beyond the bridges vashon island
Image: Tom Woltjer

A hulking Mount Rainier dominates the view from the east side of Vashon Island.

Portland boasts many mass-transit, bike-friendly destinations, but few locals probably imagine an island getaway is one of them, unless you’re talking Sauvie Island. Yet, just link a three-hour train ride and a half-hour float on a ferry together, and you leave the big city behind for Vashon Island, where a nest of art galleries and quaint shops, as well as miles of sandy shoreline perfect for spotting orcas, await. Best of all, there’s a rustic cottage at the Artist’s Studio Loft Bed and Breakfast to call home.

Arriving on the island is seductively simple. Ferries depart from both Tacoma and Seattle; from West Seattle, the Fauntleroy Ferry leaves twice an hour. (A third passenger-only ferry, the King County Water Taxi, departs from downtown Seattle on weekdays.) By boarding the Amtrak Cascades route from Union Station to Seattle it’s possible to leave the car at home. (A perfect option, since my traveling companion and I planned on spending our weekend biking around the island.)

When the ferry pulls into the slip at Vashon’s north end barely half an hour after leaving Seattle, the city’s glass-and-steel skyline instantly feels as if it were days away. Vashon, only 12 miles long and 8 miles wide, is home to dozens of organic farms sprawled over rolling fields—and nary a stoplight, let alone bridges to the mainland. Residents zealously guard the island’s bucolic environs: over the years, locals have fought off everything from proposed gravel strip mines to seafood-processing plants. In the early 1990s, some 2,000 of the island’s 9,000 inhabitants famously packed a town hall meeting to oppose a Washington State Transportation Commission plan for a cross-sound link from Seattle. (Some toted signs reading “Bridges Bring Death” and “Don’t Mercerize Vashon Island,” a reference to the sprawl that plagued Mercer Island upon the completion of the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, a floating bridge across Lake Washington, in the 1940s.) Thanks to the impassioned display, no bridge has been built.