When you think of Vashon Island, do K2 Skis, Wax Orchards apple cider and Maury Island Farm jams come to mind? If so, it's been too long...
VASHON ISLAND — When you think of Vashon Island, do K2 Skis, Wax Orchards apple cider and Maury Island Farm jams come to mind?
If so, it’s been too long since you last hopped a ferry for the 20-minute ride to the rural getaway locals call the “Heart of the Sound” for its location midway between Seattle and Tacoma.
The ski-maker moved. Family members sold the Wax Orchards brand last year. A suburban Seattle company now produces products under the Maury Island label.
Businesses come and go, but on an island this small (13 miles long by 8 miles wide), it’s the natural beauty that stands out — the reason, perhaps, that a new crop of Microsoft workers and Seattle retirees now is among the 11,000 residents that also include writers, artists, ex-hippies and organic farmers.
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“It’s gentrified a little bit from the olden days,” says Melinda Sontgerath, local Chamber of Commerce president and owner of the Hardware Store restaurant. “Things are a bit more upscale now.”
If you haven’t been over for a while, throw on rain gear and a pair of waterproof boots, and come see for yourself.
Here’s your plan.
Take a trip “overseas”
That’s what the locals call the crossing on the Fauntleroy (West Seattle) ferry. Winter is whale-watching season, so if you’re lucky you might spot an orca or a seal from the boat.
A boat is the only way on or off the island, so take the time to study the map tucked inside a free publication onboard called “Destination Vashon.”
Worth knowing: When people refer to Vashon Island, they also include Maury Island, a pocket community to the east, once accessible only by boat or bridge, now attached via a paved road on a narrow strip of land.
There’s also ferry service (15 minutes) from Point Defiance in Tacoma aboard the Tahlequah ferry to the south end of the island, and a passenger-only ferry runs weekdays to and from downtown Seattle (see www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries). You can get around by bus or bike, but a car is the best bet this time of year.
Breakfast with the locals
Make your first stop “Downtown Vashon,” a collection of little businesses on Vashon Highway Southwest, a two-lane road that connects the north and south ends of the island.
If you’re in the mood for a big breakfast, find the Homegrown Cafe at 17614 Vashon Highway S.W. Three-egg omelets and scrambles are generous heaps of eggs and tofu, mushrooms and spinach and ham and swiss.
For a lighter start, try the Zenlike Vashon Tea Shop a few doors away at 17608 Vashon Highway S.W., next to the Vashon Bookshop. Pick from the canisters of loose tea lining one wall, and settle into one of the wicker chairs with a pot, the paper and a homemade scone. Wander into the bookstore afterward for bargains on used books (Islanders are a well-read crowd) or new titles. The store devotes one whole shelf to local authors.
If it’s just a good cup of hand-roasted, fair-trade, shade-grown coffee you’re after, head south a few blocks to the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie (www.tvicr.com) at the corner of Vashon Highway Southwest and Cemetery Road.
Seattle coffee pioneer Jim Stewart founded the Wet Whisker coffee company here more than 25 years ago. The company became Seattle’s Best Coffee and moved off the island, but the locals still gather on the front porch or inside the century-old white building to catch up on the news.
Go “house” shopping
Not for real estate, although it’s a big business here, but for treasures for sale inside historic houses converted into shops and galleries.
Warm up by the fireplace at Old and Funqui, 17311 Vashon Highway S.W., the former home of Vashon’s first doctor, while you browse for vintage oil lamps and tea pots, and visit Giraffe (www.giraffevashon.com) next door. Flags hanging from the front porch welcome visitors inside for a global shopping spree.
Items made by 120 producers — everything from beaded bowls from Kenya to hand-woven rugs from Chile — reflect owner Priscilla Kimmel’s eclectic background. After a career teaching clothing construction in Haiti and working for Nordstrom, she opened the shop a year ago.
More than 300 working artists live on Vashon, where they paint or make jewelry, glass, fiber arts and more inside home workshops scattered around the island.
Many welcome visitors by appointment. (See www.vashonart.com for a list). Joyce Eide (206-463-4136), an illustrator and fused-glass artist, recently opened a gallery in a historical building she bought on Maury Island called the Old Dockton Store. Part of the building is a former post office built in the early 1900s.
It’s almost worth the trip just to eat at the Monkey Tree, 17817 Vashon Highway S.W., a vegetarian cafe and wine bar run by Adam Cone, the former baker at Sound Food, a longtime island restaurant that closed recently, his wife, Megan; and their business partner, Renee Mroczek.
Don’t be put off by its location next to the Chevron station. Candlelight and rustic furnishings create a warm atmosphere. Open at 8 a.m. for coffee and fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and chocolate-cherry Danish, the Monkey Tree begins turning out roasted veggie quesadillas, winter salads and hearty soups around 11 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m.
This is possibly the best place on the island to eat. Watch for longer hours this spring or summer.
After Seattle pioneers cut down trees on the island and shipped the logs to San Francisco, farming became the island’s main industry.
Vashon is still home to dozens of small family farms and nurseries. Come here in summer, and you could put together a movable feast by stopping at the U-pick strawberry and blueberry farms and roadside stands.
This time of year, a few stands are stocked with winter produce and an honor jar or box that says “pay here.”
A group called Sustainable Tourism On Vashon (STOV) organizes classes, tours and activities; see www.stov.us. Many farms welcome visitors by appointment. Ko-Jo Farm (www.localharvest.org/farms/M6823), with dairy goats, chickens, pigs and ducks, does culinary and garden workshops and in the spring, summer and fall offers tours combined with a lunch composed of farm-raised foods. Call owner Karen Biondo at 206-463-9906 for details and prices.
One of the oldest businesses is the Country Store and Gardens (www.countrystoreandgardens.com), 20211 Vashon Highway S.W., started in 1964 and run by its present owner, Vy Biel, since 1970.
A rambling 1900s-style building with wooden floors and beamed ceilings sits on 10 acres of land off the highway. Part nursery, part old-time general store, this is where the locals come for their garden clogs, rubber boots, cashmere-blend socks and sheepskin slippers. Check out the “ceiling museum” hung with old kitchen utensils, and the gardening section for pea string and jute twine.
Biel, who’s lived on Vashon for 48 years, bought www.goodjam.com a few years ago from her neighbors, who produced jams under the Maury Island Farm label. The Country Store (closed Jan. 13-26) sells 11-once jars for $5 in flavors such as tart cherry, seedless raspberry and strawberry.
Take a beach walk or forest hike, visit a working lighthouse, go birdwatching or watch for whales.
King County, the Vashon Park District and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust publish a map (see www.vashonlandtrust.org or www.vashonparkdistrict.org) detailing the beaches, coves, hiking paths, etc. that are open to the public — 30 parks and natural preserves in all, including eight beaches.
The best whale-watching is from Point Robinson Park on Maury Island or Lisabeula Park (also for sunsets) on the west side.
Volunteers give free tours of a Coast Guard-owned lighthouse built at Point Robinson in 1915 with a classical Fresnel lens still intact. Starting in May, tours will be every Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Other times retired Coast Guard Capt. Joe (“Captain Joe”) Wubbold shows visitors around by appointment. Call ahead at 206-463-6672 or see www.lighthousefriends.com. The park district rents out two historic beachfront houses, former keepers’ quarters next to the lighthouse. Winter rates are $175 per night with a two-night minimum for a two or three-bedroom house. Call 206-463-9602 for reservations.
“People don’t have to get on a boat for a nice dinner,” says Hardware Store restaurant owner Melinda Sontgerath.
Locals sip their martinis or power up their laptops in what was a hardware store from 1890 until a few years ago when it closed, and Sontgerath and her husband, Richard, bought the property (see www.thsrestaurant.com). They sold art, wine, furniture and Italian scooters until winning approval to convert the historic building to a restaurant.
More intimate is Gusto Girls, a few doors down at 17629 Vashon Highway S.W. (www.gustogirls.com). Two catering partners, Jessica De Wire and Kristin Baron, specialize in “feeding a lusty world.”
For those of us who remember the island in its laid-back hippie days, the idea sounds so not Vashon. But then there’s the drinks list, with categories titled “Wines for meditation” and “Wines for a purpose.”
That’s more like it.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or firstname.lastname@example.org