One of my top 5 cruising locations in the San Juan Islands is Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. Ever since my first visit over 30 years ago, I have always felt relaxed when moored either at the marina dock or on the hook in the bay. It is a beautiful location with a granite rock wall facing to the west, dotted with Evergreen trees. The staff and management at Deer Harbor Marina are friendly and accommodating.

Deer Harbor ticks off all the boxes for a great marina destination. The marina offers a small store for last minute essentials, and a fuel dock with easy boat access. The marina store serves hand-dipped ice cream cones, with a choice of flavors from Lopez Island Ice Cream. On one trip we learned the hard way – they stop serving ice cream cones at 4 pm before the store closing time of 5 pm. Children love the small shop that sells beach toys to use on the sandy beach located next to the marina, or you can lounge by the pool just across the road from the marina store. The pool is shared between the time-share units and marina guests. For families, the marina gets a thumbs up vote for the pool, sandy beach, and ice cream cones at the store. Still looking for things to do? – members of your group may want to rent kayaks from the local tour operator or join the whale watching boat excursion that comes to Deer Harbor.

Pizza loaded with goodies at Pizza Pie

For our trip, I had a mission in mind. Food! The Island Pie pizza cafe near the pool has delicious, unique pizzas that will have you wanting to come back for more. The summer squash pizza is a local favorite. Island Pie offers a nice selection of locally crafted beers and wine too. You can dine inside, or dine outside on the patio overlooking all the marina activity; be sure to make a reservation during the busy summer months for this popular venue. We elected to reserve a table on the deck and enjoyed watching a lovely sunset over the harbor.

BBQ food at Matthew's Smoke House

The restaurant up the road at Deer Harbor Inn is another favorite. The restaurant changed from a white-tablecloth venue format to the casual Mathews Smokehouse, featuring BBQ specialties – what could that be like? it was time to find out. It’s a short, pleasant 15-minute walk from the marina up a country road; about mid-way along the road, take the walking trail marked “Deer Harbor Public Foot Path,” which leads to the back of the Deer Harbor Inn property. Place your order at the dining room bar for great smoked meats, fish, or oysters. Many of the menu selections come with one or two side dishes like baked beans, coleslaw, or even a creamy mac and cheese. All are very good. Servers deliver your order to your table in the dining room, a table on the deck, or a side-yard picnic table. Don’t forget to order from the selection of beer and wine to go with those good-sized dinner portions – some couples may elect to split a dinner.

Deer Harbor Inn and Matthew's BBQ

If you too are on a mission to discover good food in the San Juan Islands, consider a two-night stay at Deer Harbor, although some would say – make it three nights and visit the Kingfish Inn at West Sound, where chef Raymond Southern creates wonderful dishes featuring local fare. Whether you’re planning for a summer cruise or an off-season cruising adventure, be sure to put Deer Harbor on your list of destinations.