The San Juan Island Community
Live Life in a Postcard.
Say farewell to worry and stress when you head to the San Juan Islands . . . and say hello to the mellow islands vibe, a temperate year-round climate, and long, lazy hours of doing just what you want. Count on temperatures around 70° in the summer and 40° in the winter. A happy confluence of weather systems also accounts for the high level of air quality you’ll appreciate across the San Juans.
There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County, however the four ferry served Islands; San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island are the most populous and host the vast majority of lodging and dining options and tourism activities.
So breathe deep, get comfortable (casual is the rule on these islands, from clothes to the friendly greetings you’ll receive.) Relax—you’re on “island time” now.
The second largest island in the county at 55.3 square miles, San Juan Island is the economic, cultural and social center of the county. The county seat is Friday Harbor, with a population just over 2,000 people and is one of the last fishing villages in Puget Sound still looking very much like it did 100 years ago.
Sculpted by glaciers that formed the character of all the islands, San Juan is perhaps the most diversified in terrain and feeling. There is ranch and pasture land in three interior valleys, most featuring beautiful territorial views of wooded hills or lakes. Contrasting the expansive landscapes of the valleys are the peaks of Mt. Dallas and Young Hill to the north, and Mt. Finlayson in the south of the island, which is bordered by open grassy hillsides leading down to an open beach area.
San Juan’s West Side is famous for whale watching, stunning views of Victoria, Vancouver Island, the Olympic Peninsula and marine traffic destined for Seattle, Vancouver or Alaska. Of the 6,176 real estate parcels on San Juan Island, 20% of some 1,268 parcels are on the waterfront. Properties currently listed range from a $119,500 condo to a $7,500,000 waterfront home.
There is a great deal of history in the San Juan Islands. Most notably on San Juan was the dispute between the British and the Americans over ownership of the San Juan Islands. The neat sweep of the 49th Parallel, accepted by Great Britain and the United States in 1846 as the U.S./Canadian border, did not fit the maze of the San Juan Archipelago. Predominantly occupied at the time by workers of a British trading company, American settlers, ignoring British claims, began to homestead the San Juans. When an American shot a boar belonging to the British that was rooting in his potato garden, tempers flared and sides were drawn. The British set up camp on the north end of San Juan Island, the Americans set up camp on the south end, and the Pig War began. Both camps are still there as National Historic Parks today, enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Roche Harbor Village
The quaint seaside village of Roche Harbor is on the National Register of Historical Sites. In 1881, two brothers bought Roche Harbor and started the islands’ lime industry. Home to the famous Hotel de Haro, this lovely landmark was built in 1886 by John S. McMillan and named for Gonzales Lopez de Haro, an early Spanish explorer. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt stayed in room 2A while visiting McMillan, his long time friend and the hotel’s owner. Roosevelt’s room is one that to this day, you can still stay in and is called, appropriately, the Presidential Suite. In the Hotel Lobby is a register bearing the President’s signature from a 1907 visit here. In 1975, when the road in front of the hotel was paved, the yellow pavers used are actually the fire bricks which lined kilns one through eight. Many more were recycled from a couple of rusty kilns dismantled in 2004 and are used in the paving of the village core parking. During many summer evenings, a crowd gathers at the flag pavilion to watch Roche Harbor’s own Colors Ceremony, a tradition passed down since the 1950s from former owner, Reuben Tarte.