Vashon Island is one of the Pacific Northwest’s best-kept secrets, an idyllic haven nestled in the heart of the Puget Sound, with idyllic landscapes, breath-taking views, and friendly locals. Easily accessible from Tacoma or Seattle, it is the ideal day trip or weekend getaway destination, beloved by native Northwesterners and tourists alike. Despite its small size, there’s no shortage of things to do on Vashon Island. Here are a few top attractions to add to your itinerary.
How to Get to Vashon Island from Seattle
Seattle to Vashon Island by Ferry
Unlike some Puget Sound islands, such as Bainbridge, Whidbey, and Fidalgo, Vashon is not connected to the mainland by any bridges. But given that one of the Sound’s most significant draws is the sea itself, hopping on a ferry seems a natural choice, anyway.
Vashon Island is accessible by private boat or Washington State Ferries; most visitors take the latter route. Four ferry lines serve the island from nearby cities Port Orchard, Tacoma, and Seattle. The most popular are the 20- 30-minute ferry rides on the Fauntleroy-Southworth route from West Seattle or, if coming from Tacoma, the Point Defiance-Tahlequah Ferry.
The Point-Defiance-Tahlequah route drops you at the island’s south end, while the Fauntleroy-Southworth route stops at the north end.
If you’re approaching from the west and the Port Orchard vicinity, you can also take the ferry from Southworth. You can also take a ferry to the Fauntleroy (West Seattle) dock from this port.
You can also take a passenger-only (no cars) ferry from downtown Seattle. If you don’t have a car or are attending an event on the island, using the “foot ferry” may be a good option. From here, you can take a local bus or taxi from the dock to downtown Vashon.
You can find all the ferry schedules here.
Seattle to Vashon Island by Car
Even though you can’t get to Vashon Island by car only, you will want a vehicle to explore the island. As mentioned, the only exception may be if you are attending an event and/or are happy to spend most of your time in Vashon.
All four ferry docks connect directly to the Vashon Highway, the main arterial connecting the island’s north and south shores.
Public transportation on the island is minimal. There is no rideshare service, so, although it is small, having a car is essential if you want to see all of Vashon Island’s attractions in a day or weekend.
If you need to rent a car for your trip, you can browse the deals on Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across all the major providers.
Things To Do on a Vashon Island Day Trip
Grab a Coffee in Burton
Just a few minutes north of Tahlequah is Burton, a small town that supplies all the necessities for residents, including a post office and general stores. It’s also home to Burton Coffee Stand. If you’ve spent any time at all in the Northwest, you know no day trip can properly start without a good cup of jo (or two, or three).
Along with Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie along the highway, or Pollard Per Se Coffee to the west on Bank Road, Burton Coffee Stand is one of the best spots on Vashon to get your fix. The small stand is staffed and patronized by amicable locals and features regional roasts and baked goods from nearby Snapdragon Bakery.
While in Burton, stop by the Burton Store, formally known as Harbor Mercantile, a general store built in 1908 where you can stock up on snacks and other necessities for the day.
Visit Jensen Point Park
At just four acres, Jensen Point Park is on the smaller side. But make no mistake; it is still ripe with opportunities for fun.
One of the best things to do on Vashon Island is rent a kayak here and go for a leisurely row. This spot, secluded with shallow waters, is also ideal for swimming on warm summer days. Along the shore are tables and charcoal grills, making it a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch.
Hike Shinglemill Creek Preserve
It wouldn’t be a Pacific Northwest day trip without a hike, and the Shinglemill Creek Preserve is one of Vashon Island’s best spots for an outdoor excursion. Besides being on the water, hiking is the best way to take in all of the region’s mystical beauty, from lush green forests to imposing mountain ranges and misty seashores.
The Shinglemill Creek Preserve, located on the island’s north end, is a natural area composed of more than 160 acres. Take a 3-mile moderate hike through the evergreen forest along a river to the beach. Keep an eye out for hundreds of salmon splashing about beneath the river’s bridge in late summer.
Note: while the route is accessible to most active people, about a quarter-mile section is steep and can be quite slippery when damp (which is most of the time), so wear shoes with decent tread.
Visit Fern Cove
Just north of Shinglemill Creek Preserve is Fern Cove. Comprised of 750 feet of shoreline, this small but beautiful stretch of land includes two year-round streams, an estuary, and a 100-year-old second-growth forest. The historic Belle Baldwin House, former home to Washington’s first female physician, is also on the site.
Stroll Through Dockton
Vashon Island connects to Maury Island via an isthmus the locals created in 1913. Being a separate island, it doesn’t technically count as a Vashon Island attraction, but it’s well worth visiting.
After a short drive to Maury, you’ll arrive at Dockton Park, which features a picturesque swimming beach, the perfect spot to dip a toe in the cool blue Pacific before having a picnic lunch. Then, take a stroll through Dockton to take in the town’s history via interpretive signs and exhibits stationed throughout.
Check Out Maury Island Marine Park
To the east of Dockton lies Maury Island Marine Park, one of the largest undeveloped natural areas in Puget Sound. With a mile of shoreline and stunning views of Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountain Range, and East Passage, it’s home to blue herons, eagles, Pacific Madrone trees, and other regional flora and fauna.
See the Lighthouse at Point Robinson Park
Next up is by far one of the best things to do on Vashon Island: visiting Point Robinson Park. Best-known for the picturesque Point Robinson Lighthouse, the ten-acre shoreline park and historic marine conservancy is the perfect setting for a beach walk.
As part of the Whale Trail, Point Robinson Park is also a prime spot to observe resident orcas (year-round) or transient gray whales (in late spring through early summer).
Take one of the walking trails to explore coastal woodlands, or simply stop off at the 1885 Lighthouse if you’re short on time.
Stock Up on Fresh Produce at the Vashon Island Farmers Market
One of the main draws of Vashon is its sylvan atmosphere. Unlike some of the Sound’s larger isles, Vashon isn’t capable of supporting massive infrastructure and thus is rural by design. In part because of this, it attracts creative types and those who prefer to spend most of their days in nature, including farmers and artisans.
If you’re taking your Vashon Island day trip on a Saturday between April and December, head to the Vashon Island Farmers Market in the center of town outside the Vashon Island Center for the Arts. Here, you will find about 50 stalls selling everything from fresh, local produce to artisanal goods.
Take a Farm or Garden Tour
Each summer, Vashon Island Center for the Arts hosts a garden tour comprised of a self-guided tour of the isle’s most majestic gardens. On the tour, you will see a stunning array of flora as well as beautiful landscaping, unique outdoor artwork, and more.
There is also a self-guided farm tour you can take by following a map provided by the Vashon Island Grower’s Association.
For a closer look at specific farms, call ahead to inquire about individual tours. Sea Breeze Farm hosts annual interactive tours, for example, involving a day of (fun) farm work followed by a cooking class and group dinner.
Lavender Hill Farm, a certified organic lavender farm and shop with more than 20 fragrant purple plant varieties, is enchanting. Mukai Farm, a nationally registered historic farm, is another excellent stop featuring gorgeous Japanese gardens.
Explore the Town of Vashon
No Vashon Island day trip would be complete without spending some time in the town of Vashon. Like its island namesake, the town is small and eclectic. Take a stroll through town, grab a bite, and do some shopping before heading back to the mainland.
Among the best shops in town is Giraffe, which features a curated selection of ethically sourced goods from around the world, including housewares, clothes, and artwork. The Ravens Nest, a shop and Northwest Coast Native Art Gallery, is another must-visit, featuring traditional and contemporary Native works.
Looking for something new to read? Stop by Vashon Bookshop, a sweet little shop selling new and used titles.
To pick up gifts, locally-made provisions, or u-pick produce, stop into The Country Store and Farm, a nursery and farm store that has served the community for more than 57 years.
If you’re hungry, stop by one of the town’s independently-owned eateries, including Island Queen, Bramble House, Vashon Island Baking Company, Café Luna, Anu Rana’s Healthy Kitchen, or Snapdragon Bakery. Patty’s Place is another local favorite, serving everything from homemade waffles (from the owner’s grandmother’s recipe) to Korean ribs and Cuban sandwiches.
Check Out the Local Arts Scene
Known as one of Puget Sound’s creative havens, Vashon Island, similar to South Whidbey or Lopez Island in the San Juans, has a robust artist population. Along with the Raven’s Nest, you can get a feel for the local arts scene by stopping by the Gather gallery, Heron’s Nest Gallery, Hinge Gallery, or Vashon Island Center for the Arts.
The Vashon Island Visual Artists non-profit also has a map of all of the island’s art studios that are open to the public. For upcoming information on events and performing arts, check out the Vashon Chamber of Commerce.
Have more time?
With so many things to do on Vashon Island, you could easily spend an entire weekend on the isle and still not see everything it has to offer. There are also tons more opportunities for adventure ashore on the mainland and on nearby islands.
If you have time, consider stopping by Saltwater State Park, a 137-acre plot in Des Moines, WA, between Federal Way and SeaTac Airport. The park features a sandy swimming beach in the southwest and rocky tide flats on the west, including an artificial reef popular with scuba divers.
Just west of Vashon Island is the incredible Olympic National Park, one of the region’s most magnificent treasures. This sprawling, magical evergreen forest contains waterfalls, canyons, mountains, beaches, and even an old-growth rainforest.
South of Olympic National Park lie some of the Washington Coast’s favorite seaside towns, including Ocean Shores and Long Beach, ideal destinations for beach vacations. Further south along the way to Portland is the stunning Oregon Coast, including Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach.
And to the east is one of the Northwest’s most iconic and awe-inspiring gems, Mt. Rainier National Park, another must-visit for any trip to the Pacific Northwest. From snow-capped mountains to herds of wild deer and vibrant wildflower meadows, the expansive park is like another world.
For more sea-based adventures, consider taking a whale charter departing from Seattle or another seaside port to spy one of the region’s resident orca pods or migrant whales populations, along with seals, sea lions, otters, and other marine life.
Keen on more island-hopping? Head north from Vashon and stop by Whidbey Island and stop by the creative hippie haven of Langley, historic Coupeville, and stunning Deception Pass State Park.
Or head even further north to the San Juan Islands, another of the area’s most beloved destinations for city breaks, featuring boating and whale-watching excursions, kayaking, seaside hikes, and pastoral landscapes.
Where to Stay on Vashon Island
If you’ve decided that you’d rather spend a night or two on the island rather than simply going on a day trip from Seattle, you’re going to need to find a great place to stay. There aren’t a lot of traditional accommodation choices on Vashon Island, however, there are a number of great vacation rentals that you can choose from. Here are some great options:
Beachfront Treehouse – If you want to a unique stay in a beautiful setting, then this is a great option for you. This charming treehouse cottage has beautiful west-facing views of the sea, meaning that it’s perfect for catching the sunset. Click here to see their availability
Burton Waterfront Beachouse – Located in the town of Burton, this quaint cottage makes for an excellent base on Vashon Island. It can sleep up to four people, has a fully-equipped kitchen and a wonderful deck that is located directly on the water offering up spectacular views of the Puget Sound. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to see more Vashon Island accommodation!
There are countless things to do on Vashon Island that you could easily spend more than a day trip from here. Regardless of whether you have one day or many, there is no denying that this is a special area of the Puget Sound.
Are you planning a Vashon Island day trip? Have you visited before? Let us know in the comments!