Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is located in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. It is the largest island in Puget Sound.


Whidbey Island was once inhabited by members of the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Snohomish and other Native American tribes. The first known European sighting of Whidbey Island was during the 1790 Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper and Gonzalo López de Haro on the Princesa Real. The island was fully explored in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver. In May of that year, Royal Navy officers and members of Vancouver's expedition, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget, began to map and explore the areas of what would later be named Puget Sound. After Whidbey circumnavigated the island in June 1792, Vancouver named the island in his honor.

Goose Rock Trail on Whidbey Island

The first known overnight stay on Whidbey Island by a non-native American was made on May 26, 1840 by a Catholic missionary during travel across Puget Sound.

Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842, sailed the USS Vincennes into Penn Cove in 1841. There he found the largest Native settlement on Puget Sound[citation needed] and noted that a Catholic mission had been started with a 2-acre (8,100 m2) fenced garden. Wilkes named the lower cove Holmes Harbor, after his assistant surgeon, Silas Holmes.

In 1850, Colonel Isaac N. Ebey became the first permanent white settler on Whidbey Island, claiming a square mile (2.6 km²) of prairie with a southern shoreline on Admiralty Inlet. Even though he was farming potatoes and wheat on his land, he was also the postmaster for Port Townsend, Washington and rowed a boat daily across the inlet in order to work at the post office there. On August 11, 1857, Colonel Ebey was murdered and beheaded by Haida who traveled from the Queen Charlotte Islands when he was 39 years old. Ebey was slain in proxy-retaliation for the killing of a Haida chief at Port Gamble. Fort Ebey, named for the Colonel, was established in 1942 on the west side of the central part of the island, just northwest of Coupeville.


Whidbey Island is mostly residential and farmlands with a few small towns nicely spaced apart for the visiting traveler.

Old Grain Wharf, in the harbour of Coupeville, in the Central Whidbey Island Historic District, part of the Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.

Get in

By ferry

By car

Whidbey Island is connected to the mainland on the northern end of the island via I-20 and the Deception Pass Bridge.

By boat

Get around

Whidbey Island is very long and best navigated by car, but is well served by Highway-20 and Highway 525 which runs its entire length. It is a popular option to use the bridge on the northern end of the island and one of the ferry terminals as entrance and exit points when exploring the area. By boat it is a nice stopping point when traveling between Seattle and the San Juan Islands. The section of Puget Sound east of Whidbey is known as the Whidbey Basin and usually provides calmer water than traveling on the open sound.


Admiralty Head Lighthouse


Beach combing

What Puget Sound beaches lack in white sand and warm water is more than made up for in the amazing scenery as the clear waters play against wild coastlines and snow peaked mountains scatter on the horizons. Whidbey Islands many state and regional parks are an excellent place to start a beach combing adventure offering miles of beaches from the rugged to the sandy smooth. Small crabs, moon snails, sea stars and sand dollars are common sites and tide pools can offer hours of exploration.

Be warned that sea shells and driftwood are considered part of the natural environment and should not be removed, however the often rocky and wild shores are havens for creating and revealing beach glass and anything artificial found is fair game for removal. Be respectful of private property and gentle with sea creatures. Keep a wide distance away from nesting birds, seals and other shore animals and always put back anything removed from the shoreline.


clams are plentiful on Whidbey Islands rural beaches

Shellfish are prized resources of the Puget Sound, the cool, clean waters provide some of the finest shellfish habitat in the world. Washington State is the nation’s leading producer of farmed bivalve shellfish (clams, geoduck, mussels and oysters) and with Whidbey Islands public beach access and miles of coastline it is a popular place for individuals to find these elusive and sought after shellfish. Maps of public shellfishing areas and health warnings and updates can be found online at the States Fish and Wildlife website, as with all fishing in Puget Sound permits are required and can be purchased online or in some sporting goods stores.


farms and Puget Sound in the distance on Whidbey Island

Like the rest of the Puget Sound area Seafood is a specialty so look for seasonal specials and locally sourced ingredients. Dungeness crabs, clams, oysters, mussels and of course Salmon can all be found in abundance but look also for fresh produce from local farms. Blackberry season towards the end of summer usually means these tasty local berries will find their way into local dessert menus. See city listings for particular food recommendations.


Like the rest of the Puget Sound region, people on Whidbey Island take their coffee seriously. See city listings for particular coffee and bar recommendations.

Stay safe

Animal safety

Though many of the animals in the Whidbey Island area are used to seeing humans, the wildlife is nonetheless wild and should not be fed or disturbed. Stay at least 100 m away from bears and 25 m from all other wild animals! Check trail head postings at parks for recent activity and be aware of rules keeping a distance from Orca Whales and other marine animals while boating. Regulations for killer whales require that boaters stay 200 yards away & keep path of the whales clear. These new U.S. regulations apply to all vessels (with some exceptions) in inland waters of Washington.

Don't disturb resting seal pups, keep children and dogs away and report to the local stranding hotline. Report harassment or sightings of injured/stranded marine mammals by calling the NOAA Fisheries hotline at (800) 853-1964. Seal pups 'haul out' to get much needed rest when they are young and are often alone for many hours. They are extremely vulnerable at this time and should be left alone. Only about 50% of Puget Sound seal pups make it through their first year so please help to protect their health. NOAA recommends at least a 100-yard buffer around seals.

Deception Pass and Bridge as seen from below

Deception Pass

Petty crime

With so many people visiting Whidbey Island each year petty crimes are something to be vigilant against. Lock your car doors and exercise sensible precautions with valuables, especially when parking your car at a trail head or marina when you may be away from your car for a while. It would also be advisable to carry anything of value out of sight.

Go next

By ferry

The Victorian themed Port Townsend is a popular tourist destination and easily accessible by ferry from Whidbey Island. The Mukilteo to Clinton ferry run gives access on the south end of the island to the mainland and such destinations as Seattle.

By car

Whidbey Islands only connection by car is Fidalgo Island via the Deception Pass Bridge which also gives good access to Anacortes and the ferries to Guemes Island and the San Juan Islands.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, May 25, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.