If you live in the Seattle area long enough, you’ll most likely visit an island or two at some point. Bainbridge boasts cafes, galleries, and the popular Kids Discovery Museum. The San Juan Islands are home to arguably some of the most beautiful spots in the world, with idyllic and family-friendly campsites to boot. And Whidbey and Camano Islands offer drive-on options. And then there’s Vashon Island. Proximity-wise, very close to Seattle’s bustling city life, but once you’ve arrived, you may as well be miles away.
With ferry-only access, the slow-paced island feels the most removed from the daily grind, but still within easy day-tripping distance. Here are some favorite stops to add to your itinerary the next time you need some island time.
Food & Drink
Vashon Island Baking Company – Pop into this delightful bakery for a pastry and coffee on your way into town, or follow our lead: grab cookies for the long wait when you accidentally miss the ferry back to Seattle (afternoon ferries are less frequent – beware!).
Snapdragon – the vegetarian food here is delicious and even kid-friendly! Their beet reuben can’t be beat (did you catch that mom joke?) and kids will devour the grilled cheese and humongous cookies. There’s a patio out back, or you can pack your sandwiches for a picnic at one of the many beaches around the island. Make sure you visit on a weekend — the cafe currently has a sign out front saying it’s only open from Friday-Sunday.
Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie – The original roastery location of Seattle’s Best Coffee is a popular local hangout with an adjacent market selling natural foods. You can’t rush deliciousness, so take a seat on the porch and people watch while you wait for your coffee, or strike up a conversation with one of the regulars (whose mugs bear their names and hang on a wall inside).
Glass Bottle Creamery – with a selection of eight rotating flavors (including at least one dairy-free option), this little ice cream shop is the perfect place to pick up a cone while you stroll the main street after a beach day.
Things to do
Ober Park – you can’t miss this playground on your way into town and my kids always ask to visit. It’s a great bookend to your trip (either waiting for activities to open in the morning, or killing time before an afternoon ferry). The structures at this community gathering place are mostly wooden treasures and there’s lots of room to spread out. You’ll even find a meadow to run through if little legs need to wiggle.
Vashon Adventures – this is the only spot near Seattle you’ll find to rent e-bikes and it’s worth the ferry trip by itself! Hop on a standard model or strap the kids on a cargo version. After an orientation from the patient and welcoming staff, you’ll be ready to conquer the hills of Vashon with the breeze blowing through your helmet. You can also rent kayaks from their Jensen Point location, which are perfect for a day on the water.
Point Robinson Lighthouse – park in the upper lot at this wonderful Vashon beach, or coast all the way down to the lower lot if you have an ADA permit or are on a bike (but remember it’s a steep ascent back up!). A short hike will bring you down to a beach with tons of activity choices — stick to the southern part of the beach for sand castle building, explore the driftwood forts near the lighthouse, or head further north for some tide pools and a rocky beach shaded by large trees. We’ve often spotted seals and eagles here and have even seen a pod of orcas swimming by, so this is a great spot to relax while keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife.
Support local farms – Vashon is a pastoral paradise full of locally grown foods, meats and flowers. Whether it’s gathering U-Pick Lavender at Lavender Hill Farm (2021 season extends until July 25), visiting one of the many island farm stands or spending a Saturday morning perusing the farmers market, you’re sure to find island-grown products for your picnic or your pantry.
Keep in mind…
Vashon isn’t quite as bustling as other island destinations (if you’re ready for more island fun, enjoy day trips to other local islands like Bainbridge, Whidbey and the San Juans), but the community is tight knit and you’ll see locals catching up with each other as they sip coffee. Many shops aren’t open on weekdays (particularly Monday), service operates on island time and the gaps between ferries can be over an hour. Plan accordingly and enjoy an extra scoop of ice cream and time at the beach instead of rushing back to the city.
Getting to the island
Fauntleroy Ferry: Ferries depart from West Seattle (adjacent to Lincoln Park) at intervals as short as 20 minutes and as long as 70 minutes. Check the schedule carefully.
Point Defiance Ferry: Ferries depart from Tacoma roughly every 50 minutes. Make a day of it by renting a surrey at nearby Point Ruston, visiting the Point Defiance zoo or ride the chutes and ladders staircase while you wait for the ferry.
A standard vehicle and driver fare is $25.95, but you’ll only pay on the way to the island.
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