In marked contrast to densely populated “Pugetopolis” of mainland suburban Seattle, the islands of Puget Sound remain mostly rural, with quaint and quiet bayside towns interspersed with fields and forest. Low-lying and verdant, Whidbey Island is just 30 miles north of downtown Seattle and is the tonic that revives the weary urban soul. It retains a slow-paced rural sensibility, offering refuge to farmers, artists, and well-heeled urban refugees alike. The island makes an excellent weekend getaway, and for visitors short on time a very pleasant stand-in for the more distant San Juan Islands.
The historic towns and old military forts of Whidbey Island—at 45 miles, it is one of the longest islands in the U.S.—also open a window onto Puget Sound’s maritime past. The island’s ports were important centers between the 1850s and 1900, when ships were the region’s primary mode of transport. Only after rail lines and highways linked mainland cities did the islands become backwaters. More recently, Whidbey Island’s well-preserved Victorian-era towns have been transformed by art galleries, boutiques, and fine inns, and the area’s beautiful land and seascapes are unequaled: Vistas of while sails, deep green forests, and azure waters reward you at every bend, often surmounted by the snowcapped peaks of the Olympic and Cascade mountains.
Langley is a charming little village overlooking Saratoga Sound and the tip of Camano Island. Its old town center with vintage falsefront shops and an air of prosperous quaintness, is known as an artists enclave—drop by the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, which offers the work of nearly 25 local artists, to capture the creative spirit of the island. In such an unassuming town it is surprising to find one of the Northwest’s most luxurious and romantic hideaways, the Inn at Langley. This modern four-story lodge, set on a bluff above the sound with 180-degree seafront views, has the tranquility of a venerable country inn, with just the right touch of urban sophistication. The inn’s renowned Chefs Kitchen (with its unforgettable, weekends-only six-course dinner) focuses on the flavors and ingredients of the Northwest.