Washington State Ferries serves Friday Harbor, which is San Juan Island’s major population center, the San Juan County seat, and the only incorporated town in the islands.
The name “San Juan” originates from the 1791 expedition of Francisco de Eliza, who named the archipelago Isla y Archiepelago de San Juan to honor his patron sponsor, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo. One of the officers under Eliza’s command, Gonzalo López de Haro, was the first European to discover San Juan Island. During the Wilkes Expedition, American explorer Charles Wilkes renamed the island Rodgers Island; the Spanish name remained on British nautical charts and over time became the island’s official name.
Outside of Friday Harbor, the only major commercial establishment resort is the village of Roche Harbor, located on the northwest side of the island.
Other notable landmarks are the old British and American Camps at opposite ends of the island, which together comprise the San Juan Island National Historical Park, which commemorates the 1859 “Pig War”. Interpretive centers and reconstructed buildings, formal gardens, etc. recall the history of early European settlement in the area.
The University of Washington runs a marine research lab and campus outside of Friday harbor. The campus has been extant since 1909 and has dormitories, a food service, and classrooms for holding lectures.
Public schools are operated by the San Juan Island School District #149. It operates four schools: Friday Harbor Elementary School, Friday Harbor Middle School, Friday Harbor High School, Griffin Bay Schools (alternative high school, parent-partner home school program, on-line courses, and virtual school), and Stuart Island School (K-8). There is also a privately operated school.