WHIDBEY, CAMANO & SAN JUAN ISLANDS IN WASHINGTON
Making Memories Island Style
By Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’
Listen to the Big Blend Radio interview with travel writer Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’, Chef Vincent Nattress – Executive Chef & Co-owner of Orchard Kitchen, and Scott Hale – Chief Experience Officer of Brand New Stay, Island Inn at 123 West in Friday Harbor, and the LEANTO® Glamping Sites at Moran State Park on Orcas Island.
You’re one lucky amigo if your plans include a vacation in Washington State – especially if that trip includes a stop in the island region. This particular route is one thousands of visitors take each year to get a sense of “taste and place” of what Island Life is like in Washington State.
As reference, this area is located in Washington State, about 2 hours from Seattle. Its name reflects the fact that it is composed entirely of islands. It contains two large islands, Whidbey and Camano, and the seven smaller islands of Baby, Ben Ure, Deception, Kalamut, Minor, Smith, and Strawberry. It’s likely your first trip will be on the easily accessible larger Whidbey and Camano Islands.
The San Juan Islands require a trip on the ferry or sea plane. You’re going to love the laid back island feel. Year round temperatures are comfortable (70° in the summer) and the elongated summer sunshine hours (often until 10 pm) give you more time to wander and discover. There are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County, however you will want to focus on the four ferry served Islands; San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island. These are the most populous (and popular) offering the best choices of lodging, shopping, dining options and tourism activities.
It’s time to think about how you’ll plan to enjoy the Island Style of Washington State. There’s literally hundreds of things you can enjoy. I’ve included three of my favorite memory-making activities on each island to get you started and have included the perfect souvenir(s) to bring back from each.
Now…go and make some memories. Here’s how.
Three things to enjoy on Whidbey Island
1. Callahan’s Firehouse in Langley. Formerly a firehouse, it is now the perfect home for a glass studio and gallery. With over 3,000 square feet of space, the firehouse sees hundreds of visitors per year and for good reason. This is a 2-fer (make and shop). First you create a memory by participating in an individual glass blowing experience. Your finished product is mailed home to you. You will also have the opportunity to purchase additional original glass art if you like. Low to extravagant price points allows everyone to shop their budget and taste. Be sure to buy or make your own paperweight or seasonal item – like a glass pumpkin.
2. Mukilteo Coffee Roasters and Café in the Woods. Experience for yourself the local connection between an owner’s broad global vision, tasteful organic food, unique coffee offerings in single origin and blends, and unique inside and patio art. It takes a bit of commitment to find this spot. It’s pocketed deep in the scenic Whidbey Island woods. This is a place for locals and visitors alike to gather to enjoy great coffees and a relaxing vibe. The local menu is centered on what farmers bring to them daily. Just as you expect, the cafe menu changes seasonally. Ask what their newest global coffee is. Buy a bag or two for a souvenir. Sensual goodness in a cup.
3. Orchard Kitchen. Whether you consider yourself a “foodie” or just love a fine meal, this is the dining destination for you. Feeling like you are part of a family dinner, you will love the true farm-to-table philosophy of the owners. The restaurant is located in the center of an organic farm. Each four-course dinner is a beautiful collaboration of local farmers, vintners, cheesemakers, chefs and oystermen … all led during the meal by the owner/chef Vincent Nattress. Enjoy the seating (for no more than) 32 guests at community tables or (lucky you) if you request and receive counter seating. Check out the kitchen action all night long.
Lodging: Premium Waterfront rooms at the Inn at Langley ($$$$) or the very affordable Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor ($$).
Three things to enjoy on Camano Island
1. Breakfast at Cama Beach Café in Historic Cama Beach State Park. Enjoy affordable local fare and casual dining with an inspiring view. Walk off the meal by exploring Cama Beach Park (and resort). Check out the original family resort who had its “heyday” from the 1930s to the 1950s. It still retains the feel of that era, with rows of no-nonsense cabins perfect for spotting marine mammals from your deck. The current state park has boat-building classes offered by The Center for Wooden Boats on scheduled weekends in the boathouse. It also offers much needed solitude. Take a hike along the bluff, have a swim or find a fishing spot.
2. Camano Island MarketPlace. Stop here and refuel. This is a newer joint venture between several local businesses and artists. Re-purposed in and around an old building, it features many diverse places to eat, drink and shop. It is located at Terry’s Corner.
3. Canopy Tours Northwest. Hold on tight, step out, lean back, take a deep breath and pull into a ball to get enough momentum to get zip-lining across a beautiful forest setting. Scream, shriek, or do a Tarzan yell. Drive your car up a long road where a century-old barn greets you. Park. Go inside, pay your fee and get ready for the slide of your life.
Lodging: Easy waterfront access, dining and views at the Camino Island Inn and Spa ($$$). A true five-senses overnight opportunity.
Three places to enjoy in San Juan Islands
1. Friday Harbor: This is one of the most popular stops in the Islands. It has a grand main street shopping area which includes a local lavender shop, two local ice-cream stops, quintessential appetizers and view at The Harbor House, and a Native American art shop. Head up the road to the so some tasting at San Juan Vineyards and the San Juan Island Distillery. The distillery makes 12 different gins, several delicious liqueurs and flavored brandies, and (try it- buy it!) premium award-winning apple brandy, which won gold and best in class. Historical and magnificent, American and English Camp are a short scenic drive from the town. Eat at the Backdoor Kitchen for a unique Asian influenced dinner or the Cask & Schooner for a sea-worthy lunch. Rent an island style Moped, Scoot Coupe or Electric Bike to see all that this destination has to offer.
Lodging: The indulgent Friday Harbor Grand B&B with the most exceptional breakfast and piano concert ($$$), the sleek Friday Harbor House ($$$) or the classy contemporary Island Inn ($$$).
2. Eastsound: About a fifteen-minute drive from the Orcas Island ferry stop lies the artsy village of Eastsound. Considered Orcas Island’s downtown, it is a destination to itself and is favored by locals and the boating crowd. Nestled above Fishing Bay, this walkable town bursts with galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and a history museum. You must try the Brown Bear Bakery and Kathryn Taylor Chocolates. Both have fascinating histories and epic offerings. Absolutely buy a souvenir gift of chocolates. So much decadence to choose from.
3. The rest of Orcas Island: Most of Orcas Island feels like you’ve stepped back in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s a vibe that reminds you to relax, take a breath and embrace what nature provides. The Island is unique in its vistas, foliage and vision. My dearest wish for you is that you get lost on the backroads. It’s like nothing you have experienced before. Be sure to stop at the Doe Bay Resort where there are killer views, a naturally inspired restaurant and a clothing optional outdoor spa. Wind your way up to the Cascade Falls and Mt. Constitution Sate Park. Lucky you if it’s a clear day. Literally, “You can see forever.”
Winding your way back to the ferry, stop at the indoor fruit stand known as Girl Meets Dirt. They believe in preserving the Island Heritage by producing single varietal jams and such from trees that have been producing on the island for over a century. Pure good taste comes from using unrefined organic cane sugar, a squeeze or two of organic lemon and using classic preparation by hand in seasoned copper pans –all in their Island kitchen. Stock up. This is what quality taste and successful gift giving / souvenirs look like. Uniquely Orcas Island.
Lodging: Rosario Resort & Spa. ($$-$$$$). A quintessential Northwest Island experience. You can’t come to the Islands without staying and dining here.
Hope you enjoyed this quick spin around a few of the Washington State Islands. Come rain or shine, there’s something Island Style for you to experience, remember, and stock up on. Memories are made at each stop. Enjoy!
Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer based out of Southern California, who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit www.AllInGoodTaste.info.