Forests drop down to hidden coves, rocky beaches and steep cliffs at Whidbey Island's edges before taking a dramatic Pacific Ocean plunge. Connected to the Washington mainland by a bridge spanning spectacular Deception Pass (which provides a link to Anacortes and thence onto the mainland), this island is a popular Puget Sound getaway for visitors up on the ferry from Seattle, or down by road from the north. Despite the fact that the island is so easily accessible, Whidbey Island remains slightly aloof from the descending summer crowds, its cheery little coastal communities teased with the scent of salt breezes, the sights of the sea and the distant song of migrating whales.
Walk the length of the Deception Pass Bridge to really put this island's heights (and depths) into context before making your way carefully down to one of Whidbey's photogenic beaches. Kelp beds ripple with the current around the rocky protrusions that protect the coastline, and whales spout off in season just a short way out giving visitors a delightful taste of the area's natural assets - it might not be overly warm in these parts but the views more than make up for the essential jacket. There are plenty of short trails in the area that lead to scenic overlooks perched so as to take in the length of the island and the far-flung horizon; in summer, the water often sparkles after dark with a natural fireworks display of phosphorescence, a fitting encore to the nightly sunset show that dazzles promontories facing west over Puget Sound.
While some visitors make choose to pitch a tent at the state park on the north side of the Deception Pass bridge, there's certainly more to enjoy on this lovely gem-hued isle. Small towns like Oak Harbor, Langley and Coupeville appear at intervals along the island's 45-mile stretch (this is the longest island in the country, for the record) good for a long, leisurely lunch-stop or longer-term accommodations. Coupeville, one of the state's oldest settlements, is endowed with quaint historic buildings and is just a short drive northeast of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, which counts to its credit an expanse of scenery both postcard-worthy and peaceful.
Life seems to slow on this narrow and hilly island, the smell of fresh salt air seducing the nose even when the sea has disappeared behind acres of forest. Stop in for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the water, and enjoy the quiet crawl of life here, a short jaunt from Seattle and an easy stop en route to the Olympic Peninsula.
Just to the west sits Camano Island, separated only by a thin sliver of sea from the mainland but readily linked by road to Stanwood, a town located a short drive east of Interstate 5. Most visitors are drawn to this scenic spot for its thriving galleries, arts-oriented populace and the quiet forest trails, fishing and views on offer at Camano Island State Park.
Whidbey Island is 26 miles north of Seattle as the ferry rides. The trip lasts about 20 minutes and boats leave at regular intervals.