Some know the waterside community of Port Orchard in Kitsap County as the setting for the fictional Cedar Cove in novels by Washington author Debbie Macomber. Others know it as a bedroom community for commuters from Seattle and workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard a mile north across the Sinclair Inlet in Bremerton.

Locals like Samantha Smith, 44, a South Kitsap High School alumna, see the city for its potential for trying out new ideas while hanging onto a small-town vibe.

“Community Plus Creativity” is the theme for two businesses Smith runs on Bay Street, the historical main drag a half-block from where Kitsap Transit foot ferries make the 10-minute crossing to and from Bremerton.

Four years ago she opened Josephine’s Mercantile, a cross between a high-end vintage shop and an old-fashioned general store in the former location of Rio’s Skate Castle roller rink. Last April, during the pandemic, she opened Revival PNW, a shop selling newly made Northwest goods and gifts in a building that once housed a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant and car dealership. Twice a month, she hosts Local, a pop-up market for potters, glass blowers and other artists.

“I just love my hometown,” Smith said. “I thought about locating in Gig Harbor or Poulsbo, but my heart just said no,” choosing Port Orchard over those two go-to tourism towns.

Curious to know more? Hop aboard a ferry for a day trip on a sunny Saturday. (Other days are great, but you’ll find the farmers market on Saturday.)

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Here’s the plan, including 11 recommendations for your Port Orchard day trip.

Bremerton to Port Orchard

With views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier, a ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bremerton is a bargain. It’s a 20-minute drive from Bremerton to Port Orchard in South Kitsap County. But instead of bringing the car, I recommend either walking on Washington State Ferries (one hour from the Seattle waterfront to Bremerton) or catching the Kitsap Transit passenger-only fast ferry (30 minutes from the waterfront). Then, in Bremerton, follow signs to the Port Orchard foot ferry for a 10-minute, $2 trip across Sinclair Inlet.

If you’re lucky, Kitsap Transit might be running the refurbished Carlisle II, built in 1917 as part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Otherwise, you might be onboard a new electric ferry, or the older Admiral Pete, built with nostalgic touches such as brass railings and wooden cupholders.

Farmers and fiddlers

Follow the sound of fiddle music to the Saturday Port Orchard Farmers Market on the waterfront just east of the ferry dock and marina.

Wander among the stalls covered with white canopies to find microgreens grown by Wildwood Hollow Farm; bacon and pork chops from Foggy Hog Farm, which raises “pigs with a purpose”; and cotton candy spun with organic sugar by Sunshine Acres Family Farm.

Members of the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association serenade. Among the craftspeople is Kari Lassila of Thrifty Needle, who works behind her grandmother’s black Singer sewing machine to produce an array of upcycled crafts.

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“I’m basically keeping stuff out of the landfill,” she joked on a recent Saturday, pointing to her display of purses made from old cargo pants, tote bags crafted from pillow cases and colorful doggy “poo” bags knitted from sock yarn.

Lunch at Carter’s

Walk a block south from the waterfront and find Carter and Company at the west end of Bay Street.

Owners Matt Carter and John Strasinger describe their storefront as the “happiest place in town,” and it just might be given the crowds that line up for orange and chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate-dipped bacon slices and handmade truffles.

A plant-filled back patio invites lingering over lunch or dessert. Carter’s passion is chocolate, but in hotter weather, the emphasis is on keeping the cases filled with miniature cheesecakes, fruit tarts, panini sandwiches and savory brioche filled with ham and brie; mushrooms and smoked provolone; and sometimes even meatloaf. 

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Browsing Bay Street

Platted as the town of Sidney in 1886 by Frederick Stevens, Port Orchard became known for lumber, pottery works and the small businesses that provided services. The center of town was and is Bay Street, depicted on a mural on the side wall of the Sidney Art Gallery and Museum.

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Long known as fertile ground for antique hunters, the retail district has evolved to include a mix of new and old businesses.

Well stocked is the Olde Central Antique Mall, where 45 dealers fill two floors crammed with colored glassware, clothing, books, vintage jewelry and housewares.

Next door is the free Veterans Living History Museum, opened 14 years ago by Coast Guard veteran and former lighthouse keeper Dale Nitz, 77, to house his overflowing collection of military artifacts.

Displayed on the sidewalk is a changing rotation of memorabilia that recently included a newly acquired framed set of medals belonging to a soldier who collected 11 Purple Hearts.

More contemporary shops and galleries populate the west end of Bay Street.

There’s Wilkerson Port Orchard Gallery, where owners Glen and Shelly Wilkerson display their own photos and paintings as well the work of other local artists.

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Inside the Port Orchard Public Market, a space for vendors selling handmade and local products, Leanna Krotzer of Leanna’s Art and Coffee sells antique teapots and cups — and bakes homemade cinnamon rolls in a kitchen behind her cash register. 

Coming soon will be the first Dude’s Donuts cafe. The vegan and gluten-free doughnut company, owned by Bainbridge Island’s Pegasus Coffee, wholesales to 30 cafes around the Puget Sound, “but we haven’t had our own storefront,” says owner Matt Grady.

“There’s been a lot of talk about trying to make Port Orchard more of a destination,” he said. “We’re thrilled to be a part of that.” 

Waterfront dining

Close to the ferry dock and farmers market is Peninsula BevCo, with a roomy outdoor deck, a long list of Northwest brews on tap and a dozen types of tacos with fillings that transport diners to Thailand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Worth the 1.2-mile walk, mostly along a new, paved waterside bike and walking path is the Whiskey Gulch CoffeePub, a local favorite. (You can also catch the Kitsap Transit bus; look for the 9.) 

Try to get a seat overlooking the water at Whiskey Gulch. Order up a coffee cocktail or your choice of several dozen whiskeys, then choose from a menu with a surprising variety of vegetarian items like smoked sweet potato tacos and “not-so-pork sliders,” made with jackfruit tossed in a peach barbecue sauce.

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With your stomach full, all that’s left to do is take a couple of ferries back to the Seattle waterfront.  

If you go

Port Orchard Farmers Market is open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays through October.

Check Washington State Ferries schedules at wsdot.wa.gov ($4.60-$9.25 round-trip walking; $28.10-$41.80 with car). See kitsaptransit.com for Kitsap Transit schedules, including the foot ferry from Bremerton to Port Orchard ($2; ferries run every half-hour) and the fast ferry between Bremerton and Seattle ($10 to Bremerton, $2 to Seattle; Saturday service through September, weekdays during winter). Both systems accept the ORCA card.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about fares and schedule for the Seattle-Bremerton fast ferry, as well as an inaccurate map. The information box and map have been updated.