I am ashamed to say that in the 18 years I’ve lived in Washington state, this is my first year exploring the magnificent Olympic Peninsula. The mountain views, ocean smell and charming marine towns are enchanting, and one particular marine town hooked my heart forever — Poulsbo, Washington.
A new friend of mine happens to be a Poulsbo local, and after hearing the detailed fondness of her hometown, I asked her to give me a tour of what Washingtonians call “Little Norway.” I am a sucker for fun, touristy attractions because although tourism can include large crowds and clichés, behind them are usually history, tradition and community intention, and those are the things I’m indeed a sucker for. In the 1820s and 1870s, Dog Fish Bay, otherwise known as Liberty Bay, the Suquamish people’s land, was settled by Norwegian immigrants and founded Poulsbo. Poulsbo was a Scandinavian destination for generations, hence how it attained its nickname and cherished Norse motif. And because I have Norwegian and Scandinavian lineage, this trip felt extra special for me.
Velkommen Til Downtown
During warm summer days, Poulsbo is buzzing with tourists who come to enjoy the views on the water and the cute downtown. We chose to go during the offseason. My friend and I arrived on a cloudy weekday, which felt unfortunate as far as blue-sky views go and the necessary raincoat, but the benefit was the ability to browse town without the crowds. Before exploring downtown, we took a pleasant stroll along Liberty Bay, a perfect spot for family gatherings and dog walks. We admired the sailboats and giant wooden gazebo while getting my little Aussie pup some exercise. There are so many nods to old Nordic culture, with several themed murals that add color and brightness, along with the seasonal changing rosemaled window paintings, European architecture, Scandinavian flags strung up around town and if you look closely, you’ll notice the Viking boat emblems on the benches along Front Street.
We began our chilly, drizzly tour with a piping cup of cocoa at the walk up-espresso window, Viking Brew, located along the main drag. Be careful, or you might miss it. Helpful tip: Look for the “Coffee on the Corner” sign. This little café is walk-up only, but that’s part of the fun! Other highly suggested cafes are Cups Espresso, where you can grab a delicious piece of Strata and Poulsbohemian Café, where the water views are unbeatable, and you can get a glimpse of the never-ending community scarf.
I’m a firm believer that a warm beverage should always accompany a pastry of some sort, which is why visiting the famous Sluys Bakery was a must. Mounds of strudel, Finnish ribbon cookies, sweet, sticky rolls, frosting-painted goodies and toasted, coconut donuts (my personal favorite) are displayed. Sluys has a welcoming staff and a sweet smell right as you enter the door. Sluys is arguably one of the more popular destinations in town, but they keep that homey, small batch feel alive for customers.
Boutiques, Antiques, Décor And More
Check out hand-painted Dala horses and other rosemaling goods, some limpa bread baking mix and a variety of classic “Uff-Da” apparel at Nordiska Shop. Pair a locally made bar of soap with a book of poetry at Edit Apothecary. Shop modern Swedish fashion at Flicka, pick out sweet rustic decor at Front Street Home Store, and buy your grandmother that elegant vase she’s been searching for at Cat’s Meow Antiques. Poulsbo features many charming boutiques, shops, and art galleries, but if you’re looking for something Scandinavian/Poulsbo kitsch, be sure to stop by Marina Market. This little market has Nordic souvenirs, snacks and even a licorice shrine to admire.
Food and Drink
Downtown Poulsbo offers delicious dining options for lunch and dinner, such as The Paella Bar, JJ’s Fish House and The Loft, which my local friend says is the best spot for a bite on a nice evening. The outdoor seating is located on their deck, giving customers a pristine view of the bay, and there are lights strung all about to enhance the vibe. If you don’t plan on driving home anytime soon, indulge in a glass of wine at the little slice of Italy in little Norway, Sogno di Vino, or take a turn and head up the street to Valholl Brewing. Enjoy the Viking esthetic, wooden interior and savor a Golden Warrior ale with your fluffy friend. Yes, dogs are welcome! My Australian Shepherd appreciated being able to tag along.
Although many businesses in Poulsbo are open for in-store shopping and dining, please keep in mind to adhere to the safety guidelines of Kitsap County. Until we meet again, ha det Poulsbo!