When Salish Sea Tour Co. invited me to check out their NEW foodie tour on Orcas Island, I hopped right on board. We coordinated dates, and I soon found myself on the San Juan Islands ferry. If you are unfamiliar with Orcas Island, it is one of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Since I live in Anacortes, the hub of the ferry to the islands, getting to and from Orcas Island is super easy. You can make ferry reservations to go on with your car or walk on. I chose to walk on, as Salish Sea Tour Co. picks guests up in their luxury van and drives them back to the ferry landing.
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Salish Sea Tour Co. on Orcas Island
About the Owners
Salish Sea Tour Co. is new, but the guide and owner, Cole Sisson was born and raised in Doe Bay on Orcas Island. Like many youths, he left the place he grew up to go to college and explore the world. And, explore he did. His travels took him to Colorado, Las Vegas, Spain, Belguim, Mozambique, and so many other places. Along the way, he became a sommelier and met his wife, Stephanie. They decided to return to Orcas Island and open Doe Bay Wine Company, a wine shop and tasting room in the small town of Eastsound. They choose their wines very carefully and often have a relationship or story about the winemakers or vineyards.
They also have special classes, events, and even a signature series of wines called “The Orcas Project.” These wines are a collaboration between the Sisson’s and “acclaimed winemakers and vineyards in the Pacific Northwest.” Each label is unique with a very studious looking animal. Maybe they are reading up on the latest wine news?
Salish Sea Tour Co.
With a passion for food, wine, and the people that make Orcas Island a unique place to live they expanded their business and now also operate Salish Sea Tour Co. Two tours are offered: Art, History & Local Legends, and Fresh, Fermented & Flying Fish. The history tour runs Sunday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The foodie tour runs Sunday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Hi Everyone! We started a new business set to launch in early May. Salish Sea Tour Co. “Eat, Drink & Explore.” I’ll be the principal guide this first year (It won’t be boring) and we’ll make it up as we go along. We will also provide private charters services for weddings, retreats, marina guests and groups of up to 11 people. We invite you to come visit the island, see it through our eyes and learn through our stories. Please feel free to share this exciting news with friends, colleague and family members who may be interested. Special thanks to @butlerseattle for the encouragement and @darlinjgray for the logo design. Thank you for your support and we will see you soon!
The food tour is all about diving into the Orcas Island food scene, and each stop has a wine tour element. The tour stops at four to six places and has some flexibility to go slower or faster, depending on group consensus. After having been on it myself, I suggest not lingering too long in one place so that you can experience all the locations. The tour starts and ends at Doe Bay Wine Company, and if you are staying overnight, you’ll have time to wander around town afterward and dine.
1 – Buck Bay Shellfish Farm
The first stop is Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. Set along the end of Buck Bay, this stop is very scenic with views of the water. There is a fish store and an outdoor picnic area where you’ll sample your first foods. The staff lets you pick your own oysters and clams and then shows you how to shuck them.
They set you up with everything you need to open and eat the oysters and clams, from shucking knives, to ice, and limes and hot sauce. Halibut ceviche with chips is also on the menu and your first taste of “The Orcas Project” Albarino. Another important aspect of the tour is that they bring coolers and ice along, so if you want to purchase anything to take home right then, you are set.
I had not been excited about this part of the tour as I’m not crazy about bivalves. But, it turned out to be my favorite stop. I liked the hands-on aspect. Getting to pick your oysters and clams. Learning how to shuck and then doing it yourself. I loved the halibut ceviche, and the Albarino turned out to be one of my favorite wines (I usually drink red wine). And, I even pushed myself to eat a raw clam!
One of my favorite stops yesterday on @salishseatourco was @buckbayshellfishfarm on Orcas Island. I shucked an oyster, ate a raw clam, enjoyed halibut ceviche and a glass of The Orcas Project albarino. You can’t see it here, but they also have a water view and the pins where they harvest their goodies! * * * #dreambigtravelsmall #smalltownwa #amazingsmalltowns #visitsanjuans #OrcasIsland #hosted #experiencewashington #pnw #herPNWlife #pnwfoodie #foodie #winelover #winenight #savewaterdrinkwine #sanjuanislands
2 – Rosario Resort & Spa
Next stop, Rosario Resort & Spa. The property is such a unique spot on the island and has deep Washingtonian roots.
The resort is the former home of Robert Moran, a Seattle Shipbuilder. In 1902, his company became the largest employer in Seattle when they were contracted to build the USS Nebraska. That took its toll on Moran’s health and he purchased 7,000 acres on Orcas Island and began building his island retreat. The resort has many historical features, including a Tiffany chandelier, Belgian stain-glass, and a grand library. The library is open to the public and is a museum with artifacts and bedrooms to view. Tuesday to Saturday at 4 p.m. the resort gives a historical presentation and concert with music played on the 1913 Aeolian organ. If you are staying on the island, you’ll want to make sure to return.
At the resort, guests are lead into the Moran Lounge, which is the original living room of the Moran household. It has a large fireplace, bistro tables, a bar, and water views. Here you’ll be served an assortment of olives, Marcona almonds and your next wine, the Pinot Grigio from “The Orcas Project.”
3 – Girl Meets Dirt
Our next stop on the tour was Girl Meets Dirt. It has such an interesting story, and I have a feeling now that Oprah Winfrey has purchased a house on Orcas Island that more people will soon know about this company. What’s the scoop? After ten years on wall street the owner of the company, Audra Barkley, and her husband, decided to head West and recreate their lives. They landed on Orcas Island, and Audra noticed the heirloom orchards and their fruit not being used. She started making jams, and preserves and Girl Meets Dirt was born. This stop is all about tasting her creations and learning about the island’s century-old fruit trees. If you are like me, you’ll most likely return home with some jars. (Guests on the tour receive 10% off.)
4 – Doe Bay Wine Company
We were a chatty bunch, and time was pressing so we headed to the final stop of the tour – Doe Bay Wine Company. Here we had more tastings and some nibbles. Guests sample more wines from “The Orcas Project” line and if they had a particular favorite you can enjoy that as well. On this part of the tour, Stephaine pours and talks about the wines and will answer any questions.
When you need to catch the ferry Cole will make sure you get there on time. If you are purchasing bottles, I suggest doing that before its time to go so you are all ready when the time comes. Guests on the tour receive 10% off wine purchases. If you are staying in town, you can end your tour more leisurely and dine downtown.
Other Stops on the Food Tour
Other stops include Ship Bay Orchard and Kathryn Taylor Chocolates. The stops might change based on the season and the food that is ripe at that time.
Are you ready to explore Orcas Island with a local?
Where to Stay in Anacortes
If you only have a short amount of time in the area, I’d suggest staying on Fidalgo Island. There are Anacortes hotels a short drive away from the San Juan Islands ferry. Ship Harbor Inn is the closest, and you can easily walk to the ferry from the Inn. In historic downtown, I recommend The Majestic Inn & Spa and Cap Sante Inn. Other places to consider is Sunrise Inn Villas and Suites, and out of town the Swinomish Casino & Lodge. If you drive to the ferry, there is a parking lot that costs around $12 for the day. Toward the beginning of the road, there is a cash lot for $4.
Where to Stay on Orcas Island
If you have time, stay on Orcas Island. Many unfamiliar with the island don’t realize how BIG Orcas Island is. It can take 45 minutes to an hour to get from one side to the next. If you are going on the tour, I would recommend staying in or near the village of Eastsound. There are a handful of places in or near the village, like the Outlook Inn on Orcas Island, The Landmark on Orcas Island and even a budget-friendly option at the Golden Tree Hostel. About 10 minutes outside of Eastsound is Rosario Resort & Spa and glamping with Leanto inside Moran State Park.
Washington State Ferry
If you have a Salish Sea Tour booked and are driving onto the ferry, don’t wait to make a reservation (especially in the summer). To make a reservation go to the Washington State Department of Transportation website. Enter the dates, destination, and follow the prompts to reserve your spot on the ferry. You pay in full when you go on the ferry. If you don’t show up, they charge a fee. If you have any questions or concerns, give them a call.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a tour for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.