Road Trip: Whidbey Island, Wa.
By Heather Larson
Whidbey Has Multiple Personalities
At 41 miles long, Whidbey is the longest island on the Pacific Coast. It’s long and thin, providing gorgeous coastal views from highways all along its length. Plus, the island is large enough for several towns to thrive. Oak Harbor is a bustling place, with all the trappings of a vibrant village. Coupeville has historic architecture dating to the 1850s, and is one of Washington state’s earliest settlements. The town of Langley is quiet and quaint, the perfect place to rent a home and chill, while Bayview is a charming place to bring the kids.
Because the island is mostly rural, it’s a birder’s paradise. Fishing is also popular, as is paragliding.
How To Savor The Island
To fully experience Whidbey Island life, do what the locals do and take a Washington State Ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton, the southernmost town on the island. Another ferry option leaves from the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townsend. That puts you on the island in Coupeville (central Whidbey).
If you prefer a drive surrounded by lush green scenery and farmland instead of panoramic mountain and water views, drive to the town of Burlington, access Highway 20 there and cross the Deception Pass Bridge, which places you on the northern end of the island.
However you choose to get to the island, once there you’ll find a very mild climate. The Olympic Mountains cast a rain shadow over most of the island, making the rainfall much less than in Seattle. Coupeville and Oak Harbor average only 21 inches a year and most of that is a light drizzle.
From the Clinton ferry landing, drive about six miles north on WA-525, the main island highway. Then turn right onto Bayview Road and you’ll encounter historic Bayview Corner. If you’re ready to eat, enjoy some tasty pan-Asian fusion cuisine at the Basil Café. Feeling lucky – their fortune cookies suggest lottery numbers you should play.
Sample wines made on the island at Taste for Wine and pick up provisions at The Star Store.
Continue east on Bayview Road, which turns into Brooks Hill Road, for 4.2 miles and you’ll come to the seaside village of Langley.
Shop in Langley for bakery items, chocolate, home décor and pet items at charming boutiques lining both sides of First Street, including the Garden Shed where you can pick up a jar of delectable local-made Chocolate Raspberry Jam.
For just $6 you can view a first-run film at the historic, 75-year-old Clyde Theatre any day of the week.
Return to WA-525 and turn left (west) on Double Bluff Road so everyone in the car, including Fido, can stretch his or her legs at Double Bluff Beach’s off-leash park. You don’t have to have a dog to visit this beach on Useless Bay, which is second only to the Columbia Gorge in Washington for kite boarding – a colorful and spectacular sport.
With everyone exercised, settle in for the 27 mile ride to Coupeville. During this drive, WA-525 turns into WA-20.
The second oldest town in all of Washington state, Coupeville is lined with idyllic shops, local restaurants and stunning views of Penn Cove, Admiralty Inlet, and the dramatic Olympic and North Cascade mountain ranges.
History buffs will love the exhibits at the Island County Historical Museum.
Foodies should stop at Ciao, a recently opened Italian restaurant. Mark Laska, chef and owner makes authentic Neapolitan pizzas that include fresh, local ingredients plus homemade mozzarella. For dessert – intensely-flavored gelatos. Try coconut or hazelnut.
Ten more miles and you’ll arrive in the biggest city on the island, Oak Harbor – population 22,075.
Home of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, this city proudly displays some of Whidbey Island’s aviation history in the new Naval History Center. It’s well marked by the PBY plane on display outside. Inside you’ll find rooms devoted to each of the major wars. My favorite part was flying the PBY on the flight simulator. You can test your flying skills, too.
Oak Harbor has plenty do do. Eat at Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway where young high school culinary types train in a performance kitchen. The coffee is fantastic at Honeymoon Bay Coffee Roasters. And you can catch a live show at the Whidbey Playhouse. There’s also a golf course, art galleries to peruse, and a great stroll down the pedestrian-friendly waterfront. Oak Harbor has it all.
From mid-town Oak Harbor to Deception Pass State Park and the northern tip of the island, drive 8.8 miles on WA-20.
I did save the best and most stunning scenery for last. Dramatic waters, tranquil meadows, quiet windswept beaches and 40 miles of hiking trails through old-growth forest await you at the state park.
Where To Stay
Most of the larger towns on Whidbey offer lodging. If you’d like your own cabin with a deck and wood-burning fireplace, or to stay in the lodge where rooms have wash stands and shared European-style shared bath facilities, stop at Captain Whidbey Inn, located on Penn Cove in Coupeville.
For a waterfront view, check out the Inn at Langley. Here, you’ll find a queen bed with duvet, bathrobe, over-sized jetted tub, and fireplace.