Deception Pass Bridge ©Mark Bergsma

It's Island Time in Washington

by Lara Dunning

I’m standing atop Deception Pass Bridge at sunset. To the east, Mt. Baker is illuminated with alpenglow. To the west, an apricot colored sky with red ribbons blazes over the Salish Sea. Below, 180 feet down, are the swirling currents of Deception Pass. Over 225 years ago, this passage “deceived” Captain George Vancouver into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula. Now, an elegant steel cantilever bridge connects Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island, and every year over two million people visit Deception Pass State Park. With its captivating dramatic beauty, this is the first place I bring friends or family. But it only touches the surface of the countless ways to experience the islands.

Known for its rural landscapes and sweeping Olympic Mountain vistas, Whidbey Island quickly casts its “island time” spell."

Whidbey Island

Enjoying some water fun at Double Bluff Beach.

Are pickle shooters your thing? Find out at Pickles Deli.

A glass blowing studio in Langley is housed in a historic fire station.

A flight of tasters at Double Bluff Brewery is a great way to discover your favorite.

Known for its rural landscapes and sweeping Olympic Mountain vistas, Whidbey Island quickly casts its “island time” spell. A magical spot is Double Bluff Beach, whose four miles of sandy shoreline features a collection of driftwood forts that make you want to be a kid again, and on a clear day, Mt. Rainier and the Seattle city skyline appear on the horizon. Grab a sandwich at Pickles Deli in Clinton and plan for a blissful beach day. If you have a dog, bring them along as they can play off leash! A short drive away, the village of Langley boasts charming shops, galleries, a glass-blowing studio, and a whale center whose enthusiastic staff share all sorts of interesting facts.

The island’s food and drink culture are well developed, and some of my favorite stops include Orchard Kitchen for their farmhouse dinners, Double Bluff Brewery for a kölsch in the beer garden, and Ott & Murphy Wines for excellent wine and a panoramic view of Saratoga Passage. If you hear the whale bell ring, join the crowd at the water’s edge to spy water spouts and whale tails.

Central Whidbey

Ebey's Landing near the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry landing is a popular place to hike or beach comb.

A vintage pier juts into Penn Cove in downtown Coupeville.

Visitors watching for whales on an observation deck attached to the Knead and Feed restaurant.

A blockhouse tour is a great way to connect with the island's rich settlement history. (Crockett Blockhouse is pictured)

The Admiralty Head Lighthouse sits near the remnants of the Fort Casey gun emplacement bunkers.

Mid-island history comes alive at Fort Casey Historical Park and Admiralty Head Lighthouse, where you can explore old bunkers, climb up a lighthouse tower, and stay in former military officers’ quarters at Fort Casey Inn. Nearby is the town of Coupeville; Washington State’s second oldest town. Learn about the island’s first inhabitants and settlers at the Island County Historical Museum, and see a blockhouse and dugout canoes. Toby’s Tavern is the best pub to get a slice of local life and along the waterfront are more cafes and shops that sell local lavender and Dutch goods. In the summer, the town’s heritage vessel SUVA docks at the pier for scenic sailings in Penn Cove. For the best breakfast in town stop by Knead and Feed, and for an outstanding, locally sourced meal make reservations at the Oystercatcher.

The Oak Harbor marina and waterfront are popular with visitors any time of year.

The two fighter jets guarding the entrance to Whidbey Naval Air Station will definitely catch your attention.

This waterfront festival in historic downtown Oak Harbor drew thousands of visitors.

On the north end, the PBY Naval Air Museum in Oak Harbor is dedicated to the PBY-5A Catalina, an amphibian aircraft critical to winning WWII. Exhibit highlights include a flying boat named “Gigi,” a PBY maintenance shop, and two flight simulators. Be sure to watch the movie on how PBY-5A Catalinas changed this sleepy farming community of 350 people into 10,000 in a matter of months and became a premier naval air base. For dinner, dine at Rustica or Frasers Gourmet Hideaway.

Don't Miss Camano Island

The unique appeal of Camano Island is that it offers visitors a real-life island experience—without the hype or the ferry ride. Don’t expect trendy tourist traps. There are a few restaurants, a handful of country-style grocery stores, bed and breakfast facilities, and intriguing fine art galleries to serve the lucky few who have discovered Camano Island.

Be sure to check out Cama Beach State Park, a restored 1930s fishing resort. With year-round waterfront cabin rentals (pictured above), it offers a unique chance to step back to a time before televisions and computers and enjoy nature pure & simple.

CLICK HERE for a Whidbey-Camano Island Experience

Anacortes on Fidalgo Island

The welcoming entrance to the Anacortes downtown shopping and dining district.

Kayak tours from Anacortes are a great way to explore the area and who knows, you may even catch a whale doing some people watching.

Downtown Anacortes charms with antique stores, boutique shops, art galleries, and plenty of eateries. For breakfast, stop by Dad’s Dinner, for lunch, Gere-a-deli or Adrift, and for dinner, the farm-to-table A’Town Bistro. To discover the town’s unique fishing heritage, stop by the Maritime Heritage Center and the W.T. Preston snag boat. To explore, hike its 50 miles of trails, or go on a kayak or whale watching tour. No matter how you play, drive to Cap Sante Viewpoint at night for a stellar sunset.

The Magnificent San Juan Islands

An observation tower stands like a silent sentry at the top of Orcas Island's Mount Constitution.

The ferry landing at Orcas Island is the first stop for a tour of the island's art galleries, potteries and boutique shops.

Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island is a good place to watch whales from the shoreline.

English Camp on San Juan Island is one of the island's historic sites worth a visit.

A trip to the San Juan Islands includes one of the most scenic ferry rides in the state, and each of the four islands the ferry stops at has a different vibe. Friendly Lopez Island features farmlands and forests with 63 miles of shoreline. Shaw Island is mostly residential, and in the summer, their general store is a popular stop for ice cream. San Juan Island has prime whale watching tours and spots, historical garrisons, and lavender fields, all of which can be seen via scoot-car with Susie’s Mopeds. Some of my favorite stops in Friday Harbor are San Juan Bistro and the coveted ferry view seats next to the outdoor fireplace at Downriggers. A day trip to picturesque Roche Harbor, shore- based whale watching at Lime Kiln Point State Park and a history lesson about the fight over our northern border at American and English Camp are all worth a stop.

Orcas Island has a vibrant food culture and history. The best way to experience this is with Salish Sea Tour Co. Led by a local, the tour is all about tasting local goodies and discovering the island perspective. Or consider Orcas Island Trail Rides to explore enchanting old growth forest, and meander through grassy meadows by horseback. Afterward, stop by Mijitas Mexican Kitchen for Dungeness crab guacamole and a craft cocktail at The Barnacle. On your adventure, drive the windy road to the top of Mount Constitution—the highest point in the islands—and take in the 180-degree view of this Pacific Northwest paradise.

CLICK HERE for a San Juan Islands Experience