Gig Harbor is an adorable small town located just over the Narrows Bridges from Tacoma. It’s an easy drive from Seattle (an even easier drive from Tacoma!) and even though it’s no bustling metropolis, it’s got a lot of fun things to do if you’re looking for a relaxed day trip or weekend away.
But don’t just take it from us — Gig Harbor was named one of the best small towns in American by the Smithsonian. From riding a trolley to kicking back on an actual Venetian gondola to exploring waterfront shops, here are our favorite things to do in Gig Harbor.
Downtown refers to the streets on Gig Harbor’s lovely waterfront, including the stretch of Harborview Drive that curves around the harbor. The view here can’t be beat: boats bobbing on water are pretty, but on a clear day the view of Mt. Rainier from the north end of the harbor is stunning. The area is supremely walkable and is filled with cute shops, art galleries, and places to eat. Grab a coffee at Java and Clay, some ice cream at Kelly’s or Harbor General Store, or a bite to eat at any number of restaurants. Kids will love stopping by Skansie Brothers Park, where there’s a small spray pad in warmer months, clean bathrooms, and even life jackets that kids can wear for a walk down to the dock.
The flipside of Downtown is Uptown, which is located just off Highway 16 on Point Fosdick Drive. While you won’t find the same quaintness you’ll find in downtown, what you will find is an IMAX theater, stores where you can get your shop on (including a great little toy store), and restaurants. Local secret: the ACE Hardware Store has the BEST gift and homeware section. Gorgeous stuff.
Take the Trolley
Okay, so it’s not a trolley with tracks, but it’s a bus that looks like a trolley and you can take it between Downtown and Uptown Gig Harbor during the summer. It’s a great way to get around if you don’t want to do the driving (or if you happened to have arrived in Gig Harbor by boat), and a hit with kids.
Get out on the Water
Gig Harbor is a maritime town, so don’t miss your chance to explore the water! You can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at a couple places in Downtown Gig Harbor that are right on Harborview Drive. You’ll see a new view of the water (there’s even a little lighthouse at the mouth of the Harbor). Even if you don’t have any experience, the rental company can give you an overview. If you’ve got some boating experience, you can also rent boats at several places along the Harbor to go fishing or otherwise enjoy the day out on the water.
Visit a Park or Hit the Trails
One of the best things about Gig Harbor is how much of it is still forested and natural, which means the parks are beautiful and a joy to explore. There are all kinds of city and county parks worth visiting, especially if you have kids (Sehmel Homestead Park is always a great choice), but there are also a few state parks in the area. Kopachuck State Park and Penrose Point State Park are close by and make fun places to hike, bike, fish or explore the shore by day. You can also camp at both parks.
Gig Harbor was originally a fishing village, and it’s devoted to its roots with an annual Blessing of the Fleet festival for its local fishing boats. So why not try your hand at the local specialty? If you aren’t sure where to start, there’s an upscale fly fishing shop downtown that sells supplies and has classes. You can also drop a line from a dock, like the public fishing dock on nearby Fox Island.
Eat and Drink Your Heart Out
Gig Harbor’s dining and drinking scene is small yet mighty. The waterfront restaurants along Harborview offer lovely places for a meal out. The Tides Tavern (21+ only), Anthony’s Restaurant, and Netshed No. 9 are popular waterfront spots, but a special treat is the local brewery and distillery scene. Heritage Distillery, Seven Seas Brewing, and Gig Harbor Brewery are all downtown, and Wet Coast Brewery is at the top of the hill if you feel like walking up steep Pioneer Avenue from the Harbor. Local tip: it’s both delicious AND exciting to boat, kayak, or paddle board up to the dock at Tides Tavern and pick up your to-go food order.
Visit the Harbor History Museum
At the end of the harbor by Donkey Creek Park is a beautiful museum. Go inside and you can learn about the history of the area, admire local artwork, and get to know Gig Harbor. Even if you don’t go inside, you can glimpse the old schoolhouse and old boats out back when walking around.
Learn about Local Wildlife
You’ll likely spot some wildlife in your adventures around town, whether it’s a raccoon on a trail, a bald eagle overhead, or cranes standing in the water hunting for fish. If you want to learn more about the local critters, Harbor Wildwatch has great programs and hosts an interpretive center downtown at Skansie Brothers Park. You can visit Donkey Creek Park next to the Harbor History Museum to view salmon runs. You’ll even find local festivals most years celebrating the local wildlife, like the return of the salmon to Donkey Creek with the Chum Festival.
Ride the Gondola
There’s an actual Venetian gondola in Gig Harbor operated by an experienced gondolier, and booking a ride on this gondola is a treat! Up to 6 people can ride in the gondola at a time. You can bring your own food or pre-purchase some tasty snacks that will greet you for your journey on the water. You’ll get a tour of the Harbor and maybe even a song. There’s never a bad time to be on a gondola, but timing your trip for right around sunset on a clear day is especially awesome.
Walk or Bike the Narrows Bridge
Today, there are two Narrows Bridges spanning between Tacoma and Gig Harbor and the newer one has a walking path along it formally called the Scott Pierson Trail. There is access to this trail from Stone Drive in Gig Harbor, and you can park along that road. The span of the bridge is just over a mile and you’ll walk for a little bit until you reach the actual bridge. From the bridge, you’ll get great views over the water and out into the distance. If you look really closely, you might see some sea lions bobbing in the water 188 feet below. Keep in mind there are no bathrooms on the bridge and you’re totally open to the elements (it gets very windy!) so be prepared.
Check out the Gig Harbor Lighthouse
If you’re a lighthouse fan, there is an itty bitty lighthouse in Gig Harbor. It’s on the opposite side of the Harbor from Downtown and tops out at only 15 feet tall. The grounds are a pleasant place for a picnic or some photos, and there’s a bit of shore to explore too. For a great view of this little lighthouse, walk all the way to the south end of Harborview Drive to the old ferry landing.