart and a very special place for your San Juan Islands Elopement. I’m not sure if it’s because of the proximity of the ocean, the slowed-down vibe of the islands themselves, or maybe a combination of both.
Riding on the ferry, having the wind caress your face, seeing the waves crash around you, and watching the distant islands become bigger and bigger is such a special feeling. To have a San Juan Islands Elopement will be such a special experience, I promise you!
Quick story time of why this place is so special to me, so skip ahead if you’re one of those readers who “just want the recipe,” haha I feel you. I was headed to Orcas Island to photograph an elopement on 11.11 but on my travel day, I ended up hitting a deer and completely totaled my car. (this is why I always travel in the day before your elopement!)
I was completely shaken. I ended up missing my ferry reservation (thankfully getting on the next one) but I was just running on adrenaline for my entire time there.
My BnB became a place of sanctuary. Completely alone one morning, I was humbled by the property and the stillness around me. I was drawn to books from artists on the island and just immersed myself in this glorious slowed-down, detail-filled world. I had a friend on the island who had her friend come and welcome me while I was ordering dinner at a local restaurant. My B&B host and I chatted forever about so many topics during breakfast.
Overall, I was able to feel this wonderful sense of community as an outsider, which helped me connect even more to the island itself. As I was exploring all the elopement spots, I just felt this amazing hug from the island and I knew, I was safe.
Ok, so why should you elope on the San Juan Islands? Island life is a VIBE. You get away from Seattle traffic and you’re forced and allowed to slow down and just explore, relax, and take in nature, sunsets, wildlife, etc. You’re probably eloping because you don’t want the big stress of a wedding, so encourage the feeling by heading to the islands for a relaxed experience.
Did you know that the San Juan Islands is a group of 172 named islands/reefs and only one island is actually named San Juan Island? Ferries from Anacortes only head to the largest islands – San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, & Shaw Island! For elopements, I’m focusing on San Juan, Orcas, & Lopez!
Orcas island is the largest of the 4 ferry-bound islands. It also has the tallest point on the islands. Drive up to the top and visit Mount Constitution in Moran State Park! It also is home to a wide variety of landscapes from mountain lakes to waterfalls to beaches to mountain tops. It has wonderful hiking trails and is home to an amazing artist community!
San Juan Island is the second biggest island. Quick fun fact: according to the Visitors Bureau, there are no stoplights on the islands! This island is characterized by rolling hills and tends to be a cyclist paradise! In the summer you can rent bikes and ride all over the island! This island is really bluffy too in comparison to Orcas Island. At the Southern tip of the island, you have Cattle Point Lighthouse with rolling seagrass hills with tons of beautiful beaches along the coast which boast beautiful wildflowers during wildflower season! You might even see foxes! Then head up to the central western coast and you’ll have rocky, bluffy areas at Lime Kiln State Park.
If you’re into towns, Friday Harbour is an adorable little port town where the ferry comes in and out of. Roche Harbor is another port town. Both are really popular with larger weddings!
Lopez island is the 3rd largest of the 4 ferry bound islands and is similar to San Juan in its topography! Rolling hills, farmland, spits, and a few bluffs make up the island!
I would suggest spending a minimum of 2-3 days on the islands. Why? Most lodging places require a 2-3 night minimum depending on the season and days you choose. Plus, why wouldn’t you want to spend all the amazing relaxing time?
For summer months, I would plan at least 6-8 months out, if not a full year out. This is due to the availability of lodging & ferry reservations as they all do book up quickly! You and your photographer, if you are all traveling from the mainland, will want to book lodging and ferry reservations as soon as you decide on a date.
For winter months, you can get away with less than 6 months!
As with just about anywhere in Washington, the best time will always be July – October, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t also enjoy the islands in the winter. The islands are in a little pocket of weather due to the ocean that surrounds it! Many times you could experience temperatures about 10 degrees cooler than the mainlands, and you might also get some wind if you’re on a beach or one of their coasts. Like the Olympic Peninsula, it doesn’t snow a lot either.
Summer months do mean more tourists and higher costs of travel due to tourism. That being said, eloping can still sometimes be cheaper and a much better experience than a larger wedding. Check out my blog post here on a breakdown of the costs of weddings vs elopements and why you should focus on your experience rather than the cost!
I personally love traveling to the islands in the winter (Nov – March). Yes it’s colder and the wind does whip a little more, but it is so quiet and you’re able to see things and relax without all the hundreds of other visitors. I do have several things to note when it comes to the islands however in the winter!
Washington Department of Transportation has a great ferry system set up that runs from Anacortes to the port cities in the islands! Rates can change but expect a fee for the car and any extra passengers you have in the vehicle. When you purchase your ticket at Anacortes round trip is included so you don’t need to worry about purchasing your way back.
Did you know that you can get to the islands without a car? Depending on where you want to travel to, you may or may not need a car on the islands. I personally like having the flexibility of having my own car so I can go wherever I want to, but it isn’t required! Orcas Island has a shuttle service from the ferry to Eastsound! San Juan Island has a transit service. Lopez island has no public transportation. There are taxis but be aware it’s a small island and might require reservations. All in all, transportation isn’t as robust as it is on the mainland.
Disclaimer** Always do your own research to decide if not taking a car is right for your trip or elopement!
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. All trips to the islands suggest making a reservation, which is different from the actual ticket itself. From personal experience – definitely make and show up for that reservation. You won’t be charged a fee unless you don’t show up for your reservation. WSDOT suggests getting to the ferry terminals 45-60 min before your departing ferry and reservation holders have to make it through the toll booths at least 30 min prior.
Your spot opens up to the other passengers and *you are not guaranteed a spot on the next ferry*. I cannot stress this enough, especially in peak travel season. Remember my deer story from above? I missed my ferry reservation, but because it was off-season I had a better chance of making the next ferry. They did tell me as I purchased my ticket, however “you might not make it to the island today.” (I did make it) Moral of the story – be early to make sure you make your reservation!
Check out Kenmore Air for plane rides to the islands!
I’m personally a fan of mom & pop-owned B&Bs – here are a few ideas to get you started.
Privately owned vacation rentals are beautiful additions to your day. Always ask the owners and tell them your intentions before you book! To learn more about using vacation rentals during your elopement, check out my blog post here!
If you would like to say your vows in nature, there are several amazing options for your ceremony. Here are a few to look into!
You’ll want to contact any land manager to make sure you can elope with your group size and have a photographer. State parks require 60 days to process permits and require your photographer to have a commercial permit. As your photographer, I can help you navigate and find who to contact!
**Disclaimer: Please check with the county you are picking up your license from for the most up-to-date laws as they are always subject to change.
Nature not your thing? There are amazing venues as well! Here are a few!
The islands offer a ton to do! Use this as a starting point in your research for your adventure.
Hi, I’m Alexandria 🙂 Photography to me is magic in my hands. It’s a re-telling of what I get to see and it’s art in ways that I have trouble describing in words. I went to school for film production and acting but then found myself drawn to photography instead. It’s less scripted and more real which is so exciting, and I love what I get to create with my couples. I photograph adventure elopements – meaning, couples choose to spend their time with me fully thinking outside of the box when it comes to a wedding celebration. I love nature, and I love working with couples who equally love nature and will say “Wow” every 5 feet with me! We’re all looking to discover something more, so why not include that adventure on your wedding day?
If you read above, I love the Islands and I dream about any time I get to go there. I’m located on the mainland, but love making the trip there. I help bring your ideas to life with custom location ideas, activity ideas, permit assistance, backup plans, timeline building, and then of course on top of all of that, photography. Being involved in your planning process means we’re going to know each other pretty well before your day, and it allows us to collaborate from concept to celebration to get epic adventure images of you. Check out my elopement packages here, and intimate wedding venue-based packages here! I hope to work with you!
Check out Deception Pass State Park and the coast in that area for similar vibes!
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