Whidbey Island & Deception Pass
Time from Seattle: 30 min to Whidbey (ferry en route)
What to Pack
DSLR + 50mm, 18-135 mm
puffy coat/waterproof coat
Pair of jeans
Pair of Shorts
Get a taste of island charm without the dedication of a San Juan Islands vacation. A weekend getaway on Whidbey Island is for those looking for an exciting adventure not too far from civilization. Located in central Puget Sound about a 30-minute drive north of Seattle and a 30-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo lies a couple charmed-out towns and a lot of natural beauty – especially in Washington’s unparalleled summer months!
Whidbey was a brief home of mine growing up and Arturo had never been, so we hit the road one sunny day for an overnight loop up Whidbey Island to Deception Pass and back around the mainland. So here, you’ll find a semi-local’s list of recommendations for a well-rounded Whidbey Island visit. I cover restaurants, attractions, and more in Langley, Coupeville, and everywhere in between, as well as photography tips for sunset at Deception Pass. Sooo here we go!
After asking for our one-way Whidbey Island ferry ticket in Mukilteo, we picked up a soft serve cone from Ivar’s at the dock and boarded the ferry for a short ride to Clinton, Whidbey Island. Keep an eye out for whales! Next stop, Langley.
Believe it or not, this quintessential town is downtown for a lot of South Whidbey locals. While most often frequent grocery stores elsewhere (like Payless Foods in Freeland, Red Apple in Ken’s Korner, or The Goose), Langley is the spot for local gifts, delicious food, and waterfront views. In the summer months, it’s often overrun by tourists, but that’s not a reason not to go! “Local,” “farm-to-table,” and “handmade” are Langley's mantras, and quality is often its promise. Check out these highlights before continuing your road trip!
Stop by the Firehouse Glass Gallery (built in an old fire station) to watch the glassmakers blow, bend, and twist glass into beautiful vases, bowls, starfish, and the like, or book a class of your own to learn the art yourself.
The Star Store is a Langley legend attracting customers for almost 100 years. Built in 1919, locals and tourists alike come together in this one-stop-shop for groceries, wine, beer, and liquor, cute gifts, houseware, and trendy clothing. It even offers a top floor apartment for rent in the heart of Langley called “The Roost.” What more could ya want?
It’s whale season, so why not brush up on your facts? The Langley Whale Center is a project of the Orca Network where you can learn about our Southern Resident Killer whales that often swim through this area in the fall and the 10-12 Gray whales that frequent these waters in spring.
From tribal history to fishing villages, learn a bit more about Langley’s, Clinton’s, and Freeland’s history at the South Whidbey Historical Museum.
Explore low tide at Seawall Park or stroll along the break wall for a taste of nature.
The Village Pizzeria is my top recommendation. I know, you’re like really? Pizza? And sure, it’s not a fine dining experience, but the atmosphere is chill, there’s shaded outdoor seating with a view of the Sound, and the pizza is pretty dang good. Ask anyone who lives in the surrounding area, they’re not new to the Village Pizza scene.
Portico's is a new addition since my time living there many years ago, but this Latin-themed bistro caught our eye. Sadly, we were there a little too early to experience its taste, but just by peeping through the door we could see sweet views of the Sound (surprisingly rare in Langley for a dining establishment) and a solid happy hour menu. If you stop there, let me know how it is!
The Inn at Langley is for the fancy folk with a few extra dollars. Man, would I love to try this place if I could afford it. The Northwest award-winning Chef Matt Costello serves a multi-course dinner featuring fresh, seasonal and local ingredients from Whidbey Island incorporated with those from around the world. $160 per person… told ya it ain’t cheap!
The Prima Bistro is another long-term Whidbey Island local favorite. This delicious French-inspired establishment is reasonably priced and has been a Langley staple for about 11 years. A solid stop if you ask me! What’s even more exciting is their new Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar that opened just a few doors down from Prima Bistro. The owners listened to their seafood-loving customers and created a strictly from-the-sea establishment per customer’s request. It looks d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. Fish and chips, crab cakes, lobster rolls, the ocean is at your taste buds. Again, if you try it, let me know how it goes!! The only downside with this two-day camping trip, is you land in Langley in the A.M. Ah well, maybe next time!
For live summer concerts and an ice cold brew, visit Double Bluff Brewing Company. Outdoor seating available – perfect for a sizzling summer day!
Calling all coffee lovers! Useless Bay Coffee Company is local and delicious with a manicured outdoor area. Enjoy a cup of small-batch coffee with your Essential Baking Co. baked goods, or a delectable house-made panini. YUM.
Another cute coffee stop with more of a quirky atmosphere (not sure if you’ve noticed but I’m a fanatic for unusual, creative and hidden gems) is The Commons Café & Books. It’s a community-driven, youth-empowered, family-friendly, nonprofit coffeehouse with a rentable community room. Most employees are volunteers and because the café/bookstore qualifies for the AmeriCorps program, employees become AmeriCorps volunteers as well.
For elegant jewelry and beach-themed gifts, stop by Foamy Wader. With light blue walls and a naturally lit interior, this place is welcoming, cute, and tasteful.
What’s an island tour without a little wine tasting, am I right? Experience South Whidbey’s six winery loop on a tasting tour of your own this summer.
Don’t forget to check off Ott & Murphy Wines. The aesthetic is sophisticated and northwesty with dark woods, leather chairs, and bookshelves. Enjoy live music on Saturdays as you taste their flagship 2010 L’Entente Blanc.
Blooms Winery is small batch, producing only 900 cases a year with most sold to those visiting Whidbey.
Comforts of Whidbey is on a working farm producing nine wines and 300-500 crates from grapes at their estate vineyard alone.
If you’re not into warm, sandy beaches, skip this section and hop straight down to Greenbank ‘cuz it’s a little out of the way. If you think I’m crazy for even thinking skipping a beach is an option, you’re my kind of person. Take a hard left across the island and make your way to Double Bluff Beach for a ton of sand, a shallow bay (for warm swimming), and a chance to see eagles as you gaze over the sound at the Olympic and Cascade mountains, taking in Mt. Rainier and Baker all at the same time! It’s a designated off-leash dog park. At low tide, you can stroll the beach for miles.
Past Freeland (you’re not missing much other than a little beach park at the end of Holmes Harbor), halfway between Freeland and Coupeville is Greenbank. This pasture-focused town has one must-visit attraction – Greenbank Farm. Loganberry is their specialty, having once been the largest Loganberry grower. Try their loganberry pie at Whidbey Pies Café, pick up the best stinky cheese at the Cheese Shop, and wine taste the Greenbank Wine Shop’s delectable collection. My family’s favorite has always been the Loganberry dessert wine. We always have a bottle or two stashed away for special (or desperate) occasions. Visit their two fine art galleries, stroll their demo-garden, check out the coastal-influenced Seaside & Sylvan home store, and check out the alpacas. We spent maybe a little too much time here seeing it all, stocking up on Loganberry dessert wine and befriending the owner of Seaside & Sylvan – she’s phenomenal, seriously. This might just be my favorite place on the island; you don’t want to miss it!
The landing site for the Port Townsend ferry and part of the “Triangle of Fire,” that defended the entrance to Puget Sound in the 1900’s, Fort Casey is home to cliff-side gun batteries from the late 1800s, equipped for defense and used as a training facility until the mid-1940s. Check out the rare 10-inch disappearing guns, take in the Admiralty Head lighthouse, or gaze out into the Salish Sea. It’s crazy to walk in the footsteps of soldiers in training from 100 years ago. Boating, camping, hiking, fishing, diving, beaches, fire pits, you got it all!
A straight shot up S Engle Rd that turns into N Main St. is Coupeville. If you’ve seen the Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman movie Practical Magic, you’re familiar with its magical charm. One street marks the farming community’s waterfront downtown area. The town is also central to the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, so keep an eye out for active wildlife! Artistry is in no short supply. Studios and galleries feature paintings, photographs, encaustics, pottery, baskets, jewelry, woodcarving, and more. The buildings still resemble that of early settlement. Shops rotate but the buildings remain the same.
Embark on a self-guided historical walking tour with a free map from the Island County Historical Society Museum. They also do guided group tours of Coupeville’s 50 structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
Try a Penn Cove mussel or 20 on the actual Penn Cove at Front Street Grill or Toby’s Tavern – doesn’t get much fresher off the seabed than that! I’d even go as far as planning my trip around the Penn Cove Mussel Fest (August 11-12) or the Penn Cove Water Festival in May. Penn Cove mussels are kind of a big deal.
Get your gifts and souvenirs at Aqua Gifts and your locally-grown lavender everything from Lavender Wind on NW Coveland St. If you’re as much of a lavender fiend as I am, cross the island once more and take a tour of their lavender farm! The Olympic mountains offer a breathtaking backdrop to the purple fields. You’re not going to find that anywhere else. Believe me, I’ve seen them all.
Oak Harbor is next, but in the absence of time and the tendency to avoid larger towns (I know, I know, it’s hardly “large”), we decided to skip over Oak Harbor and head straight for sunset at Deception Pass. But, that’s not to say that’s the choice for everyone. Farmers markets, seaworthy excursions, camping, beachcombing, hiking, whale watching, and more, there’s a lot to see here! But we were chasing sunlight at this point. 20 minutes north and we arrived at Deception Pass State Park.
Pro tip: Reserve a spot at the campsite ahead of time. Cranberry Lake Campground was booked out at least two weeks in advance and we (with our last-minute tendencies) were a little unprepared. But, we were super lucky and snagged the very last campsite in the park. To the south: the beautiful little Cranberry Lake. To the north: the current-dominated, rocky cliff-flanked deception pass.
Deception Pass is one of Washington’s most visited state parks and for good reason. It’s located at the termination point of the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which gives Deception Pass’s tidal zones and beaches that coastal feel. It’s like you’re in the middle of nowhere even though Anacortes and Oak Harbor are less than 30 minutes away. Explore the areas' hidden coves, rocky shores, Hoypus Forest (one of Washington’s few remaining old-growth forests), or befriend a seal, an eagle, or possibly even a whale.
We threw up our tent and sped out of there to catch golden hour on the bridge. Just up the hill from the campground, we parked on the island separating the two bridges and hiked down the southern bridge to get a little closer to the water. A few yellow wildflowers hung around and complimented the green-toned water and complex industrial bridge structure through the lens. Check it out!
It was getting dark, and cold, and we decided to call it a night. If you have a little extra time, take a hike around Lottie Bay up to Lighthouse Point for spectacular views of the bridge and out the Straight. Then, circle back around Bowman Bay for yet another incredible scene. Discover the Maiden of Deception Pass at the northern end of Bowman Bay; a statue constructed by the Samish people – the original settlers of this land – and an important part of their tribal history.
Explore the tide pools, kayak the pass, or fish in Cranberry Lake; the opportunities are abundant, and if we weren’t on such a tight schedule, we could’ve stayed much, much longer.
On the way back to our campsite, we stopped at JJ Café and Grocery for firewood, lit a fire upon our return and curled up in our sleeping bags for the night.