Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington, has a bevy of free activities and a more relaxed vibe than Seattle – which is also a chill place. After you pay for the ferry ride (the return trip is free) you can spend the day without spending a dime. Like Seattle, Bainbridge Island has a moderate, changeable climate, so bring rain gear even if the day starts out sunny, and a light jacket for the ferry ride and enjoy the best of what is free in Washington.
Free in Washington
As a kid in New York City, I was always amazed when I traveled to other cities, and you didn’t pay an entrance fee. No bridge tolls or tunnel fees. Although NYC retains a free ferry to Staten Island (for a time, it used to cost $.25), ferries in other places often cost a lot. Such is the case with Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle. Cost is $8.10 per person, roundtrip, with bicycles a dollar more. And cars even more than that. But the ride is gorgeous, with killer views of Seattle, Mount Rainier in the distance when the weather is clear, and sea lions frolicking in the water below.
Exploring Bainbridge Island
And once you get to Bainbridge, you can put that wallet away. Yep, we’re talking free in Washington.
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Bainbridge Island has another connection to New York City; it is roughly the same size as Manhattan. But it is much hillier. If you ride bikes around, you might be alarmed at the lack of bicycle lanes. Don’t worry! Islanders are friendly and bicycle friendly, and traffic is light.
Right off the ferry, the main street through the town offers shops and cafes. But if you don’t want to blow your budget on emergency rain or cold weather gear, be sure to plan for elements. Just like in Seattle, you should always have an umbrella or rain jacket handy. Since the ferry ride can be cool, a sweater.
Bainbridge Island Museum
Walk off the ferry right to the Bainbridge Island Museum, a free art museum opened in 2013. The green museum, known as BIMA, features a rooftop garden, recycled-denim insulation, solar panels, geothermal wells, and sustainable wood siding. The regional art, from Puget Sound artists and artisans, includes painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, ceramics, glass, wood and jewelry.
BIMA has a cafe, BIMA Bistro, open for lunch, that features local produce and seafood’ it has plenty of vegetarian options.
Bainbridge Island Historical Museum
This museum, a 10-minute walk from the ferry, is free on the first Thursday of the month. Learn about the history of the island in the museum’s original 1908 one-room schoolhouse. The island was originally inhabited by Native Americans. The settlers who came here developed logging, shipbuilding, and boating industries.
Eagle Harbor Waterfront Trail
Another attraction close to the ferry is the Eagle Harbor Waterfront Trail, which you can walk or bike. There are two portions: 1) 2-mile western loop which through parks, marinas, and past some of the town’s historical sites; and 2) 1 1/2-mile eastern loop to Hawley Cove beach.
The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial
During World War 11, Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island were the first Americans to be rounded up and interred. The outdoor exhibit commemorating the internment is not yet complete, but you can walk through the sobering memorial, which offers a history lesson and tribute to those whose lives were disrupted. A visitors center is in the works.
The memorial is a long bike ride or short car ride from the ferry, located where a former ferry dock stood. On March 30, 1942, 227 men, women and children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent by ferry to Seattle, then on to internment camps.
The theme of the memorial is “Nidoto Nai Yoni,” or “Let It Not Happen Again.” The story of the internment was told and fictionalized in the book and movie “Snow Falling on Cedars.”
The 255-acre outdoor learning center Islandwood offers educational programming to Seattle schoolchildren and it has free public tours and hikes, with reservations required. There are 90 minute art walks and garden explorations, and longer trail walks. For all of these, wear comfortable walking shoes (actually, pretty sound advice for Seattle as well).
Find a Festival
For a small island, Bainbridge does festivals in a big way. Islandwood hosts harvest festivals and an annual HOWL-o-ween with pumpkin carving, bone digging and spooky story times. We happened upon a quilt festival, where the streets of downtown were festooned with colorful quilts. Every Friday, there are First Friday art walks at local galleries and live music and in summer there are free waterfront concerts.