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Gig Harbor: All-Seasons Family Adventures Await

Head to the picturesque city where ‘postcard-perfect views meet small-town charm’

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: April 20, 2023

Tacoma Narrows bridge
Tacoma Narrows Bridge

The vibe

Just across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge lies one of the Kitsap Peninsula’s hidden gems, Gig Harbor. A city where “postcard-perfect views meet small-town charm,” Gig Harbor has dozens of parks, fabulous restaurants, quaint shops and as many events throughout the year as a town twice its size. In short, this charming day-trip destination has something for everyone. Keep reading for some of our favorite places to eat, shop and play in what one local describes as “the Dawson’s Creek of Washington.”

Getting there

Getting to this coastal town of just over 10,000 people takes about an hour from Seattle, and only about 20 minutes from Tacoma. If you approach from Interstate 5 and Tacoma, be sure to tell the kids the tale of Gallopin’ Gertie as you drive over the stunning, and much safer, Tacoma Narrows Bridge. If you’re coming from the north, hop on the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and drive south to enjoy a very scenic route.

Only the locals know …

Discovered in 1840, Gig Harbor was named by the Wilkes Expedition of 1838–1842 after the crew entered the harbor in a boat called a “captain’s gig.” Fun fact: Scenes of the city were featured in an episode of the television drama “CSI” and the Jennifer Lopez film “Enough.”

Take a cultural trip

"Young boy playing on a playground at Gateway park"
Gateway Park

Get your play on

No matter what time of year you head to Gig Harbor, you’ll find plenty to do. Start your day with a delectable mochi doughnut from Milkvue Handcrafted Donuts + Coffee — local-fave flavors include black sesame, blueberry pie and teriyaki ramen. If you need a little more fuel in the tank, head to Devoted Kiss Café. (Open 7 a.m.–2 p.m., the café tends to get busy so don’t expect an ultra-quick turnaround here.)

Enjoy a quick five-minute stroll down North Harborview Drive and you’ll arrive at the Harbor History Museum. Open Wednesday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m., the museum’s 7,000 square feet of galleries showcase the rich maritime history of Gig Harbor. The museum is also home to the 1925 65-foot purse seiner Shenandoah, which is currently being restored. The best part? Admission to the museum is free — can’t beat that!

Keep heading south on Harborview Drive and you’ll arrive at the Skansie Visitor & Interpretive Center. Inside you’ll find the organization Harbor WildWatch, whose offerings include a 100-gallon marine touch tank, augmented-reality sandbox, marine mammal skull displays and more. Spend a few minutes or an hour at this all-ages experience. Check the website to learn where and when other public programs (including guided walking tours, Pier Into the Night and Community Science) are being offered.

When the weather cooperates and you are ready to get outside and get moving, Gig Harbor has a huge array of options. With 21 parks within the city limits, there are many places for kids to run off all that doughnut-fueled energy.

Gateway Park — This 39-acre park has it all: a playground, off-leash dog park, large playfield, a splash pad, picnic areas and more. You’ll also find the trailhead to 360 Trails at the opposite end of the park from the playground. Located at the north end of Key Peninsula, this 360-acre property is ringed by a large loop trail that takes about an hour to traverse.

Skansie Brothers Park — Though smaller in size at 2.59 acres, this park, located in the heart of downtown Gig Harbor is, quite frankly, the place to be. Named for the Skansie brothers who founded the Skansie Shipbuilding Company in the late 1880s, this park hosts many events throughout the year, including the popular Maritime Gig Festival, holiday tree lighting, an annual summer concert series and more. A splash pad and farmers market make this a very popular destination for families during the summer.

"View of Puget sound and Mt. Rainier"
Bogue Viewing Platform

Bogue Viewing Platform — If you are looking for a cozier park and want to stay in town, check out this waterfront minipark. A few picnic tables scattered around this urban plaza draw people to sit a spell and take in the spectacular view of Mount Rainier on a clear day.

Key Central Forest — Up for a hike? When you want to get away from the downtown area and enjoy nature, check out this 480-acre park. Sturdy shoes are encouraged, and the distance from the road to the first Y in the trail is half a mile.

McCormick Forest Park — Here’s another great hiking option with nearly 4 miles of trails; you’ll be surrounded by natural beauty as you wander through old-growth forest and gaze down into the McCormick Creek canyon.

"Bella Bella Beach"
Bella Bella Beach

Bella Bella Beach — Gig Harbor is the “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula,” so a visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach! Bella Bella Beach (officially named the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it) offers an expanse of sandy beaches, perfect for starfish peeping. While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for the roundest rock you can find and enter the Round Rock Competition, which has been held each summer since 1951.

If you are looking for a unique way to explore Gig Harbor, why not head out to sea? Stop by the Gig Harbor Boat Shop (making a reservation ahead of time online is recommended) and rent a classic electric launch or rowboat to explore the harbor. No previous experience is needed!

Shop talk

If you happen to visit Gig Harbor on a day when the weather is less than ideal, no need to worry. There are plenty of fun and unique shops to explore.

Lost Star Tabletop Gaming Outfitter — Looking for that next great game to play as a family? Have a Dungeons & Dragons fan in your life? Then you are going to want to stop in and check out this store and its amazing selection of games, comics and so much more.

For the Love of Spice — Take a deep breath when you walk into this lovely shop, where custom spice blends, olive oils and balsamic vinegars line the shelves. You’re sure to find a gift for the foodie in your life, and maybe even a little something for yourself.

Java & Clay Cafe — When you want to sit down and stay put for a bit, but still want an activity to keep your kids engaged, look no further. You can enjoy a coffee and some pastries while you get in touch with your creative side by painting a piece of pottery. Staff will ship your fired pieces to you, but if you are looking for a good excuse to come back, this will do the trick nicely.

Hey, Darlin’ — This sweet boutique stocks all kinds of fun items, from plants and pots to jewelry, books and apparel. While the store is only open for a few hours on Fridays, you can shop its inventory online anytime.

Eats + treats

If all this fun is making you hungry, check out one of these local spots to refuel for your next adventure:

Susanne’s Bakery — There are many options to choose from when you pop in here for lunch or a snack. Sandwiches are served on freshly baked bread, and you can pick up a bag of house-made granola (so yum) to take home.

The Gourmet Burger Shop — The Tacoma News Tribune says this burger joint serves the best cheeseburger in Pierce County. Serious bragging rights! Also known for its craveable milkshakes (including such nontraditional flavors as avocado, salted caramel and Nutella), this place is worth a stop!

Iscreamery — A trip to an ice cream shop always makes a day feel extra special. Located in the backroom of Brimstone PNW Smokehouse, Iscreamery scoops up delicious, locally made ice cream with unique flavors, such as grilled lime and mango, strawberry and black pepper, and mint chocolate bark!

The Waterfront Farmers Market — If you are looking for something that isn’t fried or is less sugar-filled, you’ll find scads of fresh options at the farmers market. Located at Skansie Brothers Park, the market is open during the summer.

Brix 25° — This upscale eatery might not be the best place to take kids, but it could be a great final stop on your way out of town. The restaurant’s Dinner for Two to-go option includes an appetizer, two pub burgers and two desserts. Pick up this delicious dinner to enjoy with your partner after the kids are tucked into bed.

Seasonal family fun

One thing is certain, no matter what time of year you venture to Gig Harbor, there will be something fun going on. In July, time your visit to partake in the Summer Family Fun Fest (early July) or the Summer Art Festival (mid-July). In the fall, check out the Autumn Gig Harbor Sip n’ Stroll or visit Pattersons Farm Market to pick a peck of pumpkins and get your fill of fun harvest and Halloween activities. During the winter, embrace the spirit of the season by attending the holiday tree lighting at Skansie Brothers Park.

Be sure to check the city’s excellent events calendar to see what’s happening every month of the year.

Next time you and your kids are feeling the need for a change of scenery, head to Gig Harbor for a day of fun, good food and adventure in any season.

More fun family day trips...

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022 and updated for 2023.

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