Thursday, March 12, 2009

Riding the Washington State Ferries: Bainbridge Island Afternoon

When people ask me to suggest outings for Seattle visitors, my first response is “Go ride a ferry!” Being surrounded by stunning panoramic views, inhaling the fresh salty sea breeze, maybe spotting porpoises (or even orca whales if you’re really lucky)—a ferry trip across Puget Sound always feels like an adventure. But it’s not just for out-of-towners.

Recently the Society of American Travel Writers listed the Anacortes ferry that threads through the San Juan Islands as one of the most exciting and scenic ferry rides in the world. Closer to Seattle, you can take the Bainbridge Island ferry, spend a few hours exploring, have lunch or dinner on the island, and return to see the city lights twinkling above Elliott Bay.

A few weekends ago I call my sister who lives on Bainbridge and announce I’m coming over for lunch. “I’m going to walk on the ferry, so meet me at the terminal.” Then I catch the 1:20 ferry from Colman Dock, Seattle’s ferry terminal on Elliott Bay just below downtown.

As usual, I head to the ferry’s top deck for the best views. It’s a gorgeous, sunny late winter day. Mount Rainier is out on the southeast horizon, ruggedly handsome in a fresh coat of snow. With blue skies above, the wind-dappled surface of Puget Sound stretches sapphire blue from shore to shore. As the ferry churns steadily across, the deep rumbling of the engines reverberates—chugachugachugachugachuga.

After the 35-minute crossing, my sister calls me when she sees my ferry coming in to Eagle Harbor. Lunch today is at Café Nola, a popular bistro just a few blocks from the ferry terminal in what used to be downtown Winslow. My sister and I both get the daily special—grilled wild Alaska salmon on a bed of roasted seasonal veggies. Hmmm. My niece Willa goes for the childrens’ spaghetti with tomato sauce. The food is good, and the service is much quicker and friendlier than when I was here last summer.

We stroll a half a block up the street to stop in the wonderful Eagle Harbor Books, where my sister works. She introduces me to several of her co-workers, and my niece introduces me to Nikki, the owner’s cute dog who patiently sits behind the counter. I could spend hours browsing here. With an especially literate population, Bainbridge is home to several well-known authors (and a few other celebrities).

For dessert we head to Mora’s for freshly made ice cream, shakes, and frozen yogurt. While standing in line, I see beautiful fat raspberries and blueberries waiting to be piled onto my yogurt, so I order extra berries. I carefully grab a berry in each spoonful of frosty, flavorful vanilla yogurt. Willa goes for a huge chocolate milkshake (that she can’t finish). My sister opts for a light pink grapefruit sorbet. If I lived on the island I’d be at Mora’s a lot. Good thing I don’t.

Heading back toward the ferry, I insist we cruise through the Blackbird Bakery just to look at the confections. I’ve been here on other visits for hot cocoa and chewy cookies.

I dash to catch the 4:35 ferry, which is full of tourists returning and islanders heading to Seattle for Saturday night. Today was a fairly short trip—about 3.5 hours over and back. For those who commute daily across the Sound on a ferry, it’s just a way to work. But I always get a little rush of excitement each time the boat pulls away from the dock.
When You Go
If you’re taking the Bainbridge Island ferry, Sundays are good because there’s free street parking downtown Seattle. Driving a car on the ferry triples to quadruples your fare. A route map of all Washington State Ferries shows you all the options.


Victoria said...

We loved your visit to Bainbridge ... it is a wonderful place to send friends and guests!

Barry said...

When I was in graduate school, the Bremerton ferry was the "date ferry" of choice. 2 hours of sailing was the most romantic thing we could do for almost no money.

It's a bit more expensive now, and I'm a bit older. The last time I walked onto this route was with Dae Kwang Sunim - hardly date material!

Anonymous said...

Born and raised on Bainbridge, and a 25-year Monday to Friday ferry commuter – I admit that I expressed a bit of negativity when Jill told me she was writing about riding the ferry to Bainbridge. But, that was all in fun. It is a remarkable way to start and end the work day. I never fail to feel rejuvenated by the smell of salt water air and the beauty that surrounds me as the ferry chugs into Eagle Harbor. Bainbridge is home.

LJ said...

Every time I read your blog I get so hungry!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jill, we met on Saturday in a cafe in Ballard. Yesterday my friend took me for a ferry ride to Bainbridge where we did a little wine tasting at the Bainbridge Island Winery (purchased 2 bottles of the Madeline). My friend is German and it was a perfect find because they grew the grapes he was familiar with and which happen to be some of favourites too. We then spent some time on the beach relaxing against a wooden structure built by children before travelling to Saquamish for a cold beer on the pier. Thanks for the tip. Marie x

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