Learn the rich history of the San Juan Islands at one of these museums on Puget Sound
One of the enjoyable facets of cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest is the abundance of easily accessible museums available to boaters. They provide visitors a peek into the art, culture and history of the area.
There is no question that the area is oozing with art, culture, history and pride. It bursts from shops and windows, restaurants and community celebrations. But a wonderful way to learn about the region is by visiting its small museums, which are an inexpensive and enjoyable approach to discover the area. Nowhere is this truer than in the San Juan Islands.
These are just a few of the most interesting museums, beginning from the south and moving to the north. To earn a spot on this list, the venues had to be close to moorage or good anchorage and satisfy a wide range of interests. Check out each museum’s website to plan a visit that the whole crew will enjoy.
1: La Conner
La Conner Marina
The Norwester Museum
Norwester, John Wayne’s first yacht, is a piece of Northwest history that is moored in beautiful La Conner. The 76-foot yacht has been restored as a museum, showcasing items owned by “the Duke” as well as an assortment of antiques and actual props used in his movies. Visitors experience a “live” time capsule of Washington’s shared history with legendary actor and producer John Wayne. Originally built in 1932, mostly of mahogany, the floating museum allows visitors to step back to those golden days when Wayne used the yacht for family trips up and down the coast and to entertain Hollywood’s elite.
Skagit County Historical Museum
From parlors to plows and Native American baskets to Shirley Temple dolls, this museum’s galleries are overflowing with interesting and often unusual treasures of Skagit Count’s vibrant past.
Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA)
The Museum of Northwest Art opened in October 1981 and is located in the heart of La Conner. The museum offers an exploration of art, diverse cultures and environment in the Northwest, with a series of rotating and permanent collections.
Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Art Museum
Formally La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum, the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Art Museum is located in the historic Gaches Mansion and is dedicated to the display of textile work from local, national and international quilters.
Cap Sante Marina
Anacortes Museum and Maritime
The museum houses a collection of hundreds of charts and maps, including railroad maps, town plat maps, nautical charts and fish trap maps, as well as exhibits on local fishing and shipbuilding industries. Artifacts, including Native American baskets, hats, arrowheads and other items used in everyday life, showcase the lifestyles of early Anacortes residents. The Maritime Heritage Center includes artifacts, models, graphic displays and historical text related to three snagboats that maintained the area’s navigable rivers.
3: Lopez Island
Islands Marine Center
Lopez Islander Resort
Lopez Island Historical Society and Museum
The Lopez Museum features several exhibits each year that focus on island history. Alongside permanent First Islander and Natural History displays, there are rotating exhibits on farming, fishing, place name origins and island communities. The museum also maintains a local historical photo and document archive.
4: Orcas Island
Anchorage is available at the head of East Sound. A 40-foot seasonal dock is located on the eastern shore, for dinghies and small boats only.
Orcas Island Historical Museum
Six original homestead cabins built from the 1870s to the 1890s were taken apart, moved, reconstructed and sited together to create the museum’s main facility. The cabins not only house the collection but are considered important historical artifacts themselves. Each cabin serves as a space for interpreting specific aspects of island history as told through the life stories and material culture of the Native American and early European-American settlers of the area.
5: San Juan Island
Port of Friday Harbor — portfridayharbor.org
San Juan Museum
Honoring heritage and history, the gallery gives visitors the opportunity to explore the grounds of the restored King Farm house and Scribner’s log cabin, where the exhibits share and interpret the story of the people of San Juan Island.
The Whale Museum
The Whale Museum, open in 1979, was the first museum in the country devoted to species living in the wild. Today, the museum continues to promote stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research. In the Gallery of Whales, visitors will learn about the history of mammals, with a focus on orcas.
San Juan Island Museum of Art
Established in February 2005, SJIMA is a visual arts museum showcasing artist exhibitions from the Pacific Northwest and southwest Canada to support the growth of the local art community. The museum offers Family Art Days on Saturdays during July and August.
Bellingham Railway Museum
This museum displays the history of the area’s rail traffic, as well as a large electric model railroad, an exhibit of railroad lanterns and a train simulator.
The Marine Life Center
Part of the Northwest Discovery Project, the Marine Life Center introduces visitors to the marine life, flora and fauna of the Salish Sea in an effort to promote stewardship of Washington’s marine life.
Alaska Packers Association Cannery and Fishing Museum
Located on Semiahmoo Spit and housed in an old cannery building, the museum focuses on the history of fishing and canneries in Blaine. Exhibits include a scale model fish trap, machinery, photos and a 29-foot Bristol Bay sailboat that gillnetted salmon in Bristol Bay. The museum hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Take your time on your next visit to the area and enjoy some of the region’s art, history and culture. The experience will provide memories that will last a lifetime and provide an even greater appreciation of the people of the San Juan Island region.