Exploring Whidbey Island Washington: The Ultimate Local’s Guide
Discover Whidbey Island Washington: Explore the Island Like a Local
Nestled in the Puget Sound of the Pacific Northwest, Whidbey Island Washington has a rich history and a wealth of attractions that draw visitors from around the world. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, our neighborhood guide has everything you need to know before you set foot on the island.
With our comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to discover and explore everything that Whidbey Island has to offer, and make the most of your visit to this picturesque destination.
Being Whidbey Island locals ourselves, we keep this page constantly updated. Be sure to bookmark and revisit it occasionally to stay informed of any new updates.
Where is Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island is located in the northwestern United States, in the state of Washington. It is situated in Puget Sound, between the Olympic Peninsula and the mainland of Washington. The island is approximately 30 miles north of Seattle and is connected to the mainland by Deception Pass Bridge at the north end of the island.
Grab a free printable Whidbey Island Map.
Whidbey Island History
Whidbey Island was inhabited by various Native American tribes until the first European explorers arrived in the area in the late 1700’s. In 1792, British sea captain George Vancouver, of the HMS Discovery, came upon the island. The island was named after shipmate, Joseph Whidbey, and Puget Sound was named after Peter Puget, who both played a big role in mapping and exploring the island.
Colonel Isaac N. Ebey permanently settled in western Coupeville, which is present day Ebey’s Landing and Fort Ebey. Oak Harbor was named after the Garry Oak trees that poulated northern Whidbey Island.
On July 31, 1935, Deception Pass Bridge was built, connecting Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island.
On September 21, 1942, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was built for the U.S. military. Because of this, the area experienced a surge in population growth, with numerous military personnel and their families being stationed in the region.
Whidbey Island Population
According to the latest economic report, Whidbey Island is home to 65,824 residents, with 59% of those living in North Whidbey, 20% living in Central Whidbey, and 21% living in South Whidbey.
Whidbey Island Demographics
According to the 2020 Census, the median age group for North Whidbey is 31.3 (this is heavily influenced by the U.S. active-duty force at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.) Central Whidbey has a median age of 58.6, and South Whidbey’s median age group is 54.8.
Whidbey Island’s major employers are Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (which leads the list with over 10,000 employees – 8700 active duty and 2100 civilian and contract roles), the Oak Harbor School Distrcit, Boeing, Whidbey Health, Walmart, and Island County Government.
Whidbey Island Facts
Whidbey Island is part of Island County. Island County includes Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Ben Ure, Smith, Deception, Strawberry, Minor, Baby, and Kalamut Islands. The town of Coupeville is the county seat.
Whidbey Island is connected to Fidalgo Island through Deception Pass Bridge on the north end of the island.
Whidbey Island is enjoyed by many for its mild climate, scenic beauty, and small-town charm. The island is home to a number of artists, musicians, writers, and craftsmen.
Whidbey Island is also home to a number of unique local farms that allow residents the opportunity to eat local and fresh as they dine, or shop at any of the local farmers markets and farm stands.
The island’s farmers grow a wide range of crops. including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as raise chickens, pigs, cows, and goats, providing fresh meat, eggs, and dairy products for the local community.
How to get to Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island is a beautiful place to visit and there are many ways to get there.
There are two ferry routes that can take you to Whidbey Island. If you are coming from Seattle, then you can take the Mukilteo ferry which is about 30 minutes north of Seattle, and takes you to the town of Clinton on the south end of the island. Mukilteo – Clinton ferry.
You can also take a ferry from Port Townsend to the town of Coupeville. Port Townsend – Coupeville ferry.
If you prefer not to travel by ferry, then you can also get to Whidbey Island by driving over Deception Pass Bridge on the north end of the island. From Seattle, you would drive north on I-5, and take exit 182. Then merge on state highway-525N and follow signs for the ferry. Head north on State Route 20 E to get to Oak Harbor, which is about 50 minutes away.
Whidbey Island Weather and Seasonal Information
Whidbey Island has a temperate maritime climate. This translates to a significant amount of rainfall during the year, along with cool summers, and mild winters.
Winter temperatures average around the mid-30’s to mid-40’s. Although winter can be rainy, snowfall is not as common as it is off-island, due to the higher temperatures.
Spring and Fall temperatures are typically around the mid-40’s to mid-50’s.
Summers generally are around the mid-50s to mid-70s. However, Whidbey Island has seen heat waves increase the temperature up to the 80’s and low 90’s.
How to Get Around Whidbey Island – Can you drive on Whidbey Island? Can you get around Whidbey Island without a car?
You will need a car to get around Whidbey Island. It takes about a hour to drive from the north end of the island to the southern tip.
Island Transit public transportation is also available on the island for free. You can find their routes and schedules here.
When is the best time to visit Whidbey Island?
Whidbey Island can be enjoyed year-round. However, most tourists can be found visiting during the summer months when many local events are occuring and the weather is warm and sunny.
Visitors can also enjoy the island’s beauty during spring and fall when the farmers markets are still operational, and the weather is cool but pleasant.
Whidbey Island experiences relatively mild winters. However, visitors should be aware that the days are shorter during this time of year, with darkness setting in as early as 4:30 PM, which may be a consideration for some when planning their visit.
Whidbey Island Washington Neighborhood Guide
Below is a list of the main communities on Whidbey Island – from north to south.
Oak Harbor, Washington
Oak Harbor is home to the beautiful Deception Pass Bridge, that connects Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island and Anacortes. Deception Pass State Park is a popular destination for hiking, camping, and scenic drives. Oak Harbor is more of a big city in comparison to the remainder of the island’s communities.
There are a number of attractions and activities in Oak Harbor, including the PBY Memorial Foundation: Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum. This is a must-visit destination for history buffs, as it offers a fascinating glimpse into the area’s rich history and the Navy’s involvement. In addition to exploring the exhibits, don’t miss the chance to experience the flight simulators and see the seaplane display across the street.
Oak Harbor is also home to several parks and beaches, including Windjammer Park and Joseph Whidbey State Park, which offer opportunities for hiking, picnicking, and water activities.
Don’t miss the chance to admire some of the most beautiful local art at the Allgire Project Murals in historic downtown Oak Harbor. Each piece of art beautifully incorporates the history of the town.
Find more things to do in Oak Harbor Washington as well as the best restaurants in Oak Harbor.
NAS Whidbey Island
Oak Harbor is also home to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), which has two bases in town. NASWI is home to several squadrons of aircraft, including EA-18G Growlers, P-8 Poseidons, EP-3E ARIES, and P-3 Orions.
Ault Field holds the main part of the base along with the movie theater, Convergence Zone, and more, while the Seaplane Base is also home to some military housing, the main Navy Exchange and Commissary.
NASWI, one of the largest employers in the region, is a big contributor to the local economy of Oak Harbor.
The next town you will find as you venture south on Whidbey Island is Coupeville. It is the second oldest town in Washington and is the county seat of Island County. Situated on Penn Cove, Coupeville is a quaint town that is known for its historic architecture and picturesque waterfront veiws.
Coupeville’s Front Street is a special place to visit, as you can head down to the Coupeville Wharf for shopping and gorgeous views of the water, or head to any of the shops and restaurants.
We recommend grabbing coffee at either Sunshine Drip or Little Red Hen Bakery in the morning, then exploring some of the shops such as Kingfisher Bookstore and A Touch of Dutch. For lunch and dinner, you can enjoy food at Toby’s Tavern, Front Street Grill, and Ciao Pizza.
You can find delicious ice cream at Kapaw’s Iskreme, taste wine at Vail Wine Shop and Tasting Room, or grab a locally brewed cider at Greenbank Cidery. Another great place to check out is Bayleaf where you can enjoy a charcuterie board and a glass of wine.
Don’t forget to stop into Meet Market to create some art and pick up supplies, or explore the many items made of lavender at the Lavender Wind Store.
Did you know that the beloved 90’s movie Practical Magic was filmed in Coupeville, Washington on Whidbey Island? You can explore the same spots seen in the movie here.
Coupeville is also home to the Island County Historical Museum, where you can learn about the history of Whidbey Island, by observing interesting displays such as Whidbey Island’s first car and telephone switchboard.
Coupeville also offers exciting opportunities such as exploring Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Price Sculpture Forest, Fort Casey State Park, and the Admiralty Head Lighthouse.
There are plenty of farms to explore as well, and the Coupeville farmers market runs from April through September. The Western Sun Lavender farm blooms in July and August and provides a breathtaking display of lavender fields. Bell’s Farm offers strawberry U-Pick on Whidbey Island during the summer.
Freeland is a charming community that offers a relaxed and rural lifestyle with plenty of outdoor recreational opportunities, as well as shops, restaurants, and wineries.
Freeland has saltwater beaches and freshwater lakes to enjoy. There are a variety of activities to enjoy such as horseback riding along scenic trails, embarking on hikes through the beautiful wilderness, and engaging in boating, fishing, or clamming adventures.
Double Bluff Beach (pictured above) is a favorite on the island and it provides an off-leash spot for your pups to enjoy, too. Kids can run around at the Freeland Park playground, Adults can enjoy a glass of wine at either Dancing Fish Vineyards, and/or Blooms Winery.
Greenbank is a small community on Whidbey Island that is also home to the iconic Greenbank Farm and the beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens.
Greenbank Farm offers a variety of attractions, including trails, gardens, an art gallery, a cheese store, and several shops, making it an exciting place to explore. The picturesque barn is a popular venue for weddings and various events throughout the year.
Greenbank Farm is one of our favorite places to hang out on the island, and we love sampling wine and enjoying a slice of Whidbey Pie.
Holmes Harbor Cellars is a delightful winery to spend an afternoon at. They offer a variety of delicous wines, and you can enjoy the view of Holmes Harbor from one of their heated igloos!
Known as “The Village by the Sea”, the quaint town of Langley is home to a number of art galleries, restaurants, and cafes, as well as a community theater and a performing arts center. The town of Langley is known for its vibrant arts community and is home to a number of artists, writers, and musicians.
In addition to its cultural attractions, Langley also offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The town is surrounded by scenic hiking trails including those at Trustland Trails Park and South Whidbey Community Park, and the nearby waters of the Saratoga Passage are also popular for boating, kayaking, and fishing.
The South Whidbey Community Park features a variety of sports fields as well as a skate park, and Castle Park is a playground with a fantasy theme featuring castles and towers. The Whidbey Island Fair takes place during the summer.
Bayview Corner is one of my favorite places on Whidbey Island. The heart of Bayview Corner is the Bayview Farmers Market, which operates from approximately April to October and features fresh produce, baked goods, and handcrafted items from local vendors.
The Bayview Garden nursery offers a wide variety of plants and gardening supplies, and the Flowerhouse Cafe has tasty pastries and lattes nextdoor.
You can enjoy a drink and live music at the Taproom at Bayview Corner, or roam the Earth Sanctuary nearby which is a peaceful setting for meditation and nature walks.
And yes, the Bayview Garden has the famous golden laburnum arch (pictured above)! I highly recommend checking out this spot if you are visiting in early summer (May-June – but check their website to know if it’s in bloom ahead!)
Clinton is on the southern end of Whidbey Island. It is home to the ferry terminal that takes you to Mukilteo. You can also find Possession Beach Waterfront Park, and popular restaurants such as Cozy’s Roadhouse and Island Nosh.
Make sure to check out trivia night on Thursday’s or live music on the weekends at Bailey’s Corner Store, or grab a beer and a brat from Thirsty Crab Brewery and the Build-a-Brat Food Truck.
Skein and Tipple is a yarn store during the day, and at night you can head to the back of the store to a cozy cocktail lounge where you can find specialty drinks and live entertainment.
Maxwelton is a small community located on the south end of Whidbey Island. South Whidbey Parks and Rec hosts its annual Concerts in the Park series every summer and the Maxwelton Beach hosts an annual Fourth of July Parade.
Food and Drinks on Whidbey Island
One of the unique things about Whidbey Island is the absence of big box stores in most of the towns. Instead, the island boasts a vibrant community of local farms, wineries, distilleries, and seafood producers, all of which thrive on the support of the island’s residents and visitors.
Whidbey Island is known for its famous Penn Cove Mussels, which are distributed worldwide.
Below we have listed some of our favorite places to get food and drinks:
Best restaurants in Oak Harbor Washington
Whidbey Island Breweries and Cideries
Whidbey Island Farmers Markets
Whidbey Island Wineries
Whidbey Island Grocery Stores
On Whidbey Island, you can find grocery stores such as Safeway, Walmart, Grocery Outlet, the military base commissary, and Haggen on the north end in Oak Harbor.
Venturing towards the southern end of the island, you’ll encounter a more rustic, countryside vibe, and discover an abundance of local Whidbey Island grocery stores, rather than the chain stores found elsewhere.
Some of the grocery stores you can shop at while visiting Whidbey Island are 3 Sisters Market, Prairie Center Red Apple Market, Greenbank Pantry and Deli, The Goose Community Grocer, Payless Foods, The Star Store, Ken’s Korner Red Apple Market, and Clinton Foodmart.
Whidbey Island Performances, Events, and More
Island life on Whidbey is filled with a love for arts, crafts, local goods, and more. We are blessed to have good variety of festivals, events, and performances year-round to enjoy.
Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor
Since 1966, Whidbey Playhouse has been enchanting the local community with their entertaining shows. They hold about five shows a year, including dramas, musicals, and comedies. You can find their upcoming show schedule and more information here.
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, or WICA, holds a variety of events that include art, dance, humanities, music, theatre, and more. They hold the Whidbey Island Film Festival, as well as DjangoFest NW.
Island Shakespeare Festival
The Island Shakespeare Festival is held at an outdoor theater every summer and showcases 2-3 different plays that rotate play times. The shows typically run from July to September, and feature great hits such as Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labor’s Lost, and others.
Learn more about our annual Whidbey Island events and festivals.
Make sure to check out our list of romantic things to do on Whidbey Island if you are looking for a couples getaway or a date night while on the island.
What to pack for Whidbey Island
Waterproof hiking boots: If you plan on doing any hiking, you may want to invest in a solid pair of waterproof hiking boots.
Rain jacket: While Whidbey Island has significantly less rain than the rest of Washington, you never know what the weather will be like. It’s always wise to bring a rain jacket to keep you warm and dry.
Travel backpack: We bring this travel backpack wherever we go. It can fit essentials, as well as my laptop, resusable water bottle, and it even has a USB charging port.
Where to Stay on Whidbey Island – Hotels, Vacation Rentals, Lodging, and More
Find information about Whidbey Island campgrounds.
Moving to and living on Whidbey Island
Where is the best place to live on Whidbey Island?
Living on Whidbey Island is truly wonderful. There’s a certain charm to the slower pace of life and more rural feel of the place that just makes you feel more connected to nature and the community. You’ll find a variety of great towns to choose from, each with its own unique character and appeal. Ultimately, the perfect community for you will depend on what you’re looking for in terms of lifestyle and amenities.
Oak Harbor is more of a big city, and you can find a few chain stores and restaurants such as Home Depot, Safeway, Haggen, Walmart, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, and others.
If you are looking for more of a country, small-town feel, then head a little further south to the rest of Whidbey Island where you have many towns to choose from.
Each town in Whidbey Island has its own appeal and uniqueness, so it really depends on what you are interested in when choosing where you want to live.
Is Whidbey Island a good place to raise a family?
We may be biased, but we think Whidbey Island is the perfect place to raise a family. With a low crime rate, a peaceful and laidback lifestyle, and fresh, local food that is easily accessible, it makes the perfect place to call home.
However, you should keep in mind that medical services may be harder to obtain while living on the island, with extremely long wait times to see physicians due to the lack of resources available. It may be easier to travel off the island to see providers. This may be something to consider.
There are also signifcant wind storms from time to time. Sometimes these wind storms lead to power outages. The power tends to stay out longer on the southern end of the island compared to Oak Harbor and Coupeville.
Ultimately, I believe that the pros outweigh the cons and that this is a terrific place to raise my family.
Frequently asked questions about Whidbey Island Washington
How many miles long is Whidbey Island? Is Whidbey Island the longest island in the US?
Whidbey Island is 45 miles long with 148 miles of shoreline, making it the 5th longest Island in the coniguous United States. It is the largest island in Washington State.
How long does it take to drive the length of Whidbey Island?
It takes about one hour to drive from the north end of the island to South Whidbey Island.
What is the biggest city on Whidbey Island?
Oak Harbor is the biggest city on Whidbey Island, as it is home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and 59% of the island’s population.
Why is Whidbey Island famous?
Whidbey Island is famous for many reasons – its breathtaking landscapes, including Washington’s popular Deception Pass State Park, its wildlife and recreational activities, vibrant arts and culture scene, long-standing naval history, award-winning wineries, and acclaimed Penn Cove mussels enjoyed worldwide.
Is Whidbey Island actually an island?
Yes! Whidbey Island is located in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and is one of the largest offshore islands in the continental United States. It is is separated from the mainland by the Saratoga Passage to the east and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and west.
What are people from Whidbey Island called?
Whidbey Islanders is the demonym for the people of Whidbey Island.
What nickname does Whidbey Island have?
Many people refer to Whidbey Island as “The Rock.”
Famous people from Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island has been home to many famous and important people. We have listed a few of them below:
Lana Condor, actress, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before movie series on Netflix.
Patty Murray, Washington State United States Senator.
Shayla Beesley, actress.
Pete Dexter, writer.
Elizabeth George, author.
Aaron Parks, jazz pianist.
Nancy Horan, author.
David Whyte, poet.
What is the largest town on Whidbey Island?
Oak Harbor is the largest town on Whidbey Island and is home to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, which is also the largest employer in Island County.
What has been filmed on Whidbey Island?
Some of the most popular movies that have been filmed on Whidbey Island, Washington are Top Gun: Maverick, Practical Magic, The Ring, Double Jeopardy, and Snow Falling on Cedars. There are many more and you can find a complete list on IMDB.
Discover the magic of Whidbey Island Washington for yourself
Whidbey Island, Washington is a unique and breathtaking place to live, work, and visit. Its idyllic setting makes it a popular destination for those looking for a slower pace of life, easy access to fresh, local food, and awe-inspiring scenery. We know you will love it just as much as we do!