A Whidbey Island day trip from Seattle is one of the coolest activities for tourists or locals in the Puget Sound area! On Whidbey, you can get away from the big city and explore seaside towns, wineries, art galleries, and lots of historic state parks.
From the awesome views of Deception Pass to the small-town charm of Langley, Whidbey Island has plenty to keep you busy.
Whether you prefer hiking, whale watching, or fine dining, this guide will help you find the best things to do on Whidbey Island during a day trip. Scroll to the end of the article for additional suggestions in case you plan on staying more than one day.
Fun fact #2: Whidbey Island is one of the few places in the country where you can see three national parks at one time!
Note: This itinerary is for folks who plan on driving to Whidbey Island. If you’d rather spend all day on a van with a tour guide, Viator offers a Large Group Luxury Island Day Tour that provides pickup right within Seattle. The tour includes lunch and stops at most of the island’s attractions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Taking the Ferry to Whidbey Island
Driving on Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island Day Trip From Seattle Itinerary
Other Things To Do on Whidbey Island
Whale-Watching on Whidbey
Lodging: Where to Stay on Whidbey
Common Questions About Day Trips to Whidbey
How Do You Get to Whidbey Island from Seattle?
There are only three ways to get to Whidbey Island by car. One is by traveling across Deception Bridge from Fidalgo Island at the northern end of the island. This is the only method that doesn’t require a ferry.
You can also reach Whidbey is by taking the ferry from Mukilteo (30 miles north of Seattle). The ferry only takes 20 minutes and lands at Clinton, on the southern end of Whidbey Island.
Those are the two primary ways that folks reach Whidbey Island, although there is a third option. There’s another ferry that arrives in Fort Ebey State Park from Port Townsend, a city over on the Olympic Peninsula, very near Olympic National Park. If you plan on visiting Olympic, you may want to go straight to Whidbey Island from there, instead of going all the way back through Seattle.
How to Take the Ferry from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island
The Mukilteo ferry terminal is about 26 miles north of downtown Seattle. You can take the ferry from Mukilteo over to the town of Clinton on Whidbey Island. The ride is only 20 minutes, so it’s much faster than going to some of the other Puget Sound islands, like San Juan or Bainbridge.
This ferry runs all day, from roughly 8 am to 11 pm, with departures about every 30 minutes (until 9 pm, when they drop to once an hour.) This is one of the more affordable ferries in the Puget Sound region, as it’s less than $10 for a standard-sized vehicle and driver each way. Additional adult passengers are $5.55 each.
When you approach the ferry terminal, simply follow the signs and join the line of cars. If you haven’t bought your ticket in advance (there’s no need to), you will pay at the toll booth. Workers will guide you onto the ferry and direct you to your exact parking spot.
When you’re on the ferry, you can leave the car and get out to enjoy the views from the water!
Driving On Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island doesn’t look huge on a map, but its size is deceptive. It’s 47 miles to drive from the southern end of the island at Clinton to the northern end at Deception Pass. That’s a 100-mile round-trip, and that’s just on the island itself – that doesn’t include the miles to get to the island from Seattle.
So you’ll be doing a lot of driving. Route 525 is the main artery on the island, and it’s only a two-lane road most of the way. The speed limit ranges from 25 to 55, depending whether you’re in the middle of a town or driving a quiet, forested stretch.
Ultimately, it will take more than an hour to drive from one tip of Whidbey Island to the other. And traffic can be bad on summer weekends, when hundreds of Seattleites flee to the islands to have some fun away from the city.
The main decision you have to make when planning out a Whidbey Island day trip itinerary is whether you want to start from the southern end of the island or the northern end. It’s convenient to start at the southern end in the town of Clinton, because you get off the ferry there and can immediately start exploring.
But I’m going to recommend that you start at the northern end, at Deception Pass State Park. You can drive directly there on I-5, and it will only take about 90 minutes from downtown Seattle if traffic cooperates.
Then, you have the rest of the day to take your time driving south on the island, and your drive home to Seattle once you leave the island will be shorter.
Whidbey Island Day Trip from Seattle: Suggested Itinerary
9 am Deception Pass State Park
Start your day with a bang! Deception Pass State Park is one of the coolest spots in the entire Puget Sound region, and Deception Bridge is one of the most Instagrammable sights in the Seattle area.
Constructed in 1935, the arch bridge stands about 180 feet over the water. You can park at North Beach and walk to the scenic viewpoint for an up-close view of the bridge. From there, you can hike a trail that goes right under the bridge!
Or, park at West Beach and walk a half-mile or so along the rocky beach toward the bridge. This angle allows you to take cool photos from the shoreline, looking up at the bridge to capture its immensity.
The park has hiking trails and picnic areas as well if you want to hang out longer, but the bridge is really the main attraction during a day trip. There are other parks on your itinerary later today that will have better hiking trails.
Visiting Deception Pass in the morning is ideal because you’ll beat the crowds. By lunchtime, the parking lots will fill and you’ll be surrounded by far more people.
Deception Pass State Park is one of the absolute best things to do on a Whidbey Island day trip, so take your time here and enjoy the views! Don’t feel that you need to leave quickly to make it to every attraction on the list. I’ve budgeted two hours to enjoy the park, but if you’re enjoying yourself, stay as long as you need! You can always cut out some of the later activities.
PRO TIP: If you want to actually get out on the water at Deception Pass, Viator has a couple of really good tours. There’s a Jet Boat Tour that offers an hour in a speedboat zipping underneath Deception Pass. And there’s a 90-minute Guided Kayaking Tour in the park. These tours may cause you to have to sacrifice something else on this itinerary. But it could be worth it!
Like all Washington state parks, Deception Pass requires a Discover Pass to visit. If you don’t have the annual pass, buy a day pass for $10 at the entrance. This pass will also be valid when you visit other state parks later in the day, so you only have to pay once.
11 am Swing through the town of Oak Harbor
With a population of around 23,000, Oak Harbor is the biggest city in Whidbey Island. It’s the only place on the island where you’ll find most of the national chain stores, such as Walmart and Home Depot, so you can pick up supplies if needed.
The drive here from Deception Pass is about 20 minutes. Oak Harbor attractions include the Pacific Northwest Naval Air Museum, and Windjammer and Flintstone Parks. The parks share a long walking path along the harbor, and the latter park has a cement replica of Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s cartoon car that you can sit in for funny photos.
Oak Harbor is nice, but it feels more like a bigger city, so it doesn’t necessarily have the same small-town feel of other places on Whidbey Island. If you love exploring small towns with charming, locally-owned shops, pass through Oak Harbor quickly and spend more time in places like Langley and Coupeville.
Because it has so many options, Oak Harbor is a great lunch spot. If you’re in a hurry, choose from just about every famous fast food place, including Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Jack in the Box, etc. Or try an actual restaurant, such as Seabolt’s Smokehouse for excellent seafood dishes, BBQ joint for quality barbecue, or El Cazador for good Mexican food.
Alternately, you can wait until the next town of Coupeville to grab lunch.
12 pm Stroll through Coupeville and Price Sculpture Forest
Drive the 20 minutes from Oak Harbor and you’ll arrive at downtown Coupeville, a town of around 1900 people that is one of the oldest towns in Washington state, having been founded in 1853 and incorporated in 1910.
The Coupeville Wharf is a striking red building that houses gift shops, eateries, and kayak rental companies. Nearby, the Island County Historical Museum reveals the history of the town, and there’s a Saturday farmer’s market. Find cute bakeries, galleries, restaurants, and shops on Front Street and Coveland Street.
Two miles to the east of downtown Coupeville, take a quick walk through Price Sculpture Forest, a new attraction featuring a walking path through a thick forest with various types of sculptures and carvings.
130 pm Hike the Bluff Trail at Ebey’s Landing
Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve encompasses a 30-square mile territory that includes Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park, and the entire town of Coupeville. The reserve was created to maintain the history of this region, where some of the earliest pioneers of western America settled.
The part of this reserve that I most recommend is the Bluff Trail, which offers some of the best views on Whidbey Island. After a short but challenging uphill walk, you can look down upon the beach, the water, and mountains in all directions.
In fact, this trail is one of the few places in the entire country where you can see three national parks at once! You can see the distant peaks of North Cascades NP to the east, and the mountains of Olympic NP to the southwest just across the water.
And on clear days, you can faintly make out majestic Mount Rainier NP to the southeast. As a national park junkie, it was an incredible thrill to stand there and realize that I was seeing three parks at once for the first time in my life!
If you have binoculars, this is a good spot to watch for whales offshore. You can also walk the Pratt Trail, which is less than one mile long and takes you to historic farm structures such as the Jacob & Sarah Ebey House.
Note: Google Maps can be a bit confusing in this area because there are several different locations with the name Ebey in them, in honor of Colonel Isaac Ebey, an early settler in the area. To reach the part of the Bluff Trail with the sweet views, drive to the intersection of Ebey’s Landing Road & Hill Road.
If you have the time, Fort Ebey State Park itself may be worth adding to your Whidbey Island day trip itinerary. The state park sits on the westernmost point of the island. It was constructed as a defense fort in WWII and the old battery fort is still there.
3 pm Fort Casey State Park
My second-favorite thing to do on Whidbey Island (after Deception Pass) is visiting Fort Casey State Park. In the 1890s, the military built a fort here to defend Puget Sound in case of invading ships.
The fort never saw action, but it was used as a military training facility into the 1940s. Today, huge sections of the fort remain, along with two huge cannons. You can play on the fort and see the historic lighthouse.
It’s really fun to be able to explore the corridors and viewpoints of these old concrete structures at Fort Casey. Guides are sometimes available to offer additional information and stories about the history of the cannons and the fort itself.
This is a popular park, and you can expect to see lots of families having picnics and flying kites due to the reliable winds off the Sound.
4 pm Get your pies, cheese, and gifts at Greenbank Farm
Greenbank Farm is actually an old farm that has been converted into a shopping area. The property has multiple barns with cute gift shops inside, including a cheese store and a pie store. If you plan to leave Whidbey Island with local foods or products, Greenback Farm is a great place to get them!
I personally love the cheese shop, which has local and nationally-made cheeses, island-made soups and salsas, and all sorts of other snacks and meals. As with most local gift shops, prices are high. I paid $9 for a jar of habanero salsa and $8 for a bag of huckleberry taffy.
The site also has gardens and dog-friendly walking trails that attract a lot of tourists throughout the day.
Note that Greenbank Farm closes at 5 pm, even on peak summer weekends, so depending on how you schedule your day trip, it may not be open when you reach the area.
5 pm Shop and dine in Langley
Langley is one of the most popular little towns on Whidbey Island. If you don’t have time to visit all the towns on Whidbey Island, prioritize Langley over the others, since it’s the cutest and most fun!
The seaside community is home to the Langley Whale Center, which has exhibits and gifts related to orcas and gray whales. Langley is a great spot to see whales from shore on occasion, so stop in to the Whale Center for more information.
Walk along First Street and Second Street to enjoy the restaurants, art galleries, wineries, gift shops, book stores, and more. See Hope the whale statue at Thomas Hladkey Memorial Park, which has viewing platforms overlooking the water.
There’s funky art in the streets and gardens of Langley, and there’s an ice cream shop too, but be prepared for lines out the door! Visiting Sweet Mona’s is a must to satisfy your chocolate craving.
Grab dinner at Prima Bistro, Saltwater Fish House, or Village Pizzeria. Expect wait times for restaurants during summer weekends!
Other Langley spots worth considering include the Chocolate Flower Farm, where you can combine your love of sweets and flowers; Double Bluff Brewing to sample various beverages, and the Machine Shop, which has dozens of retro arcade and pinball games.
730 pm Watch the sunset at Possession Point or Dave Mackie County Park
If you still have time, take in a romantic sunset at one of several spots on the southern end of the island. At Possession Point State Park, you can take a short hike to Whidbey’s southernmost tip, giving you unobstructed views in almost every direction (you can easily see Mt. Rainier from here.)
Alternately, I like to head to nearby Dave Mackie County Park, as it’s relatively uncrowded and you can drive right to the beach to get cool views as the sun sets behind the Olympic Mountains.
9 pm Take the ferry back to Mukilteo
When your Whidbey Island day trip is finally over, wait in line to take the ferry from Clinton to Mukilteo. The ferry wait time will vary, and the wait will be longer on Saturday and Sunday evenings in the summer, because lots of other day trippers will be returning to Seattle at the same time.
You could always take one of the later ferries (9:30, 10:30, 11:45 pm) to avoid the rush. Once you exit the ferry in Mukilteo, it’s only a 30-minute drive back to Seattle.
Other Things To Do on Whidbey Island
The day trip itinerary above lists several of the best Whidbey Island activities, but there’s so much more to do on the island! From art galleries to distance hiking, it just depends what your interests are.
Some of these are places that I highly recommend, but I left them off the one-day itinerary because their limited hours mean that you may not be able to visit them while they’re open. If you’re on the island for more than one day, or you choose to drive north on Whidbey Island instead of south, then you can easily include them on your schedule.
Consider augmenting your itinerary with some of the following Whidbey Island things to do:
Lavender Wind Farm
The Lavender Wind Farm is a fun little shop in Coupeville that makes lavender-based food and personal care products, all of which are made on-site from lavender grown on the farm. Choose from bubble bath, scones, herbal teas, honey, lip balm, lotion, candles, shampoo, and more. You can also tour the three acres of lavender fields.
Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens
Find 13 acres of various types of rhododendrons at Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in Greenbank, open from 9 am to 4 pm with a $5 admission. Walk through the gardens and trails to take a look at the pretty flowers. While you can visit year-round, late April and May are peak bloom season, when the red and purples of the garden start bursting out.
If you find yourself near Bayview Corner in the morning, stop in for breakfast at Whidbey Donuts, a family restaurant that serves diner-style food starting at 6 am everyday. Or just come grab several donuts for the road. They have a ton of varieties – I love the apple-flavored donuts and cinnamon rolls!
Deception Pass Tour
If you’re not content with seeing Deception Pass from land, book a boat tour with a company like Deception Pass Tours, which offers summer tours that focus on the history and nature of the area. Take in the views from the open deck on the jet drive catamaran. While this isn’t a whale-watching tour specifically, you can sometimes see whales, porpoises, bald eagles, and more.
Explore the town of Freeland
Freeland is another noteworthy town on Whidbey Island. You’ll be passing through it already, it’s just a question of whether you have time to stop and explore. Freeland has wineries and distilleries, South Whidbey State Park, and Double Bluff Beach, a pet-friendly beach where you’ll want to stop if you are bringing a dog on your day trip.
Whale Watching on Whidbey
If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot some gray whales or orcas during your Whidbey Island visit! Whidbey is one of those rare places where you can often see whales right from shore.
In March, April, and early May, massive gray whales typically pass by the island on their great migration from Mexico to Alaska. They can often be seen from Seawall Park in Langley as they feed in the shallow waters near the shore.
Langley is a whale-crazy community – that’s where you’ll find the Langley Whale Center. There’s even a large bell that folks are supposed to ring if they see a whale!
Local pods of orcas can often been seen in late spring, summer and early fall around the island. Bring binoculars if you want to do some serious whale-watching from shore. The western shores of Whidbey Island, and Deception Pass itself, are often good spots for seeing orcas. Humpback and minke whales can also be seen from time to time.
Whales are very unpredictable. Your best bet for seeing them is joining the Orca Network Facebook page. Followers of this page share updates throughout each day on where they are seeing whales in the Seattle area, so keep checking that page to look for word of any sightings from Whidbey Island.
Additionally, some companies offer whale-watching tours where you can hop into a boat, and they’ll drive you straight to the whales! I have not taken any of the local whale boat tours, but I did a similar tour in Alaska, the experience of seeing orcas up close was amazing!
Lodging: Where to Stay on Whidbey Island
If you decide to turn your day trip into an overnight stay, be prepared to spend, as lodging on the island is not cheap. The options consist of a couple major hotel chains – Best Western and Candlewood Suites (IHG) in Oak Harbor – and a bunch of inns, lodges, and bed & breakfasts. Book early if you’re visiting during summer.
Here are a few good hotel options on Whidbey Island.
Captain Whidbey Inn (Coupeville): Centrally located near the middle(ish) of Whidbey, this lodge gets great visitor scores for cleanliness and comfort.
The Bluff on Whidbey (Oak Harbor): Technically, this B&B has an Oak Harbor mailing address, but it’s actually located a bit further north, very close to Deception Pass. The location and the views are perfect!
Country Cottage of Langley: Though it’s an awesome town, Langley doesn’t have much in the way of lodging. These cozy and homey cottages are your best bet in Langley.
Best Western Plus (Oak Harbor): If you want to go with the familiar national chain, the Best Western in Oak Harbor is one of the larger hotels on the island, with a free breakfast and gym.
Tyee Restaurant and Motel (Coupeville): Budget traveler? One of the cheapest lodging options on the island is Tyee Motel. Don’t expect anything fancy; it’s a very basic, old-fashioned roadside motel.
Common Questions About Day Trips from Seattle to Whidbey Island
What is the best time for a Whidbey Island day trip?
Midweek is best to avoid the long weekend ferry lines and tourist traffic. If you have the flexibility to travel between Monday and Thursday, you should absolutely do that. But it’s still worth visiting Whidbey Island if you can only come on Saturday or Sunday.
As for time of year, summer provides the best weather for outdoor activities. But a spring or fall visit can be great too, especially if you’re more into shopping and exploring the small towns.
Should you buy your ferry ticket in advance?
Nah, don’t bother. Believe it or not, buying a ferry ticket ahead of time does NOT guarantee you a spot on the ferry. It’s still first-come, first-serve. The only benefit of buying a ticket early is that you save the 10 seconds of swiping your card once you arrive at the ticket booth.
FYI: For some of the other Puget Sound area ferries (such as the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor), buying a ticket in advance does reserve your spot on the ferry. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the ferry to Whidbey Island.
If this all sounds confusing, well, it is. Check the ferry website for more information.
During peak summer times, the wait for a ferry can exceed an hour, so be prepared. Peak times are Friday afternoon and evening (heading to Whidbey), and Sunday evening (leaving Whidbey heading back to Seattle). Traffic is especially bad on holiday weekends.
What sort of wildlife does Whidbey Island have?
The wildlife of Whidbey Island includes the aforementioned gray whales and orcas, plus harbor seals, sea lions, and otters. Most of these aquatic mammals can occasionally be seen from shore in places like Langley and Greenbank.
What animals live on Whidbey Island itself? You should expect to see lots of deer. I saw them in front yards, in forests, in open fields, just about everywhere. The island has some coyotes as well, plus smaller critters like squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks.
Unlike some of the other nearby islands, Whidbey does not have any foxes. You will see livestock of all kinds, including sheep and emu. Bird lovers will find plenty of bald eagles, owls, and dozens of other species.
Are there bears on Whidbey Island? No, bears do not live on Whidbey. A couple years back, a single black bear was spotted on the island after swimming from a nearby island, but it didn’t hang around long. That’s the only bear sighting on Whidbey in the last 50 years.
And, believe it or not, for the past several years, Whidbey has been home to a lone elk, whom locals have named Bruiser. He apparently swam to the island as well. Bruiser lives in the Strawberry Point area but mostly stays hidden on private property, so don’t expect to see him.
Is there public transit on Whidbey Island?
Yes, Island Transit runs free shuttle service around Whidbey Island everyday except Sunday. These shuttles visit most points of interest, such as Deception Pass, Fort Casey State Park, and the towns of Langley, Oak Harbor, and Coupeville.
Island Transit vehicles have bike racks, and small pets are permitted.
Can you get to Whidbey Island from Seattle via public transit?
Yes. It’s difficult, but not impossible. You can take the train or bus (or Lyft / Uber rideshare) from Seattle to Mukilteo, then walk on the ferry as a pedestrian to Whidbey Island. From there, you can take Island Transit to get around the island.
I wouldn’t recommend this method, however. It requires a lot of advance planning, because Island Transit vehicles don’t run as often as city buses. So if you miss a bus you may have to wait a very long time (an hour or more) for the next one. This page has a detailed list of transit options.
Can you add Whidbey Island to a larger road trip around Washington state?
Of course! Check out my list of the best Washington state road trips. Road trip #3 includes North Cascades National Park and the San Juan Islands. You can easily adjust that road trip to come back south to Seattle via Whidbey Island.
What else should you do while in Seattle?
Consider checking out the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, visit Pike Place and the infamous Gum Wall, go to the top of the Space Needle for great views of Rainier and the surrounding mountains, and check out the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood, home of the Jimi Hendrix statue.
Do you have any other suggestions for things to do on a Whidbey Island day trip from Seattle?