Sensory Extravaganza! Whidbey Island With a Toddler!


There are many places in the United States that are spectacularly beautiful. During our recent family vacation to the Pacific Northwest, we discovered first hand why Washington State is at the top of many lists with regard to natural beauty. Seriously, we could have spent weeks in Washington State– hiking to gorgeous waterfalls, taking in pristine mountain vistas, exploring the beaches and waterways. However, our time was limited and our toddler was antsy.

So, we decided to take a day trip and explore Whidbey Island. Let me tell you, Whidbey Island is not only beautiful, but a sensory playground for young children and adults alike.

If you are traveling from Seattle or South of Seattle, the best way to get to Whidbey Island is via the Mukilteo Ferry, just South of Everett. This was not Sweet Pea’s first ferry ride.. but it was the first ferry ride she was awake for. She really loved it. The Mukilteo Ferry takes about 20 minutes to cross over to Clinton. That is just enough time to stand at the front of the ferry and pretend you are ‘King of the World!’ Sweet Pea was so invigorated by the wind that she started doing the chicken dance. Cute!

After a 20 minute ride, the ferry deposited us at Clinton, the southern tip of Whidbey Island. From there it was a short drive to the adorable coastal village of Langley. Langley is a bit of an artist’s community, replete with art galleries, boutiques, and great restaurants. In other words, the perfect place to stop for lunch. Based on a recommendation, we decided to check out The Braeburn Restaurant, located on 2nd Street. I really love everything about this restaurant. The interior décor is super cute. However, since Sweet Pea was along for the ride and it was a nice day, we opted to dine in the garden patio.

Langley Whidbey Island

Everyone’s lunch was delicious! Sweet Pea had the Mac ‘N Cheese of the day (of course.. what else would a 2-year old eat?). Honeybear opted for Ma’s Meatloaf Sandwich, which was prepared with local grass fed beef. I ordered the Rootbeer BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. The two sandwiches were also served with a side of Braeburn’s special Apple Bacon Potato Salad. Is your mouth watering yet? It should be because our lunch was amazing! Whenever available, the Braeburn uses fresh, local, and organic ingredients.

Another highlight of lunch were the glasses our drinks were served in (pictured above). Clearly they were made by local artisans and I was intrigued. Fortunately, I didn’t have to venture far to satisfy my curiosity. Callahan’s Firehouse Studio and Gallery is located next door. Housed in an old firehouse, you can watch the artisans blow glass as you shop. Apparently, you can also learn to blow glass yourself. We didn’t stay here long. An active 2-year old and a store full of glass are the kind of explosive situation any parent would try to avoid. So, I quickly picked out a cute glass pumpkin and a pretty glass cup and we were on our way. After all, we didn’t come to Whidbey Island to shop. We came to explore nature!

Double Bluff BeachWith full bellies, we drove about 10 minutes, down a long 2-lane road to Double Bluff Beach. Double Bluff Beach is billed as ‘South Whidbey Island’s best kept secret,’ and I can see why. It is the perfect place to take a toddler (or a dog) for a few hours of exploration. Before we left the hotel, I had checked the tide tables and we arrived just in time for low tide. From the small parking area at the end of Double Bluff Road, it is a very short walk (as in less than 100 meters) before you are on the beach and can start serious exploration. This beach is perfectly accessible and safe for toddlers. As soon as we were on the beach, we took off Sweet Pea’s shoes and let her loose. She was giddy with excitement. There was so much to do!

Double Bluff Beach with Toddler

Double Bluff Beach is great for shelling because it is home to many clams. We had a great time finding and digging for different shells– white, yellow, purple, red. The beach is fairly protected so Sweet Pea was able to run along the packed sand, stick her toes in the water, and dig. I think her favorite activity though was grabbing handful after handful of packed sand (aka- mud) and throwing it into the water. She was very proud of herself.

Double Bluff Beach with Toddler

Daddy even found a clam who was still in his house. Sweet Pea was very attentive as Daddy pulled the shell halves apart to reveal the squishy, wet clam inside. Such a great experience! Another nice feature of Double Bluff Beach is that it has water spigots to wash off all the sand before getting back into the car. We could have spent all day here. However, there was more to see and honestly, Sweet Pea was ready for a nap.

So, we headed North in the direction of Oak Harbor. As we drove, Honeybear, who is an aerospace engineer, received a special treat because some of the aircraft from the Naval Air Station located in Oak Harbor were conducting practice flying maneuvers. I get to shop. Honeybear gets an aerospace fix. Sweet Pea gets to fling mud. Clearly, there is something for everyone on Whidbey Island.

Our final destination for the day was the northern-most point of Whidbey Island- Deception Pass State Park and Deception Pass Bridge. If we lived in Washington State, our family would definitely visit this park on a regular basis. It is gorgeous and it looks like the facilities are very family friendly. However, it was late afternoon and we were nearing the end of our day trip. So, we headed straight for North Beach. From the North Beach parking lot, you can either choose to take the short but very steep hike up to the bridge, or you can take another very short walk (again, maybe 100 meters) to the beach itself, which is situated under the bridge. Sweet Pea is pretty energetic but we decided that an uphill hike would be ill-advised.

So, North Beach it was. The short walk to the beach was in and of itself a treat. Huge trees formed the canopy of the forest right up to the shoreline. Once on the beach, all three of us enjoyed the peaceful views of Puget Sound and Deception Pass Bridge above us.

Deception Pass State Park with Toddler

As with the mud flinging at Double Bluff Beach, Sweet Pea’s favorite part of North Beach was throwing rocks into the water. The beach was comprised mainly of these smooth and colorful river rocks and we all joined in the fun, dodging the gentle waves of Puget Sound as we edged as close as we could to the water without falling in. Before we left, Sweet Pea was able to pick out some of the prettiest rocks to add to her collection of shells from earlier in the day. After our vacation was over, the shells and smooth, colored, river rocks were nice additions to a nature-themed sensory bin.

Deception Pass State Park North Beach with Toddler

At the end of the day, before heading back South, we stopped at Deception Pass and marveled at the stunningly beautiful scenery. It was the perfect end of an amazing day.

Deception Pass

If you live in Washington State, or if you are contemplating a trip to this area, I heartily recommend a visit to Whidbey Island. If you are traveling with a toddler or young child, you really can’t beat the beaches and parks that are easily accessible to small legs, safe, and overflowing with great activities that will immerse your little one in nature. The fact that Whidbey Island is achingly beautiful and incredible peaceful is just icing on the cake for Mom and Dad.

Have you ever visited Whidbey Island? What did you think? What are some of the hidden natural gems in your area of the country?

Thank you so much for reading!


For more information on other family friendly Washington State travel ideas see:

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  1. So glad you had a good visit on Whidbey! I am raising my three young children in Langley. There was recently a campaign called “Why Not Whidbey?” to encourage more young families to move here. If your jobs allow it — we would love for you to come back to stay. 🙂