Following our frenetic first year of full time RVing in 2015, during which we conducted a ridiculously aggressive circuit of the continental U.S., we attempted to establish a pattern whereby we would spend the winter in Florida, and then alternate our travels between the west and east halves of the country. This worked for the next three years, during which we focused on the Eastern US in 2016, the West and Midwest in 2017, and back to the East plus parts of Canada in 2018. In 2019, however, our plans to return west fell by the wayside after we prioritized an international travel opportunity to Cuba, and then COVID collapsed our western tour plans in 2020, during which we spent fare more time in Florida and a limited our exploration to the southeast.
But here it is (was), the summer of 2021, and we took our fully vaccinated selves west, exploring favorites from 2015 and 2017, and adding to them along the way. Many of the places we are hitting this year are old favorites from four or six years ago, but even among our list of western faves, Whidbey Island has a special place in our memories and was one of our top priorities for this 2021 trip.
The thing that makes this island so fantastic for us is Cliffside RV Park on the Naval Air Station. You can read our past posts about the park, the short version being that it is an astoundingly beautiful ocean front garden, lovingly cared for, with every terraced spot having a wonderful view. In addition to the ocean front setting on the sound, the property is overflowing with flowers, with beds occupying every available space.
It is not cheap, at least by military campground standards, but compared to civilian equivalents, it is a solid deal. During the summer it is also quite popular. Not “NAS Key West during the winter popular,” but enough so that the weekends are usually booked. In fact, this is one of the few places we bother to reserve a stay in advance (even weeks in advance, which is, like, years by our standards.) From past experience we knew the July 4th weekend would be booked solid, but we managed to secure four different multi-day stays over a three-week period in July.
And so Tuesday morning after the holiday weekend we caught the ferry from the Port Townsend harbor, about an hour down the road from Sequim, to Coupeville on Whidlbey Island. If my records are right this only cost us $81 for the motorhome and tow vehicle, though I think they let us get away with being a little longer than our 50′ combined length listed on our reservation. After a bit of google maps confusion relating to which of the naval station gates were actually open, we arrived at our home for the remainder of July.
At check in the office linked our multitude of reservations together, giving us a continuous 21 day stay, though, because of the different price points between front row and everything else, we had to move sites a couple of times. You would think that military base campgrounds, or at least those within the same service, would have consistent policies, but that is far from the case. The rules regarding reservations vs first come first serve sites, availability of overflow “dry camping” areas, maximum length of stay, discounted rates for long stays, and a myriad of other characteristics vary significantly base to base. Whidbey, for instance, is a bit unusual in that they offer a discount for week long stays, which means we paid $35 a day for most of our nights (down from $40) but had to pay $50 for the three nights that we had to move to a waterfront spot due to availability.
It was there in Whidbey that we finally got back into selling Ramblin’ Rose’ jewelry and accessories at local markets. We had not done an event all year, but now, fully vaccinated, we felt comfortable doing outdoor sales, with reasonable precautions. In 2017 we had great success at the annual Kiwanis Beachcombers Bazaar, but after several years of growing experience, expanded inventory, and market selection knowledge, our expectations are far higher. Would the Kiwanis event hold up? We were marginally concerned by the location change from a well-used public park to a middle school athletic field, which did not strike us as having any natural foot traffic or drive by visibility.
We need not have worried: this once-a-year event has enough local awareness and current advertising that plenty of people came out. We had a steady but not overwhelming stream of potential customers, and unlike a more publicly utilized spot, such as a park, the attendees were not looky-loos stumbling across the market whilst walking their dogs; they came for the sole purpose of checking out the wares from the thirty or so vendors. We ended up selling nearly three times as much as we did in 2017.
During our peak, pre-COVID, year we had transitioned away from all but a select few weekly markets in favor or seasonal or annual events; for less work we made more money. But beggars can’t be choosers, and out here in territory we had not explored since 2017, with some events already full and others having never recovered from cancellation in 2020, we took what we could get. That included the new Lions Club Saturday morning market situated at the Blue Fox drive in theater between Oak Harbor and Coupeville.
As the new kid on the block, the Lions Club event had not yet developed much awareness among the locals, was set back a bit far from the main road to pull in much drive by traffic, and only had ten or so vendors on any given week, but it was convenient and low stress, so we gave it a go. It was a lot like our first year selling in Key West or Grand Marais, Michigan; we made a small but respectable amount that was just enough to keep us coming back for the next month, during which our sales improved pretty much each week.
In past years we enjoyed some great meals on the island, particularly the fresh caught Dungeness crab that our friends Bruce and Nancy gave us, and every meal at Jumbo Burrito. But it was not until this summer that we tucked into a well-prepared dish of one of the most significant local dishes, Penn Cove mussels. In this case, “Penn Cove” may refer to a specific species of mussels, those harvested from this location regardless of species, or the major shellfish company in the area. Regardless, though we love seafood, including shellfish, and especially locally produced options, we somehow missed them during our previous tours of the region.
We remedied that with a vengeance this last July. During a casual and loosely planned outing to Coupeville’s downtown waterfront district, we found a couple of well-reviewed places closed, and thus “settled” on whatever was open, in this case Front Street Grill. Their quite modest indoor seating was completely full with a wait list, but they offered outdoor seating at the tables on the waterside deck, though such dining would be a takeout order, i.e., no table service, silverware, etc. Fine by us! We split an entree of one of their seven mussel offerings, and it was fantastic. So much so that, though there may very well be other excellent seafood restaurants in the area, we found ourselves returning multiple times to Front Street Grill for their mussels.
We are not finished with Whidbey Island: before all is said and done we would end up staying for six weeks broken up by a few days on the mainland for a long overdue windshield repair.
Next up: the aforementioned windshield repair, and a week in a different RV park on the island.