Once a mountain range carved out by glaciers, the 100-million-year old San Juan Islands offer some of the most magnificent outdoor scenery in the Pacific Northwest. The archipelago draws visitors for its temperate year-round climate, as well as endless amounts of pristine shoreline, lakes, forests, national parks and enchanting towns. Friday Harbor is the culmination of the islands’ evergreen charms. Situated on the main San Juan Island, it’s the most populous town in the archipelago with roughly 2,000 residents, who have curated a destination with a wonderful mixture of adventure, good taste, local charm and a respect for the spectacular surroundings.
The town is a short ferry ride or seaplane away from major hubs such as Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle, perfect for those looking to escape to a slower pace of life. This walkable seaport is equal parts charming and historic, where the lovely waterfront and pleasant streets are lined with cozy cafes, gourmet restaurants, museums and spas. You’ll notice a refreshing absence of chains and big corporations in favor of family-run establishments and joyful locals. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the relaxed atmosphere, and once you do, you’ll realize why Friday Harbor is considered the jewel of the San Juan Islands.
Where to Stay
Warm, sleek and comfortable, Friday Harbor House embodies the essence of Pacific Northwest hospitality. The exclusive 23-room island resort is perched upon a bluff overlooking the town’s picturesque marina and ferry landing, affording sweeping views throughout the property. The guest rooms are cozy and romantic, complete with a king-sized bed, gas fireplace and oversized jetted tub – a welcoming space to kick back after a busy day of outdoor adventure. Contemporary design, modern accents and natural textures seamlessly blend into the natural beauty that lies just outside your window, whereas luxurious in-room amenities and thoughtful touches put the experience over the top, such as the Chemex pour-over carafes and beans from San Juan Island Coffee Roasting Company, freshly ground upon arrival.
Where to Dine
When you consider the fresh seafood selection, craft cocktails and panoramic views, it’s no wonder that the Restaurant at Friday Harbor House remains an everlasting favorite among visitors and residents alike. The establishment takes advantage of the natural bounty found throughout the island, bringing exquisite tastes and sophisticated flavors to life from the local waters and farms. The result is an exceptional seasonal menu of locally-harvested oysters, reef net-caught salmon, locally-raised meats and island-grown produce. The bright indoor dining room is a haven of tranquility and warmth, perfect for wine-fuelled laughs and conversations that go well into the night. The summertime brings an entirely new element on the two expansive outdoor terrace with panoramic views of the San Juan Channel, marina and ferry landing. Designed with an island-inspired dining experience in mind, the patios are the perfect place to enjoy sunset views as the ferries come and go in the distance. On top of that, there’s also a separate bar that serves island-inspired cocktails, craft beer and local wines.
What to Do
While the San Juan Islands offer an abundance of natural beauty and cultural activities worth exploring, Friday Harbor is undoubtedly the archipelago’s beating heart. The pedestrian-friendly town is packed with thriving galleries, artisanal shops and waterfront restaurants that could keep you busy for days on end. Friday Harbor is particularly famed for its local art and museum scene, which, unsurprisingly, takes inspiration from the dramatic natural setting. Among the most popular is the Whale Museum, an interactive display space dedicated to one of the island’s most recognizable mascots – the Orca Whale. The museum is located within an 1892 Odd Fellows Hall and has promoted the stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research for over four decades. Another unique site is the San Juan Historical Museum. Housed within a 19th-century farmhouse, the museum allows you to step back in time and witness early pioneer life on San Juan Island.
Whether you prefer to take in the stunning coastline from a kayak, sailboat, bicycle or paddle boat, Friday Harbor is a great base for exploring the natural beauty of the San Juan Islands. While you’ll have access to just about any kind of recreational activity you could imagine, no trip to Friday Harbor is complete without participating in a whale-watching tour. These majestic creatures are the heart and soul of the region and, beginning from the waterfront, you’ll also have a chance to see eagles, Dall’s porpoise, minke whales, humpback whales, sea lions and harbor seals along the way. Round out your stay by choosing from the handful of nearby hiking trails and vineyards.