Best Washington Islands To Visit

Earl Hamilton
• Wednesday, 28 October, 2020
• 8 min read

Covered with old forests mixed with rolling fertile hills, circled by miles of sandy beaches, and with views of the surrounding mountains, the Washington State islands are hidden jewels. “The gem of the San Juan's,” as the locals call Orcas, is a thrilling mix of magnificent shoreline, 2,409-foot-tall Mount Constitution, fertile rolling hills, dense forests with waterfalls, and endless ocean stretching to the horizon.

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The island is fantastic to explore on a bike or on foot, along good, curving country roads that pass by ancient apple barns, artists’ studios, and small villages. Constitution Mountain is part of the 5,252-acre Moran State Park, with several clear blue lakes and over 38 miles of hiking trails.

Located in the heart of Puget Sound, Bainbridge is a picture-perfect island with spectacular views in all directions: The Cascade Mountains Range and Puget Sound to the east, the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains to the west, and Mount Rainier magnificently looming from the southeast. It is famous for its seven wineries, a craft brewery, an organic distillery, charming BBS, and miles of hiking and biking trails through the lush parks.

The island is accessible via the Camaro Gateway Bridge and is an unspoiled paradise with rolling hills, a rarely crowded shoreline, a rich array of wildlife in ancient evergreen forests, a big sky with bald eagles, and blue herons strolling along the beach. Part of the famous Deception Pass State Park is located at the south end of Hidalgo, a hikers’ heaven with old-growth forests, beautiful beaches, rich wildlife, and 38 miles of hiking trails.

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Hartline Island is located in southern Puget Sound, west of Case Inlet, just under 10 miles from Olympia. The best way to explore its shady country lanes is on a bike or by paddling around the island’s gnarly shores in a kayak, a good way to spot seals or whales.

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The largest community on the island is Lopez Village, with charming shops and quaint cafés, a library, a historical museum, and a number of art galleries. Scandinavian farmers fist discovered the island in the 1850s, and were later joined by artists attracted by the magnificent nature and relaxed village vibe.

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Marrow stone Island, near Fort Flagler, Washington, is a hidden gem, a pastoral oasis with rolling hills covered with ripening strawberries where rugged beaches are dug for clams, artists are finding themselves at home, and everyone who visits is in awe of the snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains. The main town is Portland, with a general store, small rustic cabins, a boat dock, and a lovely vineyard that produces its own wine.

The island is known for its affluent population with large luxurious homes and mansions, but also for its beautiful parks, which offer spectacular views. With the views of the Seattle skyline and Olympic mountains and 5 miles of beach, this 475-acre park is a very popular destination for camping, hiking, boating, and enjoying the wilderness.

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Tillich Village, located on the northeastern end of the island, exhibits Northwest Coast Indian culture, arts, and food. Argosy Cruises' Tillich Excursion offers live performances with Northwest Native American storytelling and a locally inspired buffet meal with traditionally prepared fire-roasted fish.

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It is very quiet and rural and is accessible from the mainland only by a short ferry ride from Seattle, Tacoma, or Kitsap County. The island is very popular with tourists, who are attracted not only by the beaches but also by excellent restaurant, quaint accommodation, art galleries, and frequent festivals.

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The occupation of the Kit sap Peninsula and Puget Sound regions by the Squarish indigenous tribe dates back more than 10,000 years, with the area thriving as one of the most populated cultural centers north of present-day Mexico City prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. The traditional Southern Lushootseed name for the region roughly translates to “place of clear salt water.” Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Pacific Northwest, the Squarish tribe sustained primarily on salmon and clam harvesting practices and lived in a network of affiliated autonomous small villages connected by intermarriage, political and trade agreements, and broader culture and language elements.

A major capital campaign was embarked on in 2009 for the construction of a new long-term facility for the museum, aided by the efforts of Senator Patty Murray and Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro. The museum’s current 9,000-square-foot facility was designed by Seattle architectural firm Within at a cost of $6 million and has received LEED Gold certification for its environmental sustainability efforts.

It is located within a botanical garden setting in the Squarish Village region of the Port Madison Indian Reservation and is open to the public daily throughout the summer months, with five-day operations during the fall, winter, and spring. The tribe’s native Lushootseed language is heavily integrated into the exhibit, emphasizing critical analysis of communication between cultures.

Highlights of the exhibit include a 300-year-old carved canoe and a cedar-designed timeline display that spans tribal history from the end of the last Ice Age through the present day. An award-winning documentary produced in collaboration with Seattle’s Sadie Film works, Come Forth Laughing, is also shown periodically in a 50-seat auditorium within the exhibit.

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The works of artist Danielle Corvette were the focus of Woven: Contemporary Salish Wool Weaving, which highlighted traditional tribal clothing design techniques. 100 Years: Photographs from the Squarish Tribal Archives showcased a retrospective of historical images of the tribe in order to challenge contemporary Western romanticization of indigenous life, while Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound worked with Native Coastal Salish advisors to explore the tribe’s diverse culinary traditions and diets.

In addition to exhibit gallery spaces, the museum also stores artifact collections in a climate-controlled storage vault, which is accessible to tribal members and accredited researchers on an appointment basis. The Leona Anthony Museum Store offers a wide variety of merchandise celebrating elements of Coast Salish indigenous culture.

All products for sale are produced by Native-owned companies and artisans or allied ethical corporations working in conjunction with the Squarish Tribe. The Bainbridge Island Historical Society was formed as an organization in the 1930s, holding informal meetings at members’ homes throughout the following decades.

The schoolhouse building was moved to the island’s Strawberry Hill Park, which formerly served as a site for a Cold War-era Army missile base. Difficulties in public access to the Strawberry Hill Park site prompted a multi-phase move of the museum’s facilities to the island’s downtown area, which began in 2003 with the approval of a 90-year lease of a lot on Erickson Avenue.

A core staff of five employees oversees operations along with a team of more than 100 volunteers and a local Society membership of more than 800 islanders. The museum’s collections, which are stored within the annex building’s climate-controlled basement when not on display as part of exhibits, showcase the social and cultural history of the island from the mid-19th century through the present through a variety of artifacts, documents, and multimedia objects.

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Other items include collections of historical maps and nautical charts, logs from early area settlers, civic data and documents, industrial artifacts, ephemera memorabilia, and archaeological and geological materials related to the island’s natural and indigenous history. All museum exhibits are geared toward families and children, with a variety of hands-on interactive and accessibility features, including audio recordings, multimedia presentations, and touch drawers.

A variety of public educational programming is offered at the facility, including curriculum-incorporated tours of the museum for elementary and secondary students. Outreach educational programming includes in-classroom storyteller visits and trips to area historical sites for student groups.

An annual Friendship Camp is presented for area youth in conjunction with the local Squarish Tribe, and a variety of public special events are hosted at the facility annually, including a Historic Tree Walk, Cruise Around the Island, and a number of neighborhood celebrations and community walk events. Free admission to the museum is offered on the first Thursday of every month, and a Storyboard program solicits local community narratives through an outreach initiative.

The Kids’ Discovery Museum was the vision of a community group of Bainbridge Island citizens, who formed a nonprofit organization for the development of an interactive educational facility dedicated to housing science and art exhibits for children and families. Additional exhibits were installed following the museum’s move to a new permanent facility, which was officially opened to the public in June 2010.

The new facility was recognized in 2011 by the United States Green Building Council for its environmentally-friendly design and operational practices, meeting LEED Silver standards for its core and shell and its commercial interiors. More than 35,000 annual visitors attend the museum, which offers a variety of interactive exhibits geared toward presenting family-friendly STEM and arts learning experiences for the youth of Bainbridge Island and beyond.

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A variety of hands-on exhibits and permanent installations are offered at the museum, emphasizing sensory exploration aspects and encouraging interactive play for family members of all ages. The treehouse’s top floor is a designated “no parents’ land,” offering birds’-eye views of museum exhibits and a giant slide.

An Town exhibit recreates a small town main street, offering a variety of storefront exhibits, such as a Dollar and Sense Financial Center, a Grocery Store, and a Medical Center with interactive play activities to emphasize career principles and social interactions. A recreated Waterfront Park area features a climb-aboard Minimum Ferry, while a real scale-model Electric Car emphasizes sustainable energy principles.

At the museum’s Science and Literacy Hall, STEM principles are introduced through fun, hands-on activities and exhibits, including a Big Blue Blocks play space, which was chosen by the blocks’ Imagination playground manufacturing company as the best exhibit of its kind as part of a play space design contest. Motion Madness and Fun With Physics exhibits emphasize concepts such as gravity, velocity, acceleration, and friction through free play with golf balls, while a Discovery Video microscope exhibit offers opportunities for children to explore the microscopic aspects of natural and scientific concepts.

Reading literacy is the focus of the museum’s Imagination Station, which offers a puppet theater, soapbox derby race car, and train table, along with a variety of books and puzzles for independent family play. A year-round climbing wall, solar-powered water table, and easel painting area are offered as part of the museum’s Outdoor Play Area, while a Totally TOT exhibit offers safe play experiences for the museum’s youngest visitors structured around Waldorf School educational principles.

A wide variety of educational programming is offered by the museum, including live daily demonstrations and hands-on activities. Weekly special events include Messy Monday watercolor workshops, Tuesday Tunes song and dance groups, and Sensory Sunday programs for children on the autism spectrum.

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Annual public special events include an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween costume swap, and a gingerbread house construction station and display.

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