Visit Whidbey Island Washington through the eyes of locals

by Aug 19, 2021Washington State

Whidbey Island Washington Coupeville Wharf

Picturesque Whidbey Island Washington offers a great getaway, either as a day trip from the bustle of Seattle or, even better, as a visit of several days to enjoy the restaurants, wineries, outdoor parks, and beaches. Visit Whidbey Island for a nearby “island escape.”

Just 35 miles across the water from Seattle, picturesque Whidbey Island Washington offers a world of differences from the international, high-tech, progressive Emerald City.

Whidbey may be a well-known “island-style” escape for Seattleites looking for a day trip to charming waterfront villages and a getaway from the bustling city. As a Californian, however, I had no idea what to expect on Whidbey Island. Once I exited the mainland’s hustle and found city streets slowly petering out into small towns smattered between expansive agricultural fields, I felt myself exhaling deeply. I was ready for a little relaxation, salt air and Whidbey Island seafood, particularly mussels farmed right on the island.

Island time on Whidbey Island near Seattle

Most interesting is that Island County consists of both Whidbey Island and its neighboring Camano Island. Surprising to me was that Whidbey Islanders and Camano Islanders seem to have very little in common and don’t often venture between the two! The two islands are in fact very different in feel, something that Whidbey Islanders are quick to point out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the time to explore Camano Island. I did that, too, and found that island time slowed even more on Camano where an outdoor shopping area counts as the community hub since there are no actual cities, but tons of ocean views and parks.

The result is that Whidbey Island ends up with more visitor traffic with its quaint village streets and budding restaurant, winery, and brewery scene. Don’t forget the numerous outdoor parks and beaches for great hiking and sunset views!

Ebeys Landing Sunset Whidbey

Take the hike to Ebey’s Landing and the bluffs overlooking the ocean for a great sunset. Make it a longer loop back along the beach, or just an out-and-back to the bluffs.

Explore Whidbey Island as locals suggest

What I found after a few days of visiting with Whidbey locals and business owners and touring up and down the skinny 48-mile-long island was a sense of historic pride among the 70,000 residents. Many boast several generations of island heritage (which by the way was first settled about a year before Seattle). You can’t help but find air to breathe when visiting Whidbey Island with a population of about 240 per square mile versus Seattle’s nearly 9,300!

I talked to locals themselves about what they loved about the island and where they would take traveling friends and family to show it off.  Many shared some of the same highlights, you will find mentioned over and over – but are truly worth your time. Some, however, take you off the beaten path. Come along with me to visit Whidbey Island Washington through the eyes of locals, all busting with infectious pride and enthusiasm.

Ken and Virginia Bloom, Blooms Winery / 5511 Bistro, Freeland

Blooms Winery Whidbey Ken Virginia

Blooms Winery in Freeland, built to accommodate the winery’s growing popularity, was just opened in 2018 – when after 15 years the business outgrew Ken and Virginia’s garage (which by the way is now the Blooms Winery Suite, a peaceful vacation rental where I stayed) and another site. Much of the ingredients used in 5511 Bistro’s cuisine – shepherded by remarkable chef de cuisine Alvaro Lobon Vega, originally from Spain but living on Whidbey since 2008 – come straight from the lush gardens surrounding the winery or local farms.

When I arrived, I found Virginia puttering around in the garden, and Chef Alvaro preparing a few tapas for me to try since shortened bistro hours due to COVID meant I had to miss a meal there. Ken and Virginia moved to Whidbey in 1975 and Ken first started making Cabernet Sauvignon at home in 1998, but “Ken doesn’t know how to do anything small,” Virginia said, so 100 cases of cab morphed slowly into nearly 1,000 cases of 17 varietals, from Semillon and Viognier to Syrah and Malbec. Then came the 5511 Bistro – “We like food too,” Ken said. Seems they just can’t stop.

Blooms Winery Whidbey Therese Tasting

A sampling of Chef Alvaro’s cuisine left me swooning. No, I didn’t drink all of those bottles, but did my share of tasting!

Whidbey, they said, simply put, is beautiful, with a laid-back ambiance. Although it’s grown a lot in the last four-plus decades since they arrived, it still has that small-town feeling they love.

5 Whidbey Island highlights from Ken and Virginia Bloom

Deception Pass on Whidbey Island

A visit to Deception Pass Bridge and the park come up often as a top highlight. During my visit, the bridge was being cleaned and painted, thus the white covering on the right. For a short walk, head down to the west and go to North Beach.

>> Price Sculpture Garden, Coupeville

>> Clam digging on one of many beaches

>> Bush Point Park hike or whale watching, Freeland

>> Langley and Coupeville downtowns

>> Deception Pass Bridge and Park, Oak Harbor

Gary and Beth Smith, Mukilteo Coffee Roasters, Langley

Mukilteo Coffee owners Gary and Beth

Finding Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is a bit of a treasure hunt, off the main road with no signs or advertising, and basically buried deep in the woods but only about three miles from Langley’s downtown. But it is a treasure worth seeking, with the smell of coffee roasting on site and the gemutlich Café in the Woods. Gary was of course doing what he does best once I found the café – schmoozing and joking with locals hanging out in the café, swapping jovial insults and chit-chat.

He and Beth moved to Whidbey in 2003, but they had started roasting their own coffee in 1989. Gary used to run a coffee cart in Mukilteo, Washington, after he tasted his first café au lait in the early ‘80s not having a clue what this thing called a “café au lait” was — “I tasted it and I said, ‘holy cow, this is my life.’” He said he immediately loved the coffee house vibe where “everybody was smiling and laughing and talking.” Not surprising since Gary is a vivacious people-lover, while Beth quietly stays behind the scenes keeping the wheels greased.

Mukilteo Coffee Cafe on Whidbey Island

Now, Gary and Beth are trying to step back after 40+ years (and Gary’s three bouts of cancer) – selling the café business to the popular local Seabiscuit Bakery – but continuing with the roasters, which is their passion, plus they still get to see customers at the café next door.

Whidbey Island has been good to them. What do they love? “It’s the people,” said Beth. “People come together.” Added Gary, “we look out for each other.”

5 Whidbey Island highlights from Mukilteo’s Gary and Beth

Fort Casey Lighthouse with Painter

Whidbey attracts many artists. Here, at Admiralty Lighthouse at Fort Casey Historical State Park, one man uses watercolor to recreate the scene.

>> Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve bluffs hike, Coupeville

>> Maxwelton Beach / Dave Mackie Park, Clinton

>> Fort Casey Historical State Park, Coupeville

>> Joseph Whidbey State Park, Oak Harbor

>> Coupeville or Langley downtown (always a must, it seems)

Britt Fletcher and family, Mutiny Bay Blues, Freeland

Britt from Mutiny Bay Blueberries on Whidbey Island

Britt Fletcher, Mutiny Bay Blues founder, stands above the farm with a vintage truck still sometimes used for deliveries.

With the second generation in training (daughter, Lauren and son, Kai), some of the best blueberries and berry products out of the Northwest are guaranteed! Britt Fletcher and his wife, Linda (a.k.a. “the blueberry lady”) bought the 180-acre property two decades ago but only started growing blueberries just 12 years ago, with the first Mutiny Bay Blues crop selling in 2014.

What comes around, goes around, it seems since, as Britt joked, his first job at nine years old was picking blueberries. Then, as a “detail-oriented finance guy,” Britt said he checked soil pH and other parameters and realized the property was ideal for great blueberries. Mutiny Bay Blues was born, now yielding 120,000 pounds of four varieties (I couldn’t get enough of the Draper variety, which is a huge, sweet-tart berry with the ideal pop that just says yum to me).

Therese Iknoian picking Mutiny Bay Blueberries

I got to pick a few yummy blueberries myself, but wasn’t nearly as fast as the 50 pounds an hour pro pickers can yield!

Lauren, who grew up on Whidbey, said (honesty here) she “hated it.” So when her father started talking about the kids taking over the farm, she said she thought, “and I was going to take this over?!! Good luck with THAT!” Now? “I love the small-town feel,” she said. Even a trip to Seattle is a not an outing she looks forward to.

5 Whidbey Island highlights from Britt and Lauren

Double Bluff Beach on Whidbey Island

Double Bluff Beach is a popular locals’ outing for walks or sunsets, plus as a dog-friendly beach all the pups come out to play.

>> Ebey’s Landing

>> Langley or Coupeville downtown

>> Deception Pass Bridge and Park

>> Double Bluff Beach, Freeland

>> Greenbank Farm, Greenbank

Rod, Kathy and Scott Stallman, Mutiny Bay Distillery, Freeland

Mutiny Bay Distillery owners Rod, Kathy and Scott

With backgrounds in science and engineering, the Stallman family didn’t just fumble with recipes for the array of distilled beverages for their “retirement business.” They analyzed ingredients and researched processes for Mutiny Bay Distillery, today making what is truly some of the best whiskey, gin and liqueurs I’ve ever tasted.

Son Scott is the head distiller, with dad Rod never too far away, while Kathy, who has lived on Whidbey since 1973, looking out for marketing and promotions. The first barrel of whiskey came out in 2013 and they opened in 2017 with two whiskeys and a whiskey liqueur. Gin and vodka and other liqueurs were added starting in 2018, including blueberry liqueur with blueberries from neighboring Mutiny Bay Blues.

Mutiny Bay Distillery Barn on Whidbey Island

At Mutiny Bay Distillery’s converted horse barn, you may be greeted with Obi, the pup-in-chief.

A whiskey-ophile who has never met a gin I really liked, I took one sip of Mutiny Bay’s gin since, well, I of course needed to do my job! My eyes opened wide, so surprising was the flavor. “It’s not juniper forward,” said Rod. “I don’t like my alcohol confrontational.” As a craft distiller, Mutiny Bay will stay local or perhaps regional, they agreed. For now, you can visit and taste in a converted horse barn on one side of the Mutiny Bay Blues farm. “People collaborate here,” Kathy said of Whidbey. “They are all friendly competitors. The distilleries and wineries work together.”

5 Whidbey Island highlights from the Mutiny Bay distillers

Langley Marina on Whidbey Island

Langley’s marina for a little paddling, fishing or just hanging.

>> Downtown Langley and its marina

>> Putney Woods, Langley

>> Lake Goss for fishing

>> Robinson Beach for sunset

>> Deception Pass

To really understand the Whidbey Island Washington spirit, you must look beyond cute downtowns, although they are always worth a stroll. There is a passion for the outdoors on the island – from hiking and fishing to paddling and beach strolls – that will be quite infectious. Oh, and the sunsets? Well, those are as unforgettable as the Whidbey Island Washington experience is.

Disclosure: Therese Iknoian was hosted for this trip by Whidbey & Camano Islands Tourism. Any reviews, mentions and opinions here are our own, and are not approved, provided, or otherwise endorsed or influenced by Whidbey & Camano Islands Tourism or any of the attractions mentioned.

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  1. jim freeman

    exceptional; great photos; great writing; thanks

    • <div class="apbct-real-user-wrapper"><span>Therese Iknoian</span><div class="apbct-real-user" title="The Real Person (TRP)"><div class="apbct-real-user-popup"><span class="apbct-real-user-title">Therese Iknoian acts as a real person and passed all tests against spambots. Anti-Spam by CleanTalk.</span></div></div></div>

      You are so welcome! And thank you for taking the time to comment. As a fellow journalist, you know that is appreciated. Whidbey is a special place!

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