The Best Things to Do on Vashon Island: A Complete Guide
Of the three main islands in the Puget Sound that make for a good day trip from Seattle – Bainbridge, Whidbey, and Vashon – Vashon is our favorite.
As soon as you disembark from the ferry and set foot on the island, it feels like stepping into a completely different world. People are friendly and say “hi” to you, time does this weird thing where it slows down and, suddenly, that work email doesn’t seem quite so important, and the sounds of city life melt away and are replaced with a tranquility that is only possible on an island.
Plus, it has an amazing array of great food and drinks fueled by the bounty of local produce, a nice little downtown strip with fun shops to poke in to and buy a thing or two to take home, and plenty of great beaches and views to go around.
We think a day trip to Vashon Island is probably the right amount of time to dedicate to it for most people, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t make a great weekend getaway.
Whether you’ll be spending a day on Vashon Island, a week, or more, we’re going to cover some of our favorite things to do on Vashon Island to help you discover why we fell in love with it (and why we think you will too).
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.
Should You Do a Day Trip or a Weekend Trip?
We like Vashon Island as a day trip from Seattle. It’s easy to get there, it’s a lovely change of pace from the bustle of city life in Seattle, and you can cover a good chunk of the best things to do on Vashon Island in a day.
However, we also think that Vashon makes a nice weekend getaway for exactly the same reasons.
The thing to know is that Vashon is a two-day-max kind of place. With more than two days, you’re going to run out of things to do.
Which, to be clear, is not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve talked about spending a week on the island to disconnect and decompress. But for most people, a day or two is plenty.
Do You Need a Car on Vashon?
We do think that you need a car to make the most of a trip to Vashon Island. While the island isn’t particularly big, if you want to make it to places outside of the downtown strip, like the Point Robinson Lighthouse, all the farm stands scattered around the island, and Lisabeula Park, you’re going to need a car.
Lucky for you, the ferries running between the mainland and the island are car ferries, so you can drive right on. It’s more expensive than walking on, but we think it’s worth having the car to explore a little more of the island.
Another fun option would be to rent a bike from Vashon Adventures and explore the island on two wheels. The location of their office requires a little bit of a hike to reach from the ferry – it’s right in downtown Vashon. They rent e-bikes along with stand up paddleboards and camping gear (among other things).
8 Fun Things to Do on a Vashon Island Day Trip
Here are some of our favorite things to do on Vashon Island, in no particular order. Below this list, you’ll find a mini itinerary for both a day trip and a weekend getaway to help you figure out how to fit it all together.
Eat Your Way Through Vashon
Would you believe it if we told you that the best Thai food we’ve ever had was on Vashon Island? There’s a thriving food scene on the island, and it’s a good foodie destination.
It reminds us a lot of Orcas Island in that regard, which has a similar “we left the city and started this bakery and now can’t keep up with demand because it’s so popular” vibe.
As you might imagine, most of the places to eat are concentrated around downtown Vashon.
Here are a few spots that stand out to us.
May Kitchen & Bar: The best Thai food we’ve ever had. The Pad Kee Mao is absolutely incredible – the noodles in particular are so fresh – and their green curry is something we still dream about. Most of the menu is gluten free (though the fryer is not), which makes this a place that we’ll be back to over and over again. On our latest trip, we brought my little brother along, and he raved about it when we got home. More information here.
Snapdragon: If you’re looking for a “brunchy” place on Vashon, this is probably your best bet. It’s 100% vegetarian, and you’ll find a mix of pastries, coffee, and bigger breakfast and lunch dishes. They have a nice outdoor patio, which is a lovely place to spend a sunny Saturday morning. The three owners have slowly been expanding their Vashon-foodie-empire, and now own a couple of bars and a general store on the island. There’s no set menu – it changes daily – so you never know exactly what you’re going to get until you show up, which is kind of fun! More information here.
Vashon Island Baking Company: Definitely not gluten free, which is why I forced my little brother to order and eat the maple bacon croissant. As you walk up to the counter in the small storefront, you can see back into the kitchen, where all of the goodies you see in the case are being baked fresh daily. They prioritize local ingredients, and have a wide ranging selection of pastries. They’re known for croissants and bear claws (Alysha’s favorite pastry), though you really can’t go wrong. More information here.
Glass Bottle Creamery: The best ice cream on the island. They close during the winter (and are only open Friday to Sunday), so if you’re coming to Vashon over the winter months, you’ll have to wait until the summertime. Again, local ingredients – from the milk and eggs to the seasonal fruits in their ice cream – are the name of the game here. They have dairy-free options, too. More information here.
Bramble House: This is one of the nicest restaurants on Vashon, so if you’re looking for a more upscale experience, this is probably the place to go. The food is pretty eclectic, featuring everything from bolognese (yes please) to duck leg confit. They can accommodate dietary restrictions, and their menu is clearly labeled with gluten free and vegetarian options (which I appreciate, as someone with Celiac Disease). They’re only open for dinner, and you’ll want to make a reservation in advance. More information here. They also have a different offering – Lia’s Chicken Shack – which is a more casual endeavor featuring fried chicken and biscuits, among other things.
Sample Some Local Cider
First of all, we love hard cider. And Washington is one of the best places to find it in the entire country, if not the world.
When we learned that there are two different cideries operating on Vashon, we were delighted. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues and such, we have only been to one of them (though we’ve had cider from both).
Dragon’s Head Cider might be one of our favorite places on earth, particularly in the summertime. They have a property about a mile away from downtown Vashon on an orchard, and they host tastings where you can try a selection of their seasonal cider offerings in a lovely, tranquil setting.
There are three things we like about Dragon’s Head Cider.
- They’re local. 75% of their apples come from the orchard on Vashon, which means they can control every aspect of the cider from growing the fruit to fermenting the final product.
- Their space is fantastic. Think picnic tables under the cover of trees, adjacent to both a nice barn and an apple orchard. Not a bad place to spend an afternoon.
- Their cider is great. A couple of our favorite ciders of all time have come from Dragon’s Head, namely their Columbia Crabapple, which is splendidly tart and refreshing. We’d recommend doing a flight. One of the friendly people working will walk you through a tasting of five different ciders, and you can learn all about how they’re made and what makes them a little different from other cideries you may have tried.
The other place we love, though somehow we haven’t been able to make a visit work just yet, is Nashi Orchards.
We know Nashi primarily because of their Asian Pear Cider, which is both fantastic and unique. They have a nice space on the south end of the island – including an orchard where they grow some of their apples and pears (the rest are sourced from orchards around the Pacific Northwest) – where you can try their ciders.
While you can find their bottles at various spots in the Seattle area, they usually have some interesting things to try that are available exclusively at the cidery.
If you’re a cider lover OR you’ve never actually tried cider before, we’d recommend making a visit to one (or both!) of these places to experience cider at its best.
Visit Some of Vashon’s Adorable Farm Stands
One of our favorite aspects of Vashon, specifically in the summer, is the amazing selection of produce available. And the best way to find it is to go directly to the farms that grow it.
Explore the island’s many farm stands, which are little self-serve kiosks where you’ll find a seasonal selection of things that the farm has to sell. It’s unique, and is something special about Vashon in particular – we’ve never seen this on any of Washington’s other islands, though maybe we’re not looking hard enough?
We’d recommend the stand at Plum Forest Farm, which harvests year round and has local cheese and flowers when available. Aeggy’s is another good option (here on Google Maps).
Keep in mind, this activity is really only something to do from April to October, when the farms have things to grow and sell. Some stands operate in the winter, with things like kale and radishes available, but the real bounty happens in the summer, when it’s berries as far as the eye can see!
You can see a map of the farm stands and find more information here.
Explore Downtown Vashon
Downtown Vashon has one stoplight. And it’s really a stop sign. It’s a charming little stretch, where you’ll find a nice collection of restaurants (most of the places mentioned above in the “eating” section), shops, and places to get a drink or two.
Here are our favorite places to check out, in no particular order. Again, refer to the food section above for places to eat. All would be on this list, but there’s no reason to put them in both places.
Giraffe: Probably the best place to shop on the island, they have a collection of home goods that design lovers will drool over. Their thing is sourcing the items in their shop in a fair and ethical manner.
Camp Colvos Brewing: According to the locals we met here, this is the place to go for a drink on Vashon. They have a cozy indoor space, a spacious outdoor patio (with fire pits), and a bunch of different beers on tap (plus, Dragon’s Head Cider!).
Vashon Bookshop: We’re suckers for a good bookstore, and this is the one to visit on Vashon. It’s the kind of bookstore you really only find on an island or in a small town – small and cozy, with friendly staff and a nice selection of used books (to be clear, they also have new books, but we enjoy browsing the used section).
The Vashon Farmers Market: We spent a whole section talking about the great local produce, and this is a great place to visit to see the selection in its entirety. It’s small, but packed with locally-sourced goodness on Saturdays from April to October. Plus, a few non-farm gems like a sourdough bakery and pottery studio.
Hinge: On the south end of town, this is a place to go to browse pieces from local artists, like prints, mugs, tote bags, and more.
Wine Shop Vashon: Unfortunately, they were closed for their winter break when we tried to go here on our last trip, but this is a cozy little wine shop on the south end of town. They have daily tastings, which are a fun way to sample some different wines you probably wouldn’t ordinarily get to try from various places around the world.
Walk out to the Point Robinson Lighthouse
The short walk out to the Point Robinson Lighthouse on Maury Island, which is technically a separate island in the Puget Sound that has been connected to Vashon by an artificial isthmus, is a must-do on Vashon.
It was built in the late 19th Century. In the 90’s, there were plans drawn up to sell the land, and local conservationists successfully prevented the development and established the park as we know it today. Here’s a more in-depth history lesson, if you’re interested.
Today, a short trail leads from a small, busy parking lot in Point Robinson Park down to the lighthouse, which is perched on the easternmost point of Maury Island, jutting out into the Puget Sound (no wonder they wanted a lighthouse here). There’s a nice beach too, and it’s a good place to spot marine life in the sound (there’s a handy guide to the local critters on a sign just north of the lighthouse).
Escape the City on a Hike
When we’re traveling to a new place, the second thing we do – after Googling “gluten free *city name* – is look for hikes to add to our list.
While there aren’t any hikes on Vashon Island that involve steep climbs and spectacular vistas, there are a bunch of great, easy walks in the woods (or to the beach) that make for a nice addition to your trip to Vashon.
Here are three places to look, along with some specific trail recommendations.
Shinglemill Creek Preserve: A short stroll through the woods on the northern end of the island. It’s a relatively easy 2.4 mile loop with a little bit of up and down to get the blood pumping. Do yourself a favor and park at the Fern Cove end (the northwest end), and add on the short walk down to Fern Cove at the end of the hike.
Maury Island Marine Park: On the southeast side of the island, this is a great place to go to walk down to the beach, where you’ll find a stunning view of Mount Rainier across the Puget Sound on a clear day. Park here, and walk this short two mile trail down to the beach.
Island Center Forest: Smack dab in the middle of the island is a forest – creatively named Island Center Forest – where you can do a longer hike. The perimeter loop is a 6.5 mile loop that is perfect if you’re looking for a longer, peaceful hike, while there are an endless number of trail combinations to form a shorter hike in the interior of the park.
Catch the Sunset at Lisabeula Park
I don’t remember how exactly we found out about this place – someone who lives on the island told us about it, and apologies that we forgot who it was – but it’s a great place to watch the sun set.
It’s a wide beach with picnic tables and plenty of driftwood, and it faces west towards the setting sun. We don’t have much else to add, but wanted to make sure we included it on this list!
Go Wine Tasting on Vashon
In addition to cideries and local produce, there’s a nice collection of wineries on Vashon. Though they generally source their grapes from elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, primarily eastern Washington.
Maury Island Winery: Tucked away on the northern edge of Maury Island, this small winery has been growing grapes here since 1980. They officially became a winery in 2008, and have created a nice little slice of paradise for wine lovers on Maury Island (which, as we covered above, is technically a separate island that is connected to Vashon). Go for the Cremant de Maury, a sparkling rose. Appointments only, Memorial Day through Labor Day. More information here.
Vashon Winery: A small, somewhat old school winery (based on their website) just a bit north of downtown in a cool red barn. Tastings on weekends, or by appointment, between April and October. More information here.
Palouse Winery: At the north end of the island, near where the Fauntleroy Ferry drops you, you’ll find Palouse Winery. It started as a passion project, with the owners deciding to buy a crop of Cabernet Franc grapes seemingly on a bit of a whim, and has evolved into an award-winning winery. Most of the grapes they use come from eastern Washington. They also make port, which is a discovery we made on our trip to Portugal, that we’d be interested in trying on our next trip. The location is great, and the outdoor area is a perfect place to sip wine in the summer. Open by appointment only currently. More information here.
Andrew Will is another winery on Vashon, but they don’t have a tasting room. You can order and pick up wine from them, but you can order and pick up at the winery, if you’re interested.
Getting to Vashon Island
There’s no way around it, getting to Vashon requires taking a ferry. There’s no bridge connecting the island to the mainland (like there is for Bainbridge), so a ferry is your only option.
The real question is which ferry to take, because there are three of them. We’ll cover the two most common options below.
The third is the Southworth ferry, which leaves from the other side of the Hood Canal, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. This is your best bet if you’re coming from Bainbridge Island or Gig Harbor. More information here.
The Fauntleroy Ferry (From Seattle)
If you’re doing Vashon as a day trip from Seattle, you’ll want to take the Fauntleroy Ferry, which leaves from West Seattle. This is a busy ferry terminal, so you’ll want to arrive around 30 minutes before the ferry you want to take is scheduled to depart. Especially on weekends.
Between 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm, they recommend an hour in advance as traffic builds in both directions (to and from the island).
The crossing takes 20 minutes from dock to dock, and lands you on the northern end of the island, about 7 minutes from downtown.
You can see the current sailing schedule here, and the current fares for this route here.
The Tahlequah Ferry (from Tacoma)
If you’re coming from the south, you’ll want the Tahlequah Ferry, which leaves from Point Defiance in northwest Tacoma.
The crossing here takes 15 minutes, and it’s less busy than the Fauntleroy route. Get there 20-30 minutes early at peak times, which tend to be in the mornings.
You can see the current sailing schedule here, and the current fares for this route here.
When to Visit Vashon Island
The first thing to know about visiting Vashon Island is that the day of the week matters just as much as the time of year.
We’ve been to Vashon both on a summer weekend and on a weekday in the dead of winter. And they are very, very different experiences. Weekends bring the daytrippers by the ferry load, which creates a lively atmosphere, while weekdays are more lowkey and relaxed.
The other thing to consider is that most of the wineries, breweries, and other shops are only open on weekends (sometimes including Thursday and Friday, but always double check). If that’s a key part of your itinerary – and we think it should be – then you should plan on a weekend visit.
In terms of seasons, like most places in the Pacific Northwest, summer is the best time to visit, though spring and fall also offer some perks.
In the summer, you’ll find long, warm days that make living life on island time about as pleasant as can be. You’ll have your choice of activities, from wine tasting to picnics in one of Vashon’s many parks, which can all be done outside. The Strawberry Festival takes place in July, and is one of the most important events on the island’s annual calendar.
In the spring and fall, the weather is a little more unpredictable, and you might get some rain when you’re on the island. However, most of the businesses on the island are open, and the spring and fall both bring unique stages of bloom to the island’s plant life, along with great local produce at the farm stands.
Winter brings bare trees, colder weather, and more rain. Visitation dwindles until the longer, warmer days of spring and summer, and many businesses completely shut down or take long breaks to relax before the summer rush begins.
More to Explore in Washington State
Heading to the great state of Washington? Here are some other posts you might like.
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- How to Plan an Amazing Weekend in Seattle (3 Day Itinerary)
- One Day in Seattle: How to See The Best of Seattle in a Day
- The 8 Best Day Trips from Seattle: A Complete Guide
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- The Best Things to Do on Vashon Island: A Complete Day Trip Guide