PUGET SOUND’S FERRIES are an enchanting mode of transportation that makes the journey as much fun as the destination. Passengers leave their stress at the dock, park their car, and enjoy a cup of coffee either topside or on an enclosed deck. And with some creative zigzagging and a healthy dose of ferry-loading patience, travelers can get the full flavor of the sound on a car/ferry circuit (www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries).
Begin along Commencement Bay in Tacoma, where boats depart near Point Defiance for the south end of Vashon Island. Here, you can visit the lighthouse at Robinson Point, stop in at Wolftown near Burton Acres Park (home to rescued wolves, horses, and other animals), and enjoy island-grown produce and wine at the aptly named Homegrown Café.
From the north end of the island, a short ferry hops to Southworth on the Kitsap Peninsula. Drive about 10 miles west to Port Orchard, home to the Sydney Museum, which features vignettes depicting life in turn-of-the-century South Kitsap County. Then proceed along the shore around Sinclair Inlet toward Bremerton, where the ferry awaits to take you to downtown Seattle.
Spend some time browsing the souvenir shops and seafood restaurants of Seattle’s waterfront piers before reboarding on a short ferry crossing to Bainbridge Island. Anchored by Winslow, a quaint town filled with boutiques and restaurants, this island also features 17-acre Fay Bainbridge State Park, ideal for camping or an impromptu picnic. Crossing at Agate Passage on Bainbridge’s north end takes you back to the Kitsap Peninsula and north to Kingston, where another ferry leads back across the sound toward Edmonds.
About 15 miles north, head back off the mainland from Mukilteo toward Clinton on Whidbey Island, the sound’s largest. This mostly rural, agrarian island boasts quaint towns such as Langley near the ferry crossing, where spectacular views of Saratoga Passage mix with plenty of local shopping opportunities. Wend your way farther north past fields, parks, and bays with names like Mutiny and Useless, and you’re near your last leg: the ferry across Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend, one of only three registered Victorian seaports in the world.
And if the relaxed pace of ferry travel has grown on you, why stop here? Beyond Deception Pass (at the north end of Whidbey) lie Fidalgo Island and Anacortes, where still more ferries await—bound for the laid-back San Juan Islands. —HEATHER LARSON
> EAT HARDWARE STORE RESTAURANT Located in a historical building on Vashon Island, this restaurant is known for its hearty breakfasts and signature lahvosh-crust pizzas. An in-house art gallery makes waiting for a table a pleasure. www.thsrestaurant.com
> SEE ADMIRALTY HEAD LIGHTHOUSE The lighthouse’s glow and nearby Fort Casey’s big artillery kept Puget Sound’s entrance safe for years. Free tours are now o ered 180 days a year by Washington State University’s lighthouse docents. Visit the lighthouse museum to learn about Whidbey Island history.www.admiraltyhead.wsu.edu
> PLAY SEATTLE WATERFRONT If your itinerary involves a layover, consider hopping a free trolley to the many attractions on Seattle’s piers, including Seattle Aquarium and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Then learn about native culture after a short cruise to Tillicum Village on nearby Blake Island. www.seattlewaterfront.org;www.argosycruises.com