One of the iconic symbols of Seattle is the ferries in downtown. They are very inexpensive to ride (if you are walking over), and it is a fun way to see parts of the Seattle area that you wouldn’t normally. One of those parts is a popular destination: Poulsbo, Washington, which is west of Seattle across the Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula.

Getting To Poulsbo

Since Poulsbo is across the Puget Sound from Seattle, the best way to get there is to take a ferry over to the area. In the downtown Seattle ferry terminal, there are two destinations available – Bremerton and Bainbridge Island. On a fairly clear (and had some sun potential) afternoon I took the ferry to Bainbridge Island to visit Poulsbo (that I hadn’t seen for about 20 years). I was excited to visit it again and find out more about the story behind the city of Poulsbo.

If you are walking across on the ferry, the price to Bainbridge Island is $8.50 round trip per person (you only pay to go to the island, not back to Seattle), runs on a regular schedule, and it a gorgeous ride on a nice day. If you are driving across, it is $16.00 per car (includes driver) and you will pay for the other passengers in the car. On the way back to Seattle, you will just pay the $16.00 for the car (passengers are free). You can side outside and watch the scenery during the 35-minute ride or visit the cafe inside if the weather is cold or rainy.

Photo of a ferry in front of the Seattle skyline
Ferry terminal in Seattle

The inside section of the ferry has lot of chairs, and you can sit towards the front or by a window to watch the ride from a more comfortable vantage point.

Photo of the inside of the ferry cabin on the ride to Poulsbo with chairs and view of the water in the window
Inside the ferry cabin

However, the best view is on the outside upper deck of the ferry. It is a beautiful ride seeing the Seattle skyline as you are leaving and then as you are coming up to Bainbridge Island, the view is incredible. Even though it was a little cold, I made sure to watch it from the outside deck.

Photo of the waterfront and houses on Bainbridge Island from the ferry deck on the way to Poulsbo
Bainbridge Island view as the ferry is getting closer

Landing in Bainbridge Island

As we came up to the ferry terminal on the Bainbridge side, watching them get all the walkways connected and the cars off the boat was interesting.

Photo of the walkway coming on the ferry at the Bainbridge Island terminal
Ferry docking at Bainbridge Island

The Story Behind Poulsbo

Poulsbo, Washington is a super cute Norwegian town and is about a 20-min drive from the ferry terminal. A little history about Poulsbo: originally the Suquamish inhabited the land, and while it didn’t have an active village at the time if the mid 1800s, it did have an ancient village settlement in the area that Poulsbo would become.

Treaty of Point Elliot

The Suquamish did still use the bay area for fishing and hunting, so when they relinquished the lands in the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855, they retained most of the rights to hunt and fish the land. The treaty was created and hastily developed to help alleviate issues with the settlers and Native Americans in the area since people were trying to claim lands in time for the registration deadlines of Land Claim Acts, and it was causing tensions between the two groups. Even in more modern times, lawsuits have been filed to keep access to the hunting and fishing when more commercial organizations were moving in, but each time the courts have upheld the access rights of the Suquamish.

Norwegian Influence

Norwegians and other Scandinavians settled in the Poulsbo area due to the large amounts of land available and the climate that were similar to home. One very interesting fact, the name was supposed to be Paulsbo, which meant Paul’s Place. When the application was submitted to get a post office, a misspelling happened during in the application process, and the town became Poulsbo and the name stuck. Poulsbo still retains a lot of its Norwegian heritage, and there are signs of it all around the town.

Visiting Poulsbo

If you are walking across the ferry, there isn’t really public transportation to Poulsbo during the non-rush hours so it is best to do a ride share or rent a car to travel to it. I rented a car since there was a lot I wanted to see. If you drive across, it is about a 15 minute drive to Poulsbo. If you are visiting this area, it is also fun to tour around Bainbridge Island as well, look at the downtown area, and eat at some restaurants in town.

Clearwater Casino

Once I was on my way to Poulsbo, as we crossed a small bridge leaving Bainbridge Island and entered the Poulsbo area, I was amazed at the growth of the Clearwater Casino run by the Suquamish. When I left the area, it was a just a hard tent that housed a temporary casino, and now it is a growing casino, hotel and resort that is pretty impressive.

Clearwater Casino and Resort with sign and parking deck near Poulsbo

Poulsbo Waterfront

My first stop in Poulsbo is the waterfront downtown. It has a marina, park and a downtown main street area with all sort of shops, restaurants and bakeries. The marina and park was fun to walk around and look at the amazing sailboats in the area.

Port of Poulsbo with sailboats in the background
Port of Poulsbo in the waterfront downtown area

Downtown Poulsbo

Right next to the marina, I visited the downtown shops area. The street has shops on both sides of the street and is a short section, but is full of character.

Downtown Poulsbo area with cars on the road
Downtown Poulsbo

The shops’ architecture is a Scandinavian themed, and there are murals and paintings on many buildings. The Norwegian influence is everywhere. It is a fun stroll down the street and lots of souvenirs are available.

One of the most famous shops in downtown Poulsbo is Sluy’s Bakery, which is home to the “Famous Poulsbo Bread”. This bread was an interpretation of the recipe in the book Ezekiel in the Bible.

“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.

Ezekiel 4:9, New International Version

Sluy’s Bakery created this bread back in 1970 and visitors flock to the area to buy some so it was a must visit for me, and while I was there, I bought some cookies as well. Everything was so good, and the Sluy’s Bakery is definitely a recommended stop.

Poulsbo Viking

Leaving the downtown area, I still saw many Norwegian artifacts like the Poulsbo Viking, which was built in response to seeing the success of the Fremont Troll. Poulsbo wanted to build something like a troll under one of its bridges, but the location couldn’t be decided, and the Fremont Troll was already too famous. They chose to replace the old sign with a 12-ft statue of a viking designed by a former Disneyland sculptor.

12-ft Viking with Velkommen to Poulsbo written on it
Poulsbo Viking

Returning to Seattle

After my visit to Poulsbo, I headed back to Bainbridge Island and waited for the return ferry. While I was waiting, I looked around at the boats and houses. It is such a pretty area especially with the little rays of sunlight that was starting to peak through the clouds.

Sailboats in water coming into the marina
Outside the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal

The ferry ride back to Seattle was just as pretty to stand outside and watch.

Water turning as ferry is coming into the terminal in Seattle
Coming into the Seattle Ferry Terminal

My trip to Poulsbo was a fun side trip and definitely worth the time and cost. I would highly recommend it if you have a free afternoon.

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