Puget Sound casts its spell from Olympia to Port Angeles, incorporating the Salish Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Haro Strait and Rosario Strait to the Canadian border. With nearly two thousand miles of shoreline and more than three hundred islands between Washington’s state capital of Olympia and the Canadian border at Point Roberts, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling, diverse and scenic area to motor. It’s along Puget Sound where you’ll encounter breathtaking scenery and sunsets abound, with marine life beyond comparison, whether you’re watching orcas and birds, or enjoying a day of crabbing and fishing.
South Puget Sound
Your journey begins in Olympia, where the calm waters and open space of the south Puget Sound make for a peaceful and relaxed cruising experience. If you feel like checking out Olympia, head to Port Plaza, which has docks intended for day use and a convenient location that’s walking distance from its charming downtown strip. Otherwise, you can admire the excellent harbor from afar and appreciate the bustling hub of activity that naturally comes at the state capitol of Washington. Before heading along Puget Sound, head first to Case Inlet, a lovely arm of water which lies between the Key Peninsula and Hartstine Island, boasting various points of interest that include McMicken Island State Park, as well as the beautiful scenery of the Stretch, Reach and Herron Islands.
As you begin to make your way north along the Puget Sound, you’ll pass through Carr Inlet, which has everything from shallow bays and hidden coves to the scenic shoreline of Fox Island. Blending in seamlessly with the tranquil waters and calm surrounding nature, Tacoma Narrows is where your journey will eventually lead. All the water in Puget Sound flows under this magnificent bridge, and at more than a mile long while suspended 180 feet above the water, it makes for an astonishing sight.
Central Puget Sound
As you hit your stride along the narrow entrance to the central stretch of Puget Sound, you will gracefully approach Gig Harbor. Boasting one of the most picturesque harbors in the region with the imposing Mt. Rainier always in sight, this is the perfect place to stop for a pleasant lunch by the water. The harbor is lined with quaint galleries, antique shops and family-run restaurants, so sit back and enjoy the laid-back village life. From Gig Harbor, it’s a short 20-minute ride towards Tacoma. Having recently undergone a drastic reformation, the city’s waterfront has been transformed into a lively cultural capital that welcomes visitors with open arms.
As you leave behind the bustling Tacoma waterfront, you’ll be able to witness first-hand the great diversity of the landscapes that Washington has to offer. From sandy beaches to thick forests and everything in between, the beautiful coastline of Vashon Island is sure to slow your pulse as you sail next to it. This dazzling showcase of tranquil nature continues all the way to the open Liberty Bay, where you can take in the lovely sights of Poulsbo. This is one of the most popular towns along the Puget Sound – and for good reason. Poulsbo never fails to charm first-time visitors with its Victorian homes, manicured gardens, scenic waterfront harbor and cheery locals. Perhaps no place embodies escapism like the nearby Bainbridge Island, which comes complete with small-town charm and lush forestry. While Bainbridge Island may give the impression that you’re lost in remote wilderness, you’re just a short cruise away from the city of Seattle.
Seattle and Lake Union
Enjoy the urban yachting experience on Lake Union and become one of the 100,000 commercial and pleasure boaters who love to get a view of Seattle from inside the locks. While yachts love the fresh water respite, killing off saltwater growth, moorage is plentiful and the air is warmer than on the Sound. Enjoy motoring to the area’s charming neighborhoods and parks while admiring the city’s houseboat communities.
The adventure of entering the Ballard (Hiram M. Chittenden) Locks from Shilshole Bay includes the spectacle of your boat being raised and lowered––anywhere from six to twenty-six feet depending on the tide––between the water level in Puget Sound and the higher, freshwater level inside the locks. Enjoy cruising Salmon Bay where active boatyards and working wharfs eclectically greet you on a sail into Lake Union. After all, nothing says summer like a barge with a gigantic cow on board––just one of the surprising, intriguing sights you may spot on your boating trip here. A stop at 24th Avenue Landing finds you soaking in the town of Ballard’s Scandinavian flavor.
Sailing into Lake Union is an unmatched urban experience where elegant sailboats crisscross the lake gracefully while happy-hour hot tub cruisers find locals enjoying summer fun. The variety of boaters never gets old, even if it might get crowded from time to time. Experience music wafting onboard from festivals on land at Gas Works Park, another fun destination for the whole family. Dramatic sunsets turn Seattle’s glassy high rises indescribable shades of reds and golds. If your cruising plans include soaking in a major boating event, plan to be at Portage Bay the first weekend in May during the Seattle Opening Day Celebration where more than 200,000 spectators and 5,000 boats converge to mark the official kick-off of the yachting season.
Roche Harbor, San Juan Island
Sail your way back through the locks and enjoy cruising the Haro Strait then drop anchor at Roche Harbor, a storybook setting and the perfect refuge for the idyllic boating lifestyle. The cruise itself is epic, full of places to anchor along the way. Orcas can be seen most often in the San Juans where they feed on Fraser River salmon runs. Harbor seals enchant here with Orcas as their major predator. They love to play hide-and-seek around boats and the kids aboard your vessel will enjoy their curiosity. With pupping occurring at the height of the cruising season from mid-August to late September there undoubtedly will be many heart-melting encounters with these adorable critters.
However, not all the fun can be had on the water. When you need to stretch those sea legs, adventure into town for a little ice cream and walk along the airport for a few miles until you come across a fabulous oyster restaurant called Westcott Bay Shellfish, open select hours where they only BBQ oysters on weekdays. A seed-to-shuck aquaculture farm, the experience features a stunning panoramic view of Westcott Bay as well as exquisite culinary faire topped off with delicious seasonal sauces like habañero lime. For those wanting to go deeper, enjoy a visit where you get to pick your oysters and take a tour of the farm.
Reid Harbor, Stuart Island
The sail from Roche Harbor on San Juan Island to Stuart Island is quick and easy but you’ll feel a world away. Intimate Reid Harbor helps you step into an idyllic private paradise at anchor. Whether being served by waiters in dressed whites, or cooking up your latest shrimp and crab catch on the BBQ, it’s hard to surpass this ultimate experience of life at sea.
The spotted shrimp caught us by surprise as we hadn’t planned on catching them at all. We’d heard the King Tides didn’t favor such a haul during a full moon, but with a friend’s urging we baited and set the trap 500-feet down. In a few hours we hauled up our limit. The beauty of the shrimp and quantity of our catch struck me. That, and the incredible San Juan Island Vineyard Cab Franc which perfectly paired with the shrimp. We found the bilge to be the best wine cooler, too bad it isn’t gimbaled. After feasting on shrimp, we couldn’t get enough of the thrill of the catch and went on to crab as soon as we could. Basically Stuart became our seafood paradise. Wherever you enjoy your bounty in the San Juans, be sure to monitor for periodic closures due to red tides.
Just a short dinghy ride away, you’ll find a private dock to tie up to and get your land legs back. This rich feeding and nesting ground provides a haven for bird watchers who will delight in sightings of bald eagles, herons, cormorants, puffins and woodpeckers. The two or three-hour round-trip trek to the Turn Point Light Station enchants with breathtaking views of Mt. Baker, wonderful wildlife and provides an excellent place to pick up a new t-shirt in what could be the most unique honor shopping experience you’ve ever encountered. The self-guided tour of the light station is one the whole family will enjoy, or lie with your sweetheart on the ridge above the Salish Sea and admire breathtaking views.