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The Top 20

by Kate Calamusa

It’s finally here: Boating season is upon us, that magical time when the Northwest shines in all her glory—from the crisp, salt-kissed air of the mornings to the sun-dappled days that seem to stretch forever. Let’s seize the best of this sweet, sweet season together. Here we’ve shared our collective staff “bucket list” for the days ahead, everything from familiar, can’t-miss haunts to the brand-new jaunts that we’re jonesing to explore. Cast off those lines, weigh anchor, and check off this highlight list, one glorious adventure at a time.

By Kate Calamusa with NWY Staff & Contributors

1. Sip on a Summery New Cocktail (or Mocktail!) at Palisades Restaurant

Tucked next to Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle, posh Palisades Restaurant and downstairs neighbor Landry’s Kitchen have long been popular haunts for sailors after a day out on the water. But bellying up to the bar just got all the more satisfying thanks to the newly refreshed cocktail and mocktail menu crafted in partnership with legendary Northwest chef Kathy Casey. Current options include an exotic twist on a classic Mojito with passionfruit and mango purée, a spicy prickly pear margarita, and for those cleaning days spent readying the ship, enjoy the “Blood, Sweat, Tears” made with gin, orange liqueur, sweet vermouth, crème de cacao, and orange bitters. New drinks will be released as the season goes on, so we’ll definitely be stopping by on the regular. Cheers! More info: palisaderestaurant.com

2. Play I Spy the Exotic Wildlife at Spieden Island

It’s little secret that the San Juan Islands are a Northwest boater’s playground, but no matter how many times we visit, we’re still captured by the mysterious allure and elusive creatures of Spieden Island. This three-and-a-half mile wide isle located just north of San Juan Island was once an exotic game reserve⁠ as two taxidermist brothers purchased the island in the late 1960s and imported such animals as lions, giraffes, and tigers for the wealthy to then hunt. (John Wayne was reported to be one such hunter.) Safety concerns amongst the locals over errant bullets, plus legislation brought about after a Walter Cronkite expose, brought an end to the endeavor. However, today a variety of unusual animals still call it home, such as the Mouflon sheep from Corsica, Fallow deer from Europe, and Sika deer from Asia that can sometimes be spotted grazing on its grassy slopes. The island is still privately owned, so there’s no going ashore, but pack the binoculars, put the engine in neutral, and float on by to see what you spy. In addition to the ungulates, you’ll also often find bald eagles, harbor seals, and other local wildlife nearby. More info: rocheharbor.com/spieden-island-deer/

3. Grab Some Grub to Go or Dig in Dockside at Bowriders Grill on Lake Union

It doesn’t get much better than docking and dining, and here in the Northwest, we boaters have no shortage of stellar options from Ivar’s Salmon House and Duke’s Seafood to chef Renee Erickson’s Westward and our new favorite haunt: Bowriders Grill on Northlake. Since opening late last summer, this hidden gem on Lake Union has catered very nicely to boaters with an easy, online ordering system and dockside service from the friendly staffers who hand deliver your order straight to the bow. The appealing menu leans heavily on fresh seafood like the seared salmon tacos with pineapple slaw and red chile crema, plus juicy burgers and top-notch wraps (the roasted button mushroom option with pickled peppers is not to be missed). And for those days you’d prefer to while away the afternoon on land, Bowriders also boasts an expansive patio replete with vintage boat-inspired seating and a cozy fire pit. More info: bowridersgrill.com

4. Get Back to British Columbia by Mooring at Dent Island Lodge
Now that many of the Covid travel restrictions have been lifted, it’s time to get back to visiting our friendly neighbors to the north, and we can think of no finer destination than Dent Island, a remote and utterly breathtaking spot located 120 miles north of Vancouver. Traveling to the picturesque Dent Island Lodge & Marina is, of course, is half the fun, but once you reach this luxurious spot, you may never want to leave. The well-equipped marina, complete with a sauna, hot tub, and coffee station for moorage guests, is just a few steps away from world-class dining. The Yaculta Dining Room focuses on seasonal, farm-to-table fare, while the outdoor Rapids Grill provides an intimate, and unforgettable waterside experience over chef-selected small plates. You can while away your time on the aft deck, or the friendly staff is also always happy to set up jet boat and helicopter tours or hook you up with a local guide for some salmon fishing. More info: dentisland.com

5. Take a Farm Tour at Westcott Bay Shellfish

This family-run shellfish farm nestled in a beautiful bay in Friday Harbor, cultivates its amazing oysters, clams, and mussels from “seed to shuck,” and recently began offering exclusive tours to give its fans a chance to take a behind the scenes look at the farm’s inner workings. Count us in a repeat visit here soon: Guests meet at the farm before opening hours to learn about Westcott Bay’s history and how the briny bivalves are grown, plus receive a personalized shucking lesson and tasting. Guests also have the option to stay for lunch at The Tide Tables restaurant, a coveted reservation in its own right; be sure to book your tour ahead on their website. More info: wescottbayshellfish.com

6. Visit the Bellingham Dockside Market for a Fresh Catch 

Setting up shop every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month in Squalicum Harbor, this pop-up market offers up just about the freshest seafood you can sleuth out. Many of the area fishing families gather here to dish out the day’s catches, sometimes even straight from their holds, and with everything from salmon and squid to cod and crab, you’ll find all the ingredients you need to cook up a seasonally inspired supper onboard in no time. (We say snap up a pound of fresh spot prawns to whip up this month’s Sea Fare recipe; see page XX!) In addition to fresh options, you’ll also find pantry provisions like canned smoked salmon and a rotating array of frozen and hot items; Island Girl’s chowders and stews are not to be missed, especially the Caribbean variety crafted with calamari, prawns and mussels, as well as creamy coconut milk, peppers, onions and celery. More info: bellinghamdockside.com

7. Enjoy a Peaceful Respite on Blake Island

Last year, Argosy Tours announced it would no longer be offering its popular boat tours to Blake Island. While this was regrettable news for the larger population, it has made the oasis located just 4 miles from Seattle in between Vashon and Bainbridge an even more restful and remote stop, as the only way to access it now is by private vessel or by the power of your own kayak paddle. No cars, no roads, no buildings outside of the lone ranger station, Blake instead offers up 472 acres of pristine nature that includes 5 miles of beach shoreline and 655 acres of saltwater bedland. Explore the many trails, watch the seabirds fly by, dig for clams on the driftwood-scattered beach, or simply set up a lounge chair to take in the views of the city and Mt. Rainier. The island is all yours. More info: parks.wa.gov/476/Blake-Island

8. Walk Through a Wave of Lavender at Pelindaba Lavender on San Juan Island
This San Juan Island favorite is at “peak purpleness” during the months of July and August; also, do not miss out on the homemade lavender ice cream during your visit. More info: pelindabalavender.com

9. Take a Kenmore Airplane Seaplane Tour or Trip

In addition to the popular, can’t-miss tours of the Seattle area and flights to such popular destinations as the San Juans and Victoria, B.C., Kenmore Air recently announced service to Tofino, a Canadian hamlet resting just 1,200 miles from the Arctic Circle that is also home to the famed waterfront Wickaninnish Inn. More info: kenmoreair.com

10. Revisit the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor

After a long Covid hiatus, this beloved ode to all things whales is now reopened with all exhibits open to guests. More info: whalemuseum.org

11. Have a Beach BBQ on Shaw Island

Pack the cooler before disembarking on this isolated isle—outside of the sweet little general store, there’s little civilization to be found. (And we mean that in the best possible way.) More info: sanjuanco.com/523/Shaw-Island

12. Slurp Oysters at Taylor Shellfish Samish Bay Oyster Bar

With tide to table dining at one of the most stunning settings around, Taylor Shellfish’s Samish Bay outpost is worth returning to time and again. More info: taylorshellfishfarms.com

13. Poke through the Museum at Rosario Resort, Then Dine at the Mansion Restaurant Overlooking Cascade Bay

Stepping into the Moran Mansion at Rosario is like going back in time. Peruse the mansion’s original vintage photographs and enjoy an extensive display of the ships built by the Moran Brothers Company in Seattle. More info: rosarioresort.com

14. Watch the Sun Set in Shallow Bay on Sucia Island

Turn your eyes to the skies: located on the west side of Sucia Island in the San Juans, the protected and picturesque Shallow Bay is blessed with stunning sunsets offset by crystal clear waters and forested terrain. More info: parks.wa.gov/594/Sucia-Island

15. Hike to Lover’s Leap on Stuart Island

Any pain caused by the semi-strenuous hike up the bluff melts away after we spy the stunning scene from this viewpoint on Stuart Island located near the U.S.-Canadian border.

More info: parks.wa.gov/593/Stuart-Island

16. Join a Flotilla Through Desolation Sound

Travel through the wonderfully diverse Salish Sea in company of other boaters by joining Northwest Exploration’s Desolation Sound Flotilla; spots were still available as of press time.

More info: nwexplorations.com/flotilla/desolation-sound-22/

17. Experience Roche Harbor on the 4th of July

The quintessential summer celebration; just don’t forget to make your moorage reservations very early, and on Dockwa.

More info: rocheharbor.com

18. Journey Southbound for a Stay in Gig Harbor

This pretty harbor town makes for a sweet weekend getaway.

More info: visitgigharborwa.com/on-the-water

19. Go through the Ballard Locks

Is it truly boating season if you haven’t traversed the Locks? We think not. (Psst: If you are visiting via land, be sure to check out the newly revamped and expanded fish ladder viewing room.)

More info: ballardlocks.org

20. Take a Time Out for Some Trout

Taking the motorboat to Lake Chelan is always high on our list for a change of scenery, but it’s also a fantastic spot to nab some summer trout, as outlined by Mark Yuasa’s Tight Lines this month.

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