Camano Island: Bridge Over to a Pacific Northwest Island Experience

Camano Island Beach

Camano Island Beach

Camano Island: Bridge Over to a Pacific Northwest Island Experience

By Nancy Zaffaro

Camano Island, located just over an hour north of Seattle and just east over the waters of Saratoga Passage from its better-known neighbor, Whidbey Island, offers the real-deal, genuine island experience. No ferry ride needed—just cross over Davis Slough on the unassuming Camano Gateway Bridge to arrive. Once there, traverse the scenic 15.6 miles-long island (6.6 miles at its widest) of rural homes, farms, and two state parks off the coasts of Puget Sound. Still more a great place to live than a tourist destination, the island offers some of the best of the Pacific Northwest coast without traffic or crowds.

ART, SHOPPING & COFFEE
A number of fine artists, especially glass and fiber artists make the island their home and several open their studios to the public. Camano Island Marketplace is a good starting point to see some of the local artists’ and artisan food suppliers’ wares. Stop for a coffee from Camano Island Coffee Roasters.

Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park is a must-see for art lovers. Outside, more than 80 sculptures are interspersed among the trees and foliage and open green spaces. Wandering the space and being able to walk the circle around the sculptures in the outdoors makes experiencing the work all the more nourishing thoughtful, and enjoyable. Indoors, there is 3,000 well-lit square-feet of rotating and temporary exhibit and workspace. The gallery represents 75 highly-skilled artists at all stages of their careers, creating work in just about every medium. There are artists local to the Pacific Northwest, as well as from around the U.S., and internationally, from Germany and Japan.

Karla Matzke standing by sculpture “Hug Me Like a Rock”, by Tracy Powell.

Karla Matzke standing by sculpture “Hug Me Like a Rock”, by Tracy Powell.

The gallery is owned and curated by artist Karla Matzke, who first moved to the Northwest in 1985, from Albany, NY, and settled on Camano Island 1990. She used her prior experience working in galleries and as an artist to open her History of the World Gallery on the island for 20 years. She bought the current property in 2001, and opened Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park gallery in 2008. Her experience, vision, and positive energy combined have made the gallery a success, and a center for arts on the island. “I opened the gallery during the Recession, but we’ve been here ever since.” Today, exhibits change about every six weeks, and the gallery hosts workshops for new and experienced artists, such as in stone carving or mixed media, other education programs, an annual auction, and other events.

Steel sculpture is “Stomatem ” by James Ellingboe

Steel sculpture is “Stomatem ” by James Ellingboe

CAMA BEACH STATE PARK
At Cama Beach State Park, enjoy the walkable beach and 15 miles of trails, great birding, the Center for Wooden Boats, and the café at the welcome center. Rent a wooden rowboat, sailboat, canoe or motorboat. Fish, crab, or pick berries.

Cleaning the Day's Catch at Cama

Cleaning the Day’s Catch at Cama

There’s a park store/museum and rangers are often on-site to share the area’s history and relics like a 40,000 year old mammoth tusk they’ll actually let you touch. Seasonally, there’s live music and fun for all ages. Bring your binoculars and bird guide or just stay attuned to the trees and sky; the island has great birding.

Ranger with Mammoth Tusk

Ranger with Mammoth Tusk

Visit the park for a few hours during the day, or stay the night (or week) in one of the rustic cabins. There are 13 “standard” waterfront cabins and 11 “second-row” cabins just behind those, seven “deluxe” cabins, and two waterfront bungalows for larger groups. The cabins are clean, heated, have kitchenettes with frig and microwave, and more. (Check the website for what you’ll need to bring.)

Cama Beach Cabins

Cama Beach Cabins

The cabins made me nostalgic for the old-style resorts in Michigan and Wisconsin my family stayed at when I was growing up. Sometimes we went with aunts, uncles and cousins, and wandering Cama Beach, there were definitely multi-generational family trips going on here as well. Kids rode bikes, played in the water and beachcombed, and everyone was just enjoying the chance to spend the entire day outdoors and right on the water.

Cama Beach

Cama Beach

UP IN THE TREES: ZIPLINING FUN
Ziplining is a popular activity for families, friends, co-workers, and any other excuse for a group to get together and have a little adventurous fun—and Camano Island’s Canopy Tours NW is a great place to try it out.

Kristoferson Farm

Kristoferson Farm

Six zip lines (from 150’ to 660’ long and about 60’ off the ground), a rope bridge and a rappel feature equal laughs for all. The staff is well-trained, certified, and take care of all the clip-ins, lines and breaks to keep folks safe, while also keeping it casually fun. Make that little jump off the platform and enjoy that zip through the air from one platform to the next, then cheer on (or tease, depending on your relationship) the others in your group.

Treehouse Rappel

Treehouse Rappel

The course operates on the Kristoferson Farm, where Mona Campbell’s family has farmed for more than 100 years. Situated in the woods amid Western cedar, Western hemlock, big leaf maples, and Douglas fir, there are great views and perhaps even the opportunity to see beaver, deer or owls. Check their website for special tours like “zip and sips” (with beer tastings) or “night zipping” (with headlamps and glow sticks).

The farm grows organic hay and lavender, and offers form-to-table dinners and other events in the barn. And business is going well; in their first four years, they’ve had over 33,000 folks come through the course. In summer, they’ll often take out as many as 20 groups a day, every half hour, and they employ as many as 40 guides. “We have a wonderful group. Our guides love to share the outdoors. We’re very fortunate to be able to do all of this.”

Canopy Tours NW Friendly Staff

Canopy Tours NW Friendly Staff

GREAT DINING
Long-time residents will tell you how they used to have to cross over to the mainland for a good meal out, but happily; there are some great choices today.

At Rockaway Bar and Grill, our group started with the Portobello mushroom fries; thick slices of Portobello mushrooms fried and tossed in parmesan cheese and served with a garlic tarragon dipping sauce. “Brussel Wilson” is brussel sprouts sautéed in butter, with bacon, mirin rice wine, and roasted almonds; very tasty. There are some great salad choices, burgers, wraps, pasta and more. Chef Kenny’s homemade tiramisu is worth the calorie intake, and there’s a full bar, great beer choices and an outdoor eating area that overlooks Camaloch Golf Club.

Brussel Wilson

Brussel Wilson

Collective on Tap, which also operates a restaurant in Woodinville on the mainland, has 39 beers on tap and pizza, sandwiches, salads and other comfort dishes, as well as a great starters menu for sharing. Try the creamy gorgonzola dip; it’s topped with date chutney and candied walnuts and served with warm naan.

For fine dining, as well as beautiful water views, enjoy a meal or small plates at the bistro restaurant at Camano Island Inn.

Camano Island Inn

Camano Island Inn

Chef Jason Aldous heads the bistro kitchen and offers a Northwest menu that includes locally sourced dishes such as Oregon elk with smoked beets, oyster mushrooms, juniper and honey. Vegetables are provided from the inn’s own garden, a short distance from the main property. The wine list is excellent. We sat outdoors on the deck at the magic hour just before sunset with a glass of rosé and an amuse-bouche of heirloom tomato in a balsamic reduction. The waves lapped and the occasional boat passed by.

Wine On The Deck

Wine On The Deck

House-made buckwheat-whole wheat and rye bread accompanied with salted butter follow. Granted, arugula is one of my favorite greens, but Chef Jason’s excels; his includes sunflowers, local kiwi berries (if you haven’t tried these yet; do! you’re in for a treat), julienned apple, balsamic vinaigrette, and served with lots of shaved aged sheep’s milk cheese.

Arugula Salad

Arugula Salad

Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine

The soup was a flavorful pureed sweet corn with garlic, and accented with olive oil and fresh cilantro. The fresh-fresh crab is served prettily in the shell, with borage, edible nasturtiums and butter.

Fresh Crab

Fresh Crab

WHERE TO STAY: CAMANO ISLAND INN
To extend your stay, in addition to the cabins at Cama Beach State Park, there are a handful of places to camp, as well as several inns and bed and breakfasts.

To make the trip truly special, spend the night at the beautiful Camano Island Inn. There are nine waterfront rooms, as well as a separate beach house suitable for a larger group. The rooms are all beautifully appointed, with decks and sunset views of the waterfront and Olympic Mountains. Some rooms have spas on the deck.

Camano Island Inn Room

Camano Island Inn Room

Guest Kitchen

Guest Kitchen

Enjoy the guest lounge, with ceiling-to-floor windows facing the waterfront, and adjoining kitchen, and large covered outdoor upper deck, which guests are free to use during their stay. Indulge (even more so) in some spa time at the Inn’s spa, and again, don’t miss the change to dine at the Inn’s bistro.

IF YOU GO:

 

Nancy Zaffaro - Travel Writer

Nancy Zaffaro – Travel Writer

BIO
Nancy Zaffaro is a freelance writer and photographer who concentrates on travel, food and beverage, culture and arts and Editor of the digital travel magazine, ConfettiTravelCafe.com. Nancy Zaffaro took her first solo trip at 17 years old and has been hooked on travel ever since. Contact her at nancyz@nancyzaffaro.com.

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