Bainbridge Island Harbor Panoramic View Winslow Washington Beautiful Sunny Day Landscape.

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island, Washington is an island and city in Kitsap County, approximately 35 minutes by ferry across the waters of the Puget Sound from bustling Seattle. With scenic, sleepy harbors, verdant hills, and rock-covered shores, the island offers a needed respite. Adding to the island's richness is its long history and diverse population numbering over 24,000. However, it is not devoid of activity, since the island has grown from a 2-square-mile town to a small city with over 2,000 businesses. As a result, this getaway combines relaxed, small-town charm with all the luxuries of the city. Whether visitors want to roam an art or history museum, savor the local seafood at one of the many restaurants, or walk a peaceful nature trail, Bainbridge Island has a wealth to offer.

Bainbridge Island History

Old Boats on the shore at Point White Dock, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Point White Dock, Bainbridge Island, Washington.

About 2,000 years ago, the Suquamish Indians inhabited Bainbridge and other parts of Puget Sound. They lived in small, permanent villages and enjoyed the land's resources, which enabled them to harvest and develop technologies for food preservation. By the late 18th century, however, the Suquamish saw strange new boats enter the horizon.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, an explorer with the British Royal Navy, landed on Bainbridge Island and other islands in the Puget Sound of the Northwest Pacific during his four-year expedition between 1791 and 1795. He met with Chief Kitsap and documented the island before sailing off. In 1841, an explorer with the US Navy named Charles Wilkes visited the island and gave it its current moniker after William Bainbridge, a commodore famed for his role in the War of 1812. In the coming years, the Suquamish lost rights to their land through treaties as Europeans settled the area.

With abundant natural resources, Bainbridge Island became active in shipbuilding and farming, which drew many immigrants from the Philippines and Japan. Due to its location near the western coast, the area was affected by World War II and the Korean War, with the Naval Installation of Fort Ward established until the end of the Korean War. The island's industries grew, and in 1991, the town of Winslow became part of the rest of Bainbridge to form the vibrant city it is today.

Climate and Geography of Bainbridge Island

Boat on the water in front of Bainbridge Island with skyline of Seattle
Bainbridge Island with skyline of Seattle.

Bainbridge Island rests within the Puget Lowland, a region that includes Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, nestled between the Cascade Range and the Olympic Mountains. The area contains rocks formed from volcanoes in the distant past and gravel and sand left behind by receding glaciers make up an important natural resource in the region.

The weather on the island, as it is with much of western Washington, is fairly mild. The summer's daily high temperatures remain at a tepid 70 to 80°F, rarely climbing above the upper 70s. While winter temperatures can dip into the 20s at night, the daily highs typically do not drop below 45°F. Even though snow is relatively unusual, the Puget Lowland sees an average of 37 inches of rain a year, with January and February being the wettest months.

Natural Attractions on the Island

Fay Bainbridge Park, Bainbridge Island, Washington State. Gnarly driftwood faces the Puget Sound and a sailboat
Fay Bainbridge Park, Bainbridge Island, Washington State.

Green spaces abound on Bainbridge Island. The Bainbridge Gardens is a must-see for visitors hoping to get a taste of nature. The family-owned gardens boast native plants, bonsai, and a taste of culture with garden art and a cafe on the premises. For travelers with children, Battle Point Park, located on the western side of the island, offers a playground, basketball court, and plenty of open space with a 1.6-mile-long trail. 

A more marine experience can be had at Fay Bainbridge Park. Located at the northeast point of the island, the park and campground encompass 17 acres near pristine beaches. Explorers who want to camp here can enjoy a view of Puget Sound as well as Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.

The Island's Museums

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. Image credit Cascade Creatives via Shutterstock

Close to the ferry terminal, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is the perfect first stop for travelers who want a taste of the local culture. They offer free admission and display a substantial collection of artists in the Puget Sound region. Before or after taking in the art, the BIMA Bistro offers wine, french pressed coffee, and a variety of entrees.

Also close to the ferry terminal is the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. The museum is located in the former schoolhouse of 1908 and provides a peek into the history of the island from its Japanese internment exhibit to a look at the Native American population. To get a deeper understanding of the former indigenous people of the island, one can travel just off the island near Agate Point to the Port Madison Reservation. There, the Suquamish Museum houses a wealth of cultural history devoted to the original stewards of the Puget Sound region.

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial

Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial
Japanese American Exclusion Memorial.

A sobering part of the island's history is the internment of 120,000 Japanese people, over 60% of whom were citizens of America, on March 30, 1942, during WWII. The wall of red cedar, granite, and basalt reaches the ferry dock at Eagledale and includes poignant art and the names of 276 Japanese and Japanese Americans who held an important role in the economy as farmers and business owners.

The wall was designed by Seattle architect, Johnpaul Jones, who is part Choctaw and Cherokee and was a design consultant for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. Since the inception of the memorial in 2011, new additions have popped up in the form of sculptures and a visitor's center. For generations to come, the memorial will impart the core idea: "Nidoto Nai Yoni," "Let It Not Happen Again."

Restaurants and Nightlife

Traffic and urban life in the city of Bainbridge Island, Washington
Downtown Bainbridge Island, Washington. Image credit Michael Gordon via Shutterstock

In keeping with Bainbridge Island's diversity, the local cuisine is as varied as its people. From Pho, Thai, and Italian, to contemporary American food, the dining on the island is sure to please everyone. Some hotspots in the area include the Ba Sa Restaurant, which serves up banh mi, pho, and other delicious entrees made with fresh seafood. The award-winning Hitchcock Restaurant Group provides some of the best American fine dining and the Agate restaurant is a top choice in the area, serving up succulent halibut and seared scallops.

For visitors who are in the mood for an adult beverage after their meal, the island offers comfortable breweries, distilleries, and also fine wine served at Bar Hitchcock and the Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro. A more kid-friendly after-dinner excursion can be had at the Mora Iced Creamery, which boasts 48 ice creams, milkshakes, and other devilishly sweet treats.

Visiting Bainbridge Island

Seattle Bainbridge Island Ferry Puget Sound Olympic Mountains
Seattle to Bainbridge Island Ferry.

Seattle's Colman Dock is one of the easiest ways to arrive at Bainbridge Island. One can take a car, bike, or walk on the ferry and enjoy the views on the 35-minute ride. A trip by car alone is lengthier but doable. From Tacoma, drivers can get on Narrows Bridge on Highway 16 and head on Highway 3 going from Bremerton to Poulsbo, then Highway 305 will lead to the island. If one drives from the Olympia Peninsula, the Hood Canal Bridge leads to Highway 3, then Poulsbo to Highway 305.

For mariners prepared for a day trip, Waterfront Park and City Dock will let boaters dock right near the heart of downtown. Once there, lodgings are plentiful, with cottage rentals, bed and breakfasts, and plenty of campgrounds. No matter what type of adventure one is after, Bainbridge Island is simultaneously a refuge in nature and an immersion in a city rife with culture.


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