Friday Harbor: A Slow Pace, a Quiet Town

There are many variations as to how this San Juan Island county seat got its name.

Possibly the most popular is the tale of the sea captain who, on entering the harbor, spied a solitary figure standing on the shoreline. When asked “What bay is this?” The figure replied “Friday”, mis-hearing the question. As popular as this account may be, its content is pure fiction.

The true version has a much more romantic tone. Friday Harbor owes its name to Joseph Poalie Friday. He was a Kanaka – a Hawaiian, who was employed as a shepherd by the Hudsons Bay Company. When mariners glimpsed smoke from his camp-fire as they sailed along the coastline, they knew they were close to “Friday’s Harbor”. At a much later date the ‘s’ was dropped, in favor of the name known so well today.

Friday Harbor and its surrounding area has long been a popular haven for tourists. Countless seasonal visitors have arrived by air, on foot, or by vehicle to spend a weekend or summer vacation in peaceful surroundings and wonderful scenery. A destination for getting out and about and one which lays out its welcome mat whichever way you arrive. A town where the pace is slower, the world is quieter and its people approachable. A town of around 8,000 year-round residents.

One of the first sites you will see on disembarking the ferry is Spring Street. This is the oldest street in Friday Harbor and dates back to 1873 when it was formerly a dirt trail with small shacks on both flanks. Its name is derived from a natural spring which once surfaced in the street’s center. Fortunately the spring water, although still there today, diverts into the harbor below Memorial Park.

Spring Street is very much Friday Harbor’s commercial hub. Well established and flourishing businesses thrive, many opening their doors for twelve hour shifts or longer, for the benefit of traveler and businessman alike. Kings Market, a family owned independent grocery store, is one of them. With its central location, friendly staff and excellent choice of essentials, the store has been serving the community since 1929. Conveniently offering street and off-street parking, it has wheelchair access and most credit cards are accepted. Visit www.kings-market.com for more details.

Across the road from Kings Market is Griffin Bay Bookstore, a thriving family owned business. The landmark store was established over 30 years ago and moved from its original home on First Street in 2007. This move allowed further growth for the business and it now includes a café which has become a favorite meeting place for friends to enjoy a snack and a latte and chat about new and established authors. This is a business which has built a strong reputation with friendly service, well informed staff and for sourcing and ordering books for its growing customer base. www.griffinbaybook.com has more information.

Venture a little further along Spring Street and you’ll find Duke’s Sporting Goods. This is the ultimate destination for all things outdoors. Fish and crabbing equipment, tennis and golf accessories, athletic clothing, team sports and outdoor games are all under one roof. If this doesn’t entice you into the great outdoors, nothing will. Offering equal outdoor activity, Susie’s Mopeds offers bicycles, scooters and scootcars for getting out and about on San Juan Island’s many quiet roads and enjoying the scenery and fresh air. One block up the hill from the ferry landing, Susie’s opens daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. late March through to mid October. She has a second location at Roche Harbor airport, open late June through to Labor Day as well as a third on Orcas Island at the Orcas ferry landing.

A slight variation is Island Bicycles Rental and Repair. Located in downtown Friday Harbor, it is a convenient few blocks from the ferry landing. Next time you come to the islands, leave your car at home, walk onto the ferry and once you arrive, rent a reliable, high quality bicycle and let the wind whistle through your hair as you take in the region’s inspiring scenery.

If open air shopping is more to your taste, try not to miss the Farmers Market. It generally runs from May to September and is held in the Court House parking lot. Here, freshly grown produce of every kind is laid out for all to savor. Produce sewn, grown, baked, pickled, and nurtured on the islands’ home soil. All you have to do is turn up around 10 a.m. for the best pickings. The market runs till around 1 p.m. or whenever the abundant stock runs out.

For a taste of local culture, The San Juan Community Theatre for the Performing Arts is the place to visit. It brings together a host of local talent as well as world renowned artists. The Community Theatre, a non-profit organization, is conveniently located near the Court House. www.sjctheater.org has more details.

If you visit in August, the San Juan County Fair is one event not to be missed. Agricultural groups, educational showcases, local art, horses, cows, sheep, goats and more are all on display. There is plenty of open air entertainment with numerous rides. The Fair starts in the 2nd week in August and the event is held annually: www.sanjuancountyfair.org has more information.

While you stroll through the town, have a browse in Island Studios. Within, it’s a treasure trove of local jewellery, sterling silver, stones, photography, works in water color and oil, multimedia, woven and knitted clothing, and furniture. It also includes functional art works for the home. The studios are located between Duke’s Sporting Goods and The Sweet Retreat on Spring Street. It is open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and displays over 50 island based artists’ work. Go to www.islandstudios.com for more details or call 360-378-6550.

In order to take in more of the islands’ dramatic scenery, why not take advantage of Vintage Air Tours which operates an open cockpit Great Lakes biplane out of Friday Harbor airport. The company offers various types of flight from the scenic to the simple biplane ride. This is certainly one way of taking in the stunning islands all at once from a completely different perspective. Visit www.vintageairtours.com.

Once you’re back down to earth, a great way of getting close to the local marine life is by boat. Visit Schnooners North and share the calm waters of the San Juan Islands and beyond, with otters, seals, dolphins and orcas. For full details of their services, visit info@schnoonersnorth.com.

For an evening’s entertainment, the Palace Film Theatre, on Spring Street is hard to beat. With the addition of a second theatre and its quaint “Old Western” facade, the venue fits in perfectly with the surroundings, and is a great place to see your favorite movies. Bookings aren’t necessary and as the delightful smell of popcorn drifts out of its interior, you get a subtle reminder of more innocent times.

For accommodation in the heart of the town, the Earthbox Motel and Spa is ideal. Just four blocks from the ferry landing, its 72 rooms are stylishly decorated and renovated, allowing peace and tranquility for many a tired traveler. Their concierge service offers wildlife and whale tours, guided sea kayaking and moped and bike rental. The motel even provides yoga as well as other authentic local experiences. The rooms have King beds – some with Queen beds – private bathrooms, cable TV, wireless internet and mini kitchen appliances.

There has been many a traveler who has decided to ‘up sticks’ and move to Friday Harbor permanently. The town has plenty of real estate choices available. Among them is Windermere. This is one business which knows its territory very well. It has offices on San Juan, Lopez and Orcas islands. Their agents have solid experience in selling and buying residential homes, vacant land, condominiums, as well as waterfront property and business opportunities. They can also offer advice with self-building, local planning permission and development. As the company is part of the Windermere network of agencies, they claim to be the largest real estate name in the Puget Sound area: www.windermere.com has more details.

Friday Harbor offers so much for the tourist. Open air restaurants, bistros and ice cream parlous. Nine and eighteen hole golf courses. Tennis courts, museums and beaches which have ranked higher than any other beach in the U.S. Historic sites, English and American Camps, are just out of town. Its natural wildlife is plentiful – bald eagles, great blue herons, racoons, rabbits, trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, hawks, ospreys, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, cormorants, sea gulls. The area has no poisonous snakes or bears, so getting out and about is safe and fun. It is therefore so easy to understand why people visit once, then count the days before they return. For more information on the town and its surroundings, visit www.fridayharbor.com.

About the author

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Nigel Boney

I started writing for Northwest.com in 2010, with 37 articles published. I have strong links with the Pacific Northwest. UK based, I also wrote for Mobbly News Written by You - 73 articles mainly under showbiz & entertainment. Recently I published on MusicVita. I have a Diploma in freelance journalism and I'm currently writing on Blasting News US.

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3 Comments

  • FYI, the farmers’ market is now located behind the Palace Movie Theatre. Take the alley next to the movie theatre from Spring Street to Sunshine Alley. The market is located in one of Friday Harbor’s most important historic landmarks, the Brickworks. During the summer months there are also an evening art market and musical events taking place there. At the Brickworks you’ll find fresh island-grown food, music, art and local history. Be sure not to miss it.

  • For many years I have wondered where the name for the town’s athletic teams originated: Wolverines. Same as for the University of Michigan’s teams. Any connection from way back then?

  • Nigel, thanks for the nice article on Friday Harbor! I often see your name on the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Facebook page. I see that Sandy has let you know about the new location of the Farmers’ Market at the Brickworks Plaza. This historic building is going through a complete refurbishment.

    On a different note you mention “beaches that have ranked higher than any other beach in the U.S.” I’m wondering which beach(s) you are referring to and where you saw the ranking. Thanks!