Gig Harbor, WA
During a turbulent storm in 1840, Captain Charles Wilkes brought his small boat, called a gig, into a small bay for protection. When he published a map of Washington state a year later, he dubbed this picturesque spot Gig Harbor, and the name stuck. Although the town, perched along Puget Sound, is no longer a refuge for storm-drenched sea captains, it still retains an air of exploration and rugged Pacific Northwest spirit.
A Gig Harbor tour begins with the town's historic waterfront, where charming boutiques stretch along Harborview Drive. The expanse includes an impressive number of art galleries, many featuring work from local artists. Stop into shops like Sassy Bones, Elandan Gallery and Ebb Tide Cooperative Gallery.
After a downtown shopping fix, head across the road to Skansie Brothers Park, a popular Gig Harbor attraction for its frequent fairs, outdoor concerts and art festivals. The park is home to the Fisherman Memorial, a bronze statue that honors the many anglers who've called Gig Harbor home, especially those who have been lost at sea.
City Park at Crescent Creek, two miles north of Skansie, is another family-friendly Gig Harbor attraction, thanks to its sizable children's play area and baseball diamond. A large picnic shelter boasts wood stoves, so visitors can create a campground feel in cooler weather without venturing into the wilderness.
However, if wild spaces are the goal, visitors will be well satisfied. Active volcano Mount Rainier rises to a 14,411-foot summit south of Gig Harbor. This stunning landmark is visible from anywhere in town. To the east, Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park offer rugged beaches and thick forests, as well as glacier-tipped mountains. Hikers and other naturalists often opt for a short road trip in either direction to explore craggy ridges and mountain meadows.
There is no need to leave town to commune with nature, though. Since Gig Harbor is on the water, many day trips involve boating and kayaking. The water is so serene that it is even safe enough for a pedal-boat ride along the shore. Gig Harbor Rent-A-Boat offers single or double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, canoes and other crafts. A popular Gig Harbor tour along the water includes sightings of soaring Great Blue Herons and playful harbor seals, plus the beach below the city's lighthouse.
Because navigating around the harbor builds up appetites, tasty dining choices abound in Gig Harbor. Tanglewood Grill, decorated to feel like a cozy hunting lodge, focuses on Pacific Northwest dishes like potato-crusted cod. Seafood is also showcased at The Green Turtle, a waterfront, Asian-inspired eatery using only organic ingredients. For a treat anytime, Sweet Melissa's, just a few blocks east of the harbor, boasts a daily cupcake special with inventive flavors like maple bacon and root beer float.
Although Gig Harbor no longer relies on boatbuilding and fishing as its main industries, the spirit of Captain Wilkes and other seafarers lingers in this close-knit, bewitchingly pretty little waterfront town.