Seattle has a reputation for being a rainy city. In truth, there are on average 152 sunny days per year, and most of those are in the prime summer months. On clear days the views are incredible, with snow-capped Mount Rainier towering over the Seattle skyline to the southeast, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains stretching along Puget Sound to the west, and snow-capped Mount Baker to the north. With all the protected waters of the Puget Sound, the Salish Sea and the Inside Passage — which goes all the way through British Columbia to Alaska — you can cruise for days and days.
There are many options for boating right in Seattle, and each has its own flavor with distinct neighborhood restaurants, shops and museums to explore. On the saltwater side are Elliot Bay Marina, in the Elliot Bay area, and Bell Harbor, located downtown just below Pike Place Market. Shilshole Bay Marina is set at the opening to the Lake Washington ship canal, and if you transit through the Hiram M. Chittenden locks there are several marinas on the canal that leads to Lake Union.
You don’t have to travel far from Seattle to find an outstanding harbor. With so many quaint towns, beautiful views, and protected waters, the area is a boater’s delight and has an endless array of options for cruising and exploration.
Day 1: Seattle to Gig Harbor
Distance: 21 Miles
Crossing Puget Sound is a scenic contrast: behind you, the Seattle skyline with its iconic Space Needle dominates the northern side of the city; in front of you, green and white Washington State ferries cruise back and forth between Seattle and Bainbridge and Vashon islands. Just a few miles beyond that are the harbor towns of the west side of Puget Sound.
Historic Gig Harbor’s roots go back to the mid-1800s, when its natural harbor made it the area’s center for commercial fishing and boat building. Enter the well-protected harbor with the sand spit and the red light in the small lighthouse to starboard as you approach. On shore, the town wraps around the harbor. You have the choice of anchoring in the center of the harbor or mooring at Jerisich Dock or Arabella’s Landing Marina. During July and August, moorage can be tight at this popular destination.
Tides Tavern, just to port as you enter the harbor, has onsite dockage and is a perfect place to stop for lunch. Explore the town’s specialty stores, vintage shops, bookstores, restaurants and Harbor History Museum. On the western end of the harbor, walk through the Finholm District and follow the signs to the Finholm View Climb — it’s a 98-step hike up for stunning views of the harbor and beyond.
Gig Harbor features many summer events at Skansie Brothers Park on the water. Don’t miss the Gig Harbor Summer Arts Festival (July 16-17), Gig Wine and Food Festival (July 21-23), and the weekly Summer Sounds live music event every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. from June until August.
Day 2: Gig Harbor to Poulsbo
Distance: 29 Miles
Colvos Passage, past Blake Island Marine State Park and then up Rich Passage to Liberty Bay, where you’ll find Poulsbo. Dock at Poulsbo Marina, which offers 130 slips and shower and laundry facilities just a stone’s throw from town.
Poulsbo’s Scandinavian heritage is evident throughout the town, from wall murals to statues of Viking warriors in the shops to the delicious bakeries. The First Lutheran Church, built in 1886, sits on a hill overlooking the town. Poulsbo celebrates its heritage on the third weekend of May each year with the three-day Viking Fest.
In addition to the charming shops, don’t miss the Marine Science Center, a popular destination for kids and adults alike, located just above the marina. There are all kinds of exhibits showing the diversity of marine life in Puget Sound, including touch tanks. Another must-see is the Marina Market, which features a selection of 350 different chocolates, more than 350 kinds of licorice and more than 500 craft beers. They also have many Scandinavian food items and gifts (think wooden clogs), as well as general grocery items.
Day 3: Poulsbo to Port Townsend
Distance: 29 Miles
From Poulsbo, pass north through Agate Pass and up Admiralty Inlet. Transit the Port Townsend Canal and up the bay to the Victorian town of Port Townsend, full of historic brick buildings, interesting shops and fantastic restaurants. Dock at the Port Townsend Boat Haven a modern full-service marina for vessels up to 100 feet. Within the marina are a brew pub, the excellent Key City Fish Company market and numerous eateries. Worth noting is the Blue Moose Café, which opens early and offers excellent breakfasts. Check out the Wooden Boat Chandlery’s thrift store for an intriguing selection of used nautical items. Across the road
from the Blue Moose, the Western Flyer — the famous boat used by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts to explore the Sea of Cortez — is open for tours. The Boat Haven area also has a Safeway supermarket, local food co-op, hardware store, two chandleries and even a coffee roasting company.
Another docking option is Port Hudson Marina, home to the Northwest Maritime Center, which hosts the annual Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 9-11). You can register for classes to build a kayak or canoe, hone your marine skills or visit the chandlery with its many new and old nautical items. The marina is located in the main part of this historic seaport town. A quick stroll will bring you past neighborhoods full of the Victorian homes that once housed the captains, crews and their families who earned their living on the sea. It is not unusual to see classic, restored sailing ships tied to the docks along the waterfront, just as they were hundreds of years ago. It all feels like a step back in time.
From Port Townsend, it is an interesting cruise back to Seattle down Admiralty Inlet, with large container ships and car carriers mixing it up with tugboats and barges and ferries. As you get closer to Seattle, float planes and jets overhead signal that you are back in this busy metropolis, a total contrast to the waterfront villages you’ve just visited a few miles away in Puget Sound. And about all those sunny days in Seattle for boating, please keep it a secret.