By Jack Hartline
July 6, 2004
GIG HARBOR, WASH -- Gig Harbor is one of those rare and wonderful places that are even more breathtakingly beautiful than the picture postcards I always love sending to friends and relatives still slaving away back home. Just ask anybody who's ever been here.
One of the first way Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who got caught in a storm while mapping Puget Sound for the American Exploring Expedition in 1841 and ducked into the tiny harbour to ride it out. He was in a small boat called a captain's gig when the storm struck and was so grateful for the nick-of-time refuge that he decided to name it Gig Harbor
The entrance to the quiet waters of the triangular-shaped bay across Puget Sound from Tacoma is only 75 metres wide. It is just 2.5 kilometres long and less than one kilometre across at its widest point. When the clouds lift and the sun returns, it becomes bluer than the bluest sapphire and at least twice as sparkling. You can also get a magnificent view of Mount Rainier which seems to be hovering over the town like a shimmering guardian angel even though it's more than 130 kilometres away.
Today there are 17 marinas in Gig Harbor and more than 800 boats of every size, shape and description, including a handful of commercial fishing boats that carry on the town's proud maritime tradition, which was launched by a Yugoslavian-born fisherman from B.C.'s Vancouver Island in 1867.
His name was Sam Jerisich and just like Wilkes 26 years before, he got caught in a storm while fishing in Puget Sound and found refuge in Gig Harbor. Unlike Wilkes, however, he decided to stay on and became the harbour's first European settler and one of the founders of the little town that soon began to spring up around him.
Jerisich's wife, Anna, was a first nation from Thetis Island in B.C., and they had six children. There is a picture of the whole family in the local museum and a public dock and tiny park in the centre of town have been named after Jerisich as well.
One of the most delightful things about Gig Harbor's waterfront is that you can park your car and walk to just about anywhere you want to go. There are no parking meters or lots to pay either.
Dozens of charming shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafes dot a four block stretch along the water that constitutes the historic downtown area near the entrance to the harbour. The Chamber of Commerce's Info Centre has a wonderful little map that lists more than 50 sites from the Ebb Tide Gallery, Robin's Egg Bleu and Tides Tavern at one end to the Harbor Peddler, Susanne's Bakery and Arabella's Landing at the other.
Nearly everyone we met in the town of 6,500 was from someplace other than Gig Harbor and virtually every one of them agreed it was the best place they had ever lived. The sole exception was a teenage boy playing tennis on the only court in Gig Harbor's small but popular city park, who complained that the only other courts he could find were at the local high school. "Put that in your story," he said in the only huff we encountered during our entire visit.
Dream house built in middle of forest
There are another 60,000 people scattered around the peninsula on which Gig Harbor sits as well as the more forested Key Peninsula right next door.
The two peninsulas are connected by a natural land bridge called Purdy's Spit which is about a 10-minute drive drom Gig Harbor's downtown waterfront.
The Key Peninsula is home to several beautiful parks as well as a handful of secluded B&Bs including a stunning country estate called the Bear's Lair, which is where we stayed on our second night. The huge cedar home was built from the ground up by its owners, Giulio and Jen Santori, who spent five years in a trailer while creating their dream house almost single-handedly in the middle of a forest. Many of its original Douglas firs still dot the beautiful 2.2-hectare property which includes a separate carriage house, a small garden with 60 different kinds of roses and a beautiful gazebo in the middle of a picturesque duck pond.
Originally from Los Angeles, Giulio is a master woodworker who built every inch of the house including its magnificent kitchen cabinets, elaborate mouldings around the high ceilings, and custom-made beds, dressers and tables. He even covered all the refrigerators in knotty pine because, "I can't stand the dull blank look of ordinary fridges."
"We decided to call the place the Bear's Lair because that's what I've always called Giulio," confided Jen, "because of all the hair on his body -- and also because he's not fit to live with until he's had his coffee in the mornng."
As a result, there are bears everywhere you look in and around the house -- bear books, bear pictures, bear statues, bear fountains, bear blankets. We even discovered a tiny bear sticker on the toilet paper roll in the bathroom of our elegant room ($105 US) which also featured a rose motif in keeping with Jenny's favorite flower.
Our favorite "bear" of all though, was their beautiful friendly dog, Buddy, or golden hair and gentle disposition, who gets rave reviews from all their guests -- including us. Throw a stick or a ball for him and he's your friend for life.
If you go...
From Vancouver, take Highway 99 to the Peace Arch Border Crossing, Interstate 5 south from Blaine, WA to Exit 132, head west on Highway 16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and on to Gig Harbor. Take the City Center Exit and follow Pioneer Way right down to the waterfront. It's a 300 kilometre drive from Vancouver and takes about 3.5 hours.
If you're not in a hurry, turn off Interstate 5 at Burlington and take Highway 20 to Whidbey Island, catch the Keystone ferry to Port Townsend, cross the Hood Canal bridge to Port Gamble and then meander your way down the Kitsap Peninsula to Gig Harbor. Including the 30-minute ferry ride, it takes about 4.5 hours, but it's a much more scenic route.
There are five hotels or motels in Gig Harbor and 17 B&Bs including half a dozen on the Key Peninsula. There is also an RV park inGig Harbor aswell as a number of campsites in three different state parks.
Other Things To Do:
Check out the Gig Harbor Historical Museum which includes a fascinating video on the infamous collapse of "Galloping Gertie", the first bridge built across the Narrows from Tacoma in 1940; have lunch on the waterfront at Susanne's Bakery or the Rose Tea Room in a beautiful 1917 heritage home that is also a B&B; rent a kayak or a sailboat for a spin around the harbour; take in a summer musical at one of the town's two outdoor community theatres; see local artists at work during Gig Harbor's Art Walk on the first Saturday of each month; go for fish and chips at Tides Tavern or pizza at Spiro's; for a more elegant meal in an elegant setting, try Anthony's HomePort at the head of the bay; cheer on medieval knights jousting on horseback at the Key Peninsula's annual Renaissance Faire in August.
Gig Harbor Online
Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce