If you're coming from the south and take the ferry from Mukilteo, then the best place to start exploring Whidbey Island is in the historic fishing village of Langley, which is reached by taking Langley Road off Wash. 525. Before you ever reach town, you'll pass by the Whidbey Island Vineyard & Winery, 5237 S. Langley Rd. (tel. 360/221-2040; www.whidbeyislandwinery.com), where you can taste a few wines. Many of the white wines are made from grapes grown here on the island, while the reds are made from grapes grown in eastern Washington. The tasting room is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5pm (July through Sept, open Mon also).
Langley is a compact little village with a mix of sophisticated shops, interesting art galleries, and good, moderately priced restaurants occupying restored wooden commercial buildings along the waterfront. First Street Park, right in downtown, provides access to a narrow, rocky beach and offers views of Saratoga Passage and the distant Cascades. A couple of blocks away, you'll find the South Whidbey Historical Museum, 312 Second St. (tel. 360/221-2101), a small museum housing displays on local history. The museum is open Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4pm (in summer, also open Friday from 1 to 4pm); admission is a $2 suggested donation.
Four miles northwest of Freeland, the narrowest point of the island, South Whidbey State Park (tel. 360/902-8844), has almost a mile of shoreline, hiking trails through some old-growth forest, and a campground. Continuing north, you come to Whidbey Island Greenbank Farm (tel. 360/678-7700; www.greenbankfarm.com), at Wash. 525 and Wonn Road in Greenbank. This former loganberry farm is now a community park. For many years, the farm was known for its loganberry liqueur, and today, in the farm's tasting room, you can still sample loganberry wine, as well as other wines from around the region. In summer, you can pick your own loganberries. The farm's main building houses the tasting room and a small cafe known for its delicious loganberry pies. With its big red barns and rolling fields, Greenbank Farm is as picture-perfect a farm as you'll find anywhere in western Washington. A network of trails meanders around the property, making this a good place to stretch your legs. Not far away, you can sample more wines at Greenbank Cellars, 3112 Day Rd., Greenbank (tel. 360/678-3964; www.whidbey.com/wine). The winery is open Thursday to Monday from 11am to 5pm. To reach the winery from Greenbank Farm, drive south on Wash. 525 and then take Bakken Road west to Day Road.
Also in Greenbank (just off Wash. 525) is Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, 3531 Meerkerk Lane (tel. 360/678-1912; www.meerkerkgardens.org), which was originally a private garden, but is now operated as a display and test garden. It's open daily from 9am to 4pm (peak bloom is Apr-May). Admission is $5.
Coupeville, located in central Whidbey Island just north of the turnoff for the ferry to Port Townsend, is another historic waterfront village. This town was founded in 1852 by Capt. Thomas Coupe, and the captain's 1853 home is among those in town that have been restored. The quiet charm of yesteryear is Coupeville's greatest appeal, and many of its old wooden commercial buildings now house antiques stores. At the north end of downtown, a gravel path leads up a bluff to the Coupeville Town Park, which is a good spot for a picnic. At the end of the Coupeville Wharf, you can see the skeleton of Rosie the gray whale, which hangs from the ceiling of the building at the end of the wharf.
In Coupeville you'll find the Island County Historical Museum, 908 NW Alexander St. (tel. 360/678-3310; www.islandhistory.org), which is the best place to learn about the island's seafaring, farming, and military history. Between May and September, the museum is open Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 5pm; October through April, it's open Friday to Monday from 10am to 4pm. Admission is $3 for adults, and $2.50 for seniors and students.
Much of the land around Coupeville is now part of the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve (tel. 360/678-6084; www.nps.gov/ebla). The reserve, one of the first of its kind in the nation, was created "to preserve and protect a rural community which provides an unbroken historic record from the nineteenth century exploration and settlement of Puget Sound to the present time." There is no visitor center for the reserve, but there is an information kiosk near the dock in Coupeville, and the adjacent museum has copies of an informative brochure about the reserve, as well as a brochure that outlines a driving and bicycling tour of the preserve.
Three miles south of Coupeville, adjacent to the Keystone ferry landing, Fort Casey State Park (tel. 360/902-8844) is a former military base that was built in the 1890s to guard Puget Sound. The park has the original gun batteries, which are always a hit with young boys. The park also has beaches, hiking trails, a campground, and the 1897 Admiralty Head Lighthouse (tel. 360/240-5584; www.admiraltyhead.wsu.edu), which is now an interpretive center that is open daily from 11am to 5pm in summer (call for hours other months). A few miles north of Fort Casey is the smaller Fort Ebey State Park, Libbey Road (tel. 360/902-8844), another former military site built to protect the sound. Here there are excellent views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as a campground, hiking and mountain biking trails, and a lake for fishing.
Deception Pass State Park (tel. 360/902-8844), at the northern tip of the island, is the prettiest state park in the area and has miles of beaches, quiet coves, freshwater lakes, forests, hiking trails, camping, and views of Deception Pass, a churning channel between Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island. A high bridge connects these two large islands by way of a smaller island in the middle of Deception Pass. Overlooks at the bridge allow you to gaze down on tidal waters that surge and swirl between the islands.
You can explore Deception Pass from sea level on boat tours offered by Deception Pass Tours (tel. 888/909-8687 or 360/914-0096; www.deceptionpasstours.com), which charges only $19 per person ($15 for seniors and children) for a quick trip through the pass. Tours operate April through October from 11am to dusk.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.