Arrival at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands usually comes by state ferry. San Juan Island is one of 4 islands on the ferry route from Anacortes, the others being Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Private boats frequent the marina at Friday Harbor as well as San Juan Island’s other marina in Roche Harbor. Seasonal passenger ferries from several mainland cities also make stops in Friday Harbor. Small planes land at the airport within walking distance of town, and people may also arrive by seaplane. Million dollar homes dot the shoreline on the way to the dock, but after arriving the quaint buildings along the main street of the town are far older and smaller.
Friday Harbor has a population of over 2000 people, is the county seat of San Juan County, and the only incorporated city in all of the San Juan Islands. The climate is temperate, with less than 30 inches of annual rainfall. November is generally the wettest month and July the driest. The town covers about 2 square miles and sits just above the port with the main shopping area close to the marina and ferry dock.
Early settlers made a living mainly through fishing, farming, or lime production. The current population depends more on tourism, real estate and construction. Island residents also include retirees, artists, and people who work online as well as government jobs, and those who work in schools, shops, restaurants, and the various places available for people to stay when they come to visit the island.
Friday Harbor never lost its early pioneer buildings to a fire or other disaster as many other west coast seaports did so it still has some buildings dating back all the way to the 1880’s. Sometimes people think they see ghosts in some of the old buildings, and guided ghost walk tours are occasionally available.
Places to stay on the island include hotels, BnB’s or vacation rentals, resorts, and camping. Friday Harbor has a whale museum, historical museum, and several art museums. From the harbor people can go kayaking or take whale watching or sailing tours.
Shops include plenty of touristy fare as well as ordinary things a grocery store and a pharmacy. A variety of restaurants interspersed between the shops keep visitors to the town well fed. There’s even a chocolate & wine shop that offers after dinner tastings by reservation.
Beyond Friday Harbor there’s more to do on the rest of the island. It has state and county parks, hiking trails, lighthouses, and historical sites. Places to visit include a lavender farm and alpaca farm. The island also has wineries and breweries.
About 5 years ago I got my current dog, Piper at an animal shelter in Friday Harbor. (That is not a muzzle on her nose, it is the noseband of a gentle leader, which works something like a horse halter.) She’d been returned enough times that they called about a week after we got her wondering when we’d be bringing her back, but we still have her.
We most recently visited Friday Harbor as a brief fuel stop during a trip by private boat to nearby Decatur Island. The marina in Friday Harbor is full service with a fuel dock. Since we were there during the pandemic masks were required both at the dock and in town. While the boat was getting fueled I took a quick trip into town to the grocery store for chapstick, but didn’t have time to do much looking around. Piper stayed on the boat, but a lot of other people walking around town had dogs. The people all wore masks. Had circumstances been different we might have stayed to look around a bit or maybe have lunch, but at that time we wanted to go somewhere less populated and went to Odlin County Park on Lopez Island for a picnic instead. We also came to Friday Harbor once on an UnCruise – which was a small-ship cruise to places the big ships don’t go.
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