There is a lot to see from waterfront homes on Bainbridge Island, except when there isn’t.
What my inner Yogi Berra is implying is that no two properties here have the same experience of drawing the drama into the home. The size of the windows, the surrounding trees and the orientation of the home are critical factors in how the shoreline and beyond is brought in to be a part of the experience. The property’s grounds, the tree density, and distance to and vertical relief above the water all result in a one of a kind gaze upon the horizon and across the water to the other side.
When I am touring a waterfront home, I stop in my tracks several times around the home and grounds to soak in what I can see: determine if the view is panoramic or just filtered through densely spaced old growth trees. I note whether I have to look over a neighbor's fence line and yard to catch that glimpse of Seattle, or if I have unobstructed views of mountain peaks or an entire mountain range. I sold a waterfront home last year on The Spit that has a view of both the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Mountains.
The height of a home above the water positively impacts the experience, as homes at higher elevations have what I call a "vista view"- that king of the hill feeling that you are on top of it all. But the homes that are right on the water have a private beach as the yard. The distance to land across the water comes into play as well- close like Rich Passage or Agate Passage or feeling like a Great Plains of water for miles and miles in front of Restoration Point, Sunrise, or Crystal Springs.
View and Scenery
I consider view to be the part of Mother Nature that is encompassed in how far and wide the eyes can see, while the scenery is which of Mankind's creations will catch one's attention.
No matter the location, the view always includes water, trees, and land. Hence the elements in my logo.
The scenery, however, could include the twinkling city lights in Seattle, moored boats, boat traffic or merely other residential properties tucked in a forested land on the shorelines of Puget Sound. I know someone who lives in Port Madison and has never grown tired of staring at all the hulls, masts, or infrequent aircraft making a turn over the north end of the island on its way into Sea-Tac Airport. I also know someone who spends many leisurely hours mesmerized by the patterns on the surface of the water as the tide fluctuates up and down in the lagoon inside Point Monroe. Then there's the gentleman on Rockaway Beach Drive that said he got bored with the water after a few years and his primary enjoyment later changed to the lights of Seattle at night.
I have found people make view and scenery to be a primary factor, sometimes over the home itself, when evaluating waterfront homes. Let's face it - money can fix any defective part of a home such as remodeling or completely relocating a kitchen. But you just can't change the location of a site and the orientation of the home on it. While some people insist on living on Rockaway Beach Drive because of the dead-on view of the Space Needle and the Seattle Skyline, others would not live anywhere other than the west side of the island because of its epic sunsets and sunshine well past nine o’clock in the summertime.
People that bought a waterfront home with me last year did not want to live in Port Madison or a similar location just because the land on the other side was too close and that resembled their lake house. This requirement of theirs limited the stretches of waterfront shoreline they would consider, as they needed that large open water experience that felt to them like a true beach property.
Ultimately, these folks found a home with a view from Mount Baker all the way down to Mount Rainier, with many miles of Puget Sound water in between. And they couldn’t be happier.
It is important to recognize that not all waterfront homes on Bainbridge Island have access to the beach. While property lines extend out into the tidelands, there may be a vertical cliff at the edge of the grounds in front of the home and the beach may be over a hundred feet down without stairs to descend to it.
Listings in our local MLS have a category for what type of height a waterfront property for sale qualifies as no bank, low bank, medium bank or high bank. There is some subjectivity to how listing agents enter this field, and a property may be marketed as strictly one type, or its sloped topography may prompt a listing agent to assign multiple designations.
For example, this home on Sunrise Drive enjoys overreaching views far over Puget Sound as it sits at an elevation of a couple of hundred feet and is over 500 feet inland from the water frontage. But it was marketed as no bank because the topography slopes gently down to a long stretch of beach grasses at high tide line. This home was classified as both high bank and no bank because the home sits up high on the bluff, but there were landscaping improvements on the beach to make that a living space for the waterfront lifestyle.
Typically, no bank and low bank waterfront homes on Bainbridge Island have ground floors that are just above beach elevation or within a dozen vertical feet above, and access to the water of Puget Sound is easy. The home may sit high on the site, or it may be on piers where Puget Sound's high tides come in under the home. There may be a bulkhead in place or even street in between the home and the beach. Out on "The Spit," the road can flood and have a few inches of standing water at high tide with winter storm surges, while on Rockaway Beach, one owner’s bulkhead has a drainage system for water that may drain it and into his manicured garden. These homes make the beach a genuine part of their lifestyle.
Medium bank homes tend to sit a few dozen feet or more above the beach. Most of them have access, but with a section of moderately steep trail with some steps or stairs installed. This is where I will count a ballpark of a hundred paces or more from the home down to the beach and may have shortness of breath after coming back up to the house from the beach below. These homes tend to enjoy the epic views of the water and enjoy access when necessary, but they don’t have the lifestyle that resembles a beach cabin.
High bank waterfront homes live with a vista type view, sitting high atop the water and being able to see far over its stretches. This is a "king of the mountain" type of view. Most of these properties do not have access to the beach, and the lifestyle is about the drama of the experience. The few homes that do have access have a very long trail or steps to the beach and can be over 300 paces down a couple of hundred vertical feet. This home has a cable car that descends people from the deck down over the bluff to the beach below.
No matter the designation, if a home has access to the beach, I will take it all the way to the Puget Sound shoreline to see what it's like from a lifestyle standpoint, so I can share with my clients what it's like. This is easy to convey by sending photos and videos to clients who request this.
While large estates may have over 200’ hundred feet of fee simple shoreline, a property can be considered waterfront if it has just a 5’ access easement. Homes on Rockaway Beach Road on stacked in like sardines on 60’ lots. Waterfront sales in the last year have averaged 130’ of frontage.
The ultimate focus of one's attention in these properties, obviously, is the water. But for many buyers of waterfront homes on Bainbridge Island, solitude is just as crucial as view and scenery. Because most waterfront homes are built close to the water, they end up close to neighboring homes, even waterfront homes on large acreage lots.
The ability to enjoy the lifestyle in solitude is of utmost importance. When evaluating property, it's crucial to assess how noticeable the neighbor's homes are. Looking at the size of the lot with this in mind is misleading, however, because of the way the lots were laid out. There is a wide variation in how the lot size lives in relation to its neighbors, and this is dependent upon how the shape of the shoreline.
The point is, life tends to be set up in a way that faces the direction of the water. Depending on the width of the lot, and the orientation of the home, it's possible not to see a single neighboring residence out the windows, or to have to look over a neighbor's fence, yard or roof while gazing at the scenery.
Since the listing photos do not show you these obstructed views online, nor is it easy to infer from sleuthing with online maps, I recommend forming a relationship with a Realtor who sees every waterfront home to hit the local market, as I do. Then you'll be able to see photos and videos from a property that often can provide a more accurate representation of a home's privacy.
The Drive Up
It's rare for homes on Bainbridge Island to have gated access. Many waterfront homes are accessed by a long gravel road through a dark forested canopy of evergreen trees, thus offering a similar experience of transitioning from public street to private oasis.
The approach to one's home from the street varies widely depending on the neighborhood. On Crystal Springs Drive, for example, waterfront homes are set on relatively small lots, and the road lies between the house and the beach. On Rockaway Beach Drive, however, the road is on the inside of the homes and their small lots. Contrast that to Sunrise Drive, where homes can be several hundred feet down a long private or shared driveway.
Sunshine & Storms
The air temperature and wind speed impact a home based on where it sits. The closer the home sits to water frontage, the more likely it will follow the weather patterns over the water. And when a lot is long enough, and the home sits back off the water, the weather may be radically different across the property. My client's new home at the west tip of the island is nestled in the trees 125’ back from the bulkhead and stays 15-20 degrees cooler than the beach after the latter spent the day of baking in the summer sun (and after an extensive renovation with an architect I referred them to, they made LUXE Magazine).
Sand & Surf
The beaches on Bainbridge Island are as unique as the other elements that makeup waterfront properties. With 53 miles of undulating shoreline, there is a wide variety of orientations and exposures. And while all the water looks the same when the tide is high, what separates properties is what’s revealed when the tide goes out and is low.
One aspect that surprises a lot of people is the beach material is different all around the island. In some areas it's large cobbles, others its sand of varying coarseness, or it could be mud. The type of material is dependent upon the local geology and also the speed at which the water moves at that part of the shoreline.
For example, Restoration Point is located on solid bedrock at an area in Puget Sound where the current is strong with ebbing and flowing tidal waters- up to a half dozen knots/hour. As a result, there is no sand and relatively very few smaller rocks found anywhere. On the other hand, the head of Eagle Harbor is two miles inland from the fast-moving tidal waters, and the area is a mud flat at low tide.
Another aspect that people don’t expect is the variety of water movement and what the surface of the water does. Never still, this force of nature is mesmerizing in the patterns it creates as wind and rain interact with it.
Check out my guide to public beach access points. You can explore the different shorelines of Bainbridge Island and learn which neighborhood(s) may be a good fit for your lifestyle. It's also a great way to find your favorite island beach.
And to explore the different lifestyle offered by each waterfront neighborhood on Bainbridge Island, make sure to visit the waterfront neighborhood page, or just use this Google My Map or the menu to navigate around the other sections of shoreline.