Musselfest brings a taste of Penn Cove magic

The event will lure in thousands of visitors with the mouthwatering smell of world famous mussels.

Avast ye seadogs from far and wide, for one of Whidbey’s most exciting events is returning to Coupeville. Next weekend, Penn Cove Musselfest will lure in thousands of visitors with the song of mermaids, the call to a sea adventure and the mouthwatering smell of world famous mussels.

While tickets for some of the activities have already been pillaged, there is no reason to shiver your timbers as there are plenty of things to enjoy for free or without a ticket.

On March 2 and 3, people can sway morning to evening — for free — to the sound of live music brought by local artists at the Coupeville Rec Hall parking lot, Front Street or at the Penn Cove Shellfish tent at Coveland and Main streets.

Word of the festival has also reached the dark depths of the Puget Sound, prompting the Whidbey Island Sirens Pod to join the celebrations. Families can find the mermaids between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on March 2 and 3 at the Blue Zone (located at the rec hall parking lot), get their faces painted in full mermaid fashion and take home photographic proof that sea people do, in fact, exist.

During that same time, families can gather at the merchandise booth at the rec hall and embark on an epic treasure hunt where they must use clues to find all the pieces of a puzzle in order to redeem their prize.

Between noon and 2 p.m. on March 2 and 3, children can also fish for treats and treasures at the Pier at Front Street Realty, located at 22 Northwest Front St.

For those who wish to placate their Musselfest withdrawal symptoms during the rest of the year, the festival will feature free cooking demos led by talented chefs from the Pacific Northwest, who will demonstrate how to cook saffron mussels, green curry mussels, chimichurri mussels with coconut cream and other recipes to impress family and friends. The chef demos will take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. March 2 and 3 at the Coupeville Rec Hall.

On March 2, people are invited to participate in the Mussels in the Kettles bike race, a non-competitive mountain bike race for riders with options for different skill levels. People interested in participating can register online at the price of $35 and show up at 9 a.m. to Coupeville High School’s Gym, located at 501 South Main St. The race begins at 9:30 in the morning and ends at 2 in the afternoon, and participants are “released” in groups of 10 at one-minute intervals. Halfway through the ride, participants will receive water bottles and trail bars. After they make it to the finish line, they will be rewarded with homemade cookies.

Tickets for the chowder tasting on March 2 and 3 are sold out, but latecomers can still purchase mussel chowder and seafood from other local vendors. Ticket holders will receive a bag of merch including a Musselfest mug, a spoon and tasting booklets where they can record their opinion. At the end of the day, those participating in the tasting will vote which of the 11 competing restaurants best pleased their taste buds. Last year, the crown went to Front Street Grill.

Tickets to the Mussel Mingle on March 1 were also all snatched away. One ticket includes two food items — mussels cooked by Front Street Grill or hot dogs from the Central Whidbey Lions Club — and two drinks — beer from Flyers Restaurant & Brewery, wine from Holmes Harbor Cellars, and cider from Greenbank Cidery. The mingling will take place at the Blue Zone, located at the Coupeville Rec Hall parking lot, and will feature live music from local band Ike and the Old Man.

Visitors can also set sail for the place where the magic happens: Penn Cove Shellfish’s mussel farm. On March 2 and 3, guides from Penn Cove Shellfish will take guests on a boat tour where they will show and explain the mussel harvesting process and learn about the company’s sustainable practices. As of Feb. 23, there are still tickets available for the 45-minute tours, which must be reserved online and cost $20 for people ages 13 and older and $10 for children between the ages of 6 and 12. Young pirates aged up to 5 years old are free of charge.

Got a taste for competition and an insatiable desire for mussels? If ye have the guts, register for the mussel eating contest, which will take place at 3 p.m. March 2 and 3 at the Rec Hall. Prospective competitors must register and pay an entry fee of $10 at the merchandise booth in the rec hall.

People can also bring home Musselfest merch. This year, the face of the event is a mermaid with flowy red hair, designed by Rosenkranz Productions.

Jesse Levesque, the executive director of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association, said the event attracts people from Whidbey and beyond, with some people from the other side of the country being regulars. Some tourists have come from places as far away as Europe and Asia.

Musselfest Chair Kellie Sites said the festival seems to bring people out of their winter hibernation.

“It’s the finale of winter,” she said.

For more information about the festival or tickets, visit

Every year, Penn Cove Musselfest features a different mermaid art piece. (Art by Rosenkranz Productions)

Every year, Penn Cove Musselfest features a different mermaid art piece. (Art by Rosenkranz Productions)