I’m a little embarrassed to admit the number of times I’ve watched Dr. Derek Shepherd sail into Seattle at sunrise, arms slung over the ferry rail, the weight of the world etched into his jaw. Christina and Meredith each have “their person,” and Grey’s Anatomy is definitely my show! Recreating this iconic Grey’s scene (albeit minus McDreamy, unfortunately) was one of the highlights of my first solo trip to the Emerald City. Fast forward five years, and I’m still enamored of Seattle’s ferries. It was a thrill to experience the ride through the kids’ eyes after a lovely day spent on Bainbridge Island–a day which turned out to be one of our trip favorites!
We initially intended to hit Bainbridge Island following an overnight camping stint at Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula. However, plans shifted, and with rainstorms forecast for the rest of the week, we instead found alternate lodging in Federal Way and drove an hour and a half to Bainbridge. Online reviews steered us toward Streamliner Diner for breakfast, and I can happily confirm the fabulous reviews we’d read were well-deserved. A stainless steel diner with funky, retro decor, Streamliner Diner delivers tasty fare and generous portion sizes at moderate prices. Of particular note were the delicious omelettes–sausage and pesto, as well as a caramelized onion, spinach, bacon, brie variety–and homemade pear turmeric muffins. Hash browns were crisped to perfection; the coffee: full-bodied and strong. After two weeks of grab-and-go trail breakfasts, we gorged ourselves silly.
Bainbridge is the kind of town that begs to be explored by foot, and two-mile Waterfront Trail provided the perfect antidote to our gluttony. A scenic and peaceful stroll through the harbor, marina, and surrounding neighborhoods, the Waterfront Trail’s western loop intersects many of Bainbridge’s main attractions. We watched rowers row, picked berries off straggly bushes past their prime, shaded our eyes from the sunlight gleaming across the water. With no set schedule and no reason to hurry, we lingered on the docks, watching kayakers paddle their way across the marina. If Seattle is a city on the pulse, then Bainbridge dallies to a dreamier beat. Strolling through town feels like vacation. Locals smile and chat up day trippers; one local boater recognized us–or more likely, the horrifying amount we’d just consumed at Streamliner Diner. “Walking off that huge breakfast you just ate?” he asked with a wink. Eventually, Waterfront Trail wound inland toward Eagle Harbor Waterfront Park, where we spent the better part of an hour playing American Ninja Warrior on playground equipment. The swings beckoned, and we were hard-pressed to find a toddler having more fun than our teen and pre-teen (and mama!) on those swings that day.
Bainbridge Island Historical Museum
Our walk led us to Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, a converted schoolhouse and island gem dedicated to the preservation of Bainbridge’s rich, diverse history. Don’t let its small size fool you–admission is not free, but the museum is well worth the $10 per family fee. We were lucky to receive a guided tour from our docent, who was both knowledgeable and gifted at bringing history to life. From the history of the Suquamish tribe to the role of sawmills on the island to an award-winning exhibition of the Japanese-American internment during World War II, we found ourselves immersed in the museum’s interactive displays and videos. We were particularly interested to learn the fate of island JA families who were evacuated to internment camps following President Roosevelt’s decree. As an American citizen living in Hawaii, my mother-in-law lost her family, home, and livelihood; her father and sisters were deported while she and her mother were relocated to Tule Lake Camp, a place as foreign to her as Japan. Like other internees, her story is one of struggle, endurance, and triumph–one that I did not fully appreciate until viewing Ansel Adams’s Manzanar collection. Calling it his life’s most important work, Adams set out to capture the internees’ indomitable spirit and determination to thrive in spite of public mistrust and government injustice. Without a doubt, the war was a time of suffering for many Americans; the museum’s commitment to representing diverse perspectives gives us hope that we are not destined to repeat the mistakes of history.
Mora Iced Creamery
How do you describe the little scoop of heaven that is Mora ice cream on a cone? Luscious, creamy, decadent–everything that ice cream should be–and a host of other complexities you didn’t know it could be. Full-flavored yet delicate. Decadent but light. Nuanced and multilayered. It’s no wonder this humble iced creamery has been raking in national awards and praise for years. Their signature MORA (blackberry) cone was simply divine; coconut, espresso mocha, and French vanilla were equally wondrous. I’ve visited Bainbridge multiple times in the past without stopping at this local institution, and believe me, my stomach grieves the loss of those uneaten cones. I would ferry to Bainbridge Island especially for this treat. It’s that good!
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art
Less than a five-minute trek from the ferry dock, the art museum made for a wonderful conclusion to our walk. Admission and parking are free. The museum houses a range of eclectic works, showcasing artists from the greater Puget Sound area. We especially enjoyed the ‘Heaven on Fire’ exhibit by artist Barbara Earl Thomas, whose profound vessel work and writing collection moved us. For parents who worry that the museum might not interest youngsters, the museum offers a free scavenger hunt written activity that kept our kids engaged. Upon completion of the activity, they received pencils made with denim, reminiscent of the denim used to insulate the museum–a fun and free keepsake to remind them of our time on Bainbridge.
We felt like rockstars when we pulled into the ferry terminal with literal seconds to spare. WSDOT runs a tight ship, adhering to departure times like clockwork. We parked our car on the bottom level of the ferry and made our way to the upper levels. The kids marveled over the sheer size of the ferry–they couldn’t believe there were manned snack bars, lounge areas, and levels of seating that required minutes of walking to access. The hubby took the kids to the upper deck to enjoy the open air; highlights included a pod of dolphins and ferry goers hand-feeding seagulls (not a sound practice, obviously, but still fun to watch). Seeing Space Needle from the water was a treat, though nothing could beat the majestic views of snow-capped Mount Rainier. My brother once told me that Seattleites lived for July. Riding the ferry into Seattle that warm summer day, I finally understood why.
University of Washington
Once back in the hustle and bustle of Seattle, we drove a few minutes to the University of Washington. Our oldest is a high school freshman this year, and the realities of college and his inevitable departure have hit us hard. In my (sad and pathetic) attempt to at least keep him close to family, I encouraged him to “fall in love with” (okay, “tour” might be the technical term here, but it’s all semantics) the UW campus. From apple and cherry tree-adorned walkways to gothic-spired libraries with secret Harry Potter-style reading rooms, UW boasts a huge and beautiful campus. Our son’s radar perked up at the sight of the Husky Union Building, a student center equipped with bowling arcades and X-Box game rooms outfitted with high def flat screens. We peeked into lecture halls, hung out in the Quad, and soaked in the flavor and vibe of the campus. Three hours and several miles of walking later, the oldest confirmed UW firmly in the ‘maybe’ category. I’ll take it!
Hidden in historic Post Alley beneath an unsigned namesake pink door, Pink Door is an Italian bistro as renown for its aerial trapeze/burlesque shows as its sumptuous Italian fare. Though perhaps less appropriate for children later in the evening, 6 pm was a perfect time for enjoying an intimate family dinner here in Pike Market. On the menu: linguine alle vongole paired with crusty bread, Penn Cove mussels and clams drenched in briny broth, a decanter of house red to share. Where the dinner menu is elegant and refined, the dining room exudes energy, dynamism. Candelabras, lighted mirrors, and gold-trimmed decor evoke a sense of theatricality just shy of tacky (in a good way!). At once over the top and understatedly casual, everything about Pink Door invites you to linger–and linger we did, indeed. After weeks of hiking, backpacking, and camping, the knowledge that this was our final night of vacation made the splurge bittersweet. Tomorrow, we’d fly home to Hawaii and real life. Tonight, though? An amazing meal, unforgettable sunset, and an espresso nightcap at First and Pike sound like just the way to go.