Sail In, Slow Down and Survey Bainbridge Island’s Past and Present
Life is relaxed on Bainbridge Island, with lush gardens, fresh local foods, quiet country lanes and Northwest vistas that compel contemplation. Aside from commuters rushing to and from the ferry dock, everything is as rich and mellow as the famous sticky buns at Blackbird Bakery.
Although it feels leisurely, the island is not backward. Blackbird has been a leader in artisan baking since it opened in 1999; Mora Iced Creamery led the local ice cream revival in 2006; and Bainbridge Gardens nursery and the Bloedel Reserve park helped pioneer sustainable landscape management.
A 35-minute Washington State Ferries ride brings visitors to Bainbridge from downtown Seattle, and many day-trippers walk or ride their bikes, as there is a full day’s worth of enjoyment in Bainbridge village, just up from the ferry landing.
(Check for road alerts before you go, and call or go online to confirm the availability of specific attractions and services such as fuel, lodging, restaurants, seasonal events and gatherings.)
GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN
Along the crossing from Seattle’s Colman Dock to Bainbridge, one sees eagles, porpoises, seals, sea lions, the occasional whale and sailboats posed cinematically against the Emerald City, sapphire water and cornflower sky.
Although the Northwest has an infinity of memorable views, one of the very best is from a Seattle-bound ferry of downtown at dusk, the city alight in westering sunshine and skyscraper lights, the alpenglow-pink dome of Mount Rainier in the distance. This visual climax to a Bainbridge visit surpasses even the Olympic Mountain vistas that greet travelers heading toward Bainbridge to start their trip.
GO GROW GREEN
Washed by moderate sea breezes, watered by gentle rains and warmed by long summer days, Bainbridge ideally represents the fertile climate in which the Northwest’s temperate rainforests thrived, and which proved fruitful for small-scale agriculture after most of the forests were felled. Founded by local residents Junkoh and Christina Harui in 1958, Bainbridge Gardens specializes in plants native to Puget Sound or specially suited to it, and promotes sustainable horticulture in a maritime climate. It’s 4 miles from the ferry terminal — a moderate ride for bicycle travelers — and well worth a visit even if you’re not in the market for nursery stock. Bloedel Reserve is at the north end of the island. Its 150-acre expanse artfully blends native woodlands and cultivated gardens, with forest trails through quiet glens leading to pools and ponds past rhododendrons and azaleas. It’s the legacy of timber magnate Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia, who deeded their estate to the community as a perpetual preserve.
The compact Bainbridge Island Historical Museum depicts the island’s ancient indigenous heritage, its short but intense history as a timber center, the succeeding decades as a home for farms serving the Seattle market, and the Filipino and Japanese immigrants who proved crucial to timber and agriculture. The museum provides an unflinching examination of the World War II internment of the island’s Japanese community, a dark corner of U.S. history that was the foundation of local author David Guterson’s famous novel, “Snow Falling on Cedars.” The grim episode is compellingly depicted in the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, a series of outdoor panels on the Eagle Harbor waterfront that list all of the 276 island residents sent to prison camps in 1942.
Aside from its sticky buns, Blackbird Bakery is known for tarts and pies: pear frangipane, Granny Smith apple with bourbon and cream, and in summer, wild blackberry. You often will find local blackberries in Mora Iced Creamery’s products (mora is Spanish for blackberry) along with raspberries and strawberries in ice cream and sorbet. Other favorites include Mexican chocolate and espresso mocha ice creams, all made in Poulsbo. Mora and Blackbird are adjacent to each other, just a few blocks from the ferry terminal … uphill, if you need to justify visiting both. For more substantial cuisine, Harbour Public House and Doc’s Marina Grill are two longstanding taverns with classic marine pub staples such as fish and chips, clam chowder, pulled pork and estimable water views.
– Written by Eric Lucas