Mussel mania kicks off for twentieth year in Coupeville

This weekend in Coupeville, it’s all about the mussels. - Photo courtesy of Whidbey-News Times
This weekend in Coupeville, it’s all about the mussels.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Whidbey-News Times

Coupeville is celebrating its famous mussels this weekend.

The Penn Cove Mussel Festival will take place this Saturday and Sunday in Coupeville. The organizers have planned a fun weekend, rain or shine, with lots to do indoors and out.

The festival is in its twentieth year. People can enjoy cooking demonstrations, entertainment, tasting, live music, and of course, fresh mussels.

“It is important for us to let more people than those in our neighborhood know how good our mussels are,” said festival coordinator Rita Kuller.

The Penn Cove Mussel Festival originated 20 years ago, and for the first twelve years, was held at the Captain Whidbey Inn’s historic lodge.

Festival founder Captain John Stone, owner of the Captain Whidbey Inn, is often one of the judges of the mussel eating contest. Visitors who might want to take a cruise with Captain Stone on his 52-foot ketch, the Cutty Sark, can contact him at the Captain Whidbey Inn.

The proceeds will go to children’s charity. “We give muscle to kids through contribution to local charitable causes and organizations that help children,” Kuller said.

Rawle Jefferds, one of the festival chefs and mussel farmer, said over the course of the weekend, visitors will go through about 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of mussels.

“It is my job to make sure everybody has enough mussels to get through the weekend,” he said.

Even though the weather has been unpredictable lately, history has shown that the mussel festival weekend usually defies all bad weather reports, Kuller said.

“In all of this time since I got involved, there have only been two days of rain,” she said.

The first stop should be at Coupeville Recreation Hall, the mussel festival headquarters, to pick up Mussel Chowder-Off ballots, scavenger hunt clues, sign up for the mussel eating contest, get passes for boat tours of the mussel farm, check out the raffle table, festival schedule and more all at Coupeville Recreation Hall. The headquarters also hosts the Mussel Fest Art Gallery.

The mussel eating contest is a crowd favorite. The contest will be held at headquarters at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and again on Sunday at the same time.

Another popular contest is the mussel recipe contest. There is only one rule: The recipe must include Penn Cove mussels.

Visitors judge the contest, while local restaurants compete annually for the People’s Choice trophy for the best mussel chowder. People can pick up a Mussel Chowder-Off ballot at headquarters until they are sold out. Tasting begins at noon. The ballot is also the ticket for free transportation via the Mussel Shuttle bus service between participating restaurants. Ballot sales begin at 11:30 a.m.

An impressive group of restaurants has signed up: Christopher’s Front Street Cafe, The Cove Restaurant at the Captain Whidbey Inn, Mad Crab Restaurant & Lounge, The Pizza Factory, Toby’s Tavern, Anna’s Tea Room, Coupeville Coffee House, Harbor Store Cafe, County Deli, Tyee Restaurant & Lounge, and Knead & Feed.

In addition to the Mussel Chowder-Off, there are regularly scheduled cooking demonstrations at the headquarters.

The chef at the headquarters is Jefferds, one of the owners of the Mussel Farm in Penn Cove. He has been part of the festival for 20 years.

His favorite part is dealing with people from out of town and watching them fall in love with Coupeville.

“We see a lot of people in Coupeville for the first time. They come for the festival, but then they come back because they like our town,” he said.

Jefferds, who has shown his craft at shows all over the U.S., will begin cooking at about

1:30 p.m. each day. Visitors can sample the mussels he has prepared throughout the afternoon.

On both days from 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., there are cooking demonstrations at the Captain Whidbey Inn with Chef Sean Hartley from Seattle’s Palace Kitchen and Chef Jim Roberts from The Cove in Coupeville. Additional demonstrations may be scheduled at the last minute.

A new addition at the mussel festival this year: Ease Your Mussels. Visitors can get massages at the Anchorage Inn. The Anchorage Inn is located on the corner of Ninth and Main streets. Neck and shoulder massages will be available both days from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Also new are the strong man contest and Coupeville pillow fight.

The special boat tour of the mussel farms is also a hit with visitors. From land, visitors see the rafts of the mussel farm while driving along Madrona Way, a picturesque road that hugs the Penn Cove shoreline.

But during mussel festival weekend, they can get a unique up-close look. With an underwater camera and a skilled tour guide aboard, Festival Boat Tours will take visitors right up to the rafts for a look above and below the waterline.

Passes for the tours are available exclusively at the festival headquarters. Tours generally start at about 10:45 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They depart every 90 minutes till about 4 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on


Every year festival volunteers create scavenger hunts for grown-ups. Prizes include pounds of freshly harvested mussels. Recipe cards are provided with the win. Clues and instructions can be picked up at headquarters between 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Young festival visitors who still prefer fish sticks over mussels will be taken care of, as well.

Games like WharfWalk, Mussel Hustle, Snailpace Mussel Race and more begin under the canopy at the foot of the Coupeville Wharf. Kids get to pick their own prizes and it won’t be mussels, Kuller said.

Children can learn about mussels, orcas and Penn Cove while they hang out and have a good time at Musseltopia. Hours are Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday noon to 3 p.m.

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