On the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, sandwiched between the waters of 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.
On Sept. 11-13, 2020, 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.
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 Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce 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.
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.
Where to Eat in Port Townsend
Port Townsend is best known for its homestyle bistros and cafes. Its location on the water allows for wonderful restaurant views and fun atmospheres.
After a walk on the water, dine at Doc’s Marina Grill or Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar. Doc’s salmon dishes, including the Coho stuffed salmon and the blackened salmon sandwich, are great. Alchemy Bistro is also well known for its seafood, with people favoring the mussels and scallops. However, if you are not a fish fan, try the tenderloin and the cassoulet. For breakfast or lunch, visit Sweet Laurette Cafe and Bistro, a French cafe-style restaurant best known for its lemon ricotta pancakes and rich cappuccinos.
Or choose to eat with the locals at Sea-J's. It's an authentic hole-in-the-wall greasy-spoon of a restaurant that is loved by the locals. Wash down your fried-oyster sandwich and crab cakes with your favorite flavor of milkshake. There are 30 flavors listed on the menu, plus a few off-the-menu flavors scribbled on the white board such as huckleberry, peanut butter and chai tea. You can eat at Sea-J's collection of rummage-sale tables and chairs, at the two picnic tables outside, or take the food to go.
If you are vacationing with your family, have a picnic at a harbor-side beach area. Traveling with adults over 21? One block down from Sea-J's is the Pourhouse. Inside are glass-doored refrigerators stocked with probably a hundred types of bottled beer and ciders. On tap are another 10 beers. The Pourhouse has few tables inside but the treat is their backyard. It's right on the water with dozens of umbrella-shaded picnic tables and chairs, a ping pong table, and a dance patio. Check its schedule for 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