Washington’s Puget Sound is dotted with thousands of islands, ranging in size from large rocks to expansive landforms with rolling hills. Whidbey Island is the largest of these islands, stretching roughly 35 miles from north to south. The island is situated in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, so it enjoys a sunnier climate than much of the surrounding area.
Whidbey Island can be reached by one of three ways: by ferry from Mukilteo, by ferry from Port Townsend, or by road from Anacortes. For travel on the island, a car is recommended to cover the long distances between destinations. Bicycling is also quite popular, but beware of the hilly terrain and narrow shoulders on some stretches of the island’s highways.
It’s easy to spend an entire day or more working from one end of the island to the other. The following are some recommended points of interest (listed in the approximate order that they are encountered along the main route from the Clinton ferry terminal); keep in mind, though, that the best way to enjoy the island is at a relaxed pace, taking the time to stop at roadside markets or artist exhibitions. There truly is such a thing as “island time”, so no need to rush around.
1. The town of Langley
Langley is a quaint, waterfront town with a collection of shops and cafés that cater to the summer’s influx of tourists. The shopping district is quite small, encompassing just a handful of blocks, so it is easy to split up and allow everyone to peruse the shops that pique their interest. The waters of Saratoga Passage, well below the town’s perch on a bluff, are home to a spring population of Gray Whales. If you are lucky enough to be in town when a whale is spotted, someone will undoubtedly ring the town’s Whale Bell to announce their presence.
A good stop for a delicious, just-like-mom’s meal is the Braeburn Restaurant on Second Street. They have breakfast all day plus a selection of great sandwiches and other homestyle favorites. Don’t miss the gourmet macaroni and cheese of the day!
2. Greenbank Farm
The Greenbank Farm, along State Route 525 in Greenbank, is a historic farm located in the picturesque, rolling hills of central Whidbey Island. Managed by a non-profit organization, the farm features a wide variety of attractions ranging from walking trails and birding sites to art galleries and an organic market. This is a great stop for everyone to stretch their legs, grab a snack, and learn a little about organic farming and land management.
3. Fort Casey State Park
Historic Fort Casey is located near the community of Keystone, which is another point of entry for Whidbey Island (via ferry from Port Townsend). Once an active military installment designed to protect Puget Sound from attacks by sea, this state park is now a popular spot for picnicking, day use, and overnight camping. A paved walking trail leads visitors past a lighthouse and artillery posts with a spectacular view to the west from atop the high bluff.
4. The town of Coupeville and Penn Cove
The historic waterfront district of Coupeville is one of the island’s main tourist stops, with a vibrant shopping area and a wide range of amenities. Bed-and-breakfasts abound among the historic homes, providing a good place to call it a day. After shopping and eating in the waterfront district, walk out to the historic wharf for a closer view of Penn Cove. Oysters and mussels are farmed in the waters of the cove, so you may be able to see workers harvesting the shellfish from their boats. Be sure to visit the small museum operated by the Island County Historical Society to learn about the rich history of central Whidbey Island.
5. Deception Pass
The north end of Whidbey Island is formed by the narrow Deception Pass, which is undoubtedly one of the most scenic destinations in the entire region. Deception Pass State Park provides access to this area, which is comprised of islands, beaches, a freshwater lake, and a vertigo-inducing bridge. The deep aqua water swirls and rushes through the narrow channel as the tide changes, often creating standing waves that are enjoyed by kayakers and other thrill-seekers. A pedestrian lane on the bridge provides visitors with a bird’s-eye view of the pass from 180 feet above the water. Wildlife abounds in this area, both in the water (watch for otters, whales, and other sea creatures) and in the sky (particularly Bald Eagles and other birds of prey). Camping is available in the state park.