The shoulder season of late summer-early fall means more tourists have gone home, leaving Washington to residents — and our roads less crowded, with shorter waits for ferries. It’s an excellent time to explore Kitsap Peninsula on a loop from Kingston to the Scandi-cool town of Poulsbo to Seattle’s small-town-neighbor Winslow, on Bainbridge Island. The region’s natural, historical and cultural charms are a draw — as is the ease of reaching those attractions.

From Seattle, go to Edmonds for the half-hour Washington State Ferry ride to Kingston. From here, you can go directly to Poulsbo on SR-307 or take a languid detour along picturesque waterfront roads past Indianola and Squamish (home to the Suquamish Museum, focused on the history and culture of the Suquamish tribe).

Flags of Nordic nations flutter above independently owned storefronts next to picturesque Liberty Bay. Some lean toward continental fare, including Ye Landmark’s UK-based crisps ‘n’ kippers, Nordiska’s Scandinavian housewares and kitchen goods, and Marina Market’s aisles of imported licorice candy and Northern European beers, cheeses and meats.

The Olympic Mountains glisten over Poulsbo. (Getty Images)

Other unusual shops include stationery and pens at PaperQuirks, nautical décor at CargoHold, and titles at Liberty Bay Books. If traveling with kids, you can order a personalized copy of one of Suzanne Selfors’s titles in advance — she’s popular for the “Wedgie & Gizmo” series, among many others.

Pick up Punjab Indian Cuisine for substantial fare and dine at one of the many waterfront parks along boat-filled Liberty Bay. Or nosh on the homemade baked goods from Sluy’s Bakery. Fill your assorted-dozen box with Danish doughnuts, 5″ glazed Viking doughnuts, angel creams and maple doughboys (boy-shaped doughnuts), among others. The more ambitious might try the 3-pound King Olaf, either glazed or with chocolate icing. For the Francophiles, French macarons and croissants fill newcomer Big Leaf Maple‘s glass cases.

From here, follow your car’s navigation to arrive by your timed ticket’s hour at Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre wild expanse of trails, forest, and gardens, broken into 23 landscapes — including a Japanese Garden, shade garden, and bird marsh and meadow filled with native wildflowers. More than 40 moss and lichen species carpet the Bloedel Reserve’s magical moss garden.

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Late summer and early autumn are exceptional times to visit the gardens for leaf-peeping and fall foliage.

Winslow Harbor. (Getty Images)

Next, motor into Winslow, a tidy, walkable little town with appealing restaurants, shopping, a museum (or three) and overnight stays. KiDiMu is aimed at the preschool crowd, with a new exhibit on nanoscale science. The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum (open Friday and weekends only) contains a striking display of the Japanese-American experience during World War II, including personal stories.

The free Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s airy interior features contemporary art exhibits, along with a permanent collection, which takes under an hour to explore. BIMA Bistro offers warming soups perfect for fall, and the museum store features jewelry, housewares, art and other goods made exclusively in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, B.C. and Alaska.

More shopping is clustered along Winslow Way, with numerous clothing, antiques and housewares boutiques for all ages. Visit the expansive Eagle Harbor Book Company, overflowing Calico Toy Shoppe, Relic for curated Etsy-style handmade wares, and Bainbridge Apothecary and Tea Shop for tea drinkers.

Winslow’s plethora of casual restaurants can make dinner decisions difficult. Among the choices: If family-friendly waterfront views are essential, there’s Harbour Public House. Upscale New-American fare is plated at Agate Restaurant, polished Vietnamese dishes at Ba Sa, and lager-based batter around hand-cut fish and chips at Proper Fish. The island’s most popular desserts can be found at Mora Ice Cream, including Banana Split, green tea, and Mexican chocolate-flavored scoops among dozens of options.

Book an overnight in one of Bainbridge Island’s many hotels, guesthouses, inns or AirBnBs. Families might find a good fit among the 50 rooms at The Marshall Suites. Couples or friends traveling together might go with the Eagle Harbor Inn’s more intimate room-and-townhome collection in downtown Winslow.

For breakfast, grab housemade granola, spinach-chevre quiche, or seasonal coffeecake or other pastry at Blackbird Bakery, down a smoothie and avocado toast from Cafe Hitchcock (which serves drinks at night), or eat a sit-down breakfast of hash or eggs Benedict at The Madison Diner, in an authentic chrome-trimmed East Coast dining car. 

A day could be spent navigating Bainbridge Island’s public parks, rich with historical, contemplative, or aerobic merit. Go for a walk through the 5.5-acre Waterfront Park’s sunny lawn areas and along the Waterfront Trail to the 900-foot City Dock, which looks out on Eagle Harbor. Or drive 20 minutes south from Winslow to watch leaves drift down at Halls Hill Lookout and Labyrinth, a meditative space drawing from multiple traditions. The area features a walkable stone labyrinth based on a 13th Century French Chartres Cathedral labyrinth. Nearby, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is a solemn historical reminder in the form of an outdoor cedar-and-stone story wall.

Fort Ward Park presents old, creepy-cool abandoned gun batteries and an underwater scuba park, stroll flat trails beneath evergreen canopies at Grand Forest, birdwatch in Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve’s wetland refuge while on a 6.8-mile round-trip hike. Take the tykes to scramble on a two-level, 47-foot-long ferryboat play structure, climbable orca whales, and other play structures at the brand-new inclusive playground at Battle Point Park.

From Winslow, it’s a quick half-hour ride back to the city on the Washington State Ferry. Visit the boat’s deck for some of the best views of downtown Seattle, included with the ticket’s price. 

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