By Margot Black:
For the ultimate reasonably-priced family getaway, without having to travel too far, head to the delightful Whidbey and Camano Islands, located just 25 miles north of Seattle in Washington State. Billed as ‘the shortest distance to far away’ these wonderful islands are just 15 minutes by ferry from the mainland yet offer a wide variety of activities, many child-friendly and water-themed.
MUKILTEO TO CLINTON FERRY
Once you’ve arrived at the Whidbey & Camano Islands it feels as though you are thousands of miles from home but in reality getting there involves a short but fun trip across the very pretty Possession Sound. Fittingly for what seems like a far-flung destination, you have to climb aboard the Mukilteo to Clinton Ferry, which is a great adventure and one that most children love. The ferry is considered ‘a bridge’ extension of route 525 and there are restroom facilities and food services on board. Peak hours are 3pm-8pm. At peak times arrive 45 minutes before departure, and 30 minutes at any other time. For further information and vehicle crossing prices and discounts go to wsdot.wa.gov
BOATYARD INN – WHIDBEY
Visiting the enchanting seaside village of Langley, we stayed overnight at the delightful Boatyard Inn which sits on the water’s edge – it’s a dream, you wake to the sound of the water gently lapping at the shore – and if you’re up early enough (and with toddlers why would you not be?) you can also catch the sun rising over Puget Sound. All the units have views of the water, cable television, gas fireplace, and a galley kitchen with cook-top stove, microwave, dishwasher, and fridge. We requested a room on the first floor with a crib/playpen and if you’re very lucky you may spot Orca whales, eagles, otters, and Great Blue herons in or near the water. The hotel is also within walking distance of Langley, so just a block away you can explore boutiques, galleries, antique shops and seek out somewhere to eat. We chose the Village Pizzeria on our first night, which was great fun and has a killer view, also had plenty of outdoor seating (and space to play) and lots of kid friendly dinner recommendations. Rates from $195-$285 per night. Village Pizzeria, 106 1st Street, Langley, WA 98260. Tel: (360) 221 3363
CHOCOLATE FLOWER FARM, LANGLEY
Open daily from 10am to 5pm between April and September, the Chocolate Flower Farm is an absolute must for all the family and billed as a ‘must-see Whidbey Island treasure’. Far from what some people mistakenly believe before they visit here, the flowers are not made out of chocolate (although wouldn’t that be nice), the name simply refers to the fact that they boast a collection of dark-colored plants and rare perennials. The farm, which is free to visit, dates back to 1923, and make sure you tour their fabulous nursery, which opened in 2005. Visit their shop, The Garden Shed, and treat yourself to one of their very popular chocolate scented candles. You can also buy seed and seed kits too. Nearby is The Firehouse Studio and Gallery (next to the Useless Bay Coffee house), and here you can watch the glass blowing or join in a workshop. The gallery is open to the public and best suited for families with children who are aged seven-years-old or older.
HISTORIC GREENBANK FARM
We adored Greenbank Farm – it was absolutely beautiful and a great way to spend a couple of hours. The farm was established in the early 1900’s by the Calvin Philips family, who began experimenting with the land. By 1930 they’d switched from dairy farming to berry farming, and by 1972 had become renown as the largest loganberry farm in America. To this day they still hold the annual Loganberry Festival each July. But it’s more than just a farm, it’s a piece of living history and you can also tour their wine shop, buy their cheese and eat a delicious slice of freshly baked loganberry pie. Donations welcome.
LOVEJOY INN, COUPEVILLE
Located in the heart of historic Coupeville, the oldest town on Whidbey Island, be sure to book the Carriage House at this charming 19th century inn. This most private of rooms has a private view deck over looking Penn Cove and historic Coupeville Wharf. It also boasts rustic French doors, wi-fi, continental breakfast items in the kitchenette, and a private entrance. In keeping with the rest of the village, the inn is quaint, quiet and run by charming hosts Lynda and Mitch, who himself is a well of local knowledge. We enjoyed a hearty, elegant and creative breakfast and our toddler enjoyed the playground that was situated in the church grounds behind the inn. The town is named after Captain Thomas Coupe, who established it as a shipping port for wool, lumber, grain and apples, and you can visit the Island Country Historical Society Museum to find out more. We wandered around the many shops and galleries, absorbing the old world atmosphere and slow pace of life. Heaven. Room rates: from $95 to $130 a night
LAVENDER WIND FARM and BELLS FARM
Don’t miss the Lavender Wind Farm because it’s a unique experience – an incredible carpet of purple – and we loved exploring the different planting areas, the gazebo, vegetable garden, nursery, gardens, and gift shop. In cultivation for over 100 years, there are over 9,000 lavender plants. The farm is completely organic – take a peek at their composting system – and because it’s a working farm, no matter what time of year you will see something interesting such as harvesting or potting. Only three miles from Coupeville, it’s an easy drive and you’ll also enjoy their 180 degree vista of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, plus impressive views of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Mountains. Take a lunch, your digital camera or paints, and pastels to capture the amazing views, and enjoy the natural scent of lavender (before heading to the gift shop to stock up on all things lavender!). I also must mention Bells Strawberry farm which has been producing fresh strawberries since 1948. You can also pick fruit from their wonderful berry patch. We did just that and ate most of the results before we got back to the hotel. Our son loved Bells Farm, and the experience of running through the strawberry fields is one he still talks about today. Bells Farm, 892 W. Beach Road, Coupeville, WA. Call (360) 678 4808..
CHRISTOPHER’S RESTAURANT, COUPEVILLE
We had a lovely dinner at Christopher’s, a local gem which like most of the restaurants on Whidbey and Camano, is very child friendly – they offered us a small child’s menu that listed rice and vegetables, pasta tossed in butter, and tomato soup – their kids menu is the healthiest I have seen in all my travels. Bravo! Chef Andreas Wurzrainer runs the restaurant with his wife Lisa, and we tried their sumptuous salmon crab cakes ($11.95) as our appetizer, their signature Penn Cove mussels which come direct from the Penn Cove Mussel Farm in Coupeville and are cooked in white wine, cream, herbs and garlic ($15.50 for an entree). We also savored their succulent bacon wrapped pork tenderloin ($17.95) and ended with their lemon-drop cheesecake served with mouth-watering huckleberry ice-cream ($6.50). Delicious, creative, satisfying – everyone was happy. A “don’t miss” dining choice in Coupeville.
DECEPTION PASS BRIDGE & STATE PARK
One of the most thrilling days was our visit to the most popular park in Washington state, Deception State Park. We hiked a couple of easy trailheads and played by the beach. Had we had more time, I would have like to rent a boat and sail under the magnificent Deception Pass Bridge, a National Historic Monument since 1982. The bridge itself is breath-taking but we also gazed in wonder at the rugged cliffs, rich forest, and abundant wildlife. The park boasts 30 miles of hiking trails, 19 miles of saltwater shoreline, three freshwater lakes, and 320 campsites, making it the perfect spot for a family picnic. You can also go scuba diving and freshwater fishing. Located near Whidbey’s Naval air station, you may hear and see Navy jets flying over at any moment, which is great if you have small boys who love to see jet planes whoosh overhead. Park hours: Summer, 6.30am to dusk. Winter, 8am to dusk.
AUNT MINNIE’S CABIN, CAMANO
We then drove to Camano Island and spent a glorious night at Aunt Minnie’s cabin, which was my absolute favorite accommodation of the entire trip. The comfortable, quaint-looking cabins are owned by Larry and Sarah Weston, who personally greet you, and the locations is about as rustic and charming as it is possible to get. Our cabin was situated on a low bluff beachfront next to 63 acres of waterfront and forest – just breath-taking. We had spectacular views of the Puget Sound and easy access to a gorgeous private sandy beach. The location also overlooks the Saratoga Passage and you can see Whidbey Island and Mount Rainier in the distance. Prices: $160-$185 a night, or $1,120-$1,295 a week.
CAMANO ISLAND WATERFRONT INN
We then enjoyed a delicious meal at the Camano Island Inn, which is located on the waterfront and framed by the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. The bistro serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and they do suggest you book in advance as it gets busy. I can see why – the atmosphere is relaxed and if the weather permits, you can sit outside on their covered deck. Their lunch menu offers family favorites including a cheese ravioli appetizer ($7), and a burger ($11), Po’Boy ($10) and marinated fried chicken ($140) for entrees. Once you’ve eaten, take a walk along the beach and keep an eye out for whales and seals. They also love their coffee here on Camano, and I can highly recommend their Coffee Roasters – grab a couple of bags to take home.
A FAMILY VACATION TO REMEMBER!
We loved our few days on Whidbey and Camano, and plan to return one day to do all the things we couldn’t fit in, such as visit Cama Beach State Park, where you can step back in time to a 1930’s-era Puget Sound fishing resort, or go antiquing on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor. If you want to feel far away from daily life without much hassle, a trip to Whidbey and Camano Islands can satisfy your wanderlust and tantalize your soul.
Margot Black developed a love of travel and tourism as a senior account executive at an international public relations/marketing firm in New York City. She has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America and the South Pacific. A move to Los Angeles expanded Margot’s expertise and writing skills into the world of entertainment/comedy. She has appeared on NBC, A&E, TNN, GSN and Comedy Central. Her writing has appeared in Written By, She’s So Funny, Joke Soup, and The Comedy Thesaurus. Margot Black recently launched Black Ink Communications, a writing/marketing company and likes to be outdoors when ever possible. An avid traveler, Margot Black knows how to say “what’s for lunch?” in twelve different languages.