Need a break from the rat race? Try taking a short ferry ride from Mukilteo across Possession Sound to south Whidbey Island, a peaceful, woodsy, artsy place that’s a world away from the I-5 corridor.
For off-islanders, South Whidbey’s a great day-trip destination in the fall — any time of year, really. And if you live on Whidbey, now’s the time to be a tourist on your home turf for a day.
After disembarking the ferry at Clinton, begin your South Whidbey day trip by heading north on Highway 525, perhaps stopping for picnic supplies at The Goose Community Grocery, 14485 Highway 525 in Bayview.
You’re heading north to Freeland, an unincorporated community of about 2,000 people that lies at the end of Holmes Harbor, one of the two bays that deeply indent Whidbey’s eastern shore. It’s the home of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, which makes watercraft ranging from ferries to fireboats.
Keep driving about 10 minutes north of Freeland for your first stop: Meerkerk Gardens, 3531 Meerkerk Lane. More than 1,500 varieties of rhododendrons are the star attraction at this woodland garden founded by Ann and Max Meerkerk nearly 60 years ago. In the fall, the vibrant colors of deciduous trees take center stage.
For a woodland of a different kind, drive 5.5 miles southwest of Meerkerk Gardens to South Whidbey State Park. It’s a 381-acre refuge for old-growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red-cedar trees — some of them 500 years old. Explore the park’s many miles of trails, or head down to the beach for views of the Olympic Mountains across Admiralty Inlet.
On the road back to Freeland, stop for a sweet treat at The Beary Scoop, 5565 Van Barr Place, a new frozen yogurt and bubble tea joint housed in what used to be Freeland’s liquor store. Adult beverages can be had at Penn Cove Brewery Co.’s The Barn, 5488 S. Freeland Ave., or, if you’re in the mood for something different, try a sampler of the honey wine at Hierophant Meadery, 5586 Double Bluff Road.
If the family dog took the trip with you, Double Bluff Beach and Off Leash area is an absolute must. Adjacent to Double Bluff County Park at 6378 S. Double Bluff Road, it’s said to be one of the best dog parks in the state — certainly, one of the very few that boasts a saltwater beach.
Now it’s on to Langley, a chic yet low-key town of about 1,000 people perched on a low bluff above Saratoga Passage, the waterway between Whidbey and Camano islands.
Langley draws day-trippers from the entire Puget Sound region, and with good reason: It’s absolutely jam-packed with art galleries, shops and restaurants.
For visual arts, drop in at Rob Schouten Gallery & Sculpture Gallery, housed in a lovely Mission Revival building at 101 Anthes Ave., or Artworks Gallery, 221 Second St., Suite 7A. Note: Artworks is only open Friday through Sunday.
For shopping, stop by Artisan Crafted Home, 211 First St., which offers a well-curated selection of cooking equipment, home decor and much more. Local artisans sell their wares at the Langley Friday Market, on Fridays through Sept. 17.
Langley’s flagship store, the Star Store Market & Mercantile, 201 First St., has been run by the Felton family for more than 35 years.
Langley’s about 5 miles off Highway 525, Whidbey’s main north-south route, but luckily the townspeople don’t need to drive far for necessities, because the Star Store has it all: It’s a full supermarket, a clothing and shoe store, a housewares store and more. And like everything else in Langley, it’s elegant and understated.
Langley boasts plenty of waterfront access. Seawall Park runs the length of downtown, and Phil Simon Park next to South Whidbey Harbor at the end of Wharf Street offers a sandy beach and a boat launch (be warned that parking is very limited here). Learn more about Salish Sea orcas and whales, such as the gray whales that gather just off the Langley waterfront in March and April, at the Langley Whale Center, 105 Anthes Ave.
When it’s time to grab a bite, check out the French-inspired Northwest fare at Prima Bistro upstairs next to the Star Store. For something more informal, order a slice of pizza to go at Village Pizzeria, 106 First St., and take it down to the beach at Seawall Park to eat. There’s even a dedicated recycling bin in the park for pizza boxes.
The Braeburn Cafe, 197 Second St., is a good place for brunch, as is Langley Kitchen, 138 Second St., opened a year ago by longtime Seattle restaurateur Jim Goodall. And if you’re brown-bagging it, Double Bluff Brewing Co., 112 Anthes Ave., welcomes outside food to enjoy with your pint. A few miles south of town lies Whidbey Island Winery, 5237 Langley Road, one of several vintners on south Whidbey.
Langley’s a garden spot in the literal sense of the term: Lovely planted beds line streets and walkways throughout the town, especially the pedestrian mall known as Langley Village off Second Street. And it isn’t all about ornamentals; an edible garden was created at Langley City Hall in 2013. The Langley Main Street Association spearheads the gardens and other programs — including historical displays on Frick Lane, a narrow alley connecting First and Second streets, and the marina at the end of Wharf Street, that tell about the town’s founding and maritime heritage.
Speaking of gardens, don’t miss Bayview Farm & Garden, 2780 Marshview Ave., just off Highway 525. If you’re an avid gardener, this place is worth the trip to south Whidbey all by itself. After strolling the 21⁄2-acre grounds, have a bite to eat at the nursery’s Flower House Cafe.
Before reboarding the ferry to Mukilteo at Clinton, take time for a visit to tiny, lightly visited Possession Point State Park, 8343 S. Franklin Road, at the southern tip of the island. There’s a loop trail through the forest and a short but steep path to the beach. Try to time your visit with low tide, when tide pools abound.
Possession Point marks the dividing line between Puget Sound to the south and Possession Sound and Admiralty Inlet to the north. Take a moment to relax on the beach before you return to the rat race across the water.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.