Savor Shellfish and Saltwater Views on This Ferry Good Road Trip in the Pacific Northwest
Scenic routes to shellfish shacks, breathtaking bridges over narrow straits, and winding roads to sprawling saltwater views pepper the drive north from Seattle, leading to and through the islands of Puget Sound. This road trip will take you on land and sea, specifically Washington State’s famous ferries, which carry cars across the marine highway, part of the world’s second-largest vehicular ferry system.
Late May and early June is an ideal time to take this trip as the Pacific Northwest’s long days and mild temperatures make for ideal conditions to explore evergreen-lined hiking trails — without the endless crowds of high season.
Just be warned, that doesn’t mean no crowds at all (this is not the road trip for impulsive anti-planners). Shoulder season slows down a bit, but summer staff also haven’t arrived, so nearly everything requires a reservation — hotels, restaurants, and even hot tubs. But book now and reap the reward later: a trip all planned out, start to finish. All you need to do is show up ready to enjoy the views and eat amazing food.
Distance from Seattle to ferry terminal: 26 miles
Islands visited: 3 (+1 for ferry only)
Number of ferry trips: 4
Take a leisurely morning to sleep in before heading north out of Seattle to the Mukilteo Ferry Dock, where the boats make the 20-minute crossing to Whidbey Island about every half-hour. The ferry arrives at the southern tip, and every part of one of the country’s longest islands shows off lush hills and stunning Puget Sound panoramas. Get a taste for them by starting with lunch on the outdoor deck of Prima Bistro in Langley, a 15-minute drive from the Clinton ferry terminal. Make your way north and stop at the first National Historic Reserve, Ebey’s Landing, and the neighboring Fort Ebey State Park, for a walk along the windy bluffs and explore the old military installments (bring a flashlight, it’s dark in there).
Pop just across the main road to the enticingly cozy Captain Whidbey Inn, for a night leaning into its woodsy PNW vibes. Stick around at the restaurant for dinner or head into nearby Coupeville for a meal at the classic seafood dive Toby’s Tavern. Either way, order the same thing: mussels from Penn Cove, the water just a few feet away. If you’re not tired yet, cap off the night with an old-school drive-in movie at the Blue Fox about 10 minutes from the hotel.
Start your day with a gentle walk around the saltwater shoreline at Deception Pass State Park followed by a drive over the dauntingly high, delightfully terrifying Deception Pass Bridge. Reward your bravery with some of the best fried seafood this side of the Mississippi at The Shrimp Shack. Starting in May, the local versions of the eponymous crustacean are fresh and in season, but until then, the shack has plenty of halibut, oysters, and other seafood.
Leave plenty of time to get in line for the 3:40pm ferry to Orcas Island (you can reserve a spot for your vehicle in advance). After disembarking, grab a cocktail at the nautically themed Barnacle before heading to the recently reopened, much-lauded restaurant Matia. The six-course chef’s tasting menu of “archipelago cuisine” represents a culinary interpretation of the islands you are touring, with grass-fed local beef, duck eggs, spring onions, and plenty of sourdough. Following dinner, check into the Doe Bay Resort (pick between a deluxe cabin or off-grid yurt) and head to your evening soak appointment in the outdoor tubs.
If you’re feeling inspired to plan a road trip, you’re going to need a vehicle that takes you the distance. Enterprise provides award-winning customer service, streamlined service through its mobile app, and a fleet of vehicles to help meet any road tripper’s needs. Reserve a vehicle at one of Enterprise’s convenient neighborhood or airport locations worldwide and find your new place to love.
Gear up for the day with breakfast at Doe Bay’s cafe before driving up to the top of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. Climb the giant stone tower for a 360-degree view out over the islands of Puget Sound. Take a walk around the footpaths, or pop back down the mountain to rent a canoe at Cascade Lake at the foot of the mountain and go for a quick paddle. Stop for lunch at Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, where you can build your own chilled seafood platter from the live oysters and crabs in the tank, then crack and shuck at the picnic tables out front.
Continue on your route by getting to the 3:10pm inter-island ferry to Lopez Island. Once there, make yourself at home at the Edenwild Inn, one of the few places that ramps up early in the year. Pop next door to Ursa Minor for dinner, where the chef scouts and forages for local ingredients that he cures and pickles, then uses in dishes like fermented potato gnocchi with salmon and kimchi.
Pop by Barn Owl Bakery for baked goods, then bring them down to Shark Reef Sanctuary, where a 10-minute walk through the trees and across a boardwalk ends overlooking the water. Directly across from the end of the trail, a few rocky islands attract huge numbers of seals and sea lions, which splash and sun themselves, as if showing off for visitors like you.
Drive back into town for lunch at Setsunai Noodle Bar, where the local bounty transforms into flavorful soups with fresh, handmade udon and ramen noodles, served to picnic tables on a lawn. Then get back to the dock for the 1:35pm ferry to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.
Before you drive back to Seattle, avoid sitting in traffic going south by extending your trip with a scenic route through the local farm stands, making your way to the town of Bow, where you can pick up baked goods at Breadfarm and fancy beverages, cheeses, and jams at Slough Food before heading to your final stop, Taylor Shellfish’s Samish Oyster Bar and Market. Buy a dozen oysters and shuck them at the picnic tables outside as you wait for the sun to set and the traffic to die down. Roll back to Seattle a bit later, full of bivalves and happy as a clam.