As a born and bred East Coaster, I never expected to find myself on Washington's rugged Whidbey Island, a sizable chunk of land in the Puget Sound 30 miles north of downtown Seattle. But on a clear fall day in late September, that is indeed, where I was lucky enough to be headed to celebrate Filson's 125th Year Anniversary. Visitors can get to the island via Highway 20 or ferry, but I arrived by seaplane. Carrying luggage over a wavy dock, I made my way to the entrance of the historic Captain Whidbey Inn, a persevering property perched on the westernmost shore of Penn Cove where it overlooks waters teeming with world-famous mussels and vistas that, I admit, only the West Coast can deliver.
Whidbey Island itself is 14,000 years old, inhabited by the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, and Snohomish tribes before white colonizers claimed the land in the mid 1800s. The island has since become a hidden outpost emblematic of the Great Pacific Northwest, capital letters, but with vibes entirely of its own. Popular destinations include Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, a 19,000-acre span of private and public protected lands, Deception Pass, a state park with beaches and forested-hills, and rustic seaside towns still saturated in maritime and agricultural history. Not to forget the locals who may begrudgingly accommodate your presence.
Like its surroundings, the Captain Whidbey Inn carries its own history, having served the local community since Chris Fisher and his son Edward built the main lodge from logs and stone in 1907. In the years since, it's transformed from a private residence to a boarding house to a post office to a girl’s school to a general store. And now its current iteration as humble and laid-back lodging for outdoors-loving visitors, featuring 30 guest rooms, cabins outfitted by Filson, Edit Whidbey, We the Nomads, and Glasswing, a gorgeous old bar, an on-site restaurant featuring seasonal dishes, and six acres of pastoral waterfront property.
Matt and Mike French, the brothers behind Joshua Tree's Pinoeertown Motel, purchased and refreshed the property with the help of architect Eric Cheong in 2018, accounting for recent updates that highlight a seamless marriage of weather-worn charm and minimalist, contemporary design.
Even though some of those updates include jewel-tone velvets and strategically placed blankets in the main lodge, the place still exudes the same feeling as my family's old farmhouse back East—creaky, hand-crafted, maybe haunted, beloved, and entirely familiar. Other guests will likely find their own comparisons to make but the that familiar feeling will be the same—fellow visitors during my stay remarked that, walking through the halls and rooms, they felt as though they were aboard a ship.
I spent much of my visit in and around the main lodge but I had the pleasure of spending my nights in one of the Lagoon Rooms, 14 suites built in the 1970s that overlook the inn's on-site lagoon. Fitted with custom furniture by John Gnorski, my suite featured thoughtful design inspired by the likes of Aino Aalto and Mira Nakashima with mid-century sensibilities and all natural materials throughout. And as a bonus, a navy-blue tiled restroom. Rejoice.
Like the main lodge, the room emitted a comforting, lived-in feel, with low ceilings and wood-paneled walls characteristic of the '70s, although the recent renovation was apparent in its high-end outfitting and textiles. True to its inspirations, the interior felt practical, with a well-crafted shelf, a daybed, an expansive bench, and a playful chair, all of it placed just so, ready to receive a guest who rushes in and out during a day of exploring the island. Outside, a sizeable deck and two rocking chairs just begged to be used, but during my brief stay, I was unable to indulge.
It was a quick 24 hours of northwest coastal bliss, spent eating fresh mussels and oysters from Penn Cove Shellfish, learning archery and fire-making on the banks of the lagoon, and lounging around the property before wrapping up the experience with a multi-course dinner in the lodge's dining room. And of course, there was a nightcap around a fire pit before lights out.
A stay at Captain Whidbey feels simultaneously like returning to summer camp or shacking up for the weekend in a remote cabin, but with the spoils and luxuries of a highly-rated hotel. The staff was lovely, unpretentious, and entirely accommodating, and the whole experience was as casual and cozy as one would hope. The property is at one with its historical and coastal settings, and its many lives as a permanent fixture within the Whidbey Island community is a testament to it's timeless and welcoming spirit.