For this installment of I Ate the State, I’ll be featuring the coastal areas of Kitsap County and Kitsap Peninsula. Home to beautiful shorelines, towering forestland and ridiculously quaint towns and attractions, Kitsap County is definitely worth the trip.
There are few ways to get to the Kitsap Peninsula and all involve some impressive views of the Puget Sound and inland waterways. While I’d love to have my own boat and cruise into the various harbors and marinas at my own leisure, it will probably be a few more years before that’s an option. (I am getting a boat. #Goals.) In the meantime, I’m content to either travel from the Tacoma area over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and WA-16/WA-3 or via the Edmonds/Kingston Ferry route. Another popular option is to take the Seattle/Bremerton Ferry from the Seattle Waterfront ferry terminal.
A note about the Washington State Ferry system: It’s the largest ferry system in the country and third largest in the world! (I also mention this in an earlier I Ate the State – Clallum County post. After traveling through Kitsap County’s neighbor, Jefferson County, Clallum County is next and is the westernmost county and point in the United States.) I love taking the ferry anytime I can. You can head to Vancouver Island, B.C. and Victoria, B.C., Bremerton and Bainbridge Island (also in Kitsap County), Whidbey Island, the San Juan Islands, etc. The routes are extensive and beautiful. When I was a kid, my family would take mini-breaks over in the Seattle area and we’d always take a round-trip ferry trip to Bremerton and back – just to ride the boat. I have so many fond memories of riding the Washington State Ferries.
For this jaunt, I chose to take the Edmonds/Kingston ferry route both to and from Kitsap County. As I’d formulated my travel plans very last minute, I didn’t really take into account the ferry schedule. Suffice it to say, I got ready very quickly that morning and made a mad dash out the door. I’m happy and impressed to report I was the second-to-last car to make it on the ferry both departing and returning. It prompted an earworm courtesy of The Beatles to play through my brain for a good portion of the day.
Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat…
Excerpt from A Day in the Life – by The Beatles
Regarding music, it is my opinion that a good road trip must always be accompanied by a good soundtrack. The music helps set the mood of the journey – and the journey can help set the mood of the music. I can’t imagine traveling anywhere without music playing a part. It helps me slip into the surroundings and add my own little stories to the scenery as it passes. It sparks my imagination and inspires me to push a little further to see what’s up around the next bend. There are so many songs indelibly etched in my memory, reminding me of specific road trips and amazing adventures through the years. I’ve always been grateful for the easy recall of those adventures at just the mention of a song or from hearing a few notes in passing.
That said, there’s also something to be said for a quiet journey down a lonely back road. I do absolutely understand the allure. And sometimes, maybe you never want music while traveling. For instance, my grandfather was a musician and actually took the stereos out of his vehicles because he used driving as a break from the music. He heard and played music all day, every day – very understandable he might want to take a break. But I digress…
After just making it onto the ferry, I felt it necessary to finally get that cup of coffee I’d neglected to grab as I raced out the door. A quick visit to the ferry galley did the trick and I spent the next 20 minutes staring blissfully out the window onto the grey waters and rainy morning shorelines. No whale sightings this time, but they’re definitely something to watch out for during ferry crossings in and around the Puget Sound.
Back on land in Kingston, I headed towards Port Gamble. (Head west on Hwy 104 NE) The town of Kingston is a nice little harbor town and there are definitely some good spots to stop and get a meal or snack (or beer) as you’re waiting to get back on the ferry. The lines can definitely get long – be sure to check the ferry schedule and plan accordingly. Or just wing it… It’s all good. Even though I was just passing through Kingston this trip, there are a couple of spots I’d like to check out in the future. The Grub Hut and Downpour Brewing are two places I was particularly intrigued by. Next time!
Port Gamble is a fairly short drive from Kingston, so it was only a few songs into my road trip soundtrack before I arrived in town. (Check out the album Red Bird, by Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and Peter Mulvey – 2005. ‘Lots of moody, seafaring Americana for a rainy-day, coastal jaunt.) As it was a relatively gloomy day in January and mostly out of the typical range of tourism, there were plenty of parking spots right in the main street area. (Okay, there’s really only one main street in Port Gamble, other than the highway; which does actually slow down to 25 mph through the town…) Rockstar parking all around! (It does get pretty crowded in the summer months, but there are a few parking lots in and around the general area to accommodate visitors.)
Since I’d only had a cup of coffee for sustenance, I was indeed a little peckish. However, as I wasn’t quite yet to the hangry stage, I thought I should at least do a little sightseeing before I settled down for lunch. As I was parked just in front of the rather enchanting, Port Gamble General Store, I decided to start there. I’m glad I did. It provides an excellent peek into the past of Port Gamble and the vibrant milling community it supported as well as its modern day incarnation. (Founded in 1853 by William Talbot and Andrew Pope, the Puget Mill Company was the longest continually operating mill in the United States up until its closure in 1995. The town has been a national historic landmark since 1966.)
Inside, the General Store was chock full of interesting gift items, sundries, novelties, home goods, etc. and in the back was a very quaint sandwich and coffee shop. They also have a fairly nice selection of beer, wine and sodas should you feel like packing up an impromptu picnic to enjoy while looking out over the water. (There are various picnic tables and nice vistas just past the General Store.) In the upstairs area, there was a very unexpected and excellent “Sea and Shore” museum. Not only were there a wide variety of seashells and sea creatures from the Pacific NW, there were examples of all sorts of sea life from around the world. It was definitely worth a small donation into the donation box atop the stairs as you walk in. It also provided a great view down onto the main floor of the shop. I love older buildings that have a walkway all around the upper floor which looks down onto the ground floor. You don’t see as much of that design in modern buildings and homes… What I loved even more was seeing the pictures of the same building earlier in the last century and how much of the store layout remained similar. And on that note…
The Port Gamble Historic Museum is downstairs and around the back of the General Store. It is absolutely worth the four dollar admission fee. Even more so if the lovely Pat is working at the front desk. She gave me a very knowledgeable, personal breakdown of the area’s history and was completely charming and helpful. The displays were very well put together, informative and gave a great glimpse into life in the earlier days of Washington State, highlighting both settlers to the area and the local Native American tribes. There were full-size dioramas of shop, home and ship interiors along with a well-preserved array of period pieces and photographs; including a great photo of the General Store in the early 1900s.
As I am a bit of a museum nerd, I try to visit every museum, big or small, in all the towns I explore; especially towards the beginning of my visit. I love getting the back story and learning about the (possible) seedy underbelly of a town’s upbringing. And since I often do my adventuring solo, it serves to give me a sense of belonging and family to the area I’m exploring – as if maybe I’m not such an outsider after all. Visiting the Port Gamble Historic Museum indeed gave me a good understanding of the area and a nice sense of belonging. (Thanks, Pat!)
After immersing myself in the town’s history, I visited a few more shops on my way to find something tasty for lunch. Along my path, I visited the intriguing Mrs. Muir’s Tea House where they have a great selection of British goods, including a room dedicated to Harry Potter novelties and a very nice tea menu. (Formerly known as Mrs. Muir’s House of Ghosts and Magic, purported to be haunted and host to séances and tarot readings. Spooky!) I picked up a bottle of one of favorite beverages, Irn-Bru and a nice packet of Licorice Allsorts for the ride home. And I may have snapped a picture of the dreamy Outlander, Jamie Fraser cutout they had in the main room. Don’t judge.
Next up, it was high time for lunch. Across the street/highway from the main part of town sits the old gas station and repair shop. These days they offer a different type of fuel, as provided by Butcher & Baker Provisions. Stepping inside, there’s an open-air feeling complete with long, communal style tables and tidy displays of local area specialty foods and beverages. The entire back area of the restaurant boasts a long counter and display cases where you can peruse the delicious house-cured meats and decadent dessert selections. The menu had many interesting offerings, including Bibimbap and a Roasted Cauliflower Agnolotti, but since they are a butcher shop which cures their own meats, I decided to give the charcuterie board a try. And a nice glass of wine to go with it… Several very tasty meat selections later along with perfectly grilled bread and a nice side of olives and pickled veggies, I felt any hangry feelings float merrily off into the distance. Since I was really quite full, I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the desserts. I’ll be back…
In order to avoid slipping into a blissful food coma, I headed out towards my next destination. Where that was exactly, I hadn’t actually planned, but since there was a rare break in the clouds, I figured it was a good sign something cool was around the corner. Sure enough, I literally turned the corner and there was a sign for the Hood Canal Brewery. Why not?? I’d heard good things about it, so I followed the sign and drove off in that direction. Did I make it? Did I enjoy some beerly delights? NO. I somehow got turned around and ended up in… Poulsbo! And that’s quite alright as I’d visited there recently and had planned on stopping by again soon. No better time like the present, I guess! (But I will be back over to visit that brewery soon! And will pay closer attention to the road signs…)
Velkommen til Poulsbo! (Sign greeting guests as they enter Poulsbo, AKA “Little Norway”) I guess I didn’t think of visiting Poulsbo from this direction as I’ve only approached from the Tacoma area, but there I was heading into downtown Poulsbo, driving past a giant Viking statue known as ‘The Norseman.’ Even though it had started to rain again, I couldn’t help but be cheerful about my surroundings. In any weather, Poulsbo is warm and welcoming with a wealth of shops and restaurants to enjoy. The old town area of Poulsbo has quite a Scandinavian flair and is great to visit any time of the year, but becomes especially festive during the winter holidays. (And during the yearly Viking Festival) During my recent visits, I’ve gotten the chance to visit several great spots. A few of my favorites:
Valhöll Brewing – Very cool little brewery and tasting room on the hill overlooking Front Street. They have a good variety of brews, the staff is cool and it’s a great place to take a quick break from the bustle of Front Street. And beer is always a good idea.
Sluys’ Bakery – There’s been a bakery in this building since the early 1900s. The Sluys’ took over in 1966 and it’s been in the family ever since. They are the original creators of the famous, ‘Poulsbo Bread.’ I love that bread, but even more I love their amazing Viking Cups. They were OUT of them on this particular visit (the horror!), but I was able to pick up a few other tasty treats in their place. This place gets insanely busy, so be prepared to wait. It’s worth it.
Marina Market – One of the coolest, quirkiest little markets I’ve ever visited with a totally unassuming storefront. The first time I noticed it, I genuinely thought it was a marine market – as in it catered to boating needs. I’m very glad I investigated further as I was pretty impressed to see the sheer amount of international foods, beverages, gifts, etc. packed into such a small place. (With an obvious focus on Scandinavian items) And the freakish amount and variety of black licorice they carried was amazing! (Black licorice beats red licorice ANY day. True story.) They also have a great website, so if you can’t make it to the store, order online!
Truelux Candles – I love candles, but I never thought I’d add a candle store to my list of destination locations. This place is great! They of course have a lovely selection of the Truelux lotion candles (dreamy!), but they also feature many unique home décor items and more. In addition, they have a baby grand piano in the front and regularly feature music and the first time I visited the shop, they had a champagne bucket on the front counter, chillin’ some tall boy PBRs. Hilarious! (And much appreciated) The shop owners and their very sweet dog are also very cool.
Slippery Pig Brewery – Tasty pub and brewery down by the marina. They regularly feature live music, have a decent arcade and game room and a very friendly staff. They’re also family friendly. All I know is I want to try their ‘Loaded Bloody Mary’ the next time I visit. And someone else needs to drive…
Tizley’s Euro Pub – Cool restaurant located upstairs and next door to Sluys’ Bakery. They have a pretty interesting Scandinavian and Bavarian menu and I can guarantee you they pound out their own schnitzel. How and why do I know this? On my last visit, I was sitting in the bar with my family, which was in good range of the kitchen. The food was good and the beer selection was on point, but the entire time we were there, the chef was in the kitchen pounding away on the day’s schnitzel offerings. Pounding, pounding, pounding! It was a bit distracting, but I suppose it’s good to know the schnitzel was definitely house-made. Maybe visit later in the day when the schnitzel prep is finished… (Bonus tip: If you go out the back entrance, take the little walkway out to the road behind the building. BAM! You’re at Valhöll Brewing and you don’t have to walk all the way around. You’re welcome.)
Boehm’s Chocolates – I usually visit the original Boehm’s Chocolates in Issaquah, but I was happy to find a shop in Poulsbo as well. My family has been visiting Boehm’s as long as I can remember and it was always a special treat to stop on the way home from one of our ‘Seattle weekends’ while growing up. Their sea-salt caramels are absolutely deeeee-licious.
MORA Ice Cream – Uhhh, if you are at all a fan of ice cream, VISIT MORA. Amazing flavors with unique ingredients and delicious combinations. GO THERE NOW! (Oh wow. I just noticed on their website they’ll ship right to your doorstep. DANGER!)
Poulsbo Maritime and Poulsbo Heritage Museums – Two very nice museums featuring the local maritime and heritage histories of the area. Friendly staff, interesting displays and a good overview of the area in general. Definitely worth investigating.
While I could’ve spent much longer in Poulsbo, there were still some areas I wanted to check out before heading back to the ferry. So, with some delicious Sluys’ baked goods and Boehm’s chocolates in tow, I drove back towards Kingston. There was one more area I wanted to check out…
On the ferry ride over, I’d grabbed a few travel brochures from the local tourism cubbies. I always feel like a dork grabbing tourism brochures from my own state, but do I usually learn something new every time, so what the heck! Today was no exception as I learned of a cool lighthouse out on a little tip of the peninsula called, Point No Point Light House. It’s located in a little town called Hansville and was established in 1879. Hansville isn’t very far from Kingston and is a nice drive through farmlands, forest and finally out to the Puget Sound. I was thwarted from my path, however, by large areas of water over the light house access road and had to turn around. There was no one around and I didn’t think cruising the Sportage into waters unknown by myself was a great idea. I guess I’ll have to visit the light house another day. Glass half full (and road), I did get to see a house made out of the front half of an old ferry along the road to the light house. Very cool!
Since my light house dreams had been crushed, I decided to head in the opposite direction down Twin Spits Road to see if I could maybe find a beach to watch the sunset. (Sidebar – I’m very curious how Twin Spits got its name…) After driving by many enchanting beach front homes and side roads leading off towards what I’m sure were equally enchanting beach cabins and cottages, I came to the end of the road. It was a private cul-de-sac, but there were a few public parking spots along the sides. (With a sign noting to be courteous of local homes and residents) I took the small path leading out onto a beach next to a private pier and got there just in time to see the beginnings of a pretty sunset. I walked around the beach for a few minutes taking it all in and enjoyed the fresh breeze off the water. Ahhh…
As it was getting dark and I still had a few things to take care of at home, I decided to head back towards Kingston – And with any luck, make the 5:30pm ferry. After a quick visit to the delicious CB’s Nuts shop on the way back (Soooo good!), fast-forward to 5:29pm and I was the second-to-last car to make it on the ferry back to Seattle. Victory! Back on the ferry, enjoying a piece of Boehm’s sea-salt caramel, I looked out towards the advancing lights of Seattle and thought about all the Kitsap County goodness I’d packed into a few hours. (Full disclosure: In the spirit of packing a lot into a little bit of time, maybe I had two caramels… or three…) I’m already looking forward to my next visit to the Kitsap County area.
Join me next time when I visit… Jefferson County. Hopefully I’ll get to see some good winter beach storms!
A quick Playlist from my Kitsap County journey:
- A Day in the Life – The Beatles
- Ships – Redbird
- Buckets of Rain – Redbird
- The Whole World Round – Redbird
- Moonshiner – Redbird
- Lullaby 101 – Redbird
- Lighthouse Light – Redbird
- Hold On – Redbird
- A Day in the Life – The Beatles
Other great places to visit in Kitsap County: