Bainbridge Island is a scenic 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle, but it feels a lot farther away. You can still see the skyscrapers, 9 miles across Elliott Bay, but then you drive along two-lane roads without a shoulder, through a tunnel of trees. Farm stands dot the roadsides. Pocket beaches await.
Most visitors head straight for the cute and bustling town of Winslow, an easy walk from the ferry terminal, for their fill of ice cream (Mora Iced Creamery), books (Eagle Harbor Book Co.) and pastries (Coquette Bake Shop). Drive-on passengers beeline for the famous Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre, forested private garden.
We started at the ferry terminal and worked our way mainly clockwise around the island, exploring Bainbridge off the beaten path. You could rush through everything on this list in one day, or just as easily spend the entire day at one spot. There are no entry fees for any of these parks and beaches, and it’s really easy to get from one place to another. Driving the length of the island from end to end is like driving from Northgate to Sodo, only without any traffic.
The ferry ride makes getting there part of the fun; you’ll get the best views of the city, and with luck, the mountain’ll be out. Be warned, Washington State Ferries (the nation’s largest ferry system) is having a heck of a time keeping boats running this year with COVID-19 and crew shortages. Expect long waits on weekends. Generally, walking or biking onto the ferry will save you time and money, but a car is helpful unless you’re traveling with seasoned cyclists.
We worked off a list of wonderful recommendations from Bainbridge residents. Go explore and have fun!
In 1942, soldiers with rifles and bayonets forced Bainbridge Island residents of Japanese heritage to leave their homes for incarceration camps. Today, a 276-foot-long wall honors the 276 Japanese Americans and Japanese people driven out during World War II. It is a solemn and beautiful place.
4192 Eagle Harbor Drive N.E.
By design, there are only five parking spots at the side of the road — no parties or gatherings allowed here! A neighbor donated this piece of land for quiet reflection. Come enjoy nature and artwork by Northwest artists. Portland artist Jeffrey Bale created a labyrinth using stones found on Bainbridge Island beaches. Chimacum artist Tom Jay made the bronze community prayer wheel, which rings after you turn it nine times.
10975 N.E. Halls Hill Road
In the late 1800s, Blakely Harbor was the site of a busy shipyard and one of the world’s largest sawmills. All that’s left is a shell of a building covered with graffiti art. The walking loop trail was a hit with my kids because 1) it’s just a mile long, and 2) blackberry bushes line the sides of the trail. Purple fingers and sticky faces, that’s our favorite way to experience nature.
Blakely Avenue Northeast and 3 T Road Northeast
Fort Ward was built by the United States Army a century ago to protect the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. Gun batteries guarded an underwater mine field across Rich Passage. Today, the guns are gone, but kids use the batteries as a climbing gym. The wide, paved trail along the water is perfect for bikes and strollers.
2241 Pleasant Beach Drive N.E.
Bainbridge Island comes with 53 miles of coastline, which means a lot of beaches. Lytle Beach is a small public beach at a road end. We loved watching the busy ferry route between Seattle and Bremerton.
Southernmost end of Lytle Road Northeast
We stopped for alfresco hamburgers and sweet potato fries at Hammy’s, a crowd-pleasing burger joint at Lynwood Center. Lynwood Center is a charming business district with shops, cafes and frozen yogurt, just far enough from the ferry terminal that it’s mostly locals here.
Intersection of Point White Drive Northeast and Pleasant Beach Drive Northeast/Lynwood Center Road Northeast
Walking among the mossy giants in Grand Forest feels like you’re in Olympic National Park, except you didn’t drive three hours to get there. It’s a good choice for drippy days because the trees will keep you sheltered. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders share the 8 miles of trails.
9752 Miller Road N.E.
This park is the mother of all parks. There’s a pump track, a roller rink, soccer fields, tennis courts, pickleball courts, a disc golf course and — oh! — a brand-new playground with a ferryboat play structure. The playground just opened in September, and yes, that 47-foot-long ferry was custom-made for this Bainbridge Island park.
Battle Point Park is a good place for pickup games of pickleball, a sport that was invented right on the island. Pickleball is kinda like tennis, but played with balls similar to Wiffle balls and paddles similar to those used for table tennis, on a court half the size of a regular tennis court. The three inventors of the game — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — came up with pickleball in the summer of 1965 as a way to entertain their bored kids.
11299 Arrow Point Drive N.E.
Picnic to go
Winslow is a well-known foodie haven, but we have unvaccinated young children and aren’t up for eating with other people yet. Also, a picnic at the beach! You can grab gourmet sandwiches ($11.55) and the biggest chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever seen ($3.15) at Sweet Dahlia Baking in CopperTop Park.
And you can’t go wrong with anything at Jake’s Pickup Grab ’n Go, located inside the Chevron station just off Highway 305. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t your regular gas station food. There’s a cold case and pastry rack ready with individually wrapped items. We snagged the last banana pudding ($11) and a couple of “sconuts” fresh off the cooling rack ($3 each). Sconut? If a scone and a doughnut had a baby together, that’s a sconut.
Sweet Dahlia Baking: 9720 Coppertop Loop N.E., Suite 103
Jake’s Pickup Grab ’n Go: 406 High School Road N.E.
There are lots of tables here for picnicking at the beach (see above). The pirate-themed playground is fun, but it’s nothing compared with the 1,420 feet of shoreline with a driftwood obstacle course. The views of the Cascades aren’t so shabby either.
Also, Fay Bainbridge Park is on the Whale Trail! Transient orcas can be seen any time of the year; fall and winter are the best times to see resident orcas (the ones that only eat salmon). Other cool animals to look for: harbor seals, river otters, harbor porpoises, bald eagles and barred owls.
15446 Sunrise Drive N.E.
Short on galoshes? Bales of hay? Pet food? Bay Hay & Feed is an old-fashioned farm store that carries a little bit of everything, but it is the one place you can buy the famous Bay Hay animal shirt.
Store owner Howard Block took the pattern off a feed sack 30 years ago, upgraded the image and printed them in thousands of combinations of contrasting colors and animals. It’s an unlikely viral sensation — 1.6 million shirts sold and counting. At this year’s Independent Spirit Awards, Chloé Zhao accepted best director for “Nomadland” in a Bay Hay shirt (hers is gray with purple horses).
P.S. There are pet turkeys and hens in the back to visit, too.
10355 N.E. Valley Road