Jul 2, 2022

A two-ferry day-trip takes visitors to the waterside town of Port Orchard


The Admiral Pete ferry pulls into Bremerton from Port Orchard, WA

Some know the Northwest waterside community of Port Orchard as the setting for the fictional Cedar Cove in novels by local author Debbie Macomber. 

Others know it as a bedroom community for commuters from Seattle and workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard a mile across the Sinclair Inlet in Bremerton, WA.

Locals such as Samantha Smith, 44, a graduate of South Kitsap High School, see it for its potential for trying out new ideas while hanging onto a small-town vibe.

 "Community Plus Creativity" is the theme for two businesses she runs on Bay Street, the historic main drag a half-block from  where foot-ferries make the 10-minute crossing to and from Bremerton. 

Josephine's Mercantile occupies a former roller rink. The original floor is intact

Four years ago, she opened Josephine's Mercantile, a cross between a high-end vintage shop and an old-fashioned general store in the former location of Rio's Skate Castle roller rink. Then, last April, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, she opened Revival,  a shop selling newly-made Northwest goods and gifts in a building that once housed a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant and car dealership. Twice a month, she hosts Local, a pop-up market for potters, glassblowers and other artists.

"I just love my hometown," she says. "I thought about locating in Gig Harbor or Poulsbo (both well-known tourist towns), but my heart just said no."

Curious to know more? Hop aboard a ferry for a day trip on a  sunny Saturday. Here's the plan:

Bremerton to Port Orchard

With views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier, a ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bremerton is a bargain. With a car,  it's a 20-minute drive to Port Orchard in South Kitsap County, but I recommend either walking on the Washington State ferry (one hour) or catching the Kitsap Transit passenger-only fast ferry (30 minutes) from the Seattle waterfront. Then follow the signs to the Port Orchard foot ferry for a 10-minute, $2 trip across Sinclair Inlet. 

The historic Carlisle II docked beside a new electric-powered ferry

If you're lucky, Kitsap Transit might be running the refurbished Carlisle II, built in 1917 as part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Otherwise, you might be onboard a new electric ferry, or the older Admiral Pete built with nostalgic touches such as brass railings and wooden cupholders.

Farmers and fiddlers

Follow the sound of fiddle music to the Saturday farmers market on the waterfront just east of the ferry dock and marina. 

Wander among the stalls covered with white canopies to find   micogreens grown by Wildwood Hollow Farm; bacon and pork chops from Foggy Hog Farm raising "pigs with a purpose"; and  cotton candy spun with organic sugar by Sunshine Acres Family farm.

Kari Lassila at the Farmers Market

Members of the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association serenade. Among the craftspeople is Kari Lassila of Thrifty Needle who works behind her grandmother's black Singer sewing machine to produce an array of upcycled crafts.

"I'm basically keeping stuff out of the landfill," she jokes, pointing to her display of purses made from old cargo pants, tote bags crafted from pillow cases and colorful doggie "poo" bags knitted from sock yarn.

Lunch at Carter's

Walk a block south from the waterfront and find Carter & Co. at the west end of Bay Street.

Owners Matt Carter and John Strasinger describe their storefront as the "happiest place in town," and it just might be given the crowds that line up for orange-chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate-dipped bacon slices and hand-made truffles.

A plant-filled back patio invites lingering over lunch or dessert.  Carter's passion is chocolate, but in hotter weather, the emphasis is on keeping the cases filled with with mini-cheesecakes, fruit tarts, panini sandwiches and savory Brioche filled with ham and Brie; mushrooms and smoked Provolone; and sometimes even meat loaf.  

Browsing Bay Street

Platted as the town of Sidney in 1886 by Frederick Stevens, CQ  Port Orchard became known for lumber, pottery works and the small businesses that provided services. The center of town was and is Bay Street depicted on a mural on the side wall of the Sidney Art Gallery and Museum. 

Long-known as fertile ground for antique hunters, the retail district has evolved to include a mix of new and old businesses. 

Well-stocked is the Olde Central Antique Mall where 45 dealers fill two floors crammed with colored glassware, clothing, books, vintage jewelry and house wares. 

Veterans Living History Museum

Next door is the free Veterans Living History Museum opened 14 years ago by Coast Guard veteran and former lighthouse keeper Dale Nitz,  77, to house his overflowing collection of military artifacts. 

Displayed on the sidewalk is a changing rotation of memorabilia including a recently-acquired framed set of medals belonging to a soldier who collected 11 Purple Hearts.

More contemporary shops and galleries populate the west end of Bay Street. Across from Josephine's and next to Revival, there's  Wilkerson Port Orchard Galley where owners Glen and Shelly Wilkerson display their own photos and paintings as well the the work of other local artists.

Inside the Port Orchard Public Market, a space for vendors selling handmade and local products, Leanna Krotzer, owner of Leanna's Art and Coffee, sells antique tea pots and cups, and bakes homemade cinnamon rolls in a kitchen behind her cash register.  

Leanna Krotzer sells antique tea cups and homemade baked goods in the Port Orchard Public Market 

Coming soon will be the first Dude's Donuts cafe. The vegan and gluten-free donut company, owned by Bainbridge Island's Pegasus Coffee, wholesales to 30 cafes around the Puget Sound, "but we haven't had our own storefront," says owner Matt Grady. 

"There's been a lot of talk about trying to make Port Orchard more of a destination," he says "We're thrilled to be a part of that."  

Waterfront dining

Close to the ferry dock and farmers market is the Peninsula Beverage Co. with a roomy outdoor deck, a long list of Northwest brews on tap and a dozen types of tacos with fillings that transport diners to Thailand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Worth the 1.2-mile walk, mostly along new paved waterside bike and walking path (or catch the No 9 Kitsap Transit bus) is the Whiskey Gulch Coffee Pub, https://www.whiskeygulchcoffeepub.com CQ a local favorite.  

Go early to get a seat overlooking the water. Order up a coffee cocktail or one of more than whiskeys, then choose from a menu with a surprisingly variety of vegetarian items including smoked sweet potato tacos and "not-so-pork sliders" made with jackfruit tossed in a peach BBQ sauce.  

If you go:

Saturdays are the best time to visit when the farmers market is open from 9 a.m.- 2p.m. through October. 

Check Washington state ferry schedules and Kitsap Transit schedules, including the foot ferry from Bremerton to Port Orchard (ferries run every half hour) and the fast ferry between Bremerton and Seattle (Monday-Saturday service).

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