Mussel mania comes to Coupeville

— Created February 28, 2024 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It is a celebration like no other on Whidbey Island. Penn Cove Musselfest takes over the historic town Saturday and Sunday and, as it has been since 1986, the world-renowned mollusks will be the star of the show.

Photo Courtesy of Penn Cove Musselfest
Eleven local restaurants are participating in Penn Cove Musselfest’s chowder tasting this year in hopes of winning the “Best Chowder” honors. Tasting tickets are sold out, but restaurants and food vendors will have plenty of mussel dishes available to purchase.

Chowder tasting tickets are no longer available, but never fear – there will be plenty of tasty mussels being served at local restaurants and food booths, along with local brews, cooking demonstrations, children’s activities, live entertainment and more. (Find a complete lineup at

“Musselfest is a classic small-town festival where no matter which way you turn there is something to see, eat, do and enjoy,” said Kellie Sites, Musselfest chair. “Coupeville has so many fun shops and when we add Musselfest to the fun, you can’t help but enjoy yourself. There is a wide variety of live music all day Saturday and Sunday, including some live entertainment from the Island Shakespeare Festival and of course, the Shifty Sailors and Kick Brass on Front Street.”

Musselfest is the signature event of the year for the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, which pulls the event together with help from its main sponsor, Penn Cove Shellfish, along with Island County and the town of Coupeville. It also comes at a perfect time of the year.

“It’s a real clear sign everyone’s coming out of hibernation from the winter,” said Jesse Levesque, CHWFA executive director. “If you walk out in the street there are bands playing, there are people on bikes, boats taking people out on the water, there are vendors and people everywhere. It’s an awesome sight after a cold, long, dark winter – both for people who live here and for people coming from elsewhere. It’s awesome.”

Photo Courtesy of Penn Cove Musselfest
Steamed, sauced, in chowder – Penn Cove Musselfest celebrates the bold, briny and blue served just about every way imaginable. The festival takes place Saturday and Sunday in Coupeville

For longtime Musselfest attendees, one of the biggest changes this year was how fast tasting tickets and tickets to Friday night’s Mussel Mingle sold out.

“We put out save the date cards in January, advertising that chowder tasting and Mussel Mingle tickets went on sale Feb. 2,” Levesque said. “All of them sold out in a week. I think that makes history. But even if you didn’t get a tasting ticket, come anyway. There’s so much to do!”

“There’s an all new treasure hunt,” shared Sites, when talking about children’s activities. “Collect the pieces of the mermaid puzzle and collect your treasure at the end. The cost is $15 and you can find this in the Rec Hall, located in the Blue Zone. Mermaids are also in the Blue Zone Saturday and Sunday from 11 3 p.m. They can’t wait to see all the kiddos.”

Photo Courtesy of Penn Cove Musselfest
Mermaids call Penn Cove home, too! The Whidbey Island Sirens Pod will be appearing at Penn Cove Musselfest in Coupeville from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Sites said there will also be indoor craft activities for kids at the Masonic Lodge and coloring sheets of this year’s Musselfest poster will be available at the Meet Market on Front Street. Kids ages 2-10 can grab a pole and fish off the pier (at Front Street Realty) to catch a treat from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“If you’re 21 and over, there are two beer gardens on Saturday with music and a variety of local beverages – beer from Flyer’s and Anacortes Brewing, Greenbank Cidery’s hot spiced cider and top-of-the-line wine from Holmes Harbor Cellars out of Freeland,” Sites said, noting there will be only one beer garden Sunday. “For foodies, there are free chef demos all day Saturday and Sunday starting at the top of each hour in the Rec Hall. These are renowned chefs from around the area, teaching how to cook with mussels. It’s pretty special and there are limited samples at the end.”  

Another unique opportunity Musselfest offers is the chance to tour Penn Cove Shellfish’s mussel farm. There are still tickets available and tours sail on the half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. These 45-minute tours provide an up close look at mussel farming and offer unforgettable views of Penn Cove. Cost of boat tours is $20 for those 13 and older, $10 for children ages 6-12 and free for kids to age 5.  Tickets may be purchased in advance online at

Mussels in the Kettles
Musselfest wouldn’t be Musselfest without Cookin’ in the Kettles.
Mussels in the Kettles takes place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is a non-competitive bike ride for all types/levels of riders. The starting line is open from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Coupeville High School Gym, 501 S Main Street in Coupeville.
There are three routes to choose from, ranging from an easy 10-mile ride, a moderate 12-mile route and for expert riders, a 15-mile route through the Fort Ebey and Kettles trail system, which offers over 30 miles of single and double-track trails with terrain that goes from rolling to steep hills.
Mussels in the Kettles is a project of the Whidbey Island Bicycle Club and is the primary fundraiser to help with the cost of trail work conducted by the club. Cost to participate starts at $35 per person. Check out routes and register online at

There is no shortage of live entertainment, either. Music and more goes from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Rec Hall parking lot, and the Penn Cove Shellfish tent will feature music all day Saturday as well. That tent (and beer garden) is located at Coveland and Main.

As noted, if you missed out on chowder tasting tickets or if you don’t care for shellfish, there will be plenty of other food options available to enjoy.

“Many of our restaurants will be selling chowder, so you can get a taste that way,” Sites said. “The Booster Club will be steaming up mussels all weekend, as well as the spicy variety at the Penn Cove Shellfish tent. If you’re not a seafood fan, there are so many options – you can get a delicious hot dog, paella, pizza, or poutine and finish up with a Kona Ice treat and a piece of pie.”

And there’s one other option for hungry mussel lovers – the annual mussel-eating contest. The big event takes place at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The cost to participate is $10 per person and those interested can sign up at the Rec Hall on the day of for a chance to win a cape and a crown. Spots are limited, so organizers suggest people sign up as soon as they arrive at the festival.

Rain or shine, people should come for the sheer fun of it all, said organizers.

“I love just seeing everyone having such a great time,” Sites said. “We’re celebrating the finale of winter! And the setting of Musselfest makes it so unique. Penn Cove is a beautiful location and this festival has been going since 1986. Each year it’s a little bit different. It has the feel of the sea. For locals, bring your friends and family. It’s an event to be proud of. If you’re coming from farther away, you’ll find parking, free shuttles around town, and a small, walkable festival filled with upbeat activities that will remind you how fun life can be!”

“It is an experiential tourism event at its best,” said Levesque. “I think people are gravitating more and more to experiences and less and less than simply consumption and travel. They want to have something to go to and experience. People are willing to travel to a destination to get to see behind the scenes of something like a mussel farm and then taste all these preparations by people who live and work here. It’s a unique opportunity.”

A full list of events and food can be found online at