Gateway to the Islands
BY LAURA HILTON
Between the Salish Sea shores and the Cascade Mountains, Snohomish County offers plenty to do while staying local.
But if it’s a day trip to the islands you have in mind, then we have two jumping off points that will get you to live a little in “island time.”
Residents of Whidbey Island know Island Time well, as things seem to slow down a bit when your senses take in the breeze off the bow of the ferry and you slip away to another world. Slow your own clock down with a trip to the idyllic Whidbey and Camano Islands.
To reach Whidbey Island, take a shuttle from your flight to Paine Field to the state’s newest ferry terminal in Mukilteo. Located just a half mile from the historic site where the US Government and local Native American tribes signed the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855, the new terminal honors that history, with a gorgeous design modeled after the form of a Coast Salish longhouse, including magnificent Coast Salish pieces by local Native artists.
CLINTON BREWS & BITES
After just a 20-minute ferry ride you’ll disembark in Clinton. This lovely beach community has a long history as a hub for ferries, going back well over 100 years to the Mosquito Fleet boats which shuttled locals from island to mainland. Today it is a perfect place to begin your island journey and grab a bite to eat. For a welcoming atmosphere and great food, check out Cozy’s, Whidbey Island’s oldest continually-operated tavern, dating back to Prohibition days (okay officially, just after!).
This family-friendly restaurant and local pub has recently become The Shrimp Shack at Cozy’s, expanding their seafood offerings alongside their classic pizza and burger fare.
For something lighter try Island Nosh right next door, serving up fresh noodle bowls and salads, along with an ever-rotating menu of comfort foods and yummy takeout options.
Before you’ve even left sight of the ferry you’ll stumble upon some local libations not to be missed, so set your watch to island time and slow down to enjoy these local haunts or circle back before your trip is done. The Thirsty Crab Brewery is a family-owned, dog friendly place to grab a glass of locally brewed suds from a wide-ranging selection. If beer is not your drink, Clinton is also home to Skein & Tipple, a speakeasy bar tucked behind a high-quality yarn shop.
Enjoy the feeling of 1920s glamor as you sip a delicious cocktail made from in-house syrups, with locally-distilled liquor available.
This little gem has limited capacity and offers live music most nights of the week, so pop in early or enjoy dinner nearby and check back.
Whidbey Island is nearly 60 miles long and there are too many adorable communities to mention, but as you make your way north, the next gateway town you’ll reach is Coupeville, where another short ferry ride offers access to Port Townsend and the Olympic Peninsula. Coupeville and the ferry actually sit on opposite shores, straddling a historic district that encompasses the military history of Fort Casey, agricultural history of Ebey’s Landing, and maritime history of the Coast Salish peoples.
COUPEVILLE EATS & ALES
Coupeville is the second-oldest town in Washington State and looks out across Penn Cove, home of the famous Penn Cove Mussels. You can find this local delicacy served up at most restaurants in town, but for a big dose of local history and stunning water views, try them at Toby’s Tavern or the Captain Whidbey Inn. Toby’s is located right in the heart of town and was originally built as a mercantile in approximately 1890. The walls of this cozy pub are adorned with Pacific Northwest memorabilia and it even features its own microbrew, Toby’s Parrot Red Ale. The Restaurant at Captain Whidbey is just a couple of miles up the coast, situated off the very scenic Madrona Way. This historic lodge dates back to 1907 and has long been a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. The log cabin inn and restaurant are rustic and inviting.
In good weather, enjoy the large deck facing over Penn Cove, where the rafts of mussels provide a view of the aquaculture operation, and the menu is full of locally sourced ingredients.
Coupeville is the original home of Penn Cove Brewing Company, whose success has led to an additional taproom in Freeland, which you’ll have passed on your way up from Clinton and Langley. Along with a large array of standby favorites usually comes a few experimental new flavors and maybe a local collaboration, like a pumpkin stout made with over 300 pounds of locally grown pumpkins from Sherman’s Pioneer Farm. If you’re more of a wine lover, pay a visit to Bayleaf, a food and wine lover’s dream in the heart of Coupeville. Shop for high-end food products, purchase seasonal boxes, or join their wine club if you can’t pick just one bottle.
OAK HARBOR DRINKING & DINING
Travel 10 miles north and you’ll find yourself in Oak Harbor, by far the largest community on Whidbey. Oak Harbor has an active Navy base and brings in families from all over the country and beyond.
With more people come more restaurant choices. Rustica serves up a rotating seasonal menu of Italian delights; committed to showcasing locally produced foods and beverages.
Enjoy the warm and rustic interior with its welcoming bar, or bring along man’s best friend to the dog-friendly patio.
Children and dogs are also welcomed at Flyers, an aviation-inspired restaurant and brewery. Anyone who enjoyed the latest Top Gun: Maverick film (partially shot here at Naval Air Station Whidbey), will feel right at home. For fine dining, be sure to make a reservation at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway. Chef Scott Fraser spent years working in Vancouver, BC at the very finest French restaurants, before bringing his considerable talents to Oak Harbor and building this destination for steak and seafood lovers. The open-plan kitchen and charming atmosphere complement his beautifully plated creations.
This is the last township before you reach the iconic Deception Pass Bridge and drive off the island, headed to Skagit County, or west toward Anacortes, gateway to the San Juan archipelago.
Although they are next door neighbors, Whidbey and Camano Islands are accessed from very different points in Snohomish County. A trip north on I-5 (turning off towards Stanwood) will take you to “the Easy Island” of Camano. Simply drive across the Camano Gateway Bridge and you’ll find yourself in a Salish Sea utopia of rolling farmland, dense forest, and stunning water and mountain vistas. Camano Island takes its current name from an early Spanish explorer, but the first local people called it Kol-lut-chen, meaning “land jutting out into a bay.”
This quaint community has farms that have remained in the same family for over four generations, so good local food is in the DNA of the place. Just across from Kristoferson Farm and their much-loved farm stand, you’ll find the Rockaway Bar and Grill at the local golf course. Serving up burgers and seafood, this local favorite offers house specials and yummy vegetarian options.
Enjoy the patio in summer or cozy up in the bar come wintertime.
To dine within a beloved State Park, visit Cama Beach Café. This delicious spot has an ever-changing menu and focuses on using local ingredients in their dishes. Take note that you’ll need a Discover Pass to park, dine in, and enjoy all that Cama Beach State Park has to offer. Otherwise consider picking up a takeout order and finding the perfect spot for an island picnic.
A good gateway to the rest of the island is Camano Commons Marketplace. Try a locally brewed beverage at Tapped Camano or Camano Island Espresso. These pair nicely with an afternoon of shopping and a tasty bite from The Baked Café, where a French pastry chef is beloved by the community for elevating the baked goods scene.
Newly opened to rave reviews, the Blue Heron Kitchen and Bar on Cross Island Road is wowing diners. Eat like a local and try the pasta primavera and bacon wrapped figs, and a finale of strawberry rhubarb cobbler