Not Martha

a weekend on Guemes Island

[ a heart in sand, found on a walk along the beach ]

Last weekend we headed out for a little weekend adventure on nearby Guemes Island. It’s a tiny place with only a few hundred residents. In the winter there is nothing to do there except walk on the beach and stare into a fire, which was exactly what we hoped for.

[ steam coming off of a coffee cup ]

We started with brunch in our own neighborhood. Our usual place had a very long wait so we wandered over to Lottie’s Lounge where we found amazing food.

[ a plate of grits and cheese, so delicious ]

I got the cheesy grits. They are made with heavy cream and cream cheese. Uh huh. Yum. There is some healthy spinach hiding underneath, I promise. They also offer the cheesy grits as a side. If you are there for brunch and don’t try the cheesy grits I will challenge you to a duel.

[ a view of one of the resort houses from the beach, islands in the distance ]

Then it was off to the island. The Guemes Island Resort is the only place to stay on the island save renting a vacation home. The resort is a small collection of cabins on the water and has been a resort since the 1940s, they keep the spirit of the small getaway really well. It felt welcoming but intimate, well loved and well kept. Like a secret, or perhaps a Catskills resort that you just assume everybody already knows about.

In the summer there is clamming, crabbing, boating, bonfires and exploring the island by bicycle. In the winter there is pretty much just walking along the beach and gazing at the view until it’s dark and time to go inside and make a fire. (Until one ventures out in pajamas and Wellies with flashlights to gaze up at the breathtaking view of the stars through the break in the clouds.)

I like it so much I spent a lot of time considering not telling you about it.

[ a Dutchtub, looking like an oversized plastic bowl ]

They have a wood fired heated Dutchtub on the grounds, shown above, that you can rent by the day all to yourselves. Dutchtubs are awesome and they regularly defy scale in photographs. The one above would easily accommodate four people even if it possibly looks like it could be a photo of a cereal bowl left on a rocky beach.

The resort has a little camp store that sells well curated beer, wine, food, soap, Slow Loris stuff and a few vacation essentials (flip-flops, sunglasses). Between Anderson’s (see below) and this I am confident to suggest that should somebody, say, decide they could not bear the thought of going back to the grind and instead they, say, immediately took the ferry to Guemes they would have everything needed to be fed and comfortable even if they were to “accidentally” break their car in a way that might take, say, a week or more to repair.

[ a modern cabin in the woods ]

Our cabin is was built recently, very cozy-yet-spacious, came with all the kitchen equipment you could want, and even had a private hot tub on the unseen back deck. We should have stayed far longer than we did.

There are only a handful of cabins on the resort. The older (but updated) ones have an unhindered view of the water, the two newer ones are set back against a hill. On the hill above this cabin there were a few yurts with decks that I suspect have amazing views.

[ a log in the fire that appears to have an eye and a mouth ]

The woodstove was more than enough to heat the cabin, though they had a nice electric heater as well. One evening the wood started to distinctly have a face. A cute one. It was creepy. You might see it above. You might not to want to think about Little Big Planet as you do so.

[ pink quartz shell on the beach ]

I found this shell during a walk on the beach, it looks like it’s entirely made of quartz. It’s thick and heavy and translucent. Does anybody know how this could have come to be?

[ diftwood weathered until it has an auburn patina ]

The old driftwood seen above was such a bright auburn color I wanted to drag the entire some-hundred chunk home with me if it weren’t so very against the rules. (I say this as a child of somebody who works for a park service and dares not disturb nature.) My sad camera couldn’t capture the look in the cloud covered gloom. I intend to return with proper camera equipment. It was that impressive.

The resort has a nice stretch of beach all to itself. But also from the resort you can walk a long way along the beach without seeing another soul. I think most of the stretch consists of privately owned lots but nobody seems to mind if you walk the entire stretch. (So treat it well, there are few places left where you can get lost while walking a curved but straight path.)

[ Andersons General Store ]

This is Anderson’s General Store, the island’s only grocery and restaurant. Scott knew it because he played at a music festival a few years back. He brought home stories about Artis the Spoonman commanding an audience. Anderson’s is charming and had an amazing selection of foods along with the making for s’mores as well as my favorite microbrews. More than I could have hoped for.

Anderson’s is also a pub/restaurant. We ate here twice, dinner the second time was had during the 2011 Superbowl when locals sat at the bar and criticized the commercials and the halftime show. We all sang happy birthday to the guy who, we learned the night before, is the partner of the very cool waitress. He had played Uno with the kid of two other locals who stopped in just to say hi to everybody. It was the sort of small community awesomeness I’ve only witnessed a few times.* I feel like an intruder just telling you about this.

* (One was eating breakfast at an honest to goodness lunch counter in a teeny coal mining town in Pennsylvania where the waitresses called everybody “Hon” and meant it, the other was a tiny town in Italy where I spent a summer taking language classes during college.)

[ a view from the ferry to Anacortes, maybe a few hundred yards away ]

Guemes is a hilariously short ferry ride from Anacortes, WA. This photo was taken from the ferry that has not left the island yet, the land you see right there is our destination. We could almost swim it. Reading back through old news stories about Guemes Island you see a pattern of the residents resisting too much access to the island. After staying for only two days I can see how one would become fiercely protective of what they have going on here considering that the rest of the world is so close. There were a few For Sale signs in front of houses that definitely made me wonder if this girl from Ohio might be an island dweller at heart

On the other side of the ferry:

[ sandwich and soup ]

[ grilled polenta ]

Should you be in Anacortes stop at Adrift for a meal. The place is charming and both the grilled polenta and white bean and kale soup were amazing.

Lots of people (thank you!) also recommended Gere-a-Deli, which we were entirely too stuffed to try out.

[ a surveyors point in a rock ]

This surveyors point was located, oddly, on the beach at Deception Point. The view from this point is below:

[ view of the beach at Deception Point ]

Should you be on Whidbey Island I highly recommend a visit to the lighthouse at Fort Casey. But, this is strange I realize, ignore the lighthouse entirely and instead head right for the old fort equipment you can see from the parking lot. It’s massive and interesting and there is more there hidden in the hills than you can see at first and it just keeps going and getting creepier as you go along. You get to climb all over it, look through old cannons and into dark underground rooms, up ladders, across narrow cement walkways and into bunkers. It’s dangerous enough that I was surprised we were allowed access to as much of it as we were, and it’s much more extensive than the similar fort-turned-parkland that we got to know in San Francisco. I’m sure there are lots of people there on warmer days but in early February it was empty enough that it felt very surreal, and very much like a level in a video game.

[ old military fort at Fort Case on Whidbey Island ]

[ old military fort at Fort Case on Whidbey Island ]

[ old military fort at Fort Case on Whidbey Island ]

When we got back to Seattle the weather turned sunny and gorgeous.

So, weather, you and me will make a deal. YOU shine on my next weekend getaway and I WILL stop tracking how many times you are sunny all week and rainy on the weekends in the hopes of someday having enough evidence to prove that you are mean spirited. OK? OK.

· comments [51] · 02-9-2011 · categories:travel ·

51 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Susie // Feb 9, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Wow. Great post! I would LOVE to go here. We’ve been to Orcas a couple of times, and it’s one of my favorite places ever. We live on the east coast, though, so unfortunately, these places are a big investment for us. One day…

    Thanks for being my virtual travel guide! Glad you had such a great trip.

  • 2 Toria // Feb 9, 2011 at 4:11 am

    Oh, oh I love this! If I didn’t live half way around the world I would be tempted to do a no-show to work and break my car in way that’ll take at least a week to fix. What a lovely place! Thanks for sharing so beautifully

  • 3 WanderChow // Feb 9, 2011 at 7:02 am

    This is truly awesome. So glad you went and had this enveloping experience of island magic, which is what you should have! We went to Lummi Island late last year, and while that was fun (and Willows Inn is lovely, though we didn’t stay there), Guemes looks more like what I wanted. My Lummi experience is here:
    I’m considering trying out the Gulf Islands once we get our EDL’s (call me a cheapskate), I hear there are many magical places there as well. Thank you, thank you for this post!

  • 4 Lorange // Feb 9, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Dammit, why’d you have to go and tell everyone about Guemes? It’s a place you should only gain knowledge of after having endured a certain number of Seattle winters and a certain number of acquaintances pulling the Seattle Chill or something.

    It is pretty great. Guemes, I mean.

  • 5 Stacey // Feb 9, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for postin this. I’ve been looking for a new place to take my kiddo clamming something. I’m in Wyoming, but I love the coast.

  • 6 Seanna Lea // Feb 9, 2011 at 8:22 am

    It sounds like a lovely place. I would love to find a similar place in the Boston area, because I sometimes need a day (or two) of complete peace to recharge. When everything is busy, go, go, go, I get so frazzled so fast!

  • 7 Kelly // Feb 9, 2011 at 8:46 am

    You are a hell of a writer, Megan. Also, I want to go to here.

  • 8 Grace // Feb 9, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I’m so jealous! That looks like the absolutely perfect thing. The way you write about it makes me feel like I’m almost there, too.

  • 9 Sarah // Feb 9, 2011 at 9:20 am

    If you enjoy Fort Casey, I have to recommend you visit the other bunker-full forts on the Olympic Peninsula. Fort Flagler and Fort Worden. Worden is one of my favorite places, partly because it’s so close to Port Townsend and also because there are so many buildings to explore.

    Thanks for writing about Guemes, that sounds like a perfect destination for my birthday.

  • 10 P. // Feb 9, 2011 at 9:30 am

    When I look at the photo of the dutchtub, I can’t not see a ramen bowl, chopsticks on top, and a soup spoon in front. Thanks for sharing! I love mini weekend retreats!

  • 11 Shannon R // Feb 9, 2011 at 9:55 am

    We used to go to Guemes Island a lot when I was a kid, and my parents still love going there. It’s almost little weird seeing it through someone else’s eyes/camera lens…

  • 12 Syd // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:05 am

    We just ate at Adrift a few weekends ago: Dungeness Crab Grilled Cheese, to die for. I learned about the island that weekend. Though I live on Whidbey, I’ve only been in the area a few years.

    I’m so excited that you’ve written an account of your stay. It looks lovely! And I love going to Fort Casey and taking photos of the old battlements. Great post!

  • 13 Nikki // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I’ve always wanted to visit! I love the beach in the winter. I can let my dogs run to their hearts content without bothering anyone.

    Those grits look amazing too!

  • 14 megan // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Susie and Toria – I suspect the East Coast has even more little resorts like these since so many more people head out in the summers.

    WanderChow – Oh, Lummi! Willows was one of the places we looked at for the weekend. Glad to know it’s good.

    Lorange – Sorry! Is there a place where I can check for how safe it is to talk about the secret good stuff? A Seattle handbook of sorts?

    Seanna Lea – There is bound to be something similar up near you. A travel writer located here that comes from the other coast often talks about how people in the PNW don’t seem to take little vacations the way people on the East Coast do, and as a result there are fewer places to go and visit.

    Kelly – Aw, thanks.

    Sarah – Oh yay! More forts! There were lots of these old military equipment places to explore in San Francisco but none were as expansive as what we found at Fort Casey.

    Syd – I think we’re going to get in the habit of visiting Guemes just for a day to take bicycles over on the ferry, ride around a bit, eat at Anderson’s and come back.

  • 15 Dulcie // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Oh wow. I want that trip! Thank you for sharing, against your better judgment.

  • 16 Danielle // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Wow – sounds absolutely amazing! I’m in Michigan and we have our own share of islands – wonder if there are any secret gems like this that I haven’t discovered..? I’m definitely bookmarking this!

  • 17 megan // Feb 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Danielle – There very well might be. I didn’t come across the resort in my searches, we only found it because Scott had been to Guemes before, thought it was a nice place and wondered if there was a cabin we could rent there. I wish there could be a database of secretly awesome things!

  • 18 tammy b // Feb 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    oh you lucky duck! i will be 45 tomorrow and grew up going to guemes all the time – my grandparents had property up there since before i was born. though they moved up permanently while i was still quite young, i have vivid memories of going for long weekends or holidays and staying in the boathouse (before a residence was built – before many residences were built as a matter of fact! such fond memories of a fabulous place and the most wonderful people. i don’t go often any more as we no longer have the property (BOO!!!), but i still go visit as they are buried in the cemetery there.

  • 19 CoffeeJitters // Feb 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Oh my, I love this. I love cabin getaways on beaches – or at least I think I would love one. I’ve always dreamed of doing something like this.

  • 20 Ellen // Feb 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Megan, this is my favorite post of yours I’ve read in all the years I’ve been reading your blog. You have the heart and skills of a travel writer I’d want to read all the time.

  • 21 Sarah // Feb 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I love this post! My husband and I are now obsessed with making a trip out to Guemes. It will be a rather long jaunt for us, as we are from Iowa, but it’s so beautiful that I just HAVE to go!

  • 22 megan // Feb 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Sarah – If you do come make sure to check out as many of the islands here as you can, each is amazing and some of the best restaurants in the world are located on them. Guemes is a quiet and beautiful island and the others have lots to offer — tide pools, whale watching, lodges and the like.

  • 23 Lindsey // Feb 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    OMG Sold. Bookmarked. Done. This looks like the perfect place for a calm weekend away from bustling … West Seattle. Who cares. I’m still going.

  • 24 Miss B // Feb 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    How did you get around once you were actually there? Did you have a car with you, or did you just walk the 4 or 5 miles to the other end of the island, or what?

  • 25 megan // Feb 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Miss B – We had a car and drove back and forth to Anderson’s (five minute trip). In the summer, though, we would likely bring bicycles and bike the island once we were settled. I bet you could get by just as well in the summer if you don’t mind packing light for a bicycle trip. The only thing to keep in mind is that Anderson’s closes at 8pm so if you’re hungry after then you are left to the food you have with you.

    Ellen – Thank you, that is a very sweet note. And it makes me want to take more weekend adventures to report on :)

  • 26 Cassie Gavin // Feb 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Hi! I really love your blog. It’s great! But what is MOST exciting is that I live near Lottie’s Lounge too! What a coincidence! Thanks for posting all of the good parts of the internet in one place. Much appreciated.

  • 27 Kate // Feb 11, 2011 at 9:01 am

    So happy you shared this! I rarely make it out to your beautiful part of the country, but this is a great incentive.

  • 28 gaile // Feb 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I spent a few years on Whidbey as a kid, and we always went to Fort Casey and played hide-and-seek in the bunkers. It was a blast, and when we moved back a few years ago, we took visiting friends there and did it all again. and it’s still fun! Somehow I never got to Guemes though!

  • 29 kms // Feb 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    oh, i miss those islands! thanks for bringing them back.

  • 30 Slow Loris // Feb 21, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    What a great write up of our most favorite place and home, Guemes Island. Anderson’s and Adrift are also our favorite spots as well, i don’t think we ever really “eat out” anywhere else.

    To add, we have an open studio sale a few times a year here on Guemes. (just follow us on FB for updates under slow shirts) You can bring your own clothing too and we’ll print over your old stains making your skirt/shirt/jacket new again! We’re located at the base of the only Mountain to hike on Guemes, which it looks like you missed, so i highly recommend coming back soon!

    Hello from Guemes!

  • 31 megan // Feb 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Thanks for chiming in – we did miss the mountain hike as the weather was just unpleasant enough that we decided to stay in instead, and we’ve kept it as a reason to return. We’ll definitely try to align it with an open studio date, thank you!

  • 32 Anderson's on Guemes // Feb 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Definitely check out the Mountain trail. The Trust is building a great new trail to be opened this spring and we will hopefully be loaning out bikes for folks to day trip to the trail.

    Glad you enjoyed the store and restaurant, I also post what the weekend menu specials and upcoming music events will be on Facebook and our website. Hope to see you soon!
    (That was my son playing Uno at the counter.)

    From the store on Guemes!

  • 33 megan // Feb 23, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Anderson’s – Thanks for stopping by! Scott knew about Guemes Island because he played at a music festival there a few years back, it was all held around your store and he really enjoyed it. We will be keeping an eye on the events and will visit again soon.

  • 34 Anderson's on Guemes // Feb 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Yep, I remember Scott playing. That was a fun one. We may be doing something again so stay posted!

  • 35 Miss B // Mar 23, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    I just spent this past weekend there — in possibly the same cabin that you stayed in (it was one of the two new ones). It was utterly fantastic. It rained like hell all night the first night, which was lovely to listen to, and the next day and the day we left were cold and windy but sunny, and there was much being naked in the hot tub on the deck and much sweating in the steam shower and much aimless wandering. And some playing on the weird little playground halfway between the resort and Anderson’s. All told, a perfect weekend.

    I suggest that the next time you go, you stop in Mt. Vernon on the way and get yourselves grocery supplies at the great little co-op that’s right off the highway (they accept other co-op memberships, too, for the discount, so if you are a PCC member, they’ll give you the discounted prices). Their deli section is great, too.

  • 36 Reasons I Love Seattle: #4 Amazing Food | CoffeeJitters // Apr 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    […] Not Martha: a weekend on Guemes Island – This post is actually a couple months old, but I’ve revisited it several times. I’ve been feeling the need to get away lately. To pack up my little family and go somewhere quiet, surrounded my nature, and the water. To hear water lapping rocks, and birds in the morning. To let go of deadlines and due dates, even if just for a weekend, and sink in to a deep tub, or sink my teeth into a sinfully decadent yet simple dinner. To read a book for pleasure – without taking notes. Sigh. One of these days… Share and Enjoy: […]

  • 37 Raelene // Apr 20, 2011 at 10:48 am

    This Made Me So Homesick!!!
    I moved to Phx 2 years ago and I do miss My Islands. When you grow up looking at them all your life you take them for granted.

    Viva La NW Gray!!!!

  • 38 goodnessbaker // Apr 28, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I seriously thought someone left a really cute bowl on the beach.

    Thanks for the visual holiday :)

  • 39 Kristen // May 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    My grandparents also bought property on Guemes in 1968. So I have memories of camping, crabbing,riding our bikes,building forts in the woods, 4th of July parades, Salmon Bakes( which sadly they don’t do any more). Guemes Island is our Garden of Eden. My grandma just passed away this last Saturday at 92 and we will be going up this Memorial Day weekend without her for the first time. It is a very special place for our family and I thank you for such a nice article. RIP Gladys Lofgren

  • 40 FRank // Jun 8, 2012 at 6:27 am

    My Sister’s Husband owns one of the Cabins and im heading up there this weekend for the first time. i cant wait to spend time with my nephews. i was doing a little research, and i ran in to your article, great stuff.

  • 41 Susan // Jan 23, 2013 at 3:06 am

    In London but now day dreaming of Guemes Island :)

  • 42 Speaking of photography! « Redshirt Knitting // Jun 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    […] a pair of 50-year-old hand-cut cedar shakes that were taken off an old cow barn on Guemes Island. Some roofers dropped off a dump truck’s worth for free a few years ago. They were just going […]

  • 43 Miss Jan // Oct 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Don’t know if anyone still reads this wonderful older post and its replies but I’d like to share a memory of Guemes Island from my childhood. We had Arabian horses in the 1960’s and were just starting out as horse breeders and we found that an elderly couple on Guemes was dispersing their herd of extremely rare bloodlines to one East Coast buyer. It was possibly our last and maybe only chance to see these fabulous horses before they were shipped out I believe by train. We rode the wonderful little private open-air ferry with much anticipation and we were not disappointed. Mr. Wrench (first name as I recalled was Jim?) took us out to the “back 4o” and whistled and called for his mares and one by one the most incredibly gorgeous heads popped out of the woods. I have never forgotten this, these were granddaughters of the foundation sires Raffles and Raseyn (English Arabian bloodstock) and the like of them I’ve never seen again–most pure white, huge dark eyes, exquisite dished faces with tiny muzzles, manes and tails long and flowing, these impossibly elegant mares had no equal — unless it was the old stallion that also was there at that ranch. I understand that Mr. Wrench himself accompanied his horses on their long train journey to their new home. Their names can be seen on pedigrees of winning Arabians to this day and that’s wonderful but I often think of the heartbreak this wonderful gentleman must have endured as he returned home alone to his beautiful island without his beloved horses. I’ve never forgotten this and it’s been almost 50 years.

  • 44 megan // Oct 25, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Miss Jan what a beautiful memory! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  • 45 Melita // Jan 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Love the pictures and descriptions! My grandparents (Notsons) have lived on Guemes since my mom was a kid, and family still lives there today. I love the community feel, too! I try to get back every year and it’s fun to take the kids and ride the ferry. It’s not so fun to see how much of some coastal roads are disappearing… =) My grandparents are south beachfront folk with a view of Anacortes… and that trail Anderson’s was telling about is just FAB!

  • 46 Carol // Jan 25, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Discovered Guemes couple years ago. Heaven on earth…..never saw so many bald eagles. Even hiked to Mt. Guemes!

  • 47 Gail // Oct 20, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Just moved to Anacortes and we are going to Guemes today on the walk-on ferry. Looked at it as just a lunch thing, but your post and pics made me realize it’s much more. Hope to add to our shell collection and want to ck out the resort. Thank you!

  • 48 Michael Thomas // Dec 9, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    That was 2011. This is 2015. Lots have changed it started in 2013 when the new owners took over it went from a great place to gather to a place no one wants to go into from General Store, Restraint,etc. To nothing but a Bar with Bad Bar Food. Oh yea it’s FOR SALE

  • 49 Mike // Jul 24, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    I was just there last week. spent the day there driving around. The general store finally sold last month. New owners are hard at work trying to make the place better. I had a good sandwich and descent glass of wine. Not too pricey. It is defintely very nice. a lot of beautiful scenery. But ALL the islands there have that.

  • 50 Diana Lind // Aug 3, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Remember me? You bought your wedding dress from me in Bellevue… anyway, we just bought a place on Guemes. Nice write up. It’s a great secret island!

  • 51 megan // Aug 4, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Diana – Of course! (I still have the dress.) I hope your new home is as lovely and peaceful as I remember.

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