by Carmel L. Mooney
Our family had the recent treat of discovering Washington’s most spectacular hidden gem just a ferry ride from Seattle. Getting to Seattle was a piece of cake. We flew out of Sacramento on Alaska Airlines and once at the Sea-Tac airport, we took the efficient and inexpensive light rail to Seattle. There we boarded the ferry and the real adventure began.
The Washington State Ferry ride itself with spectacular views of the city and Mount Rainier, was just the way to start our unforgettable journey to gorgeous Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. With the cool ocean breezes blowing our hair, and the sights and smells of the ocean and wildlife, the ferry whetted our appetites for what we were about to discover on the island and Peninsula.
We knew, from previous family trips, that Washington is a place of unparalleled beauty but this visit made prior ones pale.
Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula offer so much to visiting families that we were immensely glad we had scheduled a tour with Kitsap Tours to get a real taste and overview of the area’s bounty.
Kitsap Tours will even pick you up from the ferry, taking care of all the details. Jim and Jean Boyle offer several different tours throughout the week and you cannot go wrong with any of them. A class act through and through, Jean’s vast knowledge and background in tourism and travel make every second a pleasure. Her ability to share the culture, history, and beauty of the area in a relaxed yet invigorating way makes this tour intriguing and anything but boring. Even our tween daughter stayed interested and engaged throughout the tour.
Jim, a former secret service agent, drives the luxurious bus with reclining leather seats. His warmth and humor make it all the more enjoyable. Highlights of our Kitsap Tour were viewing Chief Seattle’s gravesite and a fascinating tour of the Suquamish Museum. A new ten million dollar museum is being built and is the excitement of the area.
We toured the charming little town of Poulsbo, a little Norwegian village where we diverted from the bus to take a wonderful electric boat ride along the harbor gazing at marine mammals and their young. Later when walking this charming little town, you have to stop at the Marina Market where eclectic goods, including hundreds of types of licorice, are a novelty.
During your Kitsap Tour, you’ll find that the photo opportunities are astounding. It’s no wonder since Kitsap Tours also offers photo tours and Jean is an amazing professional photographer in her own right. After a delightful lunch overlooking the bay in Poulsbo, we continued to Port Gamble, a company-owned timber town with a strong New England flavor.
We enjoyed the perfect balance that our Kitsap Tour offered, whereas we could walk and explore on our own and also enjoy sitting and relaxing on the bus while Jim and Jean narrated points of interest with an occasional short video to complement the experience. We felt that we got the perfect opportunity to savor the beauty of today but also enjoy a glimpse of the heritage of yesterday.
We stayed at the gorgeous Eagle Harbor Inn where lovely amenities and a delightful view of the harbor provided the perfect respite from our busy day of touring. Proprietors Cihan and Bonnie Anisoglu are both innkeepers and residents and offer the best in hospitality. The spacious and perfectly located Petit Hotel was everything we could have wanted, needed, and more. Our custom townhome provided sumptuous amenities and toiletries, a washer and dryer, a lovely private garden courtyard, and featured the art and heritage of Bainbridge Island.
We relished the luxurious bedding and tranquil sounds of the harbor below. Even better, it was walking distance to everything the town offers including our outstanding dinner at Local Harvest Restaurant where the best of local and sustainably farmed fare pleased our taste buds. Known by locals for their Flatbread specialties, we quickly learned to appreciate this amazing restaurant for that and so much more. Our steamed clams were mouth-watering. And each salad was a masterpiece prepared with heirloom vegetables and homemade salad dressings. Parents will savor specialties cooked to perfection like the Flat Iron Steak and Wood-fired Roasted Salmon. Kids love Mac & Cheese, Baked Chicken Tenders, and Homemade Pizzas cooked lovingly in their special wood-fired oven.
Not one thing in the farm-to-fork eatery lacks. It’s all good!
We were glad that after walking around beautiful downtown Bainbridge Island, we had saved a little smidgen of room to check out locals’ favorite, Mora Iced Creamery. Unlike any other ice creamery we’ve ever seen, you know you are on to something delightfully different when you walk in. Patrons choose a size and type of cone or cup and then proceed to the tasting area to tantalize their taste buds with the highest quality locally made ice creams and sorbets, before making their final selection on how to fill their cone or cup. Each batch of ice cream is made from the freshest local berries, nuts, and purest artisanal ingredients. It’s incomparable.
On another delightful day on Bainbridge Island, we toured Bloedel Reserve. Formerly a residential paradise, this 150-acre, the award-winning garden offers a Japanese Garden, Zen Garden, Moss Garden Rhododendron Glen, Reflection Garden, and Chateau-style home. A limited number of visitors are permitted entry per day which only contributes to the tranquility and privacy of the experience. Paths and bridges are meticulously maintained and the grounds are spectacular.
The Bainbridge Island Farmer’s Market is not to be missed. A wonderful way to catch a glimpse of the astounding local fare, artisans, and culture of the area, it’s both family and dog friendly. Try to plan your visit around it. Many of the vendors will ship their wares for visitors.
One morning we dined with the locals at Streamliner Diner where gigantic portions of home-cooked goodness are relished by all. Evidence of this is easy to see when lines out the door and around the block are common. Huge portions of cooked-to-order omelets, scrambles, and waffles, served alongside enormous homemade muffins, will fill you up for a day of Bainbridge Island activities.
We burned off some of our breakfast at the harbor with our knowledgeable guide Udo who showed us incomparable views of the waterways and marina from our canoe. Like everywhere else on Bainbridge Island or the Kitsap Peninsula, the marine life was wonderful. Back of Beyond Boat Rental offers numerous family-friendly boat rentals. Our canoe group consisted of two little boys canoeing with their father from the Los Gatos area. Our daughter had equal fun practicing her rowing skills. Fun was had by all.
Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula offer families a relaxed way to explore the great outdoors and a glimpse of our nation’s heritage. Enjoying the best of both worlds, Seattle is only across the Sound beckoning, should you need the hustle and bustle of the city.
Prepare to see eagles, herons, and other plentiful wildlife. We were fascinated to learn that the island has no poisonous snakes, plants, or ticks. Bainbridge Island locals are friendly in fact, they have their team of Ambassadors ready and willing to assist visitors.
Lots of free family fun awaits visitors to Bainbridge Island including cycling, Geocaching, Movies in the Park, Summer Concerts, Planetarium Shows, Farm Walks, Kid’s Discovery Museum, Frog Rock, and Fort Ward Park, to name just a few.
Of all the places, we’ve traveled as a family, this recent voyage is a top favorite and sure to be a return trip for us soon. Pack your bags and we’re sure you’ll agree. See you there!
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. She is the editor of Road Trips for Couples