A quiet gem in the Pacific Northwest, this town gives families a chance to stay active while still slowing down.
It’s not often that you can find a destination where families can simultaneously keep things quiet and simple while staying busy, engaged, and active. Quaint and low-key Gig Harbor is a great destination for an off-the-beaten-path adventure with a mix of unique activities that will keep the kids entertained. The tight-knit community, founded by a shelter-seeking sea captain in the 1800s, covets its rich heritage and has beautifully preserved the charm of the still-active fishing village. While clearly grounded in area history, the city has continued to evolve and provide interesting and sophisticated options that travelers have come to expect. Families will enjoy activities for any age range and wonderful food options that make this once-sleepy, fishing harbor one of the Northwest’s most interesting family destinations.
What to do?
Gig Harbor may be small in its geographic footprint, but this beautifully-preserved village, nestled into a picturesque, forested inlet, packs a surprising punch when it comes to options for families. Whether your group is interested in being active, slowing down or immersing themselves in the history of the region, Gig Harbor has you covered.
KidTripster Tip: The historic downtown has clusters of shops, restaurants, and sites. Get an all-day trolley pass for only $1; kids 5 and under ride free. You’ll not only be able to zip through and link the areas of downtown that surround the harbor, but the trolley also connects to Uptown where you’ll find big box stores should you need supplies. Trolleys run every 30 minutes.
Gig Harbor’s history and culture becomes hands-on when you visit the Harbor History Museum (4121 Harborview Dr.). With 7,000 square feet of interactive exhibit space, kids can try everything from learning how to row a boat to pulling up the day's catch in fishing nets to experiencing the meticulous craft of traditional native basket weaving. And if you’re interested in going beyond admiring the harbor’s fleet of traditional fishing boats from afar, visitors can board the Shenandoah - a 65-foot, traditional wooden fishing boat built during the 1920s during Gig Harbor’s shipbuilding boom years. A visit here is a good way to start your stay in Gig Harbor, allowing you and your kids to contextualize the many aspects that make up harbor life. Our kids found the museum quite entertaining and got lost in the interactives, later referencing their experiences and learnings, making their time in the harbor much more meaningful. Cost: Youth (5 & under) Free; Youth (6-17) $5; Adult $7.
Destiny Harbor Tours (8829 Harborview Dr.) is an ideal way to explore the harbor and beyond. During the summer months, boats leave daily at 3:30 p.m. for 2-hour tours of the harbor, Tacoma Narrows, the Port of Tacoma, and points of interest in between. Passengers can learn about the rich history of locations such as Salmon Beach and the dramatic Point Defiance. All of the kids and adults on our boat enjoyed spotting wildlife such as bald eagles, seals, and even elusive gray whales and hearing about fascinating tails of treasure, sea captains, and seamen. The amazing history of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge becomes larger than life as the boat drifts below the massive structure that’s achieved worldwide fame as an engineering accomplishment. The crew is incredibly well-versed in the area’s lore, and you’ll appreciate their engaging storytelling that includes drama, mystery, and a giant octopus or two. Costs: Youth (4 & under), Youth (5-12) $30; Adults $40.
Families looking to get out on the water should grab a kayak or stand-up paddle board from Gig Harbor Yachts (3419 Harborview Dr.). Paddlers can weave in and out of the marinas, checking out old and new boats, yachts, and active fishing vessels, as well as play hide and seek with harbor seals. You’ll see a host of other sea creatures including a beautiful range of jellyfish and large, colorful crabs. If you’re looking to burn off some kid energy, paddle the entire inlet from the lighthouse to the estuary or for a more relaxed ride, drift in and out of the many quiet and tucked-away spots. Our kids appreciated the ability to explore the harbor and even parked their boats on the beach to get a closer look at the lighthouse itself. 2-hour rental cost: SUP $20-$30; Kayaks $20-$30; Tandem kayak $30-$40.
A wonderfully peaceful and less expected way to see the harbor is to be rowed around the quiet inlet by John “Cinque” Synco in his authentic, 36-foot gondola, named “Nelly.” Gig Harbor Gondola (3317 Harborview Dr.), the Pacific Northwest’s only Venetian gondola tour, takes visitors out for leisurely loops around the harbor. Each cruise on the beautifully handcrafted boat includes a small appetizer, but families are also welcome to bring their own picnics or favorite bottle of wine. You’ll hear the story of the boat and its journey from Venice to Gig Harbor, in addition to the history of the harbor. We found the opportunity to pause, sit back, and take it all in as we silently glided throughout the harbor to be a magical experience that was a unanimous highlight of our trip. If you’re looking for a perfect way to wind down the day, opt for the moonlit evening cruise. John even sings! 1-hour cruise cost: $85/two passengers, $20/each additional person; 1-1/2-hour cost: $115/two passengers; $20 each additional person; kids (5 & under) are free.
If your looking to stretch their legs, check out the Cushman Trail. It’s a well-maintained, two-lane, paved path that runs over six miles from the Narrows Bridge to Borgen Boulevard. Check the online Cushman Trail Map that includes a helpful slope indicator, so families can find sections that best fit their abilities. The trail’s multiple entry points with four parking lots make it easy to access. I also found it a great place to get in a quiet morning run.
Surprisingly family-friendly, visit Heritage Distilling Company’s tasting room (3118 Harborview Dr.) in historic downtown Gig Harbor. While parents sample the distillery’s offerings with the helpful and engaging staff, kids can have their own experience by sampling the many unusual soda flavors; our kids loved the ginger tarragon! If you think you may return, parents can join the Cask Club, where you customize your own spirits to be aged onsite in a personal 10-liter oak cask until it reaches the exact flavor profile of your choosing. Cost: Tastings are free; Cask Club $175-$249.
Where to eat?
Gig Harbor may be a quiet fishing village, but its dining options are off-the-charts! The sophistication of nearby Seattle has been wonderfully blended with the authentic and approachable spirit of Gig Harbor. The area’s amazing access to fresh local ingredients and the obvious seafood bounty is inspiring the harbor’s chefs. Urban dwellers looking for rustic getaways are more than happy to partake in the wonderful results.
Our must-visit restaurant is Netshed No. 9 (3313 Harborview Dr.). Gig Harbor local and co-owner Chef Will has returned from an eclectic array of culinary stints at notable Northwest restaurants to design his own elevated but never pretentious experience. The result is an intriguing, yet familiar menu with no weak links. The restaurant would easily hold it’s own in any urban metropolis, but here, the great food is accompanied by the wonderfully tranquil view of the harbor at no extra charge. The restaurant’s authenticity and unique character is amplified by the fact that it’s housed in one of the harbor’s 14 remaining netsheds - small buildings used to store, dry, and repair fishing nets. Our family was hard-pressed to pick a favorite from the list of dishes that we sampled. The apple pie french toast and every-changing cinnamon rolls were tops on our sweet list; the roasted pork bahn mi Vietnamese sandwich and the “Rubenish” sandwich were hits, too. The friendly staff is all about family, and they make you feel right at home. (We dropped a set of keys into the harbor below the deck, and our waitress gladly donned a pair of mud boots and retrieved them for us. Now that’s service!)
You’ll see a lot of red trolleys in Gig Harbor, but how many can boast lobster rolls, great burgers, and classic fish ’n chips along with local ice cream bars as part of the experience? Stop by the JW at the Boatyard Food Trolley (3117 Harborview Dr.), where casual dining is taken seriously. The menu has something for everyone, and the fun setting with picnic tables on the grassy lawn is a great way to spend time refueling the troops. We loved the simple, throwback atmosphere, delicious fish tacos, and ultra-friendly staff.
For something a bit more upscale, head to Anthony’s (8827 Harborview Dr.)at the end of the harbor and dine while taking in the town’s best view. A true Northwest dining staple, Anthony’s local team of hosts, chefs, and staff take pride in providing families with great food and wonderful hospitality. The kids’ menu is filled with pleasers like mac-n-cheese and sliders, and older kids will have plenty to choose from with pasta dishes and burgers (lunch menu only). The menu is filled with a great selection of seafood that is outstanding; the grilled halibut was phenomenally executed - both decadent and light at the same time. Every menu option was wonderful, but make sure to save room for dessert, because the seasonal selections are well worth showing a bit of restraint. We were there during berry season and found the cobbler and shortcake to be an impressive display of the region’s offerings.
KidTripster Tip: At the back of the Anthony’s parking lot is a staircase leading to Finholm View Climb and a great photo op. Climb the 100 stairs to multiple viewing platforms - each one with a better harbor view than the last.
Where to stay?
The Wesley Inn & Suites of Gig Harbor (6575 Kimball Dr.) is a great base for exploring. The coastal-styled property is quiet and beautifully-kept with easy access to the trolley line and nearby Cushman Trail. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, each with local historic and contemporary art showcasing the harbor’s beauty. Located just up the hill from historic downtown, the Inn provides a great spot for families to rest and relax in the garden swimming pool or around the outdoor fire pit on the patio. The daily breakfast in the dining room provides a great start to the day; my kids were quite happy with the buffet. The 24-hour staff was more than helpful and facilitated several of our requests. Room rates start at $185/night.
Gig Harbor is a 1-hour drive from Seattle or 2-1/2-hour drive from Portland.
KidTripster Tip: If your flying into or out of Sea-Tac International Airport and don’t want to rent a car, take the Bremerton-Kitsap Airporter shuttle service. The frequency of the schedule and affordable cost ($20/person) makes it a great way to go.
Jason Bacon is a travel-addicted creative director in Portland, Oregon, who wanders regularly with his wife and their three adventurous kids. They love challenging each other to eat the odd, unknown, and unexpected during their travels. Their oldest daughter, Avery, is hands-down in the lead.
This writer received a complimentary stay, plus some complimentary activities and meals for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.