A day trip to Whidbey Island from Seattle is a popular getaway activity among tourists and locals in the Puget Sound region.
Did you know that Whidbey Island is the fourth-largest island in the contiguous United States? It has a lot to offer beyond its size!
Visitors on a day trip from their Seattle vacation rental can explore small coastal towns, wineries, art galleries, and numerous state parks of historical significance while escaping the hustle of the city. Whidbey Island offers a variety of attractions, including the scenic Deception Pass and the quaint town of Langley.
From hiking to whale watching (transient orcas can be spotted) and local shopping, discover amazing experiences when you take a day trip to Washington State’s Whidbey Island!
Getting There from Seattle
There are two main ways to get to Whidbey Island on a city break from Seattle, by car or ferry. We’ll break down the pathway for both!
If you have time, you can take the approximately 2-hour scenic drive north from Seattle, which meanders through the beautiful Skagit Valley to approach the island from the North End via the Deception Pass Bridge.
Washington State Ferry
Alternatively, you can enter Whidbey Island’s South End via a brief, 20-minute ferry from Mukilteo, a town 30 miles north of Seattle. This is a great way to get the full sea salt air experience and even a passing opportunity to spot transient orcas, sea birds, and harbor seals.
The ferry will dock in Whidbey’s southernmost town, Clinton, and you’ll be ready to explore!
If you choose to take the ferry, be sure to check the schedule ahead of time and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes in advance. Ferries are first come, first serve. The ferry takes both walk-ons and cars and leaves at roughly 30 to 60-minute intervals depending on the time of day.
Although the trip is brief, the lines can be very long–it’s not uncommon to wait up to two hours during busier times.
Before You Go
As Whidbey Island has many beautiful nature reserves, we’d suggest investing in a DiscoverPass, which grants you access to Washington’s state parks.
A day pass typically costs around $11.50, while the Discovery Pass applies to any National Park and costs $35 for the year.
If you plan on exploring any more of Washington’s gorgeous State Parks (or even if you’re just considering it), we’d recommend springing for the annual pass.
Whidbey Island Daytrip Itinerary
Both access points to the island are striking in their own way–from a ferry ride through the island-speckled Puget Sound to a breathtaking drive over Deception Pass. If you arrive by ferry on the south end and venture through to leave on the north end, you get all sides of this nature-filled adventure. Making a full loop allows you to see it all!
The great part about this day trip from Seattle is that you can start the adventure before you even arrive on the island.
Bistros, Breweries, and Shops
Starting at the south end, the Clinton to Mukilteo ferry transports you between the mainland and Whidbey’s southernmost town. As a port city, Clinton has cute bistros and shops that have popped up close to the ferry terminal.
Of note are the exceptional brewery options in the area, including Diamond Knot Brewery & Alehouse and Snohomish Cider & Brew.
Classic Northwest Seafood
However, the absolute can’t-miss event is a visit to the iconic PNW seafood restaurant, Ivar’s. You can grab a waterfront table, watch the sparkling Puget Sound, or walk up to the takeaway window for their famed fish n’ chips or chunky clam chowder. After, go on and indulge with some vanilla soft serve for dessert!
The next destination on your Whidbey Island trip is Langley, known as the “Village by the Sea.” It’s full of quaint boutique shops on a bluff that overlooks the Saratoga Passage and Camano Island.
The Portland of Whidbey
Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Clinton Ferry Terminal lies a vibrant seaside town teeming with culture; take the time to explore its many galleries, restaurants, cafes, and shops, and check out Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA), or take a trip back in time at Clyde Theatre – an iconic 1937 cinema!
Constantly evolving on Whidbey Island since the 1970s, this eclectic little haven has been a hotbed of diverse personalities; it’s Whidbey’s very own Portland!
Shopping and Eating
Stroll through the gorgeous downtown, adorned with blooms and sculptures, and explore the plethora of eateries offering everything from a coffee to artisan ice cream or even a farm-to-table lunch!
One of the best ways to stretch your legs in this cute waterfront hamlet is to go shopping in downtown Langley. There are plenty of charming boutiques and local souvenir shops. Kalypso’s Gifts or the Grayhorse Mercantile are perfect stops to grab a souvenir of your time on the island!
Craving something delicious? Langley is full of cute eateries such as The Braeburn for mouthwatering breakfast or lunch and Village Pizzeria for tantalizing authentic Italian fare. For something a little more upscale, Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar features delectable Pacifica Northwest fresh seafood.
Get ready to encounter an adorable surprise in Langley – a furry rainbow of bunnies! Rumor has it that some years back, these lovable critters made for an open-air escape from a nearby hutch at the Island County Fairgrounds.
From the road, you may think that Greenbank Farm is just a cheerful red barn surrounded by well-kept farmland. But if you value tasty treats and local souvenirs, it proves to be a delightful stop on your drive up Whidbey Island.
Local Food Creations
In the area, there are two art galleries, a café offering homemade pies (if you value yourself, try that pie!), local wine shops, and numerous specialties, including jams, maple syrups, and cheesecakes. It is an ideal location to pick up food or takeaways.
If you want to stretch your legs, take in the fresh island air as you stroll the peaceful 2.8-mile trail through woods and farmlands, which offers views of the Sound and the mountains.
After indulging in some delicious treats at Greenbank Farm, continue your day trip on Whidbey Island by traveling north and visiting Fort Casey.
Fort Casey Historical State Park
Just south of Coupeville lies Fort Casey Historical State Park, remnants from an 1890s military fort – and a telling sign of the vital role Central and North Whidbey’s Naval operations have played in the region! Hear the jets whizzing overhead for testimony.
The fort was built to defend the Sound from invaders but was ultimately unused. In the 1940s, it became a training ground and offered recreational activities like hiking and exploring its cannons and barracks. Today’s main attraction is Admiralty Head Lighthouse, a historic landmark-turned-museum that is open for public viewing.
Whidbey Island Kite Festival
Fort Casey is also a popular destination for history enthusiasts and kite-fliers, with the latter benefitting from the Whidbey Island Kite Festival when the weather permits. Colorful kites can be observed flying over the beach year-round, but this festival towards the end of September each year makes for a colorful display worth catching.
Ebey’s Landing, located on the northern tip of Whidbey Island in Washington state, holds incredible historical significance as a National Historical Reserve. Founded in 1964 by Edward Ebey and his sons, the vast majority of its land has remained largely unchanged since they first began farming it in 1850.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve
Get ready to be mesmerized! Take a short drive to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and explore the Ebey’s Landing Trail, where you can soak in stunning views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountain Range, and vibrant farms with century-old homes.
Take a hike up the intriguing yet strenuous ridge. You’ll trek 5.2 miles, taking in alluring views of Jacob and Sarah Ebey’s Historic House and Blockhouse, constructed in 1856, along the way, with a complete roundtrip in just a few hours.
The area doesn’t shy away from its history; conflict brewed between the Ebeys, the first European settlers in the area, and the Skagit Tribe as they were being pushed off their land – a reminder of which still stands in the form of the blockhouse.
Take a stroll through dreamy Coupeville, a charming town brimming with a New England, Victorian atmosphere.
You might recognize it from the enchanting ’90s movie Practical Magic. Experience a piece of movie magic as you wander downtown, passing some of the iconic homes and storefronts from the film. You won’t spy on Owen’s House, as it was a shell built on set, but you can still soak up the enchanting Pacific Northwest atmosphere that was sprinkled throughout the movie.
Where to Eat
Craving a delicious bite? Look no further than Christopher’s, where Penn Cove Mussels reign supreme. Not to mention the popular spots of Oystercatcher, Currents Bistro, and Front Street Grill…all beloved by locals and tourists!
End your adventure at beautiful Coupeville Wharf. Here, you can snap the perfect picture while enjoying coffee, a meal, and shopping on a pier that dates back to 1905.
If you just don’t want your PNW to end, Coupeville is just a 20-minute ferry ride away from Port Townsend, a quirky town with Victorian influences and loads of eateries on the Olympic Peninsula. The main strip is quite walkable, so we’d recommend leaving the car behind.
As you drive through the island’s northernmost town, Oak Harbor, stop off at the original location of island-wide, locally-owned Whidbey Coffee to fuel you for the next part of the trip! Pull through the drive-thru for their signature Frozen Mocha and a white-chocolate cranberry scone.
Deception Pass State Park
An absolute must-see on any Whidbey Island itinerary is Deception Pass State Park – only thirty minutes away from majestic Ebey’s Landing, nestled outside the beautiful City of Oak Harbor!
The iconic Deception Pass Bridge is the only way to get to Whidbey from Fidalgo, and it has been since 1935! Cross it and be rewarded with stunning views of the San Juan Islands on a clear day.
At Deception Pass State Park, visitors will find plenty of gorgeous hiking trails, camping spots, picnic areas, and rugged Northwest beaches. Capture an awe-inspired photo of dynamic cliffs descending into the churns of blue and green seas at sunset – you won’t want to miss this view!
It’s free to walk the bridge, but you’ll have to find parking first! You’ll likely see cars lining the road, but there are only two official parking lots. If you’re heading off the island, it will be on your right, at an outcropping in the middle of the bridge. If you’re driving onto the island, it will be on your right immediately after you cross the bridge onto Whidbey.
The Pass earned its ominous name from Captain George Vancouver, who felt deceived when he discovered that the island was not a peninsula, as he had originally thought.
The name takes on a bit of a new meaning now, as this waterway separates the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound and has a treacherous, unpredictable current. Despite this, it is still suitable for rafting or kayaking, but only when done with others who are knowledgeable in these activities.
Traverse the awe-inspiring trails of Deception Pass State Park (Discover Pass necessary) – weaving through ancient evergreens blanketed with moss and wildflowers, keep an eye out for abundant wildlife in this 4,000-acre expanse that boasts miles of spectacular shorelines.
If you have the time, turn your day trip into an overnight camping trip at the state park. Boat and kayak tours are available and can provide different perspectives of the island and its whirlpools and bridge while allowing for safe navigation.
If whale watching is on your Pacific Northwest itinerary, be aware that this is where you can find Deception Pass Tours (they also have jet boat tours for the adrenaline junkies among you!).
Seasonal Events on Whidbey Island
Seasonal events abound year around on island. There is something for everyone, on land and off!
Penn Cove Musselfest
Seafood lovers rejoice! Every March, Coupeville expands to allow locals and tourists alike to enjoy the ‘bold, briny, and blue’ flavors mussels offer.
Sure, the Penn Cove Musselfest is the perfect occasion to eat seafood that’s fresher than fresh, but it’s also a chance to sample from local vendors, listen to live music and enjoy the fresh sea air. Spots inside the tents fill up quickly, so try and buy your ticket in advance!
Whidbey Summer Classic Regatta
Every July, boat enthusiasts sail into town for the Whidbey Summer Classic Regatta, a long weekend of sailing, celebrating, and fun. Penn Cove, located on Whidbey Island, is renowned in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea region for being a top sailing destination.
The area has long hosted prestigious sailing regattas that draw sailors from miles around. If you’re in town in June, you can also catch Race Week in Anacortes, WA, a short 40-minute drive from Whidbey!
Every August, Greenbank Farm gets a Scottish makeover! As you browse the stalls of handmade crafts, learn about clan tartans, listen to Cèilidh music, and clap along to the pipes and drums, you’ll wonder how you ever missed a Highland Games celebration.
Large crowds gather to cheer on the highland dancers and to stare in awe at the strength of those competing in traditional Scottish heavy athletics (have you ever seen a man throw a tree? It’s quite impressive). Visit their website for specific dates.
A Breath of Fresh Air on Whidbey Island
To visit Whidbey Island is to fall in love with this quaint Puget Sound gem. It is a must for anyone who loves the outdoors and stunning natural beauty. It is the perfect day trip from your Seattle Vacation Home rental!
Hop in your car, get your camera ready, and prepare for a gorgeous Seattle day trip through Puget Sound!
Photo Credit: Edmund Lowe Photography