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- Historic Sites
- State Park
A day trip to Coupeville, one of the state’s oldest towns, is a must! Set along the shores of serene Penn Cove, it is easy to envision its early days as sea captains and farmers arrived to forge a new life. If it seems familiar, it might be. Its historical charm enchanted Hollywood, who chose it as a filming location for Practical Magic.
Depending on which route you take to Whidbey Island, you’ll have a short ferry crossing across Possession Sound (from the south) or a drive over Deception Pass Bridge (from the north). Either way is gorgeous and the drive captures the beauty of Whidbey Island’s rural landscapes.
Once in Coupeville, what always catches my eye first is historic Coupeville Wharf, whose long walkway stretches over Penn Cove and ends at a bright red building. If you are looking for a place to get a dramatic photo, this is it, especially on sunny days with Mt. Baker in the distance. At the small marina, the Gatsby-era schooner SUVA often offers summer day sails.
Part of Coupeville’s charm is its size – downtown is only a couple of blocks long! Give it a couple of turns to explore shops you might have missed. One of my favorite stores is A Touch of Dutch. Filled with all things Dutch, like chocolate, licorice, stroopwafels, it’s like a mini-travel trip. While the majority of businesses are along Front Street, be sure to walk a street up, and along the side streets otherwise, you’ll miss places like the Lavender Wind and restaurants like Currents Bistro and The Oystercatcher.
The Island County Historical Museum is also right downtown, and outside they have a canoe display and a historic blockhouse. For dining, it’s hard to go wrong, even the beloved dive bar, Toby’s Tavern, puts out fabulous buffalo burger. One ingredient you’ll want to try is Penn Cove mussels. Sold to restaurants all over the country, these famous mussels are celebrated every March at the Penn Cove Musselfest. For a sweet treat, get a scoop at Kapaws Iskreme; it’s worth the wait in line. For a beer, cruise across the highway to Penn Cove Taproom.
On a busy day, parking downtown can be challenging, and if you come for the seasonal Saturday farmers market, you’ll need to park a few streets away. But, the good thing is, the walk isn’t far. Check the public parking lot along Grace Street first.
To extend your trip, hop in the car and head to Sunnyside Cemetery. While on the surface this might seem like an odd destination, you’ll find another blockhouse as well as a tombstone written in Gaelic. If you are a history nut, the historical society gives cemetery walking tours in the summer.
Near the cemetery is one of my favorite hikes. It takes you to another blockhouse and then along Ebey’s bluff with breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains and the San Juan Islands. To make a loop, follow the trail along the bluff, down to the beach, and back up. Bring a snack and water!
If you are looking for an all-ages activity, go to Fort Casey Historical State Park. Popular with kite flyers, you’ll feel like a kid again as you explore old fort bunkers and walk up the lighthouse tower. Sometimes, you’ll even see massive tankers cruising to Bremerton. On summer weekends, join a free tour, which takes you into some of the closed bunkers, including the armory.
One of the most unique stays in Washington is nearby at Fort Casey Inn (kids will appreciate the seasonal pool). Staying in former military housing is like stepping back to a much quieter time; having no televisions helps too. If you stay, I highly recommend walking up the lighthouse in the evening to watch the sunset.