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10 Not-To-Miss Spots to Visit During History Month on San Juan Island

May is History Month on San Juan Island and is celebrated with walking tours, history talks and great events at the many historic sites. And what a rich, juicy, phenomenal history the isle has from its Native heritage to its first European settlers and from being a smuggler’s and hoodlum’s paradise to the Pig War and finally becoming American territory. The best part: San Juan Island’s history is experienced on the prairie and beaches of our National Historical Parks and by eating, sleeping and shopping in historic buildings. Here are 10 spots with fascinating histories not to be missed on your next trip to San Juan Island:

Friday Harbor’s gorgeous Cedar House Posts during the free Music in the Park Summer series
Friday Harbor’s gorgeous Cedar House Posts during the free Music in the Park Summer series

1)    Portals of Welcome
The Cedar House Posts at Fairweather Park on Friday Harbor’s waterfront graciously greet all island visitor’s.  The Portals of Welcome honors the thousands of years of Native American presence in the Salish Sea and was created by Coast Salish artist Susan Point.

2)    Have a Beer in History
Herbs Tavern was built in 1892 as a general store until it became a tavern in 1936, making it the oldest tavern in town. Herbs is popular with the locals and offers free live music, pool tables and is a great place to watch sports.

Historic Bird Rock Hotel in Friday Harbor was built in 1891
Historic Bird Rock Hotel in Friday Harbor was built in 1891

3)    Sleep in History
Built in 1891 as the Tourist Hotel, our Bird Rock Hotel is one of the oldest lodging places on San Juan Island. The Tourist Hotel was the first island hotel to feature indoor plumbing. It had a restaurant, bar, pool hall and a reception room for the ladies on the second floor, who were not allowed in the bar. Today Bird Rock Hotel is women-owned and managed, take that, history!

4)    Eat in History
Across the street from Bird Rock Hotel, find Vinnie’s Ristorante, an utterly romantic place serving upscale Italian comfort food. Vinnie’s was built in 1916 as the Overland & Studebaker showroom and garage. So hard to imagine.

The Camperdown Elm on Spring Street is 145 years old
The Camperdown Elm on Spring Street is 145 years old

5)    An Elm from Scotland
In the front yard of what is now Robin’s Nest, a lovely flower and gift shop, find a Camperdown Elm Tree late planted here around 1875. It was created from a craft from the original tree discovered in the forest of Earl of Camperdown in Scotland. That tree knows things.

6)    Massage at the Captain’s House
Our sister hotel’s adorable Spa at Earthbox on Spring Street offers massages, facials, body treatments, sugaring and nail care. The cute little house was built in 1895 and was the home of Captain Cash of the Mosquito Fleet passenger steamer Yankee Doodle.

7)    History on an Old Farm
A bit further up Spring Street, find James King’s homestead, a 455-acre farm established in 1894. Today it is the grounds of the fantastic San Juan Historical Museum and features, besides just the museum itself, historic buildings and artifacts such as the original County Jail.

8)    English Camp National Historical Park 
The Camp the British occupied after the historic Pig War, is today a serene park with old barracks, cemeteries, a formal English Garden and reenactments of 19th century life. English Camp offers stunning hikes and excellent birding. 

9)    American Camp National Historical Park
English Camp’s American counterpart can be found on the southern tip of the island, is much larger and simply breathtaking. There is an interpretive center and historic barracks on the prairie, abundant hiking and too many beaches to count. The wildlife here is amazing, ranging from nesting seabird, foxes, bunnies and otters to seals, sea lions and Orca whales.

Cliffs white from Limestone at San Juan Island’s Whale Watch Park
Cliffs white from Limestone at San Juan Island’s Whale Watch Park

10)    Whale Watch Park
Lime Kiln State Park, also known as the Whale Watch Park, is the site of the former lime production on San Juan Island. Find, besides the iconic lighthouse, a rebuilt lime kiln, as well as ruins of other buildings and the cliffs, white from limestone, telling the story of harvesting lime in the olden days. Today the park is considered one of the best places to watch Orcas from land in the entire world.

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