Port Townsend is a historic Victorian seaport at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s bordered by Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, also known as the Salish Sea. It’s surrounded by agricultural lands, forested islands and the busy Puget Sound. The scenic coastal town is a getaway destination filled with history, ornate Victorian era homes, art galleries and views of snow-capped Olympic Mountains.

Port Townsend

Uptown Port Townsend, on the hill, overlooks Puget Sound and the harbor. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

While a day will just whet your appetite for more, here are some key things to do if you have a day to visit Port Townsend, WA.

Touring Port Townsend

If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Port Townsend, and your time is limited, get oriented quickly via a tour. Thirty-minute tours in open-air electric vehicles give you an overview of the town’s history and scenery.

The route includes Downtown’s Water Street and Point Hudson marina and beach. It then travels through Uptown by several impressive Victorian homes and buildings.

Jefferson County Courthouse - Port Townsend WA

The beautiful Jefferson County Courthouse still functions as a courthouse today. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

An extended tour can take you to see historic Fort Worden State Park with its Officer’s Row and bluff-top views. For more information on these motorized tours, see PTeRider.

Of course you can also walk Port Townsend. The Uptown (impressive residential Victorians) and Downtown (shops, large historic buildings, restaurants and the Marina) are linked by the Taylor Street Stairs.

Haller Fountain - Port Townsend WA

Haller Fountain is at the base of the Taylor Street Stairs. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

Get a map at the Visitors Center at 2409 Jefferson St. just off Sims Way. You can park in town or at the Point Hudson Marina and follow the walking tour.

If you would like a guided walking tour, stop by the Jefferson Museum of Art and History next to City Hall. The museum leads walking tours through the Downtown and Uptown districts from June through September, helping visitors glean the area’s exciting history.

Jefferson Museum - Port Townsend WA

Jefferson Museum in downtown Port Townsend. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Port Townsend History

Port Townsend was originally named “Port Townshend” by Captain George Vancouver in honor of his friend the Marquis of Townshend in 1792. This was a safe harbor and an ideal place to build businesses that involved shipping or receiving goods.

The town thrived throughout the 1880s. Ornate Victorian homes and impressive multi-story buildings emerged, along with considerable growth around Puget Sound. Prosperity came to an end by the late 1890s, when the Northern Pacific Railroad route bypassed Port Townsend.

Wooden Boat Festival - Port Townsend WA

Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival brings back the excitement of the town’s Victorian seaport past. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

At that point, the economy relied on fishing and logging, like other towns in the area. There was a brief boost in the early 1900s when Fort Worden was built to protect Puget Sound.

There was renewed appreciation for Port Townsend in the 1970s. People seeking a relaxed way of life in a scenic location, artists and creative retirees began to move in. Eventually, the art scene developed and today’s Port Townsend—serving as a destination for art lovers, outdoors adventurers and foodies alike—took hold.

Wandering Uptown Port Townsend

Uptown was where the merchants, sea captains and professionals of Port Townsend built their homes. The Uptown district is high on a bluff overlooking the port and the buildings of Downtown.

Port Townsend Home

This lovely Port Townsend home was the view from my bedroom at an Uptown B&B. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

There are beautiful Victorian homes to see (some are B&B inns) and the only Fire Bell Tower still standing in the US. The viewpoint from the little park around the tower is stunning.

Historic Fire Bell Tower - Port Townsend

Enjoy the view from the Fire Bell Tower park and learn how the alarms were sounded. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

Uptown is home to a small business district and the seasonal Farmer’s Market (April through December.)

Farmers Market - Port Townsend WA

You can pick up local produce, have a nice breakfast or shop for fresh bread at the seasonal farmers market. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

When you finish strolling Uptown, take the stairs on Taylor Street to the Haller Fountain on Washington Street and continue exploring Downtown. I loved using the stairs and navigating my way between the lovely homes in Uptown and the restaurants and shops below… just a short walk away. Be sure and stop to read the interesting history of the Haller Fountain.

Taylor Street Stairs Port Townsend WA

Taylor Street Stairs to downtown. Photo by: Elizabeth R Rose

Wandering Downtown Port Townsend

Downtown is where businesses, warehouses and port activities once took place. The large, ornate brick buildings now house shops, hotels, restaurants and museums.

Wandering Water and Washington Streets and stopping for lunch or dinner can easily fill your day. You can take in a video about historic Port Townsend at the Jefferson Museum of Art and History and wander the galleries chatting with knowledgeable owners and artists.

Downtown Galleries - Port Townsend WA

Walk through the inviting open doors as you wander downtown exploring local arts and crafts, such as Earthenworks Gallery. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Dining in Port Townsend

No doubt you’ll get hungry while exploring Port Townsend. I can highly recommend The Fountain Café on Washington Street and the Silverwater Café on Taylor. Locals recommend Sirens Pub for the waterfront view and Alchemy Wine Bar & Bistro, located near Haller Fountain, for the wine and Mediterranean fare.

Fountain Cafe - Port Townsend WA

Plan for lunch or dinner at the Fountain Cafe specializing in locally sourced cuisine with carefully chosen herbs and spices. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

More on Port Townsend

Port Townsend can keep you busy with events and festivals. September 15th – 17th, 2017 they are offering the 18th Port Townsend Film Festival with over 90 films in their walkable National Historic District.

Watch for future articles on Wander With Wonder. Coming up, I’ll tell you about a beautiful B&B in Uptown with peaceful gardens. It has the look of an elegant old home but with all the modern amenities (think en-suite jetted tub).

Ravenscroft in Port Townsend

A day in Port Townsend will be just enough to entice you to return for a stay at a local B&B Inn. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

And I’ll share with you the farm to table scene and some special agri-tourism finds. Last but not least, I’ll tell you about two of the festivals I would return for year after year.

You can find more information on beautiful Port Townsend at the Enjoy Port Townsend website.


Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations and meals for the purpose of writing about the destination. While it has not influenced this article, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

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The scenic coastal town of Port Townsend, WA is filled with history, ornate Victorian era homes, art galleries and views of snow-capped Olympic Mountains.