Come fall, and Washington bursts with beauty and color. This year, we’ve appreciated the outdoors just a bit more than usual. The pandemic has shown us how resilient the human spirit, how powerful our communities are, and just how beautiful our backyard is. Just a couple of hours up North from Seattle, Whidbey island is one such beautiful getaway from Seattle.
On a sunny fall weekend, we drove into Whidbey via Deception Pass Bridge. In adapting to the new normal, navigating safe ways to travel has given us a lot of joy. Geographically, we were only two hours away from the mainland. Mentally, we managed to escape miles and miles away. With a toddler in tow, we were able to enjoy a getaway that checked all the boxes – baby-friendly, socially-distant, close-to-nature and completely re-energizing.
Looking for island inspiration? Watch classic films like Practical Magic (1998) or The Ring (2002) that were filmed in the area. From oyster shucking to outdoor movies, wine tasting to whale watching —there is something for everyone, whether it be a couple looking for a romantic autumn getaway or a family looking for a fun-filled vacation….
The drive itself is really scenic, with fall foliage in full splendor. It sets the mood for all the good things to come. Here are some amazing hikes that you can kickstart your trip with, even before it officially begins. These trails are gorgeous in every season, but especially magical during fall when everything around is different shades of gold.
Go straight from cabin fever to living in fabulous cabins. While we all want to forget 2020, the pandemic is still far from over and has taken a toll on everyone. While our travel plans might look very different, we still have the opportunity to make this fall (and winter!) an unforgettable one. From claw-footed bathtubs to waterside cabins – there are myriad lodging options at Whidbey & Camano islands to make you forget the stresses of city life. We stayed at one of the restored Georgian revival homes at Fort Casey Inn, and it felt like being transported to another time.
The Inn is located adjacent to Fort Casey State Park with its bunkers, lighthouse, 10-inch disappearing guns, public beaches and trails. We spent a couple of idyllic mornings sipping coffee on the porch, watching a woodpecker hard at work, pecking away at a fir tree. We saw deer scamper while enjoying a gorgeous sunset. The best part about living at Fort Casey is backdoor access to the beach, state parks, water sports, historic lighthouses, great eateries and wineries. The charming property gets an A+ for accessibility. We highly recommend disconnecting to really connect. There is no TV at Fort Casey, which makes a great case for old-fashioned fun like board games, playing cards, strumming your guitar, or just enjoy gazing at the splendid night sky. Get together your quaran’team’ for a bonding island experience and connect on a deeper level.
If you’re an old soul, Captain Whidbey is a great lodging option for you. The inn has been an institution at the island since the early 1900s. A visit to Whidbey would be incomplete without a jaunt here. This place, with its historic architecture and maritime charm, will make you nostalgic for an era gone by. The best way to experience the seaside glory here would be to stay at one of the rustic cabins at the legendary lodge. Hang out by their grand time-weathered stone fireplace and toast to yourself and your near ones surviving one of the most difficult years our generation has seen.
With waterfront patios, wide spaces and outdoor seating; there are plenty of safe culinary adventures to be had. There are lots of restaurants doing curbside pick-ups for when you want to enjoy island-made fare from the comfort of your vacation rental or AirBnb. Many island eateries continue to offer takeaway service (find a list here), while several spaces are now open for distanced dining options.
Most eateries and coffee shops in the island are full of feel-good, hygge vibes. Rustica dishes out delicious, rustic Italian food – think jalapeno mac and cheese, hearty meat and veggie quiches, and artisan cheese platters. We got takeout from there one evening and ate it by the fireplace back in our inn. It made for a scrumptious meal and a delightful evening spent in.
When on an island, one must gorge on seafood. Seaboldt’s Smokehouse is all about the day’s catch, it offers the freshest fish, shrimp and oysters around the area. The restaurant at Captain Whidbey presents the best of the island’s locally-sourced fare too – crispy fish and chips, coconut crusted prawns and produce-centered dishes. Spread out on the lawn along the shores of Penn Cove and enjoy hammocks, firepits, canoes, lawn games, outdoor bars, picnic grounds, the deepwater dock and more. Tuck into their delicious fried calamari and burrata salad, while the salty sea breeze wafts into the historic dining room here. Don’t forget their specialty cocktails, that are both yummy and potent. In consideration of the times, they’ve spaced their dining room according to the latest state mandates and are following strict cleaning protocols.
Langley is a quaint little seaside town at the very tip of Whidbey island. It has the best of everything the island has to offer – chic coffee shops, fine dining, art galleries, adventure sports and an energetic cultural vibe. Enjoy a slice of Neapolitan-style pizza at the beach at Village Pizzeria. Round it all off with handcrafted truffles from Sweet Mona’s. The Star Store in Langley is another great stop for natural foods, and little island souvenirs to take back home.
Spend a glorious autumn afternoon at Bayview Farm & Garden. There’s a full service garden center, home store and cafe housed in the same premises. If you’re a plant parent, you’ll love the nursery and horticultural products. Flower House Cafe is the cutest cafe here, with spacious indoor and outdoor seating, perfect for social distancing. Enjoy a relaxing brunch here, with a carefully-curated wine bar. Choose from options like chia pudding, granola bowls and seasonal egg scramble. We went for lunch, and are happy to report that the chicken sandwich here is an absolute revelation, and we would go back to the island just for it. Think creamy chicken salad with apples, pickled currants, walnuts, and celery sandwiched in homemade sourdough. The bacon-maple scone deserves a special mention too. Yum!
At coupeville, sit down for a steaming hot chocolate at Little Red Hen Bakery, or pack some pistachio shortbread cookies and cardamom rolls to go. For refreshments with a view, you can enjoy coffee on the pier at The Salty Mug
For gourmet treats and local food, the Coupeville Farmers Market is a great option too.
At Holmes Harbor Cellars, you can stroll about the expansive winery grounds and spend an evening tasting some award-winning Washington wines, that capture the finest expression of our state’s terroir. Greg and Thresa Martinez, owners of Holmes Harbor Cellars, make just the perfect pair. Theresa is the scientist to Greg’s creative prowess. Today they create magic. Their spicy red wines, like the 2011 Red Etude and their 2014 Syrah are made from grapes harvested from Walla Walla, and are the perfect complement for the cold front setting in.
Check out Double Bluff Brewery and enjoy some delicious beers on their outdoor patio, or grab a growler to bring home.
Cadee Distillery is all about handcrafted maritime whiskey, that combines classic Scottish techniques with a unique island flair.
Hierophant meadery, one of Washington’s favorite meaderies has a holiday home in Whidbey now. They’re moving production to the island, and will soon have a tasting room there, by the time holiday season rolls in. Keep yourself updated here.
When in Whidbey, take out the time to wonder and wander about. Most places on the island are a hop, skip and jump away from each other. That means less time driving to and fro places, and more time having fun
Just to breathe in the crisp autumn air (even with masks!) in the great outdoors is such a luxury. Biking, hiking and heck, even strolling at the many amazing parks and trails at the island is a great way to recharge your batteries. You can grab a pair of binoculars and enjoy watching orcas show off in the puget Sound. Book a trail ride at Wildwood Farm and gallop over rolling hills and lush pastures. Nothing like enjoying the beautiful area on horseback.
Located 1.5 miles east of downtown Coupeville, the Price Sculpture Forest officially opened to the public on Friday, October 23rd. This sculpture forest features a growing number of works from half a dozen local artists. Discover the century-old forest and native plants, along with art hanging from trees or hidden behind foliage.
Go for a rejuvenating morning walk to The Earth Sanctuary, and you might find yourself in the rather stellar company of a song sparrow or a blackbird. This 72-acre nature preserve is an oasis of calm, zen vibes. Spend a couple of hours hiking through the park or simply spend some time meditating in the tranquil space. From a Buddhist Stupa monument to a hedge labyrinth; there are many outdoor eco-art sculptures here to explore for quiet contemplation.
Explore Fort Casey State Park and Admiralty Head Lighthouse. This 999-acre historical park used to be a military base, and is an absolute treat for history lovers. The sunset by the cliff-side vintage lighthouse is a sight to remember. We recommend packing a picnic and watching the sun go down, for an experience for the books. For adventure seekers, this is a great camping ground if you want to set your tent up. Bring cozy sleeping bags, wine, coffee and fortifications galore.
There’s something about the old-world charm of a drive-in movie theater and the Blue fox Drive-in has a lovely, retro feel to it. Feast on the best food ever – pizza, popcorn, nachos and fries, and be transported back to simpler, childhood days. Speaking of fun stuff for children (or to indulge the child in you!), there’s an arcade and go-karts too. Advanced reservations required so please make those if interested in attending, check showings and book here.
Windjammer Park at Oak harbor is a huge carpet of green bliss right by the beach. Go for a brisk jog or just enjoy a lovely picnic there. Kids will love it too, as there’s a stroller-friendly trail by the water, and swings that tiny tots can enjoy.
In Oak Harbor, you can snag the Selfie Parking spot at The Allgire Project and check out the outstanding outdoor gallery. Bang in downtown Oak Harbor – there’s a whopping 18,000 square-feet of indoor commercial and outdoor event spaces dedicated to art. It contains five commercial spaces, an outdoor event space, and a mural gallery. The Allgire Project is a community-focussed art initiative that ties artists, small businesses and events together. To support new and upcoming artists in Oak Harbor, and brighten up your home with some stunning art, buy a digital mural image here!
3 Sisters Market is the most charming, local market that is housed in an old brick-red barn. Their specialty is their all natural, grass-fed meat – beef, pork, lamb, chicken and eggs. But there’s so much for to this charming shop than just meat. There’s a lot of baked goodies, fresh farm produce, local wine, and other spirits. It is great to bring some cute gifts and souvenirs for home too. There are locally-made goodies like roasted chile olive oil, spiced apple rub, fruit pies, blackberry honey, handcrafted lavender soap and so much more. We tried the apple pie there, and it was all warm, flaky, apple-cinnamon goodness.
Soak in some art therapy while you’re there at the island. Langley, in particular, has a vibrant art scene. Edit. is a nice boutique to indulge in a spot of retail therapy. They curate art, design products and eclectic clothes from 80 small makers from all around the world. Music for the Eyes sells gorgeous rugs, tapestries and cultural artifacts from around the world. Housed in a historic bank building, Rob Schouten Gallery and Outdoor Sculpture Garden showcases the work of more than 40 Northwest and Whidbey Island artists. Their recently opened sculpture garden has work ranging from colorful hand-blown glass ornaments to striking garden center pieces.
For current information around Island County’s modified phase III of “Safe Start” Reopening Plan, visit www.islandcountywa.gov.