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Kitsap County: RX for city doldrums

Cross the bridge for adventure

The USS Turner Joy floats peacefully in her moorage just beyond Bremerton’s naval shipyards. Photo credit: Jessica Corey-Butler

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Eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson once drolly observed that "when a man was tired of London, he was tired of life."

Johnson's remark definitely isn't applicable to Pacific Northwesterners. Their cure-all? Venturing off to greener pastures (hey! This is the Evergreen State, right?) such as can be found in Kitsap County, about nine miles across Puget Sound.

Visitors to this county, roughly 200 square miles in size, quickly discover plenty of activities that will defeat any doldrums they might have. In the native language, "Kitsap" means "brave."

Bainbridge Island, named in honor of the confederated tribes' leader who greeted English explorers more than 200 years ago, makes an ideal introduction to the county.

Begin your boredom-beating weekend by boarding one of the capacious green and white vessels (most of which bear Native American names), which depart from Seattle's Coleman Dock to either Bremerton, on the far west side of the county, or Bainbridge Island-unofficial gateway to the area, besides being a lot closer to the city.

For an uncomplicated getaway, in this case, leave your car behind. Once you've disembarked at the Eagle Harbor terminal, pick up a self-guided walking tour map at the convenient information center, and spend the day investigating Winslow's historic/contemporary downtown area. A car or bike is a must, though, for experiencing the rest of the island and beyond.

Whichever option you select, an early morning departure is advised, either from the city's major ferry terminal, or by driving via Highway 16 from Tacoma across the Narrows Bridge. For naval fans, this latter route not only provides an up-close look at construction work on the second bridge span, but it also is the quickest route to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on Sinclair Inlet. Take a look at the assortment of mothballed gray vessels blanketed beneath early morning mist as you round the half-moon-shaped bay en route to the island.

In the mid-1990s, Bainbridge residents voted to incorporate the 32-square-mile island, renaming it as the "City of Bainbridge Island." An assortment of outlying communities including Seabold, Rolling Bay, Eagledale, Manitou, and Port Madison, retain their original names.

At the Chamber of Commerce office in downtown Winslow, the city's main commercial area, pick up some literature about island sites. Get directions to Frog Rock. It's a site that, in a certain slant of light, could be considered a mini Mt. Rushmore. Known as an erratic, the geologic term for a glacier-displaced boulder, the electrifyingly bright green rock and its red/black ladybug companion peer out from beneath the underbrush on Phelps Road.

Along Winslow Way and Madison Avenue are many ethnic eateries featuring cuisine from maritime and Mexican to Mediterranean and Thai. Eagle Harbor Books has a good selection of volumes authored by island writers. Next door is Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, which features textiles, glittery one-of-a kind-jewelry, sculptures and paintings by local artists. Winslow Green (the original setting for the island's high school) showcases an eclectic assortment of boutiques such as Fox Paw. Among them is a sweatshirt printed with the names of all the island neighborhoods. Relax at one of Bainbridge Bakers' outdoor tables, a few steps away, and experience Bainbridge's version of a Spanish Passeo before heading off to explore one of the island's 14 parks, such as Fort Ward.

For those who want to learn more about island history, visit the Little Red Schoolhouse. It shelters the Bainbridge Historical Museum on Ericksen Avenue, behind Bainbridge Performing Arts. Its rooms are crammed to the rafters with photos, artifacts and much information about the island's maritime history. Inside, you'll find local history from the tall ship building days to the Navy minesweeper era as well as a poignant recount of the infamous deportation of Japanese residents during WWII. Island author David Guterson incorporated this story into his book, Snow Falling on Cedars.

From Winslow Way, drive north along Fern Cliff Avenue toward Fay Bainbridge State Park near Pt. Madison. The Pt. Madison bell and a brief history about it is displayed at the park's entrance.

Take High School Road to the west side, then proceed along Fletcher Bay Road to Lynnwood Center with its Tudor-style shopping center/apartment complex and a 30s-style art deco movie theater. Continue from Lynnwood to Port Blakely, once the site of a large lumber mill and Hall Brothers' shipbuilding yard. The Country Club neighborhood on the port's western shore became a popular vacation spot for wealthy Seattleites who built large summer cottages there. Nowadays, its placid waters shelter pleasure boats. Nearby Fort Ward features an assortment of Victorian homes and gun emplacements, remnants from its days as a naval installation.

Traces of another naval installation are found at Battle Point Park. An astronomical observatory has been created inside the one-time transmitter building, where the message about Pearl Harbor was received and decoded.

Since Bainbridge is renowned for its gardens, allow time to stroll the tiny Haiku Garden, adjacent to the Bainbridge Library on Madison Avenue, or enjoy an espresso at the New Rose Café amid the grounds at Bainbridge Gardens Nursery, just off Fletcher Bay Road. If time allows, plan to spend several hours at the Bloedel Reserve at the island's northeast tip. Early May, when the garden is abloom with showy rhododendrons, Washington's state flower, is the premiere time to experience this piece of paradise. But anytime of year, even when it's drizzling, is primo for a leisurely promenade through the Reserve's nine secluded gardens: cross a sward of open field, head into the woods, and continue along the trail to the Moss, Japanese and Reflection gardens. Reservations are advised.

For access to other island gardens, contact the Bainbridge Arts and Humanities council about its annual July Bainbridge in Bloom Garden Tour.

Continuing northwest on Highway 305, after crossing Agate Pass Bridge, turn either left for Poulsbo, aka Little Norway on the Fjord, or right, for the postage stamp-sized community of Suquamish.

The folksy, Scandinavian-style town along Liberty Bay is decorated with old-world touches from delicate, lace-curtain-covered windows to white flower boxes cascading with crimson geraniums. The impressive, blue and white timber First Lutheran Church that towers over the waterfront community at one end, with rosemaling-decorated walls of the Sons of Norway Hall on the opposite end, seem like anchors for the waterfront community.

Stroll the boardwalk pathway that hugs the shore just a stone's throw from the striking Kvelstad Pavilion at Waterfront Park, where ample parking is available. Baskets of fragrant flowers hang from slender, blue streetlights along Front Street. The landmark golden pretzel is suspended from the awning above Sluy's Bakery - home to the renowned Poulsbo bread. You'll be licking your fingers for the next couple of blocks after sampling some of the bakery's tasty pastries. Discover what the lutefisk fuss is all about. Pop into the Marina Market where you'll find an assortment of Scandinavian delicacies, including a TV dinner version of this national dish.

En route to Chief Seattle's hometown, visit the Suquamish Tribal Museum. Rated by the Smithsonian as the best Indian museum in the Pacific Northwest, it includes an exhibit about the 1920s Suquamish Indian baseball team that sailed to Japan for a season (long before Ichiro or Kazuhiro joined the Seattle Mariners).

Chief Seattle's grave, in the churchyard next to St. Peter's, is located a short distance from the Suquamish waterfront. Elaborately carved wooden pillars atop the chief's grave point eastward, while offerings to the Native American leader surround the marble tombstone. Sealth befriended the white settlers who came there in the mid-1850s. The settlers anglicized the chief's name to "Seattle" and named the state's biggest city for him. About 200 feet from the waterfront is the tribal canoe building, where carvers work on traditional canoes. You also may view carvers' masks that are sold at the nearby Clearwater Casino.

Don't go home without stopping at the bulky, blue barn off the highway, midway on the island, right off Day Road. Home to Bainbridge Winery, it's open for sampling in a miniscule tasting room across from the vineyard. For the past 30-plus years, visitors have sampled and stocked up on German-style wines such as Muller Thurgau, Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe, concocted from island-grown grapes and available only at the winery. Their dessert wine is made from famous, island-grown strawberries. Local legend has it that the sweet fruit was rated as suitable for serving to visiting royals during their Vancouver (B.C.) Island stay.

A dramatic finale to a Kitsap weekend occurs as you stand (at night) at the railing, atop the Tacoma, one of Washington State's newest ferries. The vessel, illuminated like a multi-tiered birthday cake, glides sedately out of Eagle Harbor heading for the mainland.

Reflections from offices, auto and streetlights shimmer against a dark water canvas like a pricey gem collection exhibited on a jeweler's black velvet cloth. Straight ahead, the full moon dangles like a pearl pendant between monolithic towers.

Climate: The Puget Sound region normally receives beaucoup liquid sunshine, usually between late October through early July. One Puget Sound weather observer advises that travelers should plan for any kind of weather from moisturizing mists to downright drenching. Remember, local humorists claim that Northwesterners don't tan, they rust.

Future getaway suggestions:

Drive to the county's northern-most point at Hansville and the 1879 Point No Point Lighthouse to watch in- and out-bound ship traffic passing through Admiralty Inlet. Nearby is a large Nature Conservancy Preserve.

Once home to Pope and Talbot Lumber Company, the historic register community of Port Gamble resembles a New England town.

Kingston, a once-bustling lumber town, is also site of another mainland-peninsula access point. Park your car at the waterfront, and board an Edmonds-bound ferry.

The beaches at state parks, such as Kitsap Memorial Park north of Poulsbo, with an impressive view of Hood Canal, or Bainbridge's Fay-Bainbridge State Park, contain some great picnic spots.

Seabeck, once larger than Seattle, now serves as a base of operations to many activities around the canal.

Silverdale is home to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds and the Kitsap Pavilion Mall.

Port Orchard, across from Bremerton, is renowned for its many antique shops and impressive view of the naval shipyard. For a close-up view of mothballed vessels, board one of the Kitsap Transit foot-ferries at the Bremerton Transportation Center.

Soak up more local color by timing your visit to coincide with one or more local festivities: Suquamish's Chief Seattle Days, Silverdale's Whaling Days, Bainbridge's spontaneous Scotch Broom Festival or Poulsbo's Midsommerfest.

A capsule of Kitsap County History

The Suquamish people are said to have settled the region in about 5,000 B.C.

English explorer Capt. George Vancouver and his crew explored the area in 1792.

Chief Kitsap extended hospitality to the English explorers when they anchored off the south end of Bainbridge Island at a place they named Restoration Point. Vancouver set about naming many area landmarks in honor of crewmembers and other patrons. For instance, Mt. Tahoma became Mt. Rainier, and the sound was named for 1792 English Lieutenant Peter Puget.

The Suquamish and S'Klallam were two of the area's main tribes; others included the Chemakum, Skokomish and Toanhooch. Kitsap, said to be one of the confederated tribes' most important leaders, ruled from the long house known as Old-Man House that stood along Agate Pass at present-day Port Madison.

Vancouver's report about the area's resources sparked competition in the fur industry, and by the turn of the century, English and Americans vied for trapping rights. Hudson's Bay Company dominated the industry, moving onto fresh territory after nearly exhausting the local fur supply.

Explorer Lt. Charles Wilkes and his expeditionary force established an American presence in the northwest in 1841.  Five years later, the English relinquished their claim to the territory, and serious American settlement began. Of interest was Wilkes' report that the harbor near Port Orchard was suitably deep to accommodate a large class of vessels. Fifty years later, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was established at Bremerton. Bangor Submarine Base and Keyport, home to the Naval Undersea Warfare Museum, are nearby.

Most of the county's communities were founded in mid-18th century, and displays about area history draw visitors to its many museums.

Chambers of Commerce:

For information about accommodations, restaurants and other sites visit or call 360.297.8200. An office is located in Port Gamble's historic district.

Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce
590 Winslow Way E.
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Bremerton Chamber of Commerce
301 Pacific Ave.
Bremerton, WA 98337
360. 479.3579

Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce
P. O. Box 1063
Poulsbo, WA 98370

Kingston Chamber of Commerce
P. O. Box 78
Kingston, WA 98346
360. 297.3813

Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce
839 Bay St.
Port Orchard, WA 98366

Silverdale Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 1218
Silverdale, WA 98383

Bainbridge Winery
Highway 305
Wednesday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

The Bloedel Reserve
7571 NE Dolphin Rd.

Washington State Ferries: contact the WSDOT site at for information about schedules, fees and special needs.

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