Editor’s note: Updated November 2018
Tiny but tremendous in character, Vashon Island offers its visitors a relaxing respite from downtown Seattle. After Bainbridge island, it’s the closest island from downtown. Take a short 20-minute ferry ride on a lazy Sunday and spend the day tasting wine at its many wineries or an extended weekend in lodging nearly wholly consumed by nature, you can’t go wrong by visiting.
According to the Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, it’s the “Heart of the Sound,” and I have to agree. Nick and I have visited the island a number of times over the years.
Where to stay
I love using Airbnb to book our trips near and far. I cannot recommend this service enough. It makes it so easy to find quality accommodations and connect with local residents. We can really tailor the experience we want to have based on our preferences.
If you’re interested in signing up, I can email you a referral link. Contact lauren [at] kaleandcompass.com for $55 off your first visit with Airbnb.
Nick and I stayed at Mike’s “Serene Garden Setting,” one of the quiet residential lodges on Vashon Island. It was the perfect respite from our loud, lively urban neighborhood. You can read my full review on Airbnb but here are the basics:
Mike’s house is beautiful and serene. We felt very well-rested and at-home the entire time. Ample windows in the private bedroom displayed the forest greenery outside and made us feel like we were on a nature retreat.
On the property, Mike has built himself a complete and perfect sanctuary nestled within the forest-filled Vashon landscape. He has gardens, fire-pits, lounge chairs, hummingbird feeders, and he was even working on extending his patio while we were there. There was so much beauty to capture on camera in his outdoor space. So inspiring and thoughtfully crafted.
He also makes one hell of a scone.
What to eat
First off: get the mixed greens wherever you go. We’ve noticed the islands off the coast of Washington have stellar greens and restaurants serve them up as a side more frequently than fries or other more expected staples. And they are so fresh it’s impossible to be disappointed.
Our Airbnb provided light breakfast staples each morning so we didn’t eat a lot of breakfast items on the island. If you’re heading to one of Vashon’s many parks or trails you’ll need sustenance, and you can get your carb fix at Vashon Island Baking company. Whether you prefer a sweet or savory bite in the morning, they’ve got both.
If you’re in need of caffeine to bolster your energy for outdoor activities to come, or a quick pick-me-up after a long day of wine tasting, check out the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie, a historic coffee roasterie and store. We tried to go there but it was so busy! Must mean the coffee is GREAT.
For lunch, we refueled at Snapdragon, which offers great vegetarian fare and excels at large, meal-sized salads. Try the Fried Halloumi Cheese with Greek Salad, it’s amazing. If you’re looking for a more traditional lunch, you’ll want to check out the Hardware Store, which used to be a hardware store – and the oldest building on the island – and is now a restaurant serving up “great good food” all day long. I’d recommend the fried chicken salad there.
There are so many great dinner options on Vashon. If you want a memorable special occasion meal that features the best experience for farm-to-table cooking, please opt in for a Dining Experience at Sea Breeze farm. George and Rose sell their goods at our farmers market in Ballard and their dining experience is as top notch as the meats, cheeses, sausages, eggs and milk they vend on a weekly basis. We are so lucky to have them in Ballard!
You’ve got to plan ahead to dine at Sea Breeze Farm, and if you haven’t done your due diligence you can still enjoy a tasty meal at Gravy. They’re one of the newest additions to the island eateries and this husband and wife team serves up delicious comfort food that has Southern and French influences. Are you looking for dinner on a Sunday? You’re in luck – Gravy pays homage to their Southern routes with an entire glorious day devoted to BBQ. Yes please!
Finally, you’ve got another great dinner (or brunch!) option to check out on Vashon: Bramble House. They are also very new and their dishes are straight from the heart with house-made buttery focaccia bread and regularly rotating seasonal jams. We enjoyed a relaxing brunch there before heading home on the ferry back to Seattle.
What to see
Vashon Island is one of the smallest islands off the coast of Washington but it’s got so many parks and nature trails it’s hard to experience everything in just one 3-day weekend. (We will return.) In the last remaining hours of our trip, we found ourselves driving southeast to northwest on the island, along the coast and into its center, to capture as many sights as we could before we had to head home. There just wasn’t enough time for all of it. Here’s where we spent the majority of our time that weekend and what we recommend checking out:
PARKS & TRAILS
As I mentioned, there are so many parks and trails on this island that I wonder if the locals ever truly tire of living here. Probably not. I wouldn’t, that’s for sure. And so much of the time we found ourselves alone, in solitude, without many others in sight. Such a completely different, and welcome, experience from hiking on the mainland.
If you’re looking for a varied trail system to keep you busy for the better part of an afternoon, Island Center Forest offers up 10 miles of trails to explore. They’ve even got a great trail for runners with a serious incline called Grinder Trail. These trails are also used by equestrians.
Beautiful and beachy with 10 acres of shoreline to traverse, Point Robinson Park & Lighthouse offers amazing views of the Sound to the east.
Maury Island Marine Park, one of my favorites, sits at the southeast corner of the island and boasts beautiful views of Mount Rainier on clear days. The trail starts at low elevation close to sea level and winds back and forth for a couple of miles up to a wooden lookout of the Sound. Near the top, before the lookout, is a neat little part of the trail called the Forest Loop and I highly recommend it. We saw many wildflowers, birds, and a salamander here!
Burton Acres Park and Jensen Point are on the western side of the island and you’ll get nice views of the neighboring Olympic Peninsula. There is a boathouse here and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of rowers on their sculling boat in the early morning.
Lisabuela Park, also on the west coast, has a large pebbled beach that is fun to explore, especially on a bright and sunny day. Just west of the parking lot, there is a tiny trail leading up to a secluded jungle-like vista with trickling streams and large ferns.
Fisher Pond & South Trail are also quite fun to explore. You’re teased with intermittent views of the pond as you walk along a densely wooded and cooling trail until finally, without much warning, you emerge back onto the road you came.
I’ve got a bit of a fear of bears – hey, I’m working on it – so before we travel to new places we plan to hike, I do some research about the larger wildlife inhabiting the area. I like being prepared!
Vashon doesn’t have any bears right now, but they do have a single cougar. It arrived sometime in 2016 and it seemed to us that this was the tiny island’s biggest news. There are many sites that document infrequent sightings of the cougar and educate people about these elusive felines. This cougar isn’t a big threat to humans, but instead it “happily feasts on the myriad inbred deer that live here,” said one of the islanders we met. Ha! Still, you should read up what to do if you encounter a cougar in the wild.
We unfortunately didn’t see the cougar, but saw slugs, centipedes and salamanders! The island also has many birds and, accordingly, birdwatching is a popular activity along its numerous trails. I need to bring binoculars the next time we visit.
Oh, and also, I almost hit a raccoon in broad daylight very close to the center of town. Yikes!
If you’re like me, you love checking out farmers markets in other neighborhoods to see what types of goodies they’re selling. Vashon’s market is tiny but serves the island well on Saturdays from 10am-2pm with a variety of artisan goods and fresh produce. I also suggest spending a good amount of time strolling up and down the streets through the center of town – there’s some window-shopping to be done. They’ve also got a charming single-picture movie theatre if the weather looks like rain.
We only spent a few days on the island but I already can’t wait to go back.
Have you been to Vashon Island yet? No? What’re you waiting for?