Discovering Unexpected Treasures on Whidbey Island, WA

Crossing the Admiralty Inlet from Port Townsend, we ferried over to our next Washington adventure, Whidbey Island, the longest island in the lower 48 states.  For the next three days we would have our own personal tour guides, Frank and Mary, eager to impart their knowledge of the rich history of the island.  This lovely couple is our winter next-door neighbor and had extended this generous offer before we left So Cal in May, which also included a private “mooch-docking” site in their driveway…sweet!

A beautiful Whidbey Island sunset looking out over the lagoon at Frank and Mary's
A beautiful Whidbey Island sunset looking out over the lagoon at Frank and Mary’s

Whidbey Island boasts five state parks and America’s first national historic reserve, Ebey’s Landing.  And the views of the Olympic Mountains and pristine seas are breathtaking.  Let’s go exploring!

Beginning in the town of Coupeville, where Frank and Mary live, we stepped back into the 19th century as we strolled the finely preserved Victorian downtown and wharf overlooking Penn Cove, one of the only remaining original wharfs and wharf building in the Pacific Northwest.  Getting into the local groove, we dined on world-famous Penn Cove mussels at Toby’s and gourmet ice cream bars at Lavender Wind.   This quaint town, the second oldest in Washington, sits within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Stunning wharf and wharf building
Stunning wharf and wharf building

Here is a glimpse of what our lovely tour guides had on the agenda for our stay:

1/  Fort Ebey State Park

Once a coastal defense fort during World War II, it is now a state park with a cozy campground tucked in the woods.   We took a hike along the bluff with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, then down into the kettles, with Frank offering a brief history lesson on these Ice Age geologic formations.

2/  Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

This, the first national historic reserve in our nation, preserves the 1850’s character of its 25 square miles, including farmland, beaches, parks, trails, and nationally registered historic buildings.  A feeling of serenity flowed as we walked the paths and looked out over farmland and shimmering seas.

3/  Fort Casey State Park

World War I gun batteries and bunkers can still be seen in this state park, along with miles of hiking trails, camping and fully restored Admiralty Head Lighthouse.  Fort Casey Underwater Park is nearby for you scuba lovers.

4/  Admiralty Head Lighthouse

Admiralty Head Lighthouse
Admiralty Head Lighthouse

This stately lighthouse, companion to Point Wilson Lighthouse sitting four miles away in Port Townsend, on Admiralty Inlet’s western shore, was deactivated in the early 1920’s. In 2012 a historic reconstruction of the lantern house was installed atop the tower. Student volunteers from three Whidbey Island high schools completed all the work…very impressive.

4/  Lavender Wind Farm

Clouds billowing over a lavender labyrinth
Clouds billowing over a lavender labyrinth

On a much smaller scale than Sequim, Coupeville’s Lavender Festival was still very sweet.  Educational talks, strolls through gently swaying aromatic fields, and walking a lavender labyrinth added to the joy of the day.

5/  Greenbank Farm

Gorgeous Greenbank Farm
Gorgeous Greenbank Farm

Living history Greenbank Farm, a gathering place since its start in 1904, is home to beautiful gardens, café, farm and gift shop, and art galleries. But it is perhaps most known for its Organic Farm School, organic seed project, community gardens, and Naturalist Training Program. This is a place I would love to explore in more depth.

6/  Captain Whidbey Inn

This lovingly restored 1907 historic inn overlooks Penn Cove and the world-famous Penn Cove mussel rafts.  This inn’s rooms are reminiscent of Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone NP.

Our short stay with Frank and Mary was a whirlwind of activity but what will linger most is the deepening friendship forged.  Early evenings spent on their deck over a glass of wine, dinners revisiting the day’s adventures, Mary’s morning T’ai Chi Chih classes on the deck, surrounded by gentle breezes and soothing music, while eagles soared and kingfisher chattered, these are the memories that fed our spirits. Pure gratitude is what I feel when I think of these two generous souls.

We left after three days, content with the knowledge that there would be many more memories made when we see them again this winter.  A brief stop at Deception Pass State Park, with a hike down to the beach and a walk out over the iconic bridge to peer into the turbulent waters, rounded out our sightseeing on this wonderful island.

We spent a couple of nights at Washington Park in Anacortes to round out our time on Whidbey Island and prepare ourselves to catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands.  As luck would have it, our good friends from Colorado, Kevin and Erin, were in town visiting Erin’s mother Sally.  We spent a leisurely evening at Sally’s home enjoying a dinner prepared by Kevin, our wine, coffee, tea, and foodie connoisseur.  We have spent countless engaging hours of conversation over many of Kevin’s culinary treasures and we walked away once again in awe of his talent.   Although I didn’t capture this time with photos, we will never forget the lovely conversation and generous nature of these two.  So glad we were able to meet Erin’s mother as well, a delightful woman.  Thank you for a wonderful ending to our time on Whidbey Island.

Next Up:  San Juan Island

Breathe Deeply and Relax ~ Sequim

When we made the decision to spend the summer in the Pacific Northwest, our travels revolved around attending the Sequim Lavender Weekend.  I imagined standing among rolling hills of lavender gently swaying in the breeze, breathing deeply the intoxicating scent, listening to the humming of busy little bees.

It’s harvest time!

Sequim (pronounced skwim) is known for its commercial cultivation of lavender and has grown so much over the years that it has now claimed the title of “Lavender Capital of North America”, rivaled only by France.  The drier climate, unlike much of the Olympic Peninsula, seems to favor this beautiful, aromatic herb known for its relaxation quality.

This bustling little town falls within what is known as the Olympic Rain Shadow.   While the town of Forks, just 60 miles away, receives about 120 inches of rain per year, Sequim is practically a desert, registering only 16 inches annually.  The Olympic Mountains act like a wall to protect the northeastern Olympic Peninsula from the bulk of the rain that moves across the Pacific Northwest, wringing much of the moisture out of the air before it falls to the ground.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Fog and cool breezes that come off the Strait of Juan de Fuca make Sequim more humid that your average desert, so everything around is lush and green.  Fruits and vegetables are abundant here, as we soon learned when the “welcome wagon” arrived at our lovely little campsite at Dungeness Spit Recreation Area.

Friends Ardythe and Celene (mother and daughter) from our former Yellowstone National Park days, now living in Sequim, came bearing gifts of cherries from their tree, a huge bag of fresh produce and herbs from their garden, and fresh eggs from their chickens.  We were so touched by their generosity.

Celene & Ardythe on the beach, searching for sea glass
Celene & Ardythe on the beach, searching for sea glass

And that was just the beginning.  Celene made a scrumptious dinner with friend Ben a couple of nights later, where I was able to spend some time with the girls and Chris, Ardythe’s husband and my former colleague, catching up on life since Yellowstone.

Our visit to Sequim would not have been complete without a visit to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, which requires an 11-mile out-and-back walk on the longest sand spit in the U.S., a hike best done at low tide.  This stretch of sand continues to grow at a rate of 13 feet per year…pretty amazing!  At the tip is the beautifully restored New Dungeness Lighthouse and a small museum.  We enjoyed lunch outside on the lawn while visiting with a couple who had signed up to act as lighthouse keepers for the week, an intriguing program.

We knew the lavender festival would be well-attended so we decided to visit a couple of farms for photo ops before the crowds descended.  Our choices were Jardin du Soleil

and Graysmarsh Lavender & Berry Farm, a you-pick farm with rolling hills of lavender and many types of berries.  We loved the berries so much we went back a second time before leaving Sequim.

Fellow Jojobians Roger, Shary, Art, and Cj were in the area for the weekend festivities and joined us at the Washington Lavender Farm.  With the backdrop of the George Washington Inn, a B&B that replicates the Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the grounds were lovely. The staff was dressed in period costume and Revolutionary War battles were being re-enacted on the lawn.  With good food, music, and friends by our side, it was a delightful day.

A girls’ outing with Ardythe and Celene rounded out our stay in Sequim.  They gave me a flavor of the area with a trip to Glass Beach in Port Townsend in search of sea glass, visits to Port Gamble and Bandy’s Troll Haven, and stops along country roads for photos of old barns.  The time we shared together is something I will always remember and I look forward to seeing them again somewhere down the road.

Next Up: Going back in time to Neah Bay