To say that Port Townsend marches to a different drummer is an understatement. During the fall, when the festival season is in high gear and locals let down their hair, the 8,200 residents of this Victorian seaport on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula seem to march to a different percussion section altogether.
Having fun is practically a civic ordinance here. Consider that one of the town’s most popular events is a weekend-long festival in mid-October built around the Kinetic Skulpture Race, where a Kween is Krowned and the goal of racers in handmade contraptions is to finish not first or last, but in the middle.
It’s almost as if P.T. is trying mightily to overcome a past that was very serious and high-minded indeed. Founded in 1851 and quickly built up, the seaport town had the high hopes and massive financial backing of shipping and timber interests who envisioned a great commercial center alongside Puget Sound. But when the railroad passed P.T. by, the heart of Washington business and politics moved down-Sound to Seattle and Olympia, leaving P.T. high and dry ― albeit with enough wonderful, ornate homes and commercial buildings that the town is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
To the rescue came the artists and merchants who restored vitality to the flagging local economy, turning Water Street’s vacant buildings into shops and galleries, transforming decommissioned Fort Worden into a living museum and festival center, and infusing the stuffy Victorian sensibility with a mischievous spirit of fun. We tourists have followed and have found plenty to enjoy.
Breakfast at the Point. At the farthest edge of Point Hudson Marina, the Otter Crossing Café (130 Hudson St.; 360/379-0592) is hard to beat.
Victorian tour. Walk or drive up steep Washington Street and admire Victorian architecture at the James House (1238 Washington St.; 800/385-1238); the U.S. Customs House (Washington and Harrison Streets), completed in 1893, now the town’s post office; and the F. W. Hastings House (313 Walker St.; 800/300-6753), once the residence of the German Consul, now an inn. The Port Townsend visitor center (see planner, below) has maps for self-guided tours.
Seafood, part two. Feast on steamed clams or fried oysters at The Surf at Union Wharf (106 Taylor St.; 360/ 385-2992), overlooking the Bay.
Grab a paddle. Join a guided kayak tour with nearby PT Outdoors (1017-B Water St.; 360/379-3608). Or go for a chartered sail aboard a traditional wooden boat, arranged in advance through the Wooden Boat Foundation (380 Jefferson St.; 360/385-3628).
Dinner and a show.The Bayview Restaurant (1539 Water, next to the ferry dock; 360/385-1461) serves sautéed oysters and prawns, and great pies. Then, catch a movie at the Rose Theatre (235 Taylor; 360/385-1089).
Best breakfast.Salal Cafe (634 Water; 360/385-6532) wins local awards.
Plan ahead for lunch. Stock up for a picnic at Aldrich’s Market (940 Lawrence St.; 360/385-0500), an uptown grocery store with a deli.
Storm the fort. Spend part of the day at Fort Worden State Park Conference Center (200 Battery Way; 360/ 344-4400). The fort, a former U.S. Army base that celebrates its centennial this year, consists of restored barracks, parade lawns, and handsome military houses, many of which you can rent (see “Port Townsend travel planner”). While here, visit the Commanding Officer’s Quarters (360/ 344-4452), a museum with Victorian-period furnishings; and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (on the pier at Fort Worden State Park Conference Center; 360/385-5582), a hands-on museum and aquarium with touch tanks. Later, picnic by the water.
Downtown scene. Downtown P.T. is alive with shops and galleries. Lovers of Victoriana shouldn’t miss Strictly Victorian (1117 Water; 360/385-9626) for period decorations. Bergstrom’s Antique and Classic Autos (809 Washington; 360/385-5061) is a restored garage housing vintage autos and memorabilia.
A special dinner.Lonny’s Restaurant (2330 Washington; 360/385-0700), the most upscale eatery in town, draws raves for its innovative Italian fare.
Gallery nights. Visit P.T.’s art galleries after hours on the first Saturday of the month for the Gallery Walk. The Franklin Gallery (940 Water; 360/ 385-6131) is the oldest continuously operated gallery in town.
Live and lively. For a drink and occasional live music, check out Maxwell’s Brewery & Pub (126 Quincy St.; 360/379-6438) or the Uptown Pub and Grill (1016 Lawrence St.; 360/385-1530).
Mi castle es su castle. Treat the family to brunch at Manresa Castle (Seventh and Sheridan Streets; 360/385-5750), an imposing Victorian hotel that practically begs you to appear in your Sunday finest.
Sundays at the park. To mingle with the locals, head to Chetzemoka Park (Jackson and Garfield Streets), a handsome city park that was named for a prominent local chieftain, with swings, lawns, and access to a driftwood-strewn beach.
Holding court. Visit the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum (540 Water; 360/385-1003), housed in the former city hall, for exhibits on P.T.’s early settlers and its thriving Victorian seaport days.
The last oyster. On your way out of town, stop for dinner at Chimacum Cafe (9253 Rhody Dr., Chimacum; 360/732-4631) for one more helping of pan-fried oysters and a big slice of some of the best homemade pie in the state.
Port Townsend travel planner
From downtown Seattle take the Bainbridge Island ferry to U.S. 305 and drive north to State 3 north. Take State 104 northeast over the Hood Canal Bridge to State 19 north, then continue north on State 20 into Port Townsend. Travel time is about 2 hours.
For more information contact the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center (2437 E. Sims Way; 888/ 365-6978, 360/385-2722, or
Ann Starrett Mansion. Built in 1889 by George Starrett, the city’s leading contractor at the time, this 11-room B&B is known for its unusual octagonal tower, frescoed ceilings, and three-tiered free-hanging staircase. From $120. 744 Clay St.; (800) 321-0644, (360) 385-3205, or www.starrettmansion.com.
Bishop Victorian Hotel. A block off Water Street. Lovely garden; kitchenettes in every room. From $109. 714 Washington; (800) 824-4738, (360) 385-6122, or www.bishopvictorian.com.
Fort Worden State Park Conference Center. Several former officers’ houses now available for rental, all with kitchens. Great bargain for groups. Book well in advance. From $100. 200 Battery; (360) 344-4400 or www.fortworden.org.
Tides Inn. Waterfront lodging with big soaking tubs and views of Port Townsend Bay. From $75. 1807 Water; (800) 822-8696, (360) 385-0595, or www.tides-inn.com.