The Northwest's Rosario Resort And Spa, Orcas Island - My Family Travels
Moran Mansion
Rugged coastal beauty
Orcas Island countryside in spring

A family favorite escape, the Rosario Resort and Spa in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, will be evolving into a new self.

Island getaways don’t need to be tropical: consider, for example, pretty little Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast. Not far from Seattle, it is in the sunnier “Banana Belt.”

Orcas has deer, whales, eagles, and forest trails, plus the Rosario Resort built around a historic mansion, complete with ghost.

Rosario Resort is a Historic Landmark

Built in 1911 as the grand home of rags-to-riches millionaire shipbuilder Robert Moran, Rosario Resort & Spa was opened on 30 acres of waterfront on Orcas Island. It is said the former mayor of Seattle was inspired to build in this wild place by conservationist John Muir.

Admire the “Arts and Crafts ideals” of Rosario’s original founder, which are still preserved. Moran felt time spent with family, a respect for nature, and a return to quality handcraftsmanship had been lost in the industrial revolution. He said, this is “a wonderful place to get back to nature in her happiest moods; a delightful place in which to regain health – physical, mental, and spiritual.” 

A resort since the 1960s, it was given new life by the RockResorts group, then reopened several times under new ownership.

Through the Barto family’s 2008 investments in guestrooms, restaurants, rebuilding the three swimming pools and dock facilities, it became a magnet for celebrities and anyone looking for a remote vacation. Kevin Bacon, Meg Ryan, Bill Gates — even Oprah — could be spotted there. The classic property on the National Register of Historic Places, freshly imbued with mod-cons, kept its dignity.

A Waterfront Resort in Transition

Waterfront timeshare units are grouped around the well preserved, 25,000-square-foot Moran Mansion, site of the public facilities. The property, put up for sale after the pandemic, now comprises 82.89 acres of land with 2,166 feet of waterfront on Cascade Bay.

Because of the resort’s past popularity, guest benefits will continue to include a serious emphasis on cuisine (with local salmon, oysters, and chevre) and services for families. Rosario’s main attraction has always been the Great Outdoors. Explore the resort’s ideal location on sea kayaks, hiking trails and sailboats, all for rent at the marina within its coastal eight acres.

As for the Moran Mansion itself, it is somewhat of a museum that features an extensive collection of ships built by Moran’s company. It also contains a music room with Tiffany stained glass, a pipe organ that cost $16,000 in 1913, and an unusual interior balcony from which the wife of Rosario’s second owner fell to her death to become Rosario’s in-house ghost.

Guests at the Rosario can no longer stay in the Moran Mansion, but can stay in any of the 69 bayside elegantly furnished units located a short walk from the mansion and marina.

Visiting Orcas Island

Boasting a plethora of outdoor activities, Orcas Island itself is very much worth a visit. To reach Orcas from Seattle, drive 80 miles north to Anacortes, then take the car-ferry. Alternatively, take a seaplane right to the resort. Bring a warm jacket in winter, but you won’t find snow; sea sports continue if weather permits. And more good news: the sun shines on 247 days of the year.

From May to September, whale-watching tours depart daily directly from the Rosario Marina to find Orca whales — think Free Willy — as well as eagles, seals, and sea lions. Kids especially enjoy hand-feeding the resort’s tame deer. Families also play lawn games such as croquet and badminton. In summer, play in the heated outdoor pools near the marina.

The local town of Eastsound has an indoor Funhouse and the Orcas Island Library for rainy days, as well as famous Teezer’s bakery, a coffeeshop in the Island Market. In Moran State Park, there’s a roped-off swimming hole in Cascade Lake and hiking trails. In addition, this is the place to look out for bald eagles.

For your visit, also consider the picturesque and equally historic 12-room Orcas Hotel. The little red-roofed inn dating to 1904 is located on the waterfront at 8 Orcas Hill Road, P.O. Box 369, Orcas WA 98280. New owners, both chefs, are John Cox and Julia Felder who have turned it into a popular foodie destination.

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