By Leslee Jaquette
In 1841 when Capt. Charles Wilkes charted the South Sound, he must have been tired. Or, perhaps, he had simply run out of names? You see, Wilkes named Gig Harbor, Wash., after the type of longboat, a gig, he used to survey the small bay.
These days, perfectly protected and perfectly beautiful Gig Harbor has quietly developed into one of Puget Sound’s most attractive and lively waterfront communities. Shaped like a triangle and nestled off The Narrows opposite Pt. Defiance, Gig Harbor maintains its maritime heritage by welcoming boaters to enjoy a vibrant downtown as well as full menu of activities and events.
PICTURE PERFECT DESTINATION
Gig Harbor rates alongside Poulsbo and Port Townsend as a vibrant and historical boating destination. All sorts of boaters are attracted to this pocket of authenticity, charm and natural beauty. Whether you arrive by yacht, automobile or launch a trailer boat at nearby public ramps, it is a good idea to stop for information and maps at the Gig Harbor Peninsula Area Chamber of Commerce. You don’t want to miss anything!
For starters, grab a brochure called the Gig Harbor Waterfront History Walk. Following the map, you learn about how the town was first settled in 1867. One of the most attractive features of the entire waterfront is centrally located Skansie Brothers Park and Jerisich Park, which provides several hundred feet of transient moorage for a maximum of 24 hours.
Gig Harbor’s maritime links to the past are apparent from every view of the harbor. Wharf buildings and aging pilings, remind visitors of the village’s past as a boatbuilding (including the first ferry boats) and fishing center. Along the shoreline, marinas co-exist next to private homes while handsome, old structures such as The Rose Bed & Breakfast neighbor modern shops, galleries and eateries.
Gig Harbor reeks of charm. Possibly the most charming element is that visiting boaters can easily walk the town’s 1.5-mile-long waterfront. Sidewalks on both sides of Harborview Drive link the old ferry dock at the harbor entrance through downtown to the west end and Finholm Market. On route, a good number of restaurants and shops are also wheelchair accessible. Located on the waterfront and opened in the fall of 2010, the Harbor History Museum is a great place to get further acquainted with the community’s Native American, pioneer and boatbuilding past. (www.harborhistorymuseum.org)
Finally, for downright chest grabbing, breathtaking scenery, Gig Harbor offers one of the all-time, classic views of the universe. Looking east from the View Climb or Anthony’s Homeport Restaurant, boaters stare in awe at the harbor framed in masts and docks and pilings. Majestic Mount Rainier looms through the harbor entrance.
NAVIGATING THE HARBOR
“Gig Harbor epitomizes boating and the fishing boats add to the charm,” said Don Dilger, a local out for a morning walk at Skansie Brothers Park with his wife Shirley. “It’s a nice little cove that never sees really bad weather; and it’s so safe here, we enjoy walking the waterfront even late at night.”
Beyond this impression, boaters need to know a few more basics, according to Judy Stearns, owner with her husband Stan of Arabella’s Landing, located in the center of the downtown waterfront. First, boaters need to heed the chart (#18440). A lighthouse marks the spit that guards a tight opening.
Boaters need to proceed mid-channel through the entrance. Large vessels with deep drafts should access the harbor at high tide. “Watch the outline of the spit,” advised Stearns. “Also, the spit can be hidden and tricky at night. We suggest first time boaters do not enter at night!”
Once inside the harbor, Stearns warned visitors to watch out for boats at anchor. Due to the fact that it is legal to anchor on the north side of the harbor (county), but not on the south side (city), all sorts of vessels at anchor form a “permanent obstacle course.” Stearns recommended running this gauntlet only in the daylight.
Arabella’s Landing is the visiting boater’s best bet for transient moorage. While it provides permanent moorage, Arabella’s is the only marina in the harbor that actively caters to transient guests. The docks are equipped with 20, 30 and 50 amp service and pumpout. Nearby, boaters can fuel-up at Poseidon’s Gas Dock or Stutz’s.
A favorite rendezvous destination for boating groups of up to 30 boats, the marina offers roughly 210-feet of guest dock space. It can accommodate boats up to 160-feet. In the summer, Arabella’s provides additional transient moorage through its tenant “share-a-slip” program.
It offers laundry facilities, showers, gated entries and lounge. In the lounge boaters congregate and share tales over a cup of fresh coffee in front of a blazing fire (in appropriate weather). Arabella’s concierge staff is happy to make dinner reservations, call a taxi or recommend a good mechanic.
Given Arabella’s popularity, great location and modern facilities, Stearns recommends boaters call well in advance for reservations. She emphasized that boaters need to give marina staff the boat’s overall length so they can provide the proper length slip.
“Our biggest problem is that boaters fail to include the total length of the boat including bowsprit and dinghy,” said Stearns. “Please be realistic. It’s not fair to others since we have just so much space to allot.”
For those interested in tying up for a few hours of shopping or lunch, Jerisich Dock remains the first choice for many. Boaters are instructed to pay at the Pay Box a minimal rate. Otherwise, visiting boaters can anchor in the north harbor and dinghy to the dock.
SHOPS, SNACKS & WATERSPORTS
From the public dock or Arabella’s Landing, boaters can easily explore the Gig Harbor waterfront. Just a few steps from Arabella’s, Suzanne’s Bakery and Deli invites boaters to linger on the deck and partake of owner Mike Tunney’s signature chicken curry soup and turkey with Havarti cheese on Focaccio bread.
Downtown Gig Harbor is a sanctuary for the arts. Boaters often time their visits to attend the
village’s First Saturday Art Walk, which runs the first Saturday of every month from 1 to 5 p.m. For boaters who want to add more fresh foods to their diet, join locals at the Gig Harbor Green Market each Wednesday at Skansie Brothers Park from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Look for fresh local produce, plants, flowers, seafood and handmade crafts.
Otherwise, as visitors amble along Harborview Drive, they pass a colorful assortment of galleries, eateries, shops and services, including the Gift Mall, Spiro’s Pizza & Pasta, Kit Kuhn Jewelry and Gallery Row. Boaters will also find Jax Salon & Spa, Reverence Jewelry, the Water’s Edge Gallery & Framery and Kelly’s Café & Espresso. More java is available at Java & Clay Café (coffee & pottery painting studio), all sorts of reading material can be found at Mostly Books and great food items for dinner on board fill the shelves at the small Whole Foods Market in central Gig Harbor. Continuing west, boaters can shop at the Harbor Gallery and the Harbor Peddler and maybe appease their appetites at El Pueblito Restaurant or the new Red Rooster Café.
Still, no boater’s visit to Gig Harbor is complete without a stop at the Tides Tavern. Located on the former site of the People’s Dock established in 1890, the Tides is known for its waterfront deck, dock space and cold beer. Great burgers and nibbles accompany a broad beverage selection.
In the downtown core, boaters sometimes opt to stay shoreside at any of a number of attractive lodgings. Among the closest to the waterfront are the Green Gables Edgewater, the Maritime Inn and The Rose Bed & Breakfast.
One of most boaters’ favorite, Gig Harbor hangouts is Ship-to-Shore Marine Supply, situated on the curve toward the west end of the harbor. Here, retiree and part-time clerk Hap (as in “happiness”) Arnold admits that the harbor is a “madhouse” in summer. But no matter what time of year, boaters love to come in and prowl the store.
“Everyone needs something and although some boaters don’t know what they need, we still try to answer their questions,” said Arnold with a tongue in cheek. “But our most popular items are always cleaning gear, stainless steel fasteners and fenders. And, of course, no one can resist the consignment stuff!”
Further around the bend, past the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society & Museum, visitors discover Gallery Row, Gig Harbor Kayak Center, Finholm Marketplace and Anthony’s. Beyond its seafood menu, Anthony’s provides boating patrons around 300-feet of guest dock space. This is the place to indulge in the killer view of the harbor and Mount Rainier.
On the dock adjacent to Anthony’s transient moorage, visiting boaters can rent small boats at Gig Harbor Rent-A-Boat. Yacht owners often rent either the Larsen 18 or 24-footer or the Arima 16 for fishing, crabbing and naturalist touring. Otherwise, boaters sometimes rent sea kayaks and pedal boats for sightseeing and wearing out the grandkids! www.gigharborrentaboat.com – 253-858-7341
Gig Harbor remains a dynamic boating destination with modern moorage and facilities. Along Harborview Drive, boaters find an authentic, attractive getaway with every shoreside amenity. Here, visitors can immerse themselves in the area’s maritime past while they shop, snack and stroll the perimeter of this wonderful waterfront community that turns out to be far more exciting and eclectic than Wilkes’ nomenclature might suggest.
City of Gig Harbor Visitor Center: Tourist & Lodging information, restrooms 3125 Judson, 253-857-4872; www.gigharborguide.com
Arabella’s Landing: 3323 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor, WA 98332 Phone/Fax (253) 851-1793. www.vici.com/arabella/marina.htm
Pierce County Visitor & Convention Bureau: (253) 627-2836; www.tpctourism.org.
Gig Harbor Boasts a Full & Fun Events Calendar
By Leslee Jaquette
Gig Harbor hosts so many waterfront festivals and events it could be called the “Leavenworth of the Sound.” Year round the village’s calendar is crammed with happenings designed to attract all ages.
Starting in early June, the community gears up for the annual Maritime Gig Festival. The two-day event celebrates Gig Harbor’s fishing heritage with the blessing of the fleet, fun run, parade, food, music and children’s activities. Following in July, the annual Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival attracts all comers to an art extravaganza that offers more music, food, fine art show and kid’s activities.
Boaters are also invited to bring their blankets and chairs and join the throng at any of 10 concerts during Summer Sounds at Skansie. The annual outdoor summer concert series runs every Tuesday evening at Skansie Brothers Park from 6:30 to 8 p.m. (www.gigharborguide.com).
In August look for the annual Gig Harbor Rocks. The all-day event features classic cars, kid’s activities and a street dance starting at 6:30 p.m. A newcomer to the August events lineup is the Gig Harbor Wine and Foot Festival. The Harbor History Museum and the Gig Harbor Historic Waterfront Association presents this new event from noon to 6 p.m. the day of the event (harborwineandfootfest.com)
Year round, visitors will enjoy lots more events such as those in September, including Our Patchwork Quilt Heritage and Gig Harbor Chowder Cook Off. Highlights of October include a 5-week-long Juried Art Show, Gig Harbor Quilt Festival and Gig Harbor Film Festival. November and December bring the Winterfest Arts & Crafts Fair and Gig Harbor Tree Lighting to the village. Boaters will be attracted to the annual TideFest Arts Fair and Lighted Boat Parade.
Whatever the season, Gig Harbor offers a full menu and broad palette of festivals and events. Whether visitors drive their cars or vessels to this maritime getaway, they will enjoy the energy and imagination of this convivial community.
GIG HARBOR EVENT HIGHLIGHTS
Farmers Market – April – Sept. (253) 851-7397; gigharborfarmersmarket.com
Maritime Gig Festival – June (253) 851-6865; maritimegig.com
Gig Harbor Summer Arts Festival – July (253) 853-2178; peninsulaartleague.com
Cruise the Narrows Classic Car Show – July (253) 265-2824; gigharborcruisers.org
Gig Harbor Quilt Festival – Oct. (253) 857-4842; gigharborquiltfestival.org
Gig harbor Film Festival – Oct. (253) 851-FILM; gigharborfilmfestival.org
Winterfest Arts & Crafts Fair – Nov. (253) 857-3530; peninsula.wednet.edu
Lighted Boat Parade – Dec. (253) 857-4842; gigharboryc.com
By Leslee Jaquette