Every city or county has that one thing they are famous for. Their claim to fame that puts them on the world map. For some it is a world-famous sports team, others it is a historical location, still some gain fame from the presence of rare exotic animals.
For Island County, it is our mussels.
No, not the Emerald Cup kind of muscles we didn’t make a typo, we mean our Penn Cove mussels.
The History of Penn Cove Mussels
You may not know this, but Island county is home to the oldest and largest mussel farm in the United States (and maybe the world). Penn Cove Mussels, Inc. began culturing mussels in 1975 with the desire to harness the cove’s naturally nutrient-rich water to harvest bigger and better mussels than the ones currently available. The results were incredible! Penn Cove mussels grow at a remarkable rate, enabling the mussels to reach harvest size within one year. This rapid growth rate causes Penn Cove mussels to have a firmer texture, sweeter flavor, and a thinner shell with more meat. As you can imagine, it makes them quite a crowd-pleaser.
Whidbey Island’s proximity to Seattle and the Sea-Tac Airport mean these wonderful shellfish don’t have to be a local secret. Instead, these mussels are quickly air-shipped all over the world for others to experience and enjoy. Mussels harvested in the morning are on the lunch plates of Seattle seafood lovers by that afternoon and dinner entrees in Houston by the evening.
Celebrated with a Festival
35 years our Penn Cove Mussels have been celebrated with a festival. The original celebrations consisted of a community chowder contest that has morphed over the years into 3 days’ worth of activities and fun. The most recent events have attracted more than 6,000 mussels enthusiasts from far and wide. This event alone significantly helps the local merchants recover from the slow winter months.
Musselfest festivities typically kick off on a Friday with the “Mussel Mingle.” This is a time where people gather at the Coupeville Recreational Hall to enjoy food, drink, and music. The next two days are packed full of mussel cooking demonstrations from incredible Seattle chefs, the massive mussel chowder competition involving 16 different local restaurants, the mussel eating competition, tours of Penn Cove Shellfish, Inc., a mountain bike event (“Mussels in the Kettles”) and more!
Musselfest is a massive community affair that requires all hands on deck to pull off. Dozens of volunteers from all over Coupeville donate their time, finances, and resources to make this festival work. For the past few years, Windermere Whidbey agents have volunteered their time at the Waterfront Beer Garden where they serve up some great local ale while listening to amazing local musicians.
Unfortunately, like most events, the Penn Cove Musselfest was canceled due to Covid this past year, but the long-standing love for the festival carried on with the traditional T-Shirt and posters for all of the collectors. Past posters can be purchased here while supplies last.
The 2022 Musselfest is anticipated to take place March 4th, 5th, and 6th pending the state of Covid and guidance from the state and county. Click here to check the status.
Whether you are a serious road cyclist; an avid mountain biker or just someone who enjoys a scenic bike ride every now and then, Whidbey Island has got you covered. Not only are we home to miles and miles of gorgeous; low-traffic backroads and off-road trails to explore, we also have an active biking community and bike shops that’ll keep you pedaling all year long.
And remember, safety first! You can review Washington State bicycle laws here.
Where to Road Bike on Whidbey Island
If you’re new to road biking on Whidbey Island, this bicycling map of Whidbey Island and Camano Island is an excellent resource to help you get started. This color-coded, detailed map shows cyclists what to expect on different roads, including how many feet of shoulder is available, traffic volume, recommended roads, the difficulty level of any hills,-, and other helpful markers.
Here are a few recommended road bike routes from the bike club to get you started:
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35094153 (20 miler from the shop, very scenic!)
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35094160 (40 miler from the shop, scenic and challenging!)
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35018172 ( The bike clubs Saturday morning route)
Where to Mountain Bike on Whidbey Island
If you’re specifically looking for mountain bike-friendly trails, this map is a great place to start. In addition to locations and trail routes, you’ll find information on time estimates, trail conditions, distance, and climb/elevation.
This is another useful resource if you’re searching for mountain bike trails in the Pacific Northwest in general. There are four of Whidbey Island’s mountain biking trail systems highlighted here. You’ll find detailed maps to help you explore Putney Woods/Metcalf Trust Trails, Fort Ebey State Park/Kettles Trails, Hoypus Hill, and Dugwalla State Park.
*For route recommendations and current trail conditions contact Whidbey Island Bicycle Club here.
** For parking on state park property a Discover Pass is required, you can get one here.
Bike Shops on Whidbey Island
If you’re just beginning your biking journey and need to figure out what type of bike to buy, you don’t even have to leave our island to get properly outfitted. The same is true for maintaining your bike—we’ve got experts who are ready to give your bike a tune-up when the time comes.
Skagit Cycle’s Whidbey Island location is in Oak Harbor, and this is your one-stop bike shop on Whidbey. You can buy pretty much all types of bikes here and choose from a huge selection of biking accessories and bike parts, and they also offer an extensive list of services.
Located in Langley, Bayview Bicycles offers an impressive selection of e-bikes and bike gear as well as repair services.
How to Get Involved with the Bike Community on Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island Bicycle Club:
If you want to get involved in the local cycling community, meet other local cyclists, volunteer, or attend local group rides then Whidbey Island Bicycle Club, or WIBC is for you WIBC is all about bringing cyclists together to ride and plan rides, advocating for safe cycling routes, developing community cycling events, mountain bike trail stewardship, and supporting community activities that involve cycling. Riders of all levels are welcome to join. WIBC gets together for weekly road and mountain bike rides all yer long- They also have a Facebook page that is frequently updated, so make sure you hit the “like” button if you want to stay in the loop. For more detailed information about the club visit their webpage here.
This popular annual summer event on Whidbey Island attracts hundreds of cyclists from all over the Puget Sound region to participate. There are several different routes you can choose from—one route is as short as 10 miles (perfect for families), and the longest route is 162 miles and winds its way around the entire perimeter of Whidbey Island. Tour de Whidbey was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, but plans for the 2021 Tour de Whidbey are underway. Find out more here.
This non-competitive mountain bike ride is held annually in conjunction with the Mussel Fest in Coupeville, WA. There are three routes to choose from in varying levels of difficulty that cover most of the Fort Ebey/Kettles trails network. For up-to-date information on the ride, click here, and for the Musselfest click here.
Searching for more fun activities on Whidbey Island? You can continue exploring our community blog here!