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Home Road Trip On the Kitsap Peninsula, a road trip to a sweet Scandinavian spot

On the Kitsap Peninsula, a road trip to a sweet Scandinavian spot

by Staff

Known as “Little Norway,” Poulsbo’s late-1800s immigrant population felt drawn to the region’s familiar, fjordlike bay, hills and forests. The name comes from Postmaster General’s 1888 accidental misreading of “Paulsbo,” the name of an inspirational Norwegian village. 

Poulsbo eventually became a hub of harvests pulled from sea and land. Today, Poulsbo’s seaside Scandifluence is felt almost everywhere — from Finn Hill Road to Viking Avenue, Fjord Drive to Lindvig Way. A UK-style red telephone booth sits on one corner, Norwegian flags festoon posts and staircases and a “Velkommen til Poulsbo!” mural and monstrous Viking invite day-trippers and weekend stays. Gingerbread-house-like storefronts and awnings feel welcoming, no matter the weather.

Downtown shops run from antique collectibles to bestselling book and wine releases. You’ll find clothing and shoe shops, artists’ cooperative galleries, candy shops, and more. But the town’s biggest appeal stems from its nautical, Nordic heritage. Pop into Cargo Hold for brass barometers and other ship supplies, and Nordiska for imported Scandinavian clothes, housewares, children’s items and gifts.

Marina Market’s tall, packed shelves offer a forager’s delight of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Danish, Dutch and Finnish foods, including frozen and prepared items, snacks and sweet treats. Whether you’re seeking fishballs, salty licorice or crispbread, Marina Market likely stocks it.

Stop inside the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse to enjoy a coffee and spectacular Liberty Bay views framed by the cafe’s window — views so enchanting that a sign asks visitors to limit their stays.

Poulsbo’s baked treats are a delight, too. Sluys’ Poulsbo Bakery is likely the town’s most famous spot, and you won’t overlook the weekend lines out the door. In the Sluys family since 1966, the bakery offers fresh-made breads, doughnuts, cookies and other pastries. However, Mama’s Armenian Kitchen is a steaming-hot new competitor. The owners work all week for their brief Saturday-morning-only opening, and the stash of traditional Armenian pastries and breakfast items sell out by around noon.

In and near downtown offers a few free stops for those curious about the town’s background and current importance. Downtown, the Heritage Museum focuses on Poulsbo’s city founding, farming families, churches and schools and includes apparel and personal items that belonged to early Scandinavian-descendent families. Find “Things Found in Walls” — items built into homes — and Indigenous Sami descendants’ interesting history and clothing.

Further outside downtown, the Martinson family’s cabin was built in the late 1800s. The cabin is now open to visitors to explore the cabin’s tiny kitchen re-created with antique tools, a high-ceilinged living room and petite furniture, and stairs to the upstairs sleeping quarters.

Also in downtown Poulsbo, Western Washington University’s SEA Discovery Center opens on Friday and Saturday, with admission by donation. An enormous intertidal zone touch tank is the main attraction and is filled with Salish Sea residents, including sand rose anemones, giant green anemones, sea stars and kelp crabs. Further within, find more tanks and sea critters.

Staying in Poulsbo can be somewhat limited. The largest hotel in the area is the new construction Fairfield Inn & Suites Seattle Poulsbo, a sleek chain with solid options (and a tiny forest view for some rooms). It’s well outside the downtown core but near some strip mall finds, including fritters, bars and savory kolaches from the Gomez family at Lone Star Donuts, and creative pies at Nantucket Island-founded Oath Pizza.

While tiny lights act like icing on the historic town streets on cold winter nights, the second Saturday of every month offers a particularly charming occasion. At Second Saturday Art Walk, local businesses stay open a little later for an evening of shopping, dining and refreshment-laden gallery receptions.

Just a block or two off Front Street, find Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park for a pedestrian boardwalk alongside mist-draped Liberty Bay views and the town’s festival bonfires. If you take the boardwalk further north, you’ll link up with the playground and picnic tables of American Legion Park.

Poulsbo is wild about parks, with 16 developed and undeveloped greenspaces in the petite town. South of downtown, find Oyster Plant Park, where an oyster processing plant once operated. North of Downtown, the 1.5 miles of Fish Park’s dirt paths, wooden boardwalks and viewing platforms take you through wetlands, past interpretive signs and into a stark, beautiful Alder forest.

But try to visit now, during the low season — tourist marauders will soon arrive with pleasant summer temperatures for summer festivals. March and April also offer a few notable events, including March’s Poulsbo Beer Run coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day, and April’s opening of the Poulsbo Farmers Market.

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