For nature lovers hoping for a romantic, pastoral getaway — Whidbey Island is hardcore #cottagecore. This route loops north through Whidbey Island, then turns back south to Seattle after crossing over Deception Pass. But don’t stick to this itinerary too closely, as the trip is all about serendipity, and encountering the unexpected. Now in Phase 3 of Washington State’s Safe Start response to the novel coronavirus, Whidbey Island is a perfect spot for getting close to your partner while socially distancing from the crowds — there are dozens of ways to explore outdoor trails, beaches and historic sites.

Set off on the Washington State Ferry, which runs around twice an hour between Mukilteo and Clinton, on Whidbey Island’s southern tip. Right now, the WSF encourages travelers to stay in their cars. If you must get out, mask up. Other things to note: The bathrooms are open, but food galleys are not. Enjoying gorgeous views right from your car’s front seat for the 20-minute passage depends on whether fate allowed you to avoid a middle-ship parking assignment.

From Clinton, drive north six short miles to soak up Langley’s waterside charm. You’ll find Moonraker Books, small boutiques, and several outdoor dining options. One of those is the exquisite-yet-unfussy, Prima Bistro — but make reservations as far in advance as possible, or you’ll miss out on sharing their French-inspired small plates like grilled lamb chops with fried polenta and lavender. Other options include richly layered bowls of ramen from Ultra House, or takeout lobster rolls from Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar.  

From here, crisscross the island to find its green treasures. The Whidbey-Camano Land Trust is a nonprofit conserving thousands of acres of regional farmland, forest, waterfront and more. Most protected properties aren’t publicly accessible, but several exceptions are worth a visit.

Earth Sanctuary is another option — an artist-founded 72-acre preserve that blends Northwest habitat with spiritual monuments. Visitors will see a Tibetan Buddhist stupa, a 40-foot diameter stone circle, Nuu-chan-nulth tribal medicine wheels created for Earth Sanctuary, a dolmen megalith, contemporary art and more.

The state park system won’t be outdone, however. South Whidbey Island State Park is perfect for strolling along past a 500-year-old cedar, while Fort Casey Historical State Park has a recently restored Admiralty Head Lighthouse (and spooky gun batteries). Joseph Whidbey State Park faces west, so you’ll be able to either enjoy a sunset along the rock-and-sand shoreline or join storm-watchers looking for incoming clouds.

Moving north, you’ll note tidy farms and wineries. The turn-of-the-century town of Coupeville offers an open Island County Historical Society Museum, which includes an 1855 mini-fortress made of logs. The town is Washington’s second oldest and set in Penn Cove. Put on a mask and visit the town’s quirky shops, many housed in old-timey buildings dating back to the mid-1800s.

For dinner, check out the mussels at a locals’ favorite — Toby Tavern — or try the oysters at Chef Tyler Hansen’s Oystercatcher, which has an outdoor patio. Just outside downtown Coupeville, Captain Whidbey Inn  also offers great outdoor dining into fall, with a view overlooking Penn Cove.

Blue Fox Drive-in Theatre
Blue Fox Drive-in Theatre

From here, you can keep going north toward Oak Harbor, where numerous, affordable motor inns have exterior-facing doors (which hopefully reduce Covidian interactions). If you go the Oak Harbor route, enjoy a night of vintage romance at one of Washington’s last operating drive-in theaters — Blue Fox Drive-In Theatre. Here, you’ll catch first-run movies paired with cult classics. Dinner might include a Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, hot dog and fresh-cut fries with chili and cheese. For dessert: churros, soft-serve ice cream or a $1 packet of Tums.

You could also backtrack to one of the Island’s upscale, romantic hotels or rentals. Fort Casey Inn rents historic officer’s cottages. Other popular stays include Inn at Langley’s Waterfront Cottages and Boatyard Inn in Langley. Many getaways require at least a two-night stay over the weekend, but there may be exceptions.

If you stay in Langley, adventurous couples may want to reserve a spot for the next morning with Whidbey Island Kayaking, which offers (disinfected) kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals, and private tours of the surrounding Salish Sea. Art-loving couples may want to venture forth to Oak Harbor to visit the Allgire Project, an art mural gallery, featuring a collection of 13 murals and a 30-minute “selfie parking zone.”

Deception Pass State Park offers 3,853 acres to explore. (Photo by Michael Stadler)
Deception Pass State Park offers 3,853 acres to explore. (Photo by Michael Stadler)
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Or just enjoy the morning, and check out as late as possible. Then make your way north toward Deception Pass State Park, one of Washington’s most-visited state parks. The park’s seasonal changes guarantee a different view each time, whether cliffs shrouded in mysterious clouds or lakes and saltwater brilliantly reflecting sunny skies. With 3,853 acres to explore, you probably won’t see it all on the first go, including Rosario Beach’s tide pools, a Samish Nation story pole, a private AdventureTerra old-growth tree canopy climb — and 38 miles of hiking trails.

After crossing the Deception Pass bridge back into mainland Washington, you can either fast-track the route home along I-5 (yawn) or enjoy the drive through rolling Skagit farmland. About 14 miles from Deception Pass, the walkable, charming town of La Conner is now welcoming visitors. Spend any earned calories on Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage, a fantastic Polish restaurant open for outdoor dining or to-go food. Try the poached apricots with Hempler’s peppered bacon, and anything served with rosemary-garlic smashed potatoes. Then visit the town’s galleries, boutiques and contemporary museums — who knew that quilts could be so interesting?

As you make your way back to Seattle, stop by Snow Goose Produce, which offers “immodest” ice cream cones. That checks out — a couple can easily share a scoop here, modesty not required.

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Important: Keep Whidbey Island at Phase Three, so you’ll be able to visit again. Observe masketiquette by wearing a mask when indoors or when you can’t maintain six feet or more of distance outdoors. State parks require day or annual passes. As always, make reservations in advance to avoid disappointment, and try to avoid taking risks in rural communities, which may struggle during a pandemic to provide urgent services to out-of-town guests in addition to locals.

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