Welcome to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington state and one of the nine Puget Sound islands that make up the county. Camano Island is the second-largest island inside the county line, followed by the smaller Baby, Ben Ure, Deception, Kalamut, Minor, Smith and Strawberry islands. The county is more liquid than solid: 309 square miles of water vs. 208 square miles of land, says the U.S. Census. By land area, it’s Washington’s next-to-smallest county, eclipsing only San Juan County, a similar island fastness to the north, but one having only 174 square miles of land.
Whidbey Island forms the northern border of Puget Sound and lies about 30 miles north of Seattle, between the Olympic Peninsula and the Seattle-Metro corridor. Deception Pass is its northern boundary; Skagit Bay and Saratoga Passage are to the east, and Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca are to the west. It’s about 55 miles long and 1.5 to 12 miles wide, though its eccentric shape produces arguable measurements. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is a little over 5 miles north of Oak Harbor, the island’s largest city with almost 22,700 residents; Oak Harbor is on the eastern coast; the base is on the sunset side. Coupeville, 11 miles south of Oak Harbor and with a population of 1,887, is the county seat. Residents call themselves either “Northenders” or “Southenders,” depending on which end of the island they live on. In 2015, census population estimates totaled 80,593.
In addition to Oak Harbor and Coupeville, Whidbey Island communities include Langley, Freeland, Greenbank, Clinton and Bayview, though only Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley are incorporated. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is the county’s economic driver, but timber, farming and fishing traditions persist and thrive. The island’s ease of access, mild climate, beaches, woodland terrain splashed each spring with wild rhododendrons, trails, parks and reserves, year-round festivals, artists’ colonies, nine sites on the National Register of Historic Places, the Admiralty Head Lighthouse, sea lions, seals, orcas and the reliable gray whale spring migration between Whidbey and Camano islands draw ever-increasing numbers of tourists.
A few annual events include the Island Shakespeare Festival, the Tour de Whidbey bike race, September’s Whidbey Island Kite Festival, and Langley’s Mystery Weekend, for which the town of Langley transforms itself into the setting for a fictional murder mystery romp.