Washington's Whidbey Island

Along Whidbey Island's western shore

Along Whidbey Island's western shore

FROM THE BOW OF THE FERRY, under a clear night sky, Whidbey Island is a forested silhouette against a backdrop of stars. Clinton, where the ferry will land, is but a tiny cluster of lights directly ahead. In the cold and breezy exposure of the bow, the hot cocoa is a comfort to cold hands. The ferry’s engine thumps rhythmically, and the water makes a swoosh as the prow pushes it aside.

An hour earlier and 60 miles to the south, Seattle’s freeway traffic was slow-and-go. Now, in the quiet of the hold, cars, campers and a few trucks sit silently, some of their occupants absorbing themselves in crossword puzzles and murder mysteries.

The drive up the island is bounded by the dark forms of cedars and douglas firs that frame the stars above. A detour off the highway winds through more forest, ending at a rustic inn. The car door opens to a rush of forest fragrances in the silence. Across the channel, a small town sparkles along the opposite shore.

Next morning, that same view is a sunlit panorama of mountains and sea. Forests make a swath of dark green on the low benchlands along the water. On the deep blue of the inlet, freighters and an occasional passenger ship pass each other between Seattle and the open sea.

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Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island, Washington Penn Cove from Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Boy, dog and view, Langley, Whidbey Island, Washington

The Dog House, Langley, Whidbey Island, Washington Barn and Meadow, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Langley, Whidbey Island, Washington

WHIDBEY ISLAND, 62 MILES long, parallels the Washington mainland opposite the San Juan de Fuca strait that connects Puget Sound to the Pacific. It is glacial till, a souvenir of the ice sheets that filled Puget Sound during the ice age. On the map, Whidbey Island looks as though a toddler had gone crazy with a tube of cake frosting. It twists westward and then eastward, wide in some places, narrow in others.

That same map bears place names that speak of Whidbey’s seafaring past. Useless Bay. Mutiny Bay. Smugglers Cove. Holmes Harbor. Ebey’s Landing. Deception Pass.

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Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Bayfront, Coupeville, Whidbey Island,Washington Penn Cove and Store Fronts, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington

Penn Cove and Wharf, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington On the Wharf, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Coupeville Wharf, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington

WHIDBEY IS AN ISLANDSCAPE of forests, meadows, farms, and even a couple of small lakes. Because the island is so narrow, and indented with deep bays, water is often within sight and never far away. At points along the highway, there are car-stopping views of the snowy Olympics, the Cascades, Mount Baker and even Mount Rainier. Blackberries grow everywhere. Rhododendrons seemingly sprout in every roadcut, adding their pinks and lavenders to the spring landscape.

The island is home to about 58,000. Most are clustered near island’s northern end, around Oak Harbor and its naval air station. From Oak Harbor south, however, only a handful of settlements mark the landscape.

Two old seaside villages – Langley and Coupeville – lie on the island’s eastern shore. They are delightfully out of step with the city and suburban life on the mainland. In Langley, movies are shown at the Clyde, a tiny 1930's theater. Langley’s century-old tavern, the Dog House, sits across the street from the Clyde. The “Dog” offers a variety of local brews and ales, along with a quirky sense of humor. (A sign says “If you’re drinking to forget, please pay in advance.”)

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Meadow and barn, daybreak, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Admiralty Inlet from Whidbey Island, Washington Meadow and barn, sunrise, Whidbey Island, Washington

IN THE OLD FISHING TOWN OF COUPEVILLE, Victorians and cottages cluster around the historic storefronts of Front Street. On a clear day, a walk on the old pier offers sweeping views of Mount Baker and the meadows and fields along the bay.

Despite its proximity to Seattle, Whidbey Island has held onto its largely rural character. The state parks are often uncrowded, with hiking trails and, usually, beach access. The main north-south route is a simple two-lane highway, with side roads winding through forests and meadows and along the shore.

The island has a number of lodgings, inns, bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. It boasts its own winery, as well. These, as well as other amenities, are listed and usually linked in the travel guide below.

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Storm over the Admiralty Inlet, Whidbey Island, Washington Sidewalk scene, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington Old storefronts, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington
WHIDBEY ISLAND IS 27 ROAD MILES north of Seattle. Allow at least an hour and fifteen minutes from downtown, and possibly more, depending on the line at the Mukilteo ferry landing. Webcam images on the Washington State Ferries website show current traffic conditions at Mukilteo and other ferry landings.

From Seattle take Interstate 5 eighteen miles north to Exit 182 (State Highway 525 North). Merge onto State 525, and follow it nine miles to the Mukilteo Ferry. The ferry ride to Whidbey Island takes about 20 minutes, landing at Clinton. Highway 525 continues north up the island.

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Teronda Beach, late afternoon, Whidbey Island, Washington Rotunda, Majestic Hotel, Anacortes, Fidalgo Island, Washington Marrowstone Island, Port Townsend and the Olympic Mountains
Travel Guide

Washington State Ferries.  Schedules, wait times and ferry terminal webcams.


Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill, 5438 Woodard Avenue, Freeland. Reservations (360) 331-7515.

Cafe Langley, 113 First Street, Langley. Reservations: (360) 221-3090.

Christopher's on Whidbey, 105 NW Coveland Street, Coupeville. Reservations: (360) 678-5480.

Local brews, pub food and atmosphere

Toby’s Tavern, 8 NW Front Street, Coupeville. Telephone: (360) 678-4222.

The Boatyard Inn, 200 Wharf Street, Langley. Reservations: (360) 221-5120.

Country Cottage of Langley, 215 Sixth Street, Langley. Reservations: (800) 713-3860.

Wine tasting

Greenbank Farm Wine Shop, Wonn Road off Highway 525, Greenbank – about 14 miles north of the ferry landing at Clinton. Telephone: (360) 678-7700.

Whidbey Island Winery, 5237 South Langley Road, Langley. Phone (360) 221-2040.


The Clyde Theater. Where South Whidbey has gone to the movies since 1937. Telephone: (360) 221-5525.

State Parks (consult the park website for directions)

South Whidbey Island State Park. Lush old-growth forest and beach access. On Smugglers Cove Road, seven miles north of Freeland and 15 miles south of Coupeville.

Fort Casey State Park. Historic coast artillery post, shoreside walks, and fishing. Just north of the Keystone ferry terminal.

Fort Ebey State Park. Bluff-top views of the Olympic Peninsula and walks through the mixed coniferous forest. On Hill Valley Drive, two miles north of Coupeville and eight miles south of Oak Harbor.

Joseph Whidbey State Park. Shoreline walks, clam digging and bird watching. On Swanton Road, three miles west of Oak Harbor.

Deception Pass State Park. Viewpoints 200 feet above the swirling currents of Deception Pass. Old-growth forests, three small lakes, and shore access. On Highway 20 north of Oak Harbor, the state park is on the northern tip of Whidbey Island and the southern end of Fidalgo Island.

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