Tucked into old Douglas firs that look like they have weathered many a coastal storm is the nautical-infused Captain Whidbey Inn, a historical gem situated on the mussel-stocked waters of Whidbey Island in Washington State. Chris Fisher and his son Edward built the original structure in 1907 from materials like Madrona logs and stone found on the land, dubbing it the Whid-Isle Inn. It opened shortly after as part of an island retreat named Still Park, aptly named and developed by Judge Lester Still.
Since then, it has served many different purposes, including a private residence, a boarding house, a post office, an all-girls school, a general store, and now, once again, an inn.
A new beginning
After several years of owning and operating the Pioneertown Motel outside of Joshua Tree, California, brothers Matt and Mike French and their business partner, Eric Cheong, were on the hunt for another project. Explains Mike, “Matt and I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and Eric has a depth of experience sailing in the Salish Sea off the coast of Washington, so Whidbey Island felt like a natural fit for all of us. The first visit to the property revealed the magic of Captain Whidbey, and we were determined to move forward.”
Renovating with care
The French brothers and Cheong bought the inn in 2018 and began thinking of how to reimagine the property’s lodging with a nod to local culture, relying on Cheong, an architect, for his design expertise. They undertook a property-wide renovation, which included the Penn Cove cabins set apart from the main lodging. Each one is themed and named after a different area company. “We partnered with brands that are emblematic of the Pacific Northwest experience,” says Mike. “We aimed to work with an on-island partner as well as with heritage Seattle partners.”
In fact, it is built into their ethos to spotlight local businesses and reflect the culture in every facet of their property. Mike explains, “In all our projects, working with local vendors, artisans, and purveyors is incredibly important. By doing so, we can support the community and build real soul into the work. One of my favorite details on the property is the mural on the horseshoe bar. If you look closely, you’ll see a Morse code message in the painting, which reads a quote from a Whidbey Island poet.”
For Mike, the most rewarding part of owning Captain Whidbey is fostering the many special moments that happen on the property. “We have restored and amplified a space for genuine connection and spirited connection,” he says. “The legacy of Captain Whidbey lives on through these experiences and really hits home why we do the work.”
For the most authentic experience, guests can stay in the Historic Lodge, the heart of the inn. The lodge has retained much of its original 1907 character, including the shared bathrooms and rustic ambience. Here you can easily cozy up on a couch in front of the stone fireplace and read the night away with a good book.
Another option is the Lagoon Rooms, which surround a body of water originally built as a swimming hole for the inn. Each features custom furnishings built by John Gnorski, a California artist and builder whose work is detailed and precise and brings a fun vibe to the guest experience. The beds all sport woven blankets by Whidbey native and weaver Hannah Ruth Levi, who spent a winter weaving the custom blankets that have become statement pieces on the bedspreads.
Finally, there are four waterfront Penn Cove cabins, which are all outfitted through collaborations with beloved Pacific Northwest tastemakers Filson, Glasswing, We the Nomads, and Edit. Each includes a fireplace, a king-sized bed, and private porches.
Guests can expect locally sourced and seasonally minded menus that showcase the bounty of Whidbey Island, all while being treated to a water view. The Penn Cove Mussels are a crowd favorite, and you can even see the Penn Cove Shellfish docks where they harvest the mussels for delivery nationwide. (How’s that for fresh seafood?) Other mouthwatering eats on the menu include Salish Sea Clam Chowder and a panko-crusted Penn Cove Brewing beer-battered fish-and-chips.
Things to do
Captain Whidbey is located in Coupeville, one of Washington’s oldest towns and the seat of Island County. Guests interested in venturing off property can take a ferry to the quaint historic waterfront town to explore its many charming shops and restaurants or visit its surrounding parks, such as Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which offers over 17,000 acres of scenic landscape, accessible beaches, and stunning trails. You can also check out Deception Pass, a marine and camping park that boasts hiking, biking, and horse trails.
For those looking for a cozier stay, the inn offers a buffet of activities and happenings. There is a wellness studio and sauna for yoga and meditation and complimentary s’mores kits at the front desk to enjoy around the outdoor firepits. You can also try a whiskey flight, challenge yourself to some trivia with cash prizes, or show up to a Love Notes hour, where you can compose sweet messages to those who have passed on or to cherished friends who are right next to you. Or simply call dibs on an outdoor hammock, close your eyes, and breathe in the heady scent of pine.
Captain Whidbey resides at the intersection of design, nature, and history, drawing a diverse collection of visitors from around the world. The owners have created an environment that is at once simple and luxurious, transporting guests to a different era. Its many iterations vibrate in the wood and stone bones of the inn, a testament to the enduring spirit of Whidbey Island.
For more info, visit captainwhidbey.com