The Kitsap County coastal community of Port Orchard is known to some as the setting for the fictional Cedar Cove in novels by Washington author Debbie Macomber. Others know it as a dormitory settlement for Seattle commuters and workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard a mile north across Sinclair Inlet in Bremerton.
Locals like Samantha Smith, 44, a graduate of South Kitsap High School, see the potential of the city to try new ideas while retaining a small-town vibe.
“Community plus Creativity” is the motto for two businesses Smith operates on Bay Street, the historic Main Street half a block from where Kitsap Transit’s foot ferries make the 10-minute crossing to and from Bremerton.
It opened four years ago Josephine’s Mercantile, a mix of a high-end vintage store and an old-fashioned general store on the former site of Rio’s Skate Castle roller rink. It opened last April, during the pandemic revival PNW, a shop selling newly made Northwest goods and gifts, in a building that once housed a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant and dealership. Twice a month she hosts Local, a pop-up market for potters, glassblowers and other artists.
“I just love my hometown,” Smith said. “I thought about settling in Gig Harbor or Poulsbo, but my heart just said no.” I chose Port Orchard across from these two tourist towns.
Curious to find out more? Board a ferry for a day trip on a sunny Saturday. (Other days are great, but Saturday is the farmer’s market.)
Here is the plan with 11 recommendations for your day trip to Port Orchard.
Bremerton to Port Orchard
With views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier, a ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bremerton is a bargain. It’s a 20-minute drive from Bremerton to Port Orchard in South Kitsap County. But rather than bringing the car, I recommend either walking the Washington State Ferries (an hour from the Seattle waterfront to Bremerton) or taking the Kitsap Transit passenger-only fast ferry (30 minutes from the waterfront). Then in Bremerton, follow the signs to the Port Orchard foot ferry for a 10 minute trip across Sinclair Inlet that costs $2.
If you’re lucky, Kitsap Transit may be operating the refurbished Carlisle II, built in 1917 as part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Otherwise, you might be aboard a new electric ferry or the older Admiral Pete, built with nostalgic touches like brass railings and wooden drink holders.
peasants and fiddlers
Follow the sound of violin music until Saturday Port Orchard Farmers Market on the waterfront east of the ferry terminal and marina.
Wander among the white-canopied stalls and find microgreens grown by Wildwood Hollow Farm; bacon and pork chops from Foggy Hog Farm, which raises “pigs with a purpose”; and cotton candy spun with organic sugar from the Sunshine Acres Family Farm.
Serenading members of the Washington Old Time Fiddlers Association. Among the crafters is Kari Lassila from Thrifty Needle, who works behind her grandmother’s black Singer sewing machine to create a range of upcycled crafts.
“I basically keep stuff out of the landfill,” she joked on a recent Saturday, pointing to her display of purses made out of old cargo pants, tote bags made out of pillowcases, and brightly colored dog poop bags made out of sock yarn.
Lunch at Carter’s
Walk a block south of the waterfront and you will find Carter and company at the west end of Bay Street.
Owners Matt Carter and John Strasinger describe their storefront as the “happiest place in town,” and it might be, given the crowds lining up to buy orange and chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate-dipped bacon rashers, and hand-made truffles.
A plant-filled patio at the back invites you to linger over lunch or dessert. Carter’s passion is chocolate, but in hot weather the focus is on filling the boxes with little cheesecakes, fruit tarts, panini sandwiches and savory brioches filled with ham and brie; mushrooms and smoked provolone; and sometimes even meatloaf.
Search Bay Street
Named the City of Sidney by Frederick Stevens in 1886, Port Orchard became known for timber, pottery and small businesses that provided services. The center of the city was and is Bay Street, depicted in a mural on the side wall of the Sydney Art Gallery and Museum.
Long known as fertile ground for antique hunters, the retail district has morphed into a mix of new and old shops.
It’s well stocked Olde Central Antique Mallwhere 45 vendors fill two floors of colored glassware, clothing, books, vintage jewelry and housewares.
Next door is the free one Veterans Living History Museumopened 14 years ago by Coast Guard veteran and former lighthouse keeper Dale Nitz, 77, to house his overflowing collection of military artifacts.
A rotating rotation of memorabilia is displayed on the sidewalk, which recently included a newly acquired framed set of medals belonging to a soldier who had collected 11 Purple Hearts.
More modern shops and galleries populate the west end of Bay Street.
There is Wilkerson Port Orchard Gallerywhere the owners Glen and Shelly Wilkerson display their own photos and paintings as well as the work of other local artists.
Inside the Port Orchard Public MarketA space for vendors selling handcrafted and local products, Leanna Krotzer of Leanna’s Art and Coffee sells antique teapots and mugs — and bakes homemade cinnamon rolls in a kitchen behind her register.
The first Dude’s Donuts Café will be available soon. The vegan and gluten-free donut company, which is owned by Bainbridge Island’s Pegasus Coffee, supplies wholesale to 30 cafes around the Puget Sound, “but we didn’t have our own business before,” says owner Matt Grady.
“There has been a lot of talk about making Port Orchard a bigger tourist destination,” he said. “We are thrilled to be a part of it.”
food by the water
Nearby is the ferry dock and farmers market Peninsula BevCo, with a spacious outdoor patio, a long list of Northwestern beers on tap, and a dozen styles of tacos with fillings that transport guests to Thailand, Vietnam, and Hawaii.
Well worth the 1.2 mile walk, mostly along a new, paved waterfront bike and walking path Whiskey Gulch Coffee Pub, a local favorite. (You can also take the Kitsap Transit Bus; look for the 9.)
Try to get a seat overlooking the water at Whiskey Gulch. Order a coffee cocktail or several dozen whiskeys of your choice, then choose from a menu with a surprising variety of vegetarian dishes like smoked sweet potato tacos and “not-so-pork sliders” that feature jackfruit in a peach barbecue -Sauce to be prepared.
With a full stomach, all you have to do is catch a few ferries back to the Seattle shore.