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By Erin James
Bright lights and big cities have their limits — the glare, noise and hustle can leave you requesting a much-needed respite away from it all. Luckily for Seattleites and those undaunted by a few hours on the road, the charming Whidbey Island awaits, just a short drive and boat ride away from the Emerald City.
The largest of the islands arranging Washington’s Island County, Whidbey sits in the north Puget Sound, touting beaches, farmland and rolling hills, with a bounty of national parks, freshwater lakes and coastal towns teeming with prized seafood and agricultural gems. An easy day-trip but well-worth the overnight, Whidbey Island is the culinary interlude you need when the city just can’t abide. The island is rich in bed and breakfasts and small inns that book up quickly so, like in most of life, it’s best to plan ahead.
Load up the car, you’re heading to the heart of Island County.
Photo courtesy Comforts of Whidbey
10:00 a.m.: Board your vessel at the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry, with rides leaving every 30 minutes, taking about the same amount of time to arrive in Clinton from the mainland. Using Langley as your home base, take the bucolic route from the terminal via Bob Galbreath Road to Wilkinson Road, and make your first stop the Comforts of Whidbey — an estate winery that also moonlights as a bed and breakfast. The modern barn holds both the suites and the spacious yet homey tasting room that invites wine tasters to settle in and enjoy the wines with a view, overlooking the Puget Sound and nearby Hat Island. Don’t miss the 2016 Sparkling Siegerrebe or the Madeleine Angevine — both varieties of German heritage grown on the property.
11:30 a.m.: Continuing on the rural Wilkinson Road and around the corner onto Langley Road, you’ll find another estate-based tasting barn among the vines of Whidbey Island Winery. Weather permitting, the quaint patio is where it’s at to enjoy a glass of the peppery 2014 Yakima Valley Grenache or the non-vintage Island White, a bright blend of estate-grown Madeleine Angevine and Madeleine Sylvaner with Eastern Washington Riesling. Sip while sitting adjacent to one of Western Washington’s oldest vineyards.
1 p.m.: Get on Highway 525 – the main byway for the island – and cruise up island to Coupeville for lunch at the Oystercatcher. The 18-year-old restaurant has only changed hands with chef-ownership three times in its tenure, keeping the close-knit island food community at the center of its kitchen philosophy. Chef Tyler Hansen’s simple and seafood-forward menu boasts dishes like the Pacific Northwest Ceviche with octopus, spot prawns and scallops in a lime-coriander dressing, the oyster po boy and crispy braised pork belly. Alternatively — or if you’re still hungry — head to Toby’s Tavern, a landmark joint best known for its mussels, harvested from the very waters in front of you at this Penn Cove shore-side bar.
Ebey’s Landing, photo courtesy Whidbey Camano Island Tourism
2:30 p.m.: Walk, hike or jog it off on the trail to Ebey’s Landing, a national historic reserve perched on a bluff overlooking the Sound. Though the full loop is roughly 5 miles, there are several routes to take and, with no cited elevation gain, it’s more of a stroll than a hike. The Washington Trail Association has the full lowdown here. Coupeville itself is very walkable with the picturesque wharf extending 500 feet out into Penn Cove and a number of public beach access spots. Or head 20 miles north to Deception Pass in Oak Harbor, Washington’s most-visited state park with its deep coves, rugged cliffs and sky-scrapping bridge over the Puget Sound that make it beyond Instagram-worthy.
4 p.m.: Cool off with a flight of beers at Penn Cove Brewing Co. on Main Street, the brother-owned and-operated taproom and brewery. Weekends are filled with live music while sports and happy hour goes on the remainder of the week. Taps flow with other Northwest producers while the duo of Coupeville natives knock out their own beers outside of their flagship, the crisp and hoppy Madrona Way IPA.
7 p.m.: After an inevitable catnap at your lodging accommodation of choice — maybe back at Comforts of Whidbey’s cozy guest suites or the unparalleled, waterfront luxury of Inn at Langley — and having made reservations well in advance, dine at Orchard Kitchen in Langley’s Bayview community. This is where farm meets table: a five-acre property largely supporting the dynamic, well-curated kitchen throughout its five-course pre-fixe menu and single-seating Thursdays through Saturdays. Don’t skimp on the wine pairing, it’s well worth it to try what Chef Vincent Nattress does best next to appropriately matched juice, hand-selected by his wife and business partner Tyla Jones.
Photo courtesy Whidbey Island Distillery
9:30 a.m.: Enjoy a relaxed and casual breakfast at Useless Bay Coffee Co., the menu balancing between savory with the Cafe Hash with house-made green chili sauce and sweet with the Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes served with real maple syrup. Once satiated, get back on that horse.
10:30 a.m.: They say the best time to taste wine is just after breakfast and before lunch, so saddle up and head to Spoiled Dog Winery, a charming tasting room and winery set among Pinot Noir vines and heritage fruit trees spanning 25 acres. Snuggle into one of the “spoiled” Australian shepherds while savoring a taste of the fruit-forward and dry Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir or the Pomo di Moro, an apple-and-pear wine fermented from the on-site fruit. If available, ask to try the Driftwood Hard Cider, the island’s first commercial cidery run by the second generation of the Spoiled Dog family. A 12-minute walk (or 2-minute drive) will take you to Whidbey Island Distillery, the farm-based micro-distillery housed in an old bunker that produces the highest rated spirit in North America. The lauded Blackberry Liqueur lives up to its hype, while the Loganberry Liqueur is a uniquely Northwestern distillate and the Bunker rye whiskey is spiced just right with caramel and citrus to balance it out. All of the spirits are produced through a proprietary, computer-controlled continuous still — a spectacle in its own right.
12 p.m.: Just outside of downtown Freeland, Dancing Fish Vineyards is a roadside respite, with a charming tasting room and sprawling farm property complete with apple trees, a fire pit, rows of grapes and a vintage loafing shed. Wine glass in hand, take to the regulation-sized bocce ball court filled with crushed oyster shells. If the indoors better suite you, position yourself under the handmade oyster chandelier of the tasting room and try the 2013 1953 Merlot — a single varietal bottling from Stillwater Creek Vineyard — or the lively and expressive 2017 Otis Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.
Photo courtesy Whidbey Camano Island Tourism
1 p.m.: Answering the high demand for a respectable seafood joint in Langley, the folks behind the popular Prima Bistro opened up Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar, a New England-inspired eatery, a few doors down from their first restaurant. Breezy, casual and swathed in shades of blue, the seafood bar delivers with a hearty New England clam chowder, plump Dungeness crab cakes, three takes on fish n’ chips, a fully-stuffed bay shrimp roll on house-made bread and a generously sized seafood boil with Penn Cove mussels, clams, fish, kielbasa and grilled corn. Be sure to order an oyster shooter, served atop a chilled spirit and Bloody Mary mix of your choosing.
4 p.m.: Beer break at Double Bluff Brewery after walking the sandy beach it was named after back in Freeland where you can spot Mount Rainier, Mount Baker and the Olympics on a clear day. Tucked around the corner and down an alley — if you can call the adorable, clean space between two-story building structures that — Double Bluff hosts summer concerts in its indoor/outdoor family-and dog-friendly brewpub. Refresh with the sessionable kölsch or the spicy rye pale ale.
6 p.m.: Catch an early dinner at Prima Bistro back on the main drag in Langley, arguably the town’s best-known and visited restaurant. The eats are French classics spun quintessentially Northwestern, like the healthy portion of chicken liver mousse served in a jar, the pan-fried veal sweetbreads accompanied with an apricot-thyme gastrique or the steak frites — with three different cuts to choose from and each plated with grilled broccolini and fries. The wine list digs deep into Washington and Oregon, of course including most of the island wineries and French options for good measure. Treat yourself prior to the ferry ride home with a pour from the “Winekeeper” preservation wine system which regularly rotates through coveted local names like Abeja and Domaine Drouhin.