So you’ve been to Orcas Island. You’ve walked around Eastsound Village, hit the Farmer’s Market at the Village Green, hiked Turtleback and Moran, sailed out to Sucia Island, and soaked in the tubs at Doe Bay Resort. Before you even board the ferry and head home, you’ve given yourself over to all sorts of daydreams about what it would be like to live here. You’ve looked at the real estate ads. You’ve even decided you’d like to farm now. In between your daily catch of fish that you’ll catch off your kayak. But before you get too far in your reverie, just take a gander at this list, so you can get a little more in touch with the reality of living on Orcas Island. You know the pros, but here are the cons. The catch? If you’re like me (and most other people who love living here), you’ll see most, if not all , as pros.
Many restaurants and shops close for 1-3 months of the year.
It’s true—I cry a little during the Winter months when I can’t sit in the cozy lounge at New Leaf Café, order Szechuan pork noodle bowl from The Kitchen, sip beer and eat wood-fired pizza at Hogstone’s, or browse the goods at Olga’s and Springboard. But I admire that my friends, business owners, and their employees set aside time to take a breather after a long and busy tourist season. They are attending to their own needs during this time, and it makes me appreciate them all the more when they open their doors just before Spring makes her appearance.
There are no fast food or chain restaurants.
Is this really a bad thing? I think not. If you really need yourself a greasy burger, head to the Lower Tavern. And if you’re really attached, you won’t feel as guilty when you head through the drive-through on your once-per-month mainland trip. There is REALLY GOOD FOOD on Orcas Island. I promise. Even our public school’s lunches are really good.
There are no chain retail stores.
Again—can’t say that I find this to be a bad thing. I’ve found our local shops to be very accommodating if there is something I can’t find. Many of them will order items not generally carried in their stores. There are also several heavily used local Facebook sites that function much like Craigslist. It’s amazing what you can find in the backyards and garages of Orcas neighbors. If all else fails, many use Amazon. Yes—you can get things here in one day. Even a lawn mower.
Going off-island is, in general, an all-day affair.
You’ve got me a little bit here—it can certainly be a drag. But honestly, most of the time, I look forward to a mainland trip. It’s an Event. Some Islanders call it “going to America.” Some of us even dress up a little more for the occasion. One winter, a big group of us were going to see a show at the Paramount in Seattle. We met at the ferry landing, ALL of us dressed in black. The ferry worker smiled and said, “ahhh, you must be going to Seattle!” The bonus: coming home to Orcas always feels amazing when you’ve been away.
Despite what many people think prior to moving to Orcas, life is VERY BUSY here.
We’ve seen it time and time again: people move to Orcas thinking they’re just going to hole up and live their simple life in a cabin in the woods. Only then they meet a few people, go to a few events, get invited somewhere, get involved in something, meet some more people. Then, they get asked to volunteer, coach, teach, perform, mentor, and often—all of the above. Of course, you can always say no, but hopefully not to all of it. The point is: you can be as busy or as free as you want to be, even on a small island.
Movies only show on weekend nights, with one movie per week.
This is another one that just adds to the novelty of seeing a film in the theater. The great thing about the Sea View Theater is that they do more than just show films. They hold a variety of community events, such as magic shows, burlesque shows, FREE Seahawks game screenings (best place to watch the Superbowl), and they even have a lounge where you can get beer and wine before and during the show. What’s more, they are one of the hosts of the Orcas Island Film Festival in October, which is not to be missed.
Contrary to what many believe, most of us are not boating, fishing, hiking, paddling, and biking every single day.
Well, some of us are (you guys are awesome), but not all. On the whole, I’d say we are a very active bunch, and tend to be outside a lot, even in nasty weather. However, we’re just like our mainland counterparts in that every now and then we get in our grooves, look around and realize we live in this incredible island paradise, and yet we haven’t taken advantage of even a fraction of what it has to offer in the past month.
Gas (and many other necessities) are much more expensive on Orcas than most mainland locations.
No argument here. Although, I’d argue I spend much less money living here than I would on the mainland. There are fewer chances for impulse buys. When my family and I moved back to the San Juans after 18 months on the mainland, our gas bill went down by almost two-thirds. Many shops offer local discounts; all you have to do is ask. As for groceries, if you shop sales or join one of several buying clubs, you can do pretty well. Local farmstands and CSA’s are also a great way to get local, quality food at very reasonable prices. In general, I find that the things I can buy here on the island may be more expensive, but many things are also higher in quality, particularly when I’m shopping for holiday items and gifts. It’s a wonderful feeling to buy something an island neighbor made with his/her own two hands, and there is no shortage of such items on Orcas.
If you’re single, there isn’t a wide pool of potential dates from which to choose.
This may also be true if we’re talking cold, hard numbers here. However, let’s talk about QUALITY. I know—you’re not convinced. Okay, I’m speaking anecdotally here, but several of my dearest friends (a few in our very own office) have the love stories of a lifetime, and are married to someone they met here, in the San Juan Islands.
Because there are so many gravel/dirt roads on Orcas, your car gets really dirty.
So you’ll wash it, and wash it, and then you’ll become so fed up with the futility of it all, and you’ll look around and realize that every other Orcasian has at least a mildly dirty car, and you’ll only wash it for your special, fancy trips to the mainland. Unless you’re a real estate broker. Then you have to keep your car clean. Even if you have three kids and a giant yellow lab. Sigh.
It’s expensive to take the ferry.
True. But it’s less expensive than the nearby British Columbia Ferry System in Canada, and less expensive than many other ferry-served regions in the United States. You only pay once—going Westbound. If you buy a commuter ticket (5 car passes or 10 passenger passes), you’ll save a bundle. Plus, it’s FREE to walk-on both ways of the interisland ferry. Look at the bright side: if it were cheap, or better yet, if there were a bridge, everyone and their mother would live here. And then it would be a different place altogether. Besides, just think of all that money you’re saving not driving up and down the freeway every day.
If you live in Deer Harbor or Doe Bay (and beyond), you’re looking at a 20-30 minute commute to the village of Eastsound.
Yes. Have you been to Deer Harbor? It’s truly awful having to wind your way along Massacre Bay, through the sweet little hamlet of Westsound, and over the scenic and pastoral roads of Crow Valley. Very stressful. Or Doe Bay? I’m so sorry you had to give up your I-5 commute for a quiet ride on Point Lawrence Road, down through Buck Bay and past sweet little Olga before coming to the part of Olga Road that drives RIGHT THROUGH Moran State Park and the shores of Cascade Lake. Make sure and keep your windows up; you won’t want to hear the sounds of little rushing waterfalls and creeks, or smell the scent of damp evergreens. That would be too much.
There are no streetlights in Eastsound.
Believe it or not, this is a hot topic on our little island. The people I’ve heard from are split about down the middle on this issue. So the pro is this: Things must be pretty good on Orcas if this is a hot topic.
So great if you just can’t put that book down, but you’re supposed to be at a meeting in ten minutes. Never fear—most people will be about 5 minutes late. Not so great if you need something fixed at your house. On the whole—daily life on Orcas Island moves at a pace much slower than the city. So just relax, enjoy, and breathe.
The off-season is actually a really great time to see Orcas Island. Bring your boots, a raincoat, and yes–even sunglasses, and I’ll show you around this Fall/Winter.