Garden House on Orcas Island, Washington


The Garden House is a private one-bedroom cottage located on Orcas Island (in the San Juan Island archipelago); Orcas Island is approximately 80 miles north north west of Seattle, Washington. The Garden House is available year round.

Garden House photo

We encourage a meander through our web site (here's why).
But in case you are in a hurry:

In a Nutshell

Four minute walk to this view
       Four minute walk to this view

The Garden House is a second floor guest quarters, with cathedral ceilings, dormers and lots of light. Containing a combined kitchen and sitting room, a large bedroom, and a bathroom with shower (interior photos), the Garden House is located on 6 wooded acres of waterfront property at the east end of Orcas Island. A generous, sunny deck sits above a flower garden, with the water modestly visible through the trees. A four minute walk on a wooded trail leads to a large rock outcropping, with inter-tidal pools and a south-easterly view of the Rosario Straits, several islands and the North Cascades, providing an ideal place for fishing, conversation or contemplation. The northwest style building, with metal roof, custom wood framed windows and shingle siding, is about 200 feet from the main house. A wood stove (free firewood supplied), as well as a heat pump, will keep you warm. The kitchen is fully furnished with pots, pans, plates, utensils, glasses, etc.

Vermont Castings wood stove
Living Room with
Vermont Castings
Towels, sheets and blankets are provided; the queen-size bed is made. Additional sleeping options are provided by a hide-a-bed sofa in the combined kitchen / sitting room area. The cabin has a coffee bean grinder, "mr coffee" type coffee maker, toaster, microwave, refrigerator, gas kitchen stove, and outdoor charcoal grill (charcoal not supplied). For children, a portacrib is available as well as a fold-out futon and baby monitor. A password protected broadband wi-fi internet connection is available. Cell phone reception is marginal; best with T-Mobile, ok with Verizon. Moran State Park, with hiking, swimming and a children's play area is about 10 minutes away; the town of Olga, with a cafe, is about 5 minutes away. Additional hiking is on Turtleback Mountain (info and map). Orcas Island is temperate year round: the summer brings sunny, though not hot, days in the low 70's to low 80's, while the winter brings generally above freezing temperatures and rain, creating a quiet coziness inviting one to snuggle up near the fire with a good book.

Make a reservation

Reservations at the Garden House can be made at airbnb

The Philosophy

The Garden House nighly rate is intentionally set below the average nightly rate for cabins on Orcas. The reason: the Garden House is not positioned as a super high-end romantic getaway, i.e., those cabins that have a dishwasher, high definition minimum 35" screen, king size bed, furnished like the 4 Seasons, dyno view of the water. Still, there are few buildings on Orcas that are constructed with better materials, a sweeter design, a solidity that subtly conveys serious structural protection inside the envelope of a beautiful asethetic, or are grounded in voluntary simplicity activities, including the purchase of sufficient green power to fulfill a commitment to total carbon neutrality in energy use. Unlike the Garden House, more expensive cabins don't have exclusive beach and shore access privacy for just one guest party, don't have a garden where there is a standing offer for guests to make their own bouquet of flowers. Most other cabin environments are plural...there is not the sense that the grounds are the guests' alone. The Garden House offers exclusivity in its privacy, a sense of being welcomed into one's own personal place. The Garden House quietly reflects the terms retreat and tranquility (more on the subtext of the Garden House philosophy.) A small library of materials, from games to books, offers the opportunity to explore connection, creativity and contemplation.

Ferries to Orcas Island:

Interisland winter boat, the MV HIYU
The interisland winter ferry HIYU

Orcas Island is one of four islands served by the Washington State Ferry (WSF) System--the Anacortes ferry dock is almost exactly a one and a half hour drive from anywhere in downtown Seattle. Call WSF (in Seattle, (206) 464-6400 or statewide 1-800-84-FERRY) for current ferry information.

Washington State Ferries now has a reservation system which will make your round trip to Orcas much more predictable. You must a) make a reservation both ways and b) arrive at least a half hour prior to your intended sailing. At least 90% of the ferry space is reserved for reservations, which means that only 10% of the ferry is available for those without a reservation who show up (really early!) prior to boarding. For those planning to come in the summer, when reservations can be harder to get the closer you are to your travel dates, WSF makes reservations available in "tiers", or pre-departure windows. The bottom line is that you are strongly encouraged to make a reservation as soon as you know when you are traveling, which could be months in advance.

For real time information, you can look at the current status of the Anacortes ferry terminal parking lot.

The Garden House has an EV charging station for guest use; there is no charge.

Evening Arrival Info

Whether or not you stay at the Garden House, should you plan to arrive on Orcas in the evening, you may benefit from some late arrival information regarding grocery stores and restaurants.


Enough people inquire about whether they need to bring a car that a note here seems in order. For all but the truly adventurous, you need a car. For the purposes of this comment, I define "adventurous" as anyone who is an adult not responsible for anyone else (who does not, or may not, share this definition of adventure) AND someone for whom hitching, walking or biking is not only possible but substantially preferable to driving AND someone who has virtually no restrictions on either their personal energy or their time. The upside is that this is a beautiful place and going slow will bring its beauty straight in, breath by breath, uncensored by steel, glass and rumble. The downside is that we're talking miles, and hills, to the nearest restaurant, store, or whale-watching boat.

Guest comments:

The remarks offered here represent some of the many unsolicited yet very much appreciated comments which our guests have left with us over the years, offering us the rich gift of their feelings.

Restrictions / The fine print...

To contact the Garden House:

Joe Symons built and manages the Garden House. The phone number for information is 360-378-7577.

And, in our continuing effort to allow clarity the front seat in technology's invisibility car, we do not sell, loan, share, rent or otherwise pass on to anyone anything about you, such as your email address.
crystal glaze

This is an example of a porcelain dish with a crystal glaze, produced in the Hot Ice Studio at the Garden House. If you are interested, stop in during your stay at the Garden House.

Thank you for thinking of us.

For your refrigerator:

This sketch is suitable for printing and putting up on your refrig, or office bulletin board, or on your partner's pillow, as a reminder that "carpe diem" may be the most important energy you can honor for yourself and ones you love.

Speaking of refrigerator, I would encourage you to take a few minutes to read an essay about eating and health. Offered (like the Garden House) as an alternative to a mainstream perspective.


A commentary on going for the gold.

Geotourism and the Garden House

Are you a geotourist? If you are, you will be right at home at the Garden House. Rather than spend extra dollars on geotourism services which we won't charge you for, why not take those dollars, or the time you spent to earn them, and either financially support, or learn about, the efforts that have been, and still are, being taken to preserve and protect San Juan County by your Garden House hosts. If you support geotourism principles, please lend your weight to preserving a place deserving of your contributions. How? The journey toward an authentic geotourist activity (fear not: there's plenty more when you get here) is just one click away.

Beyond the Garden House:

Things to do on Orcas

Here is a short list of things to consider on Orcas, as seen through a biased local's eyes.

Many Hands Make Light Work

There are thousands of non-profits that are running on empty. If you don't have a favorite one (or more!), please consider adopting Children's House on Orcas, the oldest early childhood education facility in San Juan County as your benefactee. If half of the people who read this web page sent ten dollars to Childrens House, under the "random acts of kindness" mantra, the benefits to the children (6 weeks to 6 years) of working parents living in the U.S. county (yes, San Juan County) that has the greatest gap between the haves and the have-nots of all counties in the country would be enormous.

Imagine the joy you will bring, the gratitude you will evoke. Thanks.

Joe's Best Picks

There are certain people who do truly outstanding work. Work that defines terms like "extraordinary", or "fantastic" or "unbelievable". The people listed here are both my friends and my mentors. Judge for yourself.

A commentary on island life:

Living on Orcas Island offers many opportunities for self-discovery, most of which cannot be avoided or denied without consequence. Many who visit Orcas see it as a refuge, an escape, a retreat, a magical playground. Indeed it is, tho often less so for many who call it their home. One of the reasons for this is the difficulty in finding meaningful, as well as economically viable, work. I've written a book about Orcas which discusses this and many other realities of island living for those who would like an insider's perspective on this lovely, and complex, island. Entitled Potholes in Paradise, the 210 page book, published in 2009, deconstructs the image of Paradise into its component parts with the intent of showing what community life is really like living on a pristine rural island in one of the most beautiful locations in the country. Electronic copies are available; a pdf file ($8.95) directly from me (just email) or as an iBook .

The future of San Juan County:

I have served as the chairman of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan citizen advisory committee for Orcas Island. The county, by participating in Washington State's Growth Management Act, is slowly and gracelessly engaged in rewriting its future. I've been finding myself animated about the future of the island, the future of the county, and, in general, the future of beautiful places throughout the world as I watched my committee, and the community, struggle with the first of the Kubla-Ross "stages of change" (denial) in recognizing, much less resolving, largely unarticulated, tho deeply felt, personal/community boundary issues. I've written several essays which discuss the growth issues facing San Juan County, and by extension almost anywhere, and suggest possible routes to their solution. Should you find any of this material interesting or useful, both for contemplation or for application to your situation, where ever you live, I'd appreciate your feedback. You might also want to learn about the options for land conservation provided by The San Juan Preservation Trust. If you really want to learn about the future of San Juan County, read the appeals of the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan. The details of the appeal process, the appellants, the County's response, and the conclusion of the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, are all posted here. The bottom line is simple. If you read the guest comments, you'll see that visitors love it here. You wouldn't be reading this if you weren't at least attracted to this place and wonder about its future, since you might come here, or have been here and would like to imagine that when you return, it will be then more or less what it is now. To those of us who see San Juan County as a national treasure to be preserved and shared, the rubber meets the road right on top of the Comprehensive Plan. You can help. Take a few minutes. Read this material. Imagine that your unexpected letter might tip the county council into doing the right thing. Score another point for a random act of unexpected kindness.

The letter here frames the essential growth issue before the county, which, briefly, is the personal, internal conflict created by both wanting the quality of life that exists today to last in perpetuity while at the same time fearing the loss of autonomy (and income) implied by governmental regulation required to achieve this same quality of life objective. It's the "having your cake and eating it too" syndrome.

The essay here suggests a solution while reminding us that there's no free lunch.

The essay here describes why regulation is a response to both growth and the characteristic that many of us have to not do the right thing; the piece starts by reflecting on the white striping lines in ferry lane parking lots.

The essay here discusses the idea of buying our future, of being proactive rather than inactive or reactive.

The essay here points out that all the effort being devoted to keep things as they are will, if successul, result in nothing visible, nothing tangible, nothing new. As a result, who can get excited about working hard to achieve what we already have?

Our Partnerships


We support a number of organizations that do important work we don't have time to do ourselves. Part of that work helps us wake up, part of that work brings joy--each of these qualities has no maximum limit, each can be increased to the benefit of self and others. You are invited to explore these to determine if the work they do might be worthy of your investment in time, funds, or recommendation.

The San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust, helps preserve San Juan County by assisting landowners in dedicating conservation easements on their property.

KNKX, NPR and Jazz for western Washington, 88.5 on the fm dial, serves up large doses of musical joy.

Finding others to do the work you believe in takes time. You can leverage your time by exploring the Charity Navigator web site. They help charitable givers (hopefully you) make wise decisions by providing comprehensive, objective ratings and analysis of the financial health of many charities. The goal, like microfinance, (see, for example, Finca), is the fish teacher model (give a man a fish and he is hungry tomorrow; teach a man to fish and he is never hungry again.)

You can also make investments in microfinancing institutions such as These investments bring you a return of way more than money. You help level the world's economic playing field, reminding me of the phrase "woman who chops her own wood warms herself twice."

Lend your computer's shoulder to the wheel to solve some immediate problems without compromising security or efficiency. Join the Centripetus Family (and thousands of others) in donating unused computer processing time toward creating better (more nutritious, more disease and/or drought tolerant) rice, fighting aids, conquering cancer, figuring out solutions to Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Curious? Learn about and join the World Community Grid.

We encourage democracy in action. Voting once a year or less is just not enough. You deserve more, and so does the country. One place to start is to contact your local congressperson and senators. Do you know who these people are? Find your senators here.

Kind Remarks

The web site has been created with an intention to inform you about the Garden House while avoiding the fluff generally associated with promotion. Here's a comment that suggests the goal has been met:
"I absolutely love your web-site. It has to be the most amusing and original one I've seen while hunting for a place to stay on Orcas."

If you'd like to suggest modifications, improvements, additions, or comments on the site, know they will be appreciated.

The small print:

This web site is designed, updated and managed by Joe Symons

© 2023 centripetus