Quaint Port Townsend is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Dubbed the Paris of the Northwest by Sunset Magazine, this darling, historic town is known for its Victorian architecture and is one of only three designated Victorian seaports on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown is located on the waterfront with gorgeous public buildings and businesses dating back to the 19th century. On the bluff overlooking downtown with views for miles, you’ll find a residential area with beautiful Victorian homes and parks. Adjacent to downtown is the stunning Fort Worden Historical State Park. Here are some amazing experiences to enjoy during your visit to Port Townsend.
Port Townsend and the land surrounding it are the traditional lands of the S’Klallam people.
1. Northwest Maritime Center
The Northwest Maritime Center sits at the end of downtown and is a good location to start your visit from. If you arrive early enough, you will find plenty of free parking. Drop into Velocity Coffee located at the center and grab a cup of Joe to take with you for a walk around. Enjoy watching the Washington State Ferry from the pier. Take time to read all the interpretive signs and learn about the maritime history of this port city. The center also offers a variety of classes on board building. You can even learn how to make a stand-up paddle board.
2. Jefferson Museum Of Art And History
Just a short walk away is the Jefferson Museum of Art and History. The museum is in the former Port Townsend City Hall built in 1892. It is the perfect venue for historic exhibits and the original 1892 City Jail is fascinating to explore. The museum also features rotating art exhibitions in its gallery spaces.
Pro Tip: Make sure to visit the museum gift shop which carries a variety of unique items handcrafted in Jefferson County.
Attend one of the many festivals that take advantage of the gorgeous weather beginning in the spring and going into the fall. You find festivals dedicated to flowers, food, wooden boats, and Victorian heritage. Port Townsend has a flourishing arts community which adds to the enjoyment of these festivals. The Wooden Boat Festival takes place in September each year and is the largest wooden boat festival in North America. There are so many ways to venture out on the water from a wooden schooner or on a historic replica longboat. It is one of the more unique festivals and well worth a visit for lovers of maritime history.
4. The Ĉiĉmәhán Trail
The ĉiĉmәhán Trail is a walking, cycling, or driving trail which shares the history of the S’Klallam leader, Chetzemoka, and 19th-century European settlers with their efforts to live and work together. Keep a watch out for the signature red interpretive signs which share this story. There are 18 sites with 3-mile, 6-mile, or 12-mile loop options. When downtown, you will want to follow the 3-mile loop which focuses on the downtown historical sites and is more conducive to walking. The signs tell a small portion of the history of the S’Klallam people and the difficulties encountered struggling for a peaceful coexistence.
5. Nosh Along Water Street
The eating is good at the restaurants and vendors on Water Street and its side streets. There are so many great offerings it can be hard to decide where to eat. On my recent trip, I checked out the Silverwater Café on Taylor Street. It is housed in a historic building with a lovely ambience. Old fashioned room divider screens are spread throughout and is a more decorative COVID-19 measure than the typical plexiglass. Owners David and Allison support the community by sourcing locally as much as possible. You’ll find fresh seafood right from the boat as well as a bountiful selection of ingredients from farmers, bakers, craft beverage makers, mushroom foragers, and butchers. A must try is their fried fish which is a legacy from their days operating a fish stand. This delectable dish begins with their signature dill and lemon batter which is so unique and then fried to perfection. I didn’t feel like fried food during my visit but wanted to try the fish that put them on the map. You can order just one piece if you like, the perfect appetizer. The menu is extensive with daily specials that highlight what is in season.
Foodies should check out Enjoy Port Townsend which, in addition to listing all the local restaurants, offers a variety of suggested itineraries. One of my favorites is the full day Farm to Table itinerary which will have you exploring the surrounding farms in the area then returning to Port Townsend to explore farm-to-table restaurants.
6. Stay In A Victorian Home
A residential district filled with Victorian-era homes sits on a bluff overlooking Port Townsend. The old homes all have their own story to tell. The Old Consulate Inn is a stunning example of this architectural style. Innkeeper Cindy Madsen often greets her guests in Victorian garb as she welcomes them to her home. This is an adult retreat with no children allowed. (Well behaved teenage granddaughters have been able to visit occasionally with pre-approval.) You’ll soon find yourself relaxing as you stroll through the garden and enjoy the lovely views. The spectacular “Top of the World” suite is in the Victorian tower. This distinctive angular room has been featured in national magazines. Rates include a three-course gourmet breakfast.
7. Fort Worden
I don’t know if you could pack anymore to see and do in the beautiful Fort Worden State Historical Park. From incredible historic lodging, four museums, a rich cultural community, 12 miles of hiking trails, and a 2-mile-long stretch of beach, there really is something for everyone. Originally a military fort, it is now a center of lifelong learning and features cultural events taking place throughout the year (COVID-19 depended). The movie Officer and a Gentleman was filmed at the park and these are some of my favorite things to do there.
Pro Tip: Make sure to get a Washington State Discover Pass for state parks. Fort Worden is a complicated park run by the Fort Worden Public Development Authority and the state park system. Camping and hiking throughout the state park system requires a daily fee or Discover Pass while the museums and lodging are run through the authority.
8. Historic Lodging In Fort Worden State Historical State Park
From small cottages all the way up to restored Victorian-era officers’ six-bedroom homes, there is lodging here to meet any group’s needs. The large officers’ homes overlook the parade field and are fully equipped with everything you need. Another unique place to lay your head down for the night is Alexander’s Castle. This brick tower looks like a rook from a chess set and predates Fort Worden. The original owner, John B. Alexander, was said to have built it for his Scottish bride to be. Sitting on Madrona Hill, it is an imposing castle-like structure. Just one bedroom, it is perfect for a romantic getaway with its lovely water views.
9. Port Townsend Marine Science Center
The Port Townsend Marine Science Center was founded by two teachers with a mission to promote the conservation of the Salish Sea. Quite a bit is packed into the center’s building on Fort Worden. Learn the story of an orca named Hope and see a full size skeleton of one of these mighty whales. There is a variety of interactive displays and exhibits on the human impact of the Salish Sea. During warmer months, the Aquarium at Fort Worden opens on the pier. Learn about the Nearshore Habitats of the Salish Sea with exhibits featuring local fish and invertebrates.
10. Commanding Officer’s Quarters Historic House Museum
The Commanding Officer’s Quarters is located overlooking the parade field and Admiralty Inlet. This building is a fine example of military housing at the turn of the century. Now a historic house museum, it has many architectural features worth viewing including the cross-gabled slate roof, the fireplaces, Palladian windows, brass chandeliers, and incredible 10-foot-high pressed tin ceilings. The home looks like it would have when a commanding officer and his family lived there in the first decade of the 20th century. Although you can’t spend the night in the museum, you can rent other homes along Officer’s Row.
Plan to allow plenty of time to explore Fort Worden State Historical Park. In addition to the items mentioned, you can explore the waterfront and find all the gun emplacements. This is a great destination to get outside and it also makes a great location for a base to explore the surrounding areas.
Pro Tip: A less well-known lodging opportunity is the Point Wilson Historic Lighthouse Vacation Rental. It is located at the tip of the peninsula where Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca meet right on historic Fort Worden. Away from the other areas of the park, the beach is right outside the door and the views are breathtaking. It’s truly a unique opportunity if you can get reservations.
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