The saying goes that the 5th of July marks the beginning of summer in Puget Sound. Not so true the summer of 2014, as the weather cooperated for this year's long Fourth of July weekend. So what to do after the season's biggest holiday? Head for an island or two. My quintet of islands, all of which I've visited in the past three years, range from small and seasonal (Jetty) to large and year-round (Whidbey). They comprise five of the 419 islands in the Salish Sea, a unified bi-national ecosystem that includes Washington's Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands, as well as British Columbia's Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia.
You won't get stuck in a hot ferry line to get to this island, nor do you have to hand over your credit card for passage. Jetty Island is a two-mile, man-made island accessible from the Port of Everett's Jetty Landing at 10th and Marine View Drive ($3 parking fee). The passenger-only ferry service runs July 5-September 1, seven days a week. There are free interpretive programs during the summer, or just hang out on the beach. Travel Tip: Although there's no charge for the ferry, a donation is suggested. Reservations are recommended by calling 425.257.8304.
Although The Willows Inn on Lummi Island has been hosting travelers since the early 1900s, Chef Blaine Wetzel has recently put it on the culinary map. An alum of the renowned Noma in Copenhagen, Wetzel is infusing the popular farm to table movement his own special flair. Lummi Island, with only 816 residents, is part of the San Juan Islands. It's accessible by the Whatcom Chief, a small ferry located north of Bellingham at Gooseberry Point. In addition to the fine cuisine and accommodations at The Willows Inn, there's the Lummi Island Farmers Market on Saturdays from 10-1. Travel Tip: It's only a six-minute crossing between Gooseberry Point and Lummi Island.
Although Camano Island is an island, you don't need to take a ferry -- a bridge will take you there. Home to around 17,000 residents, the island claims to have more artists per capita than anywhere else in the US. There's plenty to do in the summer, from ziplining at Canopy Tours Northwest to camping at Camano Island State Park or renting a cabin at Cama Beach State Park. For something a bit more plush, the Camano Island Inn has nine rooms overlooking Saratoga Passage (a view from the inn is pictured here). A full breakfast is included with the room rate, and lunch and dinner are served. Travel Tip: Camano Island Inn is home to the Sea Stone Spa & Beauty Bar.
Orcas Island, one of 172 named islands that make up the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands, is also called The Emerald Isle. In summer, it springs to life, both on and off the water. Go kayaking with Shearwater Adventures, a quick walk from the Rosario Resort & Spa (pictured here). And just a few miles away is Moran State Park, with more than 30 miles of hiking trails and five freshwater lakes. The high point of the 5,252-acre park is 2,409-ft. Mt. Constitution, which can be reached via foot or bicycle (you can also drive to the top). Head to Eastound for dining, including breakfast at Roses Bakery & Cafe and the Inn at Ship Bay for dinner. The inn has 11 water view rooms, all with balconies and fireplaces. Travel Tip: Skip the long ferry line in Anacortes and fly Kenmore Air from Seattle's Lake Union.
Whidbey Island is an ideal place to spend a weekend or longer in the summer. Numerous artists and writers call this island home, and their works may be seen in their studios and also at galleries in the seaside towns of Langley and Coupeville. A favorite destination for both residents and visitors is Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve, pictured here, located just south of Coupeville. Walk the beach, hike to the top overlooking Ebey's Prairie and Admiralty Inlet to the Olympic Mountains. Travel Tip: The three routes to Whidbey are via ferry from Mukilteo or Port Townsend, and the Deception Pass Bridge at the north end of the island. When traveling aboard Washington State Ferries in the summer, try to avoid peak times, which include weekends and Friday and Sunday evenings.