In the heart of the magical Salish Sea lies an island steeped in rich history. Growing up in Oregon, I didn’t know much about Whidbey Island until my friend Jerry showed me photos of a visit to friends living in a tiny farmhouse amidst a flowing field of overgrown greens — sporadic flowers pushing their way through the noise to reach the sun. Since then, I’ve always had a rich appreciation for the understated soul and beauty this place embodies. Although there are so many wonderful things to do on Whidbey Island, all of the basic elements focus around the calm that comes with connection to nature.
This article shows you the best things to do on Whidbey Island
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Whidbey Island many times — mostly for day trips, but also overnights — the island is great for either. I’ve written about my Tesla road trip on Whidbey Island on a great three-day itinerary, as well as the day trip from Seattle version of exploration. I even wrote a blog post about the “learnings” (aka range anxiety), from driving an electric vehicle for the first time on an island without superchargers titled, Tesla Travels. Over time, and with the help of friends living there, I’ve developed a highlights list of things to do on Whidbey Island. Be sure to read through to the bottom, where you’ll find one of my famous interactive maps packed with lots more favorites — all locally tested and approved.
Table of Contents — things to do on Whidbey Island
- Where is Whidbey Island?
- Visit Deception Pass
- Enjoy fresh seafood
- Stay at Captain Whidbey Inn
- Drink coffee and watch airplanes
- Check out a nursery, garden or farm
- Let the mind roam free on the seashore
- Explore Ebey’s Landing Reserve
- Discover the museums and shops in Langley
- Getting to Whidbey Island
- Interactive Map
Where is Whidbey Island?
The mystical part of the Salish Sea is the way she weaves water with land mass — islands in these parts seem to flow like the tides. Whidbey Island is a dramatic example. The long and narrow island flows 58 miles in a North/South pattern. Beginning near Mukilteo, Washington (a Northern suburb of Seattle), the land mass seems to twist and turn to welcome inlets and arms of rock all the way North to dramatic Deception Pass — opening up to the Skagit Valley (think Mount Vernon or La Conner). Looking on a map you’ll notice the island seems suspended in an opportune location amongst the Salish Sea — a stepping stone from the mainland of Western Washington to the Olympic Peninsula by way of Port Townsend.
The prominent location amongst the Salish Sea combined with the wiggle of the land creates unique views that seem to pop out in every direction. Some vistas serve up snow-capped Olympic Mountain goodness while other seaside areas tug at my soul for the way they remind me of Ireland.
Although a true island — with ferry service on the South between Mukilteo and Clinton — the benefit of visiting Whidbey is the connection to land made by a dramatic bridge on the North end of the island at Deception Pass State Park. This makes for a fun and convenient day trip that offers a scenic ferry ride in the morning, combined with unencumbered exit at the end of the day via a memorable bridge.
Visit Deception Pass State Park
There are many reasons over two million people flock to this most-popular Washington State Park each year. Groves of old-growth timber frame in dramatic rock stacks that seem to pop out from every direction — even while scraggly firs cling onto barren rocks with an impressive determination to soak up the salty air and marine precipitation. Giant kelp beds twist and turn in the powerful tides flowing in and out — resembling live creatures frolicking in the salty goodness of the sea. All the while the snow-capped Olympic Mountains line the horizon like approving elders surveying their brood.
The sheer dramatic beauty is breathtaking here and the park offers a variety of services catering to campers and day-trippers alike. Park in the North Beach parking lot ($10 State Park day-pass required and available by credit card machines) and wander through some stunning ancient cedar, Sitka spruce and Douglas fir to the pebbly beach. View the spectacular bridge constructed in 1934-5 as a Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) jobs project as gentle waves foam at water’s edge. The collection of drift logs make great places to claim a nook for the day.
For those on the move, I suggest continuing up the steep trail towards the bridge. It’s an invigorating experience to walk along the narrow sidewalk to the center of the main span to view the water WAY below. But beware, the iconic feature is well-travelled by heavy trucks that create a bouncing effect. More details of this nature-lover’s cotton candy can be found in my article, Seattle day trip to Deception Pass.
Enjoy fresh seafood on Whidbey Island
The Salish Sea is famous for providing abundance that comes in the form of salmon, crab, oysters and mussels. In fact, Penn Cove Mussels are a famous thing in these parts. It’s fun to explore the variety of seafood joints on Whidbey Island, knowing that “boat-to-table” is a realistic option here. Starting near the South in Langley, consider climbing the stairs up to Prima Bistro for fresh bites with a view, or enjoy the rotating selections at Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar. Both are popular, so enter with an open mind to put your name on the list and roam with a glass of vino until called.
Meanwhile in the middle of the island, around Coupeville, the famous Penn Cove Mussels are front and center at Front Street Grill. Enjoy their creative flavor concoctions while peering out to the pier. Oystercatcher is also a wonderful seafood option — just a block away. And on the opposite side of the island, near the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry dock, Callen’s Restaurant is not only delicious (Dungeness crab Mac-n-cheese!) but flowing with friendly personality. They even have a vinyl record player blaring (in our case) ABBA.
Eating is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Whidbey Island, but I must set the proper expectation for the dining experience. Although relatively close to Seattle, business here reflects the nature of a rural community. Staffing is in short supply (everywhere in Washington State) and the tourist sway means that restaurants are not always open on days/times you’d expect, or they change at the last minute. If there is a “can’t miss” place it’s best to call ahead to confirm your needs can be met.
A stay at Captain Whidbey Inn is a fun thing to do on Whidbey Island
It’s very fun and easy to make a day trip exploring the wonders of Whidbey Island, but there’s something special about laying your head to rest on this island. It’s a special option to be only an hour from a metropolis but feel worlds away. While there are a few boutique hotels around Langley and value brands in the Oak Harbor area, house rentals seem to be the main source of lodging for many overnight visitors. This makes complete sense, since the relaxed vibe mixed with ample seaside property allows plenty of inspiring options — especially for families and groups.
But for a special getaway and pampering of the soul, I can’t think of a better option than to enjoy the Penn Cove perch of the Captain Whidbey Inn. The original lodge building was lovingly crafted in 1907 using materials found on the property. Yes, it’s very creaky and the ceilings are low. But the energy of years of visitors coming here to escape seems to waft through the simple yet poignant grounds.
Strings of lightbulbs draped over the outside patio create a welcoming space to enjoy afternoon cocktails. Soak up the salty air and sweeping view of green pastures flowing down to the water’s edge and watch marine vessels tie up on the whimsical dock extending into a gentle fog. The appointments in each room are thoughtfully curated to create a warm aesthetic that just might make you want to stay in bed all day.
My experience staying here was so inspiring I wrote an entire article dedicated to providing information about this magical place. Check out, Captain Whidbey — all you need to know.
Enjoy coffee at Mukilteo Roasters’ cafe in the woods and watch airplanes land
Anything that combines two loves of mine — coffee and airplanes — has to be a fun thing to do on Whidbey Island! Although the gravel road to get here implies quite a remote proposition, the scene eventually opens up to quite a campus centered around a coffee roaster. The back patio, adjacent to the coffee bar, feels like your favorite friend’s backyard space — eclectic, welcoming and vibrant — all under a beautifully forested canopy. Watching the locals come and go is as good as the coffee and freshly made pastries.
Just beyond the patio is a forested trail that meanders briefly through fir to an opening that reveals Whidbey Air Park — a general aviation landing strip. It’s common for aviators to fly in just for the coffee and company — adding even more air to the atmosphere here. At the time of this writing (July 2021) Mukilteo Coffee Roasters and Cafe in the Woods, is open Tuesday through Friday, 9AM – 3PM.
Check out a nursery, garden or farm
Highway 525 runs North to South on Whidbey Island and passes by a number of great options to check out local produce, nurseries, gardens and even wine tasting. Near Langley, I love to drop in on Bayview Farm and Garden to wander the nursery — admiring plants and water features. This is also the location of Bayview Farmer’s Market, held on Saturdays between 10AM – 2PM. The Flower House Cafe is on the property and serves up fantastic coffee, food and breakfast treats. This is a regular stop for me on my tour through Whidbey Island. Speaking of flowers, Meerkerk Gardens is worth a peek too.
There are other fun roadside farm stands and general store-type places, like Greenbank Pantry and Deli, known for delicious sandwiches. Just down the road the collection of red farm buildings that make up Greenbank Farm and Wine Shop combine a rural historic vibe with wine tasting. In the same area, the larger farm acreage, which is managed by the Port of Coupeville, offers an off-leash area for dogs and spacious walking trails that lead to stunning views in both directions — Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges.
Give the mind space to roam free on a Whidbey Island seashore
It goes without saying that there are plenty of options to explore the beaches of the Salish Sea island — with miles upon miles of coastline. Generally speaking, beaches are more inspiring on the Western side of Whidbey Island, providing sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains from many locations. But part of the magic of the coastline is the peaceful way the water flows with the tides, revealing pools with kelp and sea creatures at the low point and exuberant marine energy at the high mark. Like the seagulls and otters, contemplation has a lot of room to roam free.
Starting from the Southern point of the island, Skatchet Head offers a local’s feel — probably because there is a private beach club in the area, making public parking sparse. At the end of the strip of houses is a beach access to the driftwood-clad shore. Double Bluff County Park (beach) is a great off-leash option to wander the beach with your pooch. The make-shift driftwood lean-tos are also fun to explore and if you walk far enough down the beach at low tide the majestic Olympics will emerge within view.
Explore Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is under the jurisdiction of the National Parks, although three Washington State Parks (SP) are included within the boundary: Fort Casey SP, Ebey’s Landing SP, and Fort Ebey SP. Just a reminder, Washington State Parks require a $10 day-pass or the $30 Discover Pass and credit card machines are available in most parking areas.
The intensity of the sea at Fort Ebey State Park is hard to beat. Drive to the parking area in the Northwest most area of the park and wander through the seagrass to find the angry surf pounding onto the pebbles of the shore while kelp swirls around driftwood. While this isn’t really a ‘long-walks-on-the-beach’ type of location, I love the way the kinetic energy of the sea seems to be in communication with the battered trees and flowing grass of the shore. Of course, the park has a number of stunning hikes, especially around the Fort Ebey area, that hug a steep bank overlooking a giant expanse of Salish Sea — complete with vast kelp beds swaying with the tides.
Hiking the area between Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve Visitor Center and the shore is a very scenic thing to do on Whidbey Island. Stop by a grouping of historic pioneer buildings along the way and learn about the early settlers on the island. All of this space, including the Bluff Trail, effortlessly seem to intertwine all the elements.
Since this stretch of Salish Sea making up the Strait of Juan de Fuca was the key area for potential invaders, a number of strategic forts sprung up in the early 20th Century to help protect US water borders. The best example of batteries, bunkers and the like are exhibited at Fort Casey. There is even a fully renovated World War I version of a cannon perched with a sweeping view of the Olympic Mountains and the tiny Coupeville to Port Townsend Ferry making regular crossings. The lighthouse is also picturesque.
Discover the town of Langley — fun things to do on Whidbey Island
Langley, Washington, on the Southern end of Whidbey Island is a picturesque seaside town with enough to explore to cover a few hours in the day. The Langley Whale Museum offers a wealth of information, complete with a map of local recent orca whale sightings while tiny South Whidbey Historical Museum creates a very concise exhibit. Besides the restaurants mentioned earlier in this article, keep a lookout for Village Pizzeria and Useless Bay Coffee, which is currently closed but will hopefully open back up soon for dining options. You can also find Sprinklz Ice Cream Parlor and Coffee Shop amongst a plethora of shops selling everything from designer clothing to marine-themed housewares. The largest variety of food and beverage options are also in this area because of the proximity to the Whidbey Island Ferry (15 minutes away by car).
Getting to Whidbey Island
Speaking of ferry, the best way to get from the Seattle area to points South of Coupeville (eg Langley) is by utilizing the Washington State Ferry system. The 20-minute Mukilteo to Clinton journey is the busiest in the ferry system with 36 weekday crossings (each way in Summer) as of the writing of this article (July 2021). A less frequented but also useful connection is between Coupeville and Port Townsend — connecting the island to the Olympic Peninsula. Since this ferry is smaller and operates on a shortened schedule, it’s highly suggested to make reservations. I explain how to do this and more about ferries in my article, All you need to navigate the Washington State Ferries.
At the time of this writing (July 2021) an adult foot passenger fare, which is sold as a round-trip on the Mukilteo side, is $5.55. The cost to drive on a standard vehicle (includes one passenger) is $12.25 sold as one-way fare.
The other way on and off of Whidbey Island is via Deception Pass Bridge on the North end of the island. This can be a good option for reaching Deception Pass, of course, as well as locations more North like Oak Harbor and the military base. Accessing Coupeville, near the middle of the island, takes about the same amount of time between the two options — albeit the ferry option incurs an added cost.
Interactive Map — best things to do on Whidbey Island
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