Small Pacific Northwest towns and old world authenticity rarely go together. Port Townsend, with Victorian flair and red brick downtown on the waterfront, is an exception.
The port town on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula once aspired to be a regional hub on the level of Seattle or Vancouver and for good reason – in 1887, it was Puget Sound’s sole U.S. Customs port of entry. Those big city dreams never materialized – as poorly timed recessions stopped the railroad from reaching Port Townsend, the town wilted in the early 1900s.
Today, Port Townsend’s renaissance is in full swing and its name evokes wooden boats, historic buildings, music, art and proximity to nature.
A bluff on one side and Port Townsend Bay on the other hem in Port Townsend’s remarkable downtown district. Its architecture is a visual feast, with abundant 19th and early 20th century buildings that landed the entire downtown district on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Two- and three-story Victorians with high-arched windows and elaborate trim play host to restaurants, independent bookstores, music venues and much more.
The downtown is fit for a day or weekend of exploring, with shops to see by day and music and entertainment by night. Downtown Port Townsend also hosts a busy schedule of summer festivals and entertainment. One such can’t-miss event is The Northwest Maritime Center’s annual Wooden Boat Festival, held this year September 8–10.
This inspiring and educational festival will feature more than 300 boats – tall ships, modern wooden boats, racing schooners and more – as well as presentations, exhibitors, live music, and good food, beer and wine.
After dining on local shellfish, stroll through downtown and past the end of Water Street to the public pedestrian pier at the eastern end of town. You’ll find pockets of natural beach and the Northwest Maritime Center, which is a hub for marine craftspeople in the area. Here and at surrounding businesses, you can see kayaks being built, wooden boats under repair, and sail makers plying their trade. Don’t miss the trail along the beach, which starts at the end of Hudson Street and has views toward Mt. Baker and the Cascades.
Most tourists don’t make it to the area called “Uptown.” Venture north from Water Street a few blocks to the top of the hill and you’ll find another lively retail district with a bakery, pub and a few restaurants, as well as the Port Townsend Farmers Market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays from June to October.
There are many ways to get to Port Townsend. It’s easily visited without a car by walking on the Coupeville Ferry from Whidbey Island. A car allows easy access to nearby Fort Worden and Fort Townsend Historical State Parks, which were built in the 1800s to protect settlers and the entrance to more populated parts of Puget Sound.
In addition to exploring the historic buildings and lighthouse at Fort Worden, check out the Centrum Foundation, a cultural gathering place with art and music classes, workshops, performances and much more. The ancient rainforests and glacier-clad peaks of Olympic National Park are just a little farther from town.
Enjoy Port Townsend
WSDOT Port Townsend Ferry Terminal
Fort Worden Historical State Park
Point Wilson Lighthouse
Olympic National Park
Jefferson County Fairgrounds
Port Townsend Main Street Program
Wooden Boat Festival
Northwest Maritime Center
Jefferson County Historical Society
Jefferson County Farmers Markets
Andy Porter Images