Bainbridge Island is a first-class tourism destination, especially for those looking to incorporate a side adventure during a visit to Seattle. But for all the smiling sightseers who visit the Rock each year, how many get further inland than Winslow?
Finding your way around can be tough for those from afar, even on a comparatively compact island and with many merchants and cordial residents around to dish out tips and directions. It’s just not the same as having a local friend, a true insider willing to show you not just the photo op spots, but regal you with a little behind-the-scenes history along the way.
Well, these days everybody actually does have a friend like that.
Natalie Rodriguez recently celebrated her first anniversary as owner of Tour Bainbridge, the preeminent tour service on the island.
She founded the company in October 2017, having lived on Bainbridge for about two years by then, shocked to discover such a thing didn’t already exist.
A bit of research quickly showed that there had not been a pro tour company servicing Bainbridge since about 2012, after Kitsap Tours closed. Rodriguez reached out to the retired owners, a husband-and-wife team, about her interest in organizing something new and found an encouraging audience. They offered advice, business records, tips and tricks, eager, she said, to see somebody new take up the mantle.
“It was kind of a glove-in-hand-type of situation, which is kind of weird because I found her phone number on the internet,” Rodriguez laughed. “I cold-called her, really.”
A summer of research followed before Tour Bainbridge officially opened for business.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect,” Rodriguez said. “My background is in sales, so I sat by the ferry just to kind of people watch and hear what people were talking about during the summer, before I started this. And a lot of people would grab the map and be like, ‘Oh, where am I going? How do I get to the town?’”
A year later, Tour Bainbridge is thriving, having hosted visitors from many far-flung locales, most making the trip across the water as part of a larger trip to Seattle, Rodriguez said.
The company offers five different tour plans, each designed to highlight a different aspect of Bainbridge culture: the Bainbridge Winery Tour, the Sightseeing Adventure, the History and Hiking Tour, the Craft Beer and Spirits Tour and, for those seeking something further afield, the Chief Seattle Adventure, which includes a trip across the bridge to see Chief Seattle’s gravesite and the Suquamish Museum.
Rodriguez said she hopes every tour imparts on her customers a bit of what she felt upon first visiting the island.
“When I came here to Bainbridge Island, it was kind of a thing where I stepped off the boat and was like, ‘Wow, this is home; I really like it here,’” she said. “I started going to the museums and on hikes and just talking to the locals on my walks and people here are just amazing and this place has so much history and beauty.
“I really wanted to share the beauty of Bainbridge and the palpable heartbeat that Bainbridge has,” she said. “When I got here I could feel the heartbeat of Bainbridge; it was an amazing experience for me. And I wanted to share it with others.”
Of course, the tours hit some staple spots you’d expect, but Rodriguez said her guides (Tour Bainbridge employs three driver/guides) take great pride in showcasing the island’s less obvious treasures.
“It’s just so fun to do,” she said. “Bainbridge has a lot more to it than just the downtown strip.”
Each tour is limited to 11 guests, and can also be arranged as private events.
Visit www.tourbainbridge.com to learn more and check availability/pricing.