12 Best Things to Do on Whidbey Island, Washington

|   Last Updated on August 13, 2021

— WHIDBEY ISLAND, WASHINGTON — Picture-perfect, Whidbey is a quaint island located north of Seattle across Puget Sound. It is filled with incredible vistas, towering trees, charming small towns, and quirky, fun, and delightfully unique things in a rural landscape. The transformation from the mainland to the island is not only physical but also psychological. The pace is not only slower, but it also feels as if you’ve stepped back in time.

Washington State’s largest island is named after Joseph Whidbey. He served on Captain George Vancouver’s expedition to the region in the 1790s. For thousands of years before that time, the native Coast Salish communities called this island home.

The inland’s rugged terrain spans winding forest paths, lofty bluffs, and fertile farmland. It has miles of uncrowded sandy beaches, as well as many trails for hiking and biking. Easy to reach via ferry, the views and atmosphere are well worth the visit.

Home to several state parks, there are many places to get out and enjoy nature.

Whidbey Island is packed with winsome wineries, craft breweries, world-class cuisine, plus art galleries and shops. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore and many historical attractions. On the north end of the island, Oak Harbor is home to Naval Air Station Whidbey, making an indelible contribution to the island’s history.


Here are some great things to do on Whidbey Island.

~Sharon Kurtz

1. Stroll the Quaint Towns

While there are several small hamlets and villages on Whidbey, the island is home to three major towns, Langley, Coupeville, and Oak Harbor. Each of the three has its distinct charms.  

Langley is called the “Village by the Sea.” Its waterside setting makes it the perfect spot to grab a seat with a view and sip the afternoon away. Full of art and culture, spend time visiting galleries, bookstores, and restaurants. Stroll the waterfront and visit the First Street Park, better known as Boy and Dog Park, because of the endearing sculpture of a boy leaning against the railing with a loyal dog at his feet. Be sure to ring the bell if you see one of the many whales that pass by in the Saratoga Passage.

Coupeville is Washington State’s second-oldest town and named after Captain Thomas Coupe, who settled the area in the 1850s. Meander the boardwalk on Front Street to the landmark wharf along the waterfront. The historic town has charming shops, a museum, and delicious seaside dining. Picturesque working farms, Ebey’s Landing, and Fort Casey are all nearby.

On the North end of the island, family-friendly Oak Harbor combines the appeal of a small community with the amenities of a larger city. The historic downtown has a creative and colorful outdoor mural gallery and unique shops and restaurants. The famous Deception Pass State Park and the PBY Naval Air Museum are nearby. Whidbey Island is often used for film locations in movies. Much of the film “Top Gun 2”, the sequel to the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun starring Tom Cruise, was filmed at the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor.

2. Hike & Bike Nirvana

Hiking Ridge Trail - Whidbey Island WA
©S. Kurtz

There are more than 100 miles of hiking and biking trails on Whidbey Island, and many have incomparable views. If you prefer walking along the shore, a backcountry trail, or a windswept and rocky cliffside hike, you’ll find it on Whidbey Island. Stroll along farm access roads, climb coastal bluffs towering above the crashing surf, and wander along a driftwood log-strewn beach. Two of my favorite hikes are the Saratoga Woods Trail near Langley. It offers very easy-going trails for all abilities. In addition, Ebey’s Landing five-mile Bluff Trail Loop high above Admiralty Inlet runs along the cliffs on the way out. It returns via a walk along the beach.

3. Blissful Beaches Abound

Ebey's Landing Beach
©S. Kurtz

Whidbey has some of the best beaches within Puget Sound to explore. The post-card perfect beaches of Whidbey Island offer a place to reset and recharge the soul. The essence of what makes the island so unique is the shoreline. Its roughly 200 miles of rocky coastline, natural tidelands, and shoreline intertidal life combine to create this special place. Whatever way you like to experience it, there’s a beach waiting for you any time of the year.

  • Ebey’s Landing in Coupeville has one of the most iconic beaches, rich with beauty and history. Its long narrow curve is bounded by bluffs at either end, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Double Bluff Beach in Freeland is a perfect place for a beach walk and picnic and offers a great view of Mt. Rainier. It’s the only off-leash, dog-friendly beach in the area, with tide pools and rock-free swimming.

4. Take It Outside–Wineries & Breweries with a View

Vineyard Winery - Whidbey Island
©Vineyard Winery

There is nothing better than being on a beautiful island, relaxing and taking in the view with a tasty beverage in hand. Tasting rooms on the islands provide the flavor of Washington’s finest vineyards on spacious acreage affording scenic vistas; many offer pet-friendly patios with room to roam. There is a wine to tempt every wine-lover. If beer is more your thing, there are 4 breweries on the island.

  • Small family-owned Whidbey Island Winery has been around since the 90s and grows grapes on the south end of Whidbey Island. With scenic views to spare, it’s a great place to savor a glass of their Island White on the patio under the apple tree that looks out over the vineyard.
  • At Comforts of Whidbey in Clinton, enjoy a glass of estate-grown bubbles on the deck with peekaboo views of the sound —and resident alpacas.
  • Penn Cove Brewery has three locations on the island; the latest is situated in Freeland. Those who enjoy the fresh air with their craft beer will delight in the large beer garden and taproom with stunning views of the Olympic Range to the West and Homes Harbor in the Northeast.
  • If you love atmosphere and ambiance, try out Double Bluff Brewing. It has a hidden outdoor patio in the back of its Langley tasting room.

5. Marvelous Penn Cove Mussels

Penn Cove Mussels
©S. Kurtz
  • Penn Cove Shellfish is the oldest commercial mussel farm in North America. Penn Cove Mussels have won international mussel taste contests for their sweet flavor and fabulous texture, a favorite of renowned chefs and gourmets worldwide.
  • Mussel Fest is an annual celebration of the delicious and award-winning mussels grown here in Coupeville by the Penn Cove Shellfish every March. For more than 30 years, this ‘Bold Briny and Blue’ tradition has been a cherished Washington festival.
  • More than 30-years ago, my husband and I visited Whidbey Island and shared our first taste of Penn Cove Mussels right here in Penn Cove. I don’t remember the restaurant, but the memory has stayed with us all these years. That brimming bowl of warm steamy mussels in a flavorful broth is our benchmark for all the fine dining experiences we have shared since.
    I recently had the pleasure of having lunch in Toby’s Tavern in Coupeville on the shores of tranquil Penn Cove, where the Penn Cove Mussels are harvested. Yes, they were still amazing.

6. World-Class Cuisine

World Class Cuisine on Whidbey Island
©S. Kurtz

As a foodie, I’m constantly searching for the best places to eat when I travel. Whidbey Island offers scores of food & wine pleasures year-round, from casual eateries to award-winning restaurants. Here, you can dine on delicious cuisine from local farms and the surrounding waters. Top chefs are lured to the island for its appealing lifestyle and contribute to this culinary bonanza.

From Clinton on the South end to Oak Harbor on the north end, you’re sure to find a restaurant offering the dining experience you are looking for.

Some of my favorites were Prima Bistro in Langley, inspired by French classics, and Ciao food & wine in Coupeville, an Italian eatery with a wood-fired pizza oven. Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor is fine dining with a seasonal menu of the freshest local Northwest ingredients. Orchard Kitchen is a premier farm-to-table outdoor dining experience in the heart of the farm. The ingredients come right from the farm property and the island’s bounty.

7. Gallery Hop – or – Create Your Own Art

Callahan's Firehouse Studio
©S. Kurtz

Home to poets and sculptors, glass artists, and woodworkers, Whidbey Island, is a haven for creative types and the collectors of their work. If you consider the island’s natural beauty, no wonder it attracts artists to live and work here.

  • The Whidbey Art Trail has many of the island’s studios, galleries, and workshops participating on a popular self-guided trail all over the island. Your time is well spent taking an art walk on Whidbey.
  • Two of my favorites are Callahan’s Firehouse Studio and Gallery located in the old Langley Firehouse. You can watch glassblowing, purchase fine art pieces from local artists, and try your hand at making your own masterpiece.
  • Garry Oak Gallery in Oak Harbor is an artist co-op in historic downtown that features more than 25 established and emerging local artists. I enjoyed visiting with wood intarsia artist Sam Griffith. He shared that many of his pieces include wood reclaimed from a nearby century-old structure. The mix of fine art and gifts in the gallery reflects the inspiration of the Pacific Northwest.

8. Explore the Island’s Many Museums

  • The Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum showcases Whidbey Island’s naval aviation history and has a restored PBY Catalina on display. The original seaplane base was built at the eastern end of Oak Harbor. Inside the museum, you can get inside an actual gun turret and feel what this is like.
  • Whidbey’s fascinating past is sufficient to inspire enough museums to keep history hounds busy. Coupeville was established in the 1850s, years before the Civil War and before Captain Vancouver came through in the late 1700s.
  • Native People and rare dugout canoes are the centerpieces of an exhibit at the Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville. It is chockablock full of local history and artifacts.

9. Traverse 8 State Parks

Fort Casey Lighthouse
©S. Kurtz

Whidbey Island has abundant opportunities to enjoy State Parks in a marine environment surrounded by snow-capped peaks. All feature stunning views of Puget Sound, with rocky and sandy beaches, old-growth forests, and abundant wildlife. Here are two of my favorites.

  • The Fort Casey & Admiralty Head Lighthouse is a 467-acre marine park with a sweeping saltwater shoreline. The military fort was built in the 1890s to defend Puget Sound from potential attacking ships. Look for boats passing, watch the shorebirds and seals, and imagine what it would be like to be a soldier stationed there a hundred years ago. Initially constructed in 1860, the lighthouse stood guard over Admiralty Inlet but was decommissioned soon after World War II. The lighthouse museum features the family life of the lightkeeper, and you can climb to the top via a narrow winding staircase.
  • Deception Pass State Park is Washington’s most-visited state park. The historic metal truss bridge spanning Whidbey Island across the Deception Pass Strait opened in 1935. It towers above the turbulent waters of Deception Pass, connecting the Saratoga Passage with the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where rugged cliffs drop to meet the sea. Hike the trails, enjoy one of the many beaches, or just soak in the beauty of this iconic landmark, showcasing the island’s stunning coastline. Mysterious coves, old-growth forests, and jaw-dropping sunsets are some of the reasons this park is a favorite for visitors.

10. Paddle in the Puget Sound ~ Kayaking & Water Sports

Recreational activities abound on Whidbey Island. Between kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, and more, the Whidbey shores offer plenty of enjoyment for those willing to get wet. And what’s more fun than experiencing the beauty, serenity, and wildlife on the waters of the Salish Sea.

Kayaking is easily an island favorite for water sports; Langley is ideal for taking a guided kayak tour. In the early spring, try out the Saratoga passage where Gray Whales cruise through and feed on the local ghost shrimp from north beach in Oak Harbor. With both saltwater and freshwater shorelines, Whidbey is a marine wonderland.

11. Boating & Whale Watching

Surrounded by Puget Sound and blessed with four beautiful lakes, boating on and around Whidbey Island is a favored recreation activity. Sailing is an island pursuit that is passed down from generation to generation. Whether you decide to sail Deer Lake, cruise through Deception Pass, or power around Saratoga Passage looking for whales, there is no better way to spend the day.

Whale Watching is a popular pastime. Several companies offer guided tours.

The Island Whaler departs from Oak Harbor Marina; the Catamaran boat makes for a spectacular unobstructed view. Deception Pass Jetboat Tours offer grey whale watching tours in the spring and orca watching tours in the summer.  

12.  Discover Art Galleries in the Great Outdoors

Price Sculpture Forest - Whidbey Island
©S. Kurtz

Scenic beaches and forested trails abound on Whidbey. Various destinations pair art and sculpture with the outdoors for an authentic taste of local culture.

  • Price Sculpture Forest is a free 16-acre outdoor museum just east of downtown   Coupeville. Set in a forest of century-old trees, they invite you to wander in wonder and bring your sense of discovery in a meeting of nature and outdoor art.
  • Earth Sanctuary combines an exceptional natural environment to create a haven for birds and wildlife. It’s a peaceful refuge for personal renewal and spiritual connection. Privately owned, the sculpture park is situated on 72 acres of old-growth forest near Langley.
  • The Allgire Project is an outdoor mural gallery in the heart of downtown Oak Harbor spanning 13 walls. It showcases nine different artists, connecting visitors with the history and culture of the community in a colorful, meaningful way.

Conclusion

About 2-hours north of Seattle, you can reach Whidbey Island via ferry from Mukilteo or from the north of Whidbey via Deception Pass Bridge.

The island’s sense of community and connection to nature encourages visitors to slow down and savor the small things. They have a saying here… “Whidbey Island is the shortest distance to far away.” So come and spend a few days on island time.

To learn more about Whidbey Island, Washington visit – Whidbey Island Tourism.

**Opening photo – Deception Pass Bridge ©Whidbey Camano Islands Tourism

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Last Updated on August 13, 2021

Author

  • Sharon Kurtz is a freelance travel writer who shares her passion for travel and food by exploring unique customs, cultures and flavors from around the globe. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and three dogs, but her carry-on is always packed ready for the next adventure. Follow her travels on https://instagram.com/shar_kurtz and https://facebook.com/sharonkkurtz. Read more articles on her website www.Sharonkkurtz.com