When it comes to relaxing vacation spots, islands have an inherent advantage over other locales. The time and effort it takes to get to an island often results in smaller crowds, less traffic and more of a chill vibe.
Take Vashon Island for example. Situated in the middle of south Puget Sound sandwiched between Seattle and Tacoma, Vashon Island is surrounded by millions of people. But like a well-protected castle, the choppy, frigid waters of the Sound act as a moat that many day-trippers avoid crossing.
Take the short ferry ride — from either West Seattle to the north or Point Defiance to the south — and be transported to what, I imagine, the region looked like 50 years ago. Shoppers meander Vashon’s quaint downtown, hikers wander around rock-strewn Maury Island Marine Park and imbibers sample some of the best cider the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
Vashon has everything that modern Northwest towns have to offer: good food, quality craft beverages and bespoke gift shops. It’s the kind of place where you can buy a gorgeous handmade scarf at GIRAFFE, a local home good store, and then cross the street to grab ice cream at Glass Bottle Creamery, which is as precious and delicious as it sounds.
Locals take pride in the quality produced on the island as well. On tap at local cafes and bistros, visitors will find not only local breweries but cider and wine from local producers. Forget mass-produced cider like Angry Orchard — restaurants on Vashon indulge with taps of Dragon’s Head and Nashi Orchards cider, two of the best cideries in the country.
Further afield, take a tour of Point Robinson, a 10-acre shoreline park and marine conservancy that faces west toward Des Moines, and its beautiful lighthouse that has alighted ships’ paths since 1885. Around the corner is Maury Island Marine Park and 300 acres of trails for hiking and mountain biking. Like bird watching? A local nature writer and avid bird watcher gives regular tours.
Here’s some specific ideas to make “island time” as relaxing as possible while still getting things done:
Vashon has two of the region’s best cideries. Located on farmland populated with apple orchards just west of downtown, Dragon’s Head Cider takes a traditional approach to cider making, harvesting English and French apple varieties to make award-winning cider. Nashi Orchards uses Asian and European pears and heirloom apples to make delicate perry that is hard to find off the island. Both cideries offer tastings on weekends, so sit back and tip back a few of the best ciders around.
Vashon’s craft beer scene is small but growing. Named after a tidal strait just off the west shore of the island, Camp Colvos Brewing opened in downtown Vashon earlier this year. Just down the street, Cliff Goodman opened Vashon Brewing’s first retail space a year ago. This time of year, grab a Summer Perle Kolsch at the community pub.
For coffee lovers, Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie is just south of downtown in a century-old mercantile-style building. Enjoy an espresso out on the coffee shop’s porch. The Ruby Brink serves up the best cocktails on the island.
A must-stop for any visitor to Vashon Island is The Hardware Store. It’s hard to miss. Located in what used to be Vashon Hardware, The Hardware Store has a retro ’50s look to it from the outside and classic American fare on the inside. Try the brussels sprouts and grab a Vashon Breakfast during brunch. If you’re vegetarian, try the Impossible Vegetarian Burger.
For a more fine-dining experience, head to Bramble House. The seasonally restaurant uses local ingredients to make dishes that are beautiful and delicious. Other stops include: Snapdragon, which makes some amazing bakery goodies and pastries; Pure Organic Kitchen and Juicery for numerous plant-based options; and Earthen Bistro for farm-to-table multiple course meals.
Shop around town: Walk along the storefronts and pop into a variety of different shops. GIRAFFE sells handmade goods like sewn hats and scarfs and jewelry from makers around the world; Kronos is a gift shop that specializes in unique items, some with a Vashon theme; and Vashon Bookstore has just the right summer read for your island vacation.
Out and about: Before you leave the town, stop by Spider’s Ski and Sports and rent a mountain bike. You can carve up the trails at Maury Island Park or just bike around the lightly traveled Vashon roads. On the north side of the island, take a picnic lunch to Wingehaven, a small shoreline park at the end of a short trail.
Grab your binoculars and join avid birder and Vashon native Ed Swan on a bird tour. The appropriately named Swan, author of “The Birds of Vashon Island,” gives guided tours of the best places to spot the more than 250 species of birds that call Vashon home or are just passing through.
Get arty: The Vashon Center for the Arts is one of the most active community arts organizations in the Northwest. Focusing on visual arts, performing arts, arts education and dance, Vashon Center for the Arts makes it easy to catch a concert or other event in the beautiful Kay Hall Events Center or check out fine art exhibition in its gallery.
Later this month, the Vashon Blues & Brews Festival takes over the Open Space for Arts and Community. The festival includes some great blues musicians and the breweries and cideries that call Vashon home.