San Juan County Spotlight

San Juan County

Consisting of a small cluster of islands near the very north of the Puget Sound, San Juan County encompasses approximately 20 inhabited islands, four of them large: San Juan, Lopez, Orcas, and Shaw. Located in the Salish Sea, San Juan County offers spectacular scenery and relaxed living, attracting both visitors and retirees who come to the county by ferry, air, or private boat. While indigenous tribes and early settlers primarily relied on resource extraction to provide for themselves, San Juan County’s modern economy largely rests on tourism, real estate, construction, and self-employment, demonstrating the county’s draw as a recreational and retirement oasis.

Once the site of the brief British-American “Pig War”, San Juan County has been occupied by many different groups of people due to its abundant natural resources. Home to the indigenous Lummi, Saanish, Samish, and Songhee people, San Juan County was settled by both Canadian and American homesteaders. After a 13-year-long military occupation, the German Kaiser granted island possession to the Americans, who quickly incorporated the cluster of islands into Whatcom County. San Juan County was officially established as a county in 1873 after its inhabitants grew weary of Whatcom County’s taxation.


County Seat: Friday Harbor

Incorporation Date: October 31, 1873

Form of Government: Charter

Charter Form: Council-Appointed Administrator

Area: 175 sq mi (453 km2)

Population: 17,150 (2019)

Etymology: San Juan Islands, itself derived from Juan Vicente de Güemes