Have you ever been on the ferry to Bainbridge Island or Kingston and wondered what lies within the green coves and inlets in the distance? It turns out there’s a treasure trove of historic towns dotting the meandering shoreline.
I used to think the Northern Kitsap Peninsula was the place we had to drive through to get to someplace else, the Olympic Mountains or the Pacific Ocean. Since exploring it with my family, I now know that it is home to the oldest Puget Sound lighthouse, the longest Mosquito Fleet dock, a submarine museum and the sacred gravesite of Chief Seattle. Here's your guide to the top family adventures in Kitsap that are just a ferry ride and short drive away.
Suquamish: New museum and Chief Seattle gravesite
Less than 10 miles from the Bainbridge and Kingston Ferry terminals, near the Agate Pass Bridge, lies the “place of clear salt water” in the Southern Lushootseed language. Currently, it is the seat of the Suquamish Indian Reservation with a newly constructed museum dedicated to the tribe. Since time immemorial, this has been home to the Suquamish people; the featured exhibit, Trade of the Northwest Coast, explores thousands of years of trade by various local tribes. Most impressive are the six life-size figures shouldering a 300-year-old canoe and a cedar timeline that spans the length of the exhibit hall. The intention is for viewers to see a familiar world, the coasts of Washington and Canada, in a completely different way.
A short walk away is the gravesite of Chief Sealth, the tribal elder after whom Seattle is named and whose words remain significant today. This area was his winter home and eventual burial site.
Details: The Suquamish Museum is open daily from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission is $5/adults; $3/children; and $15/family. An exhibit on the unleashed Elwha River runs through Sept. 4, 2017.
Eat: Within walking distance from the museum is the tiny town of Suquamish, where you can dine at a waterfront restaurant, Scratch Kitchen with breathtaking Puget Sound views or the fancier Agate Pass Café.
Bonus: Bring your fishing license and rod for some of the best local fishing off the Suquamish Dock. The dock and House of Awakened Culture have restored the Tribe's historical access allowing elderly and disabled tribal members to participate in traditional canoe outings.
Fest: Check out Chief Seattle Days, Aug. 18–20, an event that includes a local War Canoe race with tribes from all over the region competing together.
Indianola: Mosquito Fleet dock and country store
When the Mosquito Fleet of steamers and other boats supplied the majority of transportation on Puget Sound between the First and Second World Wars, Indianola was a summer/weekend community that could be reached only by steamboat. Today it’s a beautiful 5-mile drive from Kingston and 15 miles from Bainbridge. This friendly village, is a "haven for artists" and home to a 775-foot dock. Bring all your sand toys and floaties to spend the day on the beach, where the extensive shallow waters are a delight for small children and the dock is a great jumping-off spot for the older ones.
Eat: Since the 1920s, Indianola Country Store has been an integral part of the community and offers sandwiches, espresso bar, fresh-made soup and ice cream cones. Encourage your kids to weigh themselves on the antique Toledo Honest Weight scale. It’s enormous! When Martha Stewart visited the area for a wedding, she recommended a French dip, roast beef and melted cheese, served with a beef au jus.
Fest: Mark your calendar for Indianola Days, one of the most popular events in the region. It's typically held the third weekend in July and includes a stunt night, pet parade and more.
Hansville: Point No Point Lighthouse
Located 20 miles north of the Bainbridge Ferry and 10 miles north of the Kingston Ferry, on the northernmost tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, The Point No Point lighthouse was built in 1879, making it the oldest on the Puget Sound. When salmon runs pass through Admiralty Inlet, it’s feeding time for local wildlife. You might see a herd of up to 30 seals, dive-bombing bald eagles or even whales. Miles and miles of sandy beach are perfect for building sandcastles and kids running with dogs (there are no bans on furry four-legged friends on most Kitsap beaches). Point No Point also has one of the largest bird lists of any site in Washington, especially waterfowl. So bring your binoculars!
Tours of the historic Point No Point Lighthouse are 1–3 p.m. on Saturdays, April through September. Ever thought about sleeping in a lighthouse? The keeper’s quarters are available as a vacation rental.
Bonus: If it’s warm enough, nearby Buck Lake is great for freshwater swimming, located just west off the main road before you reach Hansville. Its grassy lawn and playground set the scene for a perfect picnic spot.
Port Gamble: 10-cent candy, seashells and an old firehouse
Lined with colorful, perfectly maintained 1850s Victorian homes, Port Gamble enchants kids; walking along the quaint streets, mine like to pretend they are in a Little House on the Prairie book. It’s easy to read the true story of the town from placards placed on each building explaining what it was used for and who lived or worked there. And have the kids bring their coins! The Port Gamble General Store has 10-cent candy on offer; and you can see the world's largest private collection of seashells on the second floor. Another quirky highlight: Ask nicely at the Olympic Outdoor Center in the old firehouse and they might run the refurbished antique siren for you. (You can also rent kayaks there.) There's also a play structure and spacious town green where the kids can run themselves silly.
Eat: Port Gamble has the best food in the area. Butcher and Baker Provisions serves an exceptional lunch menu with outdoor seating in the old gas station; next door is a park for the kids to free range. The Port Gamble General Store on the waterfront is also a delicious eatery. Finish off with a pastry at Divine Café.
Bonus: Boo! The paranormal is alive and well in Port Gamble. Teens 16 and older might enjoy a guided ghost walk that shares the town's ghoul-story.
Poulsbo: Vikings, donuts and maritime museums
Where else can you find a 12-foot tall Viking, a giant octopus sculpture and enormous donuts? Just 10.5 miles from Kingston and 12 miles from Bainbridge Island you will find a sign that reads Velkommen til Poulsbo, guarded by a 12-foot tall, 6,000-pound, thickly bearded Norseman. As you wind your way down to the main drag, Front Street, the richness of Washington's Scandinavian heritage is obvious in the charming storefronts. The kids will love the massive climbable octopus and please-touch tank at the SEA Discovery Center (formerly the Poulsbo Marine Science Center) on the waterfront (open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.). As you wander through the toy store, ice cream shop, bookstore and trinket shops, making your way to the gorgeous waterfront park, have the kids ask "Where’s Waldo?" Often, he’s hiding among store displays. If you’re willing to drive 6 miles to Keyport, the Naval Undersea Museum is a hit with submarine fans. With filled torpedoes and under-sea mines, the artifact collection here is exciting.
Eat: Sluys Poulsbo Bakery, a family-owned, old-fashioned bakery located in the center of town on Front Street, is inseparable from Poulsbo’s Viking heritage. Try the famous Viking cup or glazed doughboy. Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse offers the best waterfront views anywhere. Located on the hill just north of the center of town, the gluten-free cookies, sriracha egg salad and mango chutney tuna salad are all delicious. From April to December, the farmers market is center of the local food scene on Saturdays from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. at Seventh and Iverson.
Bonus: Save the date for May's Viking Fest which features marching bands, traditional Norwegian costumes and food in celebration of Norway’s Constitution Day.