A final family vacation to Lopez Island’s Garden Cottages

by Kim on March 18, 2012 · 30 comments

I wanted to visit the San Juan Islands in Washington long before the New York Times named them the number two destination to visit behind Santiago, Chile.  With our days in the Pacific Northwest coming to a close, and more places than time on our U.S. road trip itinerary, it seemed that if we didn’t make the effort to visit the archipelago now, we’d be waiting for quite awhile.

We made the drive up from Portland, caught the ferry in Anacortes, and arrived on Lopez Island in late afternoon.  Lopez Island is the most rural of the three major San Juan Islands, and reputably the most friendly, covering 29.5 square miles.  It is home to 2,350 residents.

The forecast predicted three days of solid rain, but the clouds were holding back as we drove to our accommodations in the center of Lopez Village.  Lopez Village, as it turns out, is a quarter-mile stretch of sleepy restaurants and galleries, an organic grocery store and a fudge shop, two churches and a community center, most of which were operating on reduced off-season hours or had committed to their absence completely, hanging hand-written signs from their doors: Closed for the season.  See you in May.

The point of coming to this rural little island at the edge of the western United States was to slow down and be.  We were seeking a few days of solitude and time together as a family before Brian and I set out to travel and our dogs move their sleeping career to Brian’s parents floor.

We left our laptops at home, swore off the Internet, and decided not to talk too much about our upcoming trip, agreeing to focus on appreciating and enjoying this fleeting time with our pups.  We wanted to soak in the joy of right now, no distractions required.  And I wanted to snap a family picture.  Other than that, we had no agenda at all.


Lopez Island Garden Cottages

Lopez Island is famously quiet.  Our accommodations, the pet friendly Garden Cottages, are located smack in the middle of Lopez Village, but the only sound we hear, even in the middle of the afternoon, is the wind blowing off Fisherman Bay and the sing-songy chirp of early-spring birds.

There are two Garden Cottages available to rent on this little parcel of land.  Our cottage, Garden Cottage B,  is shaped as an octagon.  Windows are set on five of the eight sides of our little retreat and a skylight sits where the peaks of the ceiling meet.  Natural light dominates, save the glow from the wood burning stove.

Lopez Island Garden Cottage B

A comfy bed, Lopez Island Garden Cottage B

A stocked kitchen, Lopez Island Garden Cottage B

The skylight in Lopez Island Garden Cottage B

Even the bathroom has an abundance of natural light

A day in the life at Lopez Island’s Garden Cottages

Each morning we awake to the thrum of rain, untangle ourselves from heaps of down feather pillows and blankets, brew coffee and snuggle up with our books.  The fire crackles. The wind blows the garden plants around in their pots.

A cozy morning on Lopez Island

When the skies clear mid-morning we set out with the pups to explore the island.  There are a number of parks and hiking trails on Lopez and we make sure to visit as many as we can.

Afternoon rainbow on Lopez Island

A dog, a stick and Watmough Bay

Bear in the woods

Spencer Spit State Park, Lopez Island

Sleeping dogs are happy dogs

Each afternoon we head back to the cottage, muddy and tired.  We hose off the dogs and sit content on the deck.  The garden is weeks from blooming and we discuss what it must look like in all of its glory.  The fountain, turned off for the season, promises warmer days ahead. The dogs dry and snooze in the sun.  Spring feels just inches away.  


I’m charmed by this place, I say to Brian, on our last evening in town.  We’d been strolling arm in arm through the sleepy village and stopped to watch the sun set across the channel.  Life is simple here, the way it should be, Brian says in agreement.

The sky is inky black when we return to our cottage, the dogs, exhausted by an afternoon of swimming and hiking, don’t even lift their heads as we walk through the door. Brian starts a fire and I assemble the ingredients for dinner. We revel in the small luxuries we’ve missed since moving out of our home- a fully stocked kitchen, a dining table.  We feel lucky to be in this place and to have the dogs here with us.  Everything feels right.  The evening is quiet, simple.

Even with its stunning natural beauty and friendly charm, Lopez Island’s biggest appeal is her simplicity.  Lopez, and the Lopez Island Garden Cottages, provide you with just what you need, leaving space for what’s important.

Oh, and that family picture? I totally got it.

Dogs don’t pose.  You better believed we tried.  

Our accommodations were graciously provided by Lopez Island Garden Cottages but all views expressed here are my own.



{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy March 19, 2012 at 5:18 am

Ahhh. What a great trip. I love the cottages! Makes me want to hop on a plane right now!!!!


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Such a great trip. I love cottages too. Cottages + cabins = love.


Erica March 19, 2012 at 6:47 am

Dear Kim and Brian,

I have been following your blog for a while now and I am so excited for you that the final date is almost there. I really love your writing. We also want to go on a RTW, but struggle a lot with the thought of leaving our dog behind. We decided we are not able to do so. We will either go overland and take her with us, or wait until she is not with us anymore. Keep going back and forth on that..I understand you will leave your dogs with family? How do you cope with that? I wish you all the best in saying goodbye to them when the time comes..
Take care,


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hi Erica. I’m glad you ask because this is a huge hurdle and something that a lot of people struggle with, I know. I admittedly haven’t written much about it because it is so hard for me to even think about. But I am working on a post and should have it up in the next few weeks.

I wish I could say that the coping is easy but it is not easy. Our decision to leave the dogs basically came down to the fact that if we did not travel now it felt like we’d have to put it off for a very long time. If we’d been equipped with more resources when we started planning I suppose we could have built a trip with the dogs in mind, but when we started crafting this thing we didn’t see any way to take the dogs with us.

The only thing that makes the idea of leaving our babies behind bearable is that they will be so well loved and taken care of with Brian’s parents. We would never leave them with anyone that wouldn’t love them as much as we do and we feel incredibly lucky that his parents are willing to do this for us. In the end I think it will be much harder on Brian and I than on the dogs… but trust me when I say I have cried myself to sleep over the idea of leaving them.


Kim @kimolsonphoto March 19, 2012 at 9:49 pm

@Erica – Though we’re not ready to do a RTW trip, my husband and I have had similar issues when traveling. Our dog is a bit of a handful and we don’t feel right asking someone to watch her, especially for long periods of time. We do manage to travel in shorter bouts – less than 1 month at a time – but maybe one day we’ll be able to do a longer trip. I hope some day you’ll be able to figure out a way to make it happen – even if it’s an overland trip, which I’m sure would still be amazing. 🙂

@Kim – I can imagine how emotionally difficult it must be to leave your doggies behind. Our dog is totally part of our family and we miss her even when we’re away for only a few days. That’s so awesome that Brian’s parents are willing and able to take care of them while you’re gone.

On a lighter note, I’m so happy to have found your blog recently. I love reading all about you and Brian making the leap. Looking forward to following along on your adventures! 🙂


Erica March 20, 2012 at 5:36 am

Can’t wait to read your post about your dogs. We always leave our dog with Michel’s parents during our holidays, and like you said, that is the only option. Leaving her with people who will take really good care of her does make it easier to leave.
We (I) also want to leave rather sooner than later. Waiting for our dog to die so that we can start our travels does not feel right either.. I am hoping I can convince Michel to just take her with us and do an overland Europe-Russia travel for the next year or so. Will see what happens after that!
Good luck anyways! Really love the feelings you put in your posts..


Kim March 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Thanks Kim 🙂 We feel completely blessed and lucky that Brian’s parents are watching the dogs. If they had said no I don’t think we could have gone on the trip.


Carmel March 19, 2012 at 7:55 am

I would like to see the outtakes of that family photo shoot.

This looks perfect. In fact, as soon as I saw the pictures, I clicked on the link to see when Shawn and I can go. I’ve never been to the San Juans and I’m from Seattle! Unacceptable.


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Carmel! We have a really funny one that looks like Brian is spanking Macy. I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend the Garden Cottages- it was amazing and the San Juans were stunning. I want to go back already.


Jodi March 19, 2012 at 8:26 am

I love the last photo! You should keep a copy in your wallet for your RTW trip!


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I am going to! I can’t believe that that is the only picture I have of the four of us together.


Ali March 19, 2012 at 9:03 am

Looks like you had a great time! I’ve always heard great things about the San Juan Islands from my friends who live in Seattle. I love that photo with the rainbow, gorgeous!


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Thanks Ali, it was a wonderful time. The San Juan Islands are amazing.


Darcy @SustainableFamilyFinances March 19, 2012 at 9:31 am

We spent our honeymoon at Lopez Island (10 years ago this August!)…it was so lovely to totally unplug and just be together. We stayed at a rustic cabin owned by a workplace friend who we’ve lost touch with, and we’ve wondered where we’ll stay when we go back…now we have the perfect place!


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Darcy, this place is fantastic! I know you guys would love it. I love that your honeymoon was in a rustic cabin on Lopez- so romantic 🙂


Rhonda March 19, 2012 at 10:06 am

Great family picture! We JUST decided that we’re spending our 4th of July week split between Lopez & Orcas islands so your post came at a great time. Email me any great tips you have as we, also, have never been to the San Juans!
It’s so great you four were able to get away and unwind and appreciate just being “still”


Kim March 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Lopez, at least in the off season, is the perfect place to be still. I will email you!


Lauren March 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Kim, I believe this may be the most beautifully written post yet. I almost feel as if I were there with you. And the pictures, compliments of B I am guessing?, are breathtaking. I am so happy you guys had a nice family get-away.


Kim March 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Lauren. Yep, B took the pictures. Can’t wait to see you in TWO MONTHS!


Jill @ ATrailLife March 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I’ve been following your blog for awhile and I am so inspired by your adventure. I relate to so many things you say about priorities, travel and life in general. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes you – thanks for sharing!

These cabins look so perfect. It’s hard to find pet-friendly accommodations and I love that it has water and trails nearby too. Definitely bookmarking their site for a future getaway.


Kim March 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Thanks Jill, I appreciate it. The cottages are perfect and I felt so lucky to be able to take the dogs with us. It really is hard to find accommodations that allow pets. The San Juans are amazing too. Definitely need to make it on to the bucket list.


Patricia GW March 20, 2012 at 10:55 am

I love your family portrait, it’s perfect 🙂 The cottage is gorgeous, I love the abundance of natural light filtering in. I’m glad you two had a great time, it sounds so relaxing and peaceful to live in Lopez Village, walking with the dogs and exploring 🙂


Kim March 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The natural light was amazing! The light in our apartment is horrible so it was so nice to be somewhere that felt light and airy- even when the clouds rolled in.


Sarahsomewhere March 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

The cottages look absolutely stunning, I can imagine snuggling up in front of that fire!!! So glad you had a beautiful, relaxing time with your family. And yes, it will be harder on you than on your dogs, they will be just fine 🙂


Kim March 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I hope you are right 🙂

Yep, that fire was perfect. I’m already nostalgic. I want to go back!


bernie March 21, 2012 at 8:48 am

great place! Would love to go there! Great photos! Lovely dogs!


Kim March 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Thanks Bernie. The dogs sure are cuties 🙂


Mellisa Turner November 7, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Wow ! What a great trip you had that too with your dogs. The cottage is really very beautiful and luxurious.


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