30 miles N of Seattle, 40 miles S of Bellingham
While the San Juan Islands are beautiful, their beauty has become something of a liability -- during the summer, they're just too crowded. If you don't relish the hours-long waits for ferries, you can still have an island experience here on Whidbey Island, which is only 30 miles from Seattle and is popular as a weekend getaway for Seattleites who come seeking tranquillity and relaxation. Outside of Washington, Whidbey Island isn't nearly as well known as the San Juans, which is why it is less crowded in the summer.
Whidbey Island is 45 miles in length, which makes it one of the largest islands in the continental United States. However, because it is never more than a few miles wide, Whidbey offers views of the water at seemingly every turn of its winding country roads. Farms, forests, bluffs, and beaches provide the foregrounds to the aquatic vistas, and two historic villages, Langley and Coupeville, offer the same sort of quaint settings people expect from the San Juans. Old wooden commercial buildings have been restored and now house excellent restaurants, art galleries, and unique shops. Charming bed-and-breakfast inns (and one of the state's most luxurious small hotels) pamper visitors to the island and provide the romantic surroundings that are so much a part of the Whidbey experience.
But what, you wonder, is there to do on Whidbey Island? Next to nothing, and that is the island's main appeal. This is an island you visit in order to rest and rejuvenate. You don't have to do anything, just sit back and relax. However, there are a few options for burning off excess energy: wine tasting, shopping, garden touring, hiking in state parks and a national historic reserve, walking on beaches, and sea kayaking. Sounds a lot like the San Juans, doesn't it?
Lest you get the impression that Whidbey Island is heaven on earth, let me make you aware of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which, with its thundering jets, has considerably altered the idyllic atmosphere of the island's northern half. Oak Harbor, the island's largest community, is located just outside the base and is characterized by the sort of strip-mall sprawl that surrounds most military bases. For this reason, the vast majority of the island's B&Bs are located in central and south Whidbey. It's partly because of what has happened to Oak Harbor that Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve was created. When people who had moved to the island because of its tranquil atmosphere saw the sprawl that was spreading around Oak Harbor, they acted quickly to preserve some of the island's rural beauty, the very essence of Whidbey Island.