A stone's throw from downtown Seattle, but leagues away from the hustle and bustle of the city, lies Vashon Island. A 20 minute ferry ride takes you from West Seattle’s Fauntleroy dock and across Puget Sound to the rocky shores of Vashon. If you are from the Pacific Northwest, there is a good chance you have had the opportunity to explore Vashon, but perhaps it has been awhile. While much of the island hasn’t changed over the years, the opening of new restaurants and a boutique hotel are bringing outsiders in, and causing city dwellers to take notice. With farm-to-table dining seeing increased popularity, new resident chefs and farmers are making this bedroom community a destination in its own right. If you are looking for a quick, weekend getaway from Seattle, or want to add on a couple of slow days to your visit to the city, look no farther than this little island surrounded by beautiful water, ringed with expansive beaches, and covered with evergreen forests. It won’t take long for you to see that sleepy Vashon has a lot to say for itself.
The Lodges on Vashon: Until recently, hotel accommodations on Vashon have been scarce. Last summer, my friend/developer, Jena Thornton and her team at Magnetic filled the void of lodging options on the island by opening the long awaited Lodges on Vashon, the first modular-built hotel of its kind in the United States. Located 5 minutes from the ferry in downtown Vashon, the Lodges consist of 16 free standing, private lodges scattered over the expansive property. Each contemporary lodge, appointed to take in the lush forest views, is 570 sq. ft. and features a king-size bed, gas fireplace, living room, flat-panel television, and high-speed internet.
While there is lots to do on Vashon, hanging out at the Lodges is also encouraged. The heart of the Lodges is the Pavillion, a sheltered outdoor space, dripping with twinkle lights and featuring a gas fireplace, heat lamps, music, and endless lounging capabilities. Late night dance party anyone? In addition to the Pavillion, the Lodges also boast two additional communal spaces that are available for larger meetings and gatherings. While on the island, either relax at the Lodges or one of their hosts will happily plug you into whatever is happening at the moment; whether it's a farm dinner, water sports, or the Vashon art scene, they have you covered. Available from $185 per night.
Pt. Robinson Keeper's Quarters: There are a number of private accommodations for rent on the island, but the best, without a doubt, are the lighthouse keeper's quarters at Point Robinson. Owned by the Vashon Park District and maintained by a volunteer group, the Keepers of Point Robinson, the two cottages are a stones throw from the Lighthouse and enjoy the luxury of a private beach with a beautiful east-facing view of Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains. The houses, dating back to the early 1900's have been fully renovated to modern standards. Quarters A is a three-bedroom, two-bath house that can accommodate 6 guests comfortably. While Quarters B is a two-bedroom, one-bath house that can accommodate 4 guests. If you are a large group, take over the whole property and enjoy the run of the place. You will be the only people around. In high season the Quarters book up well in advance, so start planning for next summer!
About 8 years ago I was introduced to farm dining on Vashon by Kurt Timmermeister. Kurt owns a beautiful farm where, every Sunday he would invite a chef to cook for his guests, using ingredients produced on the farm. Sundays at Kurtwood Farms were magical, a time to meet new friends, enjoy the company of old friends, and share a wonderful meal together. When Kurt decided to stop hosting his Sunday dinners to focus on the farm and other endeavors (two books and a shop in Seattle), it was awhile before I made it back to Vashon for a meal. That time has definitely changed. Not only are there new farms offering seats at their tables, but a host of new restaurants have recently opened, bringing exceptional food to the Vashon community.
Circle Rock Ranch: Turning off the road onto Circle Rock Ranch, the drive takes you up and over verdant green hills dotted with evergreen trees. Pulling up to the white farm house, a tribe of vocal goats gather at the fence waiting for their evening meal. As you park your car, be careful not to hit the white peacock parading around; he is not part of the evening meal. Welcome to Circle Rock Ranch, the latest farm-to-table dining experience on Vashon Island.
In 2013, Chef Brandon D’Imperio and his girlfriend, Jody Rollins, packed up their animals and transplanted themselves from Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles, to a 9 acre farm on Vashon’s Maury Island. Over the course of the last three years, Brandon and Jody have worked to cultivate their organic farm, not only harvesting heirloom vegetables and other produce, but raising a variety of animals for meat. They have recently made the move to open Circle Rock Ranch for intimate dinners inside the dining room of their farm house. After a break from the restaurant world, chef Brandon’s culinary talents are back on display on his own terms.
On a recent evening, we had the pleasure of sampling a number of dishes featuring ingredients either farmed, foraged or made on the island. Our meal included fresh ricotta, a salad of asparagus and cured meat, hand made agnollotti pasta with feta and peas, and horse clam ceviche, from clams dug by Brandon on the beach below the farm. If you are staying at the Lodges on Vashon, they will happily make arrangements for a meal at Circle Rock Ranch. Unless you are visiting the Ranch as a group, be prepared to dine family style in the company of a dozen perfect strangers, a wonderful way to meet new friends and make interesting connections.
Bramble House: A couple of doors down from the Lodges on Vashon and barely a month old, Bramble House brings refined dining to downtown Vashon. Chef Lia Lira has trained all over the world and returned to her roots to open her first restaurant. The small menu features seasonal dishes made from ingredients sourced from local producers and farmers. The simple menu features delicious soup, salads, pasta, and proteins, served on a collection of vintage china in the comfort of a repurposed island home. On a recent visit we started our dinner with a silky sweet pea soup with shrimp tortellini and a tender beet salad with greek yogurt, pepitas, and sumac. Both dishes were light and delicious and a great segue to our hearty mains, a pan seared duck breast and a tender braised pork shank with mustard greens. Bramble House is still very new and figuring out its groove and place in the community, but brings wonderful, simple food to the island. If you are coming to Vashon for a quick getaway, Bramble House is a lovely spot to enjoy a nice, peaceful dinner (Bramble House also serves weekend brunch!).
Gravy: Chef Dre Neeley, formerly of Cafe Presse in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and his wife, Pepa Brower recently decided to abandon city life in favor of Vashon Island. Their new restaurant, Gravy, also in downtown Vashon, highlights modern American fare with a twist of southern comfort and french flair. The menu features comforting dishes such a a Wedge Salad, fresh caught Salmon, a huge bone-in Pork Chop, and a perfectly prepared wood-fired Rib Eye. Gravy also features a great burger! If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, be sure to try the chef’s signature ribs, and if it's a sunny day, eat outside on Gravy’s backyard patio.
May Kitchen + Bar: There is a lot of Thai food in the Northwest, but some claim it is worth the ferry ride just to come to Vashon for dinner at May. Don't be thrown off by the rustic exterior - it's what is inside that brings eaters back again and again. Favorites include deep fried watercress, green curry, and fried plantains for desert. Mouth watering.
Pure Organic Cafe & Juicery: On my way back to Seattle recently, I decided to pick up lunch to eat on the ferry. Pure is a great little spot right in Vashon that sells organic fresh pressed juices, smoothies, and delicious salad bowls featuring quinoa or organic brown rice with tahini dressing. Pure and delicious, and everything is vegan and gluten free!
Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie: 10 minutes from the ferry dock, kiddy-corner from the new Vashon Center for the Arts is an institution of sorts. The Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie is the place on the island to get your coffee, and a great place to grab a pastry or sandwich to take to the beach. In addition to coffee, the Roasterie also boasts an impressive collection of loose leaf teas.
Glass Bottle Creamery: Really good ice cream in downtown Vashon. Speaks for itself.
ON THE SIDE
Paddle Boarding: Rent a paddle board and take in the island from the water. Fat Cat Paddle Boarding is a mobile rental service that rents boards by the hour, starting at $15.00.
Hit the Beach: My favorite beaches on the island are KVI Beach (a.k.a. Point Heyer) and the beach at Point Robinson Lighthouse. Both are long stretches of pebble beach fronted by calm water. Watch the herons fish, throw the ball for your dog, paddle in the bay, or just relax in the sun against the massive driftwood trunks that shelter the beach.
Vashon Island Farmer’s Market: From April to December, the Vashon Island Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm in downtown Vashon. From June to September a second market day is added on Wednesday's from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Vashon Island Strawberry Festival: Every summer the Strawberry Festival is held on the second weekend of July. Visit Vashon during the festival and experience everything that summer brings to the island, including live music, food, a parade, and of course, fresh picked strawberries!
Vashon Sheepdog Classic: Every June, in the rolling meadow of Misty Isle Farms, the largest herding event on the West Coast takes place. As much as this event is about the dogs and the sheep, it has also become a community festival of sorts, bringing artists, vendors, bagpipers, and beer to a beautiful island setting. If you happen to be headed to the Island in June, be sure to check your calendar to see if the Classic is taking place.
Fourth of July Fireworks: If you are headed to Vashon for the Fourth of July, don't miss the fireworks on Inner Quartermaster Harbor. Privately sponsored by community residents, this display of fireworks is some of the best around!
Pacific Crest Farm Stand: Don't miss stopping at the Pacific Crest Farm Stand on Vashon's Maury Island. The stand operates on the honor system, so grab what looks good, make a note of what you have taken, and put your money in the box.
Vashon Center for the Arts: In April, Vashon residents celebrated the opening of their new Center for the Arts, the Catherine L. White Hall, located mid-island across from the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. The beautiful new building is the showcase for art, theatre and music on the Island. Check out their website for a current listing of upcoming performances.
DIG Nursery: Don't expect to do a lot of retail therapy on Vashon, but if you enjoy gardening and plants, a stop at DIG Nursery is a must.
Vashon Island can be reached by a number of different routes. The most popular is the 20-minute ferry from Fauntleroy in West Seattle. During commuting hours, a foot ferry connects Vashon with downtown Seattle. From the south end of Vashon Island, Washington State Ferries also provides convenient connections to Tacoma.
There is no such thing as a "best" time of year to visit Vashon. Regardless, Vashon calls for being outside, so whatever the weather, be prepared. Rest assured, every day on Vashon is different and the weather often is what makes your visit soulful. On a recent visit to Vashon, I explored the island by myself, ran on the beach with my dog, had ice cream for lunch, and soaked up the sun on an amazing early summer day. It could easily have been pouring and I would have done the same thing. After all, this is why I love the Pacific Northwest.
So, it has been a year since I launched Feed My Wanderlust. This travelogue is constantly evolving, in large part because of feedback from my readers. So please, keep it up. Send me a note! I love hearing from people who enjoy reading my work, and those who have followed my travel recommendations. Thank you! I look forward to the next year in travel and sharing my adventures with you.
Whats to Come:
Stinson Beach, CA ★ 08.16
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W A N D E R L U S T