With more arms than an octopus, the southern reach of Puget Sound is a region of convoluted waterways, inlets, bays, and harbors. Tucked among the coves, peninsulas, and islands that separate all this saltwater are some of Washington's most charming little towns. Past glacial activity gave this region the look of Scandinavian fjords, and it was that very similarity that more than a century ago attracted Scandinavian fishermen who founded what are today two of the region's most picturesque towns: Poulsbo and Gig Harbor. However, this region is also home to a couple of the state's largest cities -- Tacoma and Olympia. While there are few major attractions in the area, there is an abundance of natural beauty (with plenty of parks to explore) and, in Tacoma, several interesting museums and attractions as well.

The people who choose to live in this region, as well as those who visit, tend to do so for the water. Forest-ringed waterways, old fishing villages turned yacht havens, idyllic rural settings, the romance of living on an island -- these are the aspects of life that attract people to this area. However, down in the southern reaches of the sound, a very different aesthetic rules in the cities of Tacoma and Olympia. The former, once derided as an industrial wasteland, is in the middle of a renaissance that has turned it into a very livable city. The latter, as the capital of the state and home of a particularly liberal, liberal-arts university, has a mellow, laid-back air and, when the state legislature and the university are shut down, it becomes one of the quietest cities in the Northwest.

While green forests and blue waters are this region's dominant characteristics, life here is ruled by ferries and bridges, and visitors are advised to keep this in mind as they explore the region. While distances here are not great, missed ferries and traffic backups at the twin spans of the Tacoma Narrows bridges can add significantly to travel time. Leave plenty of room in your travel schedule for unforeseen delays.

These transportation problems provide much of the region with its slower pace of life, which in turn allows Seattleites and others to make quick escapes to the country by simply crossing to the west side of Puget Sound, where island time prevails and the views of the Olympic Mountains are just that much better.