Home to some of the Pacific Northwest’s best scenery, food and wine, Whidbey Island in Washington’s Puget Sound is just a short trip from Seattle by car or ferry. According to eight international food, wine and travel writers who recently visited the 270-square mile island, Whidbey also makes for the perfect weekend getaway.
Here are their top tips on what to do, eat and drink, and where to stay this summer.
1. Go Hiking and Boating in Deception Pass State Park
Outdoor enthusiasts planning a Whidbey Island getaway will fall in love with Deception Pass State Park, a park offering a wide variety of outdoor activities for all skill levels. This impressive 3,854-acre park boasts over 110,000 feet of saltwater and freshwater shorelines perfect for water lovers. The park is located on two islands, Fidalgo to the north and Whidbey to the south. Beautiful old-growth forests offer excellent hiking with an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities. And with so many other things to see and do you will wish you packed your camping gear. Suzanne Bair, accessiblefamilytravel.com
2. Tour Island County Historical Museum
Once you’ve had your fill of the outdoors, step back in time to the prehistoric age during a tour at the Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville. Beautifully curated exhibits anchor Whidbey Island to its early Native American, military, and maritime history. An eclectic collection of memorabilia from telephones, medical equipment and early pioneer items along with extensive local archives round out this fully accessible museum. Suzanne Bair, accessiblefamilytravel.com
3. Visit Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
This year, Whidbey Island celebrates the 40th anniversary of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, an incredibly scenic and historically rich 19,333 acres, comprising much of central Whidbey Island. With an effort that was initiated locally, Congress created the reserve in 1978. A good part of what is so unique about Ebey’s landing is that 85 percent of the land is privately held. Today, the reserve is a collaboration among the town of Coupeville, Island County, Washington State Parks, and the National Park Service.
Right now is a great time to enjoy the reserve. You can walk the beach, hike prairie trails, paddle, sail, camp, watch for whales, and enjoy the island’s produce and seafood. Be sure to also explore the historic and picturesque town of Coupeville, a lovely place to live and home to great restaurants, shops and art galleries. Traversing this 55-mile long island makes for a fabulous weekend road trip and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is a big part of what makes this place so special. Nancy Zaffaro, confettitravelcafe.com
4. Look for Whales at Langley
The small town of Langley, toward the southern end of Whidbey Island, is another great base from which to explore. Its proximity to the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry allows easy access from the mainland. The downtown streets are lined with intriguing one-of-a-kind boutique shops. Little pocket parks with benches encourage you to take a break and enjoy views of Saratoga Passage, the channel between Whidbey and Camano Islands. Visit the Whale Center to learn about resident Orca pods and migratory Gray Whales. Stop by the Langley Visitors Center for a Whidbey Island map and information on weekend attractions. Tamara Muldoon, tamaramuldoon.com
5. Visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Don’t miss visiting Admiralty Head Lighthouse on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park overlooking Admiralty Inlet. It was one of two lighthouses built along Whidbey Island’s western shore but is the only one that remains. The original wooden Admiralty Head Light was built in 1861 on land now occupied by Fort Casey. After being moved to an area near the present lighthouse, it was replaced with a brick structure in 1903, the last to be designed by renowned German architect Carl Leick, with walls 18 inches thick to withstand earthquakes.
In 1922, the lighthouse was decommissioned and later utilized by the U.S. Army as a training facility for the K-9 dog program. After closing for a period of years, it was acquired and reopened by Washington State Parks in the mid-1950s. If you are a philatelist or a lover of lighthouses, you may have Admiralty Head Light in your collection, since the U.S. Postal Service issued a 25-cent stamp featuring it in 1990, included in a booklet of five designs featuring historic American lighthouses.
The lighthouse serves as a historic landmark and interpretive center. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from March through October, and additional days of the week in the warmer months. In July, it is open seven days a week. Lighthouse admission and tours are free of charge; donations are accepted. Debbra Dunning Brouillette, www.tropicaltravelgirl.com
6. Enjoy Farm-to-Table Dining at Orchard Kitchen
Vincent Nattress is a Coupeville native who returned home to Whidbey Island with his wife Tyla after extensive experience in Europe and Napa Valley. Despite having worked at many fine restaurants that garnered critical acclaim, it is on Whidbey Island that he found his niche, settling into a five-acre organic farm in Langley, where chickens and turkeys roam freely under fruit trees, and where he and Tyla grow herbs and vegetables for use in Orchard Kitchen, the dining room and teaching kitchen they opened on the farm in 2015.
Nattress supplements the produce with seafood, meat and other supplies from local farmers, vintners, cheesemakers and fishermen, and says he has “never had produce better than the produce grown on Whidbey Island”. Working with his small team in an open kitchen a few steps away from his guests, he serves a seasonal menu that changes weekly. It’s almost like dining at home: Guests sit at communal tables and are served family style, with a warm pre-dinner welcome to ensure everyone feels at ease. Little wonder Orchard Kitchen has become one of the island’s most acclaimed restaurants. Christine Salins, foodwinetravel.com.au
7. Indulge in More Outstanding Farm-to-Table Dining at Oystercatcher
Oystercatcher could be the poster child for locally sourced, sustainable, farm-to-table dining. The talented Chef Tyler Hansen along with his extremely capable wife Sara, who seamlessly runs the front of the house, spins his magic on the farm fresh bounty to create an outstanding, memorable meal.
You know you’re in caring hands from your first bite of his justly famous, house-baked bread, be it Rosemary olive, molasses oatmeal, sprouted wheatberry, rye, etc., topped with a savory spread such as pork lardo or roasted shallot goat cheese — all the way through to your final bite, which in our case was an incredible rye pound cake topped with rhubarb jam, buckwheat crumble and honey ice cream. Our dinner was artistically presented on organically shaped, handmade dishes created at Cook on Clay. Drop into their studio to see how they are made or to purchase your own ruggedly elegant pots. Janice Nieder, www.janicenieder.com
8. Eat Penn Cove Mussels
The restaurants and local residents know how lucky they are to have Penn Cove shellfish in their backyard. Penn Cove’s high-quality mussels, clams and oysters are shipped to discerning restaurants around the nation. Shellfish grown in Penn’s Cove are coveted for their firm texture and sweet taste, which can be attributed to the nutrient-rich water, the unique geography of Puget Sound, and Penn Cove’s focus on quality control from seeding to harvesting to distribution.
Since 1975, it has been their mission to be the premier provider of the finest sustainable farmed shellfish products in today’s marketplace. “Fresh from the water — not the warehouse!” is their motto and, to this end, buyers are never shipped pre-packed goods — they harvest after an order is received and ship later that same day.
When visiting Whidbey Island, where can you dine on Penn Cove shellfish? Here are four wonderful places, each with their own vibe and creative twist on the classic steamed mussels or clams.
- Toby’s Tavern serves Penn Cove mussels simply prepared with white wine in a casual, comfortable pub atmosphere with water views of Penn Cove and historic memorabilia adorning the walls and ceiling.
- Roaming Radish is a full-service catering company with in-house dining in their speakeasy style gastropub, R2 Gastropub, located in a cool renovated airplane hangar. The hyper-local, farm-to-table dining experience includes Penn Cove clams in a spicy cream sauce.
- Front Street Grill features Penn Cove mussels in six different preparations along with a Bouillabaisse and breathtaking views of Penn Cove, historic Coupeville Wharf and Mount Baker.
- Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway offers a sophisticated gourmet dining experience and steamed Penn Cove Mussels in a fragrant curry cream broth prepared by French-trained Chef Scott Fraser.
Priscilla Willis, shescookin.com
9. Shop for Locally-Crafted Wines at Holmes Harbor Cellars
Every weekend getaway to Whidbey Island should include sampling some of the island’s best wines – and you’ll find fine wines a-plenty at Holmes Harbor Cellars. The Greenbank winery, founded in 2005 by local couple Greg and Theresa Martinez, offers an impressive range of award-winning varietal and blended wines, crafted from Washington State vineyards. Winemakers Greg (a musician, poet and pilot) and Theresa (a chemist) frequently welcome visitors to their 20-acre wooded estate overlooking Holmes Harbor for weekend and specialty events or to buy wine directly from the cellar door.
When I stopped by, Whidbey Island chef Gordon Stewart of Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill was hosting an outstanding three-course lunch sourced from fresh, local produce. On the menu was black garlic and green tea nettle soup with lemongrass crème fraîche, topped with sesame oil and garlic chives and paired with the winery’s 2017 HHC Lemberger rosé. Chef Stewart’s Island Bounty bánh mì followed, served with a pork loin and green papaya salad and paired with the 2012 HHC serenade. Dessert was a stunning local duck egg ginger rhubarb sabayon made with none other than Holmes Habor Cellars’ 2017 Reisling. Contact Holmes Harbor Cellars directly to find out what’s on the calendar in the coming weeks. Jacqui Gibson, fwtmagazine.com/author/jacqui-gibson
10. Sample Top-Quality Wines or Stay at Dancing Fish Vineyards
Retirement didn’t last long for Nancy and Brad Thompson who purchased a 6.5-acre farm in 2013, which became the site of Dancing Fish Vineyards. After spending several years restoring and renovating the property, the winery opened in May 2016. The name Dancing Fish was inspired by a Coho salmon that jumped out of the water and seemed to be dancing on its tail while Nancy was fishing on Mutiny Bay. As the couple discussed names for their new venture, the recollection of that experience became the name of their new vineyard adventure.
Stop by the Tasting Room from May through October on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., and on Fridays from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (enjoy live music 5.30-7.30 pm). November through April, hours are Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays 12 noon-5 pm; Fridays 12 noon-8 pm. For groups of eight or more, call first for a reservation. The adjacent Barrel Room is available for small gatherings and private events. The Thompsons ramped up production quickly. Last year, 600-800 cases were produced; wines are currently available only on-site although an online purchase feature is planned in the near future. Red wine varieties include a Bordeaux blend, a merlot, and a cabernet sauvignon. A chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and my personal favorite, a rosé, round out the current releases.
The Hospitality Barn, which formerly housed dairy cows, is now a multi-purpose gathering place with a full kitchen, perfect for wedding receptions and other special events or private gatherings. The day I visited I was treated to a multi-course luncheon paired with Dancing Fish wines. The menu included Penn Cove mussels in green Thai curry sauce; a main course of grilled silver salmon accompanied by arugula fennel salad with blueberries and Thai quinoa salad; and for dessert, Oystercatcher chocolate truffles with Washington state Bada Bing cherries. Also on the property is a charming 70-year-old restored farmhouse with private courtyard available as a rental. The Vineyard House sleeps up to eight and is pet-friendly. Debbra Dunning Brouillette, www.tropicaltravelgirl.com
11. Book a Room at Comforts of Whidbey
Comforts of Whidbey is a 22-acre farm and winery with Bed & Breakfast lodging located just south of Langley. An eye-catching three-story structure of wood, steel and glass holds the winery, cellar, tasting room, and six-room B&B, which overlooks the vineyard and waters of Possession Sound. Guest rooms are located on the top floor, featuring king-sized beds, private bathrooms, plush robes and lovely views. There is a kitchenette for common use and complimentary Wi-Fi. Comforts serves a deluxe continental breakfast each morning, which expands to a full farm breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Owners Carl and Rita Comfort personally welcome guests and host wine tastings. Their estate-grown vintages include whites and sparkling wines made from siegerrebe, madeleine angevine, Madeleine Sylvaner grapes, as well as pinot noir. In addition, they make robust red wines—malbec, syrah, sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon—created with grapes from Eastern Washington. Their fruit-forward late harvest semillon pairs exquisitely with cheese or dessert. Tamara Muldoon, tamaramuldoon.com