Vashon Island, the Idyllic Puget Sound Getaway You Didn’t Know You Needed

Come for the haute-rustic dining, stay for the Thriftway.

By Ramona DeNies August 15, 2016 Published in the September 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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On portage-connected Maury Island, driftwood and sandy beaches surround Point Robinson Park’s tiny, century-old lighthouse. (This view could be yours—the park’s two keepers’ quarters double as vacation rentals.)

Rising from the South Puget Sound like a half-eaten wedge of strawberry pie, ruggedly pastoral Vashon Island is known for off-the-grid, never-a-bridge rusticity: artists’ colonies, fiercely progressive politics, free-range everything.

With around 11,000 permanent residents tucked across 37 lushly forested square miles, Vashon is about as densely populated as it can get, given per-head caps on water rights and a tendency for properties to sprawl, operating with all the autonomy of city-states. Just two King County sheriff’s deputies patrol this patch of unincorporated Washington state, where recently a sheep named Noodle entered a long-standing “unofficial” mayoral race. Condos are unthinkable. Even a new hotel—really, a tasteful campus of high-end trailers—raises eyebrows.

But at least one part of island life is rapidly evolving: the food. From fine dining to a gourmand’s dream picnic, this serene country getaway—just three hours from Portland—packs in both rural relaxation and world-class cuisine. Bring small bills, a lunch basket, and your rattiest sneakers. Once aboard the ferry from Tacoma’s Point Defiance, soak up views of the Olympic Range and Mount Rainier, check your watch—and then pack it away. You’re on island time now.


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Cozy up to the fireplace at the Lodges on Vashon.

Opened just last summer, the Lodges on Vashon—the island’s only real “hotel”—invokes a bit of Seattle glam in its modern sleekness. Tucked off the Vashon Highway behind a business park, the hotel’s 16 prefab “lodges” are tricked out with spa-quality showers, sheepskin throws, and details ripped from the pages of Dwell. Outside the modular pods, find winding pathways, intimate nooks, and a soaring public pavilion with a farm table, grill, and massive fireplace—making this well-appointed retreat particularly sweet for off-islanders down to make a few new friends. $225–295.


What locals call Vashon’s “center” isn’t its four-block main drag of quilting shops, bars, and galleries. It’s actually the next light south, where the new arts center sits kitty-corner to the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie: the original Seattle’s Best Coffee. At this weathered, century-old café (also home to a health food store, coffee museum, and Zuzu’s ice cream bar), the house-kilned drip is fresh and the locals are chatty. For an island-quirky lunch, try Zombiez’s “slow food fast food”—ZLTs, grass-fed beef burgers, malteds. Dinner on Vashon brings two fab options: teak-paneled May’s Kitchen and Bar (“the best Thai in Seattle is on Vashon,” says the Stranger), and “modern American” Bramble House, which accents hearty mains like king salmon with flavor notes of sumac, sorrel, miso, and mustard greens.


Hemlocks, firs, cedars, and rust-red, listing madrons—Vashon’s primordial forests fringe farmland, gracious estates, and sweeping views of that calm Salish Sea. With such scenery, a lazy country drive may not need an organizing principle, but here, you’ve got the best: self-serve produce stands (map via the Vashon Island Growers Association) that make for a cross-island game of connect-the-farm. Start with Hogsback and GreenMan Farms on shore-hugging Dilworth Point, then head south to lavender farms, the Fridays-only wood-fired pizza at La Biondo Farmstand, wineries, and dairies. (According to Bramble House chef Lia Lira, island cheesemongers make a mean goat’s-milk blue. Try for yourself at Burton Hill Farms.) Need to work off those calories? Vashon’s uncrowded country lanes are a boon to road cyclists—and seriously bun-burning. Each September, an 80-mile circuit known as the Passport to Pain strings together the island’s most epic hills. For the “sane one,” P2P ride organizers also offer a nonwheeled Pleasure Map with options like Island Center Forest’s ferny hikes, Jensen Point kayak rentals at Vashon Water Sports, and, across historic Portage Road, Maury Island’s idyllic beach walks.

Vashon Picnic Basket

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On Saturdays, the Vashon Farmers Market is your one-stop shop for hyperlocal goodies, from haricots verts to edible flowers.

End a cross-island foraging quest with a picnic at Point Robinson Park—Maury Island’s most easterly nub, home to a cherubic lighthouse and, starting in fall, pods of curious orcas. No time for farmstands? No problem. Here’s how to stock your basket (and cooler):

  • On Saturdays, plunder the Vashon Farmers Market for stone fruit, berries, honey, and veg.
  • Create a locally sourced cheese plate at Vashon’s luxe Thriftway. Must-haves: Kurtwood Farms tomme-style LogHouse and Dinah’s Cheese—a bloomy Jersey milk camembert.
  • Need a cheese-conveyance system? Find Bill’s Bread—slow-fermented sourdough loaves—delivered to Thriftway still warm.
  • For beernauts, Cliff’s Beer is the on-island brew of choice. Nab a growler of porter at the Roasterie—or head to Thriftway for on-demand crowlers of more local suds. (Thriftway also offers a comprehensive supply of Vashon wines, from Andrew Will’s world-class reds to Alli Lanphear’s organic Siegerrebe.)
  • Nearby Glass Bottle Creamery has dessert: house-churned pints of strawberry balsamic and honey lavender.
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