Stretch your legs and mind in laid-back Gig Harbor

The fish are out of the water in Gig Harbor, a historic maritime town on the Kitsap Peninsula where art and antiques long ago replaced purse seining and boatbuilding.

There's "Hot Rod Salmon," a sleek black-and-orange number covered with automotive paint. "Salmon Dango" sports a ruffled skirt and a mosaic-tile head flung upward like a flamenco dancer. "Salmon Dragon" has fangs and white porcelain scales. "Fish & Chips" chows down on a mouth full of French fries.

Fifteen artists created the fiberglass sculptures for an exhibit called Salmonchanted Harbor. The works will be auctioned in November, with the money going to charitable projects. In the meantime, the fish are on display outside shops and galleries along the downtown waterfront. If you haven't been to Gig Harbor in a while, it's just one new reason to visit — along with a ride across the new span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which opens to motorists Monday, July 16, (with special ceremonies and a celebration Sunday, July 15).

Named by Capt. Charles Wilkes during an 1841 exploration when his party sought a storm refuge for its gig, or small open boat, Gig Harbor is the first town you get to on the Kitsap Peninsula after crossing the Narrows Bridge and a mile-wide section of the Puget Sound.

Surrounded by water, Gig Harbor was an isolated fishing, farming and logging community until the first bridge was built in 1940.

All that's changed, of course. More than 90,000 cars a day travel back and forth, and the opening of the new second span will bring even more. Strip malls and chain stores surround the outskirts of the historical downtown, but the harbor itself remains pretty and protected.

Count on an hour's drive from Seattle or about two hours' travel time if you take the ferry to Bremerton and drive from there. Here's your plan:

9 a.m.

Fresh from the farm

If it's Saturday, make your first stop the Gig Harbor Farmers Market ( open 8:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. through Sept. 29. Spending a few hours here is like being transported to a county fair. Stalls surround a community garden in a clearing called Stroh's Field, a mile and a half from downtown.

Tap your toes to the live music that starts at 9:30 a.m., or watch Janet Jensen make her famous onion wraps — stretchy pieces of dough flattened and fried in oil, then wrapped around a Polish hot dog smothered in onions. Sip a latte that Bertolino's Espresso steams in a machine built into the back of a van. Finish off with a look-around at the booths selling one-of-a-kind crafts, from coconut cream pie-scented candles made from soy wax to bird and squirrel feeders crafted from scrap lumber.

10: 15 a.m.

Front-porch brunch

Plan on spending most of the rest of the day along Harborview Drive, a walkable two-mile stretch of waterfront in the downtown historic district. There's free street parking, so park anywhere and find the yellow house with the green trim and flag out front. That's Le Bistro at 4120 Harborview, famous for its bumbleberry pie made with blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and cranberries. It's never too early for a slice, but if it's breakfast you have in mind, try the Salmon croquette Benedict (big enough for two) or the apple pancakes. Join the locals at the counter, or relax on the front porch with the newspaper. The house once belonged to C.E. Trombley, who owned the Peninsula Gateway (still publishing) until 1955.

11 a.m.

Walk through history

The Gig Harbor Peninsula History Museum, 4218 Harborview, is next door to Le Bistro near the wastewater treatment center. (The museum moves into new digs next year.) Pick up a free map for a self-guided waterfront history walk (also available at information kiosks around town). Many shops and restaurants occupy original buildings. The Gig Harbor Gift Mall, 3110 Harborview, for instance, used to be the Peninsula Hotel, built in 1925 and with a barbershop that offered baths for 25 cents.

Notice the historical markers around town such as the one at Donkey Creek Park across from Le Bistro. (The road bends to the north at this juncture and becomes North Harborview Drive.) When Croatian fisherman Samuel Jerisch and other white settlers first arrived in Gig Harbor in 1867, they shared the bay with Native Americans. The park was a S'homamish village site.

Walk two-tenths of a mile or drive north and find the Finholm Market at 8812 N. Harborview. The building has been a store since the 1930s. Next door is the zigzag wooden Finholm View Climb. Walk up the 88 steps (disabled access above on Franklin Avenue), stopping at different platforms for views of the harbor and Mount Rainier.

12:30 p.m.

Coffee break

The best water views are from the back deck at Susanne's Bakery, 3411 Harborview, where Italian espresso has replaced the "boat coffee" with evaporated milk that the old-time grocers here once made for the fishermen. If it's raining, head to Java & Clay, 3210 Harborview, with comfy sofas and chairs, a gas fireplace and a ceramic-painting studio in back. Multitasking also goes on at Mystic Grounds, 3210 Harborview, a combination coffeehouse, chocolate shop and store stocked with incense and crystals.

1:30 p.m.

Art and antiques

Pleasure boats and a few commercial fishing boats dock at marinas along the waterfront. Salmon was and still is the main catch, but art is a bigger business. Dozens of artists live around Gig Harbor. Galleries, boutiques and shops line both sides of Harborview and nearby Pioneer Avenue.

Pick up a guide with pictures and locations of the salmon sculptures, and explore.

Woodcarver Harv Kollin was sitting in a waterfront restaurant reading from the menu "fresh fish from Alaska," when he thought "didn't we used to have those right here in the Puget Sound?"

The result was a work called "Ghost Fish" mounted outside the Preuit Collection and Framery, 3115 Harborview. The gallery also displays the work of Gig Harbor resident Helga Thompson among other local artists. Thompson uses a Native American technique to weave baskets from pine needles, then adds glass beads and walnuts in designs that reflect her Norwegian heritage.

Two cooperatives, Ebb Tide at 304 Harborview and Gallery Row, 3102, show the work of Northwest glassmakers, potters, painters, jewelers and weavers. Catch the live demonstrations at the monthly Art Walk every first Saturday from 1-5 p.m.

If it's a pumpkin cookie jar or salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like baked potatoes that you're after, drop by Pandora's Antiques, 4021 Harborview. The store's closing at the end of the month after 12 years in business, and most everything is half off.

4 p.m.

Deck time

Anthony's HomePort at 8827 N. Harborview, across from the View Climb in Finholm, oozes class, but the favorite local hangout is the casual Tides Tavern, 2925 Harborview, at the harbor's south end. The building's been here since 1910 when the public ferry landing was next door. Lots of boaters tie up at the marina, so be prepared to wait for an outside table.

A pint of Peninsula Porter and the grilled halibut sandwich make a satisfying late lunch or early dinner. There's a happy hour from 3-5 p.m. weekdays and music on Saturday nights (see

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or

The new Tacoma Narrows bridge under construction, left, next to the old bridge. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Gig Harbor's signature view: the harbor set against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Rainier. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Downtown Gig Harbor's popular park features water access, above, and a guest dock. Gail Lydon, right, manager of the Gig Harbor Gift Mall, shows a line of original teapots by Kevin Chen. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
The Bissett family waits for a waitress at the Tides Tavern to take a family picture. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Eric Smith, left, and Pat Finn sailed Smith's boat from Seattle to visit with a Gig Harbor friend. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Madison Ormsby gets creative at Java & Clay, a cafe and ceramic-painting studio. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Above: Downtown Gig Harbor's popular park features water access and a guest dock. Right: Gail Lydon, manager of the Gig Harbor Gift Mall, shows off teapots. (DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

If you go to Gig Harbor

Getting there

Gig Harbor is 50 miles south of downtown Seattle. Take Interstate 5 south to South 38th St./Highway 16 (Exit 132). Go west on Highway 16 across the Narrows Bridge toward Bremerton/Gig Harbor. A $3 toll goes into effect with the opening of the new span July 16 (toll collected eastbound -- for Tacoma-bound vehicles -- only). Exit at Wollochet/City Center and turn right onto Pioneer Way. Follow it to Harborview Drive. If coming from the ferry dock in Bremerton, take Highway 16 east to the Wollochet/City Center exit.

Upcoming events

• Grand-opening celebrations for the new Narrows Bridge take place Sunday, July 15, starting with a 5K run at 8 a.m. The deck opens for viewing from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., then will be cleared starting at 4 p.m. to get ready to open to traffic on Monday. See
for details. Also taking place this weekend is the Gig Harbor Summer Arts Festival on Saturday and Sunday. Organizers suggest parking at the Kimball Avenue Park & Ride and taking the free shuttle. See

• The annual Washington Renaissance Faire takes place the weekends of Aug. 4-5; 11-12; and 18-19 at the Minter Creek Ranch. See www.washingtonren

• Also next month is the Gig Harbor Folk Festival slated for Aug. 25-26. See

• Artists open their studios to the public Sept. 15-16, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Info at

Tourist Information The visitor center is at 3125 Judson St. near the harbor. Call 888-843-9444, or see

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