One of our favorite spots growing up was sailing around the various islands in the San Juans. The San Juan Islands, if you are not familiar, are a cluster of islands north of Seattle, near the city of Bellingham, WA, and almost to the border with Canada and Vancouver. Well known for all types of boat traffic, including sailing, ferries, and kayaking. It is a terrific area for wildlife and tours. It is just gorgeous and a bucket list spot if you are on the west coast.
If you are not familiar and want to get the lay of the lay before setting sail, check out the San Juan Visitors Bureau. They can recommend a good sailing option, routes, places to avoid, things to see, local etiquette, etc. But all of this legwork will be worth it just to see orcas and the natural beauty of this area.
The San Juans are probably not the best place if the type of sailing you prefer is wide open ocean. You are rarely that far from land, albeit small land, and there are plenty of other boats around. This can make it nervewracking on a novice. Up to you on where you like to sail and the type of day you are looking to have.
One of our favorite spots, is sailing around Lummi Island, which is one of the closest islands to the city of Bellingham. It is very passable at high tide for any sized vessel, but this is mainly a route for smaller craft. Be careful of the reefnet fishing from a local sustainable wild salmon fishery. They do amazing work, but they have reefnet stations out in the bay that you’ll need to navigate around. Look them up later for some great seafood options.
From there, we like to curl around Orcas Island and try to see some whales. I’d say we are successful maybe 20% of the time, but when you happen to catch them, it is an amazing experience. We once had them swim beside us for about two minutes. They are just incredible.