3 Weeks at Cliffside RV Park, NAS Whidbey Island

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.

Just one of many, many flower beds one can see from nearly every campsite.

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.

The shoreline below the campground extends a good way in both directions, the effective length of the base.

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.

Our first site: even though not front row, it still has a fantastic ocean view.

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.

The shore is awash in well-seasoned driftwood, including many large logs.

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.

Setting up in our current form: a trio of 6′ tables in a u-shape, and a seasonally dressed sales associate strategically positioned in the back left corner.

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.

The gardening crew get creative with their many planting areas.

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.

All that driftwood down at the shore has been put to some attractive use up in the campground as well.

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.

The start of a driftwood structure previous beach goers erected.

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.

Oak Harbor, the city that hosts the naval station and our campground, has all the conveniences one can expect, but for ambience we much preferred the nearby small town of Coupeville.

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.

Our first batch of Penn Cove mussels from Front Street Grill. We would end up trying four of their seven mussel-based entree’s before leaving the island.

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.

Every evening at Cliffside RV Park.

Next up: the aforementioned windshield repair, and a week in a different RV park on the island.

The Blue Hole: Sequim, Washington

Despite two previous years in which we explored the west coast, we had yet to visit the Olympic Peninsula. With our Key West friends Dave and Rebecca extending an open invitation to visit their home town of Sequim, this would be the year. We had several spare days before our reservation at Whidbey Island Naval Base, so we headed south and west around the bay to the coast. The plan was to spend a few days in Sequim, then take the ferry from nearby Port Townsend to Coupeville on the island.

As usual, our late planning complicated the search for accommodations; the state and municipal parks were mostly full (and pricey!) Though Dave and Rebecca were fine with us parking the rig in the street across from their seaside home, they also pointed us towards a couple of unofficial RV park options in their neighborhood: several members of the local landed gentry have installed power and water pedestals on the open portions of their lots and rent them out for RV use.

This is apparently rather contentious with regard to city approval and zoning, but so far they remain available if you can live without sewage hook ups for the duration of your stay. Be forewarned: this is an expensive area and the property owners have high expectations. We negotiated the $50 per day asking price down to $40 for our three days at one site, while another owner we talked to would not even quote as a price until we had… met some undetermined criteria? I don’t even know what he was waiting for. The whole conversation felt like we were all engaged in some vaguely illegal activity and he was scoping us out to make sure we weren’t undercover feds or wearing a wire.

I know that sounds somewhere between paranoid and contrived, but in my defense Rosemarie tends to leave the TV on true crime shows as background noise most of our waking hours. In her defense we typically only have access to “Over The Air” channels, which are a cultural wasteland, with Dateline and 48 Hours reruns being the top quality among the limited options.

Though official RV sites at any of the nearby public campgrounds might have been, if not more affordable, perhaps more attractive, none of them were within walking distance of Dave and Rebecca’s, the primary reason for our being here. They were phenomenal hosts, and Dave should be receiving some sort of stipend from the local chamber of commerce for his enthusiastic guided tours that border on sales pitches for the city. Once in real estate, always in real estate, I suppose!

Sequim is located roughly in the center of The Blue Hole, an area of very low rainfall less than 40 miles from a n actual rain forest. The Olympic Mountain Range creates a weather shadow: Pacific moisture blows inland and is pushed upward to 7,000′ during a 70-mile journey across the mountains, where it cools, condenses, and drops all the moisture as snow and rain (over 100 inches a year), while across the mountains Sequim receives only 16 inches. This makes for a beautiful, mostly rain free and relatively warm climate in a larger region known for precisely the opposite.

Rosemarie loved the area; it was all she could do to refrain from going down the local real estate rabbit hole looking at property during our short visit. The town is a bit small (not even one craft brewery!) but it has decent restaurants, the usual midsized to big chain stores and an excellent weekend market. The main draw, however, is the fantastic coast and near coast setting.

Dave and Rebecca hosted a Fourth of July party at their place, which we were quite glad to attend since that is also our anniversary date. Their house is positioned such that you can see down the coast for miles and appreciate all the private fireworks being lit off at many other shoreline homes.

We were having such a good time in Sequim that on our second day we moved our reservations for Whidbey Island back a day, giving us one more on the peninsula. For this last night we moved the rig in front of Dave and Rebecca’s, across the street where there was nothing but a fence and fields. Though it would have felt intrusive and odd for the full stay, one night of dry camping on their lightly travelled road was just fine, and free to boot.

We generally love the Pacific Northwest, particularly the coast from Norther California up through Oregon and Washington, but Sequim was particularly wonderful. We look forward to visiting the area again, perhaps during the coming summer as we work our way north.

Next up: Back to Whidbey Island.