This unforgettable romantic getaway takes you south and west to explore a tiny boat-filled town with a surprising history. Then visit the only fjord in the Lower 48 states — the pristine Hood Canal — for great seafood, unique experiences and cozy stays you’re unlikely to forget.

First, spend the morning in the charming town of Gig Harbor, just across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Stop by Milkvue Handcrafted Donuts to try a ringed mochi doughnut made with rice flour; cake doughnut and doughnuts with dipping frosting are also available. More than a dozen flavors include horchata, maple bacon, lemon Fruity Pebbles and an everything mochi doughnut with cream cheese frosting.

Head into Gig Harbor’s waterfront downtown for the Harbor History Museum. This well-done museum emphasizes the overall background history of the region. But notable quirky features you’ll only find in Gig Harbor include winning entries into the local, annual roundest rock contest, film of the Galloping Gertie bridge collapse, and the watercraft of an intrepid man who rowed across the Pacific in 2017, alone.

Put your name down on the waitlist (no reservations accepted) at the slightly hidden Netshed No. 9, and hope for an outdoor deck spot for one of the area’s best brunch views. As you wait to receive word that your table’s ready, stroll downtown’s collection of boutiques and shops clustered around a picturesque English-style harbor. Among them: Fox Island Trading Company for pottery, soaps and other locally made gifts; numerous home goods shops and art galleries; and the distillery, tasting room of Heritage Distilling Company for mini bottles of new releases and cocktails to go.

Drive west on the nondescript but multilane SR-16. Stop in Belfair, the last central town, before moving into Hood Canal’s more rural areas if you need something urgently. After Belfair, mosey onto the two-lane State Route 106, where you’ll begin passing saltwater Hood Canal waterside homes during peak birding season (November-April) at Twanoh State Park.

Alderbrook (Courtesy of explorehoodcanal.com)

Plenty of waterview Airbnbs, forested cabins and other lodgings dot the Hood Canal area. In Union, consider spending the night at Alderbrook Resort and Spa‘s sprawling 88-acre shoreside retreat. Cold and rainy weather only makes the resort’s warming spa services more delicious. Dip into the indoor saltwater pool and hot tub surrounded by tropical plants and enclosed by floor-and-ceiling windows. Or borrow a board game or ukulele and greet the two cats (Alder and Brook) curled up on a fireplace-warmed chair or couch.

The property is currently undergoing a refresh, which means some facilities (gift shop) are out of service and construction work is ongoing until early 2022. Consider a higher-floor waterview room with a balcony and window seat looking east onto serene Hood Canal blues and misty green mountains. Cottages offer square footage and kitchenettes for human families, and pet families might rent a pet-friendly room or cottage. The on-site restaurant and lounge serve up classics like clam chowder and fish ‘n’ chips for enjoyment in the dining room, outdoors or in-room.

The following day, stop by the lobby and pick up one of the small, printed activity guides for forest bathing, geocaching or hiking the resort’s trail network, engineered to offer numerous boardwalks and footbridges, along with striking views. The sea-minded can go on a self-guided beach I-spy activity or a nautical flag treasure hunt around the resort. On sunny days, consider a game of golf and water activities, but plan to return in spring to rent a tandem seacycle or electric boat. Pick up lunch at the Union City Market, enjoy liquor tasting at The Hardware Distillery in Hoodsport, or locally made Olympic Mountain Ice Cream at Hoodsport Coffee.

Hama Hama Oyster Farm  (Courtesy of explorehoodcanal.com)

Or decide to make the second day a drive, and take time for Highway 101 back to Seattle. About 30 minutes north of Union along Highway 101, park at the giant mountain of oyster shells outside the family-owned Hama Hama Oyster Farm. This unique Pacific Northwest farm harvests and serves full meals on-site, Friday through Sunday, at the Oyster Saloon. Dress warmly for this outdoor-only experience, where you’ll dine inside a wood A-frame shelter, a stone’s throw away from the saltwater source. Try roasted oysters in chipotle bourbon butter with toasted baguette, raw oyster on the half shell, or borrow the farm’s shucking equipment for a DIY lunch with a dozen oysters. If lucky, you’ll arrive in time for an impromptu shucking lesson or history talk.

Birdwatchers and waterfall-spotters are richly rewarded by the autumn drive, which traces the fjord’s inlet along quiet coves and photo-worthy points. The road unfurls between grey-blue waters, mist-and-moss adorned evergreen tree boughs and dramatic, steep mountainsides.

Many tribal, state, and national parks are featured on the Olympic Loop of the Audubon Great Washington State Birding Trail’s River estuaries, forests, shorelines and mud flats. Noted destinations include Big Quilcene River Estuary, Hamma Hamma Beaver Pond, Potlatch State Park, and Dosewallips State Park (which features 12 cabins for rustic winter stays). Other state parks include Scenic Beach, Triton Cove, and Pleasant Harbor, but you’ll regularly notice the iconic brown signs throughout the drive.

As you head north and round Dabob Bay, you’ll come to a junction near Quilcene. Here, you can head north to Port Townsend to extend your stay on the Olympic Peninsula or continue east across the Hood Canal Floating Bridge (the world’s third-longest) for the Kingston Washington State Ferry back to Seattle.

Note: Weather can change dramatically in the Hood Canal, and some portions are part of the Olympic National Forest. Rainfall can hit hard and fast — bring plenty of warming wear and rain gear. Respect local requests for masking and health protocols, state or federal parking pass requirements, and Washington State Ferry restraints and waits.

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