Take one-part salt air, one-part Victorian architecture and two-parts festival and mix it all up with a wooden paddle and what do you have? You have Port Townsend, the furthest stop on your Waterside 2019 tour. Be careful, though, many people have come for the weekend and stayed for a lifetime, giving up high paying city jobs to tend bar and tinker with wooden boats.PT is that compelling.
This port town on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula was once destined to be a regional hub on the level of Seattle or Vancouver, and for good reason; in 1887, it was Puget Sound’s only customs port of entry. As recessions killed plans to extend the railroad to Port Townsend, those big city dreams never materialized, and 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 and art festivals and proximity to nature.
Port Townsend is easily visited without a car by walking on the Coupeville Ferry from Whidbey Island. However, bring a car or bicycle for easy access to nearby Fort Worden and Port Townsend historical state parks, which were built in the 1800s to protect settlers and the entrance to Puget Sound. History buffs will love the dirigible airship hanger and the 100 historic structures still extant while beach lovers and romantics will appreciate the beach and Port Wilson Lighthouse. To visit the ancient rainforests and glacier-clad peaks of Olympic National Park, you’ll definitely need a car as those beauties are a little farther from town.
The downtown is fit for a day or weekend of exploring, with shops and restaurants to see and enjoy by day and music and entertainment by night. Downtown Port Townsend offers a busy schedule of summer festivals and entertainment. From art walks to the annual steampunk hootenanny to the old-fashioned Fourth of July at Fort Worden to the annual Jefferson County Fair to Concerts on the Dock to the Uptown Street Fair to … well, the list goes on and on. One can’t-miss event is the Northwest Maritime Center’s annual Wooden Boat Festival, held this year September 6–8. This nautical festival will feature more than 300 boats – tall ships, modern wooden boats, racing schooners, as well as presentations, exhibitors, live music, and local food, beer and wine.
Jefferson County Historical Society conducts downtown walking tours on weekends between June and September. The tours take you inside Port Townsend’s rough past. Like many seaports, it was packed with dozens of brothels and taverns where unlucky souls were shanghaied. Inquire about tours at the museum.
After passing by restaurants serving local shellfish, stroll to the east end of Water Street to the public pedestrian pier at the end of town. Here, you’ll find pockets of natural beach and the Northwest Maritime Center, a hub for marine craftspeople. Here and at the surrounding businesses, you can see kayaks being built, wooden boats under repair and sail makers plying their trade. Don’t miss a short trail along the beach, which starts at the end of Hudson Street and has views toward Mt. Baker and the Cascades.
Venture north from Water Street a few blocks to the top of the hill and you’ll find “Uptown,” another lively but small retail district with a bakery, pub and a few restaurants, as well as the Port Townsend Saturday Market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays from April to mid-December.
Late 1800s Victorian houses dot the hill between uptown and downtown. To find these restored gems, which include some three-story showpieces complete with balconies, bay windows, turrets and ornate trim, just walk uphill from Water Street.
For more information, visit enjoypt.com