It happens in every tourist town. Visitors arrive and expect to be entertained. Visitors can be the very inspiration that gets locals to enjoy the locale. New Yorkers may never visit the Empire State Building. Seattle-ites may never dine atop the Space Needle. How many people in China have never see then Great Wall? Whidbey folks are no different. If you’re visiting, enjoy being the reason they get to see what Whidbey is known for.
Start with Deception Pass Bridge. As a local, it’s easy to drive across and notice the gawkers more than the view. Give your hosts a reason to drive there, park, and actually walk around – and gawk. Your hosts will probably know how to check for the highest currents and the most dramatic whirlpools. Whitewater in the ocean, swirls that sweep away seals, a nautical challenge that can be viewed from dry land, or at least a bridge is a rare set of treats.
Keeping with the commuting route theme, take a ride on the ferry. The days of riding back and forth all day are gone. Everyone has to get off on each side as the crew checks for suspicious packages, but it is a treat to walk on without worrying about reservations, waiting lines, or the expense of ferrying a car or truck across the water. Whether crossing to Mukilteo or Port Townsend, enjoy the ride (and the possible whale sighting), and walk to some place for a meal. Then, walk aboard and ride back home.
Go Hollywood by walking around Fort Casey. See the big guns that defended the Sound from an attack that never came. It was also the site of a scene or two from Officer and a Gentleman. History and Hollywood, and a great place for watching wildlife or flying a kite.
Want a bit more Hollywood? Drop by Coupeville which was painted weathered white for Practical Magic. Or, just drop by Coupeville for the fun of it. It’s one of the oldest towns in the state, has great historic buildings, a well-known wharf, and good places to eat – and it is tougher to get fresher mussels, straight from Penn Cove. Roam through the gift and curio shops that your hosts may rarely see.
For a slightly different tourist town tour, wander through Langley. It’s old, too, and has some upscale art galleries (Coupeville has them, too), a one-screen theater that only charges $1 for popcorn, and more restaurants and bookstores. Maybe even take some time at the seawall park to watch for whales, then go ring the bell if you spot them. Remember to tell the folks in the Whale Museum.
There’s are throughout the island; and one quiet place to see some and visit with the artists is Greenbank Farm. Almost every town and city on the island (as well as numerous side roads) house artists, but the Farm is a handy place to visit a few galleries, check out some local cuisine, and give pets and owners a chance to run around outdoors.
Is there more to see? Of course. There’s an entire city in Oak Harbor. The Navy base has modern and historic attractions. Check with the authorities about what’s available. There’s also Fort Ebey, a variety of parks, trail networks, and public beach access points. One of the key accomplishments to celebrate is Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, a unique and successful collaboration between the National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, the Town of Coupeville, various county and state agencies, and a broad swath of committed private owners that act as stewards. Imagine that, getting that many organizations and people to agree on preserving land, history, lifestyles, and nature. It can happen.
Many people who move to Whidbey Island get here, settle in, and begin enjoying the more nuanced, more subtle pleasures – the things that aren’t as obvious, but can be incredibly precious. Those are good too; but sometimes it is good to be reminded what it’s like to feel the wind from the upper deck of the ferry, walk down to the beach at Ebey’s Landing, poke into some of the less practical but much more fun shops, and maybe gawk a bit at the extraordinary talent on display (and for sale) in the galleries. Go ahead, entertain your hosts.