Puget Sound contains lots of islands. Some of them are very laid back with little for tourists who crave attractions like theme parks, aquariums, resorts. etc. Others are get-away-from-it-all destinations for people who want to hike, whale watch, kayak, etc. Some have tourist economies, chambers of commerce that welcome many visitors, relatively easy accessibility, etc. In other words, you can find whatever you want from Tacoma to Canada and between Seattle and The Olympic Peninsula.
There are two very laid back islands–Vashon and Lopez. Vashon describes itself as a “rural escape” and it is. There are about 20 Vashon accommodations but not a single chain among them. They’re all b&bs, guest houses, camps, etc. Access to this island is very limited. There’s a car ferry, and only one, from Tacoma that is boarded in Point Defiance Park. The only other ferry to Vashon is a passenger-only one from Seattle. Vashon residents voted against a bridge to the outside world 25 years ago. According to Destination Vashon, a tourist publication, it was vehemently opposed. Today, 11,000 people live on Vashon, which is 12 miles long, 5 miles wide, and shaped like a fat, kneeling h. As you drive from the car ferry to the other end of the island, you will pass farms and private homes without seeing many residents or ever feeling like saying “Wow!” The only settlement is called Vashon. It’s in the center of the island and barely qualifies as a town. Mickey Molnaire called it “little more than a cluster of buildings at an intersection” more than 10 years ago and it’s still exactly that. Mickey is currently updating her book Across the Sound for publication. It will be worth having. The people who live here reportedly dote on theater, dance, opera, etc. and faithfully patronize the Vashon Center for the Arts. For performances, most of the 300 seats in its auditorium are filled with locals who all know one another. If you crave farm stands, peace and quiet, and vacant beaches, head for Vashon.
Lopez is the most-laid-back of the San Juan islands and a lot like Vashon. It’s a place where families rent farmhouses, ride horses, sit on rocks for hours watching sea otters, etc. There is no town of any consequence and no must-visit attractions on the entire island. The only way to get to Lopez is by ferry. If it’s summer, plan for a long wait to ride it.
Mickey Molnaire, Director of Marketing and Tourism, works in the visitor information facility on Bainbridge Island. This island has 3 excellent attractions–the Bloedel Reserve, a quality art museum in Winslow, which is a real town, and the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial that is hoping to build a welcome center soon. The 2-lane Agate Pass Bridge connects Bainbridge to the Kitsap Peninsula and the thriving town of Poulsbo and has excellent, fast, and inexpensive car and people ferry service to downtown Seattle.
The San Juans have 2 wonderful islands to visit. San Juan Island has Friday Harbor, a bustling town with lots to experience, like a fine Whaling Museum. Roche Harbor, a private boat port, is incredibly scenic. The whole island is worth touring. One could plan an entire vacation here and be satisfied. Orcas is the other must-see San Juan island, and Moran State Park is its best attraction. Whidbey, the United States’ 2nd largest coastal island, is also a 5 Compass Puget Sound star.
If I had to rank these islands, I’d go first to Bainbridge, move on to Whidbey, and then head for Orcas and San Juan. After that, I’d rent a house on Lopez or Vashon and spend a few days doing not much.