The picturesque town of Oak Harbor embodies modern culture steeped in rich, local history. Settled in 1849 by seafarers who established a trade port on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, the area has spread to nearly 9 miles from limit to limit. The town was given its name by Dr. Richard Lansdale because of its abundance of Garry oak trees, a relatively rare species.
Whidbey Island was named for Joseph Whidbey, the first colonist to lay claim to it. The township enjoyed both a financial and population boom in the 1890s when Dutch settlers coming from the Midwest and Canada colonized the area and used its rich resources to establish fertile farms. Today, windmills and Dutch construction bear witness to that history. Many of the town’s oldest structures were built near the harbor, since the water trade was the main initial source of income.
One of the city’s major employers, the Navy, came to Oak Harbor in 1941 to bolster the war effort and continues to be a principal benefactor.
Today, the hub of Oak Harbor, Old Town, still buzzes with activity. Pioneer Way, Old Town’s main thoroughfare, offers dining, art galleries, antique dealers and other laid-back shopping experiences, perfect for a weekend stroll.
Other nearby attractions:
The Blue Fox Drive-in is one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the state of Washington. The Fox has an on-site go-kart track and snack bar, and offers party packages with train rides, go-kart specials and arcade fun. The drive-in shows classic cartoons prior to the main film, in true retro style. Call the 24-hour movie information line, 360-675-5667, or visit www.bluefoxdrivein.com for current movie listings.
Downtown Oak Harbor’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is an annual festival that begins on Pioneer Way and Jensen Street and ends in Windjammer Park, where you can stand alongside the mayor and kiss the “Blarney stone” for a year of good luck.
Every April, in honor of Oak Harbor’s Dutch history, the town is filled with tulips to kick off the annual three-day Holland Happening Festival. Events include a family-friendly carnival, a street fair featuring Dutch food, wooden shoe carving, a “Klompen Canal Race” and an international dance festival. The festival culminates with a grand parade along the waterfront.
The Whidbey Playhouse (www.whidbeyplayhouse.com) is a community theater, featuring year-round productions for more than 45 years. The playhouse presents “classic” plays as well as original works, and is always sure to delight the whole family.
Oak Harbor Windjammer Park is a 28-acre park along the harbor offering 56 RV sites, 30 tent campsites, three Little League Baseball fields, two “tot lot” play areas, two basketball courts and shoreline picnic tables and barbecue pits. During the summer, the beach has lagoon swimming, and in late summer and early fall, kite flying, picnic areas and an assortment of outdoor activities take over. Windjammer Park also provides a boat launch.
Whidbey Island Race Week draws more than 100 sailboats to the Oak Harbor Marina for an annual July event, accompanied by lots of food and entertainment after racing during the weeklong festivities.
Known to islanders as the heart of the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Coupeville is responsible for much of the historical preservation on Whidbey Island.
If Whidbey’s history piques your interest, pay a visit to the Island County Historical Museum, which chronicles the island’s rich heritage. Since 1963, the museum’s address has changed several times, beginning with its occupancy of the former General Telephone Co. exchange building. Then from 1971 to 1991, it was in the former Coupeville Fire Hall. In 1991, construction of the new museum was completed on the site of the former Blockhouse Inn, a new location that offers dazzling views of Penn Cove and the Coupeville waterfront.
Coupeville also boasts the famous Penn Cove Shellfish farm, and an ingeniously designed main street of false-front stores filled with antiques, crafts and other specialty items.
For more than 20 years, Coupeville has been home to the annual Penn Cove Mussel Festival, “Bold, Briny and Blue,” with its multiple musical performances, children’s activities, a chowder-tasting area and a chowder-eating contest, as well as tours of the historic shellfish farm.
During the summer, Town Park hosts “Concerts on the Cove” (www.concertsonthecove.org), and the park has a short waterfront footpath that leads to shopping areas and the town boat launch.
If adrenaline is your muse, many of Coupeville’s parks offer kayaking, biking and unique hiking trails, spanning forests and seaside vistas.
For a perfect blend of history and action, visitors can scuba dive at the Fort Casey State Park or the adjacent Keystone State Park, both underwater parks. Divers will find indigenous jellyfish, porpoises, otters, sea lions and maybe even a gray whale or orca.
Every October, kids and adults gather at Cook’s Corner Park for the Halloween Torchlight Parade. They proceed along Front Street, through the heart of historic downtown Coupeville.
For more information, call 360-678-3310 or visit www.islandhistory.org.
Located at Whidbey Island’s narrowest point, Greenbank is a respite from the pressures of city life. Composed of rolling farmland and deep woods, the community is home to both conservationists and agriculturists. Its Classic U Forest, a famed stand of old-growth Douglas firs and western red cedars, has become the most recent addition to South Whidbey State Park, a 347-acre preserve bordered by 4,500 feet of sparking saltwater shoreline along Admiralty Inlet.
Greenbank’s best-known landmark is Greenbank Farm, featuring wine tastings, wedding facilities and shopping areas devoted to local products. The real draw, though, is the Whidbey Pies Cafe and Cheese Shop. People come from all over the country to sample loganberry, marionberry, strawberry rhubarb and other classic pies. The cafe also features boutique-style gourmet meals at moderate prices. The farm hosts a variety of festivals and shows throughout the year.
The Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardenis a perfect destination for flower-lovers and romantics alike, and the adjoining Rhododendron Park is laced by trails that wind through more than 140 acres of wild rhododendrons and other local plant life.
After a day exploring Greenbank, spend your night at one of the many inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfasts in Freeland. In the morning, take a leisurely stroll down Double Bluff Beach. In addition to offering an amazing panoramic view of Mount Rainier and Seattle, it is dotted with places to picnic, leash-free dog areas and collection sites for driftwood aficionados.
At nearby Freeland Park, you can host a picnic at one of the park’s many waterfront tables, dig for clams or simply watch the windsurfers and boaters. And what waterfront park would be complete without a playground? Freeland Park has a quaint playground next to the picnic areas, making it an ideal location for your next family get-together.
Some say that Langley has the best of both worlds: a sweeping bluff overlooking the channel of Saratoga Passage, as well as a breathtaking 180-degree view of the Cascade Mountains.
Langley is also known for its high-density of cottages, bed-and-breakfasts and inns, totaling more than 60 within the town’s limits.
In addition to its natural beauty, Langley’s Seawall Park also shelters endangered species and local flora. Bald eagles, herons and sea lions dwell there, and gray whales migrate past the park’s shoreline in the spring.
Langley has started a new tradition: Welcome the Whales Day. A small pod of gray whales has been sighted every year around early March and has lingered through May. Visit http://whidbeycamanoislands.com/videos/welcome-the-whales-day/ for more information.
If entertainment is your focus, theWhidbey Island Center for the Arts, a 246-seat theater, hosts performances, workshops and lectures.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll find five-star restaurants, family dining, specialty bakeries, classic sandwich shops and the Whidbey Island Winery.
As to shopping, Langley has numerous specialty, craft and clothing shops, with many store items crafted by local artists.
Camano Island, like Whidbey and Fidalgo, is one of the three islands connected via multiple bridges. Simply put, all of Camano’s dazzling vistas can be experienced without having to wait for a ferry.
Prior to its “official” discovery in 1791, Camano was called “Kol-LUT-chen,” or “land jutting into the bay,” by its local tribes.
Between 1791 and 1900, the sprawling island had many names. Area loggers nicknamed it “Crow Island” because large flocks of crows roosted among the three islands but predominantly on Camano, hence its unofficial title.
The name that eventually stuck came courtesy of British Navy Capt. Henry Kellett. He called it after Spanish naval explorer Lt. Don Jacinto Camano, who originally mapped the island’s topography in the 1700s.
Today, Camano Island is a prime getaway for islanders and mainlanders. Unlike the other islands, Camano is sparsely populated and has few tourist traps. Instead, a wealth of local and state parks dot the landscape, as well as many free boat-launch sites.
Camano Island State Park, the island’s largest camping spot, has more than 134 acres of land and nearly 7,000 feet of rocky shoreline and inlets. The park is a perfect location for a picnic lunch or a long weekend of camping with its forest trails, boating and breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier.
The city of Anacortes, considered the “Crown Jewel” of Fidalgo Island, north of Whidbey, is a springboard for island hoppers, the gateway to the San Juan Islands. Locals call Fidalgo the “Drive-To Island” because bridges connect it to Whidbey in the south and to the mainland from the east.
Both Whidbey and Fidalgo are in a “sun trough” — meaning the weather is temperate year-round — so visitors and locals can take advantage of Anacortes’ dazzling attractions for all 12 months.
The temperate water means great fishing. Blackmouth, chinook and coho salmon and Dungeness crab are the most prized catches, but their schooling varies with the seasons. If you’re looking for more elusive quarry, the waters are dotted with rockfish, lingcod and Pacific salmon, and there are fishing charter services for casual and sport fishing alike.
If you’re more into observing but want a different perspective, there are guided and solo kayak adventures available as well.
The restored downtown is a historical landmark with classic stores, an Antique Row, and art galleries that showcase local and national artists. Just off the main drag, bed-
and-breakfasts, classic inns and restaurants are also available.
Local and national parks are located in or around Anacortes. Waterfront vistas are bracketed by recreational docks, as well as world-renowned shipbuilders, cabinetmakers, rope producers and ship repair specialists.
Visiting seafarers will find the port of Anacortes welcoming, with services ranging from groceries to specialty hardware.
Anacortes is a community that prides itself on its artistic roots. From writers to quilters to artists to musicians, there’s quite literally “something for everyone” here.
Few today would guess that the picturesque, artsy town of La Conner was purchased for a mere $500 in 1869. For that, John Conner bought the entire town plus another 70 acres of land. In honor of his wife, Louisa Ann Conner, he changed the name of the town from Swinomish to La Conner a year later, incorporating her first two initials and her last name.
La Conner’s diverse community includes farmers, carpenters, artists and other artisans, as well as the Swinomish Tribal Community. Many artists made La Conner their home in the 1940s, inspired by the natural beauty of the farming countryside, and the artistic influence continues to this day. On the third Saturday evening of every month, La Conner hosts an art walk from 4 to 8 p.m. where local art, photography and sculpture are featured, as well as their creators.
At a time when long-distance travel is increasingly expensive, more Washington residents are choosing local destinations for their vacations. Attracted by small shops (everything from boutiques to antiques to arts and crafts stores), art galleries, fine restaurants and numerous bed-and-breakfasts, visitors discover the comfort of being treated like a “local” in a town that values its residents. Those who visit in summer are presented with a multitude of outdoor options, including boating, fishing, kayaking and biking. Beyond its own enticements, La Conner’s location draws many — the town is only about a half-hour drive from Oak Harbor.
Known as “The Hub City” for its proximity to the intersection of two prominent rail lines (and later, Interstate 5 and State Route 20), Burlington originally came into being for use as a logging camp.
Since then, it has blossomed into a tourist stop, with a multitude of shopping malls and restaurants.
Every summer, Burlington celebrates its “oldest and sweetest festival,” Berry Dairy Days, with shortcake competitions, concerts and local food and craft vendors.
In spring, the hills surrounding Mount Vernon are vibrant, with colorful tulips and daffodils.
The nearby Cascade Mountains offer hours of gem-hunting excitement and dazzling panoramic views for photographers and outdoor-lovers.
With a population of more than 80,000, the waterfront city of Bellingham is anything but dull. This fact, paired with its established nickname, “The City of Subdued Excitement,” is only one clever example of the city’s duality.
Bellingham, north of Seattle, is the last major city in Washington before you hit Canada.
Bellingham is also home to the famous Mount Baker Ski Resort, which hosts many non-skiing community events, from Easter egg hunts to film festivals, as well as Western Washington University and the annual Ski to Sea Race (www.skitosea.com), a tradition dating back to 1911.
If indoor activities are more to your liking, Bellingham has the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention, formerly the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, the Bellingham Sportsplex and a cadre of exploratory theaters from cabarets to comedy.
Bellingham is also home to MindPort (www.mindport.org), a museum presenting a revolutionary fusion of creative science and interactive, artistic exhibits to “facilitate conversations between children and adults.”
Another Bellingham museum, the Whatcom Museum (www.whatcommuseum.org), is a three-building complex filled with fine art, local history, hands-on children’s exhibits and important cultural artifacts. Its Lightcatcher Building offers an all-ages interactive gallery, housing a variety of the museum’s 200,000-plus artifacts and a translucent “Lightcatcher” wall, measuring 37 feet high and 180 feet long.
Due south of Burlington in the Skagit Valley, the quiet town of Mount Vernon (population around 33,000) is best-known for vibrant tulip fields that dazzle the eye. The fields are an integral part of the town’s festivities each year: the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, spanning the entire month of April, features nearly 50 family-oriented events as well as a local street fair with live music, exotic foods and artisan competitions.
If you want to test your physical prowess, you’ll find the Eagle Rock Challenge Course a fun and memorable adventure. From ground-based balance activities to zip lines and trapeze jumps, Eagle Rock has opportunities for all ages and abilities.
With its wealth of natural beauty, Mount Vernon is also a photographer’s dream. If you get your fill of tulips, venture east for breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains or head out to one of Mount Vernon’s many well-manicured estates.
In addition to serving as a homeport for the U.S. Navy, Everett has almost 50 miles of freshwater and saltwater shorelines, the largest public marina in the west, and a wealth of environmental and cultural enrichment opportunities.
Everett’s park system contains 1,600 acres of hiking trails, bike paths, waterfront vistas and picnic locales. Forest Park, just one such location, has as well an indoor pool, the Animal Farm and several picnic pavilions.
When you’re ready for shopping, steer toward the corner of Hewitt and Colby avenues, where you’ll find gourmet chocolatiers, kitchen accessories, floral markets, wine tasting and art galleries.
In the summer, July through August, every Friday at dusk Everett shows Cinema Under the Stars — free movies for the family at Thomas A. Sullivan Park. Don’t forget to pack snacks, blankets and pillows.
One cannot talk about the Pacific Northwest without mentioning Seattle, the largest and most affluent metropolis in Washington.
Though originally settled as Duwamps, the city was officially renamed Seattle in 1852 and flourished until 1889, when the Great Seattle Fire raged through downtown, destroying nearly every structure in its path. Stricken at first, residents rallied and quickly rebuilt on top of the destroyed foundations. Today, visitors can take an underground tour and see the remains of the “original downtown.”
At last tally, more than 3.5 million people call the Greater Seattle area home, while an estimated 668,000 live in the city of Seattle itself.
Perhaps one of Seattle’s greatest draws is the Bumbershoot Festival, an arts and entertainment extravaganza and one of the largest music venues in the world. Seattle boasts the highest attendance of dance and music events in the country: The city offers more than 125 live music venues and more than 15 different symphony orchestras.
The Olympic Peninsula
East of Whidbey Island, Port Townsend is one of only three registered historic seaports in the United States. In addition to many historical sites and preserves, the town is surrounded by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Discovery Bay and Port Townsend Bay.
Port Townsend is a thriving artistic community with year-round theater, music and gallery presentations. National Geographic has called the Port “the most sophisticated place west of Seattle.”
The majority of modern-day industry revolves around maritime sales and repairs, with the town’s other major industry being timber and paper export. In fact, the largest local industry is the world-famous Port Townsend Paper Co., though several smaller specialty businesses still attract visitors and locals.
Recently, though, the Olympic mountain range, with its rain forests and wilderness, has drawn far more tourist dollars than mill dollars, so it may be that Port Townsend’s future prosperity lies not in logging but in tourism.
Bremerton’s 39,000-plus residents are spread between East and West Bremerton, separated by the Port Washington Narrows.
On Bremerton’s seaside trails, hikers can witness bald eagles swooping into the water for fish, migrating whales in the inlet and stunning views of both Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. In addition, the town boasts multiple galleries, music venues and entertainment at the top-rated Admiral Theatre.
State and Local Parks
A Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to state parks and recreation lands managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation commission, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. One pass can be transferred between two vehicles. The current fees are $30 for annual pass or $10 for one-day pass. The penalty for not having a Discover Pass is $99.
Deception Pass State Park
A dazzling bridge that connects Whidbey and Fidalgo islands, the Pass is easily one of the most-visited state parks in Washington, with an annual visitor count exceeding 3 million. It was given its name by early Spanish explorers, since what appeared to be a calm bay actually had a vicious, twisting channel beneath the surface.
Today, the Pass is one of the most photographed places on Puget Sound, both by tourists and professional photographers seeking to capture its pristine beauty. The bridge actually comprises two spans: Canoe Pass to the north and Deception Pass to the south. The bridge was declared a national monument in 1982.
Ala Spit is Whidbey Island’s newest recreational area, offering unparalleled sights for the budding birdwatcher as well as intriguing views of the Skagit River mud flats.
Joseph Whidbey Memorial State Park
Lying along the western edge of Whidbey Island, the park is known mainly as Puget Sound’s sole surfing locale, but that’s just one of its aspects: It also provides unforgettable panoramic views of the San Juan Islands. The park is open from April through September.
A gorgeous protected wetland is an almost irresistible draw for the avian aficionado. The lake is another excellent site for viewing the migratory patterns of Whidbey’s native and visiting fowl, as well as for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
This lagoon’s core is its beautiful tideland, perfect if you want to clam for the delicate Penn Cove mussels. On clear days, a leisurely climb up Grasser’s Hill will reward you with a jaw-dropping panorama of Penn Cove, Camano Island and Mount Baker.
Fort Ebey State Park
Fort Ebey is part of the original “Triangle of Death,” built to protect the coast from attack during World War II. While the original guns have been removed, visitors can still balance on the large concrete slabs where the weapons once stood. Fort Ebey contains 3 miles of saltwater shoreline, perfect for a day hike or nature photography, and has a pristine freshwater lake that’s ideal for a day of fishing. The park is open year-round for day use. The campground is closed November through April.
Kettles Trail Park
This beautiful trail connects Coupeville and Fort Ebey State Park by way of ice age geologic formations known as kettles. Hikers, bikers and horseback riders enjoy the trail system.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Preserve
Ebey’s Landing is the first reserve on Whidbey Island dedicated to rebuilding and conserving historic land and building and restoring beach, bluff and land trails for islanders and visitors. The preserve offers outstanding views of Penn Cove and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.
Fort Casey and Keystone State Park
Built as the center of the “Triangle of Death,” Fort Casey has been decommissioned and now welcomes visitors to tour the restored Admiralty Head Lighthouse, as well as experience flawless views of land and sea vistas.
The park is also an excellent place to view or photograph wildlife. In addition, visitors can also take a ferry to Port Townsend, scuba dive and fish in the surrounding waters.
Hancock Nature Preserve and Overlook
What was once a World War II bombing test site has been transformed into a saltwater refuge to preserve local flora and fauna. The overlook has several protected areas, but photographing and observing nature can still make the trip worthwhile.
South Whidbey State Park
The recently expanded park, home to old-growth forests, miles of hiking trails and seasonal guided forest walks, also has several camping locations, barbecue facilities and picnic areas.
If solitude is what you crave, take a walk along the winding Bluff Trail, through the forest and down to the secluded beach.
Camano Island State Park
In addition to the island’s 52 miles of scenic shoreline trails, the park offers year-round saltwater fishing and seasonal clam digging as well as a 5-mile, self-guided nature trail filled with interesting and educational information about the area.
Campsites dotted throughout the dense woods park will please outdoor enthusiasts, and an underwater park will draw budding or accomplished scuba divers.
The beach has numerous picnic areas, a boat launch and beautiful views of the city of Stanwood and the Stillaguamish River delta on clear days.
Stillaguamish Delta and Livingston Bay
The delta seems made for birdwatchers and photographers. The tidal flats attract flocks of snow geese throughout the year and are a year-round home for blue herons, marsh geese and a variety of hawks. It also is the site of a victorious battle by local environmentalists to save its fragile ecosystem from a slow invasion of Spartina grass, a non-native weed.