It’s home to some of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful scenery, which is complemented by beautiful wooden buildings in pastel and earth tones.
Though it sometimes gets called the West Coast equivalent of Martha’s Vineyard, this low-key island is worthy in its own right. Here’s what to know about visiting.
Getting there to get away
The easiest way to get to Whidbey is to drive to the Washington state town of Mukilteo, north of Seattle, and hop on board the ferry. Cars are permitted, as are walk-ons, and the ride to the town of Clinton, on Whidbey’s southern end, only takes about 20 minutes.
From the town of Port Townsend on the other side of Puget Sound, there is a ferry to Whidbey’s Fort Casey.
Whidbey is long and thin. The two towns with the most to do are Langley, slightly northwest of Clinton, and Coupeville, on an inlet closer to the midpoint of the island.
Out and about
If you wanted to just turn off your phone and Zen out, that would be a perfectly good use of your Whidbey time. But it would be a shame to come all the way here and not take in a few of the natural landscapes for which the island is known.
Most notably, that includes Deception Pass on the northern tip of the island. The narrow strait that divides Whidbey from its neighbor, Fidalgo Island, got its name when a British navy expedition sailed through and became surprised that Whidbey was an island, not a peninsula.
Now, the area is a state park, managed by rangers, and there are options to camp there overnight.
Even if you’re just stopping by for a short visit, walk over the Deception Pass Bridge — a National Historic Site — for sweeping views of the water and the forest below.
If your legs get a little shaky at the mere thought of heights, there’s also plenty to do without thinking you might fall. Ebey’s Landing is a National Historical Reserve on the island.
Formerly a coastal defense fort during World War II, this area near Coupeville is now a place for relaxation. In addition to enjoying 25 miles of hiking and biking trails, locals often head there on a warm day to picnic, watch birds, fish, play Frisbee and watch the sunset.
Besides flowers, the Chocolate Flower Farm sells chocolate-mint tea and chocolate-berry jams.
Courtesy Chocolate Flower Farm
One of the island’s most popular natural spots is the Chocolate Flower Farm. Don’t go there expecting everything to be a milky brown color, though — the owners have managed to track down the sweetest-smelling flowers from around the world and grow them here for a sugary-sweet olfactory experience.
If you can’t make it out to the farm, there is a Chocolate Flower Farm store in Langley where you can snag some seeds of your own to grow back home.
Also on the same main street in Langley are The Star Store, a sort of general store for island provisions (including nautical-themed clothing and accessories) and Moonraker Books, a bookshop run by Josh Hauser, a woman who is known for closing the shop for 10 minutes so she can escort a tourist to a good lunch place.
Moonraker Books, 209 1st St, Langley, WA USA 98260, +1 (360) 221-6962
Mussels and more
As an island, Whidbey is known for its excellent seafood. The standout, though, are mussels farmed from Penn Cove, near Coupeville. It’s not unusual on Whidbey to ask someone “where are these mussels from?” and literally have them point down the road.
For some of the best ones on the island, it’s hard to top The Oystercatcher in Coupeville, where Chef Tyler Hansen serves them elegantly with roasted onions, garlic, parsley, white wine and creme fraiche.
Despite the upscale dining and wine offerings, there are some fun glimpses of humor, many of which are on the cocktail menu.
The “Tell your server I said hi” and “It’s okay I know the owner” are both solid options (the former has bourbon and liqueur made with Earl Grey tea, the latter tequila, vermouth and clove), and the “Oystercatcher is a bird” is both delicious and an answer to a common question about the restaurant’s name.
Around the corner in Coupeville is Knead & Feed, a homey bakery that also happened to be the exterior of the sisters’ store in the Nicole Kidman-Sandra Bullock movie “Practical Magic.” (If you’re a big fan of the film, ask the owners of the Blue Goose Inn for one of their maps of local filming locations.)
In Langley, check out Prima Bistro for refined French takes on local ingredients — yes, there are mussels, but the merguez sausages, beef tartare and warm cheese gougeres are all stunning as well, and the wine list is probably the best on the island.
Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway is in the town of Oak Harbor, midway between Coupeville and Deception Pass, so consider stopping there on your way to or from the park.
There, affable British Columbia-born owner Scott Fraser is as likely to be chatting with old friends on the floor as he is to be preparing flawless scallops and shrimp in the open kitchen.
Rooms at the inns
Whidbey isn’t the kind of place where you find chain hotels. Instead, you’ll find family-run inns that combine the best of local hospitality and cozy, welcoming rooms.
The Inn at Langley may look casual from a distance, thanks to its understated wooden design that makes it fit in with the surrounding area, but the modest interior comes with world-class perks on the inside.
Each of the 50-odd rooms is slightly different, but all are luxurious — think heated floors (perfect for those cool, windy island nights), bathtubs the size of a Manhattan apartment and in-room snacks such as truffle pretzels and fancy jellybeans.
The Captain Whidbey has a mix of lodge rooms (some with shared bathrooms) and posh cabins.
Courtesy Captain Whidbey Inn
The word “homey” seems like it could have originated at Coupeville’s Blue Goose Inn, which is comprised of two wood-shingled homes (one pink, one blue) next door to each other just off the main street.
The married couple who owns and operates the inn are involved in every aspect of service, from check-in greetings to a home-cooked meal every morning at breakfast. Staying there feels like staying with friends — specifically very thoughtful friends who insist on giving you their master bedroom so they can sleep on the floor.
The newest offering on the island is The Captain Whidbey, which went through several iterations as a beloved-by-townies inn and pub before being taken over by a California-based hospitality group in 2018 and reimagined as a sort of glam summer camp for grownups.
Imagine it as Coachella meets a small lakeside inn, but without the flower crowns.