Venetian Gondola Tours Are the Best Way to Explore Gig Harbor

Forget yachts and kayaks—it’s all about the Venetian gondola in Gig Harbor

By Chelsea Lin

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October 9, 2019

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the October 2019 issue, as part of the Fall Road Trips cover story. Click here to subscribe.

When I first heard that Gig Harbor had a gondola, I wondered where in town the aerial tramway could possibly be located. But I had the wrong type of gondola in mind entirely.

Instead, Gig Harbor Gondola is a harbor boat company owned and operated by local John Synco. The trained gondolier and Italophile shepherds guests around the harbor on 60- or 90-minute tours ($85 and $115 respectively, pricing is for two people) via an authentic Venetian gondola—those low, richly decorated boats with the carvings and the red plush love seats. Synco moved to Washington from California in 2011 and found Gig Harbor on Google Maps in a search for a protected harbor from which to operate his fledgling gondola business. He bought Nelly, his 30-something-year-old Venetian-made vessel, in 2015 and started offering his first tours from the marina. Each year, he says, has been busier than the last, so much so that he brought in a business partner, Greg Garite, and second boat in August.

It’s easy to see why. The ride—smooth, relaxing, definitely romantic with the right person—is one of those experiences that feel special and unique, without being kitschy. A large part of what makes it enjoyable is Synco, who peppers the tour with historical tidbits about the town and commentary about the multimillion-dollar homes that ring the harbor. It doesn’t hurt that he does a pretty decent rendition of “O Sole Mio.” 

Synco offers gourmet snack packs for purchase ($12) before the tour, made nearby at the Harbor General Store. You should stop there before your tour to pick up a bottle of Washington wine, or a selection from the old timey candy jars, to enjoy onboard. Afterward, to keep the Italian theme going, plan to have a lunch or dinner of wood-fired pizza and burrata caprese at the nearby Millville Pizza Co. These spots, and a bounty of locally owned restaurants and boutiques, are all within the very walkable downtown corridor near the marina.

Millville Pizza Co. has a menu of tasty pizzas and salad. Photo courtesy of Milville Pizza

Of course, if you want to extend your stay, there are boutique hotel options nearby, such as the Waterfront Inn, formerly a fisherman’s home, built in 1918. But it’s easy enough to say grazie mille and head back to Seattle, high off Synco’s enthusiasm for Gig Harbor and humming that Italian love song.

TO GET THERE
Gig Harbor is about an hour drive southwest of Seattle.
Why we like it: The downtown, set along a protected inlet of Puget Sound, offers unexpected charm.
Main attraction: Take a boat ride around the harbor via the Pacific Northwest’s only Venetian gondola.
Don’t miss: Ocean5, a new family-friendly rec center (think bowling alley meets arcade in super-stylish digs), and its accompanying farm-to-table restaurant, Table 47, are the best places in town to spend a rainy day.

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