beach with blue skies, gray sand, and white driftwood
Visitors explore the driftwood on South Beach

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A Historic Coastline

People have visited San Juan Island National Historical Park’s beaches for generations. Coast Salish Tribes had villages located at both American and English Camps since time immemorial. Their settlements hugged the shoreline where they would harvest and preserve salmon, halibut, and shellfish. Surplus salmon and clams were traded with inland Tribes. This made San Juan Island a major node in a regional network of trade, culture, kinship, and communication.

The abundance of seafood attracted Euro-Americans to the island's shores. In 1851, the Hudson’s Bay Company began purchasing preserved salmon from Coast Salish Tribes and shipping it to Hawai'i. By the 1880s, a major salmon packing industry emerged in the region. South Beach was an important epicenter because of its proximity to the Salmon Banks. The industry was diverse, employing Native American entrepreneurs, Chinese immigrant packing house workers, and fisherfolk of many backgrounds.

Visiting Our Beaches

You can walk these historic coastlines yourself today!

South Beach is the largest public beach anywhere in the San Juan Islands. It tends to have choppy waves and rocky shorelines, so it isn't the best for swimming. However, it is a favorite spot for beach fires (in the approved fire pits), recreation, and relaxing.

Grandma’s Cove has excellent tidepools and good opportunities for wildlife viewing. Its protected and shallow waters make it a warmer and safer place to swim than South Beach.

Fourth of July Beach/Old Town Lagoon is easily accessible by car. Visitors can have a picnic, launch a kayak, or walk on the same shores where the village of San Juan Town once stood.

At English Camp, the coastline is not accessible until you reach the dinghy dock, where you can launch a boat. Above the dinghy dock, visitors are welcome to forage for clams and oysters in Garrison Bay. Visit the bay at night and you might see the water glow! Bioluminescent algae causes this wonderful phenomenon.

Last updated: January 18, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 429
Friday Harbor, WA 98250


360 378-2240

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