The communities that reside on Whidbey and Camano Islands are worth visiting any time of the year, but if you’re stuck in a “been there, done that” attitude, why not try a learning vacation. It’s an easy and fun way to broaden your horizons, stretch your comfort zone and ignite your creativity with short, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, dial up the grandparents and read on. This vacay is for mom and dad only!


What Classes to Take

Learning to Cook in the Country
While the Orchard Kitchen prepares different “hyper-seasonal” farmhouse dinners weekly at its small-ish farm-to-table restaurant, Chef Vincent Nattress offers a variety of two-hour cooking courses every month. Aided by Sous Chef Elisabeth David and his wine maven wife, Tyla Nattress, each class focuses on a variety of food from a specific country and creating different variations of a food product like pasta or seafood or may concentrate on developing specific cooking skills. Recent “field-to-fork” classes have included Tastes of India, How to Cook Eggs, Seafood, Paella, Risotto, Tamales, Filled Pasta, Knife Skills, etc.

Each class is fairly small with every student helping out to create a meal together. After getting settled with coffee or tea, tying back the apron strings and washing hands, Chef Vincent will waste no time sharing the day’s menu and explaining what spices and herbs the group will be using and why. Each class is different with some demonstrations given to the group at large while some others will be pulled aside to learn a specific technique used in their recipe. While some are chopping away at vegetables, others may be measuring oils.

After working together, each class sits down at the long table with the hosts to enjoy a great meal together. These classes are a great experience to meet new people and to learn some solid cooking skills to bring back home. Each class includes 90 minutes of cooking instruction, a family-style farmhouse lunch and two glasses of wine. Upcoming classes are posted on Orchard Kitchen’s website, months in advance, but it’s a good idea to register early as these classed can fill up quickly.

Orchard Kitchen
5574 Bayview Rd.
Langley, Wa 98260

Free Your Inner Artist
The Pacific Northwest Art School offers affordable 2-3 hour art classes on a variety of subjects including watercolor, lettering, paper crafts, drawing and more. Some classes are more expensive than others and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sign up a free class like the recent Collage Class offering. Facilitated by Linda Schrock and Lauren Young, students of all ages are challenged to become like children again and just “play” with different colors of paper, fabrics, buttons, magazine scraps and whatnot. Sometimes jazz music is played and snacks are served to help “inspire” classmates. In the end, you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplice in two seemingly short hours…suitable to hang on the fridge back home! Upcoming classes at the art school include “Fear Free Watercolor: Beginning Techniques,” “Fun and Funky Letters,” “Step Away From the Table: Yoga for Artists,” “POP: Punch Up Your Summer Art with Geli Printed Card and Envelopes” and “Take the Fear Out of Drawing.”

Pacific Northwest Art School
15 N.W. Birch St.
Coupeville, Wa 98239

Making Chocolate with Mona
Willie Wonka has nothing on Mona Newbauer’s Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique. She and her husband Tony personally make almost everything in the store, including hand-dipped chocolates, brittles and toffee as well as buttery caramels, creamy fudge, truffles, drinking chocolate and so much more. The best part? You can learn how to make them, too! After donning hair nets and aprons, guests can partake in (very) personal candy-making classes. Mona’s kitchen isn’t huge, so her class sizes are small which means you’ll get a lot of one-on-one attention from the candy-maker herself.

During the “Chocolate Truffles 101” class, you learn how to properly melt milk and dark chocolate with cream to make the perfect ganache, how to roll the ganache into various toppings and then pack a bunch to take home with you. Mona’s classes are simple, informative and lots a fun. And we guarantee you’ll want to hang out with Mona and Tony for hours. Other classes offered include “Tempering Chocolate,” “Toffee and Brittle” and “Fudge-Making.” She even has something called a “Chocolatier for a Day” experience. We’re not exactly sure what that entails, but it sounds delicious and fun!

Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique
221 2nd St., Ste 16
Langley, Wa 98260

Where to Eat & Drink

Get a Coffee, Give to a Cause
There is more happening at South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore than meets the eye. Not only are the staff there committed to serving up quality coffee beverages, food and spectacular ice cream products, but the shop also serves as a place for the community and a workplace training program for Whidbey Island youth. Even when you’re out of town, The Commons will make you feel like you’re part of the community. And Brandie Follet will go out of her way to explain the history of The Commons to you while baristas like Aurbie Day create caffeinated works of art. At South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore, the espresso is great, the food is tasty and you’ll leave knowing that you’ve helped a community thrive.

South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore
124 2nd St.
Langley, Wa 98260

Kneading and Feeding
Over by the water’s edge in Coupeville you’ll find the Knead and Feed Bakery which is actually two establishments in one. Below street level is a full-service restaurant serving breakfast and lunch dishes. Above is the bakery/coffee shop, but you don’t want this place to be the last shop you visit while in town. It is not uncommon, in the late afternoon, to find most of the bakery items all sold out. The cinnamon rolls and orange rolls are especially good, but you’ll also find unique versions of bear claws (that are bigger than your head), cookies, pies and more.

Knead and Feed Bakery
4 Front St. N.W.
Coupeville, Wa 98239

The Best Fish ‘n Chips
Located in Oak Harbor, Seabolt’s Smokehouse has been voted “Whidbey’s Best Seafood, Clam Chowder and Fish and Chips” for the past seven years and as the name suggests, the place is also known for their prime smoked seafood products as well. These are on display like a grocery aisle and you’ll have time to look at them if you plan to eat there for dinner on a Saturday night. The wait time to get a table can be up to 45 minutes in length, but it’s worth it. Trust us! The Cod and Chips are amazing and for land-lubbers, we recommend the Kobe Beef Burger and Cheddar. Both dishes are served with seasoned fries and Chili Lime Tartar Sauce. The staff here is super-friendly and makes for a great place for a causal, but tasty meal.

Seabolt’s Smokehouse
31640 Sr. 20, Ste. 3,
Oak Harbor, Wa 98277

Where to Shop

One Stop [Upscale] Shopping
Since 1984, the Star Store in Langley has worked hard to become “the place” in town for food, fashion and furnishings. Part grocery store, part gift shop and part clothing store, there is literally something for everybody here. Pick up a few items for dinner, find a nice bottle of wine, grab a gift for someone back home and find a new item to brighten up your wardrobe during the same trip. It’s also one of the few shops in town that caters to men as well as women offering fashion and gift items that guys actually want. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Chances are they have it, you just need to know where to look.

Star Store
201 1st St.
Langley, Wa 98260

Incredible One-Of-Kind Art Decor
You may have stumbled upon the Artisan Crafted Home website that features amazing one-of-a-kind home décor and furnishings made by a variety of artisans and not machines. After years of selling the items online, the owners decided to open up a store so shoppers could get up close and personal to these wares which include handmade lamps created out of real leaves, ceramic dish sets, organic candles, handcrafted wooden furniture and so much more. The store is more like an art gallery, displaying its beautiful pieces created by artisans from all over the world. Psst…this is one store you will not want to rush through.

Artisan Crafted Home
211 First St.
Langley, Wa 98260

Where to Stay

Bed and Breakfast 
While there are many B&B options on the islands, we recommend The Anchorage Inn in Coupeville. Overlooking Penn Cove is where you’ll find this beautiful Victorian Inn with its bright red roof. Inside, you’ll find antiques and old world charm with many modern amenities to make your visit memorable. Before retiring to your room, enjoy a book in the sitting parlor, watch the sunset on the wrap-around porch or sneak a few cookies (that are always available) from the dining room cookie jar. Go ahead, it’s okay!

Each room comes with its own private bathroom, cable TV, Wi-Fi, coffee maker, microwave and refrigerator (stocked with soft drinks). Make it a movie night with the in-room DVD player, a huge selection of current movie titles and popcorn. Breakfast is served during two times and includes a fruit plate, breakfast breads, an incredible breakfast entrée, juice, coffee and tea. Owner Dave and Dianne Binder go the extra mile and think of everything, so that your stay will be as pleasant as it is memorable.

Anchorage Inn
807 N. Main St.
Coupeville, Wa 98239

To learn more about learning vacations on Whidbey and Camano Islands, visit the Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism website.

Have you taken a learning vacation before? Does this sound like something you’d like to try? Tell us in the comments below. 

—Jeffrey Totey (all photos courtesy of the writer)

This trip was arranged by Erin Osborne Communications and paid for by Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer. 


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