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Trip Planner San Juan Islands Destinations See Photos

All About Friday Harbor, WA (San Juan Island)

- by Jodie Vinson

The San Juan Islands are one of the most popular Northwest destinations for travelers, yet many city dwellers fail to make the ferry to explore the dramatic landscape of the north Puget Sound. Depending on tide levels, 428 to 743 islands lie in the midst of the Salish Sea. The largest islands, including Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, and San Juan are accessible by ferry from Anacortes or Sydney, B.C. The trip is three hours from Seattle and two from B.C., but the one-hour scenic ferry ride through the islands is part of the charm of the journey. Visitors may choose to walk on the ferry, as shuttle and bus services and bike rentals are available on the islands. Alternatively, four 30-minute commercial flights depart from Seattle each day. Those arriving by their own vessels will be welcomed into the Friday Harbor marina, with slips available for visiting boats and services available in town.

The San Juan Islands were explored and named by the Spanish Francisco Eliza expedition in 1790. Before this the islands were home to the native Salish people. Soon after the first Spanish contact, Captain Vancouver explored the area. In 1846 the 49th parallel established the boundary between the U.S. and Canada, but the archipelago was left as ambiguous territory that would result in later conflicts between the U.S. and the British, who both occupied the island from 1860-1872. This controversial issue came to a head during the infamous Pig War. In 1859 an American homesteader on the islands shot a pig owned by a British neighbor because it had been raiding the American's garden. An international dispute followed this individual one, resulting in U.S. ownership of the island. Fortunately, the pig was the only fatality of the war.

The Hudson Bay Company played an essential role in the development of the islands, as employees came to work the trade routes. One Hudson Bay worker named Friday settled on San Juan Island, causing the bay to be referred to as "Friday's Harbor." The area was soon populated with stores and businesses taking advantage of its resources as a developing harbor. Soon the town was designated the county seat of the islands and continued to grow and export many of its agricultural resources. The town continues to prosper today with 2,000 residents and a booming tourist industry founded on its historic intrigue and splendid island natural habitat.

Friday Harbor celebrates its centennial birthday in 2009. Its one hundred years of rich cultural history will not easily be forgotten as the town prioritizes preservation of both its architecture and natural landscape. Its historic district and surrounding island topography provide city dwellers with a nearby escape from urban life.

Community Links:

Town of Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor Visitors Guide

Port of Friday Harbor

San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce

Guide to the San Juan Islands

San Juan Islander online news source for the San Juan Islands

San Juan Journal Community Newspaper

Web Directory for Friday Harbor & San Juan Island

Historic Friday Harbor

San Juan Update (blog)

Friday Harbor Whale Museum

Friday Harbor Business Directory