From The Outside Looking In: Visitors Take On the KP

Travelers share the good and the bad about vacationing in a rural community. Makes you wonder why you need to go when you live here.


Key Peninsula News spoke with recent travelers to the KP who revealed the charm and challenges they came across while visiting the area: Brian Cantwell, the former travel and outdoors editor at the Seattle Times, who now sails Puget Sound and blogs about it on; Anna Rasmussen, a photographer based in Chicago, who shares her travel pictures on Instagram @annarasphoto; historian, outdoor enthusiast, and blogger Lauren Danner, an avid patron of national and state parks, who jots down her explorations on; Rachel and Brian Lockwood, who moved from the Midwest to live on a 43-foot sailboat, documenting their experiences on Instagram @sailwithrachelandbrian; and David Lee, a Pacific Northwest transplant from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who shows how he car camps on his YouTube channel (@RVJedeye).

Traveling preferences, especially in the post-pandemic era, have undergone a significant change. Many are bypassing crowded cities and looking to get a little extra shoulder room in rural communities. Some come here purposely for the serenity, while others stumble across it accidentally. Recent visitors shared their pros and cons about the place we call home.

A Cherished Retreat

“I’m always looking for a place off the beaten path not many people know about,” said David Lee, who filmed his car-camping experience at both Joemma and Penrose State Parks for his YouTube channel.

“It has this feeling of being far away from urban Puget Sound, even though it isn’t,” said Lauren Danner. “It doesn’t feel like there are many places left on the Puget Sound where you can get that peaceful, beautiful summer day and that feeling of well-being.”

“The natural beauty of the KP keeps me coming back. Looking out on the Sound, it’s the most peaceful place,” said Anna Rasmussen, who escapes Chicago city life every year or two to stay at her family-owned Airbnb in Lakebay.

Lee said he can feel the stress melt away the closer he gets to the KP. “You start to see things differently. Things slow down and you start to separate yourself from the day-to-day grind,” he said.

Hidden Gem

Though a little out of the way, all visitors agreed that Penrose Point and Joemma State Parks are well worth the travel.

“The view of Mount Rainier from Penrose is the best in Puget Sound,” said Rachel Lockwood. Her husband, Brian, agreed. “The part of Penrose we anchor at is exposed to the wind, but we’ll deal with the weather to get that view. It’s high on our list as one of the best places to anchor.”

Brian Cantwell, who called the parks beautiful and underused, said Mount Rainier is “right in your face. It surprised me how huge that mountain is (near the KP).” He added that it’s easy to find a spot in August to put your boat around the area, whereas in the San Juan Islands it’s too crowded to get a mooring. “The whole south Sound is undiscovered by Seattle boaters, who all head north.”

Pay More Attention to Boaters

“Boaters can bring a lot of money into a community without affecting the highways or other infrastructure that bother local residents,” said Cantwell, a seasoned boater who sails down from the San Juan Islands, where he now lives. Cantwell has been keeping an eye on the Lakebay Marina redevelopment. He remembers when the store was still open and he could run over to get ice cream. “I was really taken by that place. I think that’s one of those undeveloped treasures that could bring a lot more boaters.”

Cantwell made a comparison to Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, saying that if a restaurant at the Lakebay Marina could be known for something like its fish ’n’ chips, boaters would make it a part of their itinerary. The Lockwoods would love a place they can easily get to for a quick off-the-boat snack and to restock their galley.

It’s not just boaters who say a redeveloped Lakebay Marina is wanted. Danner would love a place to get coffee when she is camping at Penrose Park and Lee said even being able to get a bag of ice would be nice without having to leave the park.

The KP Fails on Trails

Residents seem to know where to go for a stroll through the forest or a ride through 360 Park, but Rasmussen and Danner said that if they go outside the state parks, it’s hard to move around without a car.

“Because it’s so pretty, the roads seem ideal for biking, until you notice the lack of shoulders,” Danner said. “You’d have to be very strategic just to go on a leisurely bike ride.” Rasmussen feels forced to walk on the roads because of the lack of a trail system.

Tourist Trap

Cantwell is fascinated with the anarchist history of Home. He recalled seeing Jake the Alligator Man at Marsh's Free Museum in Long Beach and thinks a similarly quirky, lighthearted museum dedicated to the “nudes versus prudes” could bring in some day-trippers.

“You’re missing your chance,” Cantwell said, challenging the community. “It’s an interesting part of history that could cover all the outrageous things that happened out here.”

A Visitor’s View of the Key Peninsula

Danner, who has traveled to rural communities across the state while checking out 127 Washington state parks, said if the KP has the desire to become more of a destination community, it should look at the town of Twisp in the north-central part of the state. The town itself is home to less than 1,000 people, but travelers frequent it for its restaurants, shops, more affordable grocery store, and friendly community.

“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel,” she said.

What More Could You Want?

Though they all understand that residents appreciate the KP for what it currently is, as outsiders, they would appreciate a touch of convenience and modern amenities without compromising its rustic charm. Danner thinks a taproom would be a nice touch in a community like this. Rasmussen would like to see Key Center become a more “super cute, small-town downtown with an ice cream shop and a couple of boutiques.” Lee agrees but would also love to see more fruit or vegetable stands from the local farms.

To advocate for their onboard dog Maui, the Lockwoods want areas outside of the state parks to be more dog-friendly for boaters.

“You want some things to be developed just enough, but at the same time I don’t want to overdevelop it because (the KP) really is a beautiful part of the state that more people should be exposed to.”