What you need to know about life on the island.

By Susan Cullen Anderson
March 31, 2004
Matt Brown

Setting: San Juan Island is one of 172 islands in the San Juan archipelago at the U.S.-Canadian border. Along with Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw, it is one of four populous enough to be served by the Washington State Ferries. Friday Harbor is a two- to three-hour trip from Seattle. Impatient folks should fly.

The Attractions: The island is blessed with a temperate climate, boasting an average high of 70 degrees in July and an average low of 34 degrees in January. Rainfall averages 29 inches, about half of what falls in Seattle. Other perks: the natural beauty of nesting bald eagles, the Olympic Mountains, migrating orca whales, and rolling farmland. Friday Harbor offers excellent schools, a community college, live theater, bookstores, antiques shops, fine dining, and a movie theater. Islanders are friendly and helpful.

The Drawbacks: The highest priced housing in the state (average home price: $286,000) matched with among the lowest local wages (average 1999 wages: $19,500) means many residents can't afford to buy a house. Jobs are scarce. Tourists on bikes tend to stop in the middle of the road to check their maps.

Housing Options: You'll find a few upscale condominium complexes in Friday Harbor (some with water views), farmhouses with acreage in the San Juan Valley, modern homes built on the water, and a fair number of '70s-style houses.

Your Next-door Neighbors: Rocker Steve Miller, a scientist from the University of Washington marine biology labs, a construction contractor, a farmer, a shopkeeper, a stock-option millionaire, professional wrestler Lisa "Ivory" Moretti.

What It Costs: Houses range from $135,000 to $6 million. A new 1,200-square-foot condominium might put you back $300,000; count on close to $700,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bath house on the water.

Where You'd Spend Free Time: Hiking Mt. Young, fishing, clamming at British Camp, whale watching in the summer months, eating homemade ice-cream sandwiches at Vic's Drive-In, viewing―or acting in―a play at the San Juan Community Theatre, browsing at Griffin Bay Bookstore, eagle watching at American Camp, ferrying to nearby islands.

(published 2002)