A visit to Langley, Washington in North Puget Sound is a dreamlike experience. The uninitiated newcomer will naturally gravitate to the inviting repurposed historic buildings and greenery near the waterfront as I did. “Spy A Whale, Ring the Bell” a sign prompts, posted over a well-used brassy tocsin. No doubt the bell is put to good use in the spring when the gray whales migrate through Saratoga Passage. To the east is a view of the snow-capped Cascade Mountains beyond Camano Island, while the rest of Langley awaits to the west. When I explored the town for the first time, I passed a pair of women earnestly discussing beekeeping in front of a backdrop of local coffee shops and art galleries.
“Have you found a queen yet?” one asked the other earnestly as they talked shop. I pressed inland to the green space near the Firehouse Glass Gallery where a garden of glass curiosities was on display. A herd of free ranging domestic rabbits emerged to graze among the glasswork as the setting sun bathed the place in a golden glow. I pinched myself. Surely, this is a dream? Welcome to Langley.
The town, tucked against the Saratoga Passage on the southeastern corner of Whidbey Island, is the third largest incorporated area on the island. For the sake of visitors and boaters, the downtown is the main draw. Langley is a good mix, half charming inns and tourist attractions and the other half a bona fide Puget Sound small town. The Langley Police Department shares the same building as the Langley City Hall, right next to the Langley Library, while bistros and boutiques catered to visitors bustle a stone’s throw away. Langley, thankfully, opted to repurpose the historic buildings of its downtown rather than demolish them. The area’s fascinating history is outlined in the many informative signs. Did you know that in 1919 Langley was the second town in the US to have an all-female administration? Rich nuggets such as these are worn like badges of honor in the streets.
The mooring balls and slips of the Port of South Whidbey Harbor at Langley will be the to-go option for day or overnight visits by boaters. One can cruise to Langley from either the north or south of Whidbey Island. A southern approach is a straightforward trip through Possession Sound, but one should mind the ferry that runs between Clinton (on Whidbey) and Mukilteo (on the mainland). From the north, one will either navigate Deception Pass or the Swinomish Channel and then ply over Skagit Bay. Tides and local knowledge are important factors for either the pass or the channel, so please plan. A prudent skipper will not wing it with these two southerly routes.