Hidden away in what midshipman Joseph Sandford described as a “pretty little bay that is concealed from the Sound” is the town of Gig Harbor, Washington. Sandford served aboard the U.S.S. Porpoise, part of a surveying expedition sent by the U.S. Navy in 1841 to explore Puget Sound. The crew discovered a small village inhabited by the Twa-Wal-Kut people, who were living the traditional way, catching and cooking salmon on the beach. It was more than 20 years later when three fishermen slipped past the sand pit into the bay, either looking for a place to spend the night, or blown in by a storm (accounts vary). They liked the harbor so much that they decided to stay. The three—Samuel Jerisich, Peter Goldsmith, and John Farrague—claimed land around Donkey Creek and started fishing the plentiful waters of Gig Harbor.
The town grew with fishing, logging, and ship building as the main industries. Gig Harbor was hit hard during the Great Depression, but locals could always find plenty of fish to eat. By the 1950s, Gig Harbor was much like any small American town, the only exception being that boats were the transportation of choice. The local fishing industry declined through the 1970s, tourist attractions and B&Bs have since sprung up to fill the void.
GIG HARBOR HIGHLIGHT
Heritage Distilling Co. (HDC) on the corner of Pioneer and Harborview is not to be missed. Going on five years as the most-awarded craft distillery in North America by the American Distillery Institute, HDC’s house-made spirits are more than deserving of a tasting flight or two. With 22 natural vodka flavors among other unique spirits, it’s easy to spend an entire day tasting HDC’s extensive selection.
Make the perfect cocktail, purchase a growler, and learn the secrets behind their noteworthy creations just a few steps from Gig Harbor’s waterfront. Check out their membership programs to dive deeper into the distilling process. The Heritage Cask Club allows you to customize your own whiskey, gin, or vodka with your preferred flavor(s). For the full three-hour distilling experience, the flagship location a few miles away will guide you through the distilling process from beginning to end in their My Batch program (hailing a ride with your smart device is recommended if you came in by boat). At the end of the tour, visitors take home a small barrel of handmade spirit to age as you please! Program costs vary. See heritagedistilling.com for details.
Today, Gig Harbor’s population numbers around 7,000 and spreads out much farther north and south than the original settlement. The historic waterfront is filled with restaurants and marinas, but locals have preserved 17 net sheds as a monument to Gig Harbor’s past. Not many towns on the water have had the foresight to so successfully utilize their historic waterfronts. Tourists wander the streets dining at any number of charming restaurants, shopping in small boutiques, or just pausing and imagining the little fishing village of a century ago. If you find yourself cruising by, check out all that Gig Harbor has to offer.