Back when I was fresh out of college I decided to drive from San Diego, CA to Seward, AK. It was on that trip that I first saw Port Townsend, WA, a gorgeous little Victorian seaport town located on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. I didn’t know then that after many years of exploration, jobs taken and jobs left, and loves gained and loves lost, I would end up marrying a man from Port Townsend and moving to this special place.There are those who grow up dreaming of moving to the big city. Perhaps for some it’s the myriad of dining and entertainment options, or the anonymity it allows, or maybe they just like tall buildings. I have spent a lot of time in cities around this country and the world at large, and although they offer some amazing things, my spirit is called to smaller, off the beaten track, towns. Where nature is more present in my everyday life, where the only sounds at night are the local coyotes, and the occasional Barred Owl. O.k…as I write this I can also hear my husband upstairs playing Halo, but hey in general it’s pretty peaceful here.
Milesgeek has been up and running for two years now, and for those two years and the six that proceeded them, we have been lucky enough to call Port Townsend home. I figure it’s about time I tell you a little bit about this magical corner of the world.
Port Townsend is located approximately two hours from the beautiful “Emerald City” of Seattle. From downtown Seattle, you drive onto one of the majestic green and white ferries that run all day long shuttling folks back and forth between the city and outlying areas. The first step is to board the one heading for Bainbridge Island. Be sure to leave your vehicle and head upstairs for the thirty five minute crossing. Seals, cormorants, buffleheads and other sea birds are common sights. And, though they are rare on this run, if you are lucky you just might spot one of the famous black and white resident Orcas.
As you leave the harbor you will have a gorgeous view of the Seattle skyline. If it’s a clear day, just beyond the orange dinosaur-like cranes of the shipping yards sits the stunning Mt. Rainier…and though it’s eighty five miles away, some days it feels like you can reach out and touch this iconic mountain. Once you dock at Bainbridge you drive North and a bit West for about an hour and you will find yourself in Port Townsend.
Don’t let the small population fool you (under 10,000). Port Townsend is a vibrant Victorian seaport community filled with amazing artists and writers, great food, lovely shops and fantastic views. It’s no wonder it has been listed as one of the 20 best small towns for 2015 by Smithsonian Magazine. And, one of the top 10 small towns in the U.S. by Country Living, Fodor’s Travel, Budget Travel and USA Today (just to name a few)!
It is home to a multitude of festivals year round, and is visited by people from all over the world. From Strange Brewfest in January, and the Shipwights Regatta in February, to the Rhody Festival in May and the big event of the summer, Centrum’s Music festival which takes place in the historic Fort Worden State Park. It includes weeks filled with Fiddle Tunes, Jazz, and Blues, with the options to take classes and participate or simply go and enjoy the shows.
The Port Townsend Writers’ Conference is another big hit, as are the Concerts on the Dock, a free weekly series of concerts in which great local bands play while families dance and picnic. September brings the infamous Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival and the fantastic Port Townsend Film Festival which continues to delight year after year. October closes out the festival season with the Kinetic Sculpture Race in which folks have to create a vehicle that will both be able to ride on land and float through the race course. For a more comprehensive list of events coming up this year go to Port Townsend Main Street.
In a town that is so active, it’s hard to believe we are in a small town at times. It has been a great place for our family. And, below, I will fill you in on what have become our family’s favorites over the years. I hope you will be able to make it to this very special place one day!
William James Bookseller-
Our very favorite shop in town is William James Bookseller. From the moment you step in you are whisked away through the nostalglic smell and feel of the place. It’s a special spot where the books go from floor to ceiling, the aisles are cozy and if you’re lucky there’s a big chair waiting for you to sit and flip through a book or two. At William James, many of the books are used, so not only is the setting perfect, the price is right! They are known for having hard to find things, as well as author signed books and first editions of the greats! It’s a virtual treasure trove for those who love to read.
William James Bookseller was founded in 1987 and they specialize in fine quality used and out of print books in all fields. You’ll find them right on the main thoroughfare of town, at 829 Water Street. Oh, and disclaimer, my brother in law is the owner…did I say this is a small town?
Lila Drake Jewelry-
For jewelry it is Lila Drake Jewelry. The gals who work here are so friendly, one might think they’re Canadian! According to their Facebook page, they have one of the largest displays of Sterling Jewelry in the Pacific Northwest; displaying between eight and nine thousand pieces of jewelry! They import from nine different countries around the world, and the prices are amazing, 50-75% off the normal retail value. If you visit Lila Drake, make sure you give yourself some time. It’s a feast for the senses! They are located at 918 Water Street.
If you’re looking for a spot that carries a wide variety, I highly recommend The Quimper Mercantile. You can find local made gifts and souvenirs alongside popular brands like Columbia and Woolrich. They offer everything form clothing and shoes to camping supplies and household goods. This store is inspiring in its concept as well, “Quimper Mercantile Company is an innovative community-owned general store passionately committed to creating a positive and sustainable impact on our community by providing and exceptional local shopping experience.”
Food and Drink
The Fountain Café-
My favorite restaurant in Port Townsend is The Fountain Cafe. Owner Nick Yates has managed to create a restaurant with both great ambiance and great food! It’s a small space, so it lends itself better to folks who are out sans kids, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring them! They even have a ‘ninos’ menu. The Fountain Cafe is located in the Mary Webster historical building, circa 1889, at 920 Washington Street, one block over from Water Street. They are open for Lunch and Dinner.
It’s hard to choose a favorite entree, as everything I’ve ordered there over the years has been fabulous, but if pressed, I’d have to say it’s The Greek…feta sauce with artichoke hearts, sweet bell peppers, Greek olives, & capers on penne pasta. Seriously good. Also, their salads are amazing! Be sure to ask for the gorgonzola dressing, YUM.
I know you should probably have a white wine with The Greek, but a wine connoisseur I am not. I always always get the same wine when dining there and it’s red. For dessert, there is only one for me as well! The warm gingerbread with vanilla custard and whipped cream. Holy Moly, get ready to have your hair blown back!
Located right next door to the Rose Theater is the Silverwater Cafe. On Wednesdays you can go for all you can eat Spaghetti night. Other favorites are the Sesame Green Beans (trust me!) and the Tuscan Steak Salad, a center cut bistro filet with Tuscan oil served over mixed greens, pickled onion, crumbled blue cheese, tomato and basil vinaigrette for $18! For the kids, the happy face fries make for a fun treat! They also have an amazing Chocolate Molten Cake. This small moist chocolate cake is served with a warm chocolate center and berry sauce…wow!
Hit the Brick for the best Caesar Salads and Philly Cheese Steaks served up in a cozy environment by the super nice owner Harry! Also, a nice bar with a variety of draft beers on tap and T.V.s for game day! It’s located across the street from the Rose Theatre, below street level so look for the sign and the stairs. They don’t have a web page, but you can view their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/thetinbrick.
Pippa’s Real Tea-
Pippa’s is the place to go if you are looking for tea! An amazing array of choices, and the high tea is delectable! Their baked goods and soups are made in house and they use locally sourced, organic products wherever possible. Gluten Free and Vegan selections are always available…even for high tea! Pippa knows what she’s doing and we’re lucky to have her here. I highly recommend stopping in. High tea is served on weekends only and reservations are recommended.
Easy Times Espresso-
Though technically not in Port Townsend, I’m willing to break the rules and tell you about Easy Times Espresso, which is located off of Hwy 19 on your way in or out of town, just South of the cute Port Townsend Airport. Though it doesn’t have seating, this little espresso hut drive thru offers, by far, my favorite coffee in the area. The service is exceptional too! They have been open for thirteen years, so you know they’re doing something right! Stop in and tell them Hollin say’s ‘Hi’! Located at 41 10th Ave, Port Hadlock, WA. They don’t have a website, but you can find information on their Facebook page.
The Uptown Pub & Grill-
If you’re looking for a great burger, look no further! The food here is REALLY good and the prices are amazing! Think cajun tots and sweet potato fries! I often order the Santa Fe Salad: a lovely combo of crisp romaine, grilled chicken, cheddar jack cheese, corn, tomatoes, bleak beans, corn chips and avocado with a mexi-ranch dressing for only 8.95! My burger of choice is the Uptown. It‘s made fresh to order and topped with two bacon wrapped chipotle poppers, cheddar cheese and garlic mayo for $9.25. And if you happen to be in town on a Wednesday, it’s fun to join in on Trivia Night, whilst eating your food and sipping on a nice cold beer. This is a very local, very cool, place!
The Blue Moose-
This is the place for breakfast! Period. End of story. It’s a small funky place located in the boatyard. As you come into town and see Safeway on the left, turn right at the light. You’ll see the Port Townsend Brewing Co. on the right as you drive in, the Blue Moose is just a bit further on the left. The wait can sometimes be a bit as it is a very small place, but the food is very good so well worth it! I tend to go for the Scooter (their version of a breakfast burrito), while my son goes for their vanilla french toast with a side of sausage and my husband goes for the corned beef and hash. Also, one of my pet peeves is finding a good place for breakfast only to find they serve crappy coffee…not so at the Moose! Here, they serve local organic Sunrise Coffee and its great!
And finally, there is the Spruce Goose. It’s located at the Jefferson County International Airport. Don’t let the international part of it’s title fool you, this is a small airport reminiscent of a bygone era. One can sit and have a great meal and watch as tiny Pipers, Cessnas and Bi-Planes land and take off. The setting is lovely and they pump out a fantastic soundtrack of nostalgic tunes by the likes of Dylan, The Stones and others. You can go for breakfast or lunch and they have local beer on tap as well as great pie! Definitely worth a stop.
The Rose Theatre and the Starlight Room-
What started as a vaudeville house in 1907 has evolved into a much beloved movie theater. The Rose Theatre, went on from vaudeville to house silent films, then talkies, then technicolor and now digital projection. It maintains the era of these bygone days through its tin plated ceiling, the original murals on the walls, the red velvet seating, the countless old photos of Hollywood stars and movies throughout history, and the tradition of orally introducing each movie and giving the audience a little insight they otherwise would not have known. This tradition adds to the depth of an already wonderful night at the movies. Plus, in addition to the best popcorn I’ve ever tasted at a movie theater (people stop in just for the popcorn!), they now serve beer, wine and locally made cider from Finn River Farm and Cidery.
Upstairs from The Rose, you will find the Starlight Lounge. It’s a fun grouping of funky chairs and couches situated in a gorgeous room with high ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and long flowing curtains. Food and alcohol are available too! And the venue makes for an intimate setting that is both romantic and sweet.
The owner of the Rose Theatre, Rocky, has the unique talent and flair for picking top notch movies that inspire, move and make one think. Oh, and yes, of course serious big office hits like the latest Star Wars make it there as well. Rocky has even taken one of my requests before and showed a film I was dying to see! Talk about a community-oriented theater. This is an experience not to be missed!
Fort Worden State Park-
Fort Worden State Park, the main filming location for “An Officer and a Gentleman”, is another not to be missed spot in Port Townsend. It was originally built as a United States Army installation to protect the Puget Sound, but has morphed into a breathtaking place for a myriad of activities. Here, one can take art classes, yoga classes or woodworking classes. Or visit during the annual infamous Centrum music series, and be delighted by weeks of fabulous music and fun. Of course, one can also just relax on the beach. There is a lighthouse, camping, a marine science center, a restaurant, and numerous walks through the woods with spectacular views and old bunkers that can be explored. In fact, the park is over 430 acres!
One of my favorite things is to rent a kayak and get out on the water. The scenery is breathtaking and if you’re lucky you’ll spot the local otter family. For kayak rentals you can go to Port Townsend Paddle Sports located right next to the beach. It’s run by a lovely couple who have a lot of experience. They also rent paddle boards and bikes. For more information go to http://www.ptpaddlesports.com.
If you aren’t into the camping option you can also rent an old Victorian house! The Officer’s Row Collection at Fort Worden features homes that range in size from four to six bedrooms. These historic houses offer beautiful views across the Parade Grounds and were built in 1904, for commissioned officers and their families. If you need something smaller, they also have The Cottage Collection. These are five boutique homes and each of them is different. They range from an historic castle to small cottages. There are one and two bedroom choices available. For more information on accommodations, events and food please see the Fort Worden website .
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awesome article!!!! Loved reading it and experiencing our tiny town through your eyes & spirit!!!!
I love love love PT
Thanks for reminding me (as if I really need it) how amazing our town is! We’ve only been here 3 years and I am still blown away daily by how lucky we were to come here when we did. It never gets boring and I just don’t have the need to travel that I did!
Thanks for the great pics!
Port Townsend is also the eastern Gateway to Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), the 130 non-motorized “Pathway to the Pacific” across the entire northern Olympic Peninsula. It begins on the Port Townsend waterfront as the Larry Scott Memorial Trail, a tribute to one of the original founders of the concept of the ODT stretching from the Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean. At this time it is approximately 60% complete, linking the towns of Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks, and La Push. Olympic Peninsula communities are fully supportive of the concept of the ODT and upcoming projects are funded to extend the Trail in both Jefferson and Clallam Counties.
I live 25 miles out of town after leaving Seattle in 93… please visit Port Townsend and Sequim and Port Angeles but please don’t move here (he says with tongue only partly in cheek). Home prices are booming and rentals are hard to find, especially in PT. Feels like Sausalito in the making these days. Nice article and photos!
My former husband and I, along with our son, lived aboard our sailboat for quite a few years. Another older son and his wife and son lived on their sailboat a few slips away. They now live on land but have remained in the area and I visit occasionally. The beauty of the town and area are incomparable and it lingers with you long after you go. Thank you for your lovely and informative article.