The Kitsap Peninsula is a relatively unknown area for those not from Washington, which is part of its charm. The darling small towns that dot the peninsula offer visitors a quaint and picturesque experience. It is easily reached from Tacoma via the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or from Seattle by ferry to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.
If you are looking for a slower pace, stunning natural landscapes, and a rich maritime heritage, here are the darling small towns on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula that should be on your travel radar.
Tiny Olalla is located on the Colvos Passage in Puget Sound. This tiny hamlet was once one of the larger communities in Puget Sound. This hidden gem is worth a visit for its picturesque views of Puget Sound from the historic Olalla Bay Market. The market has been a gathering spot for locals since 1884. The Olsen family lovingly restored the historic property and reopened it in spring 2023. The market offers a large variety of snacks and Olalla souvenirs in the store while food is available at the coffee shop. In the afternoon, the pizza oven is fired up and churns out house-made sour-dough pizza. Take your purchases and enjoy yourself on the deck with stunning views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.
Pro Tip: Just down the street is Olalla Vineyard and Winery. It is a very scenic property and the wines are very good. Food is available for purchase as well. Be sure to check their calendar for live music and events, which are very popular and usually sell out.
2. Port Orchard
The vibrant city of Port Orchard was the first incorporated town in Kitsap County. Park your car and tour on foot in this easily walkable town. The marina and waterfront have views of nearby Bremerton and the Olympic Mountains. Lively waterfront restaurants offer plenty of locally sourced ingredients. Explore the historic streets filled with antique stores, art galleries, and cute boutiques. The Bay Street Pedestrian Path winds along the waterfront for walking, biking, or running. Family and pet-friendly pocket parks along the route have picnic tables.
Lovers of New York Times best-selling author Debbie Macomber will love Port Orchard, which is the setting for her novels. Known as Cedar Cove in her books, fans will be able to find many locations from her writing in town.
The quaint village of Keyport is nestled along the eastern shore of the Kitsap Peninsula. Also known as “Torpedo Town USA,” Keyport is renowned for its naval heritage. Make sure to visit the United States Naval Undersea Museum — it is fascinating. There is a whole section of rescue operations which is very interesting in light of the missing submarine at the Titanic site.
After touring the museum, head to the waterfront marina and visit the Keyport Mercantile & Deli. Take your lunch to go and enjoy it on the picnic table located on the dock at the marina. Stellar views abound!
Known as “Little Norway,” Poulsbo is a must-stop on the Kitsap Peninsula. The Norwegian influence permeates the town with its architecture, food, and shops. The SEA Discovery Center is located on the edge of the historic waterfront district and connects visitors to the marine life, history, and culture of the region. Crimson Cove is my favorite shop for locally crafted products. The company is famed for its smoked salmon, cheese, nuts, oils, and salts. They are prepared in their own smokehouse with the flavors of alder and apple; very unique.
Longtime family-owned Sluys Poulsbo Bakery is a local treasure. The bakery is well known for its breads including Brod, Sweet Black, Norwegian Black, and many more, all from original recipes. Treats from the Old Country include Stollen, Julekake, Cardamom bread, Kransekake, and Fattigman. It’s well worth a stop to try these unique baked goods.
5. Bainbridge Island
Plan to spend a day on Bainbridge Island as there is so much to see and do. Start at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum to learn the fascinating history of this island, particularly during World War II. The Japanese Internment began on Bainbridge Island. Learn about it at the museum then visit the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. The beautifully landscaped trail follows a memorial wall that tells the story of the Japanese-American residents on Bainbridge Island and the local community that supported them throughout the ordeal. It was very moving.
Bainbridge Island has several parks and outdoor spaces worth visiting. My favorite is the Bloedel Reserve whose mission is to “enrich people’s lives through a premier public garden of natural land and designed Pacific Northwest landscapes.” The gardens and home are just stunning. It is so relaxing to spend a few hours exploring the grounds and touring the home. My favorite is the Japanese Garden designed by Seattle garden designer Fujitaro Kubota in 1956. It is the oldest garden on the property.
Kingston just oozes small town charm and the friendly folks at the Kingston Chamber Of Commerce and Visitors Center can tell you where to find it. Situated near the Kingston-Edmonds ferry terminal, visitors will find a darling main street lined with shops, brewhouses, and an eclectic mix of restaurants. I tried the newly opened Argensol, a family-owned shop specializing in empanadas and chimichurri sauce. It is the perfect grab-and-go if you are waiting for the ferry. Allow plenty of time as everything is cooked to order.
The views are gorgeous, and on clear days, you can see Mount Rainier. Stroll the waterfront and enjoy Saltair Beach. The Quiet Place Park just northeast of the ferry terminal has wooded walking trails. Throughout the summer, there are events and live music, so make sure to check out the calendar of events on the chamber website. Mike Wallace Park by the ferry terminal usually has live music scheduled during the weekends.
Located on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, Hansville truly is a hidden gem. Visitors must make an effort to get here, but the drive is so worth it once you arrive. There is not a lot of commercial activity or amenities in the town, which I think is one of the reasons people visit, just to get away from it all. Stop by the HansGrill Grocery Store and Cafe to grab a bite to eat or pick up a picnic. Dine at the adjacent Norwegian Point County Park, which also has beach access. Make sure to read the interpretive sign to learn more about the area. At certain times of the year, you can whale watch right from the beach.
For a unique beach rental, check out the Point No Point Lighthouse — a National Historic site and United States Lighthouse. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in Puget Sound and the lighthouse keeper’s house is available to rent. The surrounding park has a beach and there is a trail through the wetlands and wildlife habitat.
8. Port Gamble
The town of Port Gamble is a National Historic Landmark. It feels like a time capsule as you stroll through this 19th-century preserved town. Start at the Port Gamble Historic Museum — which was once a millsite office in this company town — to learn about the history of the town.
The Olympic Outdoor Center right in town is the perfect spot to rent a kayak or paddleboard. The company offers a variety of classes and tours around the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails. For those who like their outdoor adventures on land, visit the Port Gamble Trails. Visitors can explore the town’s 4,300-acre tree farm. Deer, owls, coyotes, bears, and other animals are regularly spotted in the area.
Pro Tip: Feel like a resident when you stay at the Port Gamble Guest Houses. Each cottage has modern amenities but is over 100 years old.
In addition to these darling small towns, the Kitsap Peninsula has quite a few Washington State Parks worth visiting. Many are on the water and offer camping and some have cabins for rent. The Kitsap Peninsula has so much outdoor space, you can feel like you are in the middle of nowhere, however, there is always a town nearby.