Staycation: Vashon Island

There is something magical about visiting an island. It isn’t just the scenic ferry ride, although that is magical, too. It is that time seems to slow down. The people are friendlier and unhurried. The landscape is spotted with small farms and quaint shops instead of saturated with strip malls and chain restaurants.

With its 45 miles of shoreline, Vashon — and attached Maury Island — falls into this magical realm. Sure, it’s not as popular a destination as, say, San Juan Island or Whidbey Island, but don’t discount this gem. The Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce boasts that Vashon is the “Heart of the Sound,” and after spending a little time there, we tend to agree.

Vashon is accessible only by Washington State Ferry, which can be boarded from Seattle, transporting visitors to the island’s northern tip, or visitors can catch the Point Defiance ferry in Tacoma to arrive on the southernmost point. The island itself is approximately 13 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest point. And while its tourist trade can up the overall population during summer months, the island has a year-round population of more than 11,000.

The Lodges on Vashon
Photo by: Joanna Kresge

Being a quaint island town, Vashon isn’t exactly jam-packed with Best Westerns and Marriotts, and that’s the way we (and the locals) like it. Much like the island itself, the lodging is charming and delightfully understated. Many overnight visitors opt to stay at The Lodges on Vashon, located just off the main thoroughfare, Vashon Highway. Choose from a courtyard or a meadow suite, and enjoy tastefully appointed contemporary décor, keyless entry, a king-sized bed, gas fireplace, lounge space, high-speed internet, and a selection of board games. 

If you’re looking for something a little more rustic, we’d suggest the Quartermaster Cottage. The aptly named two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is perfectly positioned to afford guests sweeping views of the beautiful Quartermaster Harbor and its bustling marina. Bring your own groceries over on the ferry — or stop by the grocery store upon arrival — and hunker down in this enchanting pink cottage, with its full kitchen and expansive patio. After a night or two, you won’t want to leave your little home away from home. 

And then, of course, Airbnb rentals abound on Vashon. There currently is a charming guest house with loft, an eco-chic tiny house, an adorable garden cottage built from reclaimed wood, a vibrantly adorned storybook cabin, a delightfully retro teacup trailer, and even a grand houseboat on Quartermaster Harbor, among others. 

However, our favorite Airbnb option is the Vashon Island Lavender Farmhouse. This 1930s-era six-bedroom, three-bath farmhouse overlooks effervescent fields of more than 1,500 lavender plants, the harbor, and Mount Rainier beyond. Can’t you already smell the salty air from the harbor mixing with the calming lavender? If that isn’t enough, there’s room for up to 14 guests; a cook’s kitchen; ample parking; charcoal grill; gas fireplaces; and of course, all things lavender. Moreover, it’s a five-minute walk to the beach and 10 minutes to kayaking and paddle boarding. Rates vary depending on the season and whether the fields are in bloom, but suffice it to say, this dreamy retreat won’t come cheap.

Photo by: Mitchell Friedman

Whether or not you are staying at the Lavender Hill Farm, nothing beats a stroll among the 20 varieties of vibrant purple plants and gently buzzing bees, shears in hand. Cut your own bundle while the intoxicating scent mixed with the warm sun on your face leaves you with a sense of euphoria you never knew you needed in your life.

If you’re staying at The Lodges, lace up your walking, shoes and take a quick jaunt across the street to the Vashon branch of the King County Library System. Pick up a book for the beach or an audiobook for the drive home. When you get home, you can drop your book at any KCLS library, and it’ll make its way back to Vashon. 

While you’re out, pop next door to the Vashon Village Green for the town’s farmers market, held on Saturdays throughout the spring, summer, and fall. If you packed some food, the village green also is a great spot for a picnic. 

Walking is great for hanging out in the heart of Vashon, but the best way to explore the entire island might just be from the back of a bike. However, the hilly terrain makes it difficult for even the most seasoned cyclists. Enter Vashon E-Bike, an electric bike shop, which makes exploring Vashon by bike accessible to all fitness levels. Rent these pedal-assisted bikes by the hour, join a guided tour of historic sites and wineries, or go on a self-guided tour of the island.  

Selections from privately owned farm stand
Photo by: Joanna Kresge

While you’re out on your bike (or if you must, in your car) keep an eye out for one of Vashon’s many varied and beautiful privately owned farm stands. As Vashon is an insulated, island community, most of these stands are on the honor system. Prices are as marked; you leave your money and take your goods. We found one roadside stand with ripe jalapeños, brilliant bouquets of garden flowers, and farm-fresh eggs. 

Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of something to enjoy later. Stop by Nashi Orchards, and taste its yummy cider. Grab a few bottles of Palouse Winery’s finest as gifts for friends and family. And savor Seattle Distilling’s Coffee Liqueur, made from its own handcrafted vodka, and The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie’s Orca Blend. 

If biking isn’t your thing but you want to remain active, Vashon Adventures will keep you moving. Rent a standup paddle board, or kayak by the hour and explore the island from the water. Or choose from a morning, afternoon, or evening guided tour via kayak — there’s even an all-ages moonlight tour. 

And speaking of tours, if you’re looking to learn more about Vashon, Chris Austin is your guy. Author of The Mostly True History of Vashon and Maury Islands, Austin knows virtually everything there is to know about the island. During the Mostly True Vashon Tours, Austin will pick guests up in his comfy van and ferry them throughout the island with a presentation that includes a lot of history, and even more wit. 

©2013 Sea Turtle, Creative Commons

For breakfast on a weekend, we wholeheartedly recommend the Hardware Store Restaurant. While the name of this establishment may seem like a contradiction in terms, fans of the early-aughts television show Gilmore Girls and its iconic Luke’s Diner will understand the charm of a small-town hardware store-turned-restaurant. The building itself is rustic and warm, and it holds the title as the oldest commercial building on Vashon. It is arguably the most charming, too. To say nothing of the food. Oh, the food. You really can’t go wrong with the hearty Red Flannel Benedict, with its slow-cooked corned beef brisket served with red beets, poached cage-free eggs, house-made hollandaise, English muffin, and potatoes. We also loved the Decadent French Toast, with its brioche bread stuffed with mascarpone; topped with vanilla crème, fresh berries, and toasted coconut and served with pure organic maple syrup. 

Courtesy Hardware Store Restaurant

And after a day of paddle boarding, farmers market shopping, and lavender picking, there’s a plethora of dinner options from which to choose. If you’re into Thai food, there’s May Kitchen + Bar. Or Bramble House, literally a restaurant in a 1940s-era home, operated by Top Chef alum Lia Lira. Or consider American cuisine eatery Gravy, owned by a husband and wife duo who are as fun and unique as the southern, and French-inspired dishes they serve. 

Courtesy Glass Bottle Creamery

Before heading back to your room, stop by Glass Bottle Creamery, and get yourself a few scoops of delectable ice cream, which is locally sourced and oh-so-yummy. Or, pick up some local eggs or cheese to take back to the mainland.


is an assistant editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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