Destination Guide

Whidbey Island: Where to Eat, What to Do, and Where to Stay

A charmingly rural escape sits tantalizingly close to Seattle.

By Allison Williams Photography by Amber Fouts April 28, 2023 Published in the Fall 2023 issue of Seattle Met

The historic Coupeville wharf juts into Penn Cove.

Is Whidbey an island, or is it one giant farmstand floating in the middle of Puget Sound? The skinny slip of land, some 58 miles long, is easily accessed by the Mukilteo ferry on the south end and by bridge near Anacortes at the north—but somehow it feels as isolated as a corner of rural New England. Ideal for day trips and weekend getaways, Whidbey Island manages to cram a lot of charm into this stretch of the Salish Sea.

What to Eat / What to Do / Where to Stay

What to Eat

Whidbey Island Bagel Factory


A banh mi-flavored bagel delivers hints of carrot and jalapeno, best served with a swipe of peppered butter. The mini chain also delivers the usuals, like cream cheese on everythings and is well-situated for a quick stop after the ferry docks. A bagel rolling machine in the corner churns out perfect rings, as if Willy Wonka's chocolate factory switched to baking.

The Braeburn 


Homey classics like tuna melts and reubens pair well with the big windows and farmhouse design of Langley's downtown favorite. The specialty fried chicken is best experienced sandwiched between waffles with bacon jam and goat cheese, or at their food truck down the road at Penn Cove Brewing. Charming glassware comes from Callahan's Firehouse studio next door to the original, where the glassblowing demos and indoor-outdoor shop are an ideal post-meal stop.

Co-owner Angela Muniz shows off orchid spring rolls at Fare Market.

Fare Market


A neon sign on the wall celebrates "Phoreeland" at an eatery devoted to southeast Asian street food. Seasonal goi cuon, Vietnamese spring rolls, may wrap an edible orchid in with the vegetables, as lovely as it is filling. The broad lunch menu has several vegetarian options, and a small food market sells kimchi and macaroni salad to go.

Gordon's on Blueberry Hill


On an island strangely low on dinner spots, Gordon Stewart's well established restaurant knows what diners need: local flavors and a good view. With windows overlooking narrow Holmes Harbor, the dining room has the relaxed feel of a locals joint. Most dishes incorporate something from the garden, like squash in the hush puppies, or basil and spinach in the sambuca cream sauce over tiger prawns. 

Greenbank Pantry and Deli, where the sandwiches are island famous.

Greenbank Pantry and Deli


Somehow this tiny mid-island deli grew a reputation far larger than its square footage, with waits for a sandwich reportedly stretching into an hour during the lunch rush (call-in orders are welcome, though). The house-baked loafs might be why even a classic turkey with havarti is so delicious here, the wheat-meets-white bread both sturdy and soft. The small grocery leans toward the specialty, stocking umeboshi pickled plums and tofu.

The Penn Cove mussels at Toby's are served without fanfare.

Toby's Tavern


The almost-too-cute town of Coupeville has a fully committed dive bar, at least when it comes to surly slogans pasted around the kickknacks, photos, and cut-out comic strips on the wall. But for all the "Be Nice or Leave" and "I Yell Because I Care" signs, it's an upbeat joint with a good beer selection and Penn Cove mussels dished without fanfare into metal bowls. The place brims with personality and waterfront views but is adult-only due to its bar identity.

Front Street Grill


If Toby's, above, is the maximalist celebration of Penn Cove's seafood, the restaurant a few doors down is its minimalist opposite. The sleek lines and framed art on the walls achieves a much more formal tone, and mussels come in seven or eight different preparations, from rockefeller-style to drenched in saffron cream sauce. Heavy wine pours and views of placid Penn Cove are equally calming.

What to Do


No one on Whidbey has an excuse to be without a tea towel or rustic ceramic dish; such gifts are sold at nearly every boutique and restaurant on the island. But though Langley and Coupeville offer cute local shops made for browsing, some of the best stores actually do double duty. 

Skein and Tipple, near the Clinton ferry, sells luxurious, hand-dyed yarns during the day, then opens a speakeasy bar in back after dark. The murder hornet cocktail, for one, is a classic bee's knees with enough added punch to encourage some indulgent yarn purchases. At Bayview Garden between Langley and Freeland, an expansive garden store combines sizable gift shop, cafe with hearty pastries, and enough greenery to escape Whidbey's frequent drizzle.

Downtown Langley's whale alarm.

Whale Watching

"Spy a whale, ring the bell" says the sign in downtown Langley, with a big brass ringer to alert everyone when a cetacean passes. Though Whidbey's location puts it in nearly the same waters as the orca-heavy San Juans, gray whales and even humpbacks are particularly well known here. The nonprofit Langley Whale Center keeps a white board of recent sightings in its window, plus a list of known gray whale individuals like Little Patch and Gretchen. Plenty of whale watching boats launch from Anacortes, just north of the island, but Whidbey's bluffs and narrow waterways make for ideal land-based viewing.

Fort Casey Historical State Park


As one of the trio of old military installations at the mouth of Puget Sound, Fort Casey boasts its share of old concrete structures to play on and big grassy fields to fly kites. Old officer's houses are available as rentals, and the driftwood-strewn beaches around the fort are some of the island's most accessible. The ferry that travels from here to Port Townsend is one of Puget Sounds smallest and reservations are advised.

Deception Pass State Park

The passage between Whidbey and the mainland fooled old Captain George Vancouver, who gave it its name after mistaking it for a mere bay. But today the park that spans the waterway has plenty of straightforward attractions, from the massive bridge to beaches to a museum devoted to the Civilian Conservation Corps that built so many of America's stunning park structures.

Kayaking and Stand-up Paddleboarding

With calm waters and plenty of put-in spots, Whidbey specializes in paddle sports. Whidbey Island Kayaking does rentals out of Langley and will deliver to water access points around the island, and Wharf Dog Paddle Company rents right from Coupeville's historic wharf in the summer. While on the water, paddlers sometimes get a peek at Penn Cove mussel beds from the workers harvesting there.

Blue Fox Drive-In

Oak Harbor

One of the state's last remaining drive-in theaters manages to stay open year-round with double and even triple features. They rent radios and can explain the process to newbies, and will even let drowsy (or tipsy) moviegoers sleep it off in their cars overnight. The space also includes a snack bar, arcade with go-karts, and tavern.

The stupa at Earth Sanctuary sculpture park.

Sculpture Parks

Multiple outdoor art locales dot the island, including Langley's private Earth Sanctuary and its white Buddhist stupa. Stone circles recall ancient art, with some along mysterious ley lines. Farther north, the free Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville has flat trails through the trees, where hikers stumble upon huge, sometimes moving artworks.

Where to Stay

The Inn at Langley


Whidbey's fanciest accommodations sit just outside of cute downtown Langley, but with a face to the waters of Saratoga Passage. Rooms are sleek and modern, all with wood-burning fireplaces and most with private balconies. The attached spa has a reservable steam room.

Salty Von's Waterfront Inn fits Coupeville's ultra-adorable vibe.

Salty Von's Waterfront Inn


A new set of suites turns a historic downtown Coupeville building into a central hotel on the water, a place to cook your own mussels in a full kitchen and use a washer to clean clothes speckled with sand. Balconies look right out onto the water.

Auld Holland Inn, North Whidbey's hotel most likely to inspire a double take.

Auld Holland Inn

Oak Harbor

For all of Whidbey's posh new renovations, one hotel has remained charmingly cheesy, the giant wooden blades of its Dutch-style windmill visible from the main highway. The tulips in the flower boxes may be made of wood and paint, and the rooms may have the floral wallpaper of decades past, but the property stays affordable and sits near the services of Oak Harbor.

Captain Whidbey


An island landmark recently renovated to approach modern levels of luxury, the cabin-like Captain feels like it grew from its wooded spot on the beach. Some cottages are decorated by local brands Filson and Glasswing, while the historic rooms still have wood-paneled walls.

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