Some of Washington’s Best Indie Bookstores Require a Ferry to Get To

Happy things happen when you let your reading passion take the wheel.

By Hilary Meyerson October 30, 2017


This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Check out the rest of our fall road trips package here.

For book lovers, a trip built around visits to some of Washington’s best independent bookstores allows you to indulge in a few ferry rides while enjoying gorgeous scenery with the promise of multiple browsing stops along the way. An island-hopping route from Seattle to Vashon Island, Bainbridge Island (with stops at Winslow and Poulsbo), Port Townsend, Langley (on Whidbey Island) and back to Seattle is possible in a day—if you get an early start.

Each independent bookstore at these stops is a labor of love by a local Northwestern book lover, and each store is uniquely flavored by its community and owners. You’ll find books you’d never find elsewhere; always ask for recommendations. Chances are, you’ll be introduced to a new author or a title you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Photographs by Sheereen Hitner (vashon); Madison Duckworth (liberty bay)Catch an early ferry to visit independent bookstores, starting on Vashon Island and cozy Vashon Bookshop; Don’t miss tiny Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo.

Stop No. 1 

Grab the early-morning ferry from West Seattle to Vashon Island to arrive at the charming Vashon Bookshop by 9 a.m. The shop is smack in the heart of town, a straight shot from the ferry. Inside, the friendly and comfortable atmosphere, along with the inventory, is a reflection of the well-read and eco-conscious Vashon community: 80 percent of the inventory is used, and 20 percent new. Owner Nancy Katica says it’s not uncommon for a customer to bring in a book for trade, only to buy it back when they find that they miss it. Not surprisingly on this rural island, with its strong farm-to-table ethos, the collections of gardening and cookbooks are impressive, but the poetry and history sections are standouts. 

With your new book discoveries in hand, head up the block for breakfast at Snapdragon Bakery and Café, a community hub. The vegetarian fare and baked goods alone are worth the trip. If you’ve come on a Saturday, the farmers’ market down the street will be in full swing; there, you can pick up a few growlers from Vashon Brewing or some made-from-scratch tomato jam from the Seattle Canning Co.

Photograph by Shelley Hanna. Fuel up with a pastry from Vashon’s Snapdragon Bakery and Café.

Stop No. 2 

Return to the ferry dock for the short hop to Southworth and then onto Bainbridge Island and Winslow, where Eagle Harbor Book Co. holds a place of prestige among Northwest book lovers. It’s the biggest of the stores on this trip. The wide inventory includes an impressive selection of contemporary fiction and a significant section of locally penned titles. If you’re lucky, there will be an author reading going on—the bookstore hosts dozens of these each year. There’s also a standout kids’ section.

Fuel up for the next leg of your journey at Pegasus Coffee House. For a bite, try the quiches at Blackbird Bakery before you return to your car. 

Stop No. 3 

A short drive from Winslow and at the other end of Bainbridge Island is the Viking haven of Poulsbo, home to the small Liberty Bay Books in the center of town. This bookstore feels like being in the home library of an eccentric reader—it’s a single room, with a maze of bookshelves and tables of books to navigate through in the front and a coffee shop in back. You might have to squeeze by another bibliophile while browsing. Another community stalwart, the shop hosts a range of book clubs, from Books and Brews for the beer lovers (recently reading The Summer Dragon) to The Wine and Book Club (a recent choice was Fitzgerald’s classic Tender Is the Night). 

Behind the bookstore is lovely Liberty Bay. Before continuing your journey, stretch your legs with a walk along this waterfront, from American Legion Park to Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park. If the weather is nice, score a table on the waterfront at JJ’s Fish House or That’s-a-some Italian Ristorante. Before you leave, stroll through town and take in the Viking mural on the Marina Market building.

Stop No. 4 

Head to the Victorian town of Port Townsend about 50 minutes away—the longest drive on this trip, which crosses Hood Canal Bridge and winds along a waterfront stretch of Hood Canal before passing lovely farms on the way into the old seaport. A serious treat for the bibliophile is Imprint Books on Water Street. It’s even more of a destination for the aspiring writer since owner Anna Quinn also operates the Writers’ Workshoppe from the store, a resource that brings together novice writers and best-selling authors with frequent workshops on writing. Not surprisingly, Imprint Books has an excellent collection of books on writing, and its literary fiction and poetry sections are also stellar. Ask Quinn for a recommendation and you won’t be disappointed. 

Take the time to explore the rest of Water Street in this postcard-perfect town, including another well-loved bookstore, William James Bookseller, focusing on quality used and old books. Enjoy a beverage, and the view of Port Townsend Bay, at Sirens Pub; if you’ve timed your visit during happy hour, you can score some steamed clams and microbrews  (for the passengers in your group). Then take a short drive down the street to Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op, where the Western Flyer, a boat made famous by John Steinbeck’s book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, is being refurbished. Visitors from around the world have been coming to take a peek. 

Photograph by Anna Quinn. Children’s author Patrick Jennings at Imprint Books in Port Townsend; the shop is known for its writer workshops.

Stop No. 5 

From Port Townsend, hop the ferry to Coupeville on Whidbey Island and drive south to the town of Langley, where Moonraker Books serves as the hub for Whidbey’s many authors and artists. Owner Josh Hauser has been running the shop for nearly 45 years and is the town’s unofficial ambassador. The small store has an excellent curated selection, especially of current fiction, local authors, cookbooks and history. The real value is in the excellent staff recommendations and the welcoming experience of buying a book here. You’ll leave with a great one, and feel like you’ve made a few new friends.

Since Langley is your last stop, take some time to enjoy dinner and a stroll through the picturesque town, visiting the cute shops and the art galleries (don’t miss the Rob Schouten Gallery, with its excellent collection of Northwest artists). Enjoy a glass of wine at Ott and Murphy Wines, or dinner at Prima Bistro, where France meets the Pacific Northwest, on its deck overlooking the water. When you’re done, gather your books and head to the Clinton ferry dock for your return to Seattle. The ferry deck is an excellent place to start reading. 

Photograph by Eagle Harbor. Kids enjoy a reading with Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey at Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Book Co.

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Stop No. 1

Vashon Bookshop  Vashon Island, 17612 Vashon Highway SW; 206.463.2616;

Snapdragon Bakery and Café  Vashon Island, 17817 Vashon Highway SW; 206.463.1310;

Stop No. 2

Eagle Harbor Book Co.  Winslow, 157 Winslow Way E; 206.842.5332;

Blackbird Bakery Winslow, 210 Winslow Way E; 206.780.1322;

Pegasus Coffee House  Bainbridge Island, Winslow, 131 Parfitt Way SW; 206.842.6725;

Stop No. 3

Liberty Bay Books  Poulsbo, 18881-D Front St. NE; 360.779.5909;

JJ’s Fish House  Poulsbo, 18881 Front St. NE; 360.779.6609;

That’s-a-Some Italian Ristorante  Poulsbo, 18881 Front St. NE; 360.779.2266;

Stop No. 4

The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books  Port Townsend, 820 Water St.; 360.379.2617;

Sirens Pub  Port Townsend, 823 Water St.; 360.379.1100;

Western Flyer boat  Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op, Port Townsend, 919 Haines Place; 360.385.6138;

William James Bookseller  Port Townsend, 829 Water St. 360.385.7313;

Stop No. 5

Moonraker Books  Langley, 209 First St.; 360.221.6962; Facebook, “Moonraker Books

Primo Bistro  Langley, 201 1/2 First St.; 360.221.4060;

Ott and Murphy Wines  Langley, 204 First St.; 360.221.7131;

Rob Schouten Gallery  Langley, 101 Anthes Ave.; 360.222.3070;

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