Black horse if right in front of the woman having golden long hair; Tales of Pebble Cove-A Journey to Orcas Island's Farm Inn & Animal Sanctuary Lydia Miller Ep 126

Tales of Pebble Cove: A Journey to Orcas Island’s Farm Inn and Animal Sanctuary | Lydia Miller | Ep 126

Introducing Lydia

In today’s episode, we’re joined by a remarkable guest, Lydia Miller, the visionary behind this captivating sanctuary. She’ll take us through her journey of turning neglected acreage into a thriving farm inn and animal sanctuary.

Nestled on the south-facing side of Orcas Island, Pebble Cove Farm stands as a haven of serenity and beauty. The modern farmhouse overlooks an expanse of lawn and a private beach, gifting guests with stunning 180-degree waterfront vistas that greet them at sunrise.

Throughout our conversation, Lydia will unveil the essence of Orcas Island as a destination. Dive into its rich culture, awe-inspiring landscapes, and the unique allure of island living. Discover the island’s hidden treasures and witness how Pebble Cove Farm embodies the very essence of Orcas Island’s spirit.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The visionary behind Pebble Cove Farm, a farm inn and animal sanctuary on Orcas Island.
  • The location of Pebble Cove Farm in Orcas Island offers stunning views of the waterfront, including an expansive lawn and a private beach.
  • Lydia’s journey: highlighting and showcasing her transformation of neglected land into a thriving oasis.

Learn more about what we talk about

  • The modern farmhouse on Pebble Cove Farm serves as a central feature, providing guests with 180-degree waterfront vistas during sunrise.
  • Orcas Island’s essence as a destination encompasses its rich culture, captivating landscapes, and the unique lifestyle associated with island living.
  • The allure of Orcas Island’s hidden treasures provides insights into lesser-known gems that contribute to the island’s charm.
  • The spirit of Orcas Island through Lydia’s experiences and the embodiment of this spirit in Pebble Cove Farm.

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Lydia


Brighde: Hello, Lydia. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast, today.

Lydia: Thank you for having me.

Brighde: I am really pleased to have you on the podcast because you are gonna be talking about your vegan accommodation, which happens to be in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, close to me, but also not close to me because it’s in another country.

You are based in the San Juan Islands, and we’ll talk all about that. But before we get into all of that, Lydia, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do in the vegan travel space?

Lydia: Sure, I’d love to. We created and run, Pebble Cove farm in an animal sanctuary on Orcas Island, which is one of the San Juan Islands, a cluster of islands north of Seattle. So we’re on the northern coast of Washington, very close to the Canadian border.

Brighde: Hhmm and how is it that you have this beautiful place?

Lydia: Well, my husband and I are LA suburban kids. When we were in our twenties after we got married, we both discovered we had fantasies about living in the country and having animals and a garden. So we, quit our jobs, sold everything, bought a VW camper van, and mapped out to travel around the country as long as it took to find the perfect place. This was before the internet, this is the early nineties, like 91. So I had a file that I’d been cutting newspaper clippings and magazine clippings and Martha Stewart Sunset Magazine and travel, so I had a file. I was very attached to being near the water.

I have to look at the water. So we figured the west coast, the east coast, and even the south we considered. So we went on this journey and traveled up the coast. We looked at tons of real estate, just looking for something that just like spoke to us. We had heard of the San Juan Islands, but you take a ferry there and that seemed very remote. We went because we knew they were supposed to be beautiful, but we didn’t have an expectation. We kind of put our search for the perfect home aside and just thought we’ll enjoy that. We went to all of the four islands that I’ll talk later about the fairy goes to, but Orcas, we spent one day and one night and there was just this gut feeling both of us had. There was something about the island. We left, we continued our journey and it kept kind of building and building. One of the things planned was on the East Coast, where I had gone to college, we were making a pilgrimage to Helen Nearing. 

Do you know Scott and Helen Nearing? Oh, I have their book. The good life, Scott and Helen Nearing, and they’re considered the great-grandparents of the Back to the Land movement. So in the thirties, he was a professor. They were radicals, socialists, pacifists, and activists. He was fired from college, and his teaching and they moved to a farm on the coast of Maine they set up this kind of, way to live this utopian farm stay where you work, you profit from your land, you don’t exploit anything. They, at the time, in their 30s, were vegan. 

Brighde: Really? 

Lydia: They believe in having pets. They didn’t believe in using animals.

Brighde: Wow, I’ve never heard that.

Lydia: It was really radical and young kids from all over the country went and lived there and you could show up and they’d put you to work. It’s fascinating and it’s a great read they were super inspiring to us and she was still alive.

 So on the journey, we did visit her, which was really wonderful. Tough woman. She was in her nineties and I remember she had a tank top and like muscles and biceps. It was just very cool. These were tough, hardy, stoic, New Englanders. In any case, that was just a really fun thing to see her.

So we continued traveling and we kept thinking about Orcas. So, we took about a year and we said, let’s just go. It’ll be fun. It’ll be an adventure. Well, that was over 30 years ago, so that’s how we ended up on Orcas Island. So I always say, I’ve done the research. This is a very special place.

Brighde: Yeah, I have been to Orcas Island before, maybe about 10 years or so now. It is really a very beautiful part of the world. Before we dig into all of that even more, what led you to buy this particular piece of property and land, first of all, and how did this inn or a bed and breakfast or accommodations come to be?

Lydia: Well, we moved here 30 years ago. We bought a little cabin and we bought ducks for the first time and dug a pond and we planted a garden. Neither one of us had ever grown anything from the ground and it was really wonderful. We started having goats.

About 20 years ago, I saw this property and it was abandoned, derelict property, four acres, right on the water on this beautiful little cove with pebbles. So that’s where the name came from. I just fell in love with it. It had a big barn with raccoons living there and needed love. No one had touched it in years. My husband John is a builder.

Brighde: That is very handy.

Lydia: Yeah, It’s very handy whenever he drives me crazy. I’m like, yeah, that’s in the pro column. So he transformed the barn. We fell in love with it, and we decided to just transform it. We had three little boys at this time and we wanted to live there. So as he renovated the barn, we put in an orchard, we put in the garden, we put in a corral and we had some animals. We moved and then we started adopting more and it was a big structure. We started thinking, Hmm, this is such a sweet spot and one family shouldn’t live. It’s so wonderful and we really wanted to share it and we realized there was so much room. So we put in some suites with little kitchenettes in the lower part of the barn and John built a few cottages and we’re like, oh, we could rent this out and it would supplement our income and we could share this.

It was very organic. It wasn’t our mission, although it was always kind of a fantasy, I have to be honest. That’s how it evolved. The garden was something very important to us because we really wanted people to see what it was like to pull up a carrot, pull up a radish, and pluck a pea. All our accommodations have a Chef kitchenette, so guests can pick from them.

We put a chalkboard sign of what’s ripe. There are baskets and they can pick whatever’s ripe in the garden and come home to their little suite and prepare meals. That was important to us, that it was organic. We would take the compost from the animals that ended up in the garden.

We wanted people to see how sustainability is possible. It’s not really tricky. We didn’t know anything. We learned all this as we went along. Then as we were adopting animals from rescue farms, and animal sanctuaries. We have some farms on the island and we would adopt some, maybe a runt or an animal, they would call us.

 It evolved. What was very important to us is that we felt as guests play with the animals, and pet the pigs, they must start to make a connection. You can’t help but make a connection to where does this food come from? Our hope was and we heard that people would pull out the bacon they had brought and really finally make the connection.

Where is the bacon? Oh my God, that pig that we were scratching his belly and he was lying on his back asleep as we were scratching his belly. Oh, that’s where bacon comes in. So, we don’t proselytize, but we definitely inspire. I think we expose people and it evolved. Pebble Co Farm reflects our values.

It’s aligned with what we feel works best for us and we love sharing it. We love sharing what we’ve done here and we feel like the accommodations are beautiful, clean, lovely, and comfortable. While you’re here, you can enjoy the garden. We have a beautiful beach. We have rowboats, hammocks, fire pit, hot tub.

So many times we’ve heard over the years parents say this is like the first time the kids aren’t on their devices. They’re running around playing with the animals. They’re running, they’re beachcombing. We are all relaxed. We have families that have been coming every year. We do weddings. Wedding parties are coming with their kids now. It’s just very gratifying. 

Brighde: So have you always been vegan? Some things that you said before made me think that maybe you were involved in some sort of animal husbandry, so I’m curious about how all of that came to be.

Lydia: Yes. It was an evolution and I remind myself when I get a little frustrated, when I see people aren’t quite on that.

Brighde: Right.

Lydia: I remind myself that we weren’t always vegan, we were vegetarian for a long time, but I was very involved in animal rights as my parents were. We would go to protest and I remember protesting outside. We lived near U C L A anti-section protest. But I think we probably went to dinner and I might’ve had a hamburger. So it takes time. But as adults, my husband and I slowly became vegetarian. But I will tell you that, the milk and dairy and eggs were something that took some time.

 As I said, we used to raise goats, we didn’t eat them. And I would always make sure that no one else would eat them. We would separate the mothers and milk them. We had a few and we loved them and we were gentle and we weren’t using machines, but we were still impregnating the goats so they would have babies, so we would get milk. 

It started not to sit right, that we were doing this, we were forcing them to do this, and then we were taking the milk and we were drinking it. It was for the babies. So that was an evolution. When we started Pebble Cove Farm, our family was a hundred percent vegan.

We put granola and milk in the rooms and I offer non-dairy options, coconut, almond, and oat. People are sometimes surprised and they’ll say, oh, well, we drink milk. I say, you’re welcome to bring milk, but we don’t serve it. But I would say 99% of the time people say, oh, okay, I want milk or, I’ve never had one. What do you suggest? We’re exposing people to the idea. There is never been any pushback ever, ever. The other thing is eggs. We have chickens and we don’t provide the eggs to guests and that was something that was confusing to guests. I wrote up something that’s on our website.

Brighde: Yes, I read that. Yeah.

Lydia: Which I think is kind of perfect, which is, in a perfect world you’re on a little family farm and the chicken plops an egg and you eat an egg. Like what harm is that? Of course, there’s no harm but you must remember that in the real world, if you’re eating eggs in a restaurant if you’re eating eggs from a market, even if it says free range, I know I’m speaking to the choir. Even if it says organic, that chicken, where the egg came, has probably had a pretty horrible life.

Brighde: Oh.

Lydia: We know what happens to the baby boy chickens when they’re born. So I’m just gently, educating people. And that’s been great because I can’t tell you how many people said, oh, I never thought about that. We buy free-range eggs and we think it’s all good. I never thought about it or I never thought about what happened to the baby boy chicks. So that feels really good. I would say the egg thing comes up a lot.

Brighde: I’m sure it does. I think people in the past 10 years or so, they’ve just become, much more open to vegan alternatives. People understand that there is probably non-dairy milk that is okay or a good substitute. So it’s not quite the challenge mentally that people have to do now when they’re offered soy or oat milk, whatever it is but not dairy milk. They’re not gonna be so freaked out by it, so that’s great.

It seems like you don’t really market yourself as a vegan accommodation. I know that you are on a lot of great websites for vegan hotels and things like that. That’s how I got to know about you. But it seems like you are very welcoming of non-vegan as well and probably get lots of non-vegan guests. Is that fair to say?

Lydia: Yes. Well, I’d like to market. I still feel like we’re the best-kept secret. Like I want the vegan community, vegan travelers to know about Pebble Cove Farm, but I would say that is true. I have vegans come all the time and they’re thrilled. The majority of people are not, they’re here for the farm and the animals and the garden and being here. In a way it’s like pretty wonderful, cause I’m exposing, all those people to this way of life.

Brighde: Hmm. Tell me a little bit more about the accommodations themselves. You say they have a kitchenette, so is it more of like a self-catering kind of setup or do you provide a breakfast or maybe an option for dinner? I’m curious about that.

Lydia: Yes. So, all our accommodations, suites, or cottages have a kitchenette or even a little kitchen. When we were creating Pebble Cove Farm, I always thought I wanna create somewhere I would like to be. I like my privacy. I am not a person where you come down and you’re kind of forced to sit with other people. I wanted people to have some autonomy and privacy.

So what we’ve developed is every accommodation has a private entrance. Some sleep three, and some sleep four people. They all, of course, have bathrooms, a sitting area, and a kitchenette. I provide granola, non-dairy milk, and a beautiful basket of fun, organic vegan snacks. Locally roasted coffee, organic that’s roasted down the street, and some kind of juice. Then people can pick, like right now, raspberries in season, so you can pluck a bunch of raspberries from our garden. We have beautiful blackberries and put ’em on the granola. So that kind of sets you up in the morning. Then we have barbecues if you wanna get food somewhere else.

Our garden is just amazing. It’s probably 40 vegetables in there now. Every kitchen is equipped with basic pots and pans and utensils, so you could do beautiful stir fries or barbecue, the zucchini. We have a communal hot tub, fire pit, and of course the beach. It’s wonderful, at night you’ll see families sitting around the fire pit, getting to know each other. We have four acres, so there’s plenty of room to explore and we have families that met when they were on vacation and now come every year together to meet up.

Brighde: Oh, I love that. Well, without a doubt, it definitely seems that your accommodation is the place to stay on Orcas Island. So let’s talk about why people would wanna go to San Juan Island or Orcas Island because it is a little bit harder to get to. Mentally we think, oh, there’s a boat and then we might put it in the two hard baskets.

So maybe let’s talk about how to get there. First of all, I’m sure there are a few different ways. Can you talk a little bit about how you can get there from Canada and from the United States? Tell us how long it takes, where the cars can go on these ferries, and then give us a sense as to like how people get around.

Lydia: Yes. Love to. So we’re an island. There is no road. So you need to take the ferry or fly here. It is a little effort, but that is why Orcas is so pristine and so beautiful because we don’t have a highway. We’re gonna be limited. We’re never gonna be overcrowded ’cause we’re limited by how many people can take the ferry and how many people can fly here. The ferry is from Anacortes. Now, if you look on the map of Washington, Anacortes is scored of equal distance to North Vancouver, the city of Vancouver, and to South Seattle, where the Anacortes is about an hour and a half from each. You take a ferry, the San Juan Ferries, they run three or four hours a day.

You do need to make a reservation. That’s one way. The ferry services four islands, there are hundreds of islands in the San Juans but four are serviced by the ferry and only two are really tourist-oriented Orcas Island and San Juan Island. San Juan Island is bigger. It’s more touristy. It’s more developed. Orcas have, we call ourselves the gem of the San Juans. It has kind of a funky, artist, hippie vibe. It’s a little more progressive alternative. It’s hilly, so we have a lot of topography. About a third of the island is Moran State Park, gorgeous, incredible hiking. The highest peak in the San Juans is Moran State Park. The very top is Mount Constitution, and from there you can literally see hundreds of islands, pretty spectacular. So that’s very special and there are several gorgeous lakes in Moran State Park. Actually right behind Pebble Cove Farm is Turtleback Mountain, and we have a beautiful hike up there. 

One way to get to Orcas is by ferry. The other way is you can fly. There are scheduled flights from Bellingham, which is a city north of Anacortes, very close to the Canadian border. They’ve scheduled flights from Seattle. The fastest way is you get to Seattle and you hop on a little plane and get to Orcas and rent a car here.

Brighde: You can rent a car on the islands. Oh.

Lydia: Yes. So that’s kind of the fastest way. It costs more or you fly into Seattle and rent a car and drive up to take the ferry or fly to Vancouver and drive down. Those are the two biggest cities. We do have car rentals several on the island. We have about 5,000 year-round population. Of course, it swells in the summer. Things we are known for are the San Juan Islands; whale watching, kayaking, and hiking. We have a wonderful Saturday farmer’s market. We have live music on the weekends in the park all summer. We have a lot of music. We have a wonderful, August, artist studio tour in which all the artists on the island open up. We have a beautiful garden tour every year. We have a cider fest. The 4th of July is really, really fun. We have a small town, old fashioned parade, and lots of activities. We have a huge library fair, a big festival in August. We have a summer solstice parade. We have an incredible, it’s sixth or seventh year Orcas Film Festival, which we’re like, really making a name for ourselves.

 So lots going on. Our town, Eastsound is very quaint. Also wanna mention my favorite restaurant in town, Wild Island is open for breakfast and lunch, and that’s, I’d say the most vegan-friendly. Lots of vegan, very fresh, homemade from scratch. Also, wanna give a shout-out to Mike’s Cafe and Winery in Friday Harbor.

So that’s the other island you can visit. You can actually walk on the ferry. There’s an inner island ferry and walk-on. You don’t even have to take your car and walk around their little town. That’s a 100% vegan restaurant and that’s one of our favorites. So we’ll often just take the ferry over for the day. 

Brighde: Which island is that?

Lydia: That’s San Juan Island, the other kind of touristy one.

Brighde: I’m looking at my map over

Lydia: Yeah,

Brighde: to get my bearings.

Lydia: I just wanna mention that because it’s a hundred percent vegan and it’s really wonderful, Mike’s. I think I sent you a link for that.

Brighde: Yeah, I’ll put those on the show notes. Mm-hmm.

Lydia: People do come year-round to Orcas, but it’s primarily spring, summer, and fall. I would say spring and fall are also really wonderful times to be here.

Brighde: Hmm. Something I’m curious about as well, it seems, if I’m reading this map correctly, that you can take a ferry from Vancouver Island too. Is that correct?

Lydia: Well, not right now. They haven’t run it for the last few years. We’re hoping they will resume it, but right now, no. So in order to get to Vancouver Island, you’d have to fly or go up to Vancouver, the city.

Brighde: Right. And then drive down to Anacortes. Is that right?

Lydia: Well, to get to Vancouver Island, you have to take a ferry from Canada now.

Brighde: Of course, Yes. But if we wanted to take a ferry to you, we would have to go via the mainland US. 

Lydia: From Anacortes. Mm-hmm.

Brighde: I wonder if the closing of the ferry was due to covid?

Lydia: It was. I’m on several tourism boards and travel boards in our chamber. We are hoping they will resume.

Brighde: Tell me a little bit about what the wildlife is like in the area. You mentioned whales. I’m very lucky because I live close to the house sound and recently we went and hired a little boat, just like a regular small boat and we could not believe it, we got to see Orcas in house sound. It was an absolute thrill to see them. So tell us a little bit about the Orcas and maybe any other animals that you see. Something that’s quite popular in the Sunshine Coast, which is not such different geography to what you are talking about is like you can see phosphorescent in the water as well. I’m curious about whether that’s possible too. 

Lydia: You can see what?

Brighde: phosphorescent

Lydia: oh, I’m not schooled in that, but I have had guests get all excited about that and go out there. So I guess we do. I must say this is not my expertise, but I know if you’ve never been whale watching it. It’s pretty incredible. It’s an amazing thing to be that close to these gigantic animals.

Brighde: Can you tell us what a whale-watching excursion is like? Cause I’m sure there are the Orcas, but then there are other kinds of whales as well cause we have a similar thing in Vancouver Island. You can go and do whale watching excursions. It’s fun.

Lydia: Yeah, again, this isn’t my expertise, but we have several whale-watching companies on the island that will take you out. They all communicate so when one of them sees one, they all come over there. We are all acutely aware we’re on an island and when you live on an island, you think about where your trash goes, right? Where do the chemicals go? They go in. So we and the tourism industry are very concerned about protecting what we have because we know it’s so special and the whales are something that’s very important. We have very, very restrictive regulations about how close boats can get to the whales.

So I always want to reassure tourists, ’cause I know a lot of tourists are concerned about that. Like maybe that’s not an okay thing to support, but it is. It’s okay. As a matter of fact, a lot of times it’s the whale-watching boats that are regulating private boats getting too close, and they’ll call them and call the Coast Guard because they have to keep a certain amount of distance.

So I can just tell you that it’s a wonderful thing to do. There are several companies on the island that do it. I think you can do half or full-day excursions.

Brighde: Wow. That sounds awesome and what about bears? Do you happen to have bears on the island? The reason why I ask is that in Vancouver Island, we can go and see the bears on a similar kind of tour when they go to the beaches and they’re lifting up all of the rocks to look for various snacks.

Lydia: So we don’t actually, it’s funny you say that because a few years ago we did, and it was a big deal because it swam here somehow.

Brighde: Wow.

Lydia: We don’t have bears. We have deer, raccoon, Otter, and Seal. What is amazing about Orcas is, we don’t have bugs. In the summer we don’t have really anything to speak of, you don’t have to use repellent. We don’t have anything poisonous. We don’t have poisonous snakes, we don’t have any poisonous plants, We don’t have any poison ivy, poison oak. I always like to say that ’cause hiking is just such a wonderful thing to do here, and as far as I know ticks are not an issue here as well.

Brighde: Wow. It does sound lovely. I’m sure there are a lot of activities, you mentioned hiking and you mentioned kayaking, from your property. Can you tell us a little bit about that in terms of what type of kayaking can people do? Are there guided kayaking opportunities or canoeing opportunities? Because it’s the open water. Some people might feel a little bit cautious about just going off by themselves.

Lydia: Sure. Good question. There are several kayaking companies on the island that will do guided tours. However, on our farm, we have a row boat, always on the beach, and then we rent kayaks and you’re on your own. But our Cove is very, very protected and where we have islands, all over in front of us and right in front of us is another big island, so it’s very, very protected.

It’s pretty wonderful. There aren’t currents. It’s a very safe place to go off on your own. Even if you’ve never kayaked. I go swimming, I go in the water every day. Other parts of the island that are more exposed in the open strait, it’s a different story, but, our bay is very calm.

Brighde: Hmm, how lovely. I’m guessing the beach is very full of life. I’m thinking back to a time when we were in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, celebrating my in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary. I was just blown away by the amount of life on the beach in terms of enemies starfish and crabs. I could not believe it. Is it a similar thing where you are?

Lydia: Yeah. Yeah, it’s very similar. So, you know this area very well. As a matter of fact, we’ve been having some extremely low tides now. So there’s an island we call Pirate Island ’cause we put up a pirate flag on it and you can walk to it. Right now, I’m looking out the window. Incredible. Really fun beach combing. It’s like, fuchsia-colored starfish and dark purple starfish, tons of crabs. It’s quite fun. Oysters, clams.

Brighde: Yeah, it really is. Whilst I haven’t been to your particular place, I’m kind of familiar with the geography of this area and the kind of environment that it is, just such a nice place to go if you just want calm, quiet nature and to get away from it all. It really is something rather special.

Lydia: There is also wonderful history, of course, Native American history. We have a wonderful historical museum in town. My kids have found arrowheads on the water. We overlook Massacre Bay. There was a huge brutal war between the Haida, the Canadian Indians that came down and our Lummi Indians were our native, very gentle Indians. We look out on Skull Island, which is called Skull Island because the Haida Indians piled skulls on it. So this is a quite brutal history but incredibly rich. The Lummi Indians were the Native Indians here.

Brighde: Yeah, that’s something that I know just a tiny amount about the indigenous history for this whole area as I live on the unseeded Lands of the Squamish people, and then just north of us as the people. Of course, Haida Gwaii is much further north, but there’s such a rich indigenous history in this area and I’m really pleased that there’s the opportunity to learn about that in the Orcas Island too. 

I feel like generally speaking in this part of the world that there are lots of opportunities in which to do that. I think it’s really cool.

Well Lydia, I absolutely cannot wait until we can schedule a visit to come back down to Orcas Island and definitely check out your accommodations. It just sounds absolutely perfect. Thank you so much for sharing all about this remarkable place in the world. Before you go, would you mind telling our listeners how people can find you and maybe book a stay in one of your many different kinds of accommodations?

Lydia: Yeah, fantastic. So our website is pebble Instagram is pebblecovefarm. Facebook is Pebble Cove Farm Inn. My phone number is (360) 622-6460. The website has lots of information, photos, and great videos. We do weddings here, so we have like really fun Wedding videos and photographs. I think that’s how you can reach us and we’re on Orcas Island, Washington.

Brighde: Love it. Thank you so much, Lydia, for taking the time to talk with us today. We really appreciate it.

Lydia: Thank you.

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