San Juan Island museums primarily chronicle the colorful history of the San Juan Islands, with a heavy emphasis on its maritime and Native American heritage. These islands are known for whale watching, which is some of the best that can be found anywhere in the world, and the Friday Harbor Whale Museum chronicles the islands' and islanders' unique bond with these magnificent creatures. The discovery of huge limestone deposits also helped to shape the islands' development, and you can explore this heritage at the Lime Kiln Point State Park and in the charming village of Roche Harbor—both on San Juan Island.
Not all San Juan Island museums have to do with whales, the sea, and the early days of pioneers. The San Juan Island Museum of Art offers exhibits of fine art, much of which are created by local artists and artisans. You can visit the facility in the village of Friday Harbor. The Museum of Art has another location, the IMA Sculpture Park, located in Roche Harbor on nineteen acres that showcase more than 100 pieces of sculpture (many of which are for sale). This is also a nature reserve, with opportunities for leisurely hiking and bird watching in forested areas, around freshwater and saltwater wetlands, and overlooking the ocean.
The Orcas Island Historical Museum chronicles another part of island history—the pioneer life of early island settlers. Here there are six restored cabins, including one that housed a pioneer family with nine children, a store, and a post office. You will find a rich collection of photographs that take you back in time to experience what life was like for these early settlers. Another section of the Orcas Island Historical Museum, the Native Coast Salish Room, acquaints you with the life and culture of the island's first residents, who were themselves legendary mariners and whalers. The Orcas Island Historical Museum is located on the harbor front of the village of Eastsound, which is just south of the airport. This is where the majority of hotels, shops, and other services in this part of the island are located. Another very beautiful Orcas Island museum is located in Cascade Bay, just a short distance from one of the camping sites in Moran State Park. This is the Moran Mansion at the Rosario Resort and Spa. It is a magnificent house built in 1904 and beautifully restored with much of the original furnishings and fixtures.
While whaling was once a major industry in this region, today it is the preservation of the whales that draws tourists. Most people who visit the Friday Harbor Whale Museum will also embark on scenic cruises to view the celebrated orca whales (also known as killer whales) that spend the summer and a good portion of the spring and autumn in the waters around the islands. The building that houses the Friday Harbor Whale Museum was built in 1892 as the town's Odd Fellows Hall, serving as the community's social center and as a meeting hall. It served a number of other functions over the years, finally being purchased and opened as one of the San Juan Island museums in 1979. Today, you can walk to it from any of the town's hotels as well as from the port where the ferries dock.