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Day Trip Diaries: Coupeville

Exploring history and culture in Washington's second oldest town

The Coupeville Wharf is a public marina with kayak rentals, a cafe and day use facilities. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)
By Cocoa Laney Lifestyle Editor

Day Trip Diaries is a Cascadia Daily News travel series profiling communities within two hours’ travel of Bellingham. Do you have a suggestion for where to cover next? Send tips to cocoalaney@cascadiadaily.com

Coupeville: Quick facts

Distance from Bellingham: 1 hour and 15 minutes (63 miles)

Population: 1,903

Notable: Rich history and culture, scenic waterfront, local businesses, growing arts scene

Community at a glance

Nestled along Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, Coupeville was laid out in the 1850s and is the second oldest town in Washington. On the surface, its historic waterfront might seem like a place stuck in time — but Coupeville’s community is vibrant, artistic and surprisingly intergenerational. 

Plenty of guidebooks have covered Coupeville’s maritime heritage, picturesque scenery and pop culture ties. (You might recognize the Victorian-esque architecture from the ‘90s rom-com “Practical Magic.”) But the town fascinates because it strikes a rare balance: Coupeville honors its history while also making space for a new generation of artists and business owners.

In 1978, Coupeville was made part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, a one-of-a-kind federal organization that works to preserve the “historical, agricultural and cultural traditions of both Native and Euro-American.” Coupeville and Whidbey Island are also characterized by rich agricultural traditions. Meg Olson, who owns Kingfisher Bookstore, says the “ongoing tremendous mix” of uses for the land — both new and old — give Whidbey a unique charm. 

Many of the buildings on Coupeville’s historic waterfront are more than a century old. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

“You might not notice it when you’re driving around, but you will feel it in your interactions with people, and in the things that you’re served,” she said. “Our local grocery store has a lot of products that were made right here … You’ll see people wearing clothes that were made on the island, from fiber that was produced on the island, and yarn that was spun on the island.”

Organizations like the The Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association (CHWA) also work to preserve Coupeville’s history while also encouraging its economic vitality and vibrancy. Vickie Chambers, who was CHWA’s executive director for 12 years, noted that roughly 70% of the buildings on Front Street are original, with many being more than a century old. All are privately owned (with the exception of the Coupeville Rec Hall, which is owned by the town), and well-maintained as a result.

But while much has stayed the same, new businesses are bringing culture, arts and diversity to Coupeville’s downtown core. From the inclusive arts space at Meet Market to scratch-made tacos at Molka Xete, hyper-local pastries at Little Red Hen Bakery and nightlife at Overboard, there’s plenty of new blood running through this historic community.


Briggs Shore works on pottery in her studio on Front Street in Coupeville. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

“It’s like a kind of Renaissance happening the last couple years, with a bunch of new shops coming in,” said Briggs Shore, who has lived in Coupeville since 2016 and owns Briggs Shore Ceramics. “A lot of them are younger generation too; you know, people who are in their 30s that are just starting out living their dreams here.”

Looking to experience all this for yourself? Now is a great time to go: The Penn Cove Musselfest is happening the first weekend in March, and it features everything from boat tours to beer gardens and — of course — plenty of fresh seafood.

To-do list 

Morning: Start your day off at Little Red Hen Bakery, a local bakery specializing in breads and pastries made from local grains. (I tried a cranberry-rosemary scone here; savory and sweet in equal measure, it was one of the best baked goods I’ve had in recent memory.) Lavender Wind Gift Shop and Bakery also has pastries and scones, plus a variety of gifts and self-care products using local lavender.

For a caffeine fix, head a few blocks away to Sunshine Drip and pair your latte with a breakfast sandwich if you’re still hungry. You can also pick up locally roasted coffee beans from Coupeville Coffee Roasters at Sunshine Drip or nearby Cedar & Salt Coffee House.

Once sufficiently fueled, it’s time to begin exploring the area’s expansive trail system. Fort Ebey State Park, located just outside downtown Coupeville, is characterized by windswept bluffs and panoramic seafront views. The aptly-named Bluff Trail is most popular, but don’t sleep on the surrounding forested areas. The Kettles Trail System begins just 0.75 miles from Coupeville, and you hike (or bike, or run) it all the way to Fort Ebey. 

Coupeville’s small-town charms make it a destination for tourists from across Washington and the U.S. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

Walking Ebey’s Trail System is one of the area’s newest routes, connecting Admiralty Inlet Preserve to Rhododendron County Park. Art lovers are sure to enjoy the Price Sculpture Forest, which is located just east of Coupeville and accessible via a 1.5-mile walking path.

If you’d prefer to stick closer to town, finish the morning with a stroll along Coupeville’s historic waterfront — or get witchy and take a self-guided “Practical Magic” walking tour (available via the Coupeville Chamber’s website). 

Kingfisher Bookstore has a wide selection of books from local authors, as well as community events such as author talks and Sunday Storytimes. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

Afternoon: After a morning of activity calls for a hearty lunch, and luckily Coupeville has no shortage of dining options. Molka Xete specializes in street tacos and other dishes akin to the kind you’d find in south Texas or northern Mexico. Everything on the menu is made fresh, and you can even watch the kitchen staff prepare corn tortillas while enjoying your meal.

For something more snacky, Bayleaf stocks everything you need for an impressive charcuterie spread. Owner Beth Kuchynka said that her aim with Bayleaf is simple: “When you have a choice to get the best quality, that’s what we’re looking for — whether that’s fresh mozzarella, or a specialty cracker, or something really simple, like really good artisanal chocolate.” 

Post-lunch, it’s time to begin browsing Coupeville’s locally owned businesses. Kingfisher Bookstore has been a local staple for more than three decades, though Meg and Brad Olson purchased it in 2018 and restored its historic storefront. Kingfisher has something for every reader, but its selection of local authors is especially commendable. 

Andrew Ziehl owns Meet Market with his partner Cade Roach. The pair have resided on Whidbey Island since 2016. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

Also on Front Street is Meet Market, a queer-owned art supply shop/community studio offering classes and events. Owners Cade Roach and Andrew Ziehl envisioned it as “an inclusive space for people to just exist and be accepted and fulfilled.” Fun fact: They also organized Coupeville’s first Pride Festival weekend in 2023.

Briggs Shore Ceramics has handmade porcelain pottery and, like Meet Market, is representative of Coupeville’s new generation of artists. On the other end of the spectrum, Penn Cove Gallery is the longest continually operating artist co-op on Whidbey Island. Jan McGregor Studios has art and Japanese antiques, and the Pacific Northwest Art School offers visual arts workshops that are ideal for rainy days.

As the afternoon winds down, swing by Vail Wine Shop and look to your right as you walk inside. You’ll spot a high-top table beneath a tiny window, and that window has an idyllic view of the cove. I recommend posting up here with a glass of red and watching as the afternoon light fades over the water.

Evening: If you’re in the mood for a pre-dinner brew, you’re in luck: Greenbank Cidery opened its waterfront tasting room in late 2022. The libations are made from mostly island-grown ingredients and apples from Greenbank’s own orchard. Cider is usually too sweet for my taste, but Greenbank’s version lets the ingredients shine, not the sugar.

Kelsey Coutts sits behind the bar at Greenbank Cidery. The tasting room has been open since 2022, and most of their ingredients are sourced from Whidbey Island. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

When dinner time rolls around, check out The Oystercatcher for a shining example of Whidbey’s local cuisine. The restaurant came under new ownership in 2023, though it continues to offer rotating seasonal menus based on island ingredients. I’m especially intrigued by its $75 tasting menu, which isn’t announced in advance; rather, diners trust the kitchen to prepare a five-course meal. 

Toby’s Tavern serves local seafood in a laid-back environment, and its decor is filled with nods to PNW history. For locally inspired Italian fare, Ciao Food & Wine has pizza, pasta and an impressive selection of retail goods. Front Street Grill focuses its menu around Penn Cove mussels; the business won the 2023 Musselfest chowder tasting competition and will be serving food at the 2024 festival’s “Mussel Mingle” on March 1.

The menu at Front Street Grill is focused on Penn Cove Mussels. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

Finally, Overboard is a new “seaside hideaway” with craft cocktails, waterfront views and a delightfully cheeky sense of humor. Drink names are as creative as the cocktails themselves; highlights include “I’m so gay for Jimmy Nardello” (named for its Jimmy Nardello pepper-infused vodka) and “I’m still gonna call it Twitter.” Their rotating, small-but-mighty food menu is also ideal for a light meal or after-dinner snack.

Find previous Day Trip Diary stories here.

Cocoa Laney is CDN’s lifestyle editor; reach her at cocoalaney@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 128.

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