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A Quaint Paradise Only a Short Ferry Ride from Seattle
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life, a weekend on Vashon Island is just the ticket. It certainly was for me.
Driving through Tacoma, WA, to catch the ferry (the only way onto Vashon Island without an airplane), I absent-mindedly hurried through a yellow-but-actually-red light. Few things will force you to slow down like a moving infraction. But, even if a ticket from Tacoma’s finest doesn’t do it, the 30-minute ferry ride to the Puget Sound’s largest island gives you time to pause and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your face as the boat slides across the water.
There are three locations to catch a ferry to Vashon Island: Fauntleroy in Seattle, Southworth in Kitsap and Point Defiance near Tacoma. Buy a roundtrip ticket online ahead of time to save yourself delays boarding the ferry.
Rolling down the ferry ramp and onto Vashon Island, I was immediately struck by the scarcity of commercial activity. I drove north past heavily wooded forest and farmland, and passed numerous cyclists and walkers. It was mind-boggling to find such an unspoiled place so close to Seattle. And I’m sure its 11,000 residents would like to keep it that way.
In just 30 minutes, I drove the length of the island, which is 13 miles long by 8 miles wide. There’s only one town, which also is named Vashon, but is referred to as Uptown by the locals. There are plenty of restaurants, coffee houses, hardware stores, and a wealth of art galleries, antique boutiques and curiosity shops. There’s even a large grocery store.
Trying to get a sense of what was happening in town that late-summer weekend, I was informed that a knitting convention was being held as well as a “how to be a vegan” workshop. I would have made light of it, but would have ended up being poked with knitting needles and lashed with leeks. Anyway, those activities should give you a sense of the pace of the place.
For nightlife, the Red Bicycle Bistro and Sushi has performances every Friday. In October, the music calendar has Celtic music, a Voices of Women lineup of singers and a comedy show. Many recommend The Hardware Store for great eating, but we elected to stuff ourselves in the casual confines of Rock Island Pub and Pizza.
Out and About
Vashon Island is also a great getaway for outdoors enthusiasts and seafood lovers. A respectable resource is the Vashon Park website.
As mentioned earlier, the island welcomes bike riders. While the bike paths are rare, some roads have wide shoulders (but not all), and motorists are generally accommodating. Storefronts in Vashon have plenty of bike racks, and the ferries allow bike riders to board with foot passengers. If you need to rent, Vashon Island Bicycles has some sweet rides to reserve.
Water sports enthusiasts will find Vashon heaven on earth. Here, there are plenty of sailors, sea kayakers and standup paddle boarders taking advantage of the gentle waters. If you don’t have a kayak or paddleboard of your own, fear not: The friendly folks at Vashon Watersports have rentals available. Closed for the fall and winter, they’ll be open again Memorial Day 2015.
On the island’s eastern side, there is a scuba diving park and marina. Swimmers tend to gravitate on the island’s southern end, where the beach is flatter, the tide more gradual and the water a few degrees warmer.
Chances are, you’ll want to spend more than a day exploring the island. The Chamber of Commerce website has a list of lodging options from the rustic to the refined.
I had gone to spend a weekend reuniting with a few of my fraternity brothers at a private vacation home set on a rocky beach. The first thing my friends from Los Angeles wanted to do was get fishing licenses to go crabbing and fishing.
While they went off on their quest for wild seafood glory, we fired up the Weber and set about barbecuing the king salmon, clams and fresh oysters that our Seattle-area friends thoughtfully gathered at Pike’s Place Market before getting on the ferry. We even enjoyed homemade rhubarb pie. Great Pacific Northwest fish, wines, ales and camaraderie made for a wonderful weekend.
I’d like to say that we stayed up until the wee hours, regaling one another with war stories of our wilder days, but in truth, we all hit the hay by 11 p.m. to snore away at the sound of water lapping against the shore. For me, that was the best part of Vashon … doing very little except wallowing in the quiet and beauty of the place.