Travel writer Carol Pucci leads readers on a day tour of pleasant discoveries on the Kitsap Peninsula.
KITSAP PENINSULA — Fuel up on a breakfast of quiche made with local duck eggs.
Walk along a boardwalk through forested wetlands.
Meet the artist whose work appears on Costco’s smoked-salmon boxes, and the fireman who transformed a city landfill into a waterside bonsai garden.
Before shipyards and shopping malls, farming and logging dominated the central Kitsap Peninsula, an arm of fertile land and maritime communities west of Seattle across Puget Sound.
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The pioneer spirit lives on among enterprising locals, drawing inspiration from the past to put a modern spin on rural living.
Hop aboard a ferry, spend the day driving short stretches of back roads, and see what new discoveries await behind this area’s big-box stores and busy highways.
Old Town Silverdale: Not to be confused with the larger suburban Silverdale area surrounded by strip malls, Old Town Silverdale is a compact and flat waterfront area laid out in the early 1900s along Dyes Inlet, a far-reaching arm of Puget Sound. The inlet was named for the taxidermist of Lt. Charles Wilkes, who led an American expedition to the area in 1841.
Several choices for getting here. My favorite is a ride on Washington State Ferries to Bremerton from Seattle’s Pier 52. The hourlong trip is enough time to get coffee, read the paper and take in the views of the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mount Rainier to the southeast.
Visible as the ferry approaches Bremerton is the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where thousands worked at the peak of World War II, building and repairing ships. It continues as a major maintenance facility for the Navy.
Breakfast at Monica’s: There are bakeries, and there are destination bakeries.
Eleven miles from the Bremerton ferry dock is Monica’s Waterfront Bakery & Cafe (www.waterfrontbakery.com), in a bright-yellow building across from Silverdale Waterfront Park.
Mark Downen, a former auto mechanic with a knack for working with his hands, turned his baking hobby into a profession after his spouse, Monica Downen, gave up her job as a 911 operator to pursue her dream of opening a cafe.
The Downens source most everything locally, from the salt to the coffee, honey, eggs, meats and flour. Their specialty is a rotating selection of quiches, including one made each day with local duck eggs. Recommended: the classic crab and asparagus quiche or the creamy duck-egg version with spinach, cheese and bacon.
Waterside walks: Walk off the calories with a waterside stroll, starting on a paved path at Silverdale’s Waterfront Park. In the late 1800s, part of the fleet of boats known as the Mosquito Fleet ferried farm products and passengers from here to Seattle. The site of the former commercial dock is now a marina, with a covered picnic area, playground and a Tuesday-afternoon farmers market.
Follow the beach trail to nearby Old Mill Park (during a construction project, detour around the Silverdale Beach Hotel) where birders report spotting herons, osprey and kingfishers. Continue across Northwest Bucklin Hill Road, near the Silverdale Plaza mall, and find an estuary and the entrance to the Clear Creek Trail (www.clearcreektrail.org).
Here, five miles of wooden boardwalks, gravel and paved paths wend through wetlands and upland forest along a meandering, salmon-bearing stream a few steps away from Staples and Home Depot.
“It’s a backyard that everyone ignored,” said Silverdale resident Tex Lewis. Lewis and local businessman Paul Brittain led a community project to save the stream and build the trail on land that was endangered by development.
Bring a picnic lunch to eat at tables tucked into shady creekside nooks. Community groups as diverse as the local Rotary Club and Kitsap Atheists & Agnostics maintain various sections of the trail, most of which was built by youth groups.
Especially accessible to families with children is a half-mile loop walk near the estuary that leads to an interpretive center in a red barn built in 1950 with materials from surplus army barracks.
Local art: Kitsap County’s retail hub shifted from Bremerton to Silverdale in the mid-1980s with the opening of Kitsap Mall.
Hair salons and offices occupy most of the remaining original Old Town buildings, but a short walk around town will uncover a few finds.
Rest up with a cup of chai tea at Herban Gardens Cafe, 3332B Lowell St., then peek into Linda’s Knit N’ Stitch (www.lindasknitnstitch.com), in what was a Methodist church built in 1909.
Owner Linda Johnson imports colorful, one-of-a-kind yarns from Uruguay, Peru, France and Japan. Voices carry from one end of the shop to the other, just as they did when a minister preached in the sanctuary, now a library for Johnson’s collection of knitting books.
The third Thursday of each month is “Good Thursday,” when local artists and craftsmen set up and sell their work in a parking lot next to Judy’s Junk & Java and the Lisa Stirrett Glass Art Studio (www.lisastirrett.com), at 3656 Munson St.
Judy’s is closing soon, although the owners will continue roasting coffee. Stirrett will continue to organize the monthly Thursday arts events, including one from 4-8 p.m. this week. Other times, her shop and studio is open to the public to watch as she works on large cast-glass projects that she fires in big kilns.
If you’ve bought smoked salmon at Costco, you’ve seen her work. She produced the designs on the boxes, using an art form called gyotaku, a Japanese method of imprinting images with rubbings from real fish.
Elandan Gardens: Double back along Highway 3 toward Bremerton, then veer off onto Highway 16 to the town of Gorst, a few miles west of Port Orchard. Find Elandan Gardens (www.elandangardens.com) on what was an abandoned landfill on the shores of Sinclair Inlet.
Bremerton firefighter Dan Robinson, his wife, Diane, a former newscaster, and their children, Will and Shanna, leased the six acres in 1993. Set in a landscape of waterfalls and ponds created by hauling in fill dirt and boulders is Dan’s collection of several hundred bonsai trees, miniature junipers, cedars and firs trained and pruned to produce tiny leaves and needles.
The hobby began in the 1960s when he brought back black pine seeds from his military service in Korea. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old. Dan dug many out of the mountains in Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado.
Son Will, a sculptor, uses towering basalt and granite columns to create contemporary backdrops for the trees, which Dan plants in the ground or displays in antique Chinese urns set atop tree stumps.
Wander the grounds (admission is $8), and perhaps you’ll catch Dan unraveling the wiring he uses to hold branches in place, or carving designs in the gnarly trunks. He knows the history and approximate age of every tree.
“They’re all my children,” he laughs.
Early dinner: Continue driving east and then south on Highway 16 about 17 miles to the Gig Harbor waterfront for an early dinner before heading back to Seattle, a 50-mile drive via the Tacoma Narrows Bridge ($4 toll eastbound).
Boaters and tourists keep this little maritime community humming. Locals favor the Tides Tavern, 2925 Harborview Drive. (www.tidestavern.com), for its fish and chips, clam chowder and local beers. There’s almost always a wait for a table inside or on the deck overlooking the marina. Happy hour is Monday-Friday, 3-5 p.m.
Carol Pucci: firstname.lastname@example.org