An hour-by-hour itinerary for a day trip to rapidly changing downtown Bremerton.
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BREMERTON — Tour a Pyrex Museum and marvel at one of the world’s biggest collections of colored casserole dishes.
Sip a latte in the lobby of a historic theater that doubles as a church.
Eat a New York-style hot dog, or drop into an art gallery for a cello concert.
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The ferry ride between Seattle and the Navy seaport town of Bremerton on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula is a scenic sailing across Puget Sound and through winding Rich Passage. But what to do once you get there has always been the question. Play pool? Go bowling?
Like many small-town downtowns in the last part of the 20th century, Bremerton’s fell into decline as jobs and shopping malls drew people and business to the suburbs.
“Someone once described downtown Bremerton as a movie set — a Steven Spielberg set,” said artist and fourth-generation resident Amy Burnett. (She didn’t specify whether it was “Close Encounters” or “Saving Private Ryan.”) J.C. Penney, Sears and other retailers left vacant storefronts. Burnett houses her gallery in a downtown building she bought at a bargain price in 1991 when “there wasn’t anything left in town.”
But change can happen fast, and today Burnett regularly hits the streets with a video camera for a series of now-and-then films she’s shooting.
The hulking Puget Sound Naval Shipyard still dominates the skyline as it has for more than 100 years, but walk off the ferry in any direction and you’ll see parks, art galleries, museums and restaurants you likely missed the last time you drove through here on the way to somewhere else.
This time, leave the car at home and explore on foot.
Here’s your plan:
Washington State Ferries sail between Seattle’s Pier 52 and Bremerton 14 times a day in the fall. With views of the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mount Rainier to the southeast, the one-hour cruise is a bargain at $6.70 for a round-trip adult walk-on fare.
Bremerton’s military history dates to 1891, when German immigrant and businessman William Bremer encouraged the U.S. Navy to buy 190 acres of his land for a shipyard.
Visible as the ferry pulls into the harbor is a gray building with yellow block letters spelling out, “Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Building a Proud Tradition.”
Thousands worked here at the peak of World War II, building and repairing ships. The yard’s main business now is maintenance, including deactivating and recycling submarines. Across from the shipyard is the Kitsap Conference Center, the centerpiece of the revitalized Harborside District, with new park areas, a hotel, boardwalk, shops and restaurants.
Exit the ferry terminal and walk straight ahead to Washington Avenue and Fraiche Cup Espresso and Gallery in a little yellow building across from the conference center and a string of new fast-food restaurants. Order a white-cheddar panini or a slice of lemon bread and settle into one of the leather chairs or oak tables. If the weather’s nice, walk back across the street to Harborside Fountain Park and have a picnic breakfast at one of the tables nestled near five cone-shaped copper fountains that erupt every few seconds in volcano-like bursts of water. Wading is encouraged.
House on wheels
“Welcome to Bremerton’s largest mobile house,” is how volunteers at the Puget Sound Navy Museum greet visitors. Relocated from the shipyard to property next to Harborside Fountain Park in 2006, the museum is former Building 50, an 1896 Colonial-style house that once served as the commandant’s quarters and administration building. Free admission.
Pyrex and paintings
Bremerton sits in the midst of its own Big Dig as work continues on a 950-foot-long tunnel that will funnel traffic underground through downtown, to and from the ferry dock. Plans are for a pedestrian-friendly link from the waterfront to Pacific Avenue, downtown Bremerton’s main drag. In the meantime, follow the detour through the construction to the Downtown Arts District at Fourth and Pacific.
The former First National Bank houses Collective Visions, 331 Pacific Ave., where 25 local artists display their work and musicians perform on the third Friday of each month.
An eclectic collection of galleries and three unusual museums line Fourth Street. The Aurora Valentinetti Puppet Museum, 257 Fourth, includes a corner where children can stage their own puppet shows. Across the street at 280 Fourth is the Kitsap County Historical Society Museum. Next door is Amy Burnett’s 4th Pacific Arts Building. Known for her colorful depictions of landscape, Victorian women, horses and salmon, she displays her own work here and rents space to other artists.
The gallery is also home to the Pyrex Museum, a corner room devoted to her collection of vintage glass cookware, which she describes as “a symbol of what America is about.”
Down the street, the marquee on the Roxy Theater announces “Righteousness Exalts a Nation.” It’s not a movie title but rather a message from the Calvary Chapel, which uses the old theater as a church. The former concession stand is an espresso bar.
Hot dogs on
“New York hot dogs with attitude,” is what Big Apple transplant Mike Lipson promises at Uptown Mike’s on the boardwalk in the former harbormaster’s office. Nothing fancy here. Just a white metal shed, a few outdoor tables and a takeout menu of New York street food to go. Order a Classic Kitsap Kraut Dog or a Bremerton Brat and wash it down with a prosciutto-and-provolone-stuffed cherry pepper shooter.
Foot ferry to
A passenger-only “foot ferry” makes a 12-minute crossing to Port Orchard, a historic lumber town across Sinclair Inlet. Stop by the lively Saturday farmers market that continues through Oct. 11 at Marina Park. Or walk a block to Bay Street, where there’s an assortment of bail-bond businesses, bars, antique shops and the Morningside Bread & Pastry Co., 707 Bay St. Stop here if your child is begging for a birthday cake shaped like a car or motorcycle, or you’re craving a loaf of marble rye.
All hands on deck
Bremerton lost its top military tourist attraction, the battleship USS Missouri, to Honolulu in 1998, but visitors interested in warships can take a self-guided tour aboard the USS Turner Joy, a Vietnam-era destroyer built in Seattle and docked near the boardwalk a few minutes’ walk from the ferry terminal. Go below and look at the rows of three-tier metal bunks for a feel of what sea life must have been like.
Happy hour with a view
Visible from the boardwalk and the Turner Joy is a green steel bridge. It’s the Manette Bridge linking Bremerton with the residential neighborhood of Manette across Port Washington Narrows. The walk from the Turner Joy takes about 20 minutes. Once there, stroll along East 11th Street and browse a few of the antiques shops, then soak up the north shore view with drinks on the dock at the Boat Shed Restaurant, below the bridge at 101 Shore Drive.
Alternatively, walk back along the boardwalk toward the ferry dock for happy hour on the deck at Anthony’s. If you’re planning on catching the 5:30 p.m. ferry back to Seattle, save time by asking for the check when you order. Otherwise, have another margarita and take a last look around. Chances are much will have changed by the next time you come.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or firstname.lastname@example.org