Ideas for days – or weeks – of beach time, trail wandering, villages, farms and gorgeous sunsets near Seattle.
Story & photos by Camille Gullickson
We came for a week. We stayed for six.
That’s the allure of Whidbey: You can never get enough. Regardless of what is happening on the mainland, the island is a perfect escape. It has charmed generations of families who appreciate its “stone’s throw” location in Puget Sound, just a short drive and ferry ride from Seattle.
I should know: I grew up here, spent years away, and now come back with my kids as often as I can. This summer, as I sat on the beach with friends looking at the mountains and the sound, I remarked how funny it was that I spent my whole childhood wanting to get away from this staggeringly beautiful place so I could “see the world” – and now how lucky I am to join the vacationers who visit from time to time.
On Whidbey, you are as connected or as disconnected as you want to be. Once you set foot on the island, you are in a rural and peaceful setting, but the cultural and urban benefits of the city are a short drive away.
Whether you’re heading to Whidbey for a day trip, getaway or longer stay, your family will love it. With miles of public beaches, bucolic farm and forest land, and several historic waterfront towns to explore, there is something for everyone to enjoy. (Read about more family adventures in the Pacific Northwest on my blog.)
The hardest part will be deciding when to leave.
Ideas for Quick Trips
Enjoy the ferry! The ferry ride to Whidbey Island, in and of itself, is fun for people of all ages. Enjoy the sea breezes and stunning views (including of the Cascade Range) while you take the short trip (about fifteen minutes) to the island. During the coronavirus pandemic, it is safest to minimize contact by purchasing your ticket online and remaining in your vehicle for the short ferry trip. The ferries are spacious, though, with plenty of room for social distancing as well as offering clean restrooms.
Visit one (or more!) of the public beaches. Depending on the age of those in your party and what you are looking for in a place by the sea, families love one of these beaches:
- Maxwelton Beach/Dave Mackie Park. Just an 11 minute drive from the Clinton Ferry Terminal, this small public beach has magnificent views of the Olympic Mountains, and a little playground and picnicking area to enjoy. If you want a shorter beach stop combined with other excursions or perhaps just a dip, this beach will likely meet your needs, but if you are looking for a lengthier day at the beach there are better options farther north. I also like popping down to Maxwelton Beach simply to catch the amazing sunset over the sound and mountains before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
- Double Bluff Beach. Just slightly farther north on the island, 14 minutes from the Clinton Ferry Terminal in the town of Freeland, Double Bluff Beach is considered one of the best beaches on the south end. With a long sandy stretch of beach for walking and sunbathing, good clam digging, and safe swimming it is a fun place to settle in for the day. It is also very dog-friendly with off-leash exploration allowed for your fur baby. If you want to spend a longer stretch of time at the beach, this is a very good option, and very family-friendly.
- Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve. Ebey’s Landing, with magnificent panoramic views, is a bit farther up the island (37 minutes from the ferry) near the town of Coupeville. At Ebey’s, you can enjoy a long stretch of public beach, or embark on a more ambitious hike which climbs up a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound through working farmland and loops back along the sandy beach to the trailhead. This moderate to more ambitious hike, 5.2 miles, is feasible with older kids. The stunning panoramic views and beachcombing opportunities are well worth the slightly longer drive. More information including a map and directions here. After a visit to Ebey’s, make sure to stop by Greenbank Farm (a former working loganberry farm), for pie to go at Whidbey Pies.
Visit downtown Langley and/or Coupeville. After a day of beachcombing, depending on where your excursions take you, you must visit historic downtown Langley and/or Coupeville. Both towns have similar charm – seaside, historic buildings from the late 1800s, shops and restaurants – but I have a soft spot for Langley. After a short stroll (or scooter) around town, Whidbey Commons Cafe & Books on Second Street is a nice stop for a pick-me-up, and its outdoor seating is kid and dog-friendly too. Across the street, in the old firehouse, kids enjoy the bubble machine outside Callahan’s Firehouse Studio and Gallery. Sprinklz Ice Cream Parlor and Coffee Shop, on First Street, is also a fun stop for families.
Go for fall. All those forest walks and grapevines are even more gorgeous when autumn arrives, making Whidbey one of the go-to fall foliage spots near Seattle. The island has an October-long festival, the “Haunting of Coupeville” with pumpkin patches, scarecrows, hay bales, and hay rides.
Ideas for Longer Stays
Hike through native forestlands at the Whidbey Institute. At the Whidbey Institute, a “home for transformational learning and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit” located on the south end of the island near Clinton, the 106-acres of public trails are open to the public from dawn until dusk. Please note that no dogs are allowed on the property. For directions, click here, and for a trail map, click here.
Visit Castle Park and the skate park at South Whidbey’s Community Park. Castle Park, part of South Whidbey’s Community Park and Sports Complex, is fun for kids of all ages. The community park also features baseball fields, soccer fields, and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Wander through native forestlands at the Saratoga Woods Trail. The Saratoga Woods trail, just a short drive from downtown Langley, offers brief kid and dog-friendly hikes through the local native forest. Directions and a map here.
Go clam digging! Sound Water Stewards, a local nonprofit, offers a popular “Digging 4 Dinner” clam digging class held at Double Bluff Beach. Unfortunately, the clam digging class will not be offered this summer because of coronavirus. If you choose to try clam digging on your own, you must get a license and check with the Washington Department of Health website to ensure that the beach is open for digging. More information in the link above about signing up for a class, where to get a shellfish license, and Washington Department of Health shellfish safety information.
Stop by Bayview Corner and Bayview Farmer’s Market for locally grown food and crafts. At Bayview Corner, you can visit a historical storefront with a taproom, stores, and galleries. A nice casual restaurant to try is Flower House Café. The Bayview Farmer’s Market, a local favorite, offers seasonal produce and other wares. COVID-19 update: Flower House Café is officially open for in-house dining, and also offers outside seating and takeaway options. The Bayview Farmer’s Market is open under special coronavirus precautions including offering pre-order options.
Visit Fort Casey Historical State Park. Fort Casey State Park is a sprawling park with camping amenities, beautiful views, and a turn of the century lighthouse. It was used as a military training facility up until the 1940s, and the creepy abandoned bunkers and mounted guns may be the greatest draw for many visitors.
Take the ferry to Port Townsend. If you have more time to explore, you might just hop a ferry to the Victorian seaport town of Port Townsend and perhaps on to the magnificent Olympic Peninsula. (The Coupeville-Port Townsend Ferry Terminal is located about 43 minutes up the island from the Clinton Ferry Terminal.) Port Townsend, with its historic Victorian buildings and fun shops and restaurants, can be explored on foot by walking on the ferry and going over for the day from the island. If you want to continue on by car, you can also drive onto the ferry, and it operates on a reservations system so make sure to book your reservation ahead of time if you want to be ensured a spot.
Good to Know
COVID-19 safety. Non-essential travel was allowed by summer 2020. If you choose to visit during the pandemic, please be mindful of the local community and its residents, and follow all recommended social distancing and hygiene guidelines to keep everyone healthy. More information on Island County’s COVID-19 response here.
Getting there. Whidbey Island is divided into south, central, and northern communities. This post is focused on visitors arriving via the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal who are exploring the south and central island. With many visitors arriving from the urban center, waits can be extremely long at the ferry during peak hours and peak times, so plan accordingly. Walking or biking on and off the ferry is easier, and Island Transit offers bus service throughout much of the island.
Where to stay. Airbnb or VRBO rentals are the way to go for families. If you prefer to stay in an inn, try The Boatyard Inn. It’s walkable to lots of attractions and the rooms have kitchenettes. Also worth checking out are the Langley Motel or the Fort Casey Inn, which offers historical officer’s cabins.
Camille Gullickson – September 2020
Camille is a Pacific Northwest native who was born in Seattle and moved to Oregon to raise her family after nine years in California and New York. She loves exploring the Northwest and beyond with her family, and whether she is hiking in the old growth or trying a new eatery in the city, either way she is home. Read more of her adventures at www.tournesoladventures.com
© ROAM Family Travel 2020 – All rights reserved
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