If it’s your first visit to Seattle, or even if it’s not, it might be worth your while to take the ferry across Puget sound to either Bainbridge Island or Bremmerton, drive up the strait, and take the Kingston ferry back.
I’ve termed this a “mini-road-trip.” Once across the sound, stuff gets rural. In a hurry. In the space of just a few hours, you can escape to what feels like another dimension. Oh, and the views are spectacular.
On the outbound ferry, watch the Seattle skyline and waterline disappear behind you as Bainbridge Island looms ahead. The cascade mountain range is off to the right, and deep blue, purple, and green hues color the landscape.
Board the ferry either in your car or on foot. On-foot is the budget option: if you want to take the 90-minute round-trip trip to Bainbridge and back to the downtown Seattle terminal, there’s no charge if you travel sans car. Plus, you’re allowed to board first, with first dibs on seats up top.
Driving your car onto the boat will cost you about $16 each way, but it’s worth it for the ability to road-trip on the other side. (It’s also still cheaper than two tickets to the Space Needle.) The downtown and Kingston ferries are very different, with different views, vibes, and casts of characters.
The downtown ferry is small and crowded, and the auto berth is full of “regulars”, who don’t even leave their cars. One man in a Mini simply reclined his seat and took a nap. My astonishment that you can *leave your car there* and *go up on deck* where you’ll feel the 20-knot *wind in your hair* and watch seagulls draft you, and that some people are so jaded they just stay in their cars, was reassurance enough that my ferry fare was well spent. Then again, I’m the guy who still presses my face to the window on the F train between 4th ave and Smith Street. I’d ride above deck every day, and if that view ever got old I’d take a vacation to New Jersey, long enough to appreciate it again when I came back.
Even standing in the car berth and watching the swells of seawater displaced by the hull, feeling the wind, and smelling the surf, is a cheap thrill for this city boy.
You disembark in Bremmerton next to a naval base. Bremmerton is an archetypal northwest commuter town that looks familiar if you’ve seen Twin Peaks or (be still my bearing heart) any of the Twilight films. The most astonishing thing to me is how woven into the town’s fabric its Asian influences are: teriyaki joints dot the landscape, logging trucks coexist with Filipino grocery stores. If we’d done it right we would have left in the morning and given ourselves a whole afternoon to wind our way up to Kingston, stopping at curious spots along the way. That’s varsity. That’s “going deep”.
Kingston is a 40-minute, scenic, drive away if you take the freeway. I’m mixed on recommending the espresso joint just outside the Kingston ferry terminal, but leaning toward the positive column. Guns-n-Roses blared over the radio, and the place had all the wonderful hallmarks of a Fire Island burger-and-shake joint back on Long Island. The woman at the counter was legit, and friendly.
Me: Can I use the John if I order an espresso?
She: you can use the John either way.
I still had the espresso, with a little cream. It was great.
We queued up for the ferry back to the mainland with a somewhat different cast-of-characters, these folks mostly seemingly mostly from the towns neighboring Kingston. The return trip is shorter and more meditative. Above deck, we sat adjacent to a lifelong resident of the sound, and chatted about Seattle-area winters. (They’re not as bad as we thought.)
The timing was perfect – the sun was just starting to sink low on the horizon as we left Kingston, creating a completely new palette of light effects. Back on the east side of the sound, we were now north of our hotel, a quick 25 minute drive if you don’t hit traffic. (Avoid I-5 if you can , especially during rush hours.)
Photo by Paul Schultz
On this trip we set out to go both broad – hitting a varied array of spots in around Seattle, not just a few well-worn tourist junkets – and deep – giving experiences time to sink in, seeking immersive experiences – and the Puget Sound mini-road-trip, a suggestion from my sister who’s more familiar with the area, hit the spot.