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 Pacific Northwest getaway destination filled with history, ornate Victorian-era homes, art galleries, and views of snow-capped Olympic Mountains.
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 from PTeRider. 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.
An extended tour can take you to see historic Fort Worden State Park with its Officer’s Row and bluff-top views.
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.
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.
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.
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 a 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, outdoor 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.
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.
Uptown is home to a small business district and the seasonal Farmer’s Market (April through December.)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.