Whidbey Island Washington

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Historic and Relaxing Whidbey Island Washington Welcomes Visitors

By a San Diego wanna be Charles Harmon

Beautiful Whidbey Island Washington (historically known as Whidby) lies within the Puget Sound, on the Pacific Northwest, just north of the city of Seattle, Washington. The island has become a favorite relaxation spot for mainland residents.

Clinton Sign
Carved sign welcoming visitors as they arrive by ferry at Clinton.

Those who would like to exchange skyscrapers and the noise of busy traffic for quaint historical towns and shimmering coves, even if it’s only for a little while.

Frequently referred to as Puget Sound’s Largest Artist’s Colony, Whidbey is home to numerous working artists, writers, and performers. There are many well-known painters, sculptors, wood workers, metal workers, glass artists, mixed media artists, photographers, authors, poets, actors, and musicians. Each has found the atmosphere of Whidbey to be conducive to their particular trade.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Admiralty Head Lighthouse. Photo by © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa / CC BY-SA 4.0

As if being a haven for artists was not enough, the southern end of Whidbey Island also serves as a minor bedroom community for the nearby cities of Everett and Seattle. It is where the Boeing Everett Factory is located. Commuters to and from those areas use the Washington State Ferries system’s run between Clinton and Mukilteo.

Are you are looking for a relaxing, peaceful, island getaway away from the bustling city? If so, then Whidbey Island Washington may be the place for you.

A Few Statistics

According to the 2000 census Whidbey Island Washington is home to 80,022 residents also known as Whidbey Islanders. An estimated 29,000 of Whidbey Islanders live in rural locations. The Island is approximately 58 miles (93 km) long and 1.5 to 12 miles (2.4 to 19.3 km) wide, with an area of 168.67 square miles. This makes it the 40th largest island in the United States. It is also ranked as the fourth longest and fourth largest island in the contiguous United States. It is the largest island in the state of Washington.

Aerial NAS Whidbey
Aerial view of Naval Air Station Whidbey, Washington. Shot from 4,500′ looking north.

Tourism is Important to Whidbey Island

Tourism is especially important for Whidbey Island Washington. It is mostly residential and farmlands with a few small towns nicely spaced apart for the visiting traveler. The economy of Whidbey Island south of Oak Harbor relies heavily on tourism, small-scale agriculture, and the arts.

On Whidbey, tourists find a wide range of amenities in the towns of Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland and Langley. Coupeville’s Penn Cove Mussel Farm exports large quantities of its highly renowned Penn Cove Mussels. This aquaculture facility, along with a number of small farms, reflects the rural agricultural nature of most of central Whidbey Island.

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Langley Washington

Looking west down Second St. towards downtown Langley, WA. Photo by Jtmorgan / CC BY-SA 3.0

Langley is one of the towns on the island. It is charming, small and has many historical buildings. One of them is the 1937 movie house, Clyde Theater. The theater remains excellently preserved and is still screening classic and contemporary films to this day.


The waterfront of Coupeville

Another historical town on the island is called Coupeville, which is the county seat and is the second oldest town in the state of Washington. Here, you will find over 100 buildings listed in the National Historic Register. So walking in the town’s shopping areas and waterfront is like walking back into the past.

Old Grain Wharf
Old Grain Wharf, in the harbour of Coupeville, in the Central Whidbey Island Historic District, part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Image by Hans-Jürgen Hübner | CC BY-SA 3.0

Coupeville was founded in 1852 and is the second oldest town in the State of Washington. The town continues to preserve original pioneer homes with a variety of historic architectures including Queen Anne, Saltbox, and pioneer Block Houses. Coupeville has a number of historic inns, restaurants and pubs. It is an ideal base for anyone who would like to explore Whidbey for a couple of days. Aside from lovely towns, the island also enchants its visitors with its wineries, wonderful parks and scenic coast.

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The Nature Side of Whidbey Island

A visit to Whidbey is all about delighting in the beauty of nature. Deception Pass State Park is one of the major attractions on the island. It is home to a wide range of bird species, mainly because of the island’s ideal temperate climate. If you are an angling enthusiast, you should look no further. There are plenty of rich fishing areas on Whidbey. While in the park area, you can head out to Cranberry Lake to catch the big ones.

Goose Rock Trail
Goose Rock Trail (Whidbey Island, Washington State). Photo by Ricardo Martins / CC BY 2.0

Traveling with the whole family? Consider bringing them to Cornet Bay’s marina. Here, you can book a charter boat to take you whale-watching or sightseeing, and they will even arrange a marvelous dinner onboard. If you want to rough it up in the wilderness, experience camping at this state park as camping sites and RV parking are available throughout the year.

For beach lovers, the perfect spot to head out to is Ala Spit. The name may sound funny, but this site gives you gorgeous views of the coast as well as Strait of Juan de Fuca and other islands in the distance. Here, you can lounge on the beach all day or enjoy a picnic by the seaside.

Old Forts on Whidbey?

Cliff near Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, Washington, USA. Photo by Jonathan Zander / CC BY-SA 3.0

The history buff in you will probably be thrilled to visit Fort Ebey State Park and Fort Casey. Fort Ebey was the main line of defense from invasion for the Puget Sound. There are no more threats of war and invasion today. But what remains are intriguing hiking trails, and the magnificent views of the Olympic Peninsula and Port Townsend.

Speaking of trails; one of the newest and more fascinating one you could follow is the Island County trail that links Fort Ebey and Coupeville to ‘kettles’. Kettles are distinct but quite picturesque geologic formations formed during the Ice Age. Fort Casey, on the other hand, was also designed to prevent naval invasion. It is home to the iconic Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

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Visiting Whidbey?

Whidbey Island Washington
Map of Whidbey Island, WA

Located specifically in Puget Sound, Whidbey Island can be reached by a daily ferry service, which cruises from the Seattle suburb of Mukilteo. Ferries depart every 30 minutes, and is in operation seven days a week, all year round.

If visiting Whidbey by highway, the only bridge that reaches Whidbey Island, Washington is the Deception Pass Bridge, State Route 20. It connects the north end of Whidbey to the mainland via Fidalgo Island. Whidbey Island’s State Routes 525/20 is the only nationally designated Scenic Byway on an island. It is named the “Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way.”

The Island is very long. As such it is best navigated by car. Highway-20 and Highway 525 which runs its entire length is the route. One popular option is to use the bridge on the northern end of the island and one of the ferry terminals as entrance and exit points when exploring the island. If you are visiting by boat Whidbey Island Washington is a nice stopping point when traveling between Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

Another potential way to enter the island is if you have or rent a boat. Enter from Oak Harbor City Marina in Oak Harbor, Washington. It is conveniently located between Seattle and the San Juan Islands. The marina has plenty of guest moorage with limited side-tie moorage. It offer showers, restrooms, laundry room, and an ice machine. There are picnic tables in the park and on the guest dock. A playground is available for children. The facility is located about a mile from most retail services, including motels and restaurants in Oak Harbor.

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Scenery and Beaches on Whidbey Island Washington

You can enjoy the amazing scenery as the water splashes against wild coastlines. Depending on the weather and season, see snow peaked mountains on the horizon. Whidbey Island’s many state and regional parks are an excellent place to start a beach combing adventure. There are miles of beaches to explore, from the rugged to sandy smooth beaches. Small crabs, sea stars, moon snails, and sand dollars are common sites along these beaches.

Just be aware sea shells and driftwood are considered part of the natural environment and should not be removed. However, the frequently rocky, wild shores are havens for creating and uncovering beach glass and other items that may be washed ashore. Anything artificial found is fair game for removal. In your beach combing expeditions be respectful of private property. Stay away from any nesting birds, seals and other shore animals.

Whidbey Islands public beach access and miles of coastline makes it a popular place for people to find elusive and sought after shellfish.

whidbey Washington
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Be aware that all fishing in Puget Sound requires a permit. Purchase permits online or in some sporting goods stores.

Some Attractions on the Island

  • Admiralty Head Lighthouse (on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park) is open to the public throughout the year.
  • Deception Pass Bridge, is a National Historic Monument since 1982. The bridge, one of the scenic wonders and destinations of the Pacific Northwest, has over 4,100 acres of forest. This includes campsites, trails, and scenic vistas of the San Juan Islands, Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), Mount Baker, and Fidalgo Island.
  • Hope Island State Park near Whidbey Island. A 200-acre marine park is in Skagit Bay. The park offers several campsites, attractive beaches and a trail across the island. The island is forested with occasional meadows and rock outcroppings. It is a natural area preserve to protect a rare Puget Sound ecosystem and accessible only both boat.
  • Skagit Island. Skagit Island State Park is a 24-acre marine camping park in Skagit Bay near Whidbey Island accessible by boat only. The island has a few meadows, rock outcroppings, attractive beaches and a land trail.

Seafood is a specialty in the area. So look for seasonal specials and locally sourced ingredients. You can find Dungeness crabs, oysters, clams, mussels and Salmon in abundance. But also look for fresh produce from local farms. There is a Blackberry season towards the end of summer. That usually means these delicious local berries may be on local dessert menus.

People on Whidbey Island take their coffee seriously. See city listings for particular coffee and bar recommendations. There are several wineries and distilleries on Whidbey Island. Check to see if any have tours available.

Elizabeth George

What To Do On Whidbey Island

by Toccara Best
Published on Youtube on Dec 2, 2016

Whidbey Island is one of many gorgeous islands in Washington State. It’s an easy visit from Seattle and there is always plenty to do. Drive, bike, hike, kayak, swim, fish, scuba, wine, dine, explore, and discover – all on Whidbey! We’ll show you what to do on Whidbey Island, along with where to eat and drink. We’ll also showcase one of the best accommodations on Whidbey Island.

Safety Precautions and Nature on Whidbey

Many of the animals on and around Whidbey Island are used to seeing humans. However, the wildlife is nonetheless wild and should not be fed or disturbed. Stay at least 80 ft. from all wild animals! Check trail head postings at parks for recent activity and be aware of rules keeping a distance from orcas and other marine animals while boating. There are regulations for killer whales and boaters to stay 200 yards away and keep path of any whales clear.

There are plenty of deer on Whidbey. They travel in herds, and if you see one, there are probably one or two more around. There are plenty of seal pups on the area. NOAA recommends at least a 100-yard buffer around seals.

The dramatic seascape named Deception Pass during low tides has swift currents. That sometimes leads to standing waves, large whirlpools, and roiling eddies. This swift current phenomenon can be viewed from the twin bridges’ pedestrian walkways or from the trail leading below the larger south bridge.

Whidbey Island has a lot of visitors and as such, be aware of petty crimes. Lock your car if away from it and keep any valuables out of sight. Of course these are the same things to consider anywhere you go where there may be a lot of tourists.

Enjoy your stay on the island. It can be a very relaxing and interesting way to spend some time away fron your everyday life. It’s laidback atmosphere and intimate relationship with nature and wild animals will definitely be a diversion from the problems of daily living.

Whidbey Island Ratings

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Whidbey Island Washington