Continued from part one…
A day that began with a kayak trip, several hours of driving, sightseeing, and talking to strangers came to a close with a 40-minute sunset ferry ride from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island. That restful pause on the boat allowed me to reflect on what I might expect from Whidbey, and specifically its towns of Coupeville and Langley, my next two stops.
Here, in photos, is part two of my journey:
Coupeville (on Whidbey Island)
The Blue Goose Inn
It was dark when the ferry docked in Coupeville, and as it was a Monday everything was pretty much closed. After quickly checking in to the Blue Goose Inn, I drove further into town (I took my rental car on the ferry) and stopped in at the innkeeper-suggested Toby’s Tavern for dinner.
This rustic waterfront establishment, filled with quirky memorabilia on the walls and ceiling, was originally built as a general mercantile store in 1875 but later turned into a beer parlor shortly after Prohibition. The last few remaining customers when I walked in were watching The Voice playing above the bar and critiquing the talent. I was invited to join in on the fun. Good company, friendly service, and a heaping plate of tender fried clams—what’s not to like?
My stay at the Blue Goose Inn was brief. I arrived late and checked out early but not before enjoying a deep sleep in a luxurious king-size bed and a delicious breakfast on the sun porch. Innkeepers David and Becky Broberg use locally grown ingredients and seasonal vegetables and fruits from nearby farms. They even make the condiments in house: ketchup, cinnamon, and peanut butter syrups, and various jams. My Penn Cove King suite was $179/night. During the offseason, there’s no minimum stay.
The Weavers’ School
I’m not really a fan of chatting with strangers over breakfast, and I sensed that the older woman sitting across from me one morning at the Blue Goose Inn was feeling the same way. But our natural small talk immediately piqued my interest. She (Hope) explained that she was in town for an advanced weaving workshop at the Weavers’ School, which was founded by well-known weave instructor and author Madelyn van der Hoogt.
After I offered to drive Hope to her morning class, she invited me to drop by later to observe the 15 women who had come in from across the country to further their skills. I returned after lunch to watch these accomplished women clanking away in a classroom filled with 30 wooden looms, weaving colors into glorious patterns.
Penn Cove Shellfish
Shortly after breakfast, I headed to an appointment with operations manager Tim Jones at Penn Cove Shellfish, the largest and oldest commercial mussel farm in the United States. (Established in 1975 as Penn Cove Mussel Inc., the farm became Penn Cove Shellfish, LLC. in 1996 when it teamed up with Coast Seafoods Company.)
Tim attributes Penn Cove’s healthy shellfish growth to the tendency of snowmelt from the nearby Cascade mountains to be captured by the unique shape of Penn Cove. The cove’s mineral-rich runoff waters, paired with Pacific sunlight in the bay, activates plankton growth—generously feeding hungry growing shellfish.
In addition to its well-known Penn Cove mussels, Tim’s team also farms Mediterranean mussels and Manila clams as well as distributes 26 varieties of Pacific oysters and Kumamoto oysters they receive from allied growers in the region. “The mussels we’re harvesting this morning will be on someone’s lunch plate today in Seattle and someone’s dinner plate in NYC tomorrow,” Jones told me.
With only a couple hours to explore Coupeville before leaving for Langley, I peeked inside a few shops and other establishments on Front Street. My first impression of downtown Coupeville was that it looked idyllic.
As it turns out, Hollywood feels the same way. Both the movies War of the Roses (1989) with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas and Practical Magic (1998) with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock were filmed here, and not much has changed since ’98. In fact, locals were celebrating the 20th anniversary of Practical Magic the week of my visit.
Jutting out at the end of a 500-foot pier over Penn Cove is the Old Grain Wharf. Built in 1905, it was once a main commerce and transportation hub connecting Whidbey Island to Seattle. Now, the wharf is occupied by a marine education center, restaurant, coffee house, and gift shop.
Before heading out, I lunched at the Front Street Grill, sampling some of the tasty mussels I saw being harvested from Penn Cove Farms earlier prepared in white wine, garlic, and fresh thyme. I devoured them while enjoying a sunny view of Penn Cove from my table.
Langley (on Whidbey Island)
A half hour’s drive south brought me to Langley, an artsy, whimsical waterfront town home to many galleries, boutiques, and gift shops. Before checking into the Saratoga Inn, I tried to hit as many shops as I could before everything closed on a quiet late Tuesday afternoon.
I spent most of that time chatting with glass artist Callahan Campbell McVay at his Firehouse Studio and Gallery. He was about to shut down his glass-blowing furnace for the evening, but when I showed up he quickly fired up a glob of glass and within minutes had created a flower with impressive detail. In addition to showcasing a wide array of handmade glass art for sale at the gallery, Callahan and his team offer glass-blowing classes.
The Saratoga Inn
Back at the Saratoga Inn, I was assigned the most delightful room with a great view of Saratoga Pass, an 18-mile channel between Whidbey and Camano Islands. One of the ships from the National Geographic fleet was moored just outside my window, docked for routine maintenance. The channel provides passage for recreational and fishing boats but also, for a few brief months in the spring, gray whales come through the islands to rebuild their fat stores and gain energy for the last leg of their migratory return journey to Alaska from calving lagoons in Baja, Mexico.
The Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar
So what did I have for my last dinner in Washington? Oysters of course, served at the Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar, just a short walk from the inn. I also had the Dungeness crab with mint and cilantro sauce. Saltwater is a friendly and casual place that table-seats only about 20 at a time but there’s a bar with seating, as well.
With a flight departure out of Seattle at 1pm, I checked out of the Saratoga Inn early enough to catch the 9am ferry from Mukilteo—but not before taking advantage of the complimentary vegetarian breakfast buffet. I wished I could’ve spent just one more day in this artisan town because I know it has so much to offer. I think I’ll begin planning a return trip, perhaps in the spring when those magnificent gray whales pass through.
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