Island Experience

Museums in Friday Harbor

There is a lot to see in Friday Harbor, from cutting edge art, to historical artifacts from ages past

 

San Juan Historical Museum

Each island has its own charming historical museum, and the San Juan Historical Museum in Friday Harbor encompasses the historic James King farm house, set up as it would have looked in Victorian times, and several barns with displays of historic agricultural equipment. A new and continually evolving Museum of History and Industry has been added, featuring exhibits on fishing, farming, logging and limestone production, which were staples of the island economy in the 19th century.

San Juan Islands Museum of Art, Photography by Michael Bertrand
Nicole Pietrantoni, San Juan Islands Museum of Art

 

San Juan Islands Museum of Art

The small but dynamic San Juan Islands Museum of Art (SJIMA) in the heart of Friday Harbor, features 8 to 10 exhibits per year showcasing artists from the region and the world. Entering this space is a fascinating journey in itself, starting in the bright entryway in the center of the building. To the right is a small, dark gallery that feels intimate and personal, where smaller works of art are easy to see up close. On opening nights, you can talk to the artist standing next to their works of art.

The large main gallery is  a smaller version of what we are used to in museums of modern art, and you can stand back for a good look as you move around the room. The front atrium is unique, in that it is completely made of glass, so whatever art work is installed there must be amenable to the heat of noon day. This light sets up a new challenge for the artist, to let the changing light be another aspect of their piece. Former curator Ian Boyden encouraged several artists to create pieces just for this space.

 

The Whale Museum

There's so much to see at the charming Whale Museum, from the skeleton of Sooke, a juvenile orca that sadly washed up on a Northwest beach in 2012, to a humpback in the upstairs gallery. Learn the story of how the local native Samish and Lummi people viewed orca whales as kin, and hear the songs of different types of whales on hydrophone recordings. On the main level of the museum, view the video story of how groups in the Salish Sea are helping to protect marine life and restore habitat.

Friday Harbor Aviation Museum, San Juan Island
Friday Harbor Aviation Museum, San Juan Island

 

San Juan Aviation Museum

Located in the light and airy waiting area at the Roy Franklin Terminal at Friday Harbor Airport, the San Juan Aviation Museum was established in 2007 as a joint effort of the Port of Friday Harbor and the San Juan Pilots Association, to record and celebrate the history of aviation in the San Juan Islands. A rich tradition of serving the community is presented on storyboards with historical photographs, dating back to the years just after World War II. Pilots who have made special contributions to aviation and the community are honored in a special display, complete with logbooks and other memorabilia.

San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, near Roche Harbor
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, near Roche Harbor

 

San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

If you want to venture a bit further away from Friday Harbor for a must-see art experience, take a drive out to Roche Harbor, to the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park. With about 125 sculptures on 20 acres along Westcott Bay, this park is one of the most interesting sculpture parks in the country, and the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. There's a forest trail, a pond loop and a bay loop, each offering a different feeling and different art. Pack a picnic lunch and wander the grounds, taking in the incredible variety of form, material and vision of these talented artists, from monumental stonework, to bronze, brushed aluminum, glass and wood, the variety of pieces will make you want to return.

Friday Harbor Veterans Museum

In a back room at the local American Legion Hall on First Street, there is a small display that showcases a unique collection of military memorabilia, weapons, uniforms and other artifacts from San Juan Islands' veterans. The display is arranged chronologically, from the American Civil War, progressing to current conflicts. San Juan County is home to the largest per capita veteran population in the State of Washington. Highlights include a helmet flag from Iwo Jima, a copy of the New York Herald from 1865 announcing the death of President Lincoln, and a unique Civil War flag with cannonball and musket ball holes. If you are not a member of the Legion, press the buzzer on the door and ask if you may see the veterans collection.