If you follow the local food scene even remotely, you’ve likely heard about—or, if you’re lucky, experienced—the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. It’s a bed and breakfast of sorts: quaint rooms, each one different, spread out over a picturesque plot of this tiny island. But the star is a multi-course dinner (mostly foraged foods, local produce and the best seafood) served by the internationally acclaimed, award-winning chef Blaine Wetzel, who once worked at Copenhagen’s Noma, regarded as the best restaurant in the world. It’s… an extravagance, to be sure. Dinner, all 20ish courses of it, runs $225 per person; accommodations start around the same and go up into the $600 range. But I will say, having experienced this recently—on my own dime, not as a guest of the Inn—that it is 100 percent worth every penny, if you can swing it. Here are a few things I wish I’d know beforehand:
Make a plan.
Even if you don’t stay overnight—and that’s absolutely an option, by the way—dinner alone is so expensive you’re likely celebrating something pretty special. But if it doesn’t matter when you go, numerous employees told me the best time to visit is in the transitional seasons, for example May and September, because you hit the sweet spot of seasonal produce availability. FYI: The Inn is closed from mid-December through mid-March every year. And in September, the small car ferry that jetties you across the water to the island is sent off for repairs, and is replaced by a passenger-only ferry. I was told it makes the island feel like summer camp—in the best way. Right now, you can make reservations through December 2018 date; check the schedule here.
Don’t stress getting there.
This part was worrisome—hey, I’ve spent many, many hours in line to take a ferry to the San Juans. But the teeny ferry that runs the 7-or-so-minute route from where you get on near Bellingham to Lummi Island is not like those bigger ferries. Sure, it only fits about 15 cars, and they’re packed in so tight you shouldn’t plan to get off. But if you miss the ferry you intended (they run once an hour) and there’s a backlog of cars on either end, the crew will run additional unscheduled trips to clear the dock.
Book your accommodations accordingly.
Look, you don’t have to spend the night. (in fact, scoring a dinner-only reservation is generally easier.) Dinner, which is served in a single 6 p.m. seating, ends around 9:30 p.m., and the ferry runs until midnight back to the Bellingham area. But it makes for a much more enjoyable getaway when you have somewhere to sleep off your gluttony after, particularly if you plan on drinking. The only hotel-like accommodations on Lummi are Willows Inn properties. However, they are definitely more expensive than the many Airbnb and VRBO listings; the island is very small, so getting around isn’t hard, and you may find your money is better spent staying elsewhere.
Leave your fancy clothes at home—or don’t.
Despite this being higher than even a Canlis-level price tag, there’s definitely not a Canlis-level dress code. We chose to dress up, and you certainly won’t be shunned for doing so. Enjoying something so special feels like it’s worthy of a dress or suit coat or whatever strikes your fancy. But the folks across from us rolled in in the casual tees they’d clearly just worn to the beach—and they received the same level of exceptional service and hospitality. So come as you are, in whatever you feel most comfortable.
Of course, wine pairings are excellent (and understandably $90 per person)—well curated, interesting and perfectly complimentary. But there’s also an option if you’re not drinking booze: the $45 juice pairing that utilizes all the same great fruits and vegetables.
Don’t skip breakfast.
It’s occasionally possible to get a reservation for the Willows Inn accommodations but find out the dinner reservations are already booked. Don’t do this—dinner is essential. But at the same time, we opted out of the $30 per person breakfast the next day, figuring that we needn’t spend any more on food for one weekend. I wish we had, though: the spread, which included smoked salmon and farm-fresh eggs and tons of beautiful seasonal produce, looked amazing. The lobby has excellent coffee available and a bulk bar of snacks (granola, nuts, chocolate malt balls, dried fruits, etc.) in glass jars around the clock. As I nibbled my cashews, I was really envious of the folks who smartly made a breakfast reservation as well.
Tour the farm.
Chef Wetzel and his team are the sole vendors of Loganita Farm, a beautiful garden near the Inn that grows nearly all the produce (that isn’t foraged) on the menu. It’s a small plot, but a mightily impressive one, and guests of the Inn can take a free 45-minute tour that leaves from the lobby at 11 a.m. Fridays through Mondays.
I ignorantly assumed this was something I could check off my PNW bucket list with a single visit. But it was so special that I immediately was scheming how to come back in a different season to experience it again. I’m not the only one: a couple in the lobby while I was checking out went ahead and booked their next visit right there.
Enjoy! And take me with you.