View across the water to the buildings of Port Townsend Washington

Few places in the world can match the concentration of natural beauty or the wealth of architecture found in tiny Port Townsend (pop. 9,704), one of the oldest towns in Washington. It was established in 1851 and reached a peak of activity in the 1880s, but after the railroads focused on Seattle and Puget Sound as their western terminus, the town sat quietly for most of the next century until the 1960s. Then an influx of arts-oriented refugees took over the waterfront warehouses and cliff-top mansions, converting them to galleries, restaurants, and comfy B&Bs, while preserving the town’s turn-of-the-20th-century character.

Port Townsend is neatly divided into two halves: Multistory brick warehouses and commercial buildings that line Water Street and the wharves along the bay, and lovely old Victorian houses cover the bluffs above. It’s basically a great place to wander, but there are a couple of sights worth seeing, particularly the landmark City Hall (250 Madison St.) along the west end of Water Street. Half of this eclectic Gothic pile now houses a local historical museum with two floors of odds and ends tracing Port Townsend history, including the old city jail where Jack London spent a night on his way to the Klondike goldfields in 1897.

On the north side of Port Townsend, Fort Worden Historical State Park is a retired military base that served as a location for the Richard Gere movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Now home to a wonderful marine science center and natural history museum, the old fort also hosts an excellent series of annual music and arts festivals, ending with October’s lively Kinetic Sculpture Race over land, sea, and foam. Contact local arts organization Centrum (360/385-3102) for schedules and more information.

Port Townsend Travel Map

Travel map of Port Townsend.
Port Townsend

Port Townsend Practicalities

Not surprisingly, considering the extensive tourist trade, Port Townsend has a number of good restaurants and bars. You’ll find many of the best places at the east end of town near the corner of Water and Quincy Streets. For breakfast, try the waterfront Point Hudson Café (130 Hudson St., 360/379-0592), at the far west end of downtown “PT.” For lunch or dinner, one of the best seafood places is the Silverwater Café (237 Taylor St., 360/385-6448), still going strong after more than 30 years near the Quincy Street dock. The old waterfront neighborhood also holds a pair of hotels in restored 1880s buildings: The Waterstreet Hotel (635 Water St., 360/385-5467 or 800/735-9810, $65 and up) and the quieter The Palace Hotel (1004 Water St., 360/385- 0773 or 800/962-0741, $69 and up), where the room names play up the building’s past use as a brothel.

The most comfortable accommodations in Port Townsend are the many 1880s-era B&Bs dotting the bluffs above the port area, including the ever-popular the Old Consulate Inn (313 Walker St., 360/385-6753 or 800/300-6753, $155 and up), where some of the plush rooms come with views of the ocean or the Olympic Mountains. All come with a hearty multicourse breakfast.

Fort Worden (360/344-4400, ext. 304), a mile (1.6 km) north of downtown, also offers a wide variety of memorable accommodations in historic officers quarters, a boutique castle, and converted barracks.

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