Coupeville rates high on desirable destinations list

— Created October 12, 2022 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

As Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism tackles what tourism will look like in the future, one Whidbey Island community already seems to know what visitors may be looking for. Small towns, it seems, have a leg up on big metro locales when it comes to warmth and charm.  At least according to the readers of the internet travel website TravelAwaits.  Both Coupeville and nearby La Conner landed on the magazine’s list of “15 Friendliest Small Towns in the US” last year.

The Best of Travel Awards are voted on by readers; first comes the nomination round where readers write in their favorite destination.

 “The locations that receive the most nominations move along to the voting round, where each reader selects their favorite from each set of finalists,” said Clayton McKibbin of TravelAwaits. “Voting runs for an additional three weeks, and the locations that receive the most votes earn the title of ‘Best of Travel’ in their respective categories.”

Coupeville’s accolades are something that residents have acknowledged all along, said Lynda Eccles, Coupeville Chamber of Commerce executive director.

“There’s the beautiful walking trails, bike trails, scenic views and historic buildings. These all add up to our uniqueness.  It’s reassuring that our National Historical Reserve at Ebey’s Landing will always be there.  The future won’t see it disappear under acres of houses; it will always retain its walking trails.  With all the other uncertainties of life, our visitors are charmed by that realization.  And many tourists from the mainland are actually eager to get away from all the ‘hustle and bustle,’” she said.

“Coupeville enjoys a great sense of community,” she continued.  “Our townspeople share a passion about the arts, the historic waterfront, and our location in the heart of a national historic reserve.  We’re proud of our history and culture, and that carries over to how we treat our guests and visitors here.  We want them to experience the wonder of what makes this town so special, too.

Those are sentiments that Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes shares as well. 

“Our festivals and events really are unique,” she said.  We’ve worked very hard to make the visitor experience something special.  There’s the Penn Cove Water Festival which honors native peoples and beautiful natural surroundings; Mussel Fest, a culinary/cultural event; and the Arts and Crafts Festival, which draws on the many artistic talents found on Whidbey.  Not to mention that we’re also on the Scenic By-way and the Cascade Loop. Riding a ferry is just part of that unique visitor experience.”

These all-important aesthetic experiences overlay a very practical aspect too.  Tourism and sales tax dollars make up the third largest source of the town’s income.  And those tourism dollars have a ripple effect, Hughes explains.

“The financial benefits go beyond Coupeville’s borders.  Folks attending a festival here may decide to drop in on the South End to Langley, to Clinton.  People traveling here via Washington State Ferry pass through Port Townsend, the Olympic Peninsula, and points beyond.  Tourism in Coupeville impacts the entire state,” she said.

As if that were not enough, there are even more intangible benefits according to Jesse Levesque, Coupeville Historic Waterfront Executive Director.

“Studies over the past 20 years demonstrate that investments made in strengthening downtown commercial districts result in increased quality of life, and even increased lifespan for residents,” said Levesque.  “Coming together to revitalize the character of our downtown spaces, which encourages tourism, actually generates more revenue than that given by huge, sprawling ‘big box’ stores.”

Seeing that small businesses, stores, and restaurants are what make up Coupeville’s downtown, that makes a great argument for continuing those sorts of investments, she said.

The TravelAwaits award singled out the Island County Historical Museum as one of those outstanding attractions to which Coupeville lays claim.   Museum Executive Director Rick Castellano says the most alluring characteristic of the town and museum is authenticity.

 “Coupeville is special because it’s authentic.  We work really hard to preserve that authenticity in the museum; much effort goes into that aim,” he said.

Castellano described how many of the photos on display at the museum are 100 years old or greater.  “What’s astounding about that is that these pictures are especially relevant, since many buildings or sites they portray are still standing.  You can still go out to their physical locations and see them.  In larger cities, that’s not often the case,” he said.

Some of the noteworthy collections are what Castellano terms the Native Peoples and Places exhibits.  “These document local history going back to the Ice Age.  We’re fortunate to have eight dugout canoes in our collection here donated by the Swinomish Tribal Community,” he said.  “Those are in addition to basket collections, tools, hunting points, and more.”

It’s more than just a nice touch to that award-winning small town friendliness that one of the museum’s most popular programs is called “Porch Stories.”  It’s a free program the museum offers which focuses on local history.  Castellano describes it as “a gathering on the museum’s covered porch for up to a dozen listeners that’s designed for a half hour and usually ends up lasting twice that long.  It’s very interactive, because we also invite listeners to share stories of their own,” said Castellano.

A recent “Porch Stories” event shows how everyone really does have a story to tell, he said.  “The event focused on the 1922 sinking of the ferry boat M/V Calista.  Some of our museum visitors from Seattle were relatives of people aboard the ship that day, 100 years ago.  Fortunately, all passengers and crew were rescued; there was no loss of lives.”

For more information about what Coupeville has to offer, contact the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce at or call 360-678-5434.  The TravelAwaits article “15 Friendliest Small Towns in the US” may be referenced at