It was like magic. No sooner had we crossed the towering bridge separating us from the island, all the stresses of my week suddenly just melted away. I stood and breathed in the smell of trees and beach and water and smiled. My family was in an island of paradise, on Washington State’s beautiful Whidbey Island. This wasn’t our family’s first trip to Whidbey Island, but it was the first since our kids were very small, and we were excited to explore everything and see the island through our kids’ eyes. Whidbey Island is not a huge island, but it packs charm and fun into pretty much every corner.
Tip: Whidbey Island is accessible either by land (over Deception Pass at the north end of the island), or by ferry (to the southern island town of Clinton from Mukilteo). The ferry ride is only 20 minutes long. Be aware that wait times can be very long during peak season. Whidbey Island is approximately 90 minutes from Seattle.
Deception Pass State Park
Our visit took place over a three-day period of time, and we spent each day exploring a different part of the island. For our first day, we hung out at the northern tip of the island at Deception Pass State Park. This beautiful park has so much for families to do and see. We started out with a bit of tidepool exploration, then walked along the beach and enjoyed all the beautiful views. This park is also great for hiking, camping, boating and picnicking. Of course we didn’t miss the chance to walk over the famous Deception Pass bridge and check out the Strait of Juan de Fuca from above. The height made me a bit nervous, but the kids loved being high up in the air and staring at the views below. If you’re interested in getting closer to the water, boat tours are available as well.
Tip: State Parks in Washington do require a parking pass (Discover Pass). These are either $10/day or $30/year. Some state parks have a machine where you can buy the $30 yearly pass, some only offer the daily pass. If you’re interested in a yearly pass, there are a number of retail shops where you can buy these ahead of time, or research on the state park website which parks have the yearly pass for sale.
After a fun time at Deception Pass, we headed south to the town of Oak Harbor. Oak Harbor is the main commercial town on the island and it has all the retail stores and fast food that you’d expect in any city. It’s also the best place for finding a family-friendly hotel, if that’s the type of lodging you’re interested in. There are also a number of rental houses, camping options and B&Bs on the island. We spent our first night at the Best Western Harbor Plaza which offered us comfortable beds, free breakfast, free parking, and the all-important swimming pool!
The afternoon was spent splashing in the pool at our hotel and enjoying a walk along the beach at Oak Harbor’s Windjammer Park before we finished up the evening by heading to the Blue Fox, a drive-in movie theater! My husband and kids had never been to a drive-in before, so we were all very excited about this. The drive-in offers an arcade, go-karts, and a concession stand. While waiting for the first movie to start (which was not until close to 10, since it doesn’t get dark until late in the summer), we munched on corn dogs, popcorn and pizza. The kids played soccer with other kids in the grassy area in front of the huge screen and we relaxed before climbing into our car to watch the movie. Since we had a full day planned the next day, we opted to leave after the first movie, as did many other cars carrying small kids. It was a really fun experience!
Tip: Eat at Seabolt’s Smokehouse in Oak Harbor. This is a lovely little casual restaurant with fantastic seafood! We loved the fish and chips! Delicious!
Exploring the Middle of the Island
On our second day on Whidbey Island, we spent time exploring the middle of the island. No place is a particularly long drive from Whidbey, so wandering around and seeing lots of different sights didn’t involve too much time in the car. We visited historic Ebey’s Landing and learned about early settlers on the island and how they lived and farmed. Visiting nearby Fort Casey State Park was a highlight of the day for my husband and kids who absolutely loved climbing all of the old military gun batteries. I didn’t think I would ever get them to leave! Being slightly less interested in old guns, I enjoyed sitting on the beautiful green grass and watching other people fly kites in the breeze. When I finally did recover my family, we went over to Admiralty Head Lighthouse to climb up and enjoy the views of Admiralty Inlet from the top!
Another fun stop on our explorations was Lavender Wind Farm. Just inhaling the scent of the lavender relaxed and reinvigorated us. The kids had a blast checking out all the flowers, running through a labyrinth of lavender, and eating lavender ice cream. After getting our fill of lavender, we headed to the charming small town of Coupeville, perched on the edge of the water. This historic town is full of great little shops in historic buildings (pick up a brochure that tells the history of the town and buildings), restaurants, and a marina with some fantastic marine skeletons! Worn out from all our adventures, we had a great night staying in the penthouse suite of the Coachman Inn. The kids couldn’t get over all the space in our two-bedroom suite and the hugeness of the whirlpool bathtub!
*Travel Tip: Lunch at the amazing Oystercatcher restaurant in Coupeville was a highlight of the trip for the grownups. Food is fresh, local and insanely delicious. The adult menu would only appeal to the most adventurous of kids, but a small assortment of kid-friendly dishes are also available.
Exploring the Lower Section
On our final day on Whidbey Island, we headed south to the lower part of the island to check out the sights there before taking the short ferry ride back to the mainland and home. Our first stop was at the beautiful Greenbank Farm. This farm is on land purchased by the county to protect the farmland and prevent development. It’s now home to a collection of art galleries and shops, a beautiful garden, dog run area, an organic farm school farm area, and a cafe serving seriously delicious food. The cafe is famous for its pie, so we naturally had to indulge in a few pieces. Worth every calorie!
Fueled up by the pie, we continued our journey south for a stop at Double Bluff Beach. This beach is dog-friendly, so it’s a great place to visit if you’re traveling with a four-legged friend. The kids had a great time wading in the water and throwing rocks out into the charmingly named Useless Bay, before we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the shade. Then it was on to another charming small town, Langley. This waterfront town is absolutely lovely. We checked out shops and considered the menus of many restaurants before making our way to the Langley Whale Center. Whales are a big part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest, and there was a lot we hadn’t ever learned before! Friendly volunteers answered our questions about the local whales before directing us to a small kids’ area with an educational video and coloring pages for the kids to enjoy. Our final stop in Langley was to head down to the seawall for a walk along the water in the sunshine. We didn’t spot any whales from land, but if you visit, keep your eyes open!
We hadn’t even completed the 20 minute-long ferry ride back toward home before the kids started asking when we could next return. Even though we spent three days exploring, we barely scratched the surface of all of the wonderful things that still awaits on Whidbey Island. It’s a truly extraordinary destination for the whole family.
Want to learn more about Whidbey Island? Be sure to check out our blog post detailing the great food and farms of Whidbey Island!
All photos by Carrie Yu.
*Thanks to Whidbey/Camano Island Tourism for providing our hotel rooms for this trip. All opinions here are ours and ours alone!