Summer escape: Plan a day trip to historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula

Historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula

Start the day with a ferry ride across the Puget Sound and a stop at a Parisian-style bakery. Finish with a glass of wine at an outdoor tasting room, or line-dancing and wood-fired pizza at a rural cidery.

The best day trips begin and end with the journey, making historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula an outing worth the nearly two hours of travel time from Seattle.

Stately bed and breakfasts in Victorian mansions built by wealthy businessmen in the 1800s beckon overnight travelers, but by rising early on a Saturday to beat the summer crowds, you'll get a taste of why this historical seafaring town draws so many repeat visitors.

Once poised to become a major Northwest shipping port before Seattle and Tacoma took its place, Port Townsend has evolved into a destination known for its food, art, music and picturesque waterside setting. 

Here's the plan:

7:55 a.m.
Ferry and coffee

Catch an early ferry to either Winslow on Bainbridge Island or Kingston (your choice depending on where in the Seattle area you live). Crossing time is 30 minutes. Coffee is available on the ferries, but I recommend waiting until you get to the other side.

Exiting the ferry terminal in Kingston, find Aviator Coffee in a wooden shed called the Hanger. The Bainbridge Island roaster keeps mini-donuts sizzling in a pan near a walk-up window.

Coquette Bake Shop

Driving off the ferry in Winslow, detour at the second stop light onto Winslow Way East, and find the pocket-size Coquette Bake Shop. Filling a glass cases in a walk-up kiosk are Parisian-style pastries and breakfast sandwiches baked upstairs in the Winslow Mall. My current favorite is the "Zest for Life," a buttery morning bun spiked with orange zest and cardamom, best eaten at one of the outdoor tables along with a cup of Stumptown coffee.

10 a.m.
Farmers Market 

Port Townsend’s Uptown (hillside) and downtown (waterside) historic districts are compact and walkable. A high bluff separates the two neighborhoods, and although they’re close together, only a set of steps and two streets connect them.

Most visitors head directly downtown to Water Street, the location of most shops, art galleries and cafes, with views of the boat and ferry traffic on Port Townsend Bay. Parking is limited to two hours in most locations, but it's easy to find all-day spots in  Uptown, and that’s just one reason to make it your first stop.

Young musicians at the Saturday Farmers Market

Jefferson County is a rich agricultural area. More than 70 vendors, many young farmers and craftspeople, show up at the Saturday Farmers Market at Lawrence and Tyler Streets. Bring a cooler to take home small-batch cheeses or homemade kimchi. Samples teas infused with mushroom extracts or snack on vegan ice cream while listening to music supplied by local musicians such as a slide guitarist and fiddle band formed by a group of home-schooled girls.

11:00 a.m.

Leave the car parked, and check out a few of the vintage shops in Uptown, good sources for costume jewelry and Hawaiian shirts, then continue on foot downtown via the Fountain Steps at Taylor and Jefferson to the Haller Fountain and Washington Street.

The Haller Fountain and steps linking Uptown and Downtown

Here you'll find Bergstrom’s Antique & Classic Autos, 809 Washington St., inside a 1917 garage. For sale on the "showroom" floor is a 1955 blue Volkswagen Beetle and a 1929 bright yellow Ford Model A coupe. More affordable dozens of plastic model kits and vintage car and driver magazines.

Wandering Water Street 

Art and architecture define Water Street, downtown's main drag lined with historical buildings housing cafes, restaurants, antique shops and galleries. 

Art galleries and vintage shops line Water Street

Stop for tea at Pippa's Real Tea inside an 1886 home where the Australian owner stocks more than 100 teas and offers light lunches, served by a cozy fireplace, or in a dog-friendly courtyard garden.

For historical perspective, visit the Jefferson Museum of Art and History  inside the 1892 former city hall. The former medical examiner's room houses a display dedicated to some of the town's former madams and brothels. On display through August 25 in the old jail is an exhibit by artist Paula Stokes,CQ commemorating the 19th century Irish famine with 1,845 handblown glass potatoes. The Northwind Arts Center at 701 Water St. features a monthly rotating exhibit by a local artist in the front gallery, and the juried works of a selection of other artists in the back. 

2 p.m.
Walking the Chetzemoka Trail 

A newly-installed 26-foot Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe totem pole in front of the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., marks the start of the Chetzemoka CQ Trail, an interpretive trail winding through Port Townsend that commemorates the life of Chief Chetzemoka, CQ the tribal leader who befriended early European settlers.

26-foot Totem pole

Pick up a brochure, and follow either a three, six or 12-mile loop, passing through downtown historical sites, the Kah Tai Lagoon, a nature park and birding area; and Fort Worden, CQ a former U.S. Army installation on Admiralty Inlet, now a historical state park. 

The maritime center will host the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival Sept. 6-8. CQ In the meantime, visitors can see the town from the water on 30-minute tours Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day aboard the Martha J, a 1984 motor launch. Tours are first-come, first-served, by donation.

4 p.m.
Local libations  

Rural backroads on the way out of town lead to family-owned cideries, wineries and breweries. Water views are best from the new Port Townsend Vineyards Vintage Wine Bar and Plaza on Water Street, but just a few miles out of town, the winery itself is worth a stop. Cornhole games and bocce ball courts invite lingering along with tables and chairs scattered around a rustic tasting room. 

Port Townsend Vineyard's waterside wine bar

Popular with cyclists is Discovery Bay Brewing, tucked into a business park a few miles from downtown. Board games and a a shady outdoor garden make this a family-friendly taproom, with local beers brewed on site; Kombucha; cider; and live music in the late afternoons.  Bike here on Sundays and get $1 off your pint. 

A final detour worth a stop on the way back to Seattle is Chimacum where you'll find a well-stocked farm store and the  Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 124 Center Road open year-round for tastings of European-style ciders made from organic cider apples grown on a former dairy farm up the road.

Family fun at Finn River cidery

Families flock to the outdoor cider garden for wood-fired pizzas, local Hama Hama oysters and Brittany-style crepes. They young owners keep on thinking of new ways to keep visitors coming back. There are yoga classes,  lectures on climate change,  lots of live music, and depending on the day, even the chance to learn line-dancing or the Lindy Hop.

If you go:

Port Townsend sits on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula at the entrance to the Puget Sound. From the Seattle area, take a ferry from the Seattle waterfront to Winslow on Bainbridge Island or to Kingston from Edmonds.   Cross the Hood Canal Bridge, and follow Highway 19 north. Travel time is around two  hours. 

Tourist information:

See or stop at the visitor information center at 2409 Jefferson St. in Port Townsend.

This story appeared in The Seattle Times on Sept. 1, 2019

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