With its abundance of restored Victorian homes and commercial buildings, Port Townsend's most popular activity is simply walking or driving through the historic districts. The town is divided into the waterfront commercial district and the residential uptown area. This latter neighborhood is atop a bluff that rises precipitously only 2 blocks from the water. Uptown Port Townsend developed in part so that proper Victorian ladies would not have to associate with the riffraff that frequented the waterfront. At the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center, you can pick up a guide that lists the town's many historic homes and commercial buildings.
Water Street is the town's main commercial district. It is lined for several blocks with 100-year-old restored brick buildings, many of which have ornate facades. Within these buildings are dozens of interesting shops and boutiques, several restaurants, and a handful of hotels and inns. To learn a little more about the history of this part of town and to gain a different perspective, walk out on Union Wharf, at the foot of Taylor Street. Here you'll find interpretive plaques covering topics ranging from sea grass to waterfront history.
Make one of your first stops in town the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum, 540 Water St. (tel. 360/385-1003; www.jchsmuseum.org), where you can learn about the history of the area. Among the collections here are regional Native American artifacts and antiques from the Victorian era. The museum is open daily from 11am to 4pm. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children 11 and under. The museum sponsors guided historic walks on Saturdays at 2pm (also, between June and Sept, on Sun at 2pm). These tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 3 to 12.
The town's noted Victorian homes are in uptown Port Townsend, atop the bluff that rises behind the waterfront's commercial buildings. This is where you find stately homes, views, and the city's favorite park. To reach the uptown area, either drive up Washington Street (1 block over from Water St.) or walk up the stairs at the end of Taylor Street, which start behind the Haller Fountain.
At the top of the stairs, you'll see an 1890 bell tower, which once summoned volunteer firemen, and the Rothschild House, at Taylor and Franklin streets (tel. 360/385-1003; www.jchsmuseum.org). Built in 1868, this Greek Revival house is one of the oldest buildings in town and displays a sober architecture compared to other area homes. The gardens contain a wide variety of roses, peonies, and lilacs. The house is open May through September daily from 11am to 4pm. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for children 11 and under. A $5 passport gets you into both this historic house and the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum.
Also here in the uptown neighborhood, at the corner of Garfield and Jackson streets, is Chetzemoka Park, established in 1904 and named for a local S'Klallam Indian chief. The park is perched on a bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet, and has access to a pleasant little beach. However, most visitors head straight for the rose garden, arbor, and waterfall garden.
Shopping is just about the most popular activity in Port Townsend's old town, and of the many stores in the historic district, several stand out. Earthenworks Gallery, 702 Water St. (tel. 360/385-0328; www.earthenworksgallery.com), showcases colorful ceramics, glass, jewelry, and other American-made crafts. Ancestral Spirits Gallery, 701 Water St. (tel. 360/385-0078; www.ancestralspirits.com), is a large space with a great selection of Northwest Native American prints, masks, and carvings.
Fort Worden State Park
Fort Worden State Park (tel. 360/344-4400; www.fortworden.org), once a military installation that guarded the mouth of Puget Sound, is north of the historic district and can be reached by turning onto Kearney Street at the south end of town, or onto Monroe Street at the north end of town, and following the signs. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the fort is now a 360-acre state park where a wide array of attractions and activities ensure that it's busy for much of the year. Many of the fort's old wooden buildings have been restored and put to new use.
At the Fort Worden Commanding Officer's Quarters (tel. 360/344-4452), you can see what life was like for a Victorian-era officer and his family. The home has been fully restored and is filled with period antiques. In summer it's open daily from 10am to 5pm (call for hours in other months). Admission is $2 for adults and free for children 11 and under. Within the park, you'll also find the Coast Artillery Museum (tel. 360/385-0373), which is open daily from 11am to 4pm during the summer and, during May, on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 6 to 12.
Here at the park you can also learn about life below the waters of Puget Sound at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, 532 Battery Way (tel. 800/566-3932 or 360/385-5582; www.ptmsc.org). The center has great tide-pool touch tanks filled with crabs, starfish, anemones, and other marine life. A fascinating exhibit on the area's terrestrial natural history is complete with fossils from around the peninsula. Don't miss the exhibit on the glaciers that once covered this region. In summer the center is open Wednesday to Monday from 11am to 5pm; fall through spring hours are Friday to Sunday from noon to 4pm. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for youths 6 to 17.
For many people, however, the main reason to visit the park is to hang out on the beach or at one of the picnic areas. Scuba divers also frequent Fort Worden, which has an underwater park just offshore. In spring the Rhododendron Garden puts on a colorful floral display. Throughout the year there is a wide variety of concerts and other performances at the Centrum (tel. 360/385-3102; www.centrum.org). Also on the premises are campgrounds, a restaurant, and restored officers' quarters that can be rented as vacation homes.
Port Townsend From the Water
If you'd like to explore this area from the water, you've got several options. Three-hour sailboat tours ($75) are offered by Brisa Charters (tel. 877/41-BRISA or 360/385-2309; www.olympus.net/brisa_charters). Several times a year, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (tel. 800/566-3932 or 360/385-5582; www.ptmsc.org) operates boat tours ($50) to nearby Protection Island, a wildlife refuge that is home to puffins, rhinoceros auklets, and other nesting seabirds. One trip a year is done on a 101-foot historic schooner ($75).
From late May to early September, whale-watching cruises ($70 for adults, $55 for children 2-10) through the San Juan Islands are offered by P.S. Express, 431 Water St. (tel. 360/385-5288; www.pugetsoundexpress.com), which also operates passenger-ferry service to Friday Harbor.
You can paddle a kayak out at Fort Worden State Park, where PT Outdoors, 1017-B Water St. (tel. 888/754-8598 or 360/379-3608; www.ptoutdoors.com), rents kayaks for between $20 and $45 for the first hour and $10 and $20 for subsequent hours. This company also offers guided kayak tours ($55-$110). At the nearby Port Ludlow Marina (tel. 800/308-7991 or 360/437-0513; www.portludlowresort.com), south of Port Townsend, you can rent sea kayaks ($10-$15 per hour) and motorboats ($20 per hour).
While you're visiting the area, you might want to check out Port Townsend's two wineries, both south of town. Sorensen Cellars, 274 S. Otto St. (tel. 360/379-6416; www.sorensencellars.com), is open March through May and September through November, Friday through Sunday from noon to 5pm; June through August, it's open daily noon to 5pm. To find this winery, turn east off Wash. 20 onto Frederick Street and then south on Otto Street.
Fair Winds Winery, 1984 Hastings Ave. W. (tel. 360/385-6899; www.fairwindswinery.com), is the only winery in the state producing Aligote, a French-style white wine. Memorial Day to Labor Day the winery is open daily from noon to 5pm; other months it's open Friday to Monday from noon to 5pm. To get here, drive south from Port Townsend on Wash. 20, turn west on Jacob Miller Road, and continue 2 miles to Hastings Avenue.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.