Random facts about the San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands of Washington State are nestled between the three great cities of Seattle, Vancouver B.C. and Victoria B.C., surrounded by the Salish Sea. Of the 172 named islands, three of them—Lopez, Orcas and San Juan—have lodging, attractions and amenities for visitors. Real islands, real close; the Islands are only a scenic 30-45 minute flight from Seattle or an hour and a half drive north of Seattle to Anacortes, and then a scenic hour long ride aboard a Washington State ferry. In the summer, passenger ferries connect the islands with Bellingham, Seattle and Port Townsend.

Photo by: Phil Green
Photo by: Phil Green

Boaters and area residents are aware of the lure of the San Juan Islands, but did you know these five interesting factoids?

1. The Pig War: A 12-year potluck, er, standoff, began in 1859 between English soldiers and American settlers on San Juan Island when an American found an English pig rooting in his potato patch—and shot it dead. The incident sparked a dozen years of posturing, parties and politics, with each side vying for ownership of the islands, resulting in the decision in 1872 by international arbitrator Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany to award the San Juan Islands to the United States. Now, the San Juan Island National Historical Park, comprised of two sites—English Camp and American Camp—are excellent places to hike, picnic, play on the beach, experience wildlife and enjoy a wealth of activities, including the summer living history events. Rather than war, the Park commemorates the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Photo by: Jim Maya
Photo by: Jim-Maya

2. Life in the Slow Lane: No stop lights. No McDonald’s. Not even a Starbucks. In San Juan County, drivers rarely even honk. And sometimes, in the quiet season, you can drive from one end of the island to the other and not encounter another car. But it is nearly impossible to drive any distance without seeing a deer. So drive slowly! If you see one deer, its baby may be crossing the road right behind! Mini-factoid: Did you know that deer antlers are the fastest growing living tissue on the planet?

3. More Shore: San Juan County has more miles of marine shoreline (408) and more nesting bald eagles than any other county in the continental USA. That’s right – the entire country. San Juan Island is also one of the best places in the world for shore-based whale watching. Orca and minke whales are found year-round, humpback whales in summer, not to mention Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and Dall’s porpoise.

Photo by: Phil Green
Photo by: Phil Green

4. Rain? What Rain?: Contrary to weatheristic gossip, the islands are not always huddling under drizzle. With 247 days with sunshine a year and about half the annual rainfall of the Seattle area. The Islands bask in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains which means that hiking, biking and kayaking can be year-round pursuits.

Photo by: Barbara-Marrett
Photo by: Barbara Marrett

5. What’s in a Name?: No one knows for sure how the town of Friday Harbor (the only incorporated town in San Juan County) was named. Originally “Friday’s Harbor,” it is thought to be named after Peter Poalie Friday (Poalima means Friday in Hawaiian), the Kanaka (Hawaiian) sheepherder who lived there before it was a town. Some think his son Joseph was the namesake. But another story goes that a boat was passing and yelled out to Friday on shore, “What day is it?” but Friday thought he was asking his name. Nevermind, both questions had the same answer – Friday! Whichever story you believe, we still “Thank God it’s Friday!”

Photo by: Tom-Reeve
Photo by: Tom Reeve

If you know of some other interesting factoids about the San Juan Islands, please post a comment below. Click the following link to read about other Random Factoid Friday destinations.

Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.