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.
Next up: Island Time![portfolio_slideshow]