What Makes the San Juans Special

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AerialFerryMtBaker700330By now, everyone knows that the San Juan Islands are stunningly beautiful in the high season, and that they’re a great place to see amazing wildlife or have a thrilling outdoor adventure. Trip Advisor rated us the number one island in the country and number four in the world in 2013! It’s not even May yet, and the ferries have been bringing us lots of great new visitors every day. If you’re planning on being one of them – and we hope you are! – here are some interesting factoids about our islands that may even surprise some of the locals!

These first three come from a recent contest winner on the island, Victoria Compton of the Economic Development Council.

1) There are more business licenses per capita than any other county in the state of Washington. Chances are, if you have an idea for a product or service, you’ll be able to market it somehow to our islanders!

2) There are cannonballs buried in the Orcas Island cliffside that came from SJI, left over from the Pig War soldiers’ target

English camp in the 1860s

English camp in the 1860s

practice. There are so many versions of the Pig War story. Check out the official one here!

3) Most of the San Juans were originally explored and mapped out by Spanish explorers, and we have an interesting part in Spanish history.

Thanks for those, Victoria! The following factoids are from other common San Juan Island sources such as the Visitor’s Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, and a few from my experience as a naturalist!

4) 128 rocks or small islands in the San Juans have official names.

5) San Juan County has more shoreline than any other county in the country, at 375. The average real estate value of waterfront property is $1,000-4,000 per square foot.

images6) In the early 20th century the islands were overrun with an infestation of European rabbits. They were very invasive at the time and came from a careless owner on Smith Island. Nobody knows how they got from Smith to SJI. They’re still thriving today.

7) There are a few stories about how Friday Harbor got its name. The real one is because of Joe Friday, a very influential Hawaiian who was instrumental in settling the town. The more fun one is from the days of Spanish explorers mapping the islands, passing the harbor, yelling up to a gentleman standing there to ask what bay they were in, and getting back “Friday” as an answer! Thanks to Jim Maya for that story!

8) Every day around 5 or 6 p.m. in the summer, one of our islanders goes out to the intersection of Roche Harbor and Westcott Rd. and leaves scraps of raw chicken and fish for our bald eagles (we have more in San Juan County than in any other in the continental U.S.). Often you can park your car and watch as more than a dozen eagles swing in for a free afternoon snack!

9) Popeye is a famous harbor seal here – she even has a statue down by the waterfront – who only has one eye and lives off offerings of scraps from the fresh fish shack down on the marina. But the west side of the island has its own harbor seal – Floyd! He loves to stop by the Lime Kiln State Park to say hi to summer visitors. Floyd and Popeye are just two of over 4,000 harbor seals in San Juan County alone!

Popeye the town seal - photo by Arun Yenumula

Popeye the town seal – photo by Arun Yenumula

10) You wouldn’t think of an island in the Pacific Northwest as a premier scuba-diving destination, but the rocky shorelines and interesting underwater formations of our archipelago are perfect for diving enthusiasts!  Rocky reefs and thick kelp forests offer views of crab, corals, sponges, starfish, octopus and more!

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