Tillicum Excursion on Blake Island
Argosy Cruises Team Member since 2009
Located on Blake Island Marine State Park in Puget Sound
Since 1962, Tillicum has occupied a picturesque spot on the northeast shore of Blake Island, a 475-acre marine state park. Bill Hewitt conceived the place after co-catering an event where the main course was whole salmon baked outdoors around a fire pit. He found the cooking of the fish to be not only an impressive spectacle, but the fish itself was the most delicious he'd ever eaten.
In 1959 Hewitt began a search for a site to build a Northwest Native American-styled longhouse in which to have a restaurant where the traditionally-prepared fish would be the centerpiece. Blake Island had just transformed from a privately-owned island to a Washington state park and seemed an ideal location. Hewitt and his partners negotiated a deal with the state, and Tillicum Village was born.
The first visitors to Tillicum came in the summer of 1962, the same year as the World's Fair took place in Seattle. Argosy Cruises (then Seattle Harbor Tours) provided the transportation to and from the island for Tillicum guests and has ever since.
In 2009, the Hewitt family sold the business to Argosy Cruises. We now call the attraction the Tillicum Excursion, paying homage to the original name (Tillicum means "friendly" and "people" in Chinnook jargon, a pidgin language used when local tribes people would trade with early settlers) and the true nature of the attraction: a 4-hour experience including passage to and from Blake Island, a Northwest flavors-inspired buffet meal featuring traditionally-prepared alder fire roasted fish, Northwest Native American storytelling in a live stage performance enhanced by technology -- all inside a cedar longhouse surrounded by lush forest and rocky beach to explore.
But not only do we bring guests out to Blake Island for our Tillicum Excursion, the ample space and beautiful surroundings make an ideal space for company retreats, high school graduation celebrations, and local getaway weddings.
The buildings that make up the "friendly village" include the 7,000-square-foot Dining Room (which also includes a stage and projection system), and the 850-square-foot Heritage Room (filled with Northwest Native American art and with banquet seating for 50). The front lobby of the longhouse greets guests with views of the fire pits upon entering and hosts meet-the-dancers time upon the end of the stage show. Attached to the lobby are both a gift shop and a full service bar, plus a small cafe-style seating area for guests and state park campers alike. The restrooms in the longhouse were completely renovated during the 2015-16 off season.
The front lawn area of the longhouse allows guests to take in the views of Puget Sound while enjoying their clam nectar appetizers as the first part of their meal. The backyard of the Tillicum buildings, the Totem Garden, includes native plants and many totem poles (hence the name!). When guests are finished exploring what Tillicum has to offer, there is time in their schedule to explore some of the beaches and forests that immediately surround them.
When Tillicum was first constructed, the Space Needle was the tallest building in Seattle's skyline. Now there are MANY tall skyscrapers downtown, many of which are visible from Tillicum's front lawn, about 10 miles and a 45-minute cruise from Seattle. Nowhere else in Puget Sound can one feel so far from everything, yet so close to all the trappings and busyness of the big city.
Every spring, thousands of Washington state school-aged children visit the island, one boat-load at a time, as they've done for decades. They come with their classmates and teachers to learn about local Native American culture and history, the role of the salmon in the lives of those people, and to experience Coast Salish storytelling through the dances and masks.
FUN FACT: In November of 1993, then-President Bill Clinton and other world leaders attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held meetings out at Tillicum.