There are lots of options for day trips from Seattle that take you to mountains and waterfalls or islands and beaches. But one of the best day trips we’ve found wouldn’t have occurred to us before we embarked on a grand adventure this spring. We rented a house for several months in what has to be the most charming and fun seaside town in Washington: Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula.
It’s a beautiful and exciting destination, with top-notch restaurants and a profusion of art galleries; engaging architecture and fun boutiques; sand beaches and a lighthouse; and cideries and a small-batch ice cream parlor. Even just getting to PT is a treat. It’s about 2 hours from Seattle, with the journey starting with a breezy ferry ride from downtown to Bainbridge Island. At a bend in the road, Port Gamble, a historic company town, resembles a movie set, with pastel clapboard houses and white picket fences. Then it’s on to the dreamy vistas that unfurl before you as you cruise across the floating Hood Canal Bridge, at 7,869 feet, the third-longest floating bridge in the world.
FASCINATING SHOPS AND GALLERIES
The heart of Port Townsend is Water Street, of course, along the water, where historic brick buildings house a lively mix of establishments. In the 1900s and beyond, PT was a strategic seaport, and both its Victorian and its maritime roots live on today. The brick buildings downtown are well preserved and architecturally interesting. Add in a profusion of flower baskets, a lively street scene and street-end beaches complete with driftwood logs to perch on, and this town exudes charm.
Galleries are one of the main draws, and for a small town (pop: 10,000), it’s amazing that PT is home to 10 galleries.. Port Townsend Gallery is a cooperative featuring fine arts by area artists—and given that PT is known as a place that artists have been drawn to over the decades, the works here are truly exemplary.
At Elevated Ice Cream, on Water Street, they churn fresh batches of the frozen treat using locally grown berries and nuts and eschew anything artificial, so the mint chip ice cream is colored with chlorophyll and the strawberry ice cream is naturally pink.
A wide variety of locally owned shops offer everything from kitchenware and books to hats and apparel. The fun part is that the shops here are just so unique. There’s a store that caters to old car enthusiasts: Bergstrom’s Antique & Classic Auto is chock full of model cars and all kinds of vintage ephemera. Type Townsend is filled with vintage typewriters, and when I took my grandmother’s 1920s Remington here for an assessment, it was fun to see people drifting in out of curiosity, who were encouraged to grab a sheet of paper and see for themselves how each typewriter from a different era has its own “feel” and font.
WOODEN BOATS RULE
At the end of Water Street, the Northwest Maritime Center has a viewing balcony where you can watch wooden boats take shape as they’re built by amateurs under the tutelage of expert craftspeople. It’s next to the marina, which always has several beautiful wooden vessels to appreciate. The annual Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 8-10 this year) pays homage to the craftsmanship and beauty of wooden boats, with spectacular vessels on display ranging from rowing rigs to tall ships. Workshops, crafts, concerts, a kids’ pirate parade and rides on a variety of watercraft make this a fun family event.
UPTOWN’S PAINTED LADIES
Up a set of stairs, Uptown PT is where you’ll find the town’s “painted ladies,” lovingly tended, grand old Victorian homes, complete with an abundance of frilly ornamentation; two of these historic homes are available for seasonal tours, thanks to the Jefferson County Historical Society. Uptown is also where you’ll find Pane d’Amore bakery, which turns out the Olympic Peninsula’s best French-style pastries, and Aldrich’s Market is a creaky, old timey store filled with the best locally produced foods and imported delicacies.
SUBLIME SCENERY SPURS CREATIVITY AT FORT WORDEN
The star attraction of this star-quality town is just north of downtown: Fort Worden played an important strategic role during WWII, guarding Puget Sound from enemy infiltration. Today, it’s a state park that has preserved the bunkers, rows of officers’ housing, barracks and broad green parade grounds, which are used by a wide variety of organizations for events and retreats. Fort Worden boasts one of the most beautiful long stretches of golden sand beach in the entire Northwest, bookended by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and the stately Point Wilson Lighthouse.
The fort brims with creative energy thanks to Centrum, a music, writing and art community that offers camps and workshops, concerts and more. The fort takes on a different persona nearly every week, with events ranging from Fiddle Tunes to Jazz Week to Blues Week to Thing (a music festival in September) drawing talent from around the world. The public is invited to performances in a converted WWII balloon hangar. We were fortunate recently to hear jazz artist Diana Krall here; she got her start at Fort Worden.
On the outskirts of town, Finnriver Farm & Cidery is a fun place to stop in to sample a variety of organic ciders made from estate-grown apples and pears. They make 16 varieties, presently. You can also do an orchard and cider barn tour, coupled with samplings (21+). Finnriver hosts live music every weekend, with bands ranging from traditional Irish to folk to funk.
WHERE SEAFOOD REIGNS SUPREME
Port Townsend restaurants we can wholeheartedly recommend that give you a taste of the sea:
Fountain Café is a cozy niche inside an old wooden storefront with only eight or so tables. This is where we go for seriously good seafood meals.
For crispy, airy beer-batter halibut fish and chips (and loads of other options) with a sublime view of the Salish Sea and a lengthy cocktail and wine list, head straight to Sirens.
Owl Sprit Café is an absolutely adorable, sunshiny space with colorful nooks with throw pillows. No seafood here, but sandwiches, salads and Buddha bowls using organic ingredients elevate this eatery.