2019 Update: Hops on the Rock will be held November 9, 2019 on Orcas Island! Check out our recap of the 2018 event below, and snag your tickets now!
"Our time in the islands came to a close all too soon. One thing is for sure, though -- we'll be back."
- Trails and Ales in the San Juan Islands blog entry, November 2017.
We made good on that promise the following year, returning to Orcas Island in 2018 for a beer fest known as Hops on the Rock. Come along as we share the ins and outs of this annual tradition in the islands -- and some of our favorite stops throughout the weekend. All aboard: it's island time!
Wine Reception at Doe Bay Winery
With a weekend of beer ahead of us, it was great to kick the festivities off with a bit of wine, bubbles, and snacks. Doe Bay Wine Co. hosted a reception at their bottle shop and tasting room. Based in Eastsound, Doe Bay Wine sounds (and feels) like a business that's been a part of the island community for decades-- but to our surprise, the company opened its doors in August of 2017! Owners Cole and Stephanie Sisson greeted us with a curated flight of wines to sip on, and were on hand to answer any questions. As one of the official kick-off events to Hops on the Rock (the Sissons are festival organizers) the cozy bottle shop filled up fast!
We are beer people at heart of course, so it's no surprise that we wandered our way over to the beer corner. The selections felt right at home: Belgian classics, special releases from local breweries, and wild farmhouse ales. Elevated, nuanced, and above all delicious, Doe Bay's beer selection is suitable for the wine drinker. We drank through our flight, chatted with locals, and of course grabbed some beer to go -- a little nightcap for back at the hotel.
Hops on the Rock Festival
2018 marked the second year for Hops on the Rock Beer Festival, but this event ran like a well-oiled machine. From the heated tents that kept the November chill at bay, to a line-up of live music, the festival offered plenty for the over 800 (!!!) attendees in addition to tasting beer. With over 29 attending breweries, the festival had a good spread from refreshing lagers to barrel aged stouts. The festival took place in a closed off portion of Prune Alley, just down the street from Island Market.
We got in line just after the festival gates opened at 11am, giving us some time to scope out a game plan and get the lay of the land. We ran into a few friends as well, including fellow travel writers and beer friends alike. It was funny to think that beer was the reason we all ended up on this island in the Salish Sea. While many beer fests happen later in the day, or have two sessions, it was actually refreshing to attend a festival that was over by 4pm -- it left plenty of time for us to grab dinner in town and do a bit more exploring of Orcas Island.
We were fortunate enough to stay at Rosario Resort -- the sprawling historic property on Cascade Bay. For years we'd heard of the famous resort and driven by on our way to nearby Moran State Park. Both park and resort are the creation of self-made millionaire Robert Moran, who retired to Orcas Island on doctor's orders after serving as Seattle mayor. Moran's mansion was built between 1905 and 1909, and now serves as a museum, music room, restaurant, and spa.
Upon check-in we took a step back in time. We could hear the clinking of glasses, chatter and laughter in the lounge down the hall. It seemed the perfect excuse to change into cocktail attire, but instead we opted for swimsuits, sauna, and spa -- followed by sipping on brews from Doe Bay Wine Co. back in our bayside room. A tough decision, no doubt. But we'd managed plenty of clinking at the beer fest and needed some time to relax. Whether it's good times in the lively lounge or R&R you're looking for, Rosario delivers both in generous helpings.
The 3-star rooms at Rosario Resort strike a balance between classy and comfortable. Ours had a balcony facing the bay and mansion (there are no guest rooms in the mansion), and we enjoyed drinking coffee with water views in the morning. With so much to do at Rosario, even a two-night stay seemed short. We'd love to go back on a Saturday afternoon, when musician and Rosario historian Christopher Peacock hosts a performance "on the Mansion's 1913 Aeolian organ (featuring 1,972 pipes) with silent film, stories of the Mansion's most colorful residents, and his original piano compositions played on the 1900 Steinway Grand Piano." We missed it this time due to the beer fest. But once again, we will be back!
Moran State Park
With clear skies on our final day on the island, it was prime hiking time. We enjoyed one more cup of coffee from our room before embarking. Due to Rosario's proximity to Moran State Park --and the historic ties between the two places -- we felt that a drive to the top of 2,409-foot Mount Constitution was in order.
From the highest point in the San Juan Islands, we looked west to Lummi Island, Bellingham, and Mount Baker in the distance. We climbed the 52-foot stone tower -- built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 -- for even grander views of the archipelago. We whispered thanks on the wind to Mr. Moran before departing, for his considerate conservation of this special place.
While we've hiked many times in Moran State Park, we'd never ventured out to lesser-known Turtleback Mountain. Locals take great pride in the preservation of Turtleback -- we heard more than one story of citizens and celebrities alike raising over $18 million to prevent development on the mountain. Today, it's set aside as a 1,576-acre preserve for trail users. You can approach Turtleback from the north trailhead for access to multi-use trails (open to horses on odd-calendar days and bikes on even-days). For hikers, the best access may be from the south trailhead where a hiker-only trail heads up to Ship Peak and beyond.
On local recommendation, we opted for the Ship Peak route. Views were excellent from Turtleback's grassy balds and rocky outcrops, with plenty of exposure. Scenic benches provided rest stop overlooks along the way. Crowds were noticeably thinner on a sunny Sunday than they were at the State Park. From Ship Peak we peered down on prairie and pasture before looping back on the moderately graded 3-mile trail. This is another area we'd love to explore more on a return trip.
"Our time in the islands came to a close all too soon. One thing is for sure, though -- we'll be back,"...again.
For assistance planning your trip to the San Juan Islands, check out Visit San Juans.
Check out the following stories that we've published on our trips to the San Juans!