Staycation: Fun On Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island, Washington

Photo by Ricardo Martins. Click for Gallery

Whidbey Island is a place of spectacular beauty and small-town culture.  You won’t find the big-city accoutrements, but what we have is unparalleled.  Most of our activities happen outdoors, even in the rain.  Don’t worry, In the summer the Island rarely gets rain.  We are in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains.  For such a small area, there is a mind-boggling amount to do here, and the best part is that most of it is free.

Outdoor Activities

Deception Pass

Photo by gemteck1. Click for full gallery

Deception Pass State Park:  Deception Pass is the first site you will see as you drive onto the island.  Besides offering spectacular views from the bridge, the park is a gem of hiking trails, old-growth forest, and interesting sites.  There is a small wading area and many other attractions.  It is no wonder that it is the most visited state park in Washington.  Over 2 million people visit the park every year.  Entry to the park and most activities on the park are free.

Camping is available, and this year’s prices are $12-$36 dollars daily rate per site.  They offer group sites, but the prices for those sites vary depending on your needs.

Fun Facts:

  • A scoundrel named Ben Ure smuggled illegal Chinese immigrants to the island later named after him.  He made the immigrants hide in burlap sacks so that he could easily throw them overboard in the event that customs waylaid him. 
  • During prohibition, people smuggled Canadian Whiskey from Victoria, BC to the most northern part of Deception Pass State Park.
  • In the early 1900’s, there was a rock quarry that employed convicts from Walla Walla State Penitentiary.  They quarried rock that was carried up to Seattle by barge.  The rocks were used to expand the Seattle waterfront.
IMG_8636

Photo by Chas Redmond. Click for Gallery

This is the park that I am most familiar with, and one of the things that I recommend is the Deception Pass Boat Tour.  It is decidedly not frugal (rates start at $21 per person for the tour), but I think that it is well worth the cost. 

Fort Ebey State Park is another wonderful place for hiking and biking.  The park sports over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails.  There is also fishing, surfing, and para-gliding.  You may camp here (the price is the same as Deception Pass), and you can even harvest seaweed if you have a license and are in season.  It is a wonderful place to see wild life.

Bald Eagle in Flight at Fort Ebey State Park

Bald Eagle in Flight at Fort Ebey State Park

Fun Facts:

  • Fort Ebey was built during WWII to as a first defense to protect the Puget Sound from invasion by the Japanese.
  • It housed two 6 inch guns.  The guns are not there anymore, but the original battery is still there and open for exploration.

Fort Casey State Park:  When you drive up to this park, the first thing that you will notice is the barracks.  They are still in use for summer camps.  The park itself boasts some hiking, but is more noted for the boating, fishing, and diving.  You can request guided tours of both the gun turrets and Admiralty Head Lighthouse.  These tours are done by volunteers.

Opalescent Nudibranch

Photo by Dan Hershman. Click for Gallery

Fun Facts:

  • This is another fort that guarded the entrance to the Puget Sound (there were four).
  • Admiralty Head Lighthouse is an historical landmark.
  • Most of the guns stationed at Fort Casey were sent to Europe during WWII where they were mounted on rail cars.

South Whidbey State Park:  This is the youngest state park on the island.  It was founded in 1976.  The park boasts fishing, swimming, clamming, and crabbing.  There is some hiking and camping.  The real draw to this park (according to yelp, we haven’t been there yet) is that it is the best place to see the unadulterated forest and wildlife.

Fort Ebey May2011 184

Old Growth Forest at Fort Ebey State Park

Disclaimer:  If you plan to fish or collect other wildlife, you should consult the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine what’s in season and whether you need a license.

Art and Theatre

Whidbey Art Gallery:  This gallery offers their art for viewing and for sale.  They showcase most every medium including photography, fiber, clay, and glass.  The Whidbey Art Gallery is open every day except Tuesday, and they offer periodic events to the community.

Brackenwood Gallery:  This gallery primarily supports Pacific Northwest artists.  They are open to the public, and provide educational tours on request.  They also host events throughout the year.  They change their displays monthly.

Whidbey Play House:  This is a whole lot of fun.  Check out their website to find out what’s playing.  This is a community theatre that is very good.  Performances are always good, and this is always a good time.  Tickets are $16. 

Paraglider at Fort Ebey State Park

Paraglider at Fort Ebey State Park

Museums

Island County Historical Society:  Admission is from $3 for an adult to free for children under 5.  They offer educational tours.  Along with the permanent exhibits, they have an exhibit that rotates throughout the year.  Actually, I think the society describes itself best: 

“The Museum celebrates over 150 years of Island County history and houses over 19,000 objects, photographs, and material in its Collections and Archives.  Our permanent exhibits detail the shaping and development of Island County from the Ice Age to the mid-twentieth century and our visitors have the opportunity to learn about the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, Whidbey Island’s Maritime History and Sea Captains, the Pioneer Settlers of 1853, and the County’s extensive military history.”

 –Island County Historical Society Website.

Events

Holland Happening (April/May):  Holland Happening is the event in Oak Harbor, WA.  There is a parade, street fair, and a carnival.  The elementary school students provide artwork to be hung in the local business’s windows.  The whole community comes out to have a good time.  If you are here for Holland Happening, you shouldn’t miss it.

Penn Cove Mussel Festival (March):  The mussel festival is another must-not-miss.  There is a mussel chowder cook-off, you can visit the mussel farms, and there is an art walk.  There are also children’s activities and a beer garden. 

Island County Fair (Aug):  The fair includes activities like livestock exhibitions, entertainment, vendors, food, and a lot of good, old-fashioned fun.

Whidbey Island Highland Games (Aug):  With music, dancing, and…guys in skirts throwing logs…how can you go wrong?  Seriously, this is a celebration of the Celtic culture on Whidbey.  It is spectacular.

Whidbey Kite Festival (Sep):  I’ve never attended this, but I’ve heard that it is absolutely spectacular.  Imagine the sky filling up with kites of all colors, and you have the idea.

I haven’t done everything on this list, but I’ve done a good portion of it.  I’ve been to a lot of places, and I can safely say that Whidbey Island is one of my favorite places in the world.

Is there anything that I have missed?  What is your favorite thing to do in Western WA?

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35 Comments

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  27. Barb says:

    Don’t forget the Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival! I love going every year and it’s not just for the little ice cream shop in the middle of town either…ok, not entirely! =) (http://www.coupevilleartsandcraftsfestival.org/) It’s happening Aug 13-14th this year. And the Tall Ships come in to Coupeville around the time of the festival too. Taken from the above website:

    “Tall Ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain sail into Coupeville Thursday August 11th 2011. Multiple sailings scheduled during Festival weekend. Also on the schedule are self-guided tours, storytelling, and visits with the crew in period costume.”

  28. Barb says:

    Oops, almost forgot the Choochokam Arts Festival in Langley coming up on July 9-10. I haven’t been to this one personally but I know people that go every year. Here is the website. http://choochokamarts.org/

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  30. My sister lives on Useless Bay – we’re staying the 4th of July weekend up there! Any recommendations for where to stay nearby? She’s right by the country club there, so I think the best closest places might be down in Langley…

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