Best Islands to Visit from Seattle

07/27/2023 | by Andy | Local Area Guide

Seattle, the vibrant Emerald City of the Pacific Northwest, is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and thriving urban culture. A view from the famous Pike’s Place Market also reveals a seascape of the captivating islands that dot the Puget Sound. The magic of Seattle is that you can be dining at a chic rooftop bar at night and on a ferry the next morning watching the sunrise the next, bound for an island day trip.

Most people don’t think of Washinton State as an island destination, but in fact, the Puget Sound is home to 35 islands (not including San Juan Island’s 170 named mini-islands and rocks) ranging from charming and remote to bustling and commercially developed.

Whether you’re looking for a serene escape or an adventurous day out from your Seattle Vacation Home, these eight islands offer a perfect getaway from the city buzz.

Bainbridge Island

Photo Credit: Cascade Creatives

Travel Time from Seattle: Approximately 35 minutes (with a scenic ferry ride).

Bainbridge Island, the charming neighbor of Seattle, WA, beckons commuters with its close proximity to the bustling city. A short and scenic ferry ride transports you from the island’s tranquil shores to the heart of downtown Seattle, with stunning vistas of the iconic skyline and the majestic waters of Puget Sound.

A pro of Bainbridge Island is that many attractions are within walking distance of the ferry terminal, meaning you can pass a pleasant afternoon on foot (and pay the significantly cheaper walk-on fee for the ferry instead of paying for a vehicle).

As soon as you disembark the ferry, head to uncover the hidden treasures of downtown Winslow, where charming boutiques, art galleries, and farm-to-table restaurants await your exploration. If you do choose to drive onto the island, you’ll have the chance to explore the beauty of Bloedel Reserve, a mesmerizing 150-acre garden boasting enchanting Japanese landscapes, lush forests, and meandering trails.

Whidbey Island

Photo Credit: Sadasiva Kovuvri

Travel Time from Seattle: Approximately 1.5 hours

Spanning 55 miles, Whidbey Island is the largest island in Washington State. Accessible by the Deception Pass Bridge, this enchanting destination offers a wealth of natural wonders and cultural experiences. Thanks to ferry access on the south end (closest town, Clinton) and the majestic Deception Pass Bridge on the north end (closest town, Oak Harbor), Whidbey Island makes for a perfect looped Seattle day trip.

Nature lovers can hike through Deception Pass State Park, where dramatic cliffs, dense forests, and pristine beaches create a mesmerizing landscape. Alternatively, they can drive one town south to Coupeville and explore Fort Ebey State Park, where Ebey’s Landing trail affords sweeping views down a bluff and across the sea.

Explore charming seaside towns like Langley and Coupeville, known for their quaint shops, art galleries, and delectable seafood. For aviation enthusiasts, the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island boasts an impressive aviation museum. If you need to caffeinate during your adventure, swing by one of the local Whidbey Coffee locations for one of their signature frozen mochas!

Vashon Island

Photo Credit: cdrin

Travel Time from Seattle: Approximately 1 hour (including a scenic ferry ride)

If you want a quick escape from Seattle’s hustle and bustle, Vashon Island is so close that you can wave to the Seattle skyline across Puget Sound. This picturesque island offers a perfect day trip destination, with its scenic beauty, artistic flair, and laid-back atmosphere, all a 30-minute ferry ride away from West Seattle. 

Art lovers can immerse themselves in the island’s vibrant arts scene, starting with the Vashon Center for the Arts, where you can browse local artists’ works and ever-changing exhibits at this hub of creativity.

Downtown Vashon Island has plenty to keep you busy; If you’re a foodie, gear up to explore the wineries, breweries, and cideries. And don’t forget the beautiful beaches just minutes away from downtown. 

Start your day at the bite-sized Burton Coffee Stand, where you can indulge in delicious baked goods from Snapdragon Bakery. You’ll have plenty of options once you’re ready to stretch your legs in nature. 

Need a spot for a picnic? Dockton Park has you covered. For breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the best of the Olympic Mountains, head to Maury Island Marine Park, where you can take a leisurely nature walk through the lush landscape. And, of course, you can’t miss the iconic Point Robinson Lighthouse, a historic landmark that’s been shining since 1885. Get your camera ready for some unforgettable shots!

Ready for some local refreshments? Indulge in the juicy goodness of locally crafted ciders at Dragon’s Head Cider and Nashi Orchards. Weekends are made for tastings, and at Dragon’s Head, you can even bask in the sun-kissed garden while savoring a flight of your favorites.

San Juan Island

Photo Credit: Monika Wieland Shields

Travel Time from Seattle: 3.5 hours

Avoid confusion and know that one of the San Juan Islands is called San Juan Island (singular). It is the most developed of the three main islands (San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez) and is home to bustling Friday Harbor, where you will arrive by ferry, and the quieter False Bay, a marine reserve on the island’s southwest end.

The island of San Juan is known as an excellent jump-off spot for whale watching, hiking, and kayaking, and tours are plentiful for all three. It is an especially prime location for whale watching and kayaking with orcas, as resident pods can be found throughout the year.

No visit to San Juan Island is complete without a trip to Lime Kiln State Park, often referred to as the “whale-watching park.” Watch for orcas, porpoises, seals, and other marine creatures as you marvel at the breathtaking coastline and lush forest trails. Pack a picnic and enjoy a serene lunch amidst nature’s splendor.

Camano Island

Photo Credit: Ute Sonja Medley

Travel Time from Seattle: Approximately 1 hour

Nestled in the scenic waters of Puget Sound, Camano Island beckons with its untouched natural beauty, tranquil beaches, and inviting small-town charm. Just a short drive from Seattle, this hidden gem offers a perfect escape for a rejuvenating day trip.

Camano Island is primarily residential, but there are still activities for visitors. Start your trip by having breakfast at the Cama Beach Cafe in Cama Beach Historical State Park. The beach is flat and has gentle waves, making it ideal for beachcombing and wading. Enjoy a swim in the refreshing waters, rent a kayak or paddleboard, or simply unwind on the sandy shores.

Nature lovers will revel in Camano Island State Park, a 134-acre natural wonderland boasting miles of hiking trails and pristine beaches, or the Iverson Spit Preserve. Although initially hard to find (the parking lot is tiny, so keep your eyes peeled!), the preserve lets you walk through wetlands, saltwater marshes, and beach habitats.

Keep your binoculars handy to spot various bird species, including herons, bald eagles, and sandpipers. The preserve offers breathtaking views of Mount Baker and the Olympic Mountains on clear days.

Fidalgo Island

Photo Credit: billiejo

Travel time from Seattle: 1.5 hours

Fidalgo Island, located north of Seattle, is a scenic gem easily accessible by car from the I-5 freeway. This island is a worthy day trip from your Seattle vacation home rental with its stunning coves, beaches, rugged cliffs, and jaw-dropping sunsets, not to mention the chance to walk across the iconic Deception Pass bridge, which connects Fidalgo to Whidbey Island in the south.

Just be aware that traffic near the bridge can be a headache, so head to the north part of the park instead and take the Lottie Point Loop Trail. It’s a short and sweet 1.5-mile hike with minimal elevation change, but the pass and bridge views are absolutely worth it. Don’t forget to stop by the Bowman Bay area to explore the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Interpretive Center. If you’ve ever been in awe of the architectural wonders in state and national parks, chances are they were built by the hardworking CCC during the Great Depression.

Fidalgo’s largest town is Anacortes, which is equal parts maritime influence and old-town charm. Stop by the Calico Cupboard for a hearty breakfast or brunch (don’t skip their cinnamon rolls–or anything else in their bakery case!).

The rest of your time can be spent perusing their wide main street, popping into old bookstores or souvenir shops. Anacortes also has a large ferry terminal, so it’s a gateway to the other San Juan Islands and even British Colombia’s Victoria Island!

Lummi Island

Photo Credit: Edmund Lowe Photography

Travel time from Seattle: 3 hours

Tucked away in the breathtaking Puget Sound, Lummi Island beckons travelers seeking a peaceful retreat immersed in nature’s wonders. Just a stone’s throw away from Seattle, this serene island offers many activities and experiences that capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest.

Located just off the coast of Bellingham, Lummi Island is easily accessible from Seattle. From Seattle, it’s a straight shot up the I-5 freeway. Upon reaching Bellingham, the Whatcom Chief Ferry will take you the rest of the way. The ferry ride to Lummi Island takes approximately 30 minutes and operates on a schedule, so checking the ferry timings in advance is advisable.

Beachcombing lovers will love that Lummi Island boasts picturesque pebble beaches and dramatic coastal landscapes perfect for tranquil walks and tide-pooling. Stroll along Sunset Beach, explore the rugged shoreline, and revel in the breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and Mount Baker.

You can also hike the Baker Preserve Trail and the Lummi Mountain Trail. Embark on these scenic paths, meandering through lush forests and enchanting meadows, and be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the surrounding waterways and verdant landscapes.

Orcas Island

Photo Credit: Cascade Creatives

Travel Time from Seattle: Approximately 2-3 hours

Escape the hustle and bustle of city life and embark on a captivating day trip to Orcas Island, one of the enchanting gems of Washington’s San Juan Islands. With its pristine beauty, picturesque landscapes, and a wealth of activities, Orcas Island offers the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.

Begin by driving from Seattle to Anacortes, where you’ll catch a scenic ferry to Orcas Island. The ferry journey is an experience to relish, with stunning views of the surrounding islands and the possibility of spotting marine wildlife along the way.

As you disembark on Orcas Island, you’ll find yourself in the charming town of Eastsound. Start your exploration by strolling along the village’s main street, lined with eclectic shops, delightful boutiques, and inviting cafes. Grab a cup of local coffee and savor a freshly baked treat before embarking on your island escapades. Stop by Matia with their beautifully-plated seasonal offerings for a fancy and filling lunch.

A visit to Moran State Park is a must for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. If it’s a clear day, then driving or hiking to the summit of Mount Consitution is a perfect way to enjoy the nature of Orcas Island.

As it’s the highest point in the San Juan Islands, you can see across Puget Sound to Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and Olympic National Park. It’s truly a feast for the eyes! Hike through old-growth forests, swim in the crystal-clear Cascade Lake, or rent a kayak to explore the tranquil waters.

As the day winds down, take a moment to appreciate the island’s vibrant arts scene. Based in a renovated strawberry barreling plant, you can visit  Orcas Island Artworks, a cooperative gallery showcasing local artwork, pottery, and jewelry.

As its name hints, Orcas Island is also widely regarded as the best San Juan Island for whale watching. Book a tour to get up close and personal with orcas, harbor seals, bald eagles, and other wildlife.

Before You Go

Buy a Discover Pass

The Discover Pass is an invaluable resource for anyone visiting the Pacific Northwest’s famous parks and recreation areas, many of which are on the islands scattered around Seattle. At the time of publication, a one-day pass is $11.50, while a one-year pass is $35. The latter is the best option if you plan on exploring a lot of Washington’s natural areas.

Get to Know the Washington State Ferries

Photo Credit: cpaulfell

The Washington State Ferry system is an incredibly efficient way to travel to the vast network of islands. It’s best to check schedules ahead as queues can be long in peak times (like holidays and summer). The good news is that if you miss a ferry, you’ll have a great view while you wait for the next one!

Pack Accordingly

Ensure you pack comfortable footwear, outdoor clothing suitable for the Pacific Northwest’s changing weather, and any necessary supplies for outdoor activities such as hiking or beachcombing. While Washington weather does have its warm stretches, ferry rides can be breezy and chilly any time of the year.

Island Hopping From Seattle

Whether you’re seeking tranquility or excitement, these islands are beckoning you to embark on an unforgettable journey, just a short drive or ferry ride away from the bustling city. So leave the mainland behind for a day and immerse yourself in the enchanting world of Seattle’s neighboring islands.

Seattle Vacation Homes is ready to welcome you as your host for island hopping adventures!