On the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, sandwiched between the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic mountains, is the town of Port Townsend. One of only three National Historic Seaports in the United States, this Victorian town is engaged in telling the story of its maritime past.
Things to Do in Port Townsend
While there are often four or five events happening each weekend in the summer months and you could accidentally show up and have the time of your life, one event in particular gives you a glimpse of this seaport.
Each September, Port Townsend hosts the Wooden Boat Festival, a mash-up of history and culture steeped in salty sea air. More than 250 wooden boats from all over the world gather in the port, from historic vessels to replica pirate ships to Hollywood stars like the Lady Washington, which appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Many ships are open for tours and even sails. For a truly unique view of the hundreds of wooden boats, take a beginner stand-up paddleboard or kayaking class and learn to maneuver your personal craft among the spectacular vessels. Boats aren’t the only thing to do at the festival. Live music, classes, kids’ activities and vendors also abound. 2020’s festival was cancelled due to COVID-19, but check back soon for 2021’s festival dates. woodenboat.org
To experience the ocean in a different way, head to the Marine Science Center at Fort Worden State Park. Children and adults alike will enjoy interactive activities, including picking up a live fish. Make sure to stop by the Learning from Orcas exhibit. In 2002 an orca named Hope died in the area and served as a learning tool for scientists to gain insight on local orcas populations. The exhibit is a forensic experience, letting visitors solve the puzzle of how Hope died.
“The sea is everywhere here,” says a Chamber of Jefferson County staffer. “Wherever you go, you can smell it, you can see it. It’s a part of everything we do here.”
Trails abound from the heart of downtown Port Townsend. Grab a coffee in town before hitting the trails via foot or bike to explore the coastline, or inland to see beautiful farmland. Exploring the trails of Fort Worden State Park gives you an inside look at both the history and the wild nature of the area.
Or, head to the číčməhán Trail which is perfect for history buffs. Three, six and 12 mile options will bring you past S’Klallam tribal sites. This trail is multi-use and parts of it are ADA accessible.
Where to Eat and Drink in Port Townsend
When you’re ready for some local flavor, head to Wilderbee Farm. Famous for its mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey, this farm is a destination for the whole family. Adults can sample a variety of meads at the tasting room, kids can feed the sheep and the whole family can U-Pick beautiful lavender July through September. Cider and wine trails and farm-to-table experiences are synonymous with Jefferson County.
Port Townsend has no lack of amazing eateries. For lunch or dinner, head to Silverwater Cafe where inventive dishes share menu spaces with local favorites. Start with artichoke pate and order a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich on locally sourced bread for a walk on the wild side. Or, stick with the classics and enjoy a cup of clam chowder with a recipe dating back to 1989 and fish and chips made with a lemon dill batter that started in a shack on the old ferry dock.
Treat yourself at dinner with Finistere’s chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings available, or skip the surprise and order off the regular menu with oysters on the half shell, the local catch or non-seafood dishes like grilled pork loin.
If you want to dine with waterfront views, head to Sirens with an extensive menu featuring burgers, pastas, pizza and of course, seafood.
For happy hour, head to Pourhouse. Inside, glass-doored refrigerators are stocked with bottles upon bottles of beer and cider and there are several beers on tap. With limited indoor seating, the move is to take your drinks out to the back patio. Located right on the water with dozens of umbrella-shaded picnic tables and chairs, a ping pong table, and a dance patio which comes alive on live music nights.
For more information:
Port Townsend Visitor Information Center and Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce
2409 Jefferson St. Suite B, Port Townsend, WA 98368