Our family had passed through the west end of Coupeville many times on our way to the Keystone ferry, but we'd never bothered to venture east into the town's tiny heart (population under 2,000). I wasn't even sure where it was, to be honest. So one weekend, seeking an easy getaway from our Northwest home, we took the kids and bikes to Coupeville.
Located on Whidbey Island's scenic Penn Cove, historic Coupeville is famous for being the second oldest town in Washington, and it does feel historic. It's also part of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, which protects 17,400 acres of beaches, woods, prairies, Fort Ebey and Fort Casey State Parks, and Penn Cove.
Known for its art galleries, expensive mussels, and appeal to the retired set, Coupeville, we discovered, also makes a great family destination. Even young kids will tune into the charm of the waterfront town, whose wooden false-front buildings and kid-size footprint appeal to all ages. Coupeville also makes a great base for nearby outdoor activities, including a crash course on Whidbey Island's military history that runs as deep as the island's bucolic pioneer past.
Just minutes away from Coupeville, Fort Casey's concrete gun batteries, from which long-ago soldiers watched for enemy submarines and ships entering Puget Sound, offer families an intriguing afternoon. What could be more freaky and fun, really, than twisty staircases, unlit bunkers, enormous guns, and pitch black ammunition storage rooms that echo with past soldiers? Even my 13-year-old daughter enjoyed herself, and my 10-year-old son was in heaven. Parents of young kids will want to keep a close watch, though, as there are no rails on top of the batteries.
My kids were fascinated by the strategic location of Fort Casey. Best known for its 10-inch "disappearing" guns, the fort, opened in 1901, was built as part of a three-fort defense system, the "Triangle of Fire," that included Fort Flagler and Fort Worden. The triangle of forts protected the entrance to Admiralty Inlet and nearby Seattle from invasion. With later wars' use of aircraft, the guns became obsolete, and eventually the fort was decommissioned to become a state park in the 1950s. Particularly amusing to us were the ancient bathrooms that still smelled of, well, pee – whether ancient or recent, we will never know.
Admiralty Head Lighthouse
The nearby Admiralty Head Lighthouse interpretive center is free to visit and worth a stop. Built in 1861 and rebuilt in 1903, the lighthouse guided ships to the shore of Whidbey Island and offers a panoramic view of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from the lantern room. You can also catch some videos of old footage of Fort Casey soldiers in action, packing and firing the giant disappearing guns you just visited. 1280 Engle Rd, Coupeville, 98239
Nearby Fort Ebey, a 645-acre park originally built as a coastal defense in World War II, offers hours of fun with trail hiking, beach combing, and mountain biking. Families can while away a whole afternoon here.
Try the sandy, bluff-top trail hike with grand views out over the Admiralty Inlet toward Port Townsend. Once you've hiked to the top, the walking is easy and flat. Kids don't want to hike? The miles of beach below offer plenty of driftwood ideal for fort building; the beach is accessible from the parking lot near the bluff trail.
Fort Ebey's woodsy mountain bike trails range from novice to difficult. Pick up a map at the park entrance and ask for advice on age-appropriate trails – for us, the ranger highlighted on a map the best trails for inexperienced mountain bikers. We rode for an hour on a web of trails that were perfect for our kids. Younger children with a little mountain biking experience will love them, too. 400 Hill Valley Dr, Coupeville, 98239
In Coupeville, visit the Island County Historical Museum for Native American, pioneer, and maritime history. 908 NW Alexander St, Coupeville, 98239
Outside the museum, kids will want to check out the blockhouse – the first I'd ever seen – one of several blockhouses built on Whidbey in the 1800s to defend white settlers against possible attacks by Native tribes. Coupeville also holds a few unique festivals, including the Penn Cove MusselFest, Penn Cove Water Festival, and the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival.
Stroll up the gravel path nearby the museum to Coupeville Town Park for a playground and trail access to the beach bordering Penn Cove, where Coupeville's famed mussels grow. Until we visited Coupeville, I had no idea that the area was renowned for mussels, and the kids were intrigued by the numerous blue shells that littered the beach. NW Coveland and Colburn Streets
Kim's Café, (at the end of the Coupeville Wharf) offers an eclectic menu of Asian food, salads, burgers, and a kids' menu; this restaurant has fare for all palates. While you're on the wharf, check out the skeleton of Rosie the gray whale. 26 Front St NW, Coupeville, 98239
Also, don't miss Kapaws Iskreme, where you can choose three, yes, three, flavors for a one-scoop price. 21 Front St NE, Coupeville, 98239
Camp: Fort Ebey State Park or Fort Casey State Park offer campsites. Fort Ebey, a 645-acre park, offers panoramic views of the Puget Sound, reservable campsites (book early) and showers. The smaller Fort Casey campground, situated near the Keystone Ferry to Port Townsend, operates on a first-come, first-served basis. No showers.