A five minute ferry ride is all it takes to visit Lummi Island, but despite its proximity to Bellingham, this seaside escape feels like a world unto itself. From the quirky arts community to the local farms, fishing traditions, and picturesque sunsets, this island has far more to offer than many realize— and nobody knows this better than Ashley and Brittany Swaen.
Photo by Cocoa Laney
The Swaen sisters are fifth-generation islanders and owners of Stay & Sea, a full-service vacation rental management company on Lummi Island. Their rentals range from rustic cabins to luxury beachfront properties, but the company’s ethos goes beyond accommodations alone. Rather, the heart of Stay & Sea lies in the Swaens’ love for Lummi Island and the folks who call it home.
“We wanted to not just have a business where we manage vacation rentals, but to make it more of an experience for people,” says Brittany.
The Swaens go above and beyond to incorporate this “island experience” into every aspect of their guests’ stays, whether that be through partnerships with island farms and fishermen or throwing collaborative culinary events. In years past, Lummi’s reputation as a fine dining destination meant that certain events felt inaccessible to locals, but the Swaens ensure that their offerings are approachable to islanders and mainlanders alike.
Photo by Cocoa Laney
“When we began our business, we really wanted people to have that authentic island experience, partner with as many local businesses as we can, employ islanders, and just really try to localize everything,” continues Brittany.
So what, exactly, does the quintessential Lummi Island experience look like? According to the Swaens, it’s all about embracing a more relaxed pace of life. There are few businesses on the island, so its major attractions are the smaller, day-to-day moments: preparing a gorgeous dinner with island-grown ingredients, hunting for agates on the beach, biking to the nature preserves, or cozying up around a fire.
My partner and I spent two nights in Stay & Sea’s Harlowe House property, a gorgeous three-bedroom with waterfront views, abundant natural light, and one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept in. Lummi makes an idyllic destination for both creative retreats and regular remote work; unsurprisingly, having the Salish Sea right outside your window makes everything feel more inspired. Outside of work hours, we made our morning oatmeal (and evening cocktails) with fruit from Full Bloom Farm, watched the sunset from the beach each night, and devoted as much time as possible to soaking in the scenery.
That’s not to say everything was easygoing; a steep lunchtime trail run to Lummi Peak certainly got our heart rates up. (Hikers beware: You gain 1,000 feet of elevation in 1.5 miles!) Lummi is also ideal for bikers and birders, so if you enjoy getting outdoors, you’re unlikely to get bored here. But beyond the nature preserves and recreation opportunities, the “island experience” has another key ingredient: the community.
“I think the local people are what really makes this place. It’s a huge community of amazing artists,” Ashley says. “In general, the community is just very caring.”
If you want to connect with locals, the thrice-yearly artist studio tours give a behind-the-scenes look at the local creative scene. Additionally, the Beach Store Cafe is the go-to gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. It’s currently the only option for dining and drinks, though this is soon to change. The Swaens say that new businesses will be opening on the island soon, including a coffee stand. While Lummi holds strong to its heritage, there’s an up-and-coming generation of islanders helping to shape its future— and if the folks at Stay & Sea are any indication, this future looks bright.
“We have different demographics [on Lummi Island],” says Ashley. “Some people have had their homes in their family for a long time. … There’s a lot of new people out here too, but they’re just as amazing. I feel like the island is this vortex that just draws in really kind people.” Lummi Island, 360.746.0805, stayandseavacations.com