Friday, June 18, 2010

Trainee Life - A Trip to Friday Harbor

Harbor seals getting some sun on a rock, as seen from my Whale watch/wildlife tour.

One of the things I love most about living in the Pacific Northwest is the unlimited number of day and weekend trips that I can take to areas throughout the region. Recently, I spent a weekend in Friday Harbor, WA, which is a small town (population 2,130) located on San Juan Island.

Friday Harbor is accessible only by water or air, and for the average person is most easily accessed by Washington State Ferry departing Anacortes (about 75 miles north of Seattle). The ferry to Friday Harbor is a relaxing 1.5 hour ride that provides views of the San Juan Islands and natural wildlife of the area. For a Seattleite, it was interesting to see the scarcely populated islands, with large homes sitting in the cliffs and sea planes docked around the island for access to the mainland. I learned on my trip that San Juan County has the highest number of per capita pilots in the United States.

Docking at Friday Harbor, I was immediately excited by the visible charm and quaintness of the small town. There is no need to bring a car to Friday Harbor, because aside from parking being scarce and the ferry prices for bringing a car being very high, Friday Harbor also has a compact downtown area with all the amenities and attractions within walkable distance.

Some of the most popular activities in Friday Harbor besides relaxing and eating delicious seafood are sea kayaking, and whale and wildlife watching. The San Juan Islands are a prime location for spotting orca whales (particularly between May and October) in addition to seals, porpoises, sea lions, bald eagles, and numerous sea birds. On my trip I went on a whale watching tour and while unfortunately I did not see any whales that day (I went slightly too early in the season), I got to spend the afternoon seeing porpoises, seals, bald eagles, and other animals in addition to learning about the unique character of each of the islands we went by. The company gave me a voucher to come back again for another whale watching tour since I didn’t see any orcas on my trip, and I am already getting excited about my return to Friday Harbor.

In addition to whale watching, sea kayaking, and sea plane tours, Friday Harbor provides a quaint downtown area with small artisanal shops, delicious cuisine, live music, and the quintessential candy and ice cream shops. One can easily spend an entire day leisurely walking through the shops and relaxing by the water on a sunny day. The Friday Harbor Whale Museum is another attraction not to be missed, where one can learn about the natural history of marine mammals, learn about the orca pods in the San Juan area and listen to “songs” specific to San Juan whales.

A weekend trip to Friday Harbor is a trip I encourage others to take. Even without seeing whales, my time spent in Friday Harbor was relaxing, educational, and filled with great nature and good food. Now that we are in the midst of orca season, I am making plans to return and try whale watching again, in addition to taking in all the nature and attractions that make Friday Harbor such a special place in the northwest.

Spieden Island--which is owned by the found of Oakley Sunglasses. You will notice the foliage looks a lot different from the rest of the islands--but on the other side it has evergreen trees and looks like the other islands, this is due to unusual climate patterns. In the 1970s the island was used for big game hunting, and animals from all over the world were imported. If you look closely at the picture you will see Sika Deer from Asia, which are not native to this area and not found elsewhere in the islands or the Pacific Northwest.

Downtown Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor as seen from the Washington State Ferry

Sea plane at a private dock, which is a pretty regular things to see in the San Juan Islands.

Photo Credits: Marissa Baker

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