Where Charm Meets Country Calm
With its slow country roads and single-intersection main drag, Vashon Island has a way of making city cares seem far away — even though it’s less than 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle and Tacoma.
Vashon Island is connected to the smaller Maury Island by a man-made isthmus. About 11,000 people live on Vashon-Maury, including farmers, artists, earthy back-to-the-landers, Seattle workers who don’t mind a ferry commute, and a few prominent personages living quiet lives in waterfront estates. The island’s restaurants, supermarkets and shops are mostly concentrated in a few blocks in the center of the island (the town is also named Vashon), but exploring the entire 37 square miles of island will turn up more, including farmstands, artist’s studios, lodging, peaceful beaches and forest walks. Start with a quick stop at the Vashon Heritage Museum to learn how this special place came to be.
Vashon has been an arts and crafts haven since at least the 1970s, and in recent decades it has lured a fresh batch of creative types seeking a respite from tech-centric Seattle. Many island artists, some with an international following, display or sell their goods in local shops and restaurants and in the island’s handful of galleries. Go behind the scenes and see where local makers work during one of the island’s biannual studio tours, when painters, illustrators, woodworkers, ceramicists and other artists open their doors to the public. The Vashon Center for the Arts provides a year-round gallery featuring artists from the island and across the Northwest, and also hosts Summer Arts Fest in July and August as well as regular performing arts events, including opera and chamber music. For a good roadside porch to relax with refreshments, head to the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie and Minglement, two businesses housed together in a homey, 100-year-old building made from old-growth fir. The Roasterie roasts its delicious house coffee on-site and stocks salads, sandwiches and assorted bakery treats, while Minglement specializes in bulk tea, spices, organic foods, body care and gifts.
A different sort of artistry happens on Vashon’s many small farms. The island’s agricultural history dates back to the late 1800s. Vashon residents have maintained the island’s rural feel and slower pace, and a limited water supply also keeps density in check, so farms have not been converted into housing developments.
Instead, plant nurseries, vegetable and dairy farms, cheesemakers, lavender growers, cideries and wineries produce a wide range of products. More than a dozen farmstands can be found across the island. Some are unmanned and take honor system payments, so bring cash. Visitors can also sample and buy goods from the Saturday farmers market April through late October (there’s also a winter market; check online for dates and locations before you go).
Working sheepdogs show their stuff every June at Misty Isle Farms during the Vashon Sheepdog Classic, a national competition complemented by weaving, knitting and spinning demonstrations at the Fiber Arts Village. Tickets are limited and go on sale at least two months in advance.
Want a beach day or a forest walk? You can do both in the same day here, thanks to islanders’ penchant for nature preservation. Join the locals for tidepooling or whiling away the weekend at one of the island’s driftwood-strewn beaches, such as KVI Beach (named for the shore’s radio tower) and Point Robinson, where there are kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals and a charming old lighthouse with Mount Rainier behind it in the distance. Vashon hiking trails tend to be modest in length and lush in character, with moss-draped trees, ponds and creeks. Try the bike-friendly 10 miles of trails at Island Center Forest county park. At 190-acre Shinglemill Creek Preserve in northwest Vashon Island, a 2.5-mile trail (not suitable for bikes) descends through a lush ravine, where lucky visitors can glimpse coho salmon returning to spawn in late fall. Frog Holler Forest on the island’s south end offers 2.6 miles of trail in a 112-acre forest. Tool down island roads on an electric bike rented from Vashon Adventures, which has the most electric bikes on the island and also offers a variety of organized tours. It’s recommended you book a rental or tour in advance online. On your way back home — whether you’re taking a ferry to West Seattle, Tacoma, or Southworth on the Kitsap Peninsula — snap a picture of Vashon from the deck as a last memento of this bucolic destination.
–Written by Maria Dolan