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Whidbey Island, Washington Travel Guide
Last Updated: Mar-28-2014, Hits: 6,712, Rating: 4, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Whidbey Island, Washington Travel Guide Restaurants (52)
Hotels and Lodging (21)
Bars and Nightlife (11)
Attractions (15)
Services (23)
Links (2)
Additional Articles (2)
Washington Travel Forum (1)
Location: North America
Geography: Island, Beach, Forest
Vacation Type: Family, Relaxation
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate
Attractions: Golfing, Historical Sites, Scenery, Boating, Camping, Fishing, Hiking

Facts and Stats:
Population: 58,211
Land Area: 168.67 sq mi
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Country Dialing Code: +1
Area Code: 360
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: United States Dollar
Time Zone: PST (UTC-8)
Current Time:

Whidbey Island is located in Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state and is a popular weekend getaway for Seattle residents. The island offers several state parks, beaches, camping, and bed & breakfast getaways.

Whidbey Island is one of 9 islands located in Island County, Washington. It lies in Puget Sound between the Olympic Penninsula and Everett at the southern end, and Mt Vernon at the northern end. At the very northern end of the island is Deception Pass; a narrow strait that connects Skagit Bay with the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Deception Pass is spanned by the Deception Pass Bridge that connects Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island. Whidbey is approximately 35 miles long and ranges between 1.5 and 12 miles in width. It is the 40th largest island in the United States and the largest in Washington state. The main population center is Oak Harbor at the north end of the island followed by Coupeville and Langley. Whidbey's highest point is just over 400 feet.

Brief History:
Before being discovered by explorers, Whidbey Island was inhabited by Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, and Sonomish indians.

The first known European sighting of Whidbey Island was during the 1790 Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper and Gonzalo López de Haro. These explorers believed that Whidbey was part of the mainland.

In 1791, Captain George Vancouver, left England with orders to explore the Northwest Coast of North America. This was later referred to as the "Vancouver Expedition". Vancouver's 2 ships arrived in Puget Sound in May of 1972. Later that month, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget began exploring and mapping the area. In June, they circumnavigated Whidbey proving that it was an island and Vancouver awarded Joseph Whidbey by naming the island after him.

The next known visitor to the island was Father Francis N. Blanchet who arrived in May of 1840. He was invited by Chief Tslalakum to perform religious services and remained on the island for 11 months.

In 1848, the first settler on the island, Thomas Glasgow arrived and staked a property claim just outside present day Coupeville. He soon after fled the island after receiving threats from the Skagit Indians.

In 1850, Isaac Ebey claimed the same land that Glasgow had abandoned. A month later 3 more men made claims on Whidbey and others followed during subsequent years. In 1852, Thomas Coupe, staked a claim at nearby Penn Cove which is the location of present day Coupeville. More settlers followed and the town began to grow. They lived amongst the Skagit Indians who were beginning to resent the invasion of the white man. Many wanted to kill all of the settlers, but they decided to keep them around for added protection against the fierce Haidah Indians.

By 1856, a community of 7 houses had been built in the prarie outside Coupeville. They were arranged strategically to protect settlers from attacks by the Haidah. Ebey, who had become the leader of the settlers, was killed in 1857 by the Haidah in retaliation for killing their chief at Port Gamble. He was shot and then beheaded. They took his head with them and it was found in Canada 2 years later. The head was buried with his remains on the family farm which is now known as Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.

By the 1870's several communities had been established on Whidbey, and by the turn of the century, many of them had become towns. In 1873, the indians were relocated under an executive order to the Swinomish Reservation on Fidalgo Island.

In the 1890's, Admiralty Inlet was deemed so strategic to the defense of Puget Sound that three forts, Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, and Fort Worden at Port Townsend, were built at the entrance with huge guns creating a "Triangle of Fire." Construction on Fort Casey began in 1897. In 1901, her big guns on disappearing carriages became active, however, the fort's ammunition batteries became obsolete almost as soon as their construction was completed due to the invention of the airplane in 1903. Fort Casey is now a 467 acre marine camping park. The Admiralty Head Lighthouse is located in the state park.

In August 1934, construction began on the Deception Pass Bridge to connect Whidbey Island with Fidalgo Island and the mainland. The completed bridge was dedicated on July 31, 1935. The cost of the construction was $482,000.

The Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was commissioned on September 21, 1942 and is located just north of Oak Harbor. The base and Ault Field were built for the re-arming and refueling of Navy patrol planes operating in defense of Puget Sound. This location was selected after studies showed that favorable flying weather existed 96% of the time. The base is the home of Patrol Squadron (VP) 46, which has the distinction of being the oldest American maritime patrol squadron, and the second oldest squadron in the US Navy. The construction of this base led to the growth of Oak Harbor, making it the largest town on the island.

People & Culture:
The northern part of Whidbey Island is made up of the Navy base and the service-based town of Oak Harbor that caters to those stationed here. Oak Harbor is the largest town on the island with a population of 22,451. Unlike the rest of the island, Oak Harbor has some chain stores and restaurants.

The southern part of Whidbey is made of Coupeville which is the county seat, Langley, Freeland, Clinton, Greenbank, and Bayview. These smaller communities and villages are home to a large population of artists and their economies rely on agriculture, tourism and the arts. Some southern residents commute to Seattle and Everett for work using the Washington State ferry system.

Coupeville is the 2nd largest town on the island with a population just over 1,700. It is renowned for its Penn Cove Mussel Farm that harvests what some say are the tastiest mussels found anywhere. There are a number of attractions in and around here including the Island County Historical Society Museum, Admiralty Lighthouse, Meerkerk Gardens, and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. The town also offers antique shops, art galleries, farmers markets, and the Coupeville Arts Center with year-round fine art classes.

Langley is the 3rd largest town with a population of 1,063. Like Coupeville, Langley is an artist's community and is home to the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts - a state of the art facility with regular performances.

Outside of these small communities and towns, the island is mostly rural and the majority of islanders live in rural areas.

Food & Nightlife:
Despite the fact that Whidbey Island has very few restaurants, a wide range of cuisines are represented. Seafood, particularly mussels from Penn Cove, is common fare, however, options like Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican and others can be found.

There is very little nightlife on the island. There are a couple of bars in the southern communities, however, most of what little nightlife exists can be found in Oak Harbor.

Money & Costs:
Costs on Whidbey are basically the same as anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. Most people stay in bed & breakfasts as there are very few hotels on the island. Plenty of the B&Bs are on the lower end of the cost spectrum and many people come to the island to camp. Most of the dining options are very reasonable as well.

There is a sales tax of 8.7% and a hotel tax of 2%.

Tipping in restaurants is the standard 15%-20%.

One small additional cost you may have to pay when visiting Whidbey is the fare for the ferry, but this won't break the bank. At the time of this writing, a vehicle and driver costs $7.20 each way from Mukilteo to Clinton and $9.35 from Port Townsend.

Getting There & Around:
There are a couple of ways to get to Whidbey. If you are coming from the north, you can take the HWY 20 west exit off of I-5 in Burlington, Washington. This will take you to Fidalgo Island. On HWY 20, follow the signs to Oak Harbor and you will be taken over Deception Pass onto Whidbey Island. If you are coming from the South, take HWY 525 (exit 182) off of I-5 to Mukilteo. Here you can catch the ferry to Clinton which is located at the southern end of the island. The passage takes about 20 minutes.

If coming from the Olympic Penninsula, you can catch a ferry in Port Townsend that will take you to Keystone which is just south of Coupeville. This passage takes about 35 minutes.

Once on the island, it takes about an hour to drive from Deception Pass to Clinton in the south.

For those who do not wish to drive, there is a free bus service on the island. See the services section of this travel guide for more information about busses and taxis.

One of the attractions to visitors of Whidbey Island is the presence of a special weather feature called the Olympic Rain Shadow. This is a rain-reduced zone downstream of the Olympic Mountains. Since the prevailing winds are from the southwest, the rain-deprived region extends from Sequim to the San Juan Islands, and includes central and northern Whidbey Island. This is part of the reason that the Navy chose north Whidbey as the location for their base. The southern portion of the island gets more rain than the north. You will likely see the differences in weather in the current conditions and monthly averages shown below.

Current weather and forecast for Oak Harbor.

Click here for Langley weather.

Averages for Oak Harbor
Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 46 35 2.44"
February 49 36 1.70"
March 52 38 1.61"
April 56 41 1.54"
May 60 45 1.44"
June 64 49 1.26"
July 66 50 0.89"
August 67 51 0.88"
September 64 47 1.11"
October 57 42 1.76"
November 50 38 3.06"
December 45 35 2.55"
Averages for Langley
Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 46 34 4.37"
February 49 35 3.41"
March 53 37 3.86"
April 58 41 2.96"
May 64 46 2.57"
June 68 51 2.26"
July 73 54 1.32"
August 74 54 1.35"
September 69 49 2.09"
October 60 42 3.25"
November 51 37 5.11"
December 45 34 4.99"

Tips & Additional Information:
  • During the summer months, ferry lines can get very long on Friday afternoon/evening going to the island and Sunday afternoon/evening returning to Mukilteo.
  • In addition to weekend getaways, Whidbey Island is a popular day trip for people in the Seattle, Everett, and Mount Vernon areas.
  • Whidbey is a great place for hiking as there are no dangerous animals located here.
  • When hiking, watch out for stinging nettles. While not dangerous, contact with this plant causes a stinging or burning sensation that is uncomfortable.
  • As inviting as they may look, the waters of Puget Sound are not good for swimming as they average 48-52 degrees.
  • During March and April, Gray whales migrate between Whidbey and Camano Islands. Orca can also be occasionally seen in the area.

  • Photo Gallery

    User Reviews (1)

    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Oct-21-2011

    Whidbey is a great escape from the bustle of Seattle. Deception Pass is awe inspiring. I would highly recommend renting a place at the southern end of the island at Useless Bay, especially in the warmer months, when you can wade way out in the shallows. 

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