San Juan Island is in the San Juan Islands region of Washington State. It contains the county seat for San Juan County, which covers all of the San Juan Islands.
As early as 1845 the Hudson's Bay Company, based at Fort Victoria, had posted a notice of possession on San Juan Island. In 1851 it established a salmon-curing station there and, two years later, a sheep ranch called Belle Vue Farm. About the same time, the Territorial Legislature of Oregon (which then included the present State of Washington) declared San Juan Island to be within its territorial limits, and in January 1853 incorporated it into Island County. In March 1853, Washington Territory having been created, San Juan Island was attached to Whatcom, its northernmost county.
By 1859 there were about 18 Americans on San Juan Island. They were settled on redemption claims which they expected the U.S. Government to recognize as valid, but which the British considered illegal. That crisis came on June 15, 1859, when an American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company because it was rooting in his garden. When British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, American citizens drew up a petition requesting U.S. military protection. The subsequent military buildup caused each side to keep adding more military to the island. When word of the crisis reached Washington, officials there were shocked that the simple action of an irate farmer had grown into an explosive international incident. President James Buchanan sent Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, commanding general of the U.S. Army, to investigate and try to contain the affair. He was able to get both sides, the British and the American to agree to joint military occupation until the issue could be settled.
San Juan Island remained under joint military occupation for the next 12 years. In 1871, when Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Washington, the San Juan question was referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany for settlement. The kaiser referred the issue to a three-man arbitration commission who met for nearly a year in Geneva. On October 21, 1872, the commission, through the kaiser, ruled in favor of the United States, establishing the boundary line through Haro Strait. Thus the San Juan Islands became American possessions and the final boundary between Canada and the United States was set.
Many of San Juan Island's roads trace sheep runs cut by Hudson's Bay Company workers. They were led, in part, by Fort Victoria Chief Factor and colonial Gov. James Douglas, from 1853 to 1859. Many of the workers were Cowichan Indians from Vancouver Island.
Most people arrive via Washington State ferry from Anacortes. Some arrive via ferry from Sidney, on Vancouver Island, BC. A few arrive via small plane or their own boat.
- 1 Washington State Ferries, ☏ , toll-free: . Washington State Ferries offers many daily services from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, about five daily inter-island roundtrips from Lopez, Orcas, Shaw. Up to two (summer seasonal) ferries from Sidney, British Columbia. Check schedules ahead of time and arrive early especially during peak periods; lines can be long. They accept bicycles and canoes onboard and vehicle reservations . Service to Sidney has been suspended since the Covid-19 pandemic and the operator has announced that service to Sidney is suspended until at least 2030 due to the lack of available ferries and crew.
- 2 Victoria Clipper, Spring Street Pier at 81 Front St, ☏ , toll-free: . The Victoria Clipper operates a summer seasonal passenger-only ferry service from Downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor. The Clipper leaves Seattle at 7:45PM arriving in Friday Harbor at 11:15AM. The return back to Seattle leaves at 4:30PM and gets in at 7:15PM. A very fast and scenic way to reach the islands. Make sure to arrive in plenty of time for your departure.
- Kenmore Air, toll-free: , reservations@KenmoreAir.com. Kenmore Air seaplanes make several flights daily from downtown Seattle's Lake Union to seven locations in the San Juan Islands including San Juan Island. Kenmore Air Express also offers daily land plane service between Seattle's Boeing Field/King County International Airport (BFI IATA) and Friday Harbor Airport (FRD IATA). Complimentary shuttle transfers are available to/from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA IATA) for passengers on either Kenmore Air service. A quick and spectacular, though not cheap, way to arrive. $75-139.
- NW Seaplanes, toll-free: . NW Seaplanes make flights from Renton (near Seattle) to the San Juan Islands with flexible schedules.
- San Juan Transit, (office) Canary Landing at 10 Front St, ☏ . San Juan Transit is a bus service that covers almost all of the points of interest on San Juan Island and drivers can stop almost anywhere along the route. There is about a departure every hour from Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor. Some buses meet the ferries and will wait if a ferry is coming in; however check the schedules ahead of time. Friendly island service and a great way to get around. $5.
- Friday Harbor Taxi, ☏ . 8AM-6PM. Friday Harbor Taxi operates taxi services almost anywhere on the island with at least 4 hours notice 8AM-6PM. Outside these hours service may be spotty.
- Susie's Mopeds, 125 Nichols, ☏ , toll-free: . Friendly island moped rental at Friday Harbor and at the foot of the runway in Roche Harbor. Rent mopeds, electric bikes, and compact SUV's for your island exploring. All reservations must be made by phone.
- 1 San Juan Island National Historical Park, ☏ . Here in 1859 the United States and Great Britain nearly went to war over a dead pig. It has two visitors centers, one located at American Camp on Cattle Pont Road, the primary southbound road on the island, and the other at English Camp, off West Valley Road, between Yachthaven and Roche Harbor roads.
- 2 Lime Kiln Point, 1567 Westside Rd, ☏ . 8AM-dusk. Lime Kiln Point State Park is a great viewing spot on the western end of San Juan Island that overlooks the Haro Strait. In season this is an amazing spot to view Orca Whales and the lighthouse. The park features a richly diverse environment, includes the remnants and landscapes of a history filled with change, along the rocky shoreline and through the wooded uplands. You can explore the beaches and trails as well as bird watch on the high rock crags. A Discover Pass is needed for day parking. San Juan Transit buses stop here.
- 3 San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, 9038 Roche Harbor Road, ☏ , SJISculpturePark@gmail.com. dawn-dusk. Over 20 acres of 125 creative outdoor sculpture works. Self guided trails wind through the artwork and dogs are welcome. Near the base of the Roche Harbor runway and Susie's Mopeds, a short walk from Roche Harbor. A not-for-profit work, $5 donation is recommended per adult. San Juan Transit buses stop here. $5.
- 4 Cattle Point NRCA. The Cattle Point NRCA overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Cattle Pass. Has an old lighthouse on the point. Near the San Juan National Historic Site on Cattle Point Road. On a clear, beautiful day you can feel the wind of the Pacific and see across the strait to the Olympic Peninsula.
Wildlife is a major attraction, with the area a prime location for viewing orcas, seals, eagles, and other marine wildlife. The San Juan Islands are also home to 300 species of birds.
- Discovery Sea Kayak Tours, ☏ , email@example.com. With a location downtown where the ferry drops you off. Discovery Sea Kayaks has been running tours with routes that deliver the opportunity to see one of the three Orca Pods that travel their region. Experienced naturalist guides provide a safe and educational kayak adventure.
- San Juan Safaris Whale Watching (Whale Watching & Wildlife Tours), 2 Spring Street Landing (steps from the ferry), toll-free: , Fun@SanJuanSafaris.com. 8AM to 8PM. see wild orca whales (more than 80 resident orcas), seals, porpoise, dolphin, eagles, blue heron, rafts of sea birds. A fast 55-foot boat with large windowed cabin, walk around deck and bathroom. Excellent reputation for respectful wildlife viewing. $49 and up.
- Lime Kiln Cafe, ☏ . 8AM-3PM. Nice cafe on the wharf of Roche Harbor just above the fuel dock. Enjoy the action from inside or out! Famous Lime Kiln doughnuts in the morning with their hearty breakfasts and lunch.
- Madrona Bar and Grill, ☏ . 11AM-midnight. Moderately-priced Roche Harbor resort restaurant overlooking the marina on "the deck." Amazing Lunch and Dinner menu with a bar menu to compliment in a historic restored Roche Harbor building. Summer seasonal.
- The Place Bar and Grille, ☏ . Friday-Tuesday 5PM-close. Friendly restaurant steps from the ferry landing with an unmatched view of the harbor. The lower level of the building next to the WSF passenger waiting building. Watch the action of the harbor over a wonderful dinner.
- McMillin's Dining Room, ☏ . 5PM-10PM. A lovely fine dining experience in the top floor of the "deck restaurant" building on the waterfront of historic Roche Harbor. In a historically restored building from the original resort. Amazing local seafood and meats with a view!