A Long Weekend on Whidbey Island, the Playground of the Pacific Northwest

a bench next to a tree

Washington’s Whidbey Island is often overshadowed by its neighboring San Juan Islands, known for their pine-dense hiking trails and restaurants with foraged tasting menus. But the recent refurbishment of the historic Captain Whidbey Inn and the introduction of new commercial flights to Paine Field in Everett, Washington, as well as a new charter flight service from Seattle, just 30 miles away, are helping shift the spotlight.

With a nautical soul and agricultural heart, this 45-mile-long island in Puget Sound feels like the West Coast’s version of Nantucket. There are no big chains here, just homey bed-and-breakfasts that have ruled for years. Now, the reimagined Captain Whidbey is luring a new kind of crowd north. It opened outside of major town Coupeville over a hundred years ago as an inn, but saw life as a post office and general store before eventually being bought by Matt and Mike French, the brothers responsible for turning the remote Pioneertown Motel near Joshua Tree National Park into a magnet of cool. They partnered with Eric Cheong, an avid sailor, maritime nerd and Ace Hotel Group alum, as well as a team of artists, designers, oral historians, and gardeners, to help breathe fresh life into the 30-room lodge.

a dining room table: The decor of Captain Whidbey is inspired by the inn's history.

The result: an adult summer camp with a Moby Dick-meets-Moonrise Kingdom vibe. There are vintage photos on the walls, plus an original stone fireplace anchoring the lobby and a logo inspired by the handwriting of a past owner’s wife. Upstairs, 12 lodge rooms still have creaky floorboards, shared bathrooms, and a library of classic sea tales, but now there’s also a rotary phone with a direct line to the bar down below. Across the street, 14 Lagoon rooms have a Scandi sensibility with interiors influenced by Mira Nakashima and Aino Aalto. And just above the shores of Penn Cove, four private cabins have each been outfitted by Pacific Northwest tastemakers including Filson and Whidbey’s own modern mercantile, Edit. The property is full of hidden secrets, ranging from secluded firepits and hammocks to a poem written in Morse code along the bar. DJ brunches and sunset happy hours have been big hits for both locals and out-of-towners.

There are more options than ever for accessing the island. Unlike the San Juans, you can drive directly to Whidbey over the breathtaking Deception Pass Bridge or hop a 20-minute ferry in Mukilteo, located 20 miles from Seattle. Travelers can bypass Seattle’s daunting traffic by flying into Paine Field in Everett. Located 15 minutes from the ferry, the new terminal recently debuted commercial flights with United and Alaska airlines, servicing nine major cities including Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix. As of June, you can skip the ferry all together and fly direct to Whidbey from SEA-TAC with Lynk Air, a new charter airline from former Navy pilot and Whidbey local, Chris Taylor. And the team at Captain Whidbey is working on launching direct-to-dock seaplane service later this summer with Kenmore Air.

Once you arrive, here’s your game plan for the perfect long weekend.

Friday

Head to the northern tip of the island and explore Deception Pass. The eponymous bridge that connects with neighboring Fidalgo Island has National Historic Landmark status and its pedestrian walkway has incredible views of the surrounding islands and the Olympic Mountains. Down below, Washington’s most-visited state park has 38 miles of hiking trails that lead to lakes, wild beaches, and campsites. Back at the Captain Whidbey, order a Hell Broke Lue, a riff of an old fashioned with local rum, on the back deck. The booze may improve your chances of spotting an otter or orca at sea. Book in advance if you want to dine at the Oystercatcher—arguably the island’s top table. Located in nearby Coupeville, the menu includes grilled sunflower buds with carrot and hazelnut romesco and arugula pistou and the island’s famous Penn Cove mussels topped with crème fraiche. For something laid back, hit up Toby’s Tavern for just-plucked mussels steamed in garlic and white wine.

a small boat in a large body of water: The island is a nature lover's playground

Saturday

At Captain Whidbey, a breakfast board replaces the breakfast buffet. Fuel up on housemade doughnuts, yogurt and granola, smoked salmon, poached eggs, and bacon before driving south to Double Bluff State Park. Spend a morning clamming or hunting for shells on this sandy stretch of beach, then drive east to the village of Langley. A hipper complement to Coupeville’s historic kitsch, Langley’s main drag, First Street, is lined with indie boutiques, like Edit, Marcel, and whimsical Flying Bear flower shop. Garden lovers could easily spend an afternoon wandering Bayview Farm & Garden. This well-curated nursery and garden also has a delicious café with patio seating and a menu featuring local craft brews, Useless Bay Coffee, sockeye salmon burgers, avocado toast, and more. Langley newcomer Farmer & the Vine is the new hot spot for dinner, serving tapas and grazing boards and flights of wines with a focus on Washington and Oregon producers. For a farm-to-table feast, island stalwart Orchard Kitchen hosts a single seating, four-course meal Thursday through Sunday.

Sunday

Rent a bike from Skagit Cycle Center, pick up picnic supplies at 3 Sisters Market, then pedal the paved Kettles Trail from Coupeville to Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. Formerly a coastal defense fort during World War II, the park is now home to 25 miles of hiking and biking trails. Hike the Bluff Trail, a 3.5-mile loop that takes you up and around the bluffs and returns along the beach. Reward your efforts at Whidbey Pies, a 12-seat café on the grounds of historic Greenbank farm where bakers churn out 1,500 seasonal pies a week. Captain Whidbey partner Salty Acres Farm can be reached by a 10-minute bike ride or a short kayak paddle across the cove. The hotel can arrange a tour of the farm, which specializes in cut and edible flowers, foraged ocean greens, and small-batch sea salt—a small sachet is the ideal souvenir to bring back home.

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