12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Whidbey Island, WA
Whidbey Island is a large island just north of Seattle, situated between the mainland and the Olympic Peninsula. It's Washington's largest island, and it holds significant historical and cultural value in the Puget Sound region. And with a surplus of state parks, charming storefronts, and stunning sunset views, it's also a top weekend destination for the Seattle metro.
Whidbey Island is accessible by ferry or driving. Visitors from Seattle can catch the ferry from Mukilteo for a short ride across the water to the island's south side. The other ferry option departs from Port Townsend and lands in Coupeville. And for those who prefer to drive, the iconic Deception Pass Bridge connects the island's northside to Fidalgo Island and the mainland.
Whichever way you travel, consider slowing down the speed when visiting. Despite its proximity to major metropolitan areas, the island offers a laid-back tempo during the day. This slower pace is especially present on the southern half of the island, south of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Oak Harbor. Here, expect to encounter farm stands, fashionable storefronts, and a sense of escaping the usual hustle and bustle.
Plan your next memorable weekend getaway with our list of the top things to do in Whidbey Island.
1. Explore Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
Whidbey Island is home to one of the largest historic districts in the nation and the only National Historic Reserve. It was created in 1978 and protects over 17,500 acres of Central Whidbey Island that has significant cultural value. The area was first home to a flourishing native population before it attracted white settlers looking for new homes in Puget Sound.
Unlike most National Park units, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is a private and public land patchwork. The public land includes three Washington State Parks: Fort Ebey, Ebey's Landing, and Fort Casey, all along the western coast.
These outdoor destinations all provide historical context and beautiful views of Puget Sound. They are also the best places to visit for recreation, including hiking, fishing, and camping. And while visiting all three state parks deserves some attention on a weekend trip, they are only a small part of the larger reserve.
The historic town of Coupeville is also within the reserve. This waterfront district is on Penn Cove and dates back to the 1850s. Visitors can stroll through the charming historic downtown district, filled with modern shops, or learn more about the region at the Island County Historical Museum. Time should also be devoted to strolling down the long dock leading to the Coupeville Wharf.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/ebla/index.htm
2. Discover Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park, one of Washington's best state parks, occupies Whidbey Island's northern tip and the southern tip of Fidalgo Island. This acreage includes the iconic Deception Pass Bridge, 180 feet above the swirling waters of Deception Pass.
The amount of recreation and landscapes to explore is overwhelming at Deception Pass. The park encompasses nearly 4,000 acres, including 14 miles of saltwater shoreline. This dynamic environment includes lush foliage, teeming tide pools, and a photogenic fleet of boats fishing offshore. The park also has 38 miles of hiking trails to explore.
Spending the night is the best way to get the most out of a Deception Pass State Park experience. The closest selections of hotels are in Oak Harbor to the south and Anacortes up north. But the best experience comes from camping at any one of the 300 campsites available. These sites are split between tent sites and partial hookup RV sites across three different campgrounds.
An estimated two million people visit Deception Pass State Park every year, and many of these visits take place during the summer months. If you want to avoid the worst of the traffic, opt for visiting midweek instead of the weekend, and if you're trying to camp at Deception Pass during the summer, reservations are required.
Official site: https://parks.state.wa.us/497/Deception-Pass
3. Shopping and Dining on Whidbey Island
The cultural scene of Whidbey Island is reason enough to visit. The island is comprised of several quaint communities, each offering their own taste and style of island life. These communities are on the island's southern half, south of the island's largest city, Oak Harbor, home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Coupeville, Greenbank, and Langley are a few recommended communities to check out for local flavor. Places to visit like The Oystercatcher in Coupeville entice with some of the best dinners in Puget Sound. Local storefronts line these charming communities, ranging from home goods to maritime fashion.
On the north end of the island, Oak Harbor is also home to several places to shop and dine. The Naval Air Station and the population of over 20,000 residents lend more of a big box store presence. But with Seabolt's Smokehouse and Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, excellent local gems aren't hard to find.
4. Step Back into History at Fort Casey Historical State Park
Fort Casey is on the northern part of the island, next to the Coupeville ferry terminal. It was part of the "Triangle of Fire" constructed in the late 1800s to protect the open waters of the Puget Sound entrance. The other forts in the triangle were Fort Worden in Port Townsend and Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island.
And like its counterparts, today, Fort Casey is a fascinating state park open to the public. Among the many reasons to visit, the opportunity to explore its retired batteries tops the list. The public is welcome to tour these concrete encampments overlooking the water. In doing so, it's easier to imagine what the bustling fort was like in its early 1900s heyday.
A campground is also available at Fort Casey, next to the Coupeville ferry terminal. These campsites are convenient for those arriving on the island late. But the 22 standard and 13 partial-hookup sites are popular for anyone looking to spend the night on Whidbey Island for an affordable price.
When visiting, be sure to head north from the batteries to visit the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. The original lighthouse was constructed in 1861, and the one that stands today was built in 1903. Lighthouse tours are available during the summer.
5. Find Some Fresh Produce
Many people travel to Whidbey Island to find something fresh from the ground. The entire southern half of the island, below Oak Harbor, has all sorts of agricultural opportunities. From farmers markets to farm stands and family farms, there's something new to bite into every day of the year.
From roughly April through September, farmers markets occur Friday through Sunday on the island. Langley is home to two farmers markets: the Bayview Market and the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market. These two operate on Saturday and Sunday respectively and always draw quite the crowd.
Farm stands also often pop up along the roadside in Whidbey Island. Maps and other resources make locating these seasonal stands easier. And for more extended stays, several local farms also offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes delivered at weekly intervals.
Official site: http://www.slowfoodwhidbeyisland.org/csa
6. Catch a Sunset at Fort Ebey State Park
Fort Ebey is a retired military base dating back to 1942 and is now part of the Washington State Park system. It's on the west side of the island, near Ebey's Landing, and was one of the last fortifications built on Whidbey Island. Today, it's part of the much larger Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.
Fort Ebey State Park appeals to a lot of outdoor interests. Alongside the adjacent Kettle Trails, managed by Island County Parks, over 25 miles of hiking and biking routes spiderweb throughout the park. These trails pass through a thick rhododendron-filled forest with several breathtaking coastal views.
Over 50 campsites at Fort Ebey accommodate overnight travel. And spending the night is the best way to experience another thing Fort Ebey is well known for: its blazing sunsets. Head over to the single gun battery at the park for one of the best views at the end of the day.
7. Bring a Pet to Double Bluff Beach
Double Bluff Beach is near the southern end of Whidbey Island, a few miles south of the community of Freeland. It's a beautiful spot for anyone to visit. Still, as one of Whidbey's best off-leash dog parks, it's canine companions that tend to enjoy the scenic landscape the most.
Parking is very scarce at Double Bluff Beach and often fills during summer weekends. Plan a trip for the early morning to ensure a spot. The park is next to a series of bluffs and private property. Be sure to abide by the property markers when visiting.
8. Take a Jaunt to Joseph Whidbey State Park
Joseph Whidbey is a small, 200-acre state park with a tremendous view. It's located on the west side of the island overlooking the Strait of Juan De Fuca, just south of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. And with over 3,000 feet of shoreline, the park is well regarded for its views of the saltwater.
This day-use park is also popular for casual hiking and beachcombing. A half-mile trail makes its way through the inland portion of the park, and two large grass areas are available for lawn games and picnic space. The park doesn't generally get too busy, although parking becomes more competitive during a good sunset.
Address: 1755 Crosby Road, Oak Harbor, Washington
9. Stroll through Meerkerk Gardens
This lovely botanical space is near the community of Greenbank on the southern half of the island. It features 12 acres of intricately landscaped gardens, punctuated by original "garden rooms" created by Ann and Max Meerkerk.
An additional 43 acres of second-growth forest surrounds the gardens, offering natural landscaping at its best. The gardens are open every day of the year with a minimal price of admission. Something is always in bloom, but arguably the most colorful time to visit is the summer.
Address: 3531 Meerkerk Lane, Greenbank, Washington
Official site: https://www.meerkerkgardens.org/
10. Explore South Whidbey Island State Park
This 381-acre day-use state park is a great spot to connect with the wild nature of the island. It's approximately a 12-mile drive to reach the park from the Coupeville ferry terminal, and its closest communities are Greenbank and Freeland.
South Whidbey Island is less visited than other state parks like Fort Casey and Fort Ebey, and this lack of crowds makes it a popular choice for those looking to explore on their own. A few trails meander throughout the area, including one that leads down to a sandy and rocky beach. Here, explorers can head in either direction along the shore.
South Whidbey is also an excellent spot to bring a picnic. Several tables span out from the main parking area, offering private enclaves among the giant surrounding trees.
11. Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum
The Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum is in Oak Harbor, approximately three miles from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NAS Whidbey Island). The museum celebrates and showcases the history of the NAS, including the reason behind its creation in 1942.
All members of the public are welcome to enjoy and walk through the 4,700-square-foot museum. Exhibits touch upon several war arenas NAS Whidbey Island was involved with, spanning World War II to Afghanistan. Several artifacts make up the collection, including a PBY- Catalina 5A warplane parked across the street from this popular tourist attraction.
Address: 270 SE Pioneer Way, Oak Harbor, Washington
Official site: https://pnwnam.org/
12. Attend a Whidbey Island Festival
Suppose the stunning scenery and historic properties of Whidbey aren't reason enough to visit. In that case, the island also hosts several festivals throughout the year. From kite-flying extravaganzas to lively musical performances, every month offers a new reason to celebrate.
The year starts with the Whidbey Island Film Festival in January. And the springtime blooms with family fun activities like Musselfest, St. Patrick's Day parades, and the massive Clinton Easter Egg Hunt.
Summer events occur just about every weekend, beginning with the Coupeville Memorial Day Parade. July is the busiest month with annual events like the Whidbey Island Fair, Whidbey Island Race Week, and the Whidbey Island Music Festival.
The fun doesn't stop in autumn, with harvest festivals transitioning into Halloween-inspired events. The year ends with holiday celebrations, rarely with snow on the ground, including the Holly Jolly Parade in Langley.