Military and Maritime History in Bremerton and Port Orchard

Bremerton and Port Orchard sit across from each other on the Sinclair Inlet, a shallow bay in the western part of Puget Sound. Both cities boast strong maritime traditions and amenities for visitors, with marinas, accommodations, art sites, historical places, and excellent food. They are still connected to each other by foot ferries (including, at times, a historic Mosquito Fleet vessel) and Highway 16. These beautiful waterfront cities share in picturesque views of the Olympic Mountain range, and both hold immense pride in their longstanding ties to the United States Navy.

Bremerton boasts 100 public boating slips, a huge ferry terminal, and three museums involving maritime heritage, all within walking distance of each other. The city’s naval involvement is obvious from the active and “mothballed” aircraft carriers docked just outside of town.

No visit to Bremerton would be complete without a 12-minute ferry ride across the inlet to Port Orchard, where visitors can walk the Bay Street Pedestrian Path for an easy route through town along a gorgeous seascape. The Lady Washington also docks at Port Orchard throughout the year, and visitors can schedule a visit to go on a sail with this movie-star sailboat!

Read on to find your way through these two maritime cities on foot and ferry in just one day.

Getting to Bremerton and Port Orchard

For those coming from the east side of the Sound, the ferry is the way to go. If you’re driving, catch the Washington State Ferry from Seattle to Bremerton leaving from Colman Dock for the one-hour crossing. Once you dock in Bremerton, park on the street or at the Harborside Garage. If you’re car-free, you can hop on the Kitsap Transit Fast Ferry to Bremerton from Seattle’s Pier 50 for a 30-minute crossing. Whether you walk on or drive on, we recommend catching an early ferry to give you plenty of time to explore these beautiful maritime communities!

If you’re coming from the south, west, or elsewhere on the Kitsap Peninsula, we recommend driving to Bremerton and parking on the street or in the Harborside Garage to do the rest of the itinerary on foot. Pro tip: If you’re driving to or from the south of Bremerton, don’t go on the highway between 3:00 and 6:00 pm—the traffic leaving the shipyard through the Gorst curve will add 30 minutes to your travel time. Get dinner in town instead!

Begin at the Kitsap History Museum

Open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm | 280 4th St, Bremerton, WA

Start your day at the Kitsap History Museum! You’ll know you’re there when you can see the historic Roxy Theater’s large marquee: just to the left is the museum, housed in the former Seattle First National Bank. This incredible museum has chronicled the history of Kitsap County since 1948 and features strong ties to its own past, as well as that of the community. The museum outgrew at least three sites and spaces before transforming their current home into an interactive, hands-on, and intriguing museum.

Be sure to visit their exhibit about the Mosquito Fleet to find out which two historic vessels are still running—you might see one later!

“I think our most relevant area for maritime history is the Mosquito Fleet interactive kiosk, which also has some ferry and maritime items around it. If you follow the timeline, we’ve also got some maritime history as it pertains to the logging industry. We also have a new exhibit that is going to open next month in our back gallery, Trade of the Northwest, being put on by the JayHawk Foundation… on indigenous trade, before and after contact, which was mostly done by water.”

After leaving the Kitsap History Museum, walk down Pacific Avenue towards the Bremerton-Seattle ferry terminal. Don’t miss the many statues, interpretive signs, and even ship parts on permanent display along the street.

Visit the Puget Sound Navy Museum

Open every day except Tuesday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm | 251 1st St, Bremerton, WA 98337

The Puget Sound Navy Museum is one of 10 museums across the country administered by the U.S. Navy. The museum’s incredible interpretation, artifacts, and stories explain how important the Bremerton area is to the Navy and to the community. Housed within “Historic Building 50,” the Puget Sound Navy Museum collection numbers more than 18,000 items.

Today, visitors can learn about the region’s military history, including exhibits about the life of sailors, the USS John C. Stennis, Special Operations Submarines, barrage balloon anchors, and the massive aircraft carrier Ouija Board.

The museum is located next to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard—one of the most important military maritime heritage sites in the country. Established in 1891, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has repaired or built thousands of naval vessels to support the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The facility repaired five of the Pacific Fleet ships damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor, prepared ships for action in the Korean War, and became a leading facility for repairing and retiring nuclear-power equipment on modern vessels. Today, this active shipyard is a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and is home to five additional historic districts.

Although the shipyard itself is not open to the public, the Puget Sound Navy Museum offers plenty of opportunities to learn about the site’s history and current operations. When you’re leaving the museum, keep an eye out for some of the shipyard workers walking out for lunch. They handle the maintenance, modernization, and recycling of the United States Naval fleet.

“The big exhibit news for us [in summer 2024] is that our temporary exhibit ‘Patrol Boats on Puget Sound’ will close after Labor Day, and our new exhibit ‘A Salute to Style: Fashion and the U.S. Navy’ will open on November 1st!”

Stop for lunch in Bremerton

After your visit at the Puget Sound Navy Museum, there are plenty of places at which to grab a bite to eat in downtown Bremerton.

“Downtown, there’s the Horse & Cow (536 4th St, Bremerton, WA), which is a submariner’s spot, and they have lots of cool artifacts! The Boat Shed in Manette (101 Shore Drive, Bremerton, WA) is a waterfront location with a massive deck and a dock for boats, and it has quite a bit of seafood on the menu. You can walk from the ferry terminal along the boardwalk and then up to the Manette Bridge to get there. There’s also Anthony’s (20 Washington Ave, Bremerton, WA) right by the ferry terminal.”

Go aboard the USS Turner Joy

Open every day 10:00 am – 5:00 pm | 300 Washington Beach Ave, Bremerton, WA

After lunch, find your way to the Bremerton Boardwalk by going towards the ferry terminal and down the stairs or by walking down 2nd Street. On the boardwalk, snap a photo with the large propeller that commemorates 100 years of work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Then venture on to the USS Turner Joy for an incredibly unique experience. Built and commissioned in 1959 as a destroyer from the Forrest Sherman class of ships, the vessel had extensive service during the Vietnam War and served in encounters around the world. Most well-known for the infamous “Gulf of Tonkin Incident,” the Turner Joy played a part in the lead-up to the Vietnam War. The Turner Joy was eventually decommissioned in 1982 and took up permanent residence in Bremerton, serving as a floating museum and artifact of the era.

When you arrive, stop in the gift shop at the end of the boardwalk to purchase tickets. Be sure to grab a walking tour pamphlet and immerse yourself in the experience of living aboard this Vietnam-era destroyer.

After your visit to the USS Turner Joy, walk down the public marina towards the breakwater dock for a great view of the bow of the Turner-Joy and a close-up visit with the tugboat Dominion.

Cross Sinclair Inlet on the foot ferry to Port Orchard

Departing twice hourly on the :15s and :45s.

Now it’s time to head across the water to Port Orchard. Kitsap Transit operates a Bremerton-Port Orchard foot ferry that takes about 12 minutes (and is free on Sundays through the end of 2024!). It’s just down the stairs from the Bremerton-Seattle Ferry Terminal.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to ride on the iconic Carlisle II. As one of the two last remaining Mosquito Fleet vessels, the Carlisle II works as a backup for Kitsap Transit’s other vessels but does not run on a set schedule. If you don’t see it running, be sure to look for it at one of the docks!

Since the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is not open to the public, the foot ferry is one of the best places to catch a view of this massive military site.

Pro tip: If you’re early for your ferry, stop and rest your feet at the Harborside Fountain Park (251 1st Street, Bremerton, WA 98337). From the park, you can watch for a great “splash” from the submarine fountains or peer into the shipyard. We recommend using your break to read our profile of Ruth Reeber, Lead Test Engineer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, for an inside look at this important site.

Option One: Explore Port Orchard’s Waterfront

Arriving in Port Orchard, you have a variety of options for walking, dining, and exploring local businesses. We recommend taking a stroll along the Port Orchard Waterfront Pedestrian Pathway.

“Stepping off the [ferry] and making your way up to the sidewalk, you’ll find a beautifully designed totem pole that was created by Frank Smith of the Makah Tribe in honor of a Port Orchard resident who was involved with helping preserve the Tribe’s artifacts. Start at the boat launch across the street from City Hall and walk all the way to where it ends. Hop up to the top of the observation deck for a great view of the marina and Olympic Mountains.”

Next, you can visit the mural on the side of the Port Orchard Public Market for selfies and photo shoots before walking through the market. After you’ve done some shopping, stop in at the Veterans Living History Museum (825 Bay Street, Port Orchard, WA) to see a vast collection of uniforms and artifacts, highlighted by the personal stories of real service members. Examine a full space of military artifacts, including everything from Navy ship wash buckets to fragments of B-17s.

Pro tip: If you visit on a Saturday, Tom’s Fresh Oysters are sold at the Port Orchard Farmers Market from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Option Two: Visit the Lady Washington in Port Orchard

2024 dates include: July 15-22, August 19-26, and September 9-16

If you come to Port Orchard at the right time of year, you’ll have the exciting option to spend an afternoon aboard the historic vessel that has starred in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Star Trek: Generations,” “Once Upon a Time,” and “Revolution.” Launched on March 7, 1989, the Lady Washington is a full-scale replica of the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America in 1788.

Daily sails are generally offered at 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm, with additional dockside tours at 6:00 pm. But be sure to check the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport website for the day you’re planning to visit.

Pro tip: Schedule your visit in advance, arrive 15 minutes before the sailing, and check out the Frequently Asked Questions for clothing tips and more!

Grab dinner and head home

While making your way back towards the foot ferry, local expert Sarah Anderson recommends stopping by The Dock Bar & Eatery (715 Bay Street, Port Orchard, WA) for some fish and chips takeout. Take your bounty to the end of the dock inside the marina to enjoy at a picnic table overlooking a great panorama of Bremerton across the inlet.

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