Carol Cassella, MD, is a practicing anesthesiologist, novelist, and speaker. She is the bestselling author of the novels Oxygen and Healer. Her new novel, Gemini, was published by Simon & Schuster in March 2014. Carol lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington, with her husband and two sets of twins. Visit her at CarolCassella.com.
Seattle is famous for its rain, but the water that makes it such a glorious travel destination isn’t falling from the sky—it’s the salty, frigid Salish Sea. Splotched with islands that stretch all the way to Canada, there’s no better way to see this fabled body of water than from the decks of the ferries that knit the islands to the mainland. Here are five ferry boat routes that offer views you’ll miss if you stay on solid ground. Whales and eagles included free of charge.
An easy 35 minute ferry adventure from downtown Seattle takes you to Bainbridge Island, the quaint commuter town that boasts gourmet restaurants, paddle boating at the waterfront park, a fine community theater and boutique shopping, all a ten minute walk from the ferry dock. Start with a free tour of The Bainbridge Museum of Art’s collection of Northwest sculpture, paintings and photography, plus one of the best local-only cafes in the region. Cap your evening with drinks, pub fare and live music at Pegasus Coffee House before catching the return ferry toward the brilliant skyline of Seattle, gleaming like Oz over the waters of Elliott Bay.
With a population of only 10,000 people scattered across 37 square miles, Vashon Island might be visible from the Seattle Harbor, but it’s worlds away in time and space. Take your bike onto the walk-aboard water taxi from Seattle or drive onto the ferry from West Seattle. Once there, the charmingly eclectic town center is five miles from the dock, and the route will wind though rolling green fields and farms with plenty of vistas over the Puget Sound. Dine on Thai food at May’s Kitchen or check out the Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie to discover how coffee became an indelible part of Seattle life.
For a more cultural experience, book a tour on the commercially operated Argosy Line cruising from the Seattle waterfront to historic Blake Island and Tillicum Village, original camping grounds of the Suquamish tribe. Dine on salmon cooked over open fires and watch authentic Northwest Indian dancing in the longhouse. To make a full day of it, hike through the unspoiled woods or beachcomb through driftwood along this island’s five miles open beaches. The entire 475 acre island has been designated a camping park, so roam freely down any trail you fancy.
With only 822 residents but pristine beaches and 18 miles of bucolic roads, Lummi Island is the tiny, often-overlooked gem of the San Juan islands. Hop on the small ferry with your bike or a car (there’s only room for twenty), and ride a short six minutes from Bellingham, on the mainland, to this world apart. Organic cuisine and lodging can be found at Willows Inn, or simpler fare at the Beach Store Café. Stroll quiet coves hunting out petroglyphs or take the trail up Baker Mountain for a breathtaking view over Rosario Straits.
If Seattle’s proximity to Canada calls out to you, hop aboard one of the ferries going to Victoria British Columbia, the small, cosmopolitan city named after the famous queen of England. Take the high speed catamaran Victoria Clipper from Elliott Bay, or drive your car via Bainbridge Island to Port Angeles, where you can catch the more classic MV Coho for this short international crossing. Whatever your route, you’ll dock before the palatial, historic Empress hotel, still proudly serving tea and crumpets in a Northwest/British setting. If you fancy flowers, don’t miss famous Butchart Gardens just outside of town. That ferry ride across the Straits of San Juan de Fuca will make you feel like you’ve crossed the Atlantic.