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How to Act Like a San Juan Island Local

by Matia Schwartz & Shelley Sharp
header photo courtesy of San Juan Historical Parks
Patrick Klausen grills in Friday Harbor Washington.

Wear socks with Crocs and a plaid shirt like Innkeeper Patrick and you will fit right in.

The San Juan Islands are home to a very tight knit community of yearlong residents that are the best resource to get the inside scoop about where to go and what do during your visit. Yes, you will find locals a bit guarded about their secret hangouts during the summer season when the island swells with seasonal visitors…but, rest assured, you will blend in and feel like a San Juan native during your stay at The Tucker House Inn or Harrison House Suites. Here are some quick tips to get you started on what island life is really like.

Support or Be a Part of Local Theater Productions

It's fun to volunteer and the San Juan Community Theatre in Friday Harbor.

There’s lots of behind-the-scenes work to do at San Juan Community Theatre.

In the winter lots of locals chip in where they can at the San Juan Community Theatre. With a series of plays that begin in October, music concerts, professional readings, and more, this island treasure acts as a place to watch shows and assist in bringing live performances to life. While a guest at the San Juan Island Inn Collection, you can support SJCT by purchasing tickets to attend performances, becoming a member, or even volunteering as an usher. Get involved by visiting their website:

Shop for Food at Market Place

King’s Market on Spring Street is the go-to-grocery for tourists. It carries all the essentials, has beautiful produce and seafood, a high end wine and spirits department, and many gourmet items. However, the same company owns a much larger “box” store just up the street where many of locals shop, the Friday Harbor Market Place. The store has all the basics and staples at a lower price point. Locals also know that they grind their own sausage and source local lamb. Plus, the Market Place doesn’t have a sign on its exterior. So, when you shop there, everyone thinks you’re local because you know where to find it! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shop at Kings though. It’s a great market to grab a bite to eat from their deli or pick up San Juan Island specialty items. Find the Friday Harbor Market Place at 515 Market Street, just a few blocks from the center of town.

Give Directions Based on Where Things Used To Be

If you come across the giant welded strawberry trailer, you know you are close to San Juan County Park.

As the island saying goes. “To be a true local, you have to have lived here 20 years.”  If you’re shy of the necessary 20, it doesn’t count. This is silly of course, but 20 years does pass quickly…businesses come and go, stores close, residents move, and landscapes change. If you ask a long-timer for directions, your have a 50/50 chance of getting an answer you can actually understand. Something like, “Oh,  you know where the hardware store used to be? Follow that road and turn right where the church burned down about five years ago.  The place you’re looking for looking for will be about a half a mile before the dead end.” Just act like you’ve been here for 20 years and have fun getting lost.

Buy an Entire Animal for Dinner

Aurora Farms on San Juan Island near Friday Harbor raises turkeys

Turkey for dinner? Your great island Thanksgiving courtesy of Aurora Farms.

We locals know that buying local means supporting island ranchers and farmers. Often the way that we do so is by purchasing half a pig, a quarter of cow, or entire leg of lamb. Likewise, we do our own fishing, crabbing, and shrimping in these parts, which certainly says local.  Did we mention canning? Make sure when you’re going for a weekend drive on our country roads this fall not to hit the day-dreamy locals foraging for fruit, berries and, yes, even mushrooms.  We welcome you to join us. Or, if time doesn’t allow, pick up fresh meat and produce from one of our wonderful farmer’s markets or roadside stands.

Drive Like You Know Where You’re Going

San Juan Island resident points out a sight to a tourist.

Is that Mount Baker? A San Juan Island visitor stops for a view along Pear Point Road.

One defining trait of San Juan Island locals versus visitors can be found on the roads. Islanders will either drive the exact speed limit, or above it — and we know all the back roads. You can tell by the way we drive, we know exactly where we’re going.  We can spot a tourist a mile away, slowing down to see if their turn…was that Beaverton Valley Road or Bailer Hill Road? – is just up ahead. Another clear giveaway is when we have to quickly slow down while a San Juan newbie stops to take a photo of a meandering deer, bunny, or fox.  Take some advice from these two locals: drive like you know where you’re going. And — where there is one deer, there are more.

Remember that the Tucker House Inn and Harrison House Suites staff is comprised of many locals. We aren’t stuffy residents like you might find in other areas of the country, but helpful and pleasant folk who want you to fit right in. We are always happy to provide you with advice to blend in, stand out, or just simply have the best trip you can. San Juan Island is so special that we can’t keep our mouths shut about it…and we can’t wait to share our tips with you.

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