I’d known for years that the Willows Inn, on a small island about two hours north of Seattle, is a destination for folks who love eating well, and then I learned that it allows pet dogs to join guests in two of its rooms. Sign me up, I thought — this’ll be an epic dog jaunt. Long story short: It is, but with a couple of caveats. Please note that we paid for our stay at the Willows Inn — I will always tell you when someone else has paid for any or all of something I’m reviewing.
Willows Inn has a variety of lodging options, but folks traveling with pet dogs have a less complicated selection to make. There are two pet-friendly rooms, both located “on-site” — that is, either in or within steps of the main inn building. We stayed in The Cottage; the other pet-friendly room is called Sucia. There is a $30 per stay pet fee.
Here’s what we loved about our weekend at the Willows Inn: The food; dear God, the food; the whole dining experience, including the ambiance of the dining room and the warm, attentive service; the short but quintessentially San Juan Islands-ish ferry ride; the view from our deck; the tiny size and charm of Lummi Island; and the cheerfulness of the Beach Store Café, an unrelated establishment right by the ferry landing.
You drive off the ferry, turn right, and circle the island until you see the sign for the Willows Inn. It’s that simple. It’s so simple, in fact, that there’s no gas station on Lummi (be sure to plan ahead), and the one grocery store sticks to the basics. The only other restaurant on the island — the Beach Store Café — is either a blur in that last picture, or just out of frame to the right.
Just below the inn is a dog-friendly beach that Chloe could not get enough of — my, how that dog loves a beach:
The innkeeper who checked us in was wonderfully helpful in directing us to other dog-friendly beaches on the island, and she also pointed us to a couple of dog-friendly hiking options.
I failed to take any pictures of the main inn building or of the lower garden. Neither is particularly eye-catching, except for the wood-burning grill and the smokehouse — the focus of a lot of activity, starting in the late afternoon. Walk up the inn’s stairs to the restaurant, however, and you enter a realm of enchantment (we left Chloe snoozing in her crate — the restaurant is not dog-friendly).
The interior is essentially Arts & Crafts style — a cocoon of wood trim and mellow lighting — and the service is kind, attentive, and informed, without the smallest trace of uppityness. And the food is unsurpassed. Course succeeded course, each small but perfect. Here, for example, is the salad (the menu, which they gave us for a keepsake, advises me that it was “steamed spring shoots and sweet woodruff”):
The Willows Inn has mastered the art of beautiful presentation (not shown: the crispy halibut skins, filled with a delicate clam purée, resting on slabs of mollusk-covered rock, or the birch tea served in a stunning birchbark pitcher), but it stops at the restaurant door. Our room was a let-down, alas — a hodge-podge of awkward and uncomfortable furniture and decor concepts. Here’s the panorama I took before we dashed down to dinner:
The Cottage had its good points (the automatic “wood” stove was charming, and the shower had terrific water pressure), but that couch (half of a sectional, it turns out) requires you to sit upright, facing the (beautiful) view; the bed squeaked; the bedside tables were purely decorative; and there were limited places to unpack clothes into (we ended up slotting them onto the shelves of the sideboard). The official front door doesn’t lock with the provided key; instead, deadlock it from the inside, and use the key on the patio door instead. The room Sucia may be better — if you visit it, let me know what you think. If you find yourself in The Cottage, I suggest that you push the couch against that far wall and add some bed pillows to lean against. Once we’d borrowed the floor lamp from the wicker chair corner, and deployed a throw that we’d brought, we had a cozy reading nest going. The inn does provide a basket of sheets and a towel for use by dog owners (we travel with our own, and used those, but I noticed the inn’s basket as we were packing to leave).
As you’ll see when you start doing your own research, the Willows Inn is a pricey place. I have no hesitation telling you that the dinner is worth the stratospheric cost, but I think we’ll look elsewhere next time for lodging. It’s a very small island, so your options are limited — my current thought is to try a vacation rental for a couple of nights (HomeAway has several listings for “Pets Considered” properties), eating on one night at the Willows Inn, and the next at the Beach Store Café, which I’ve mentioned before. It’s located just across from the ferry landing, and when we stopped in for a quick coffee, we wished we’d set aside time for a real meal. It’s cozy and friendly, the plates we saw going by looked tasty, and pet dogs are welcome to join you at the tables on the front porch.