10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Friday Harbor, WA

Written by Brad Lane
Oct 7, 2021

Friday Harbor is a fantastic getaway destination in the San Juan Islands of far northwest Washington State. It's a historic community set on San Juan Island itself - one of the largest of the archipelago. The town and surrounding island are accessible only by boat or seaplane. Most visitors opt for a ride on a Washington State Ferry from Anacortes (reservations recommended.)

Friday Harbor's charm is immediately apparent the moment after departing the ferry. Historic Spring Street branches out from the ferry terminal, leading into a downtown lined with shops and restaurants. This downtown corridor is also where several guiding companies entice with adventures like whale watching and kayak trips.

Spend ample time walking around downtown Friday Harbor, and save time for a trip to the rural and remote rest of the island. National parks, state parks, and unique mausoleums are just a few of the sights to see on the island's main traveling corridor: the San Juan Island Scenic Byway.

Find your own island experience with our list of the top things to do in Friday Harbor.

1. Stroll along Spring Street and the Downtown Waterfront

Spring Street, Friday Harbor | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The charming Friday Harbor downtown district greets visitors the moment the ferry arrives at the terminal. Here, branching from Spring Street, several local shops and restaurants flourish during the busy tourism season, and any time of year, it's a fantastic place to walk and window shop.

For those looking to sample the local flavor, places to visit like Rocky Bay Cafe and Coho Restaurant are local favorites. Located on the waterfront, Downriggers is one restaurant worth getting reservations for. And dozens of other downtown eateries deserve some attention, so be sure to bring an appetite.

Step outside the local restaurant during sunset if you're dining downtown, and sneak a peek at the waterfront. This area offers a seaward scene to remember, with scores of boats and probably a ferry punctuating the view.

Downtown Waterfront | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Downtown is also the spot to book adventures like whale watching tours and kayak trips. Like Western Prince Whale Watching and Sea Quest Kayak Tours, several companies surround the ferry terminal. The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau maintains a directory of guided tours departing from the island.

2. Whale Watch at Lime Kiln State Park

Lime Kiln State Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lime Kiln State Park, one of Washington's best state parks, is on the island's west side, approximately a 15-minute drive from the ferry terminal. And this 43-acre day-use park is perhaps one of the best spots in Puget Sound to watch whales from the shore - earning its nickname as Whale Watch Park.

A short trail leads down to a rocky bluff at Lime Kiln. Here, it's an ocean auditorium overlooking a verdant whale habitat. A few of the fins spotted above water include grey whales; humpback whales; minke whales; and the regional favorite orca whales, also known as killer whales.

The best time to visit Lime Kiln for whale watching is between May and September. Interpretive information lines the bluffy shore, helping to spot and identify passing whales. Bringing along a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens is a good idea. Several coastal picnic tables also line the rocky bluff.

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Be sure to head to the park's center shoreline to check out the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse. This iconic lighthouse dates back to 1919, and the Coast Guard still maintains it as an active navigation aid. It also assists in orca research. And regardless of its use, it offers a photogenic scene next to the sea.

Address: 1567 West Side Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://parks.state.wa.us/540/Lime-Kiln-Point

3. Walk the Beach at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park

American Camp | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Unique military history took place on San Juan Island in the mid 1800s. The 1846 Treaty of Oregon set the 49th parallel but left San Juan Island in ambiguous territory. This oversight left British and American claims unsettled on the island, resulting in two separate camps. These two camps came to a head in 1859 in an unusual way - after the death of a British farm animal.

Today, San Juan Island National Historical Park preserves the two camps: the American Camp and the British Camp. Both are well worth the visit, and both tell the story of life on the island in the mid 1800s. The Historical Park also tells the story of the peaceful arbitration between two nations after the "Pig War."

American Camp is on the southern tip of San Juan Island. Here, a trail branches out from the parking lot and visitor center to the former site of the officer's quarters and parade grounds. Few buildings remain, but the windswept vistas overlooking the water catch the eye.

Bald eagle on South Beach Trail, American Camp | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Head to the South Beach Trail if time allows. It's not a long hike, though it's rocky in some places, and the views slow down the pace. Pocket beaches, rocky outcroppings, and wildlife all pop out along the way.

Address: 4668 Cattle Point Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/sajh/index.htm

4. Educate Yourself at The Whale Museum

The Whale Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Near the downtown waterfront, The Whale Museum strives to educate the public about whales and the Salish Sea environment. They accomplish this with a variety of easy-to-read exhibits and displays. Perhaps the most notable of these exhibits are several whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling.

It's a worthwhile visit whether you're interested in whales or not, and chances are, your whale interest will pique after touring the museum. The main gallery is easy to walk through on the second floor, and the complex Salish Sea ecosystem is boiled down into easily digestible information.

It's a small price of admission to visit The Whale Museum. All proceeds go towards the scientific research done by this non-profit organization, and the same goes for the whale-inspired gift shop located near the admissions desk.

Address: 62 First Street N, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://whalemuseum.org/

5. Head North to English Camp

English Formal Garden, English Camp | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The other half of San Juan Island National Historical Park, English Camp, is toward the island's northern end. The Royal Marines occupied this site from 1860 to 1872, and the park provides several pieces of interpretive information detailing their stay.

English Camp has more still-standing structures than its American counterpart. This infrastructure includes a visitor center adapted from former barracks. Other facilities include a commissary and blockhouse next to the water. And the English Formal Garden, dating back to 1867, can't be missed.

View atop Young Hill, English Camp | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A hiking trail leading to the top of Young Hill is another popular outlet to explore at English Camp. This mile-long route ascends approximately 600 feet to a high vantage point overlooking the water. Hikers pass the English Camp Cemetery along the way, where five tombstones still stand behind a white picket fence.

English Camp and American Camp are both day-use facilities, open from dawn to dusk. Visitor centers and restrooms are at each camp. And both are accessible via the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway.

6. Bring a Camera to Cattle Point Lighthouse

Cattle Point Lighthouse | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Cattle Point Lighthouse is on the far southern tip of San Juan Island. It's a short and incredibly scenic drive from the American Camp of San Juan Island National Historical Park.

The drive to Cattle Point illustrates the beauty of island life, as the road shoulder drops to reveal a fantastic saltwater scene. And spotted in the distance on this drive, the 1935-era lighthouse poses brilliantly on the island's edge.

A few parking spaces are alongside the road leading to the lighthouse. Here, a short trail leads through grassy dunes and to the rocky shoreline. The trail also leads to several incredibly scenic vantage points of the lighthouse. Keep an eye out for the many species of birds that like to ride the surrounding wind currents.

Address: Cattle Point Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

7. Peruse the Galleries at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art

San Juan Islands Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA) is on Spring Street, less than a half mile from the ferry terminal. It specializes in rotating exhibitions that cover a wide variety of artwork. Generally, the museum installs new pieces every few months, offering something new to see with each season.

The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and open later into the evening Thursday through Saturday. It's a small price of admission, and on Mondays, it's "pay what you can." Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour wandering the exhibits.

While in the neighborhood, it's also worthwhile checking out the nearby San Juan Historical Museum. This non-profit organization specializes in time travel back to the late 1800s, with several artifacts and restored architecture transporting visitors to the island's rural era.

Address: 540 Spring Street, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://sjima.org/

8. Stroll through the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

San Juan Islands Sculpture Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The San Juan Islands Sculpture Park displays over 150 professional sculptures spread across 20 acres on the island's northside. This number of sculptures means that there's something new to see in every direction. Five marked trails lend some guidance in the park, although it's equally fun to wander around.

San Juan Island Sculpture Park is unlike most other sculpture parks. The sheer amount of art sets it apart, alongside its scenic acreage, including an idyllic natural pond. The park also has a few interactive art pieces that allow children and adults to make their own expressions.

Afterglow Vista Mausoleum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

After perusing the sculptures, consider making a trip to the nearby Afterglow Vista Mausoleum. The parking area for this unique family memorial is down the road from Sculpture Park, beyond the backend of the Roche Harbor private airstrip. From here, it's an easy half-mile hike to the Mausoleum. At the Mausoleum, an informative plaque details the inspiration behind the grand structure.

Address: 9083 Roche Harbor Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://sjisculpturepark.com/

9. Pelindaba Lavender Farm

Pelindaba Lavender Farm

The Pelindaba Lavender Farm is on the island's southwest side and a quick turnoff from the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway. It's a working farm, and arguably the best time to visit is between July and August when the fields are ablaze in a vibrant purple. Bring a camera to Pelindaba during this bloom season.

There is no price of admission at Pelindaba Lavender Farm. While visiting, be sure to check out the Gateway Farm Store to peruse over 200 lavender products for sale. Visitors can also harvest bouquets from the Cutting Field. Pelindaba also operates a downtown storefront for those who can't make it out to the farm.

For more agricultural tourist attractions, head over to The Farm at Crystal Acres nearby. Meet the resident alpacas on this family-owned 40-acre farm. Visitors learn about the ecological advantages of alpacas while visiting and have the chance to peruse a large selection of clothing sewn from alpaca fibers.

Address: 45 Hawthorne Lane, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://www.pelindabalavender.com/

10. Camp at San Juan County Park

San Juan County Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

San Juan County Park is just north of Lime Kiln State Park on the island's west side. It features rocky bluffs, pebbly shores, and excellent views across Haro Strait. And with over 30 campsites available, it's a popular overnight option.

This collection of campsites also makes San Juan County Park one of the best campgrounds in the San Juan Islands. Several of the sites overlook the water, and each provides the smell of ocean air. The park also hosts several hiker/biker/paddler sites for anyone arriving via muscle-powered transportation.

Even if you're not spending the night, San Juan County Park is worth the stop. Picnic tables punctuate a large grassy space abutting a rocky bluff. This seaside spot is an excellent place for a break in the day. And with access to the shore, it's also a nice place to launch a boat into the water.

Address: 15 San Juan Park Road, Friday Harbor, Washington

Official site: https://www.sanjuanco.com

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