Whidbey Island Is the Restful Eco-Escape You Need

Clustered near Coupeville, Washington, find a fairyland lodge and king-of-the-world bluff walk.

By Ramona DeNies July 24, 2019 Published in the August 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Historic touches at the newly renovated Captain Whidbey (left) and the hotel's crispy skin-on cedar-plank Northwest salmon

Stretching south past Skagit Bay in Washington’s Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is ropey, rustic, and just a bit salty. For Portlanders, getting here can be a haul: nearly five hours by highway and the Mukilteo ferry, longer if you go all the way to the Deception Pass Bridge or travel up the Hood Canal to catch the Coupeville ferry. Making the trek worth it? Whidbey’s unique cluster of restful attractions right at the island’s elbow, from a fairyland lodge of blond wood, canoes, and craft cocktails to an eco-conscious shellfish farm and a soaring, king-of-the-world bluff walk.


One hundred years after the Fisher family built this snug, bayfront stone-and-madrona inn, another family—the Frenches—moved in. The 30-something French brothers, who’d made national headlines with their chic, geeky renovation of the Pioneertown Motel near Joshua Tree, are born-and-raised Portlanders. As outsiders, they wanted to do right by islanders for whom this garden-ringed retreat holds generations of memories. So this past winter, their property-wide upgrade didn’t touch the lodge’s cobble fireplace, nor the many framed photos of Whidbey history. What is new? The sleek horseshoe bar slinging house shandies and perfect charcuterie boards, along with Pendleton throws in each guest room and individual cabins now tricked out by retailers like Filson and Glasswing. Rooms from $195/night, 2072 Captain Whidbey Inn Rd, Coupeville, Wash., 360-678-4097


Just east of the Captain Whidbey (and visible from its sloping back lawn), a scatter plot of wooden rectangles dot Penn Cove like lakeside floating docks from summer camps of yore. Except instead of sunbathers, each of these platforms hosts bevies of fattening mussels, swaying under the surface from upward of 900 submerged lines. These bay-filtering beauties are rated “Super Green” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a working farm—that means no visitors—but back at the Captain Whidbey, you can taste results that literally can’t get any fresher: beer-steamed, avec dijonnaise, or as full-on cioppino. 


Encompassing the skinniest part of Whidbey Island, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is a 19,000-acre preservation district that wraps around the entire town of Coupeville (including the Captain Whidbey) and its lush, surrounding farmland. Halfway between the reserve’s bookending forts of Ebey and Casey—past prairie waysides and tranquil overlooks—find soaring vistas along the 5.2-mile Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing State Park, practically eye level with the sweep of the Olympics across Admiralty Inlet.

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