There is more to Seattle than the Space Needle and coffee. The city’s unique position on the Puget Sound brings the opportunity to visit several islands easily accessible by ferry. In fact, Washington State is home to the nation’s largest ferry fleet with many departing from Seattle. Washington State Ferries operates several of them, and they generally allow you to drive on, in addition to riding as a passenger or bringing a bike. Keep in mind that it’s best to make a reservation for your vehicle as there is only a small portion of standby spots available for each ferry route. You have to pay for the reservation when you book it, but pay for the ferry ride itself the day you take it. It isn’t very often that you can drive your car onto a boat and explore an island after only a short ride, making these adventures perfect for a weekend trip. Read on for several ideas of islands to explore by ferry and car on your next weekend in Seattle.
The Top Island to visit in Seattle
The trip from the Seattle Ferry Terminal to the Bainbridge Ferry Terminal takes about 35 minutes. Because it leaves from the ferry terminal in downtown Seattle, as the boat pulls away you will get some great views of the city from a unique vantage point. It is also easy to reach from Sea-Tac Airport. A town called Winslow is right where the ferry docks on Bainbridge Island, so that’s a good place to stop for food or supplies. Otherwise, you can drive around the island, park, and explore some of the scenery. The public park, Bloedel Reserve, has a Japanese garden and forest land to wander in. If wine is your thing you can also do a tasting at the Bainbridge Vineyards, but be sure to call ahead to make sure they are doing one during your visit.
So Bremerton is not exactly on an island but rather located on a piece of land jutting out between Seattle and the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Peninsula. Take the Kitsap Fast Ferry from Pier 52 in Seattle (the same one where the ferry to Bainbridge Island departs) and arrive at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal about 30 minutes later. If you like US Naval ships and history, then you will be excited to know it has a strong presence here. The USS Turner Joy ship is docked here permanently and you can go on board and see what conditions those living on the ships endure. The Puget Sound Navy Museum is also nearby. And if you would rather enjoy the outdoors, there are several parks including Elandan Gardens and you can stroll on the Bremerton Boardwalk in the summer.
This long, skinny island is full of interesting parks and charming towns. To take the ferry there, first, you must drive north for about 30 minutes to the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. Then take the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry for 20 minutes to the Clinton Ferry Terminal on Whidbey Island. Once you get to the island, there’s a lot to explore from rugged terrain, a scenic state park, and art galleries and boutique shops. Drive all the way to the northern tip to find the stunning Deception Pass State Park that features lakes, cliffs, and trails to hike. In the summer, take advantage of the island’s many beaches along the Puget Sound that offer a jumping off point to kayak, windsurf or go sailing. Many artists go to Whidbey Island to find inspiration, and you can find a collection of public artwork in the town of Oak Harbor. If you want further adventures after going to Whidbey Island, you can take the ferry from Fort Casey to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula to explore Olympic National Park.
Drive southwest from downtown Seattle for 20 minutes to catch the 45-minute ferry ride from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal to the Vashon Island North-End Ferry Terminal. You can actually see Vashon Island from Seattle because it’s quite large, and having a car to get around is a good idea. Maury Island hangs off the southeast corner of Vashon Island, and you can easily drive there. Either of these islands is the place to go for some peace and quiet, as they are mostly rural with small towns. The Maury Island Marine Park on the water is a good place to go for water and mountain views, as well as some sightings of herons and eagles. On the eastern side of Vashon Island, look out for the Bicycle Tree, which is literally a tree with a bike stuck through it.
San Juan Islands
If you want an adventure for a full weekend rather than just part of a day, then visiting one of the San Juan Islands is for you. All of the ferries leave from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, a 1.5-hour drive north from Seattle. Then you have the choice of four of the San Juan Islands served by the Washington State Ferries.
- Orcas Island (1 hour 20 min. by ferry): This is one of the largest islands in the group and one of the most popular. Drive around to see the hilly landscape and go to the top of the highest mountain in the San Juans, Mount Constitution, that sits in Moran State Park. Eastsound is the largest village on the island, nicknamed the “Emerald Isle”, and you can stay at a hotel here or look farther afield.
- San Juan Island (1.5 hours by ferry): Friday Harbor is where the ferry will drop you off here and it’s the place to get something to eat or simply peruse the art galleries and antique shops. On the island, you will find historic lighthouses, lavender farms, and vineyards. This is also an excellent place to take a boat tour to see Orca whales that swim in the waters nearby.
- Lopez Island (1.5 hours by ferry): This island offers a slower pace than even Orcas or San Juan islands due to its smaller size (it’s only 15 miles long). A lot of people in the arts live on the island, and you can also find a variety of local products from farms producing fruit and raising llamas and sheep.
- Shaw Island (1 hour 15 min. by ferry): The smallest of the islands you can get to by car, there are only 240 year-round residents here. At the ferry landing, you will find a general store and the Shaw County Park. Keep in mind that there are no overnight accommodations on this island, as tourist facilities are prohibited in order to preserve the character of the island.
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island