In the late 19th century, Port Townsend was hailed as the “City of Dreams,” with people betting that it would become the largest harbor on the West Coast and a gateway to the Northwest. That didn’t quite pan out when the transcontinental railroad stopped short in Tacoma. Port Townsend treaded water for a few decades, awaiting its next incarnation.
Fortunately, the town somehow escaped the zeal of developers who would have razed the old buildings. By the time historic preservation caught the attention of the public in the 1970’s, the old Victorians were valued for their beauty and historic value, and the downtown slowly came back to life. Strolling down Water Street now is like stepping back in time to a prosperous and bustling Victorian seaport. It’s a delight to wander along the downtown waterfront, browsing the interesting independent shops and galleries that occupy what once were dry goods stores, saloons, rooming houses, and brothels (the town apparently had quite a rowdy reputation). Port Townsend is so well preserved that it’s one of only three Victorian seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.
The resurgence of interest in wooden boat building in the mid-1970’s also helped to revitalize the town. Today, Port Townsend is a center for the maritime arts—known as the wooden boat mecca of the northwest, the town attracts independent boat builders and hosts the largest wooden boat festival in North America every September (it’s a blast!). There’s always something going on in Port Townsend—jazz, blues, and bluegrass festivals; writing and poetry workshops; art festivals; and more.
Over the years, we’ve traveled to or through Port Townsend numerous times. This is our preferred route for journeying to the San Juan Islands; we stayed three nights this time on our way to Lopez Island for the summer. Although going this direction requires two ferries instead of one (you must take a ferry from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island, drive to Anacortes, and catch the ferry from Anacortes to the islands) it is infinitely preferable to the alternative, which involves wrestling with the big cities of Tacoma and Seattle.
Our favorite place to stay in Port Townsend is Fort Worden, a large state park just a couple of miles from downtown. With no reservations available (one must book far ahead for summer), we opted for Fort Townsend State Park, a few miles away on the outskirts of town. It’s a peaceful and pretty park with great hiking trails, but has only two sites that could possibly accommodate our 27’ trailer. Even then, it took a lot of wrangling. No hookups, either, although water faucets are very conveniently located across from each site.
If you visit Port Townsend, try not to go on Monday or Tuesday. We found several of our favorite places closed, including the wonderful little farmers’ market (open Wednesdays and Saturdays), Pippa’s Real Tea (a charming tea shop), and Sweet Laurette Café (delicious offerings in a lovely garden setting).
We contented ourselves with hikes in the beautiful forest, long walks along the waterfront, browsing the bookstores and galleries, a delicious lunch at the Fountain Café, and an evening at the historic Rose Theatre. On a comfortable antique sofa under the soft light of glittering chandeliers, we enjoyed cocktails and a movie. It was delightful.
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Mmmmm, you took me right back to that wonderful little town! The skies look pretty smoke-free…this must have been early in the summer season?!
We were in Port Townsend the first of July, Lisa. We’ve been fortunate to escape the smoke this summer—it’s been clear and gorgeous on Lopez Island, where we’ve been since July.
oh, how I love that town! By far one of the highlights of our trip around the OP last year. You mentioned several spots we didn’t discover, so we’re just going to have to go back. Great captures!
Thanks, Nina! We love Port Townsend, too, and as you know, there’s always something new to discover. We never seem to fit in everything we want to do while we’re there!
We love Port Townsend, it’s been way too long since we’ve been there!
It’s a great town, Janna. We never tire of it, and never seem to spend enough time there.
Sounds like a place I would really enjoy. Lovely photos as always.
Glad you enjoyed the photos, Ingrid. I think you would like Port Townsend!
I love Port Townsend. Been way too long since I was there.Will need to pack up Morey and go. We’re at Harris Beach for the week being beach bums. Have fun you two.
Brenda, you could just continue on up the coast. :) Your Casita is the perfect size for the Fort Townsend campground. We love Harris Beach, too!
Wonderful pictures as usual. It seems like forever since we’ve been in Port Townsend. If there is ever a next time we’ll stay at the park if they will have us at 35′. Looks like a wonderful place.
Sherry, I think you guys would prefer staying at Fort Worden. The sites are plenty big enough there for your rig, and it’s biking distance to town. You can choose either a beachfront or forest setting.
What a great town! Thanks for the tour:) I love the sign with the moss hair and little green moss cap…how neat! I hope one day to happen upon some Indian Pipe. But seeing that I don’t like insects or humidity, I may never see any since they need dampness:)
Don’t worry, Pam — humidity isn’t a problem in Port Townsend in the summer or early fall — the weather is about as perfect as it gets. No bugs, either. I think you guys would love the area.
Hmmm, starting to see a pattern here… :>) You guys have found the greatest places. We need to start following you around (except we wouldn’t fit in some of them…).
We’re thinking of returning to AK next summer. Think about it…
Now that’s an interesting offer! You know we’ve been contemplating a trip to AK — can’t imagine better companions for the journey!
We adored Port Townsend and could see living in this town someday. We loved pretty much everything about it, particularly that we were able to hike and bike everywhere. You certainly captured the essence of the town with your lovely photos.
LuAnn, we seriously considered moving to Port Townsend a few years ago, and then decided to travel full-time. Not sure how I would do with the long gray winters. Glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)
Agree it is a jewel of a town to visit. We parked next to the Rose Theatre and it looked like a great venue. Your photos are amazing and really capture the beautiful architecture. I love the vibe of the place and look forward to returning.
Thanks, Jodee — next time, check out the Rose Theatre. I’ll bet you would love it!
Love Fort Worden. We would take the ferry to Whidbey Island and ride our bikes for the day. Great pictures and story. Sequim and Dungeness Spit are also great.
Debbie, that sounds like fun to ride bikes on Whidbey. We’ll have to do that next time we’re nearby. We also love Sequim and Dungeness Spit — it’s been a few years since we’ve been there and it’s time for another visit.
Your visit and photos are just what we need. WA is on our route next year and Port Townsend could be one of our stops. Can we fit in that park?
ML, you guys definitely would love Port Townsend. Your rig is too big for the sites at Fort Townsend, but you would be fine at Fort Worden. Just be sure to book far ahead. We’ve stayed at Fort Worden several times — it’s beautiful and is biking distance to town.