Have you ever been to a place so close to a big city, yet so far removed? One example that comes to mind is Central Park in New York City. Central Park is smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest and most populated cities in the world, however after you stroll just a hundred yards into its womb, it’s as if you’ve been transported to a place of polar attributes. It’s really an extraordinary experience…all the horn honking, traffic noise, construction work and stress of the city just seems to dissipate. I recently had a similar experience as I visited Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest, where they have a saying…“Whidbey Island is the shortest distance to far away.”
Whidbey Island is just a short ferry ride, and 25-minute drive from Seattle–yet once you land on her shores, it’s as if you’ve arrived in a place much farther removed. What I discovered, was that beyond the geographical separation from mainland Seattle, Whidbey Island seems to have an entirely different vibe. The feelings of serenity, community and connection to nature saturate not only the island, but also its inhabitants. I know that may sound a bit exaggerated or superfluous, as perhaps it was just a moment in time when these senses coalesced. Either way, if you’re in the Seattle area and have the time to do some exploring, you’ll want to visit Whidbey for the variety of sights, activities and places to stay.
I visited Whidbey Island twice this past year, the first time, I entered from the north as I made my way south, coming from Canada. Accessing the island from the north does not require a ferry ride, but rather an exciting drive over the Deception Pass Bridge. Deception Pass Park encompasses areas on both sides of the bridge and I highly recommend spending time in the area. On a clear day the views are extraordinary–your instinct to take photos will be well justified. You can walk along the bridge or take a hike down to the water. Nature lovers will enjoy seeing whales, sea lions, bald eagles and more on a jet boat ride through the pass with the folks from Deception Pass Tours.
As I made my way south I stopped by the Greenbank Farm, which is right off highway 525 (a main artery that runs north/south through the island). Greenbank Farm is situated on 151 acres and has something for everyone…from the duck and geese playing around the pond, to a stroll through the gardens, or a walk to the top of the hill for rare view which features water from both sides of the island. There is also an art gallery, wine and cheese shops and much more to enjoy.
As I continued my exploration of the island, I meandered south where I would end up staying in the seaside village of Langley for a few days. My home while visiting Langley was the Saratoga Inn bed and breakfast, which derives its name from the stunning views of Saratoga Passage–views I would enjoy each morning out the window of my room as the sun rose above the majestic mountains in the background.
Langley has some really cute shops and tasty eateries’, one of my favorite places to hang out was the Useless Bay Coffee Company…have a look at the video below and you’ll see what I mean:
After four glorious days, all enjoyed with perfect weather of an Indian summer, I was off to my next destination…Leavenworth, which is located on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. I returned to Whidbey Island a couple months later where I would stay as a guest in a sizable (13,000 square feet to be exact) vacation rental home called, Quintessa. Quintessa is located not far from the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry terminal in the town of Clinton. The home is perched atop a hill, providing wonderful views of Pudget Sound and the Olympic Mountain range. Ironically, there is a direct line of sight from Quintessa to Hansville, a small coastal community where my folks have a home.
I was invited to stay at Quintessa for an open house of sorts, in which many community stakeholders were in attendance. Unbeknownst to me, I was one of the guests of honor. This will come as a shock to many of my readers, but I can be a bit shy and have troubles at a party where I don’t know anyone. I have no troubles carrying on an intelligent conversation with people from all sectors of society, so long as they make the first move. Given that I was sort of a special guest, people were gracious enough to come up to me and strike up a conversation, so that burden was thankfully minimized.
It didn’t hurt matters that Quintessa has an aura that seems to connect people; which makes it a perfect venue for weddings, family reunions and corporate retreats. I have no doubt the warm feeling I experienced was derived from the generous and vivacious nature of its owners, Carrie and Tessa. See what I mean by watching the video below.
I ended up meeting some of the most interesting folks during the Quintessa open house, as well as during the rest of my island visit. For example, I met the owner of the local telcom company, Whidbey Telecommunications. For starters, I had no idea there were still localized and family-run telecommunications companies left in the country, let alone ones that offer leading-edge technologies, which I’ll expand upon in a moment.
I also met the owners of Deception Pass Tours, a jet-boat whale watching company that started from humble beginnings and now is a thriving business. I met some talented musicians, technologist, and an array of other local business owners, many of whom invited me to visit their establishments during my stay on the island. One such business I had to check out was the newly crowned “Best Sandwich Shop” in Western Washington, Pickles Deli. I was chatting up Kim Bailey, the owner of Pickles and she was telling me about her gourmet sandwich shop at the open house…I was razzing her with a level of cynicism, explaining that I was a gourmet sandwich connoisseur and that all too often sandwich makers mislead the public with terms like “gourmet.” I asked her all the tough sandwich questions, like what kinds of bread do you use? What are the toppings offered? Do you have a line of “signature” sandwiches? What brand of cold cuts do you use? When she told me that she uses “Boar’s Head,” I piped down immediately and gave her a high-five and told her I’d come by the next day. I’m so glad I did! Pickles Deli is absolutely worthy of the title, “best sandwich” shop. The location is sort of a hole-in-the-wall situated in a nondescript strip mall, but don’t let that deter you from entering. The variations of sandwiches, salads, baked goods and ice cream will keep ya coming back for more. I thought the presentation of the sandwich was also really cool, placed just so on a cutting board plank that screamed, “delicious!”
Another place I really enjoyed was the Mukilteo Coffee Roaster, the type of place I love to discover. Mukilteo Coffee is a true locals hangout, and the reason is…there’s no way a visitor could find it! Tucked back miles off the highway, several turns and a sign that says “no outlet” later, you finally smell the distinct aroma of roasting coffee that indicates you’ve arrived. If it wasn’t for Carrie and Tessa (of Quintessa) allowing me to follow them, I’m not sure Mukilteo Coffee would have made my agenda. I’m so thankful for the discovery though as I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the roasting process, which was quite fascinating. I also learned that Mukilteo is a fairly large roaster, supplying coffee to a chain of shops in Hong Kong. They also have a kitchen producing some fantastic food for breakfast and lunch, along with a comfortable dining area and inviting patio. And, I have to say, their coffee is pretty darn good too!
Back to Whidbey Telcom…while talking with George, one of the owners of the company, I learned that they recently opened a coffee shop/café next to their headquarters; the place is called WiFire. What is interesting about WiFire, and what intrigued me, was the fact that they are testing and offering to their patrons, super fast high speed internet. When I say, “super fast,” I’m talking about mind-blowing…faster than anything available on the market, which could open up a whole new industry. As an early adopter and technology enthusiast, I enjoy prognosticating what “could be” with the new evolution of Internet connectivity. Doctors performing remote surgeries are already a reality. One thought that comes to mind is holograms–being in two places at the same time! Sounds a bit “trekkie,” but it could happen. Something more down to earth…downloading a full HD movie in seconds vs. minutes or hours.
As far as island nature stops…I explored the South Whidbey State Park, which is a forested area full of trails offering hill-top views, while others led to the water. Just down the street from Quintessa is Buck Lake County Park, an area at sea level where you can stroll the beach, enjoy the seaside homes, watch nature scurry about or just relax and watch the sunset over the Olympic Mountains.
I also met several folks from Northwest PR, the public relations agency that organized the Quintessa open house. Northwest PR is based on Whidbey Island and one of their services is video production, which provides clients with a wonderful asset to help market and promote their businesses. In this post you may have observed that I included a number of their videos on places I visited. If you watched the Quintessa video, you’ll notice that I had a guest role. It was a blast working with these folks and I’m sure you will agree their videos are outstanding.
Whidbey Island is a destination full of nooks and crannies, so, for those who love adventure, you’ll have a great time exploring this island, “the shortest distance from far away.” If you’ve ever been to Whidbey Island, leave a comment below and tell my readers and me what you enjoy most.