Whidbey Island is an easy way to escape from Seattle for a weekend or even just a day trip. With minimal time invested in getting there, you can spend a full day exploring and enjoying Whidbey Island and still make it home to Seattle the same evening.
For this day trip itinerary, I’ll show you my plan for getting the most out of a single day on Whidbey Island. Of course, like all the Puget Sound islands, Whidbey Island is home to many hotels, motels, and Airbnbs at many different price points, so if you want to turn this one day Seattle day trip into a long weekend getaway, it’s easy to extend your time on Whidbey Island.
Whidbey Island is a great trip for solo adventures, family fun, or an interesting getaway with a friend or partner. Restaurants line the main highway from Clinton in the South, Coupeville in the middle all the way to Oak Harbor in the north, ensuring that you’ll find a great meal and some adventure along the way.
Things to do on Whidbey Island
Deception Pass is the destination for many new Seattle transplant’s first day trip. Located about two hours from Seattle proper, Deception Pass is a deep but relatively narrow chasm between Whidbey Island and mainland Washington State.
Deception Pass is bridged by a majestic oxidized-green bridge linking Whidbey Island to the mainland. Much more majestic than the bridge connecting Bainbridge Island to the mainland, this narrow bridge spanning over the rushing, frigid waters below in front of a dramatic landscape, makes Deception Pass a prime spot for dramatic PNW photography.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park is located on the southern side of the bridge, and includes campgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, some of which are linked via a trail that extends down from the bridge. You’ll need a Discover Pass WA State Park parking permit to park on the Whidbey Island side of the bridge, however on the northern side of the bridge is not a WA state park and there, parking is free and requires no state park pass (this is subject to change- always check signage before parking).
Many travelers get out and walk across the bridge to enjoy the view and get a look at the water below.
LOCAL TIP: If you visit on a clear day, without too much wind (wind disturbs the surface of the water and creates white caps), stop and focus your eyes on the water for a few minutes. As you focus on the shapes and shadows there, you should be able to see marine life swimming in the clear blue waters below. Watch closely for seals, otters, and perhaps even whales.
Float or Kayak in the Calm Waters of Cranberry Lake
A favorite pastime of Seattle residents is grabbing a tube and lake or river floating near Seattle’s countless beaches. It’s so popular in the city that on a hot day floating at popular beaches in Seattle can feel a little congested.
Break away from the city crowd and head up to Whidbey Island to paddle, float, and swim in motorboat-free Cranberry Lake. This serene lake set near the edge of Deception Pass State Park features clear freshwater, free from the noise and disruption of engine-powered watercraft. It’s all kayakers, swimmers, rowboats, and floats at this hidden gem.
See Deception Pass by Boat
If you want to get up close and personal with Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island, boat tours are available. Although the waters that pass under the Deception Pass Bridge are notoriously dangerous for small watercraft, professional captains with appropriate boats regularly navigate this stretch of water.
For a reasonable fee you and your group can take a tour of Deception Pass from the water- seeing a view of the bridge, pass, and park that few Washingtonians have seen. It’s a great plan B if your day trip to Whidbey Island turns out a little too chilly for the float trip you planned.
Pick Berries on Whidbey Island
From midsummer to early fall, Whidbey Island berry patches, farms, and (later) pumpkin patches are ready to be enjoyed. If you’re looking for Seattle family fun on a budget, Whidbey Island has miles upon miles of blackberry bushes growing in roadside byways (which are, by law, public land, which allows fruit growing there to be picked).
If you prefer to skip the thorns, check out a cultivated berry picking farm for pick-your-own fun. Pick from blueberries, raspberries, or thornless blackberries. No interest in picking your own? That’s okay, you can stop at any of these roadside berry farms and pick from a selection of pre-picked fresh fruit or jams, jellies, and preserves.
Jams and preserves are a great gift for folks back home or a good way to remember your Whidbey Island day trip after you return to urban life in Seattle.
Explore Fort Ebey & Fort Casey State Parks
If you’ve visited many state parks in Washington, you know that most Washington state parks feature lush, dense, coniferous forests. These two state parks- located just 14 minutes apart by car – are a little bit different – offering a totally different landscape and a welcoming open space for Seattle transplants like me looking for a little piece of home in the landscapes of open fields.
Fort Ebey State Park is located on the waterfront on the west side of Whidbey Island on the location of a former US military fort. Visitors to Fort Ebey State Park can explore the semi-underground fort and nearby lighthouse.
Seasonally, Fort Ebey is a destination for professional kite flyers and even kite-flying competitions! Bring your own kite to fly in the open fields along the beach, or bring a blanket to sit and watch high-flying acrobatics by professional kite flyers.
Before leaving, pop over to the Fort Casey lighthouse – a free historical site that can be explored inside and out, when open.
Catch a Film at the Whidbey Island Drive-In
End your day trip to Whidbey Island by catching a movie at the Blue Fox Drive In just outside of Oak Harbor Washington.
Unlike most drive-ins in the United States, this gem never really fell out of popularity – it’s posted an impressive crowd most Friday and Saturday nights for the last decade – and 2020 only boosted the popularity of this outdoor movie viewing spot. If you’ve never enjoyed a drive-in movie, step back into the past by adding this drive-in movie theater to your Whidbey Island day trip from Seattle.
Getting to Whidbey Island from Seattle
It’s easy to get to Whidbey Island by driving (a bridge provides highway access to the north end of the island) or by a combination of driving and riding a ferry (ferry service is provided to the southernmost tip of Whidbey Island to mainland Washington) or even via public transportation. Here’s how:
You can drive onto Whidbey Island by driving north from Seattle on I-5 to exit 226 for WA state highway 536W. Continue in 536W until you get to highway 20 (a roundabout where you’ll need to stay in the left lane). Turn left, following the signs for Whidbey Island/Deception Pass and you’ll soon find yourself crossing Deception Pass Bridge onto Whidbey Island.
Plan to spend 1.5-2hrs driving, if you’re starting from downtown Seattle and plan to drive onto the island via the norther bridge access.
From the heart of Seattle, Pike Place Market, it takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes in light traffic to get to the southern tip of Whidbey Island via a combination of driving and riding the Mukilteo to Clinton Ferry.
Like driving onto the island via the north, taking the driving/ferry route means you’ll take I-5 north, but instead of staying on I-5 through Skagit Valley, you’ll exit onto WA-525 N to head to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. Click to see a google map of this route.
Getting from Seattle to Whidbey Island without a Car
Although getting to the Puget Sound islands without a car can be a challenge, it’s worth it to escape the grind of urban life. When I lived in downtown Seattle without a car, it was these weekend trips that provided the rest and relaxation I needed to thrive in the city.
Without a car, you essentially have two options for getting from Seattle to Whidbey Island:
There are multiple options to get from Seattle to the southern tip of Whidbey Island by public transportation- and once you’re on Whidey, a totally free system of local buses can get you (almost) anywhere on the island. If you have plenty of time to spare and an adventurous spirit, getting to Whidbey Island by public transportation could be a fun way to enjoy your journey.
By Bus / Ferry:
Total Cost: about $10. To get to Whidbey by bus and ferry, catch the Community Transit bus 417 from downtown Seattle (find this bus’s timetable and stop locations here) and get off at the last stop- the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. Take a short walk to the ferry terminal ticket booth and purchase a walk-on ticket for the next outbound ferry to Whidbey Island.
By Train / Ferry
Total Cost: about $13. To get to Whidbey Island by train and ferry, navigate to King Street Station in downtown Seattle to begin your trip. Purchase a train ticket on the Sounder North towards Everett Station, and exit the train at Mukilteo Station.
From Mukilteo Station, walk one minute to get to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal ticket booth and purchase a walk-on ticket for the next outbound ferry to Whidbey Island.
Be sure and check out the Mukilteo Community Beach Park if you have a few minutes of layover between your train arrival and ferry departure, and walk over to Mukilteo Lighthouse Park if you want to make this layover a mini destination.
The easiest way to get from Seattle to Whidbey Island without a car is to take a direct shuttle. I usually recommend the shuttles for people who are short on time, have poor navigational skills, or don’t have a backup plan (like travelers who don’t have a local contact). Unlike public bus drivers, a private shuttle driver tends to take at least some responsibility for making sure you make connections and get safely to your destination.
To take a shuttle to Whidbey Island, first take a bus or light rail train to SeaTac Airport, where you can catch a shuttle, leaving every 3 hours, via Whidbey > SeaTac Shuttle & Charter. The cost for this shuttle is $35.
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Driving on, Floating Off
If you navigate to Whidbey by bus, train, or shuttle, you’ll probably want to return via the same route, at least one day later (Stay overnight to make the hassle of public transportation worth it!)
For people with a car, I think the best plan for a day trip to Whidbey Island from Seattle is to drive onto the island in the morning via the bridge access on the north end of the island and spend your day meandering south. After dinner near the southern tip of the island, you can hop on the Clinton > Mukilteo Ferry (check the schedule here) for a much faster return trip to Seattle. The ferry crossing takes about 20 minutes, and from the Mukilteo ferry dock (which is near Everett, WA) you can drive to downtown Seattle in about 30 minutes if traffic is clear.
Suggested Itinerary for a Day trip to Whidbey Island
- DRIVE – Drive onto Whidbey via Deception Pass
- LUNCH – Pack a picnic for Deception Pass state park
- SWIM – Afternoon floating/swimming in Cranberry lake
- If chilly, boat tour of deception pass.
- HIKE – Wander a bit at Fort Ebey State Park
- FOOD – Dinner in Coupeville or Clinton
- Return via ferry
A visit to Whidbey Island is a day well spent if you are looking for an easy to access, affordable, and fun-for-the-whole-family day trip from Seattle. What’s your favorite thing to do on Whidbey Island? Drop a line in the comment below to add even more adventures to this Whidbey Island Itinerary.
Reflections on My Latest Trip to Whidbey
The summer of 2017 was one that offered me many opportunities to travel. While it was nice to be home after the long trip in July, I took one last jaunt out of the city in August to savor some of the last days of summer before Seattle’s all-too-short summer came to an end and classes for my master degree started back up again.
A friend and I took a quick trip to Whidbey Islands to visit friends. While not technically part of the San Juan Islands, or as tourism-focused as the San Juan’s, Whidbey feels like an escape to a small town with a pace and appearance that reminds me more of home back in Joplin, Missouri than either Seattle or my beloved Lopez Island.
My 3-day trip this fall wasn’t as crammed with activities as previous trips to Whidbey, but I did a fair amount of travel art journaling during the trip that I wanted to share.
On Friday we hopped the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry and actually left Whidbey for a bit. Port Townsend is a town on the Kitsap Peninsula (across the Puget Sound from Seattle) that feels worlds away from the PNW.
Unlike the islands, which have a distinct island flare, or Seattle, which is unrelentingly hipster with often ultra-modern architecture, Port Townsend’s downtown is straight out of the old west- with ornate storefronts and an almost-European vibe to some of the buildings that reminds me a little of the quaint streets of Florence, Italy. The city was adorable, but the city’s dogs had me undone.
I didn’t expect that visiting Port Townsend would be a vacation of dog-petting, but it was. Here’s my visual record of the dogs I pet and wish I’d pet:
Touring Whidbey at a slower pace was great because I had a chance to doodle more- even some during the 20-30 minute ferry ride.
Ferry time was a great space to reflect on what made the trip to Whidbey special. My list ended up illustrating:
- Wild Blackberries in season in all the ditches (which, yes, I did pick and yes, I made scones)
- WSF Ferries
- Chick Fil A! (not on the island, but a necessary stop on the way)
- Bird Friends (re: our host’s chicken coop and egg laying team)
- Ft Casey Lighthouse (see the official website)
- Cooking for Friends (I commandeered the kitchen for at least one dinner)
- Lots of Coffee (PNW required trip supplement)
- My Favorite PNW Cliff (see above!)
TIP: when you visit a Pacific Northwest Island take a few minutes to save the tide chart to your phone and set reminders. Low tides- especially very low tides- are the best time to beachwalk and explore PNW beaches.
On the way back to Seattle from Whidbey, on the advice of our host, we detoured to visit Mt Vernon, WA & Christianson’s Nursery. As both a plant lover and amateur photographer, it did not disappoint. My travel companion found herself a new plant companion while I focused on scouting for good photo angles (and squealing with delight each time I rounded a corner and discovered a pet dove in an ornate cage nestled among the flowers).
A quick stop in La Conner, WA was also part of the return trip- where an interactive art exhibit of rolled paper enchanted me:
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a plus size, one-bag traveler, and journaling it all on WanderBig.com