An island getaway often conjures up images of tropical breezes and swaying palm trees. But in the northwest corner of Washington State, the San Juan Islands offer the Pacific Northwest's version of a serene island escape, with towering firs, pebbly beaches and crystal-clear seas teaming with wildlife and framed by the Olympic Mountains.

Car and passenger ferries serve four of the archipelago's 172 named islands, the largest of which are Orcas Island and San Juan Island. Friday Harbor, located on San Juan, is often a first stop for visitors. In addition to a variety of shops and restaurants, Friday's sheltered marina and well stocked chandleries make it a popular yachting destination.

A short drive to the island's north end brings you to another famous marina at Roche Harbor. This playground for the rich and famous is also home to the historic Hotel de Haro and its well manicured gardens. Nearby, nature and art complement each other in the unique Westcott Bay Sculpture Park.

Not far from Roche Harbor is the northern half of the San Juan National Historical Park. English Camp once housed Great Britain's occupying forces during a border dispute with the United States. In addition to historic buildings, the park includes a formal English garden that sits right by the waters of Garrison Bay.

To the south, Lime Kiln Point State Park overlooks Haro Strait toward Vancouver Island to provide one of the best orca whale-watching sites on the island.

During the mid-1800s, the American forces were garrisoned at the island's southern end. Today, American Camp preserves historic buildings and features one of the island's best beaches.

 
A ferry ride away is the largest of the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island. Orcas Village greets visitors as they arrive on the ferry. Then many visitors head to Moran State Park, where more than 5,000 acres feature lakes, waterfalls and a spectacular view from the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

Back at sea level, Orcas Island is dotted by small hamlets like Doe Bay, Deer Harbor and Olga with countless marinas for boat enthusiasts. The mainstay of the island is Eastsound, a village at the northern tip of a fjord of the same name.

After exploring villages and hiking through the state park, a restful beach and calm waters lapping nearby are the perfect way to end your visit. Close to Eastsound is the curved strand of Crescent Beach, or take a short drive to the island's southeast end to enjoy the pebbled beach at Obstruction Pass Park.

Even though the San Juans are only a short ferry ride or flight from the mainland, the experiences you'll enjoy here make them feel a world away. So take a moment to explore this desktop getaway and then start making your vacation plans to visit the jewels of Washington's Puget Sound.