Seattle Island Paradise, A Ferry Ride Away
Contributing Editor: Lynn Marshall, Seattle Washington
A great way to get on the water in Seattle is to take a 35 minute ferry trip across Elliott Bay to Bainbridge Island. The view of the city skyline from the ferry deck is well worth the price of your trip and the island itself has a lot to offer.
Bainbridge is unquestionably a bedroom community for Seattle, but it has worked hard to curb development and retain its rural character. The island covers almost 28 square miles, and has a population of just over 20,000. If you have the patience to bring a car over on the ferry you can explore the island’s back roads and more remote nooks and crannies. If you walk on, there is little need to plan ahead, and you will still find plenty to see in the town of Winslow, just up the hill from the ferry dock. The best compromise is to bring a bike, or rent one in Winslow – as long as you don’t mind some hills, Bainbridge is a great place to explore by bike and you get to work off some vacation calories.
Catch the ferry at Pier 52, on Alaskan Way. For summer 2008, a car and one driver will pay ~$15, in both directions, while a walk on adult passenger will pay ~$7 island bound only with an additional dollar surcharge for a bicycle. Check out the official ferry schedule and prices here. Note that if you are planning to drive on, especially on a weekend, go early and be patient; you may have to sit through a boat or two to get aboard. Also, be sure to approach Pier 52 from the south – if you approach from the north you will not be able to make a right turn into the terminal and will have to go a frustrating distance just to get into the ferry lane. On foot, you simply enter the terminal, go upstairs, buy your tickets and wait for the boat.
The trip is wonderful; the ferry has great views, both inside and outside on the upper decks. The 35 minute trip passes very quickly.
Once you arrive in Winslow, by car, follow everyone else up the road, and into the center of town. Find a parking place and get your bearings. You can rent a bike right off of the ferry dock from Classic Cycles Bike Barn (206) 842-3434. Bicycle rentals (Summer 2008) are $25 for 2 hours or $35 for the full day from the helpful folks at Classic Cycles Bike Barn. Bainbridge Island Taxi at 206 482 1041, can arrange car transportation to more outlying spots via taxi cab.
Bainbridge was named by an 1841 Navy survey team for Commodore William Bainbridge, a frigate captain in the war of 1812. The island had several towns in the early years (all of Bainbridge is incorporated together today), and a thriving economy based on the timber industry. By 1900, the island had a shipyard and a large wood preservative plant. Most people traveled by boat, and few roads actually crossed the island. Bainbridge was home to many Japanese farmers by the start of World War II, and the island was the first place to be effected by the interment order of 1942. Snow Falling on Cedars, by Bainbridge based writer David Gutterson, brings this time vividly to life. A effort is underway to create a memorial on the Winslow waterfront honoring the 227 island residents who were forced from their homes and into the interment camps.
In the 90’s the island’s city government worked hard to develop a plan that would allow for growth, but focus development in the area of Winslow, leaving the rest of the island as rural in character as possible. You see the results of this plan today. There are big houses along the shorelines, but the condos and other dense development is found only in town. A new village green, city hall, performance center, and waterfront park have given the island a commercial and social center that help attract people to the art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants. These days, traffic is heavy on route 305, the main drag crossing the island, but turn down any side road and you recapture the spirit of Bainbridge.
As always, the best advise is to explore. There are many galleries, shops, and restaurants to catch your eye. The village green is a great spot for people watching, and for food it is hard to go wrong at the Bainbridge Bakery, Nola cafe, or the Pleasant Beach Bistro just to name a few eateries. If you want to tour Bloedel Reserve, remember to call them (see below) and make reservations a day or two in advance.
Eagle Harbor Books – 157 Winslow Way East
This bookstore is a wonderful literary oasis. Serving the Island since 1970, Eagle Harbor Books always has something that won’t have seen anywhere else and a knowledgeable staff who will be glad to help you find the perfect book, or tell you about their favorite spots on the island.
Pegasus Coffee House and Art Gallery – 131 Parfitt Way SW
Pegasus is a little bit out of the way from downtown Winslow, but worth the extra effort. Pegasus is housed in a brick building, covered with ivy, said to be one of the oldest building on Winslow’s waterfront. If you walk up Winslow Way from the ferry, turn left on Madison Ave and follow it to the end, you will find Pegasus, and see why it has been a Bainbridge institution since opening in 1979.
Waterfront Park – Across from the Bainbridge Commons, on Brien Drive
This 5.5 acre park along the Eagle Harbor waterfront makes a great place for a picnic. It has a kids’ play area, and public restrooms; it is almost always a quiet and relaxing spot.
Bloedel Reserve – 7571 NE Dolphin Dr. (206) 843-7631
The Bloedel Reserve is one of the most beautiful gardens open for public touring in the greater Seattle area. The cost of admission for adults is $13 with discounts for seniors, military, and students. Children under 13 are free. Bloedel’s 150 acres are tranquil and orderly, even though a little more than half of the property is undeveloped forest land. The hard working gardeners who cherish the reserve work very hard to keep the gardens tranquil and lush. The self-guided walking tour takes about two hours, and includes the family house, a Japanese guest house, (set in a Zen garden), a waterfall overlook, a reflecting pool, and much more. Bloedel is a must stop for gardeners, and a joy for others as well.
Bainbridge Island Winery – 8989 E. Day Road
After 26 years in a blue building close to the ferry dock, the Bainbridge Winery has moved onto the vineyard. All the grapes and fruits that go into the wine are grown on the island, and while not world-class, the wine is certainly respectable, and the staff friendly. The strawberry wine is reputed to be fantastic, but has been unavailable for the past few years do to a limited strawberry crop on the island. Though the new facility is not quite finished, the tasting room is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 am – 5 pm.
Fay Bainbridge State Park – 15446 Sunrise Drive NE
Fay Bainbridge is a 17 acre park, on the beach with picnic areas and a children’s play area. The outstanding thing about this park are the views. On a clear day you can see Mt. Rainer, Mt. Baker, and the Seattle skyline. This is a great picnic destination for bike riders.