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Walk-On Ferry Adventures With Kids: Ride to Bainbridge or Bremerton

Your guide to a great ferry-hopping day-trip with kids

Published on: April 25, 2019

Washington State Ferry M/V Walla Walla. Credit: Jim Culp/WSDOT via Flickr CC

The first time I walked onto the Bainbridge Island ferry, I was pushing a stroller with my three children in tow. We were planning to be gone for only the afternoon, but the prospect of crossing Puget Sound, just me and the kids, felt like a grand adventure.

Whitecaps crashed against the side of the ferry, and the kids pointed and shouted at them in excitement. I let out a sigh of relief when an older gentleman greeted me with a smile and held the door for me. We exchanged “good mornings” and made genuine eye contact. I felt myself relax and downshift into island time.

Walk on the ferry to Bainbridge Island

Ready for a relaxing jaunt to beautiful Bainbridge Island? Here is my clan’s perfect day-trip itinerary. Tip: Check the Bainbridge Island events calendar before heading over to see what’s happening on the day you plan to visit.  

KiDiMu | Credit: Sparkson Photography

From the ferry terminal on Bainbridge, it’s just a short hop, skip and a jump to the Kids Discovery Museum, affectionately known as KiDiMu ($8 admission for kids and adults; regular hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Saturday, noon–4 p.m. Sundays). There, your little scalawags can scamper around the pirate tree house and explore a child-size version of downtown Winslow in the “Our Town” exhibit. Sensory and craft activities are offered daily for kids ages 9 months and older.

Directly across the street from the adjacent Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, find Waypoint Park and access to a new set of trails leading to the waterfront and nearby restaurants. Follow the path downhill and to the right, crossing a bridge along the way, until you arrive at Eagle Harbor Waterfront Park, a popular locale for annual festivals, performances and other special events. On the waterfront, you can wander down to the boat dock to rent kayaks, paddleboards and canoes; or visit the small playground located on the hill above the beach. Stay left as this trail continues through town to the long boardwalk above the marina; along the trail, you’ll pass several tempting family-friendly food stops, including Bainbridge Thai, Doc’s Marina Grill and Pegasus Coffee House

The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum (open daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m.) is housed in a 1908 schoolhouse and features many kid-friendly interactive exhibits on island history topics, such as Native American lore, whales, the exploits of explorers who charted Puget Sound and the internment of Japanese-American island residents during World War II. Don’t miss a peek into drawer “Z,” which displays a giant mammoth tooth that was discovered protruding out of a steep embankment about a mile south of Point Monroe.

A visit to Pastiche Antiques (187 Ericksen Ave. N.E.) next door may seem like an invitation to take your little bull into a china shop, but its trove of vintage treasures entrances customers young and older alike with an amazing collection of items, including live lovebirds (and cookies are also often on offer). As you head back into the town of Winslow, you won’t fail to miss the delightful Calico Toy Shoppe with its bubble-blowing teddy bear out front; or, for an even furrier stop, pop in at Lollipops Children’s Boutique, home to a sweet resident bunny.

Featuring a variety of food vendors, farm stands and beekeepers, the farmers market runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays through Dec. 14, in 2019, and is located in front of the Bainbridge Performing Arts building. Close by, on Madrone Lane N., you will find a courtyard set with tables and umbrellas, a perfect perching place to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup from the Fork & Spoon. It’ll be hard to choose your sweets on Bainbridge, but you can’t go wrong with a treat from Blackbird Bakery or J’aime les Crêpes, and the kids will always vote for a cone from Mora Iced Creamery

Bike! If you’re feeling extra energetic, hop on your bikes and pedal two miles to Owen’s Playground. An inclusive playground for all ages and abilities, Owen’s boasts a sand-and-water feature that includes a hand-cranked pump and dig panel. Kids can wander the sensory garden, scramble up a boulder and explore the large sculptures created by local artists with kid’s play in mind.

Tip: If you want to stay overnight on the island, check out the beach cabin rental options at Fay Bainbridge Park as well as the funky yurts (and even a “jungalow”!) offered on Airbnb.

Bremerton: Ships, ships and more ships!

The ferry ride from Seattle to Bremerton is one of the most beautiful on Puget Sound. It takes about an hour and winds through the narrows of Rich Passage, squeezing between Bainbridge Island and Port Orchard. Bring the game Battleship to play on the boat to get your kids thinking about the many hands-on experiences with naval vessels that await.

harborside fountain
Harborside Fountain

After you unload from the Bremerton ferry, head to Harborside Fountain Park, a spectacular 2.2-acre waterfront park featuring five interactive copper fountains. “It’s a volcano!” yells my son. “No, it’s an orca whale spout!” shouts my daughter. I think they’re reminiscent of both. The surrounding park features sculptures by Bremerton-born artist Will Robinson that were built for climbing, sliding and playing peek-a-boo. Your kids’ imaginations can run wild as they find places to hide out within the sculptures’ slots, chutes and key holes. Adults will appreciate the stylish aesthetic of the fountain works, designed by the same masterminds who created the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. 

Once you dock in Bremerton, the USS Turner Joy DD-951 can be seen off the starboard side. Make your way past the “Lone Sailor” statue on the Bremerton Marina pier toward the naval destroyer. Built in 1959 and decommissioned in 1982, the vessel has taken on a new tour of duty as a comprehensive naval destroyer museum. It’s open 10 a.m.–5 p.m., seven days a week, from March to October.

Just steps away from the ferry dock, the Puget Sound Navy Museum (hours of operation are 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; closed Tuesdays, October–April) awaits your visit. Its location is a significant marker, honoring the heritage and support provided by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for more than 100 years. Admission is free, and the museum presents a kid-friendly area that beckons littles to crawl and play while learning what life might be like living on a submarine. The many hands-on exhibits offer everyone a chance to better understand the grand scale of the work accomplished at the Bremerton shipyard.  In the permanent exhibits, more information about ship operations and missions is conveyed through the real-life experiences on board one of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear aircraft carriers.  

Ride the historic Carlisle II, a 1917 foot passenger ferry that still carries riders between Port Orchard and the Bremerton waterfront. When the Kitsap Peninsula and surrounding islands were thick with forests and really soggy terrain, there were no good roads. But there was a mosquito fleet, composed of about 1,000 small, independently owned boats that transported people, supplies and mail to shoreline communities from the mid-1800s to the 1940s. The Carlisle II is one of only two remaining boats of Puget Sound’s mosquito fleet and one of the oldest continuously licensed vessels in the United States. The 10-minute sailing costs $2 each way (cash or ORCA cards accepted). 

Hungry yet? The Horse & Cow Pub & Grill offers great food and submarine-themed dining. You might even get a table next to a little sub! Be sure to save your pocket change for a visit to Quarters Arcade next door. If you’re up for a longer jaunt, the little waterfront community of Manette offers cute cafés and a brewery. There’s also the quaint Boat Shed Restaurant, situated right under the bridge on the water. If you bring your bikes, take a 3-mile pedal over to Illahee State Park, which features a gorgeous waterfront trail (and a few bike camping spots, if you’re really adventurous!) 

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