The charming community of Gig Harbor lays 10 minutes over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or about an hour from Seattle if you’re scooting down I-5. This picturesque maritime village is ideal for a carefree fall getaway.
Until 1950, Gig Harbor could only be reached by ferry. A bridge had been built in 1940 to link the village to the mainland, but, tragically, the structure collapsed just a few months later. Reconstruction was not viable after World War II, and the town, founded mostly by Croatians, thrived in isolation on lumber and fishing.
Following construction of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, deep-pocketed urban escapees moved into Gig Harbor (or “Gig” as the locals call it). Fishing and logging faded away and, in its stead tourism and small business began to flourish. Today, showcase houses dot the pristine waterfront and Gig’s well-heeled main street is dedicated to quaint galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
The town still, however, cherishes its sea-going heritage, and a pleasant mix of tradition and modern prevails. What’s more it offers something for kids and grown-ups alike.
Ready to get a taste of what’s in store? Read on.
For the History Buff
The sleek “green” Harbor History Museum www.harborhistorymuseum.org opened in September 2010. Exhibitions combine rich local heritage with hands-on, kid-friendly and fun learning. The genuine fire-engine red chicken coop (one of the town’s forefathers was a big fan of chickens) is just one example of the museum’s nod to historical whimsy. The 1839 Midway Schoolhouse remains in tact complete with, vintage textbooks, and ink-welled wood desks. (Think of Johnny dipping Susie’s pigtails in the inkpot.) Less mischievous are the many interactive activities guaranteed to spark interest in the local history.
Then there’s the fishing boat Shenandoah that resides majestically in a hangar adjacent to the museum that was constructed in 1925 and will awe anyone worth his or her salt. The purse seiner is a fishing vessel named for a type of net that pulls tight to prevent the catch from escaping. This handsome rig represents the commercial fishing fleet that, at one time, was one of the most successful on the West Coast. These days, local volunteers keep busy scraping and painting to restore the ship to original 1940’s condition.
Get on the Water
To capture a real feel of the Gig Harbor’s sea-inspired environment, take to the water with Destiny Harbor Tours www.destinymarine.com. Born and bred Gig Harbor guide Tom Drohan rides the wake in one of his two restored U.S. Navy boats. Feet planted firmly, even on choppy waters, with microphone in hand, he shares his knowledge of local wildlife, geography, and history with the folks who climb aboard. Tours take one or two hours. The longer tour brings you beyond the harbor and into open waters where you may spy ospreys, and harbor seals as bald Eagles soar overhead. As you approach the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Mt. Rainier struts its stuff while “Dro” (as his friends call him) details the history of the original bridge.
Eating and Drinking up the Harbor
In recent years, eateries of all stripes have sprung up in Gig Harbor faster than you can pop a cork. Add to the more established restaurants and there are no fewer than 60 places to satisfy every palate. Here are just a few.
Morso Wine Bar www.morsowinebar.com brings wining and dining, suds and singers to its venue. It’s been opened just shy of a year—and doing well, thank you very much.
Meanwhile, award winning Brix 25 www.harborbrix.com attracts diners to Northwest spins on classic cuisines. Tuck into poached pear and Cambezola bruschetta, boeuf Bourgignon made with braised short ribs, cippolini onions and crimini mushrooms, or sautéed clams and mussels in arbol chile broth.
Dockside, Tides Tavern tidestavern.com continues to pack them in ever since the rundown joint underwent a complete makeover back in ’73. Seafood chowder, fish and chips, and fresh catch highlight an eclectic menu. (Carnivores can delight in the steak and brie sandwich, wings, or a juicy St. Louis burger topped with Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese.) The tavern now offers its own in-house craft brews, too.
Speaking of artisanal brews, tiny 7 Seas Brewing www.7seasbrewing.com boasts some of the best suds in the area. Owners Tom Runion and Travis Guterson launched their microbrewery with three main things in mind: to make great beer, to keep it “green” and to use cans instead of bottles.
While Travis is back-of-house brewing, Tom can be found front-of-house pouring frothy headed Ballz double IPA for hop-heads, an easier going British Pale Ale, or a roasty dark stout. Seasonal beers may include a Belgian style Saison du Sept Mers (Season of the Seven Seas). Why cans instead of bottles? Tom claims tin prevents oxygen and sunlight from permeating the beer. “It is also lighter on my pocketbook, the environment, and the trash,” he adds.
As for 7 Seas Brewing’s spent grain, it is used as livestock feed for local farmers. Incidentally folks staying at the Inn at Gig Harbor www.innatgigharbor.com need not travel far for a good beer. 7 Seas just happens to be their neighbor.
Wining about the Area
Chances are, as you read this, Joe and Konnie Serka are out in the vineyards harvesting Merlot, Pinot Noir or Agria, an Eastern European grape. The husband and wife team are the lone planters, pickers, and winemakers at Olalla Vineyard Winery. www.olallavalleyvineyard.com. Joe also happens to be a master artisan.
Whether it’s a tasting facility, a wine cellar, an Adirondack-style garden bench, or a barrel hoop fountain, Joe hand crafts them all. Konnie is a landscaper/gardener bar none. Their beautiful property is a must-visit, wine lover or no. Sadly, they are closed from Sept to November, but they do throw open their doors for the Christmas Holidays. All wines are estate grown and bottled and sport the “Croatian Family” label z9Joe is descended from one of the original area settlers). Varietals also include Cabernet Franc and Pinot Grigio but I lean toward the Agria, a fleshy red wine laden with cherry fruit—unusual and delicious. All wines are low in sulphites.
Ex-pilot and Frenchman Claude Gerhard with wife Claudia also produce low-sapphire wines at Trillium Creek Winery www.trilliumcreekwinery.com. Although five acres of their property are devoted to grapes, Claude brings in grapes from Eastern Washington since Syrah and Merlot grow much better in that part of the state. Wines range from rich reds, to slightly sweet. Luckily, autumn travelers can visit the vineyards during harvest. The tasting room is open year round Tuesday-Sunday 11-6.
— by Julie Pegg, RFT Contributor and Wine Expert