Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure. To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands … Read more I Ate the State – Island County
As many of us are currently doing, I’m sitting in my living room, contemplating the state of things. I’ve been thinking about what makes me strong and what makes me weak; what’s truly important to me and what drama I might’ve put too much time towards. I’ve been rethinking my usual, “I enjoy hanging out by myself – I could hang out by myself all day, every day” take on things. I’ve been dusting off family recipes and calculating how to make things stretch… Most importantly, I’ve been thinking about all the amazing people in my life – and the people who made me, me. It takes a village and I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a pretty cool one.
With March being Women’s History Month, I’ve also been thinking about all the amazing women in my life as well as around the world. Without the strong women who have come before us, we wouldn’t be the people – the nation – we are today. Without the strong women in my own life, I know for certain I wouldn’t have weathered the storms of my past. (Or had any idea how to stretch those ingredients…) When I think of our current, global situation, I am incredibly grateful for the fortitude and strength of all the strong women and men out there and am beyond grateful to draw upon the fortitude of the strong women in my own life.
We’ll weather this storm, just as we always have. It will be tough and there will be hard work, compromise and sacrifice along the way. But there will also be love, courage and perseverance. There will be people standing up for one another and helping to carry the load. There will be unexpected moments of joy as we realize just how strong we can be and just how much love we have to give. It takes a village and we’re part of a pretty cool one. We’ve got this. The flowers are still blooming!
While thinking of strength and resilience, I was reminded today would’ve been my Grandma Brown’s birthday. She was a huge influence in my life and I miss her very much. I miss her strength, humor and ability to rise above it all and keep moving forward. In times such as these, it gives me great comfort and strength to remember her stories; to remember her love. I was lucky enough to know most of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers and they, along with my amazing mother, all shared these qualities. In tribute to my Grandma Brown – and all the strong ladies in my life and those that came before – I’d like to share an article I published shortly after my Grandma Brown’s passing in 2013.
Take a moment to think about those in your life who’ve made a difference and of those for whom you can make a difference. Take strength, courage and mettle from the experience of those who’ve come before and apply it to the journey ahead. We’re living in strange and unprecedented times, but we’re standing tall because others persevered before us. Let’s take their torch and run with it.
Stay safe – and wash your hands!
Great Grandma & Grandpa Miner, Grandma & Grandpa Brown and my Mom & Dad. (My dad looks suspicious in this one…)
My Grandma & Grandpa Brown – and me! (I’m pretty sure that was sparkling cider. Totally.)
Dig the wrought iron! Me and my Great Grandma Miner.
Great Grandma Brown, Grandpa Brown me and my mom.
My very stylish Grandma & Grandpa Smith.
Stylin’! Grandma & Grandpa Smith. Man, could he wear a hat!
Originally published July 9, 2013
Food and Family – A Tribute to My Grandma
Food helps shape the culture, traditions and soul of family life. In addition to simple nourishment, it offers entertainment, adventure, reward and comfort; and often within each family are those individuals who gravitate towards the nurturing of one or more of these esteemed conventions.
Within my own foodie family, there are many members upholding these pillars of culture and tradition. We are lucky to have several amazing cooks, not to mention artists, musicians, engineers, scientists, adrenaline junkies – you name it – adding their expertise and enthusiasm to the family table. Thankfully, we also have some very sympathetic shoulders to cry on when one or more of these activities (and recipes) leads to a less than desired outcome. I feel very lucky – and somewhat intimidated at times – to be part of such a dynamic group of people.
While although my family is quite a multi-talented bunch, there has always been one member to whom we have all looked for guidance. One person who encompassed all the aforementioned attributes and to whom we have aspired to emulate. One cook who made the lemon meringue pie none of us could ever seem to master… The matriarch of our family, my grandmother, Dorothy Brown.
Sadly, my family recently lost this very remarkable and amazing woman. She passed away in the company of family at the age of 90 on June 15th in Richland, Washington. Wife, mother, office administrator extraordinaire, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend – she wore many hats and wore them exceptionally well. (All without messing up one hair of her always perfectly styled hairdo) To say she will be missed is an incredible understatement. She was the matriarch of our hearts and history and the irreplaceable head of our table. It is with much love, gratitude and many happy memories that I dedicate this entry to her…
My grandmother was born in 1923 in Philipsburg, Kansas and spent her childhood years in Lincoln, Nebraska. She moved with her family to Yakima, Washington as a teenager, where she met her soon-to-be husband (and my grandpa), Leland Brown. They married in May of 1942 and were able to spend a precious few months together before my grandfather left to fight in WWII. My mother was born in May of 1943 and it wasn’t until the end of the war at age two when she finally met my grandfather. My grandparents were two of the strongest, most formidable people I’ve ever known, but the hardships they faced were many. Their stories have never ceased to amaze and inspire me. (On that note, I’d say that of all my grandparents and great-grandparents) I only hope that someday I’m able to look back and feel I’ve faced my own challenges with half their grace and fortitude.
I could write endlessly of the love, support and adventures shared with my grandmother over the years, but in keeping with the spirit of my project, I’m going to share stories of something else she gave in endless abundance: Food – And a complete mastery of its preparation, presentation and place in the lives of my family.
As is the case with many families, there are certain recipes that define a celebration – Or the family itself, for that matter. There are recipes which have been handed down through the generations and there are recipes that would produce heartbreak if they were ever lost in the shuffle of time. I can say with complete authority there are several such recipes born as a result of my grandmother’s foodie expertise and experimentation. I’m heartbroken indeed to have lost my grandmother, but it gives me comfort and hope knowing a piece of her lives on through her recipes. I was very excited and relieved to learn of my aunts’ plan to create an actual cookbook containing all of my grandmother’s most popular and irreplaceable recipes. I will do my best to channel my grandmother as I use the cookbook to try and recreate her chicken and noodles or her pumpkin torte. (Note: The chicken and noodles recipe is actually from my great-grandmother, handed down to my grandmother – And now to the rest of our family… The deliciousness lives on!)
People were always asking for my grandmother’s recipes and to my knowledge she was never hesitant to share them. The caveat being, however, it was rare the recipe ever turned out like my grandmother’s version. Many a cook has attempted to replicate the towering peaks of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie and many have failed mightily. And I’d be a complete liar if I said I’d ever been able to duplicate the fluffiness of her divinity or the perfection of her pie crust. (Even after watching over my mom’s shoulder as she nailed it every time. Apparently I did not inherit the pie crust gene…)
Several years ago, I spent some time working in the Scottish Highlands at a small village inn. While there, I became friends with a few of the chefs working in the well-reviewed inn restaurant. They were truly talented and I am happy to have returned home with many new recipes and delicious memories of their Scottish (and Irish!) cooking. One day, we were chatting about foods they’d enjoyed during their visits to the States, but had never been able to copy. Among the foods on their lists were peanut brittle and zucchini bread. When I mentioned those were two of the recipes for which my grandmother was widely known, they practically marched me out to the village phone booth to call my grandmother straight away. However, as there was a 9 hour time difference and it was probably 3am at my grandmother’s house and there was currently a large gathering of sheep loitering around the one and only phone booth, I promised to call her as soon as reasonably possible. (And after the sheep mob had dispersed.)
A phone call later and a few hand printed recipe cards sent courtesy of my grandmother, my chef friends were madly racing about the kitchen gathering ingredients. After days of experimentation and several takes on the recipes, they came pretty close to recreating the magic. Close, but based on my personal consumption of the real deal, not quite close enough. Granted, their versions were very tasty and I much appreciated the effort, but a couple of things were off. Not enough lightness in the crunch of the peanut brittle – not quite enough moistness in the zucchini bread… These were top chefs and they’d made some very enjoyable tributes to my grandmother’s recipes, but they just weren’t the same.
I never did have the heart to give them my thoughts on their renditions. They were so happy with the results and definitely thought they’d recreated what they’d sampled in their journeys, so why ruin the party? (Plus, their results really were pretty good – and I love peanut brittle…) Most importantly, however, was the idea that I’d been able to share a little of my family’s food traditions with people living on the other side of the planet. Thanks to my grandmother, peanut brittle and zucchini bread now make people happy in the Scottish Highlands; hopefully just as much as they do in my family and in our home of Washington State.
I can honestly say I’ve never eaten anything my grandmother made that I didn’t like. Granted, I’ve never been a fan of cooked fruit and I’m allergic to walnuts and bananas, but that’s not on her. In retrospect, I feel bad if she ever happened to catch some of the faces I made whenever I accidentally sampled her food containing any of those items. (I do have it on absolute authority that she pretty much rocked all of those ingredients in many dishes over the years.) Whether it was a simple fried egg, a cream pie she’d made especially for me so I wouldn’t have to eat the fruit pie or any of the dishes she made for our elaborate family celebrations or camping trips – it was all amazing.
Through my grandmother’s cooking she brought us love, comfort, camaraderie, identity and probably a few buttons popping off after one of her gloriously decadent desserts. She brought a kind of magic to her dishes and I will forever miss hanging out in her kitchen and taking it all in. But just as will our memories of this amazing woman live on, so will her recipes. I can only hope we’re able to do those recipes justice as we attempt to recreate the magic. I know we’ll give it our all, but as was the case with my Scottish chef friends, it likely won’t be quite the same. And who knows – in following my grandmother’s inspiration, maybe one of us will get lucky and create a dish of our own to pass down through the generations. A foodie girl can dream…
Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.
To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.
True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList
To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.
As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.
One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.
To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…
You’ve gotta love a big red barn!
Lovely Kristoferson Farm
Pick up all things Kristoferson Farm in the gift shop
If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)
While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:
Not too far from the Commons area sits the lovely Iverson Preserve. Work off some of those treats you just picked up with a little beach walking or hiking at Iverson Spit and the Livingston Bay area. Also located close by is the English Boom Trail County Park, featuring a great hike/stroll along a waterfront trail.
Big, beautiful and old – The trees of Camano
Glorious Madrona trees can be found all along the coasts of Camano
There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.
During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)
You’re on the right path!
Days gone by at Cama Beach
Take a step back in time… And don’t put Baby in a corner!
So you never get lost – or if you need a hat…
You can’t get much closer to with beachside lodging than this!
Transport yourself back several decades back in time…
In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)
Grab your supplies at the camp store
Stop in at the cafe!
Learn how to build a cool boat! And then loan it to ME. Thanks!!
For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)
I need a boat!
A little pond – full of life!
Let’s do some camping!
Hmmm… what to check out first?
Stately old trees at Camano Island State Park
Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:
Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.
Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.
Shells, pine-cones and pebbles, oh my!
If you can’t find lodging, Cama Beach has you covered!
I could’ve sat there all day… (Looking out towards the Olympics)
Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee GroceryandFarms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.
Grab a snacks and head for the beach!
Friends of the library?
A lovely little library down from Tyee Grocery
Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…
If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.
The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.
That’s a long way down! Looking over to the Island County portion of Deception Pass State Park.
Check out the cool trails surrounding and under the bridge. Watch out for trolls!
Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)
Super early in the morning, from the back of a stinky van full of Ragnar runners… Dreamy!
A less blurry-eyed view from the bridge…
In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)
Lovely amphitheater at Deception Pass State Park
Camping with a view!
A moody morning on Cranberry Lake
Grab a few snacks in the lakeside/beachside snack bar
My home away from home…
Hike over to the bridge!
A stark and beautiful morning on West Beach
Looking over towards the bridge from a cove on West Beach
Scruffy, scrubby beach pine
After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.
As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:
Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)
On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)
Classic neon signage in downtown Oak Harbor
The charming downtown Oak Harbor
One of the many murals of downtown
This mural of clogs in lovely – and quite large!
Color and Art is everywhere you look in downtown Oak Harbor
A great splash of color on a grey day
The Harbor Light is still lighting things up!
On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:
Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)
Check out the selection at Whidbey Beer Works!
Popsies has all the treats!
Gifts and goods for everyone at Purple Moon
Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront atWhidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!
So many delicious treats to be had!
Grab a great cup of coffee and explore the town!
I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)
If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!
Oak Harbor pioneers, Edward Barrington and Christina McCrohan
Runaway duckies and a seal!
Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…
Pastoral scenes outside of Oak Harbor
Hmmm… I wonder where this will lead?
Beautiful, sweeping pastures and prairies…
In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.
Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.
When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…
Come on – Focus!!
The breakers near Hastie Lake Park
Looking out on the beach near Hastie Lake Park
#CoastalLiving (Yes, please!)
Cool rocks on the breakers
Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…
The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.
Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.
The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.
Head out on the Bluff Trail to check out the Ebey homestead and stunning views
Coming up on the homestead
Along the way on the trail
The beautiful fields of Ebey Landing
One of the four Ebey blockhouses
Part of the Ebey homestead and one of four blockhouses
A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)
Out towards the water from the Ebey Landing Overlook
Looking out over farmland from the Ebey Landing Overlook
Davis Blockhouse at Sunnyside Cemetery from Ebey Landing farmland
The Davis Blockhouse at Sunnyside Cemetery
Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)
While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)
The bunkers of Fort Ebey
Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!
Looking out from a trail at Fort Ebey State Park
Coastal hiking is always beautiful
Time for a picnic – and some moody trees!
Paragliders love this area of the park
Beautiful views from Fort Ebey State Park
Lake Pondilla. (aka: PondZILLA!)
I’m pretty sure there’s a GIANT PONZILLA in there!
Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.
Stop in and learn about the history of Island County
Inside the Alexander Blockhouse
Upper level in the Alexander Blockhouse
The Alexander Blockhouse can be visited next to the museum
Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.
Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)
The iconic Coupeville Wharf
Beautiful Native American wood carving on the wharf
View of the shore from the wharf
The welcoming wharf area
All things kitsch at Harbor Gifts
The classic Front Street scene from the wharf
The beautiful scene on Penn Cove near the wharf. (#INeedABoat)
The Cove is open!
Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:
Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.
Vintage sheet music finds from Why Be Normal
I love this place!
A wonderful bookstore in a classic Coupeville setting
They have all the IMPORTANT things at Why Be Normal
On the way to restoration – The Haller House
One of Whidbey’s original homes
The charming Front Street
Lovely finds at Collections on Front Street
For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…
The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)
A great casual scene at the taproom
The line was crazy!
Dear Lavender caramels, I MISS YOU! Please come back to me…
So many fabulous finds!
A lovely lavender holiday scene
I’ll take it all!
Leave the gun, take the cannoli…
And all of this, too!
The amazing smell reaches outside and grabs you…
Ohhh, the delicious things…
The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.
Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.
The stately and inviting Anchorage Inn near the downtown area
The charming Compass Rose B&B
There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:
Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)
Lovely and color homes all around town
So many colorful gems!
The old Coupeville Firehouse building in downtown Coupeville
One of the lovely vintage buildings of downtown Coupeville
Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)
Walking around the Fort Casey defenses
A grey day at Fort Casey
That’s a big gun!
Coastal defense at Fort Casey
Tower at Fort Casey
Tower stairs at Fort Casey.
The James Moore battery at Fort Casey
Fort Casey has a good share of beefy doors…
Fort Casey bunkers
Bring a flashlight!
In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.
A beautiful view from the lighthouse bluff
It may not look that far down, but it’s quite a drop!
The rain cleared a little and the hues were beautiful
Beautiful beach area near the lighthouse (Watch out for the cliff drops!)
The lovely Admiralty Head Lighthouse
The Fort Casey Inn – the deer love it, too!
Old officer’s quarters at Fort Casey.
Check out the interpretive center!
Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:
It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)
The lovely pond and gardens at Greenbank Farm
An excellent place to spend an afternoon
An old workhorse of the farm
It was a beautiful day to relax on the farm
Wine, cheese, art and more!
Me, that picnic table and a giant piece of pie… DREAMY!
The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)
Don’t miss a visit to Greenbank Pantry!
SO MANY good things!
I wanted one of each…
This sandwich was DELICIOUS!
A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!
A magical little porthole…
Yeah, I’m gonna need a boat…
Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:
For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.
Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.
Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)
Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:
On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…
Great tap list and scene at the Bayview Corner Taproom
Delicious crab cakes and jicama slaw (I WILL figure out that recipe!)
The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.
Stop in and find out about the Bard!
The place for all things Shakespeare
Stop in for a glass of wine at the Farmer & the Vine
Whidbey Doughnuts – they have a Monte Cristo!
A lovely holiday scene inside the Bayview Cash Store
The welcoming scene at the iconic Bayview Cash Store
Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)
The charming grounds of the Bayview Farm and Garden
The Bayview Farm and Garden Community Hall
Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)
In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:
If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop it at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:
Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtownSaltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)
Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.
Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:
Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annualMystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!
The Ragnar scene at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds
Beer!! (Ragnar scene at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds)
Lovely beaches all around the island. (Because it’s an… island!)
To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:
While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…
Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.
There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:
Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.
As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)
For such a tiny area, Wahkiakum County packs quite a punch. Located in the bottom southwest corner of the state, this small swatch of Washington has been key to pivotal moments in not only the history of the state, but of the country. For its part in the iconic journey of Lewis and Clark, Wahkiakum County provided the first views of the Pacific Ocean to the weary explorers. Also indispensable to their expedition was the mighty Columbia River, which flows all the along the county’s border with Oregon. Most importantly, had the area and its native peoples not been helpful and accommodating to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the United States might not have the same layout as it does today.
Named for Chief Wakaiyakam of the Chinook Tribe, Wahkiakum County is the second least populated county in the state and the third smallest by land area. With its lush, fertile farmland and foothills fed by the Columbia River, the area has long supported local residents with its bounty. Thefirst salmon cannery along the Columbia River sprang up around 1865 and inspired many similar operations. Life on the river has always been vibrant and the area’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean has provided a strategic location for trade and exploration through the ages.
Just across the county border lies the appropriately named County Line Park. Situated directly along the Columbia River, it provides a nice rest stop and picnic location for a day visit as well as overnight RV camping. On a clear day, Mount St. Helens can be seen in the distance and the views of the river are outstanding. Having grown up mere blocks from the Columbia River as it flows through the Tri-Cities, I have a special place in my heart for its waters. I was incredibly happy to make my first stop in Wahkiakum County along its beautiful shores.
Heading west on SR-4 near the Wahkiakum County border
County Line Park and the mighty Columbia River
Clouds on clouds! It was a beautifully calm morning on the river…
Camp right on the Columbia!
Traveling further west along SR-4, the road continues to wind along the river, but slowly gains a small bit of elevation. Perched along the resulting bluffs and overlooking the river, beautiful homes with private driveways peak through the trees. Not much further, the lovely river town of Cathlamet awaits visitors to both Wahkiakum County and nearby Oregon alike.
While it might not seem very big, Cathlamet is the largest town in Wahkiakum County and serves as the county seat. It is a hub to the area and host to the Wahkiakum County Courthouse and K-12 school district for the entire county as well as a WSU Extension campus. The area has long been home to the Kathlamet and Chinook Peoples and what was once a large village, was visited by Lewis and Clark during their travels. Chief Wakaiyakam, the county’s namesake, is buried in the Cathlamet Cemetery.
Welcome to Cathlamet!
The Wahkiakum County Court House in Cathlamet
Not only is Cathlamet the heart of the county, it is also an inspiration to many artists and artistic endeavors. Films such as Snow Falling on Cedars (1999 – starring Ethan Hawke) and Men of Honor (2000 – starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.) have taken advantage of the beautiful surroundings. Local Tsuga Gallery features beautiful work from local artists and musicians and well-known Jazz musician Hadley Caliman called Cathlamet home for many years. He loved the area so much, in fact, he was willing to commute to his faculty position at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts during his long tenure at the school. (I had the pleasure of studying with him during my own time at Cornish!)
The history and beauty of the Cathlamet area runs deep and there are many ways in which to experience it. Simply walking around the quaint downtown area is a great way to start and can provide a great afternoon of exploration. If you happen to be in town on the weekend between May and October, stop by the Wahkiakum Historical Society Museum to investigate the county’s rich heritage. Admire the river view from the steps of the beautiful Pioneer Church (c. 1895 – On the National Register of Historic Places) and walk down to the waterfront area to enjoy the river up close. The area is particularly beautiful in the spring and summer, but Cathlamet is a charming place to explore any time of year.
Since I’d left early in the morning to make a good day of it down in Wahkiakum, I’d skipped breakfast in my rush. (I did stop for coffee, however. I’m not a monster.) By the time I made it to Cathlamet, I was feeling pretty challenged and a good breakfast sounded fabulous. I was in great luck when I walked into Patty Cakes Café & Roasting, located on Main Street. I enjoyed a couple cups of their great coffee as well as a delicious scramble with bacon, Italian-blend cheese and mushrooms. To top it off, I splurged and tried one of their Patty-cakes. I’m not normally a pancake fan (unless they’re Swedish with lingonberries and butter), but the menu mentioned a 100-year old sourdough starter in their pancakes and I was intrigued. For the record, I’m very glad I tried them as they were delicious!
Great coffee at Patty Cakes downtown
Made with 100 year-old sourdough starter!
A delicious scramble at Patty Cakes!
Cathlamet is a fairly small area, but they do have a few tasty food options. Some of the possibilities for your next Cathlamet visit:
Maria’s Place, located on Main Street offers scratch-made Mexican cuisine as well as a full bar and early morning breakfast every day. (Open daily at 7am)
Not just for pizza, The Pizza Mill serves great pizza along with burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. (Closed Sundays)
Stop in at the Mile 38 Brewery if you’re in the market for a great pint or two. (They also have house-made root beer!) If you happen to be moored at the nearby marina or staying at the campsite, they’re perfectly located for a relaxing break. Bring your own food or arrange for delivery from a local restaurant. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-9pm and Sundays, 2-6pm – Family and dog friendly)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Maria’s in downtown
Grab a tasty pint at Mile 38 Brewery
If you’re thinking of staying in the Cathlamet area or perhaps stopping in during your next river expedition, check out these great options:
The downtown Hotel Cathlamet (c. 1926) features comfortable rooms and a lovely lobby and tavern in this historic building. They also offer a continental breakfast, a large patio and a freezer to store all of those fish you just caught!
If you’d prefer to stay on your boat with all those fish you just caught, cruise into the charming Elochoman Marina and enjoy an idyllic riverside stay. They also have great cabins, yurts, tent sites and restrooms/showers. I have the fondest memories of boating along the Columbia River with my Uncle Ron when I was young. We pulled into similar marinas along the river and I always dreamed of owning my own boat someday. It’s STILL ON MY LIST. Soon…
The lovely Cathlamet Hotel in downtown
The Elochoman Marina in Cathlamet
The Columbia River and adjoining sloughs are a boater’s dream!
Rental cabins at the marina
After my lovely breakfast and jaunt around downtown Cathlamet, it was time to check out the wilds of nearby Puget Island. Actually a series of islands, including the fittingly named Little Island, the area can be reached from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge via SR-409. The islands are a goldmine of gorgeous country roads and farmland. I had a mission to check out the entire county that day, but I could’ve happily spent all day on the tiny island, aimlessly driving around and taking in the scenery.
Looking over to Puget Island from Cathlamet
Looking out over the Columbia from the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge
Gorgeous scenery on Puget Island
There are indeed many farms in the area and it’s an important part of the Wahkiakum County agricultural scene, but the island also fulfills another important purpose. Traveling south on SR-409 will quickly bring you to the Wahkiakum County Ferry, located on the south side of the island. The last ferry operating on the lower Columbia, this tiny gem ferries passengers and vehicles across the river to nearby Westport, Oregon 365 days a year, all day long. Should you arrive early to the Cathlamet side, grab a spot in adjacent Buffington Park and Heritage Area for a picnic and information about the area’s history and contributions. (Note: No debit or credit cards accepted for ferry – cash/check only)
Check out tiny Buffington Park and Heritage Site while you wait for the ferry to Oregon
Hanging out by the ferry dock
The ferry dock and long line-up!
Looking over to Oregon from the ferry dock
Sasquatch welcomes you to Washington!
Heading back towards Cathlamet, I randomly took a few of the backroads around the island. Amazing views, sweeping farmland, hidden sloughs and beautiful scenery greeted me around every turn in the road. I initially took a right on East Little Island Road off of SR-409 and drove around the eastern tip of the island until it brought be back around to SR-409. Lovely! Puget Island is one of the most peaceful, tranquil areas I’ve visited and I fully intend on returning for further exploration.
More places to explore on Puget Island for my – and your – next journey:
Located off the lovely East Little Island Road, Little Island Creamery produces delicious artisan cheese and butter out of their beautifully restored dairy farm. (10am to 4pm, daily – Self-serve fridge available)
If you’re looking for a cozy place to stay while exploring Puget Island, check out Stockhouse’s Farm & Rog’s Retreat Guest Cottage. As part of their farm operation, they also host a weekly farm market on Fridays from 3pm – 6pm. (May – October)
Should you feel like pitching a tent or lying out on the deck of your boat and stargazing, head to South Welcome Slough Campground & Moorage for a peaceful stay on a beautiful river slough. They also have a cozy lodge available should you want to take your adventure indoors.
Sweeping farmland and beautiful scenery on Puget Island
Beautiful farmland off of East Little Island Road
The Columbia River and overlooking bluffs as seen from East Little Island Road
Beautiful bluffs of the Columbia River
Such a peaceful river scene from East Little Island Road
There are so many hidden sloughs coming off the Columbia (as seen from East Little Island Road)
Norse Hall on Puget Island
Heading west on SR-4, the road winds and meanders inland of the river as it flows towards the Pacific Ocean. The drive is gorgeous and there are more than a few photo ops to be enjoyed. Along the way, the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge can be found off of SR-4 and Steamboat Slough Road. (Note: The refuge extends across the river into Oregon.) There isn’t a lot of hiking due to marshes, but you can boat around the islands. An amazing ecosystem awaits your exploration along with the opportunity to travel in the “steps” of Lewis and Clark. A few words of caution from the website:If your boat gets stuck in the mud, you’ll have to wait for the tides to return to loosen it. (Eeesh!)
Just a little further west on SR-4 will bring you to the sprawling Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (It also extends across the river into Oregon) It is a huge ecosystem of birds, fish, deer, marshlands, river sloughs and more and is absolutely worth a visit. Any of the viewing areas are great for a quick visit, but check out the White Tail Trail and connecting Steamboat Slough Road for a beautiful and serene afternoon.
The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-tailed Deer
I didn’t see any deer, but the views were beautiful
Sweeping views and beautiful landscapes!
Wahkiakum County is gorgeous!
Big, beautiful trees at the wildlife preserve
After taking in the lovely scene at the wildlife refuge, I continued on SR-4 towards the bucolic, riverside town of Skamokawa. (Pronounced SKA-MA-KA-WAY and means ‘Smoke on the water’ in Chinook.) Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Skamokawa has long been an important outpost in the area. Until 1917, there were no roads to the area and travel was made primarily by boat using the river and connecting sloughs. The majority of homes were built on or facing the water and had docks and boardwalks connecting them to other parts of the village. Steamboats and tugboats were common in the area and greatly contributed to the local salmon fishing and logging commerce. It was quite a bustling area in its heyday.
The idyllic Brooks Slough on the way to Skamokawa
Makes me want to hop on a steamboat
Looks like that boat has been there for a while…
For a great overview of the town and its history, don’t miss a stop at the Riverlife Interpretive Center and museum. (c. 1894 – Originally known as the Central School) The displays are well-curated and showcase many examples of life in early Skamokawa as well as spectacular views of the town and river. On my recent visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Pam Emery, the president of the Friends of Skamokawa historical society. She graciously shared with me much about the town’s history along with giving me great dining and tourist recommendations for the surrounding areas. The center also features local artisan wares and I was happy to pick up a jar of delicious caramel apple butter from Island’s End Farm and a lovely bar of soap from Elochoman Valley Soapworks. Check out the center’s upcoming Deck the Hall Christmas and Holiday Open House for even more local goodies. (Nov 29 – Dec 15, check website for hours)
Make sure you climb to the top of the schoolhouse!
Inside the former school
This soap smells sooooo good!
The lovely gift shop area
The Riverlife Interpretive Center – Formerly the Central School
‘Lots to learn about upstairs!
And fire in the skyyyyy!
For Ryan and Beth
Boats of the Columbia River and Skamokawa area
After learning about the area at the interpretive center, do a little exploring on your own and imagine what life on the river might’ve been like all those years ago. A few places to help you with your Skamokawa adventuring:
Situated on an inlet of the Columbia River, the Skamokawa Resort features lodging, conference facilities, a dock, wonderful water views and a nice little general store. It is now on my bucket list to return to the area for a few days of kayaking and general relaxation. I’m sure a few hours sitting in the gazebo and taking in the view will also be a part of my plan…
A little greenery adds color to the docks
Just give me a book and a long afternoon… And some wine…
Even the birds love a good gazebo!
Resort life on the river
Serene afternoon at the Skamokawa Resort
Lovely clapboard lodging on the river
Stock up on supplies at the General Store
Just up the road from the Skamokawa Resort, The Duck Inn offers classic pub and diner specialties with great views of the Columbia River.
Part of my bucket list planning will most certainly involve Columbia River Kayaking. Featuring instruction and guide services in the area, they’ve been outfitting adventures since 2003. I’m very much looking forward to gliding through the waters of the Columbia as they head out to sea…
Just a peaceful day on the slough
A pretty sweet back yard!
Boat from house to resort!
Yep, I could do the river life…
For amazing views of the river with awesome sandy beaches and wildlife, head to Vista Park, just past the center of Skamokawa. They have great camping spots and also feature yurts and tepee rentals! In June, take advantage of the gusty river winds and check out the Skamokawa Kite Festival. (June 28-29)
Just a little further west on SR-4, stop by the Skamokawa Farmstead Creamery to enjoy a bit of delicious goat cheese and visit with the resident goats.
Vista Park has it all!
Clouds and sand… Nice.
What a view! Some might even call it a vista…
Who says the Columbia doesn’t have sandy beaches??
Sometimes a cloudy day is a beautiful thing.
A tepee on the beach!
Continuing west on SR-4, keep an eye out for the Loop Road turn-off to the Grays River Covered Bridge. Located in the beautiful Grays River area, the iconic bridge is the last covered bridge in service in Washington State. Built in 1905 and on theNational Register of Historic Places, the bridge is a picturesque tribute to days gone by. The surrounding Ahlberg Park and farmlands are stunning and the feeling of peace in the area is transcendent. For a gorgeous look at the countryside, cross back over the bridge and take the Loop Road side route out of the area. (It connects back to SR-4 a little further west) Once back on SR-4 stop in at Duffy’s Irish Pub for a tasty, traditional pub-style meal and a pint. You can’t miss its quirky, entirely unique exterior!
Spooky and charming at the same time!
I actually had to back out as someone was already coming in the opposite direction!
And extra shelter assist from the giant trees!
More giant trees in Ahlberg Park. Stop to take a rest and admire the scene.
Waiting for the horseman…
Don’t miss stopping at Duffy’s!
Nearing the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties as well as the bridge from Washington to Oregon, I wanted to stop at a few more Lewis and Clark checkpoints before my Wahkiakum County adventure came to an end. I’d always been curious about Pillar Rock in the Altoona area, so when I saw the turn-off signs in the Rosburg area, off I went! (Pro tip: If you happen to be hungry, the Rosburg Store at the turn-off for Altoona-Pillar Rock Road offers very tasty burgers, sandwiches, pizza and soup – along with all the standard convenience store fare.)
The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road is a beautiful drive, but very winding; especially once it begins to hug the shores of the river. It’s all worth it, however. To say the views of the Columbia were stunning would be an understatement and each time I stopped to admire the view, it was hard to get back in the car.
Along the way, I stopped to investigate the Lewis and Clark road markers and learned the area was an important part of the final days of their journey. It was only a few miles up the river where on November 7th, 1805 they first spotted the Pacific Ocean and William Clark famously recorded in his journal, “Ocian in view! O! The Joy!” (His spelling, not mine) It would require several more days of stormy weather and setbacks around the nearby Dismal Nitch area, but two weeks later, the Lewis and Clark expedition miraculously and finally reached the glorious Pacific Ocean. The anticipated Northwest Passage was not to be found, but the eventual expansion of the US was due largely to all that Lewis and Clark discovered in its pursuit.
An amazing view of the Columbia River from Altoona-Pillar Rock Road
Looking out towards one of the last camp areas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
Envision Lewis and Clark sailing right through this area…
If you’d like to further take in the scene of the final days of Lewis and Clark’s trek to the ocean, there are various bed and breakfasts to be found in and around the Altoona area. (Check out VRBO or Airbnb for options) There is also the charming Rose Creek Retreat which features private campsites along the Columbia, surrounded by beautiful gardens and native plants. (April to December – No RVs or large campers)
Note: The Altoona-Pillar Rock Road culminates in a dead end on private property. The owner of the property and his dog are very nice, but I’m fairly certain they appreciate their privacy and would prefer to keep said property private. I’d recommend turning around before the road ends.
Beautiful homes along Altoona-Pillar Rock Road
Lewis and Clark traveled right through this area.
I don’t believe I spotted the actual Pillar Rock during my explorations, but I did take in some pretty amazing views. As it was a clear day, I could also see the spectacular Astoria-Megler Bridge off in the distance, heralding views of the joyous Pacific Ocean just beyond. Had I more time during my adventure, I would have taken the bridge over to nearby Astoria, Oregon; gateway to the amazing Oregon Coast as well as setting for the classic Spielberg film, Goonies. Check out the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria for more info about Goonies and other films made in the area. (And remember: Goonies never say die!)
I never did find Pillar Rock, but this is another of the cool basalt pillars in the area
Looking out towards the Astoria Bridge and the Pacific Ocean
Goonies never say die!! (Picked up on my Kittitas County adventure)
Wrapping up my time in Wahkiakum County brought me to a place which spoke deeply to my own history and roots. Even though many of the Finnish immigrants of the late 1800s settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and surrounding areas (my grandmother’s family included), a large group of immigrants found their way to Washington State’s Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties. One such community is Deep River, located just near the border of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties.
They were drawn to the area for its rich salmon fishing and timber industries, both of which were mainstays in their native Finland. (I knew there was a reason I love salmon so much – it’s in my DNA. Science!) The Finnish immigrants thrived in the area and felt a kinship with the wilds of the Northwest and its familiar bounty. While the area’s salmon and logging industries have greatly declined over the years, many families of these immigrants still call the Deep River area home. The Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church, on the National Register of Historic Places, was completed by Finnish immigrants in 1902 and is open during the bi-annual Finnish American Folk Festival, held in the neighboring Finnish community of Naselle. (July 24-26, 2020)
Come and celebrate Finland!
The salmon industry was key to the Wahkiakum economy. (Display found in the Riverlife Interpretive Center, Skamokawa)
On my way out of Wahkiakum County, I was tinkering with my road trip playlist when I came across a new album by Deep River resident, Krist Novoselic. Living on a farm in the area seems to have really inspired his art as Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole is a unique and interesting homage to the area’s flora and fauna. (And a definite departure from his Nirvana days) After having spent only a short time in the area, it’s easy to see how such a peaceful and historically rich setting can inspire such tribute.
Native Americans, explorers, farmers, fishermen, Finns and famous Grunge artists have all called the Wahkiakum area home over the years and it is certain to attract many more adventurous souls in years to come. I know I’m happy to have spent only a day exploring its treasures – and I intend to spend many more in the future. It may indeed be one of the smallest counties in the state, but it is filled with adventure and ever so big in heart.
Whatcom County corners the market on gateways. Not only does it provide stunning, waterway access to the Puget Sound, it grants passage to some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in North America. Throw in the actual Peace Arch gateway to Canada and you’ve got the triple crown of sightseeing. This, in addition to an interior filled with vibrant history, city life and beautiful countryside makes it an excellent place to visit any time of year.
There are many ways to arrive in Whatcom County. The main thoroughfare of Interstate-5 is typically a fairly efficient route, but don’t discount the many smaller highways and scenic byways which lead to and around the county. This applies to travel into Canada as well. The Peace Arch entrance, located on the 49th Parallel (north), off of I-5 is a great place to cross the border, but don’t forget about the smaller Sumas and Lynden crossing points. (Interesting fact: While there are only a few official points of entry between Canada and Washington State, Whatcom County shares its entire northern border with Canada.)
I’ll be covering many of the highways and byways of Whatcom County throughout the article, but let’s first focus on the northernmost part of the county; the tiny, but nationally important town of Blaine.
Set directly on the US/Canada border, it’s fairly safe to say that most Washingtonians are familiar with Blaine for this very reason. Relatedly, I must sadly admit to never having spent much time in the area. If I’ve found myself in Blaine, it’s because I’m lingering in the long line of cars waiting to cross into Canada. (I-5 becomes BC Highway 99 in Canada.) Aside from participating in last year’s Ragnar – NW Passage race, which starts at the Peace Arch Historical Park, I haven’t stopped in to visit Blaine proper. I hereby swear to include Blaine in my future visits to the northern wilds of Washington and Canada.
A beautiful morning for the first leg of the Ragnar race – Peace Arch Historical Park
View of the border looking out to Semiahmoo Bay
Downtown Blaine is a lovely destination and a great place for strolling along a historic waterfront area. Quaint shops, tasty restaurant fare and great views of historic Drayton Harbor can easily fill an afternoon. Should you be visiting during the first weekend of August, check out the Drayton Harbor Maritime Festival & Tall Ships for music, food and all things seafaring.
Back on mainland Blaine, there are several interesting dining and shopping options to explore. Antiques, boutiques and more can be found in the waterfront area and nearby Blaine Marine Park offers great water views with nice areas for picnicking and beach-combing.
A few of the cool spots to check out while visiting downtown Blaine:
Check out the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company for incredibly fresh oysters, to stay or take out. Additionally, they have oyster stew, local beer and wine and a great view of the water. (Closed Tuesdays – check website for hours)
For homey breakfast and lunch fare, stop in at downtown Peace Arch City Café & Bar for a relaxing respite from your exploring. (Tues-Sun, 7:30am – 3pm)
Take in the extensive wine list at The Vault Wine Bar in downtown Blaine. Along with being an events space, they also feature a great restaurant. (Wed-Sun, 3pm – 9pm & 10pm on Fri/Sat)
Located in downtown Blaine, Café Rawganique is a tasty vegan café and bakery with a lifestyle store on the side. Grab an organic vegan sandwich and a cool pair hemp jeans – all in one spot!
NW favorite, Woods Coffee can be found in several locations around Whatcom County. The spot I recently visited while refueling for Ragnar was located at Birch Bay Square. I didn’t realize just how much I needed an Americano that morning…
Located on a farm just outside of Blaine, Atwood Ales brews French and Belgian style saison and farmhouse ales. They grow their own hops and fruit on their farm and produce some very tasty beverages. While they aren’t open to the public, they do occasionally have events such as chef’s nights and tours. Check out their website for upcoming events. Locally, they can be found on Saturdays at the nearby Bellingham Farmers Market.
Woods Coffee is an excellent way to start the day!
Delicious Atwood Saison Ales
Just south of Blaine, off of SR-548 lies the little beach town of Birch Bay. It can be somewhat sleepy during the off-season, but that also makes for some pretty peaceful beach strolling. I’ve visited both during the summer and off-season and have always had a lovely time. Birch Bay is a great location all on its own, but as it’s fairly close to Bellingham, it’s also a great jumping-off point for Whatcom County adventures.
If you’re looking for lodging in the Birch Bay area, I’d recommend finding something close to Beachcomber Way. It’s the main road along the beach and is at the heart of coastal activities. (Including the Ragnar course!) A few options for your stay:
The area has several vacation club condos and on a recent stay with my brother and company, we hit up World Mark Birch Bay. It was located on Beachcomber Way and was incredibly convenient for maximum beach visitation. In addition, there are quite a few great Airbnb’s in the area as well as lodging in nearby towns such as Bellingham and Blaine.
Should you prefer the comfort of camper or tent, check out beautiful Birch Bay State Park on the bluff overlooking the beach. It’s a very large park with camping, boating, beach access, clamming, crabbing and more. On my last visit I saw several groups clamming and it looked like they were bringing in quite the haul. And don’t miss taking a stroll along the beach areas of the park – beautiful!
If you’re in the area during the first weekend of August, head to the Birch Bay Music Festival for music, food, craft vendors and beer/wine gardens. (7/31 – 8/2, 2020)
Head to the yearly Birch Bay Discovery Days for music, family events, food vendors and something called EXTREME CHAINSAW! Bring your biggest chainsaws. (8/29-30, 2019)
Traveling with kids? Hit up the Birch Bay Waterslides for summer fun in the sun. Waterslides, pools, concessions and more. (Open summers – Early June thru Labor Day)
Waiting for the tide to come back in…
Campground area at Birch Bay State Park
Peaceful camping at Birch Bay State Park
Lovely view from Birch Bay
A very relaxing afternoon at Birch Bay
There are several places to eat and shop along Beachcomber Way. The area is particularly alive during the warmer months, but several places are open year-round. Next time you’re in Birch Bay, consider these spots:
While only open during the summer, The C Shop makes the most of the warm weather. Offering delicious homemade candy and treats, along with pizza, sandwiches on house-baked bread, coffee drinks and ice cream, they’ve got everything you need for a sunny day. Their Turkish Delight is particularly delicious!
Located directly next door to The C Shop, The Beach Shack is tiny, but packs a punch with a quirky assortment of gifts, souvenirs, antiques and more.
Stop in at The Boardwalk Restaurant for breakfast specialties, fish-n-chips, burgers and outdoor seating with a view at this popular Birch Bay spot. (Check website for hours)
Found just across the street from The C Shop, the kitschy Birch Bay Café serves breakfast and lunch as well as baked goods and coffee. In addition to their menu, they have a gift shop and also rent bikes, kayaks and paddle boards. (Closed Mondays – check website for hours)
For waterside dining with outdoor seating and a great view, check out the newly reopened and remodeled Bay Breeze. Seafood, burgers and more! (They were forced to close in December after a strong storm brought waves crashing through their windows!)
Classic sandwich counter at the C Shop
Delicious Turkish Delight at the C Shop!
Much candy to try at the lovely C Shop
Tasty dining at the Beach House
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Birch Bay Cafe
‘Lots of great finds at the Beach Shack
Stop by the C Shop for tasty treats!
A little further south off of I-5, we come to the small town of Ferndale. There are many lovely things going on in the Ferndale area, but I immediately think of two things: The crazy beagle I live with, Finley from Ferndale, and running my first leg of the Ragnar race. Since neither of these items are likely on your list, let’s explore a few of the other cool things about Ferndale. (But come on – who couldn’t love such a deviously smart beagle like Finley?? A deviously smart beagle who began her life on a small farm in Ferndale…)
Finley is a very fashionable and likes to wear her ear jauntily to the side.
Finley is always ready for her close-up.
You have food. I want it. NOW, human!
If you do not get out of bed RIGHT NOW and fill this kong…
In addition to goofy beagles and running out of breath during Ragnar, Ferndale offers many excellent adventures and distractions. Just a few of the cool things you can check out while in the area:
I had such a fun time hanging out at Pioneer Park, managed by the Ferndale Heritage Society. It’s a unique, educational and entertaining way to spend an afternoon. During my visit, I had the pleasure of learning more about the area from the very charming tour guides, James and Julie. Dressed in period garb, they gave me a very detailed description of the various structures as well as a great insight into local Ferndale history. (Check out the tiny museum upstairs in the Parker House/General Store.) Make time to visit the well-maintained and restored village and enjoy your step back in time. I’ve been told their annual Olde Fashioned Christmas – Christmas in the Woods (Dec 6-8) is a great bit of winter fun and I’m looking forward to checking it out!
The Church at Pioneer Park
Comfortable pews inside the little church
Stop in and check out the gift shop and museum inside the Parker House. Say hi to Julie and James!
The lovely gift shop inside the Parker House
Inside the Granary building at Pioneer Park
The museum upstairs at the Parker House
I’m very glad dentist chairs have been improved…
The wonderful guides, Julie and James!
Welcome to Pioneer Park!
Just south of downtown Ferndale lies the spacious Hovander Homestead Park. Packed into 350 beautiful acres are the historic Hovander House (Tours available), the Hovander River trail (1.9 miles), a boat launch, a FRAGRANCE GARDEN and barn and farmyard displays. Pack a picnic and plan on spending a glorious day exploring the area. Don’t forget to include a visit to adjacent Tennant Lake Park for excellent bird-watching and a lovely boardwalk trail.
Don’t miss the annual Bellingham Scottish Gathering, put on by the Scottish Dance Society at the beginning of June. It takes place at Hovander Homestead Park and is a great day of Scottish games, piping, haggis and more. Och aye!
The annual Ferndale Street Festival hosts a great weekend of downtown fun. Live music, food and craft vendors, a car show and a PIE EATING CONTEST are just a few of the features. (Aug 23-24, 2019)
Stock up on local produce and artisan wares every Friday afternoon at the Ferndale Farmers Market in downtown Ferndale. (Fridays – 2-6pm, June 14th – Oct 11th)
More gratuitous shots of Finley…
What? No, I’m not messing up your pillows…
I’m not messing them up – I’m building a fort!
This fort is not big enough for you, human.
Rearranging the fort. That’s better…
Adventures and distractions can make one hungry. To fuel up after your Ferndale explorations, check out these great eateries:
I am always on the hunt for a good tamale. New Mexico Tamale Company in downtown Ferndale definitely fills the bill with their tasty selections. Be sure to try the traditional pork tamales made with Hatch chile! (Closed Sundays and Mondays)
Check out the great wine selection and tasty made-from-scratch Italian fare at Leader Block Wine Co. & Eatery on Main Street. They also feature great cocktails, regular live music and special event dinners.
While not necessarily common these days, I maintain it IS possible to make an entire meal of cheese. And maybe a good bottle of wine… If you concur, head to Twin Sisters Creamery and indulge in their delicious cheese selection. They also host tastings, tours and events. Check out their October Cheese & Brews for a tasty sampling of their cheese along with local beer. (Oct 30th)
If you can’t get enough delicious cheese, stop by Appel Farms and do a tasting in their cheese shop – or try a grilled cheese sandwich at their café. Come on – a creamery-to-table grilled cheese sandwich? It doesn’t get much better than that. (Tues-Sat, 11am – 6pm)
Check out Ferndale’s first commercial brewery, the newly minted FrinGe Brewing. They feature regular food trucks at their taphouse and are family and dog friendly. (Closed Mondays)
The Twin Sisters Whatcom Blue is delicious!
Running through the backroads of Ferndale during Ragnar. I should’ve stopped for cheese…
Beautiful Mount Baker as seen from my Ragnar run through Ferndale
Heading further south from Ferndale (Exit 260 – Slater Road, off I-5), will bring you to the lands of the Lummi Nation and nearby Lummi Island. On my way to check out Lummi Island, I noted the Silver Reef Casino Resort, directly off of Slater Road. Not only that, I discovered there was a Skippers restaurant located inside the Lummi Bay Market in the same parking lot as the casino. Who am I to ignore both a casino and a Skippers? While I wouldn’t consider Skipper’s to be fine seafood dining, it does remind me of Tuesday nights in the ol’ Tri-Cities and “all-you-can-eat” at the local Skippers. Nostalgia… And come on – you get Jell-O AND coleslaw with your fish basket. Score! But should you not be up for a quick Skippers stop, check out The Steak House in the casino for a more leisurely affair.
The humble, yet delicious Skipper’s fish basket! (I ate the Jello first.)
I’m very sad I didn’t notice the FRY BREAD option!
Lodging at the Silver Reef Casino
Silver Reef Casino
Just across the water from the Lummi mainland sits lovely Lummi Island. Take a quick, 20-minute ride on the Lummi Island Ferry and enjoy the solitude of this most peaceful and relaxing locale. (The passenger/Car ferry – leaves every 20 minutes from Gooseberry Point.) This tiny community features a thriving Arts scene, beautiful shorelines and a whole lot of blissful quiet.
There are quite a few Airbnb opportunities on the island, but The Willows Inn is a great place to check out for more traditional lodging. They also feature upscale dining, spa services and additional off-site lodging opportunities. Just across the way from the inn is beautiful Sunset Beach. Overlooking Rosario Strait and nearby islands, it provides an enjoyable and serene way to while away the hours.
Hop aboard the lovely Lummi Ferry!
Beach hang near the Lummi Island Ferry
As Lummi Island is relatively small, there aren’t a lot of dining options available. That said, the Beach Store Café offers lunch and dinner along with regular live music, a great happy hour and various events. (Their hours and days open vary with the season, so be sure to check their website for details.) If you’re more in need of wine tasting, hit up the Artisan Wine Gallery for a sample of their wares. (Fridays and Saturdays)
Also happening on Saturdays – and a great way to pick up local specialties – is the Lummi Saturday Market. (Marketplace Field 10am – 1pm) Stock up for a picnic and hike up Lummi Mountain via the Baker Preserve Trail to take in the beautiful views of the neighboring San Juan Islands. And if you’re like me and love peonies, don’t pass up a stop atFull Bloom Farm to enjoy their many varieties as well as seasonal organic produce. They can also be found at their Farm stand which is open year ‘round. (You can evenstay on the farm!)
Nestled against Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea, the eclectic city of Bellinghamis at the core of Whatcom County commerce and culture. Serving as both the county seat and largest city in Whatcom County, Bellingham is a busy and vibrant hub of activity. (Also the largest, northernmost city in the contiguous US.) Often included on many “best of” lists such as places to visit, live and retire, Bellingham is brimming with things to do and areas to explore. EatLocalFirst is a great resource for things to do, sample and experience in the area and features events such as the Whatcom County Farm Tour (9/7 – 9/8), Culinary Adventures and the Fall Fruit Festival (10/5 – 10/6) to help show off the area’s bounty.
In complement to being nestled between beautiful coastal and mountainous regions, Bellingham prides itself on environmental stewardship and a large variety of outdoor pursuits. Filled with parks, trails and all things lush and green, the area is a nature lover’s fantasy land. A few of the beautiful outdoor areas to visit in and around Bellingham:
Visible from I-5 while driving south of Bellingham, Lake Samish is surrounded by tree-filled hillsides, with a community of homes dotting its shores. (Hillary Swank grew up in the area and Ryan Stiles presently lives on the lake.) Adjacent Samish Park has a nice day lodge for events, small public docks and a couple of nice trails alongside and above the lake. I took the Lakeshore Loop Trail and very much enjoyed the lakeside view, including the beautiful lily pads and cute picnic areas tucked into the trees. I’d always wondered about the big lake you could see from I-5… Now I know!
Steps leading directly into Lake Samish
Beautiful lake trail and trees
A lovely place to take a break on the lake
A gorgeous look out at Lake Samish
Peaceful and quiet on the lake…
Paddle boats on the lake
Lovely Lily Pads!
Iconic Whatcom Falls Park is a great place to enjoy deep, forested valley scenery, all within a few minutes of the downtown area. Don’t miss a photo-op next to the historic bridge and be sure to breathe in the fresh air while strolling on the Whatcom Creek Trail. (Pop Culture Note: I was very entertained to rock down to turn onto Electric Avenue to get to one of the park’s entrances. Additionally, someone in the area has It’s A Trap as their Wi-Fi name. HAA!)
I’m gonna rock down to… Electric Avenue…
Great carvings at Whatcom Falls Park
Great trails at Whatcom Falls Park
The classic bridge – and major photo op – at Whatcom Falls Park
While not your traditional nature trail, walking around the beautiful campus of Western Washington University could easily be considered a day hike. Surrounded by forest and beautifully landscaped grounds, it’s a great place to commune with nature, not to mention pursue a stellar education.
The Academic Instructional Center (West) building on campus
Surrounded by beautiful trees!
Beautiful views of the surrounding hills from campus
The Wade King Recreation Center building on campus
Speaking of trails, Bellingham has many types to offer. For instance, the Tap Trail and corresponding Tap Trail Passport are fine ways to explore the local brewery culture. Whatcom County overall hosts an excellent brewery scene and it would be a shame not to visit a few on your next adventure. Some of the great spots to beat a trail to in the Bellingham area:
Great food, great beer (all organic!) and a very cool space make Aslan Brewing Co. an excellent destination for lunch or dinner. They also have a nice happy hour! I particularly enjoy their seasonal Das Boot. (They also have a great taproom in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood)
Located just around the corner from Aslan Brewing Co., Schweinhaus Biergarten features a great outdoor beer garden, long happy hours and tasty German pretzels and brats from their outdoor, wood-fired oven. (Family friendly – dog friendly)
Should you want to branch out from beer, head to Chuckanut Bay Distillery, located in the heart of downtown. Housed in a great old building that used to be JC Penney, they feature several award-winning spirits. Check out their bourbon and seasonal 110 proof Krampus (Closed Tues/Wed)
Situated directly across from the Farmers Market, the popular Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro features a great menu which includes deviled eggs, classic meatloaf, bangers and mash and more. And two very important words about their taproom Hoppy Hour: TABLE BACON ($1/slice – Hoppy Hour in the taproom only). They are family friendly and the beer garden is dog-friendly.
Close to the Whatcom Co. Museum and tucked just off Prospect Street, family-friendly Bellingham Cider Co. is an excellent place to stop in for cider, food and a great view of the Waterfront area. Their menu features an outdoor pizza oven, chicken & waffles, spaghetti w/browned butter and crab and more. I particularly enjoy their Dry Cider and the Blackberry Ginger Cider. (Closed Mondays)
Not too far from Bellingham Cider Co., the tasty Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen (North Nut location) features a great beer selection and a full menu with tasty sandwiches, burgers, seafood and more. If you enjoy lighter beers, I love their Kolsch and Vienna Lager. Family friendly. (Check out their South Nut location in nearby Burlington, mentioned in my recent Skagit County article)
With two Bellingham locations, Kulshan Brewing has much to offer the area. The beer hall, found north of downtown on James Street is family (and dog!) friendly and hosts regular food trucks and live music. The main taproom/brewhouse is located across I-5 in the Roosevelt neighborhood and features great outdoor seating, food trucks and live music. (This location is 21+) Check out their tasty Premium Lager and Pilsner brews.
Closely located to the Kulshan beer hall on James Street, Twin Sisters Brewing offers a tasty beer selection along with Saturday/Sunday brunch and a menu featuring sandwiches, burgers, small plates, tacos and cocktails. Check out their delicious Dufel-Sach Belgian-Style Golden Strong. (Tasting room closed Monday, but the restaurant is open. Family friendly.)
When wandering through the downtown area, head to Wander Brewing and sample their tasty beer selection. The large brew hall, set in a historic downtown building, features local food trucks and is family friendly. They’re also located just a few blocks up from an excellent sandwich shop, Sandwich Odyssey. (Across from Bellingham High School)
As an alternative to the beer scene, check out downtown Honey Moon Alley Bar & Ciderhouse for mead, cider and cocktails. They also feature a light food menu and regular live music in their intimate space, located off State Street alley, behind Pepper Sisters. (Great New Mexican restaurant – Closed Mondays, dinner only. They have mashed potato rellenos!)
Some seriously amazing sandwiches can be had at Sandwich Odyssey!
Try the 110 proof Krampus!
Perched on the hill overlooking the waterfront, Bellingham Cider Co. has a great view AND great cider!
Just around the corner to the great Bellingham Cider Co.!
They have TABLE BACON!
Aslan Brewing’s delicious Das Boot
A spacious scene at Aslan Brewing
Aslan Brewing in downtown Bellingham
Bellingham is a very walkable – and bikeable – city. It’s possible to explore much of the downtown and Waterfront areas all within a comfortable afternoon’s worth of walking or biking. (Including important stops at breweries and eateries along the way.) For an interesting trip around the historic buildings, murals, art installations and more, check out the Self-guided Story Maps courtesy of the City of Bellingham. (Also available for Bellingham’s predecessor city, Sehome, nearby Fairhaven and Highway 99)
Even without a map, it’s easy to have a very interesting, informative and delicious walk just by parking downtown and heading off in any direction. The Bellingham Farmers Market (Saturdays, 10am – 3pm, Apr – Dec) is a great place to start. They have an excellent selection of local goods and a covered hall for those rainy northwest days. Just a few blocks away, heading towards the water and Port of Bellingham are several more blocks of great trails to walk and sights to check out. The city of Bellingham has a long term plan to expand and revitalize the waterfront area and they are making visible strides towards their goal.
A few of the cool areas in the waterfront part of town:
Take a stroll around the newly opened Waypoint Park and enjoy the views looking out towards Lummi Island. The park and surrounding areas are part of the revitalization effort with more development coming soon. Be sure to stop by the very cool “Waypoint” (AKA: “Acid Ball”) art installation.
The South Bay Trail connects downtown Bellingham with downtown Fairhaven with a great 2-mile trail via the re-purposed Bellingham and Skagit Interurban Railway. It also hooks up w/the Interurban Trail in Fairhaven which goes all the way to Larrabee State Park.
Check out the Acid Ball installation at Waypoint Park
Stroll through the new Waypoint Park on the waterfront
Urban industrial meets waterfront park!
Inside at the Farmers Market
Nearby Breadfarm (Edison, WA) at the Farmers Market – DELICIOUS!
Scores of great farmers and artisans at the Farmers Market
Welcome to the Farmers Market!
Bellingham has a quirky sort of charm. They’ve got their own thing going on and the downtown area celebrates this individuality with great restaurants, museums and more. To experience some of the unique flavors and flair of Bellingham, consider these options:
Laying claim to the title of “oldest continually operating café and cocktail lounge in Washington State,” the iconic Horseshoe Café (c. 1886) features local ingredients and a menu filled with comfort food classics. Tasty cocktails, a good tap list and open late.
If you’re craving Russian dumplings (they’re delicious!), head over to Pel’meni in the University district for a tasty experience. They offer a small menu, but who needs more when you have PEL’MENI to serve?! Open late!
For delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner in a funky, cozy downtown space, check out Cosmos Bistro. Inventive dishes, a great happy hour and locally sourced ingredients make this a fine stop on any downtown excursion.
The Old Town Cafe has a regular line out the door for their delicious breakfast and lunch fare. The current ownership has been serving tasty food to Bellingham residents for nearly 25 years and here’s to hoping the trend continues. (The space has actually been a restaurant since the early 1900s and known as the Old Town Café since 1967) They feature in-house baked goods, locally sourced ingredients and a great communal setting. They also host a free Thanksgiving dinner every year!
Old school cocktails and hot dogs, set in a historic downtown building with space-themed decor? What’s not to love?? Orion has a good happy hour, pool tables and they’re open late!
The funky cool Orion in downtown Bellingham
The iconic Horseshoe Cafe in downtown Bellingham – since 1886!
With all of Bellingham’s deep and eclectic history, it’s no wonder they have several excellent museums and antique stores to visit. Next time you’re in the area, bone up on your local knowledge at these great stops:
Guarding over the downtown skyline, the Whatcom Museum and its corresponding Lightcatcher building feature wonderful exhibits of Bellingham and surrounding area histories and more. The main museum is housed in Old City Hall and is itself an important piece of Washington State history. (First site in the state to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places)
The very unique and innovative Mindport features fine art and hand-built interactive exhibits. Located just around the corner from the Spark Museum, it’s a great way to spend an entertaining and interactive afternoon; especially as a combo pack!
Get a fully-charged, up-close look at all things electrical at the Spark – Museum of Electrical Invention in the heart of downtown. Check out the Mega Zapper with its 4 million volts (AKA: Nikola Tesla’s Lightning Machine) and listen in on local KMRE 102.3 FM, the independent radio station operated out of the museum. (Or online at org)
Great mural around the corner from the old Rocket Donuts shop
The Spark Museum is shockingly cool!
Rocket Donuts may be gone, but the rocket ship remains! RIP Rocket Donuts.
The beautiful Old City Hall and now Whatcom Museum
It’s a port… for your mind!!
Great murals can be found all around Bellingham
There are many great antique shops in the downtown Bellingham area
Lovely old homes near the downtown area
Glimpses into old Bellingham are all around the downtown area
The Arts are alive in Bellingham and there are many options for expanding your artistic horizons during your visit. Just a few of the great places to help you enjoy the scene:
Owned by actor Ryan Stiles, the Upfront Theatre features regular improv comedy shows as well as improv classes. Put your comedic skills to the test!
On the National Register of Historic Places the Mount Baker Theatre (c. 1927) used to be a vaudeville theatre, but now features a variety of Arts and entertainment. Shows include the classic Phantom of the Opera (1925 silent film version) played with a live score on their in-house Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, Warren Miller’s Timeless (11/9) and the 20th Annual Mt. Baker Film & Arts Festival. (11/1)
The new Sylvia Center for the Arts features theatre, music and dance performances as well as rehearsal and teaching space for Bellingham’s thriving Arts community.
Head to the Bellingham Festival of Music for beautiful classical music including orchestral premiers, string quartets, chamber music, world-class soloists and more. (July 3-24, 2020)
Just south of Bellingham lies the endlessly charming Fairhaven Historic District. Founded by “Dirty” Dan Harris in the late 1800s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairhaven is a wonderful place to spend a long weekend – or longer. Great restaurants, shops and a gateway to scenic Chuckanut Drive make it a must-visit – and very walkable – destination any time of year.
While strolling about this quaint area, keep an eye out for one of the many murals featured on town buildings. Along with Bellingham, the Fairhaven area sports wonderful murals by artists such as Northwest favorites, Lanny Little and Henry. (Check out the largest hand-painted mural in Washington State at the Bellingham Subaru dealer by artist, Henry) I particularly love how Lanny Little painted himself into one of the murals located in the lovely Village Green, located in the center of town. Nice to be able to recognize an artist for their talent…
One of the great murals in historic downtown Fairhaven
A great mural next to the Village Green in historic downtown Fairhaven
The artist, Lanny Little, painted himself into the mural next to Village Green. Awesome!!
Fairhaven has no shortage of great restaurants, pubs, bakeries and dessert spots to check out. On your next visit, add these establishments to your list of places to visit:
Grab a bite from one of the visiting food trucks or bring your own to enjoy with one of the tasty locals brews at Stones Throw Brewing Co. They’re family and dog friendly and regularly feature live music.
For the ultimate in dog-friendly watering holes, stop by Paws for a Beer and enjoy a pint. They even kindly allow humans who might not have their dogs with them. For more info on grabbing a beer with your furry buddy, check out their dog membership (21+)
If you’re up for a delicious burger, hit up the eclectic Filling Station in downtown Fairhaven. Using local ingredients, including custom-made buns from local bakery, Avenue Bread they know how to rock a good burger, not to mention a tasty cocktail. (Also in the Sunnyland neighborhood of Bellingham)
My new friends, James and Julie from nearby Pioneer Park in Ferndale, highly recommended Fairhaven Fish & Chips in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the center of downtown and run out of an authentic British double-decker bus, they serve some pretty tasty fish-n-chips, indeed.
Featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, Skylark’s Hidden Café is a great Fairhaven stop. Throw in award-winning chowder, a great happy hour menu and Jazz on Monday nights and it’s hard to ignore this cozy scene.
There is never a time I’m not up for fresh crepes – never! Mount Bakery Fairhaven is the place to go if you, too, heed the call of the delicious crepe. Also serving a multitude of scratch-baked goods along with a full breakfast and lunch menu. Yum! (Additional locations can be found in downtown Bellingham and the Bellingham Farmers Market)
Named after Fairhaven’s founder, Dirty Dan Harris’ Steakhouse in downtown Fairhaven has been serving delicious steak and local seafood for the past 44 years. (Closed Mondays. Open at 5pm, Tues – Sun) And if you’d like to further celebrate Dirty Dan, check out the annual Dirty Dan Harris Festival at the end of April.
The iconic Colophon Café, with entrances on 11th Street and off the Fairhaven Village Green, offers hearty soups, sandwiches, burgers and great coffee and baked goods. The building (c. 1891), with its (haunted) upstairs ballroom and 1900s hand-operated elevator remnants in downstairs dining area is a gem in and of itself. There is said to have been a speakeasy in the building during the Prohibition era. Cool!
Directly next door to the Colophon Café and another icon of the neighborhood, Village Books & Paper Dreams offers a wonderful selection of books, gifts and more. (Also in nearby Lynden)
For a nice spot of tea and a British-inspired lunch or afternoon tea, stop by Abbey Garden Tea Room in downtown Fairhaven. Located in the same space is CreativiTea where you can paint your own pottery and enjoy a lovely cup of tea. (Also in Lynden)
I am indeed sad about Rocket Donut’s departure from the Bellingham/Fairhaven food scene. However, the fact that ACME Ice Cream has opened their new flagship store in the old Rocket Donut Fairhaven location definitely helps to soothe my soul – and beyond! To say I am addicted to ACME Ice Cream is an (embarrassing) understatement. It is the best ice cream EVER and I’d eat it every day if I could! (Well, I certainly could, but the adult side of me vigorously argues as to whether I should…) Made with local ingredients in the nearby town of Acme, it has a dense, taffy-like consistency that is unlike any other ice cream I’ve tried. It is DELICIOUS. (Great. Now I need/want some ACME Ice Cream… Shut up, adult side!)
Amazing ice cream AND baked goods at Acme Ice Cream
THIS IS THE BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD!!!
Delicious baked goods at Mount Bakery Fairhaven
Great artwork, coffee, breakfast, baked goods, live music and more at the Mount Bakery Fairhaven
Delicious food at the Cobalt Grill
The front entrance to the excellent Colophon Cafe
The man, the myth, the steak house!
Excellent burgers to be had at the Filling Station
Fairhaven Fish-n-Chips in the heart of downtown Fairhaven
Enjoy a lovely tea AND a bit of pottery painting
Grab a pint with your four-legged buddy!
To add to the delicious temptations lurking around every corner in downtown Fairhaven, there are an equal number of fun shops to explore and activities to check out. A few notables from my recent visit to the downtown area:
My wallet and I needed to get out of Current & Furbish fairly quickly as I could’ve easily taken home quite a few wonderful items. Home décor, gourmet foods, restored furniture and more make for a lovely bit of browsing and potential home redecorating projects.
The same goes for Three French Hens in that I could’ve easily gotten carried away with the credit cards. Fun clothing, home décor, gift ideas and more fill the shelves of this fun shop in the heart of downtown Fairhaven.
Great finds at Current and Furbish! (And great old neon signs in “Fairhaven Historic Village”)
Located in the old bank building, Three French Hens is a great shopping stop
They make pretty awesome bikes, but I will admit to being more entertained by their company name and logo – And the limitless opportunity for puns, memes and overall humor. The Evil (Bikes) headquarters can be found in downtown Fairhaven, just across from the ferry terminal. I wish I could afford one of their Evil bikes, but for now I’ll just have to dream of owning something Evil… I’d also like to point out the rather evil looking trees directly across the street – as well as the wild apple trees. Coincidence? But don’t worry – it’s all located just past the peace marker. Where there’s evil, good is likely hot on its heels. Or down the sidewalk…
Evil has a logo!
Evil also has a very hip corporate office. (And also makes awesome bikes!)
Is it just me, or does this tree look evil? It’s right across the street from Evil headquarters. Just sayin’.
ALSO across from Evil headquarters…
CLOSE UP on evil tree…
Apple tree across from Evil headquarters. Coincidence? Dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn…
But JUST down the way from evil headquarters lies PEACE. Whew!
Something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time is taking the ferry from Bellingham/Fairhaven to Ketchikan, Alaska. That’s right, you can take a ferry from Washington State all the way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Chain! It’s part of the quite extensive Alaska Marine Highway System. The trip to Ketchikan is 38-hours long and there are options to stay in one of the ship’s staterooms, “camp” on the deck or sleep in the solarium area. If this sounds as AMAZING to you as it does me, head to the Bellingham Cruise Terminal and hop aboard! (But best to first make a reservation.) Located across the street from Evil. (I’ll make an effort, but it’s probably going to be a while before I stop making Evil jokes…)
Hop aboard a ferry to Alaska!
Inside the lovely Bellingham Cruise Terminal – Let’s go to Alaska!!
Looking over to Fairhaven from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal
If you’d like to extend your exploration of downtown Fairhaven, check out the quaint scene at the Fairhaven Village Inn, located just across from the Village Green. During your stay, be sure to visit Galloway’s Cocktail Bar, the Art Deco cocktail bar located on the street level of the Inn.
Fairhaven offers many excellent ways to celebrate and explore the area throughout the year. A few fun ways to experience what this quaint village has to offer:
Head to the Village Green during the summer months and enjoy the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema. (Saturday evenings, June 20 – August 29, 2020)
Set in conjunction with the epic Ski to Sea relay race, the Historic Fairhaven Festival takes place in downtown Fairhaven and celebrates the town in grand fashion with an all-day street fair, live music, a beer/wine garden, local food vendors and more. (May 26th / Memorial Day weekend)
Stroll around the Village Green, take in the summer air, enjoy the view out to the water and savor a fine glass of wine at the annual Vino in the Village Wine Walk. Sounds like a pretty great way to spend a summer evening… (August 8th)
Celebrate all things holiday at the yearly Fairhaven Winterfest. Hop in one of the horse-drawn carriages and take in the lights and holiday displays. Be sure to check out the Holiday Market on November 30th in the Village Green. (Winterfest runs Nov 29th thru Dec 21st)
If you like learning all the hush-hush, behind-the-scenes details about a town, hit up the Good Time Girls tour company for any of their well-researched tours of Bellingham and Fairhaven. Their Sin & Gin and BellingHistory tours are quite popular and very entertaining. In October they offer a special Gore & Lore tour – don’t miss it!
The covered walkways of Village Green
Looking into the Village Green – So many great events take place throughout the year!
The heart of Village Green
Village Books at Village Green
A great scene on Village Green
Sure, I-5 is a relatively efficient way in and out of the Bellingham and Fairhaven areas. There’s even quite a bit of lovely scenery along the way. However, why take I-5 when you can cruise along one of the state’s most beautiful and scenic drives? Chuckanut Drive (AKA: SR-11, a designated Scenic Highway), running along the Whatcom County coast between Fairhaven and Skagit County is a spectacular drive and has been awing motorists since the turn of last century.
Even before it became an official (gravel) road in 1916, Chuckanut Drive has been an important fixture in the area. In conjunction with Highway 99 and later I-5, it was an integral link in joining together routes from British Columbia all the way down to San Francisco. (It was paved in 1921.) As it winds its way through the coastal Chuckanut Mountains and into the Skagit Valley, it continues to provide a beautiful and interesting route through the area. (The fall is a particularly lovely – and popular – time to take the drive!)
Chuckanut Drive is brimming with amazing areas to explore and enjoy. A few beautiful spots to check out on your next Whatcom County adventure:
Perched on a bluff overlooking Chuckanut Bay and Teddy Bear Cove, the lovely Woodstock Farm (c. 1905) and its sprawling estate is a wonderful spot to stop and explore. Original owner of the farm, Cyrus Gates, one of the leads in creating Larrabee State Park as well as portions of Chuckanut Drive and the Mt. Baker Highway, definitely lent his scenic vision to the creation of the farm. After investigating the beautiful grounds, enjoy the great views of Lummi Island and the San Juans.
Train causeway across Teddy Bear Cove
The old Chicken Coop building at Woodstock Farm
Madronas eat other trees for lunch!
A stone circle out behind Woodstock Farm
Looking out towards Teddy Bear Cove
I think this tree has been hanging out near Evil headquarters…
Looking out towards Lummi Island from Woodstock Farm
The main house at Woodstock Farm
The grounds at Woodstock Farm
The grounds at Woodstock Farm
Looking up at the rear of Woodstock Farm and the Chicken Coop
On the topic of Larrabee State Park, it’s just down the road from Woodstock Farms – and very big! (The southern part of the park is the Whatcom/Skagit County border) It was the first designated state park in Washington and is an excellent place to spend the day. Camping, boating and great hiking are just a few of the reasons to visit. Discover Pass
If you’re heading south on Chuckanut drive with a destination of Skagit County, consider adding a bonus stop in the tiny, but delicious Bow-Edison It’s a foodie paradise!
Stop in at the Oyster Bar restaurant on Chuckanut Drive
So many delicious cheese at Samish Bay Cheese in Bow, just off Chuckanut Drive
Fresh bread from the Breadfarm while dining at the excellent Slough Food in Edison – off Chuckanut Drive
Paella made fresh at Slough Food – Amazing!
A must stop in Edison off of Chuckanut Drive – Breadfarm and neighbor, Slough Food. DELICIOUS!
Head down to the amazing Taylor Shellfish off of Chuckanut Drive
Heading back up north, towards the Canadian border, will allow us to check out the Whatcom County scene to the east of I-5. The coastal, west side of Whatcom County has plenty to offer and countless activities to keep one busy. However, when you add in the picturesque towns, winding rivers and soaring mountain scenery of Whatcom County’s east side, the ante gets considerably upped. Epic vacation plans for the win!
A short drive northeast of Bellingham on SR-539 brings us to the wonderfully quaint town of Lynden. From its serene, tree-lined Front Street to its Dutch-inspired downtown, Lynden is an excellent town to explore. Windmills, Dutch bakeries and pastoral backroads and farms make it a dream for bicycle excursions and leisurely country drives. It’s also host to one of the three border crossings in Whatcom County, known as the Aldergrove Crossing. (SR-539 becomes BC Highway 13 in Canada) So many great areas to explore are packed into this quiet swath of northeast Whatcom County. (Interesting fact: Known as America’s Raspberry Capitol, Whatcom County is responsible for growing 65% of the nation’s red raspberries and 95% of the state’s red raspberry crop. YUM! Many raspberry farms can be viewed along the Lynden area backroads.)
Biking, raspberries and farming – Lynden backroads have it all!
Hop on your bike and check out “The Raspberry capital of the world!”
A great place to begin your Lynden adventures is via the downtown area. It’s a relatively small part of town, but is brimming with great restaurants, shops and more. (Note: Many businesses in the downtown area are closed on Sundays) A few places to check out during your visit to Lynden:
The Waples Mercantile Building (On the National Register of Historic Places), located in the center of downtown, is home to several great businesses. I had a delicious breakfast and great cup of coffee at Avenue Bread. The ambiance is very cool and it was a nice place to relax on a Sunday morning. (Also in Bellingham) They are connected within the building to The Inn at Lynden, a cozy boutique hotel and the stellar Village Books and Paper Dreams. (I picked up some luxurious soap from Samish Bay Soaps and a rather cool Octopus glass) Connected on the other side of Village Books is the Cheeks clothing shop. (Closed Sundays) And on the side of the building, don’t miss grabbing a pint at Overflow Taps. (Also in Bellingham) They are part of the excellent Charity Pints Program which benefits clean water and building drinking wells in Africa. (Additional Whatcom County brewers participating include Aslan Brewing, Atwood Ales, Wander Brewing, North Fork Brewery and Boundary Bay Brewery)
Such a great book shop!
Local area Samish Bay Soaps are lovely!
Chock full of awesome finds!
There are many cool businesses tucked into the old Waples Mercantile Building.
A lovely boutique hotel in the old Waples Mercantile Building.
Delicious breakfasts at Avenue Bread – and much more!
SO many options!
Peaking over to Village Books from Avenue Bread
Just across the way from the Waples Mercantile Building are several more wonderful food and shopping options. The famous Dutch Mothers Restaurant and gift shop has been wooing diners with their scrumptious Dutch pancakes and homemade pies for years. (Closed Sundays) Not to be outdone in the area of delicious Dutch baked goods, the nearbyLynden Dutch Bakery has been serving tasty Dutch baked goods to a dedicated crowd of patrons for the past 125 years! (Closed Sundays) And in a fully dedicated tribute to the town’s Dutch heritage, The Mill by Perfectly Paired serves bistro-style lunch and dinner along with sporting a full-size Dutch windmill as part of the building.
Great finds at More than Antiques in the downtown area