A modern rustic wedding at Saltwater Farm on San Juan Island. Photographed by journalistic San Juan Island wedding photographer Kestrel Bailey.
A beautiful adventure engagement session at the foot of Mount Baker at Artist’s Point
During the course of this blog, my goal is to show you why the San Juan Islands are the perfect place for your wedding celebration (and why I’m one of the best choices for your wedding photographer as well).
The San Juan Archipelago is smack dab in the middle of the Salish Sea, surrounded by mountains and ocean on sides. San Juan Island is the most populated island, with Friday Harbor on the eastern side, and Roche Harbor on the northern end. I grew up right near Roche Harbor and used to work as a kayak guide out of Roche itself. All the islands have their own unique flavor and voice, but since I’m from San Juan specifically, I’ll focus on my island first! That being said, I LOVE vacationing on Orcas Island.
So, let’s get started on why you should have your wedding on San Juan Island….
Ever go through that dilemma of picking between the ocean or mountains?
Us who grew up on the San Juan Islands never understand that choice, since we’ve got both. So why should you have to choose between them? So, that leads us to one of the top reason….
1. Location, Location, Location…and weather.
Boasting 265+ days of sun a year, the San Juan Islands don’t hold to the same reputation that rainy western Washington holds. The rain shadow that extends from Sequim covers parts of the San Juans as well, especially the southern end of San Juan Island. Even when it does rain on the island, it usually comes with dramatically beautiful lighting and breaks of sun throughout the day. If you’re aiming for any parts of your wedding to be outdoors, and for outdoor wedding photos….this is the place for you to get married in Washington with less statistical risk of your wedding day getting rained out. And even if it does, it’s still going to be the most incredibly beautiful misty, moody rainy day you’ve seen. Most likely accompanied by lots of sun breaks, rainbows, and beautiful dramatic clouds.
Also, for those beautiful, warm sunny days in August, the weather doesn’t become unbearably hot. Generally there’s a marine breeze keeping the sweat away even on the hottest day in the year. That breeze also helps reduce the clogging of wildfire smoke should the unfortunate “smoke” season be upon us. It truly is the perfect place to show your friends and family, with plenty of activities for all to do.
I love the micro-diversity of San Juan Island as well. The northern end of the island is mostly forested, surrounded by tall evergreens. Then, along the west side you get dramatic sea cliffs and beautiful red barked Madrona Trees (members of the Arbutus family). This west side of the island is known to some as the “Whale Highway,” but more on that later.
Once you get to the south end of the island, you get a dramatically different landscape with sweeping yellow/white prairie grasses and a windswept starkness. Cattle Point boasts a beautiful lighthouse standing on the point, with Lopez Island and the Olympic Mountain Range in the background. On a clear day, Mt. Rainier looks as if it’s floating between the two on the horizon. The beaches are wild and rocky (except for the secret sandy beaches I’ll only show you if you’re actually my client, because I got to keep a few secrets from the off-islanders). I always feel almost like I’m in Ireland out here, and love photographing folks out here.
We’re likely a little more relaxed out here on the island than the mainland (unless we’re driving through downtown Friday Harbor ferry traffic…). Islanders work hard so they can play hard, and want to make your wedding experience feel the same. We’ve got quite a few fantastic venues with professional vendors with years of experience working to make your celebration as relaxed, organized, and fun as possible .
On San Juan Island you’ve got Saltwater Farm, Roche Harbor Resort, Pelindaba Lavender Farm, and Lakedale Resort all equipped to handle larger wedding groups.
Saltwater Farm is new on the scene, but is an incredible modern barn and inn venue with a water view through the forest. Merriss and Andrew are the owners, and Hillary runs the bookings side of things. All of them are extremely professional and hard working, but also have a certain level of chill that you don’t often find at professional, upscale modern venues like this. They maintain a desire to embody the island spirit, and hope people feel relaxed, at ease, and welcomed into their venue.
Roche Harbor Resort has been in the game for years, and know exactly how to make your wedding day absolutely perfect. Despite being booked solid for weddings, the crew and head planner there (Tyla, she’s awesome!) know how to make you and yours feel absolutely special and honor your unique experience. The space is perfect for hosting full service events, and they’ve got some of the best food around prepared onsite. I also love how easy it is to capture beautiful candids throughout the day there. There are also so many options for photos, whether you stay onsite or go elsewhere on the island. I tend to plan for time off site during the day if folks do a first look, especially since I know some great alternative locations. Then, around sunset it’s perfect to walk around on the docks for portraits right before the colors ceremony.
I definitely have a few other favorites as well! The Net Shed at Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm which is fantastic for more intimate weddings, usually holding up to 70-80. Deb Nolan exclusively caters their events and is absolutely one of the most amazing chefs you could ask for. Come to think of it, there are a few delightful caterers on the islands.
Here’s a link to a blog from a wedding shot there!
Then, I absolutely love the new space that Downriggers has created. Overlooking Friday Harbor, this spot boasts a beautiful view and lighting. The indoor space is fantastic for more intimate weddings, and you can host your ceremony outside on the deck! You can also host a ceremony across the street at Island Inn on one of the penthouse roof top decks, then head back over to Downriggers for dinner.
Aside from there, Lime Kiln Park and a few other outdoors areas around the island allow intimate wedding ceremonies. Permits can be found through the San Juan County website or National Park Service.
I could go on and on about wedding venues on the San Juan Islands, and where the perfect places are to take photos….but I’ll let you email me if you want more information ;)
Another tip? Hire Katie from Revel San Juan to be your planner! She’s a San Juan Local, and knows the ins and outs for having an island wedding.
Do you want to create an experience where you get to escape with your loved ones and future spouse? Come to the San Juans for your wedding. It’s truly a special place, with so many incredible options for how you can spend your time together. I photograph many destination weddings to the San Juan Islands where people choose to do a full weekend celebration, complete with kayaking, whale watching, gin and wine tasting, hiking, and sampling the local breweries. While the ferries aren’t always as dependable as they should be, once you’re onboard you’ll start to feel the world slow down as you enter island time, and watch the islands welcome you in around the ferry. Time slows down. Despite being a “discovered” tourism location, there’s still a sense of wild on the islands and places you can get absolutely to yourself.
Check out the Visit San Juans Website for more information about activities, or shoot me an email and I’ll send you a few favorites!
4. All Season access
You don’t just have to get married here in the summer. The San Juan Islands are perfect for weddings year round. Like I said earlier, you really don’t get the same kind of rainy winters that the PNW is notorious for. Also, off season is great for a quieter feel and off-season prices for almost everything. The locals tend to have a little more energy in the winter when less people are visiting and our work lives slow down a bit to give us the time to focus on our community. All seasons have their charm and benefits. My personal favorite time of year on the islands is September or October, when the season starts to change, tourism slows down, but the days are still warm and bright as fall blows in.
The top venues suitable for indoor options, but still in beautiful locations would be: Saltwater Farm, Roche Harbor Resort, Downriggers, The Grange, Brickworks, and a few others depending on the size of your group!
Here’s a link to a blog from a December Elopement!
5. Whales. Sea-life.
I mean, wouldn’t you like the orcas to go through the background as you say your vows on a cliff above the water? What about watching harbor seals play, or even come up to the docks of Friday Harbor to say hello? What about going on a kayaking trip with whales and sea life the day before your wedding?
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a big fan of the aquatic life out here on the San Juan Islands. The San Juans are known to be one of the top cold water diving locations in the world, and even from a kayak or small boat you can begin to see into the underwater playground that exists around the islands. While the Resident Orca Whales have been struggling, and have to travel great distances to find the amount of salmon they need to sustain (please support salmon recovery!!), the mammal eating transient orcas have been doing fantastically and are often seen out hunting seals in smaller family groups. We also have seen a return of humpback whales, which is amazing! On San Juan Island there are areas like Lime Kiln where you can have a pretty good chance of watching the whales from shore as they cruise through the Straight of Juan De Fuca. There are many companies working in the San Juans to provide opportunities to get out with the whales, but I always recommend the one I used to work for due to knowing and trusting their business practices and sustainability practices for the whales- San Juan Safaris and Outfitters.
A&R contacted me about their upcoming elopement at Samish Overlook, and I knew I wanted to photograph them right away. These two are badass mountain bikers and adventurers, who have family living all over the country. They wanted something small, but with an incredible and accessible view to showcase the beauty of Whatcom County. Samish Overlook was the perfect place for their intimate elopement ceremony.
While I met them for the first time when they arrived before the ceremony, we quickly felt familiar with one another. When photographing intimate weddings or elopements, it’s crucial to be easy going and fit in. I love the process of getting to know each couple and the people they invite to be part of their day, and matching their energy while documenting them. Being in the action and part of the ground helps them forget about the camera and instead focus on enjoying the whole experience with their friends and family- which is crucial to me.
It was a beautiful summer day in the end of June, and thankfully, about 10 degrees cooler on the overlook then about 1,000 feet down. A&R said their vows, exchanged drinks given to them by their respective parent, and sealed the deal with a kiss. And more drinks. It was perfect.
After the ceremony and a few portraits on the trails near by (which A said was perfect for them as mountain bikers) A&R informed me that they had actually been married for several years at this point, but that their parents and friends didn’t know. They planned on informing them during the cake cutting ceremony at Structures Brewing in downtown Bellingham.
We headed back into Bellingham and I met them again at Structures where everyone continued their merriment with delightful local brews, and a fantastic cake from Pure Bliss. Everything else was from the Bellingham Farmers Market the day before, including macorons from Gathered Confections and florals used to decorate the cake even further. A’s earrings were also found at the market the day before!
After cutting the cake, A&R dropped the truth bomb which had some fairly good (and positive) reactions from their parents and friends. Then it was time for me to head out, and them to continue celebrating with their friends and family.
What a beautiful day and elopement to photograph in Bellingham!
A beautiful intimate wedding photographed at Saltwater Farm on San Juan Island
Beautiful Westcott Bay Shellfish Wedding on San Juan Island, by San Juan Island Wedding Photographer Kestrel Bailey
San Juan Island wedding with a sunrise first look at American Camp.
A moody adventure engagement session on Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and Rialto Beach. We spent the day exploring the Olympic Peninsula for their beautiful, rainy day engagement session.
Moody washington bridal portrait session featuring a black wedding dress and floral tattoo.
An Oregon Coast couple’s adventure photo session with their two dogs
A beautiful sunrise wedding portrait session on San Juan Island. We hiked up to a local lookout, where the couple changed on the hillside before doing their first look together.
A adventure Engagement session spent backpacking in the North Cascades.
A small intimate wedding in the San Juan Islands.
Adventurous engagement photo session with Kestrel Bailey Photography at Deception Pass State Park.
Intimate San Juan Island elopment at Olympic Lights B&B. Olympic Mountains in the background while this couple was married in front of three of their closest friends.
A lifestyle, adventure family photo session on San Juan Island.
Engagement Session taken exploring North Bend, Washington
An adventurous engagement session hiking around the Palouse Falls. We even had a rainbow make an appearance!
A beautiful, stormy day elopement out at American Camp on San Juan Island.
On May 6th, 2017, I photographed one of my favorite San Juan Island Weddings. Early that year I had met Lauren and Micah for the first time for their rainy day engagement photos at Deception Pass. They were some of the easiest people to photograph, and so obviously madly in love with one another.
I love heading back home to San Juan for weddings. I met Lauren at Island Inn (at 123 West) where she was getting ready. This place has many memories for myself, as I actually use to work here back in high school! As always, the place was perfect, and gave me a beautiful backdrop to work with as Lauren got ready with her family. Ferah Uri with Beauty by Furi did her makeup magic, while Shawna with Island Roots did a beautiful job with Lauren's hair.
In the background, the Washington State Ferries came in while the sun broke through the clouds.
While Lauren readied herself, Micah was near by in the Friday Harbor Yacht Club getting ready with his friends, before driving out in the shuttle bus to await his bride at Lime Kiln State Park.
Lauren followed after, and arrived at Lime Kiln to receive her incredible floral piece created by Erin with Camas Design (who also did all the florals for this wedding). Lauren, escorted by her father and Micah's sister, made her way down the Madrona lined path towards the lighthouse, and the loving arms of her very soon to be husband.
Beautiful live music added to the sounds of the waves hitting the shores, as Oliver Strasser played acoustic guitar. The moment Lauren appeared, and began walking down the path, Micah was tearing up. The joy and excitement was palpable. Through tears and joyous laughter, they vowed their lives to one another, sealed with a kiss.
After the ceremony, it was time for a tour of the island lighthouses! First, we went up in the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Then, out to Cattle Point for a few photos!
After this, it was time to head back to the Yacht Club for the fantastic reception coordinated by Becki Day and delicious food created and catered by Deb Nolan. These two danced their night away with their loved ones.