Vashon Island is not well known outside of Washington State, but it is just a short ferry ride to discover this jewel of Puget Sound. Conveniently located in proximity to Seattle, Tacoma, and the Kitsap Peninsula, there are three Washington State Ferry options to get there.
The ferry terminals are at the north and south ends of the island. I like to catch the Point Defiance-Tahlequah Ferry in the morning and return on the Fauntleroy-Vashon to Seattle. You can also catch the Fauntleroy-Southworth ferry, which puts you at the Kitsap Peninsula.
Vashon is perfect for a day trip getaway, but it is easy to extend your stay for a weekend. It makes a perfect base to explore the area. The three ferries allow easy access to Seattle without all the traffic, as well as Tacoma and Olympia to the south. From the Kitsap Peninsula, it is an easy drive to Olympic National Park. I enjoy visiting year-round because even though its winters are full of typical Pacific Northwest rain, the temperatures are mild.
Amazing Things To Do On Vashon Island
Vashon Island is so eclectic. Enjoy a small-town experience with a cute walkable downtown Vashon and a park with a weekly Vashon Island farmers market (with farm stands that accept alternative currencies so all islanders can shop there). The island has so many wide-open spaces and lovely beaches, so plan for some outdoor time with Vashon Adventures, where you can rent kayaks and bicycles.
For any visit when touring the Puget Sound area, coffee is always the first stop. After leaving the ferry head to the little town of Burton, which is basically just a crossroads. I always try to support the small, local coffee stands that abound in this region. The Burton Coffee Stand is a cute little stop. It is eye-catching with the mosaic sign made by local artist Elaine Summers, founding member of the Vashon Tile Guild. I love how local businesses support one another. The stand sources its baked goods from the Snapdragon Bakery, an island favorite.
Also located at the crossroads is the Harbor Mercantile, but everyone calls it the Burton Store. It has been a store since 1908 and has a variety of everything. The Burton Inn and Spa is unique as the owner Therese Henning has over 23 years of experience in massage therapy and esthetics.
Maury Island is connected to Vashon Island by a spit and is just one of the many beautiful Washington islands you can visit. Begin with a stop at Dockton Park with its lovely swimming beach and picnic area. It is a great location for an al fresco lunch, with plenty of picnic tables. Make sure to read the interpretive signs to learn about the history of Dockton.
You can also take a nice stroll through the mostly residential town on a history walk that includes multiple stops with exhibits. Note that the walk begins with a large hill and there are no sidewalks.
Maury Island Marine Park
Maury Island Marine Park is one of the largest undeveloped sites on the Puget Sound. It has one mile of shoreline. From the overlooks, there are jaw-dropping views of Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains, and the East Passage. There are hiking trails through rare stands of Pacific Madrone and the marsh. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and the great blue herons. And if you love exploring parks, you can always explore beautiful state parks near Seattle.
Point Robinson Park
Ten-acre Point Robinson Park is located on the east shore of Maury Island and is a must-see when visiting Vashon Island. It is famed for the Point Robinson Lighthouse built in 1914, but the park is so much more. The shoreline wraps around the point and is perfect for beachfront strolls and collecting driftwood.
It is also part of the Whale Trail, with fall and winter being the best time to see the resident orcas that feed on salmon. There are walking trails that explore the coastal woodlands. There are two Keeper’s Quarters available for vacation rentals, and although vintage, you can’t beat the view or beach access.
Pro Tip: For a unique place to stay, visit Fern Cove and stay at the remote Belle Baldwin House. It is a lovely historic home off the beaten path and with waterfront views. Point Robinson Park also has a beautiful lighthouse where you can spend the night.
To explore Vashon Island fully, its shops are a must-visit. One of my favorites is Giraffe, a gift shop that sources ethically by stocking fair trade items from around the world. It is such an eclectic offering with housewares, food, clothes, and indigenous art. The Ravens Nest is a Northwest Coast Native Art Gallery and gift shop that sells both traditional and contemporary native art.
I always make a point to stop at small independent bookstores when I travel, and the Vashon Bookshop fits the bill. It is a cute shop with both new and used books. The Country Store and Farm is a general store that has been around for over 50 years. It is a true country general store with a little bit of everything plus outdoor gardens and a nursery. They carry Vashon Island items that make nice gifts or souvenirs.
And, of course, there’s the Vashon Farmers Market, run by the Vashon Island Growers Association. It’s been a mainstay since 1989.
Gather is what this space is all about. It is a gallery that showcases local artists with an event space that can be used for gatherings or to take a class. It is a great way to experience what makes Vashon so special. Visitors are welcome to come in and hang out if there is not an event. Owners Kathy Raines and Whitney Rose are an artistic mother-and-daughter team. They had a vision to share their love or art while creating a space where the community can gather.
Vashon Island Restaurants
To really get a sense of the food scene in Vashon, ask the locals, and they’ll help you discover places that are off the radar, like the Vashon Sugar Shack. The island has a diverse mix of restaurants and cuisine with something for everyone.
Vashon Baking Company
The Vashon Island Baking Company is known for its croissants. They make a variety of sweet and savory pastries out of house-made croissant dough. I dream about these pastries. They are so good.
Vashon Sugar Shack
I discovered the Vashon Sugar Shack quite by accident. I was at the baking company when the owner shouted out to a cantankerous gentleman sipping his coffee, “Chef, what’s for dinner tonight?” She then shared with me this hidden gem located across from the town grocery store.
Locals follow the business on Facebook or receive an email each day with the menu. Owners Hedy Anderson, the Caramel Queen, and Chef Wally Bell have created a unique culinary experience. Locals text their orders each day on the honor system so they know how much to cook with extra, of course, for the random drop-ins like me. You can take your food to go or eat outside on the picnic tables. Chef Wally is not cantankerous by the way; he just needed his morning coffee.
Pro Tip: Make sure to add a bottle of wine and some of Hedy’s amazing caramels. There is a reason why she is the queen.
Patty’s Place, home of Patty’s tamales, is a gem. Order breakfast all day and make sure to try the Tamale Huevos Rancheros, which my husband loved. I had a tamale plate. Get here early. They are open until 3 p.m. each day but on the busy Saturday we visited they were already sold out of some of the tamales. I love this place and its fusion of Hispanic and Asian cuisine plus breakfast. They do a great job of packing the food to go with everything you need. We picked up our meals to eat while waiting for the ferry.
The Hardware Store
The Hardware Store gets its name from the building it’s housed in, which is one of the oldest on Vashon and the original island hardware store. It is super popular for lunch and they don’t take reservations at this time. With its location right in town, you can get your name on the list and then pop into one of the local stores.
The food is upscale American. The lunch menu offers great burgers and salads, and locals love their buttermilk fried chicken strips. Dinner has more options stepping up classic dishes with more flavors. The food is just good.
Vashon Island is a treasure. There is something about getting on a ferry to travel to your destination that makes you feel like you are getting away from everything. (See the ferry sailing schedule for Vashon here.) Try to plan your visit around one of the many events held on Vashon Island, including their famous Strawberry Festival held each summer in July. Weekends can get rather busy, so weekdays are the best time to visit Vashon Island.
Pro Tips For Visiting Vashon Island
When I travel, I love to discover unique places that you won’t find anywhere else. On Vashon Island, that is Nashi Orchards, famed for its Perry, which is its pear version of cider; it is very good. Their newest product is Korean Giant Non-Alcoholic Perry, a delicious sparkling juice with no added sugar. Also new is their tasting room with artfully designed seating both inside and outside.
Also, check out the Maury Island Winery and the Palouse Winery for beautiful wine-tasting venues. Beer lovers will enjoy the breweries on Vashon Island — particularly Vashon Brewing, a community brewpub with lots of events. Cider fans can head over to Dragon’s Head Cider.
End your visit by returning along Highway 109. The Hidden Coast Scenic Byway is on the Olympic Peninsula and you can easily extend your stay by visiting the Olympic National Park. It is not too far away and I added time at Lake Quinault and Ruby Beach with a day trip from Seabrook.
Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, in 2023, Vashon Island will be a vibrant hub of arts and entertainment, featuring numerous galleries and events that highlight the rich artistic diversity and local culture.
Vashon Island has something for everyone, so why not come and explore its offerings?
What Is Vashon Known For?
Vashon is perhaps most well-known for its art and entertainment. The island is bustling with artists and performers, and the galleries and shows are not to be missed. Another thing Vashon is famed for is its fine dining, probably some of the finest in the Pacific Northwest.
Exploring the downtown Vashon shops and must-visit landmarks, embarking on hikes, and attending festivals and events will undoubtedly provide you with a unique experience.
How Did Vashon Island Get Its Name?
The island got its name when George Vancouver first discovered the island in 1792 and named it after Captain James Vashon. The name Vashon is primarily a male name of Anglo-American origin that means God Is Gracious, Merciful. Otherwise, the first people on the island were Native People who identified themselves as the Sqababsh in the Lushootseed Language. Today, Vashon Island is home to their descendants.
Is Docton Beach the Only Beach on Vashon Island?
Not by a country mile! There are numerous public beaches on Vashon Island that attract people from all over. Beaches on Vashon Island are perfect for sunbathing, picnicking, spending time with your dog, or wildlife watching. They are also great places for activities such as kayaking or canoeing if relaxing is not the only thing on your mind. Folks also come to Vashon Island for shellfish and beachcombing.
Why Is There the Strawberry Festival on Vashon Island?
In the 1900s, strawberries were commercially very important for farmers on the island, and that lasted until the early 1980s.To celebrate the rise of the strawberry, the inaugural Strawberry Festival took place in 1909, but it was not until 1912 that it became an annual event. Today there are very few commercially grown strawberries on the island but the residents still celebrate the Vashon Strawberry Festival in their own unique Vashon way.
What Is There to Do on Vashon Island for Dogs?
The island is ideal for dogs because of its quiet, rural setting. Moreover, dogs are free to roam, and a leash is not required most time. There are over 40 trails on Vashon Island where you can take your furry friend on a hike to explore all the sights, sounds, and smells of the island. We recommend visiting one of the downtown Vashon pet-friendly cafes or restaurants. Dog parks, dog-friendly businesses, and hotels are everywhere.