The small town of Langley, Wash., lays claim to a whale bell. When people spot a gray or orca from shore, they call Langley Chamber of Commerce president Fred Lundahl, who pops outside to ring the bell that fronts his shop.
“The bell alarm system is a great way of spreading the word that the whales are present, often only 225 yards off shore,” said Lundahl.
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Langley, Wash., provides
That simple whale bell seems like a fitting symbol for the spirit of Langley, an undiscovered gem providing visitors with a quirky and quintessential Northwest island experience. Located on Whidbey Island, the 0.8-square-mile town — population 1,060 — takes little more than one hour to reach from Seattle, including a ferry ride. That means it’s easier to access than the state’s higher-profile San Juan Islands, and more likely to have accommodations for those who come to call.
I saw the bell during a recent visit to Langley, and while I didn’t witness it in action, I did savor other tastes of the town’s appeal. A tidy burg with historic character, it’s set on bluffs overlooking Saratoga Passage, where clients can spot gray whales during March, April and May.
“When the gray whales are in town, you can see them virtually every day as they laze along the shore, eating shrimp in the mudflats,” said Lundahl.
From October through January, orcas take their turn in the passage, chasing the chum salmon runs.
When they’re not watching the water, clients visiting Langley can find evidence of its creative spirit at every turn. And, they can rent bikes, go kayaking or scuba diving and sip varietals at the local winery. But for this traveler, what truly sets Langley apart from other Washington waterfront hubs is its friendly and approachable residents.
Clients can find plenty of opportunities to interact with shopkeepers and business owners who are passionate about their lifestyle and who welcome others to share in that experience.
Music for the Eyes, for instance, presents a treasure-trove of textiles collected from around the world by chamber president Lundahl, a former diplomat for the State Department. Then, there’s chef and cookbook author Donna Leahy, who runs Chef’s Pantry, a shop dedicated to the home gourmet. This year, she launched a series of ticketed walkabout wine tastings called Friday Night Flights, held on the first Friday of each month.
First weekends in Langley sometimes feature cooking demonstrations by local chefs, while Saturday evening gallery openings are part of the town’s Art Walk.
The entrepreneurial, artisan influence in Langley might best be illustrated by Des Rock, owner of Useless Bay Coffee Company, arguably the town’s most popular haunt. Besides being impeccable about every latte that he pours, Rock has landscaped the cafe’s exterior with edible gardens, inviting pathways, a covered pavilion and patios. It’s a great place to sip and chat while keeping one ear cocked for the ringing of the whale bell.