11 Best Things to Do in Oak Harbor, Washington

Trip Ideas Mar 14, 2024

Nestled on the northern edge of Whidbey Island in Washington State, Oak Harbor is a picturesque gem that beckons with its unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant community life. This quaint city, with its scenic vistas of the Olympic Mountains and the Puget Sound, offers a perfect escape for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those looking to immerse themselves in the local culture. From the rugged cliffs of Deception Pass State Park to the tranquil waters of Windjammer Park, Oak Harbor serves as an ideal base for exploring the best of what Whidbey Island has to offer.

As you plan your visit to Oak Harbor, Washington, you'll find that the city's charm lies in its diversity. Whether you're drawn to the thrill of outdoor adventures, the allure of naval history, or the simple pleasure of a leisurely stroll through a local park, Oak Harbor has something to cater to every interest. This guide aims to uncover the top things to do in Oak Harbor, WA, ensuring that your trip is filled with unforgettable experiences.

In creating this guide, we've scoured the top things to do in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island, and beyond, compiling a list of must-visit attractions and hidden gems. Each section of this blog post delves into what makes Oak Harbor a unique destination, offering insights and tips to help you make the most of your visit. From outdoor adventures to cultural explorations, get ready to discover the best things to do in Oak Harbor, Washington.

1. Explore Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park, with its breathtaking vistas, rugged cliffs, and serene forests, stands as a crown jewel not only of Oak Harbor but of the entire Pacific Northwest. Spanning the northern tip of Whidbey Island and part of Fidalgo Island, this 3,854-acre marine and camping park offers a plethora of experiences for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and photographers alike. Its unique combination of natural beauty and recreational opportunities makes it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Oak Harbor, Washington.

Source: Whidbey Island

The story of Deception Pass begins with its dramatic landscapes, carved by the forces of nature over millennia. The pass itself, a narrow strait between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands, is famed for its turbulent waters, which can be viewed from the iconic Deception Pass Bridge. Standing 180 feet above the water, the bridge offers unmatched views of the surrounding seascape, making it a favorite spot for photographers and sightseers. The history of the bridge, completed in 1935, adds a layer of human intrigue to the natural splendor, symbolizing the connection between man and nature.

For those eager to immerse themselves in the park's natural beauty, Deception Pass State Park boasts over 38 miles of trails. These trails wind through dense forests, along rugged coastlines, and across sandy beaches, offering varied experiences for hikers of all skill levels. The Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, for example, provides a moderate hike culminating in one of the highest points on Whidbey Island, where hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. Each trail offers its unique flora and fauna, from towering Douglas firs to delicate wildflowers, making every hike a discovery.

Source: TripAdvisor

The park's diverse ecosystems make it a haven for wildlife watching. Eagles soar above, while seals and otters can often be spotted along the shoreline. The forests and fields are alive with the sounds of birds, making it a popular spot for birdwatchers. For anglers, the park's waters offer the chance to catch salmon, crab, and other Pacific Northwest delicacies, providing both a challenge and a reward for those willing to cast their lines.

2. Stroll through Windjammer Park

Nestled at the heart of Oak Harbor, Washington, Windjammer Park emerges as an oasis of greenery and community spirit, inviting locals and visitors alike to enjoy its scenic beauty and recreational offerings. Known affectionately as the "jewel of Oak Harbor," this waterfront park spans an impressive area, featuring lush lawns, panoramic views of the harbor, and a variety of amenities that cater to every age and interest. Its role in the community goes beyond a simple recreational space, serving as a central hub for events, celebrations, and everyday life in Oak Harbor.

Source: Greenworks

Upon entering Windjammer Park, visitors are greeted by the stunning backdrop of Oak Harbor and the vast expanse of water that defines this coastal town. The park's meticulously maintained pathways invite guests to take a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, where the rhythmic sounds of waves and the gentle breeze create a serene atmosphere. The expansive views of the Olympic Mountains on the horizon serve as a constant reminder of the Pacific Northwest's breathtaking landscapes.

Windjammer Park is designed with families in mind, offering a plethora of amenities that ensure a fun and comfortable visit. The park boasts spacious playgrounds where children can safely play and explore, while parents watch on from nearby picnic tables. For those looking to enjoy a meal outdoors, the park offers numerous barbecue pits and covered picnic areas, making it an ideal spot for family gatherings, birthday parties, or casual picnics.

Source: Whidbey Island

The park also features a lagoon, which serves as a peaceful spot for contemplation or a casual paddleboat ride. The basketball and volleyball courts cater to sports enthusiasts, providing a space for friendly competition and physical activity. Additionally, the park's wide-open fields are perfect for flying kites, playing frisbee, or simply lounging on a sunny day.

3. Discover the Naval Heritage at Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor, nestled on the shores of Whidbey Island, Washington, holds a deep connection to naval history that dates back generations. This connection is woven into the fabric of the city, from its strategic location along the Puget Sound to the presence of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Exploring Oak Harbor's naval heritage offers visitors a unique insight into the city's past, present, and future, highlighting the valor, innovation, and community spirit that define this coastal town.

The story of Oak Harbor's naval heritage begins with the establishment of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in 1942. This base played a crucial role during World War II, serving as a key site for training and operations. Over the decades, it has evolved into one of the Navy's most important installations, supporting a variety of aircraft and missions. The base has not only shaped the military landscape but has also had a profound impact on the community, contributing to the economic, social, and cultural development of Oak Harbor.

Source: Tripadvisor

While access to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island may be restricted, visitors can still experience its presence through various public events and the PBY-Naval Air Museum. The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of naval aviation, with exhibits featuring aircraft, artifacts, and stories of military service. The PBY Memorial Foundation operates the museum, dedicated to preserving the legacy of the patrol bomber and its crews. Through interactive displays and personal narratives, the museum educates visitors about the sacrifices and achievements of naval aviators.

4. Enjoy the Scenic Beauty of Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island, the largest of the islands composing Island County, Washington, is renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, serene beauty, and diverse ecosystems. A jewel in the Pacific Northwest, Whidbey Island offers a blend of picturesque beaches, rolling hills, and dense forests, making it a haven for nature lovers, photographers, and anyone seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life. Exploring the scenic beauty of Whidbey Island reveals the island's unique charm and the myriad of outdoor activities available to visitors.

Whidbey Island's coastline is dotted with numerous beaches, each offering its unique allure. From the sandy stretches of Double Bluff Beach, with its stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, to the rocky shores of Ebey's Landing, the island's beaches provide a perfect setting for a variety of activities. Visitors can enjoy leisurely walks, beachcombing for shells and driftwood, picnicking with a view, or simply soaking in the spectacular sunsets that illuminate the sky in vibrant hues.

Source: Airbnb

The island is a hiker's paradise, with trails that cater to all levels of experience. Deception Pass State Park, located at the northern tip of the island, features over 38 miles of trails through diverse terrains, from rugged coastal cliffs to serene forest paths. The Bluff Trail at Ebey's Landing combines historical significance with natural beauty, offering breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. For a more leisurely experience, the Earth Sanctuary provides a tranquil setting with its nature reserve and sculpture garden, designed to promote reflection and environmental stewardship.

Beyond its beaches and trails, Whidbey Island is home to several state parks that showcase the island's natural beauty. Fort Casey State Park, with its historic lighthouse and military fortifications, offers a glimpse into the island's past alongside stunning seaside views. South Whidbey State Park features old-growth forests and a chance to spot local wildlife, from bald eagles to deer. These parks provide not only recreational opportunities but also a sanctuary for the island's flora and fauna.

5. Visit the Whidbey Playhouse for Local Entertainment

In the heart of Oak Harbor, Washington, the Whidbey Playhouse stands as a beacon of cultural and artistic expression, offering a window into the local community's creativity and passion for the performing arts. Established by a group of theater enthusiasts, the playhouse has grown into a cherished institution, fostering a love for drama, music, and dance among residents and visitors alike. Attending a performance at the Whidbey Playhouse is not just an evening out; it's an immersion into the vibrant local culture and a celebration of communal storytelling.

From the moment you step into the cozy lobby of the Whidbey Playhouse, you're enveloped in a welcoming atmosphere that hints at the magic of live theater. The playhouse, with its intimate seating arrangement, ensures that every audience member feels connected to the unfolding drama on stage. This intimacy amplifies the emotional impact of the performances, creating a shared experience that resonates long after the curtain falls.

Source: Whidbey Playhouse

The Whidbey Playhouse is renowned for its diverse repertoire, which spans a range of genres from classic plays and musicals to contemporary dramas and original works by local playwrights. This variety ensures that there's something to suit every taste, whether you're a fan of laugh-out-loud comedies, gripping mysteries, or heartwarming family stories. The playhouse's commitment to showcasing a broad spectrum of narratives reflects its dedication to inclusivity and the promotion of diverse voices.

At the core of the Whidbey Playhouse is a strong sense of community. The theater is run by a dedicated team of volunteers who contribute their time and talents in various capacities, from acting and directing to set design and technical support. This volunteer-driven model not only fosters a tight-knit community but also offers individuals the opportunity to explore their artistic interests and develop new skills. The playhouse's educational programs and workshops further support this mission, providing a nurturing environment for budding artists of all ages.

6. Indulge in the Local Culinary Scene of Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor, a gem nestled on Whidbey Island, Washington, offers a culinary scene as rich and diverse as its natural landscapes. With an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, sustainable practices, and innovative cuisine, dining in Oak Harbor is an exploration of regional flavors and culinary craftsmanship. Whether you're craving fresh seafood, artisanal pastries, or farm-fresh produce, Oak Harbor's restaurants, cafes, and markets invite you to indulge in a feast for the senses.

Oak Harbor's proximity to the Puget Sound means seafood plays a starring role in the local culinary scene. Restaurants and eateries across the city pride themselves on offering the freshest catches of the day, from succulent Dungeness crab to tender salmon, prepared in a myriad of styles. Dining at a waterfront restaurant, guests can enjoy these seafood delicacies while overlooking the serene beauty of the harbor, turning a meal into a memorable experience that tantalizes both the palate and the eyes.

Source: Eater Seattle

The farm-to-table movement thrives in Oak Harbor, supported by the island's fertile lands and a community committed to sustainable agriculture. Local farms supply restaurants with a bounty of fresh produce, meats, and dairy, allowing chefs to craft menus that change with the seasons and reflect the region's agricultural heritage. This close relationship between farmers and chefs not only ensures the highest quality of ingredients but also highlights the flavors unique to Whidbey Island.

No culinary exploration of Oak Harbor would be complete without a visit to its charming cafes and bakeries. These cozy establishments offer a warm welcome to locals and visitors alike, serving up artisanal baked goods, specialty coffees, and hearty breakfasts made with love and local ingredients. Whether you're in the mood for a flaky pastry, a robust cup of coffee, or a leisurely brunch, Oak Harbor's cafes provide the perfect setting for a delightful culinary pause.

7. Adventure Activities in Oak Harbor

Nestled within the stunning landscapes of Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor offers a playground for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Its unique geographical setting, bordered by the Puget Sound and crowned by the Olympic Mountains, creates the perfect backdrop for a wide range of outdoor activities. Whether you're seeking the thrill of water sports, the tranquility of woodland trails, or the challenge of rugged terrain, Oak Harbor invites you to immerse yourself in the heart of the Pacific Northwest's untamed beauty.

The waters surrounding Oak Harbor provide an idyllic setting for kayaking and paddleboarding. Paddlers can explore the serene inlets, vibrant marine ecosystems, and hidden coves dotting the coastline. The calm waters of the Puget Sound are perfect for beginners, while the more adventurous can venture near Deception Pass to navigate stronger currents and wind conditions. Local outfitters offer rentals and guided tours, ensuring that both novices and experienced paddlers have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Oak Harbor is surrounded by an extensive network of trails that cater to hikers of all levels. From the gentle paths winding through Fort Ebey State Park to the more challenging hikes in Deception Pass State Park, the trails offer breathtaking views of the island's diverse landscapes. Hikers can wander through dense forests, ascend to scenic overlooks, and traverse coastal bluffs, each path revealing a different facet of Whidbey Island's natural beauty.

Cycling is another fantastic way to explore Oak Harbor and its surroundings. The island's scenic byways and country roads offer a range of routes for leisurely rides and challenging excursions alike. Cyclists can enjoy the picturesque views of farmlands, vineyards, and waterfronts, all while experiencing the island's tranquil beauty at their own pace. Bike rentals and guided tours are available, making it easy for visitors to gear up and go on a two-wheeled adventure.

8. Participate in Oak Harbor’s Annual Festivals

Oak Harbor, nestled on Whidbey Island, Washington, is not just a place of scenic beauty and outdoor adventures; it's also a vibrant community that comes alive with an array of festivals and seasonal events throughout the year. These gatherings, ranging from cultural celebrations to holiday events, showcase the city's rich heritage, community spirit, and love for fun. Participating in Oak Harbor’s annual festivals offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and join in the celebration of traditions new and old.

One of the highlights of Oak Harbor’s social calendar is the Oak Harbor Music Festival, typically held over Labor Day weekend. This free event transforms the downtown area into a lively music venue, featuring a diverse lineup of bands and solo artists across multiple stages. Genres range from rock and jazz to country and blues, ensuring there’s something for every music lover. Beyond the music, the festival includes food vendors, artisan craft booths, and a beer garden, making it a perfect family-friendly event that celebrates the end of summer.

Source: Oak Harbor’s Annual Festivals

Celebrating Oak Harbor’s Dutch heritage, the Holland Happening Festival takes place in the spring and brings a splash of color and culture to the city. The festival features a parade, Dutch dance performances, and a street fair with crafts, food, and traditional Dutch treats like stroopwafels and poffertjes. It’s a time when the community honors its roots while inviting visitors to partake in the festivities, showcasing the blend of cultures that enrich Oak Harbor.

For sports enthusiasts, the Whidbey Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a must-participate event. Held in April, this race offers breathtaking views of the island’s landscapes, including Deception Pass Bridge. It attracts runners from across the country, combining competitive spirit with the scenic beauty of Whidbey Island. The event also includes a 5K and 10K, making it accessible to runners of all levels.

Oak Harbor’s July 4th Celebration is a spectacular event that combines patriotism with community fun. The day is filled with activities, including a parade, street fair, and live entertainment, culminating in a stunning fireworks display over the harbor. It’s a time for the community to come together, celebrate independence, and enjoy the summer season in true Oak Harbor style.

The Harvest Festival, held in the fall, is a testament to the agricultural heritage of Whidbey Island. This family-friendly event features pumpkin picking, hayrides, a corn maze, and local produce stands. It’s a celebration of the harvest season, offering a chance to enjoy the bounty of the island and engage in traditional autumnal activities.

Source: Macaroni Kid

To welcome the holiday season, Oak Harbor hosts an annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. This festive event includes caroling, hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa Claus, making it a cherished tradition for families. The lighting of the tree symbolizes the start of the holiday season, bringing warmth and joy to the heart of the community.

9. Visit Local Art Galleries and Museums in Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor, a picturesque locale on Whidbey Island, is not just known for its natural beauty and outdoor adventures; it's also a hub of cultural and artistic expression. The city and the surrounding island boast an array of galleries and museums that reflect the rich tapestry of the area's history, culture, and artistic talent. Visiting these venues offers an enriching experience for art lovers, history buffs, and curious travelers alike, providing a deeper understanding of the community's heritage and contemporary creativity.

Whidbey Island's art scene is as diverse as its landscape, with numerous galleries spread across Oak Harbor and neighboring towns. These spaces range from cooperative art centers run by local artists to private galleries featuring a mix of regional and national works. A visit to these galleries reveals a wide array of mediums, from traditional paintings and sculptures to innovative mixed media and digital art.

One notable gallery in Oak Harbor is the Garry Oak Gallery, operated by a cooperative of local artists. Here, visitors can explore an ever-changing collection of artwork, including fine art, jewelry, pottery, and photography. The gallery not only provides a platform for local artists to showcase their work but also offers art enthusiasts a chance to purchase unique pieces that capture the essence of the island's beauty and culture.

Source: Tripadvisor

Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island are steeped in history, from Native American heritage to European settlement and military significance. The island's museums offer a window into this rich past, with exhibits that cover a broad spectrum of topics, including natural history, maritime traditions, and the evolution of the community.

The Island County Historical Museum, located in Coupeville, is a treasure trove of artifacts and stories from Whidbey Island's history. The museum's collections include Native American artifacts, pioneer relics, and exhibits on the island's natural environment. Interactive displays and educational programs make it an engaging visit for all ages, offering insights into the people and events that shaped the region.

Another must-visit institution is the PBY-Naval Air Museum in Oak Harbor, which pays homage to the city's military heritage, particularly its role in naval aviation. The museum displays an extensive collection of aircraft, models, and memorabilia related to the PBY Catalina and other naval aircraft. Through its exhibits, the museum honors the veterans who served and provides an educational experience about the significance of naval air power in global history.

10. Outdoor Recreation at Local Parks in Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor, nestled on the scenic Whidbey Island, is surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty and offers a plethora of parks and outdoor spaces designed for recreation and relaxation. These local parks serve as gateways to experiencing the island's diverse ecosystems, providing settings for a range of activities that allow visitors and residents alike to connect with nature, enjoy physical activity, and spend quality time with family and friends.

Windjammer Park: A Hub for Family Activities

Windjammer Park, often referred to as the "crown jewel" of Oak Harbor, is a prime location for family outings and recreational activities. With its waterfront location, the park offers stunning views of the harbor and ample green space for picnics, kite flying, and leisurely walks. The park's playgrounds are a hit with children, while the walking trails and beach access points appeal to visitors of all ages. Windjammer Park also features sports facilities, including basketball and volleyball courts, making it a versatile spot for engaging in physical activities.

Fort Nugent Park: Sports, Play, and Exploration

Fort Nugent Park is another family favorite, known for its expansive sports fields, disc golf course, and unique playground that includes a castle-themed play structure. The park's wide-open spaces are perfect for soccer, baseball, and other team sports, providing a community hub for sports leagues and casual play. The walking trails that wind through the park offer a peaceful retreat into nature, with opportunities for bird watching and wildlife observation.

Source: Fortwiki

Deception Pass State Park: Adventure and Natural Beauty

While not located within Oak Harbor city limits, Deception Pass State Park is a must-visit for families and nature enthusiasts staying in or visiting the area. As Washington's most-visited state park, it spans the northern tip of Whidbey Island and offers breathtaking views of the Deception Pass Bridge, rugged cliffs, and tidal waters. The park's extensive trail system caters to hikers of all skill levels, while the beaches and tide pools provide a hands-on nature exploration experience. Kayaking, fishing, and camping are also popular activities within the park, offering immersive ways to experience the area's natural beauty.

Joseph Whidbey State Park: Tranquil Beaches and Picnic Spots

Joseph Whidbey State Park, located just outside of Oak Harbor, offers a quieter setting for beachcombing, picnicking, and enjoying the island's scenic coastline. The park's beach access allows for relaxing days spent by the water, while the grassy areas and picnic tables are ideal for family gatherings. The park's trails and natural areas also provide a backdrop for peaceful walks and nature observation, making it a perfect spot for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Source: Whidbey Island

11. Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve: History and Hiking

For families interested in combining outdoor recreation with a dose of history, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve offers a unique experience. The reserve encompasses a rural landscape of farms, historical buildings, and natural areas that tell the story of the island's early settlers. Hiking trails lead visitors through this living history landscape, offering stunning views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. It's a place where outdoor recreation meets historical exploration, providing a rich, educational experience for visitors of all ages.

Conclusion: The Allure of Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor, situated on the enchanting Whidbey Island, stands as a testament to the Pacific Northwest's unparalleled beauty and its community's dynamic spirit. This charming city, with its scenic landscapes, historical depth, and cultural richness, offers a mosaic of experiences that cater to nature lovers, history buffs, art enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike.

Oak Harbor, with its stunning natural setting, rich cultural landscape, and welcoming community, truly offers something for everyone. It's a place where history intertwines with modernity, nature meets adventure, and cultural expressions find a vibrant platform. Whether you're drawn to the tranquility of its parks, the thrill of its outdoor activities, the depth of its historical sites, or the creativity of its cultural venues, Oak Harbor invites you to explore, discover, and delight in its diverse offerings. This dynamic city, nestled in the heart of Whidbey Island, stands as a beacon of the Pacific Northwest's beauty and spirit, making it a must-visit destination for travelers seeking a comprehensive and enriching experience.

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Emily Carter

With over 10 years of experience, Emily has extensive experience planning bespoke tours across the United States and Canada, specializing in eco-tourism and adventure travel.