One in every four people on Bainbridge Island is an artist, according to island glass artist Diane Bonciolini – and there are good reasons for that.
Bainbridge is peaceful, but still in easy reach of Seattle. It’s full of smart, community-minded people who take care of it.
And it’s beautiful. From tranquil beaches to the deeply forested interior, from exquisitely decorated cakes to ivied coffee shops, from Zen gardens to the new art museum, Bainbridge is a visual treat.
This weekend, when artists’ studios are open for a summer tour, is an ideal time to visit. But go any day, year-round, and you’ll probably fall hard for Bainbridge beauty.
It’s maybe appropriate that the first Bainbridge building visitors by ferry see – apart from the tourist information office – is the new art museum. Just opened in June, this gem sits at the first stop-light intersection like an ambassador for the island. With an exterior of golden slats, deep red metal and black-paned, Mondriaan-esque windows, the building nods to the island’s Japanese heritage. Add in Zen landscaping of lime and red maples, fountain grass and a carpet of thyme, plus a waterfall and plenty of tables for sipping coffee from the Bainbridge Bakery cart, and you’ll take longer than usual to actually get inside.
But it’s worth it when you do. Completely free, the museum packs a lot into two small levels of gallery space. On the ground floor right now is a survey of children’s book illustrator Barbara Helen Berger. See works such as mystical, mixed-media mandalas; saturated acrylics like “The Ruby Stag,” a hyper-red animal in a forest of red raindrops; and surrealist collages and dioramas like “Brink,” a menagerie of plastic animals gazing through a Florentine doorway into a starry night sky — a bit like the final “Narnia” book, only in reverse.
The rest of the first floor highlights the museum’s collection of mainly Kitsap and island artists: Cecil Ross’ “Cabinet and Bench” is beautifully made with inlaid strips, scribble cracked doors and a subtle mirror; Cameron Anne Mason’s “Heartwood” makes a tree trunk out of stretched-out quilting; Roger Shimomura’s “American Alien” comments on internment camps, with a small Japanese boy dropping a space-alien toy.
Upstairs, there’s an airy, otherworldly installation by Margie McDonald of “Sea ‘scapes” – wire and metal intricately twisted into spindly sea stars, dangly octopi, prehistoric isopods. Further in is “First Light,” a regional survey that has a number of marvelous surprises: an esoteric ceramic being from Patti Warashina, a lush swag of blown glass vessels by Jenny Pohlmann and Sabrina Knowles, bulb-headed ladies from Claudia Fitch, and two deposed Jackson Pollock heads by cardboard maestro Scott Fife.
Don’t miss the rooftop garden, either, which makes up for size with elegantly flat, wide stones and more lime-red plant beauty.
And for kids, pick up a “scavenger hunt” brochure, with art questions and activities – and don’t miss the award-winning Kiddimu kids’ museum right behind the art museum building.
Wander along Winslow’s main street and you get the feeling you’re still in a carefully curated environment. Artist-decorated giant frog sculptures populate the sidewalk and shop displays look like art galleries. Even the ravine has lovely signage and is well-tended. You can buy funky local crafts at Danger, wearable art at The Island Gallery, English china painted with various chicken breeds and soft-spindled wools at Churchmouse Yarns and Teas and old-fashioned candy at Bon Bon. The hardest part might be dragging yourself out of this arty little village – but there’s much more.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art: Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily at 550 Winslow Way E. Admission is Free. 206-842-4451, biartmuseum.org
The place to admire nature on Bainbridge is the Bloedel Reserve, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Up in the island’s north, it’s accessible by car, bike or bus, and gets regularly listed in the country’s 10 best public gardens for good reason. Its 150 acres, lovingly cultivated by timber baron Prentice Bloedel during 30 years, walk a fascinating line between Northwest wilderness and perfectly curated landscape. Carpets of ground cover border bark paths and background the giant ferns. Waterfalls and ponds cascade between primrose banks.
Plants become sculptures in the Japanese garden: just-placed pines, immaculately circular mounds of sweet flag, rolling hills of creeping dogwood all framing the neatly raked rock garden and tea house. In the greenly lit fairy-tale world of the moss garden, fallen tree roots are presented like relief sculptures, tree stumps are pruned into shrubby bouquets. Deer wander, finches twitter, serenity reigns (despite the reserve lifting the limitation of 20 people per visit).
New this summer is a short path along the bluff, where from the end, you can stare out over the gray Sound or gaze up along the sweeping lawn to the refined Georgian Bloedel mansion. (See the box accompaning this story for upcoming concerts.)
The beauty doesn’t stop at the Bloedel Reserve, though. Along the main highway are magazine-cover gardens, one after another, glimpsed through hedges and gates; the rest of the interior is still thickly forested, shading and greening the road. There are six miles of hiking trails in the “Grand Forest” near the island’s center, more trails and beach access in the south at Fort Ward, and a waterfront walking trail that winds back and forth from the water in the Marina district to Winslow and the ferry.
Bloedel Reserve: Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through August, then 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Admission is $13 adults; $9 seniors and military; $5 students; free ages 12 and younger. 7571 NE Dolphin Drive; 206-842-7631, bloedelreserve.org
Grand Forest: State Route 305 between Koura Road and New Brooklyn Road. (Frog Hopper bus also stops there.) biparks.org
Fort Ward Park: 2241 Pleasant Beach Road; biparks.org
Waterfront Trail: From Gowen Place Northeast past ferry dock to Hawley Cove. Select “Maps” at biparks.org.
Bainbridge isn’t just about the beautiful life. One of the island’s bleaker moments in history was the forced evacuation and internment of 276 Japanese Americans from the island in 1942 – the first of nearly 120,000 such West Coast internees. Two-thirds were American citizens; many lost their homes and possessions.
On the other side of Eagle Harbor from Winslow, the event is memorialized at a remarkably beautiful site overlooking the beach where the internees boarded their ferry. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial is still in process (a visitor center and reconstructed dock are still to be built). The main memorial stretches calmly down the hill. An eaved wall reminiscent of a Japanese street winds beside a rock-dotted gravel path and is inscribed with the names and ages of all the internees, grouped by family. Origami cranes hung to honor them bring both color and sadness to the gray and brown wall. Terra cotta friezes by artist Steve Gardner portray the working life of these Japanese Americans in subtle greens and grays, bringing the Zen aesthetic into real life.
BI Japanese American Memorial: Open daily. Free. Pritchard Park, 4192 Eagle Harbor Drive; 206-842-2773, bijac.org
Find other island history at the BI Historical Museum: 215 Ericksen Ave. NE. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Admission is $4 adults; $3 seniors and students; $30 families. 206-842-2773, bainbridgehistory.org
Even food is eye-candy on Bainbridge. For quick eats, try the Blackbird Bakery, where veggie and vegan lunches include spinach and chvre quiche, red pepper and gruyere bialys, cheese scones and sweet treats, including luscious lavender cupcakes, and cheesecakes decorated like a painting with raspberries and cornflowers. Bainbridge Bakery does more of the same, while Hitchcock (the deli side) offers local, organic German sausages and smoked meats, local eggs and goat milk, veggie salads and super-fast sandwiches like the El Greco (sheep’s feta, humus, tangy tapenade).
For fine dining, there are many options in Winslow, but for a water view, try the Marina District, where Doc’s Marina Grill offers pasta, sandwiches and grill faves on a patio overlooking the sailboats. Thickly ivied Pegasus Coffee dishes up fancy lunches next door.
For dessert, don’t miss Mora, Bainbridge’s famous ice creamery, where everything’s made from scratch and flavors include chocolate/cognac, dulce de leche, sabayon marsala custard and coconut, plus this summer’s lineup of mojito, watermelon and passion fruit sorbets and an airy-smooth, intense lavender ice cream.
For more dining, wine tasting and shopping, pick up a Walkabout Guide brochure at the tourist office near the ferry or at bainbridgedowntown.org.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 thenewstribune.com
What: 13th annual Bainbridge Island Summer Studio Tour
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Where: Various artist studios. See website for map or pick one up at island businesses.
Information: 206-842-0504, bistudiotour.com
What: “Rose and the Nightingale” concert of garden-inspired chamber music
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Bloedel Reserve, 7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island
Cost: $35 adults; $15 children; $30 reserve members
What: Ten-Minute Play Festival of 14 plays by local playwrights
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24-25
Where: Bainbridge Performing Arts, 200 Madison Ave. N., Bainbridge Island
Cost: Free (donations accepted)
There are a couple of ways to reach Bainbridge Island from South Sound. One is to drive, taking Highway 16 (and eventually Highway 3) across the Narrows Bridge and through Poulsbo, finally turning south on Highway 305 and across the bridge.
The other is by ferry from Seattle. Ferries run frequently each day from Seattle’s Pier 52 between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m.; the trip takes 35 minutes. For schedules, go to wsdot.com/ferries/schedule.
The question is, if you take the ferry, should you walk on, drive on or take your bike?
Go on a weekday or Saturday, and this option is not much cheaper – at least not if you’ve driven yourself to Seattle. Leaving your car for more than four hours (and it’s not worth visiting Bainbridge in less) in a Republic lot near Pier 52 costs $18. Then you’ll pay $7.70 to walk onto the ferry. Street parking near the pier is free on Sunday, however, so you’ll save that $18.
A lot of Bainbridge’s charm is accessible to walkers: a series of overhead banners on the ferry walk-off tells the island’s history; the art museum is a half-mile from the ferry dock, other museums and galleries are not much farther, and the whole town of Winslow offers eating, shopping and sightseeing.
To further explore the island, catch the Frog Hopper bus, which lets you hop on and off on two different loops that include the Bloedel Reserve, Japanese American Memorial, and Lynnwood. It’s offered weekends only; standard tickets are $7 (family discounts are available). The routes begin at the ferry terminal. 866-805-3700, froghopperbainbridge.com
If you’re fit, you’ll like cycling Bainbridge. It’s hilly, but most main roads have some kind of shoulder, though traffic can be fast. You’ll pay an extra $1 on the ferry, but you’ll be the first passenger off.
Access the ferry via Alaskan Way, and allow yourself at least 10 minutes to get in line. It’s not cheap ($16.40 each way), but you’ll be free to take yourself around the island at your leisure, especially on weekdays when the Frog Hopper bus doesn’t run.