Updated: Aug 2, 2021
A haven for wild berry brambles, stretches of green pastures, tall grasses and sweeping water views are what you can expect from Whidbey Island, the largest of the islands in the Puget Sound. It’s a great place to get back to the simplicity of nature and all the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come from salt water and rolling green hillsides. So, if you’re feeling cooped up and like you need a little bit of room to breathe, some long lonely stretches of beach to walk down, or to hit pause and uncomplicate things for a little while, Whidbey Island may be just what you’re looking for. Check out this quick overview of our Whidbey Island Travel Guide.
How to get to Whidbey Island
If you’re coming from Seattle, you’ll drive north up the I-5 for a little over half an hour to the Mukilteo ferry terminal. There’s a decent chance the Seattle traffic will be gridlock, so you could take the 405 north through Kirkland if the traffic is lighter. The Mukilteo ferry comes every 30 minutes, and it only takes 15 minutes to get across to the Clinton ferry terminal on Whidbey Island. It’s important to note, if it’s a busy holiday weekend, the ferry fills up quickly so you could be waiting for upwards of 90 minutes for a spot on the boat. The fee is per person and per vehicle, so if you’re a group of four in a standard car, you’ll pay somewhere around $50 for a roundtrip ferry ticket.
If you’re going to Whidbey Island from the Bellingham Airport, you’re in for a pretty, albeit slightly longer drive south on the I-5 to WA-20. It’s only an hour (roughly 43 miles) from Bellingham to Deception Pass at the bridge from Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island. And you’ll pass through some really picturesque sights along the way, like the Skagit Valley tulip fields if you’re traveling in the spring, Fidalgo Island with several good choices for lunch in Anacortes, and the worth-pulling-over-for Deception Pass State Park. If you’re staying on the southern end of Whidbey Island, the drive could take you closer to 90 minutes to two hours. Honestly, it’s still worth it for the scenery alone.
Why you should visit Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island is the largest of the islands in the Puget Sound, which also means there’s a lot more to do and see as well as places to eat. While nobody comes to the San Juans for the blazing nightlife scene, it can get downright sparse on some of the islands. So if you’re craving some down time but don’t necessarily want to be isolated in a remote location, Whidbey Island is a happy medium. It’s chock-full of rolling farmland and pastures, lush scenery, lots of water sports, cute seaside towns and a couple of great restaurants, breweries and shops.
Where to stay on Whidbey Island
There are so many charming little towns on Whidbey Island to stay in like Coupeville and Langley, but with so many beautiful beach houses to choose from on the island, our pick is Sunlight Beach. It’s a distinctly local vibe with a laid back and small town “everybody knows everybody” feel. The neighborhood is on a two-lane road with the Puget Sound on one side and a lagoon on the other. There’s only one road in and out so it’s peaceful and secluded, making it perfect for small group vacations. With a mixture of vintage bungalows from the 1920s to 30s and beautifully renovated seven-figure homes, it’s an eclectic and approachable neighborhood for just about anyone.
Where to eat on Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island isn’t necessarily known for cutting-edge gastronomy, but there are still a few gems that are worth checking out. With its proximity to rich farmlands and all the sustainable fishing a chef could want, it’s important to point out that it is ripe for the picking for major culinary players to move in. Which hopefully doesn’t happen because as it stands, it’s really about the food, not the celebrity chefs behind it.
For breakfast, Little Red Hen in Coupeville has amazing stuffed hash browns and everything croissants with smoked trout. For lunch, Shrimp Shack is a hole-in-the-wall joint just three miles from Deception Pass. Technically, this is just across the bridge on Fidalgo Island but it’s less than five minutes from Whidbey. It’s important to note, the line and wait time for food is a bit nuts, and the fried food and burgers come with mixed reviews so order the fresh shrimp and fries and you won’t be sorry. For dinner, head to the Oystercatcher in Coupeville. It’s a restaurant that celebrates hyperlocal ingredients, like the famous Penn Cove mussels that are harvested a couple blocks down. Order the briny, cold-water oysters on the half shell, the buttery Penn Cove mussels simmered in roasted onions, garlic, parsley and crème fraiche, and the locally caught halibut that’s cooked in a hand-made clay pot, allowing it to bubble in its own juices before the top is fire-blistered and browned. The result is silky perfection with a wafer-thin crispy layer on top. Head to Three Sisters for dessert and more artisanal goodies, their Whidbey Island Marionberry Pie is out of this world good.
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What to do on Whidbey Island
Prepare to relax and stroll on Whidbey Island. It’s a very slow-paced destination, which is the draw, isn’t it? Don’t miss historic Coupeville, it’s the second-oldest community in Washington and its charming Front Street has lots of shops and restaurants and its own wharf. At the end of the pier, you can see Penn Cove’s famous mussel barges, pup seals sunning themselves and taste exclusive Washington wines at the Vail Wine Bar next door. Wineries and distilleries are a way of life on Whidbey Island, so visit the island’s oldest, Whidbey Island Winery for a great bottle of Composition from Yakima Valley, and the Whidbey Island Distillery which is home to multiple award-winning blackberry liqueur. If you call ahead, you can even schedule a tour.
Langley is also a great place to visit on the waterfront. You can schedule a guided kayak or whale-watching tour from the marina, explore the shops and galleries and visit the Whale Museum complete with a sculpture garden right next door to it. A couple notable restaurants to try while you’re there, Prima Bistro and Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar.
And for your dose of Pacific Northwest nature at its finest, stroll the beaches at Ebby’s Landing and Deception Pass, then climb up to see the Deception Pass Bridge from above too. If you rent a beach house like we suggest, there are usually kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and many more watercrafts to enjoy and we highly recommend you do.
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