Miles of unspoiled Puget Sound scenery await on Bainbridge Island, only a half-hour ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The island’s walkable downtown area and forested shorelines make it an ideal location for a retreat from the city.
The ferry ride to Bainbridge Island is worth the trek for the view of Seattle’s iconic skyline alone; the buildings are outlined against the distant Cascades, from the Space Needle on the left to Mount Rainier on the right.
But Bainbridge Island has more to offer than just another perspective on Seattle. For starters, it’s an easily accessible gateway to the tranquil natural scenery of Puget Sound. The calm salt water radiates magnificent blue on sunny days and laps against shores dominated by dense evergreen forests.
In its cooler seasons, Bainbridge offers a myriad of recreational opportunities. Fishing and sail boats float in a peaceful harbor at Waterfront Park, less than a half-mile from the ferry terminal, where scores of fingernail-sized crabs scurry in the shallow waters of the mud flat shores. The park is a prime place to begin a kayaking or sailing voyage to see parts of Bainbridge you cannot see by land. Some tours even go further to see the totems and untamed woods of nearby Blake Island.
The island’s most unique natural attraction, however, is best reached by car or bus. The Bloedel Reserve is an award-winning forest garden in the island’s northern corner that combines the North West’s rugged scenery with the Zen of a traditional Japanese garden. A French Chateau-style home functions as the visitor center and gateway to the garden’s 150 acres of woods, sand oases, immaculate floral lawns and lakes, both man-made and natural.
Another Bainbridge attraction worth noting is the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. The path, carved through the woods to the water beside the Bainbridge Island Marina, honors the Japanese-Americans who were uprooted from their homes in the Bainbridge area and ferried to Seattle to be placed in internment camps during World War 2.
Hiking opportunities abound on the island, including trails through the Gazzam Lake Preserve in the south and Fay Bainbridge Park in the north. If a city stroll sounds more appealing, head to Winslow, a pedestrian-friendly downtown corridor with enough independent shops, eateries and galleries to hold one’s interest for hours, if not days.
Despite the island’s sparse population (approximately 23,000 in 30 square miles), Bainbridge holds numerous cultural events, many of which are concentrated in the Winslow downtown area and hosted by established institutions like the Bainbridge Performing Arts Center and the long-running Pegasus Coffee House. The first taste of the Island’s deep appreciation for the arts is a few minutes’ walk from the ferry dock at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. Admission is free and includes access to the museum’s rotating exhibitions of paintings and sculptures by local artists, as well as their small, in-house café.
Proceed west through the eventful blocks, lined with art galleries and mercantile stores, to the airy landscape of Winslow Green. It’s an ideal place to relax while contemplating which restaurants or shops to explore on the way back.
The Eagle Harbor Inn is the most convenient hotel on Bainbridge, only a block from Winslow’s downtown and half an hour’s ferry ride from Seattle. Their eight lodgings beside the bay all include custom furnishings and local artworks, and range in scope from the intimate Grand Forest Room to the 1800 square-foot Harbor Townhome. They also rent out ten-seater electric boats to help guests explore the island by waterway.
The next nearest hotel is the Inn at Vineyard Lane, tucked into a condo complex half a mile from the ferry terminal. With roomy, cathedral-like ceilings, the two-story inn is also noted for its immaculate gardens. Farther afield, visitors will find Holly Lane Gardens, an idyllic bed & breakfast offering fresh-laid eggs and Olympic Mountain vistas. Within reach of the island’s south shore, the 12-room Inn at Pleasant Beach boasts a private multi-pool complex and the convenience of being in the heart of Pleasant Beach Village, home to restaurants, shops and a European-style marketplace.
Eat & Drink
A venue for good food and live music in the historic Lynwood Center neighborhood, the Treehouse Café offers a dozen specialty pizzas, alongside an affordable wine list and a long roster of craft beers on tap. Favorites include the South Beach Baja pizza, made with cilantro pesto and chili-lime chicken, and the honey Sriracha wings. Decorated with works from local artists, the spacious eatery has areas for family dining as well as darts and billiards, making it easy to dine and linger long into the evening.
For a fast food option unlike any other, Jake’s Pickup is a counter-service restaurant within a gas station market that specializes in comfort food prepared from organic ingredients. Healthy, yet crave-worthy menu highlights, like the organic frittatas made with local eggs and a salmon of the day sandwich, take American fast food to a whole new level.
At the far end of Winslow’s shopping district lies a Vietnamese outdoor food stand called Emmy’s Vege House. The order window is surrounded by photos of more than 30 reasonably-priced, vegetarian specialty plates, including flavorful grilled “meat” options, served in their hearty soup and noodle entrées.
If you’re looking for a place to escape the cold or simply meet a few new friends after the ferry ride, head for the Alehouse on Winslow, a bright neighborhood bar just beside the art museum. Founded by a group of craft beer-loving friends, the Alehouse offers sixteen rotating taps and a large stable of boardgames for entertainment. If you find a new favorite brew, ask for a growler of it to take with you and enjoy later.
Ice cream is one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest culinary strengths, and Mora Iced Creamery boasts some of the tastiest frozen dairy in the entire region. The Bainbridge Island location in the heart of Winslow offers some 20-plus flavors, including novelties like lavender, lemon bar, dulce de leche and Mexican chocolate, as well as a selection of seasonal sorbets made in-house from fresh fruit.
Puget Sound’s notoriously rainy weather makes it an ideal viticultural area for cold climate wine varietals like Pinot gris and Siegerrebe, typically grown in European regions with similar amounts of rainfall. Small artisanal wineries are located across the Sound’s many islands, and Bainbridge is no exception.
Of particular note is Perennial Vintners, a one-man tasting room and vineyard operation credited with popularizing a little-known French varietal called Melon de Bourgogne in the Pacific Northwest. These and other distinct cold-climate varietals are served indoors, in a cozy, basement tasting room, or outdoors, beside the leaf-strewn vineyards.
The most convenient of the island’s scattered tasting rooms is Eleven Winery, where the friendly servers are always willing to educate guests on their many varietals—like Viognier, Petit Verdot and Mourvèdre—less commonly grown in the States. For the high quality of their wines, the prices are low. Don’t leave before ordering one of the dessert wines, served in edible chocolate cups.
Within view of the shimmering island shore, Rolling Bay Winery specializes in small-batch wines made from grapes grown elsewhere in Washington State—specifically the Snipes Mountain AVA near Yakima. The small winery has earned accolades for its Chardonnay and Syrah, as well as its peaceful location. Enjoy a pocket-friendly tasting of six generous sample pours in their intimate tasting room or around a repurposed wine cask in the garden.