The City Of Dreams – Port Townsend, WA
It had all been working its way up to this. The entire trip up the OP, that is. I can’t tell you how many people told us to stop at Port Townsend, told us we’d love it, told us it was just the best ever, swoon-worthy and hip etc. so much so in fact that I was starting to seriously doubt it. You know how it is. Expectations soar too high…you imagine rainbows and unicorns only to discover moss and old sows. So, it was actually with mixed anticipation that we arrived at this town, not sure at all how we’d react.
All that angst evaporated the moment we drove through the picturesque Victorian downtown and sauntered into our full water-view RV site by the marina. The gulls swooped in the sky, the music of riggings played soothingly on the boats and we had a view of millions out of the RV window with unlimited Mocha’s, restaurants and activities just walking distance away.
This place is like old-town San Francisco in miniature with a full nature wrap-around. It’s artsy, classy and vibrant, yet just a short drive or bike away you can lose yourself on the beach and in the woods. I bow to you all and submit myself entirely. You guys were ALL right. This place totally rocks!!
So how in the world do you boil down such a diverse place into a single blog post?? All I can do is give you a taste of the highlights and tell you what countless others have said to us. You just gotta come here to experience it yourself! So, here it goes….
The first thing that grabs you as you enter Port Townsend is the impression that you’ve been thrown back to the 1890’s. The town boasts the Northwest’s greatest selection of Victorian homes and buildings on the National Register and you can’t help but notice. On the hillside overlooking the water old wooden houses, embellished by beautifully carved wooden turrets and cast iron decoration spread as far as the eye can see. Downtown by the port industrial-style multistory brick buildings create an impressive panorama against the water’s edge. Many of the facades are entirely original and I was totally captivated by the old doors and turn-of-the-century brick murals.
Part of the reason for so much history lies in the story of the town itself. Originally founded in 1851 it was given the nickname of “City of Dreams” and slated to become the capital of Washington. This led to a massive build-up of both population and buildings in the late 1800’s. Sadly, the depression of 1893 disrupted plans for the railroad to reach the down and it rapidly declined. The ornate downtown languished for many years until re-emerging industry and the lure of hippy culture revived it in the 20th century. Today it’s an artsy retreat with the money to back it. I sure love this place, but couldn’t afford to live here.
NOTE/ All the historic buildings are wonderfully presented in the “Tour of Historic Homes & Buildings” map which you can pick-up at the Museum or Visitors Center. Take an afternoon or two, bring doggie along for the hike and soak them all in.
Going Out, Eating & Drinking
I always love a town with a bit of sin in its history. Back in the 1890’s Port Townsend was solidly divided between gentrified “Uptown” (the classy part up the hill) and seedy “Downtown” (by the marina). The latter supported a bustling industry of brothels, bars and drunken sailors. The history of this era is wonderfully described in the old jail at the Port Townsend Museum, and part of the “grit” of that era can still be sensed in the buildings. The modern-day result of this time is a downtown packed with interesting restaurants, cool bars, coffee shops, entertainment and classic book stores. If you can’t find something to your liking here, something is wrong with you! We only scratched the surface of what there is to eat and explore here, but these are our top picks of the week:
- Best Coffee -> The tastiest coffee is Stumptown-based Velocity Coffee House which is a stone’s throw from the marina where we parked the RV. The coolest (hippest) place and a close second is Better Living Through Coffee which, apart from the excellent name occupies an equally excellent location on the water-front downtown.
- Best Cocktails -> The best place for a classy drink is hands down Cellar Door. This underground gem not only boasts super-cool decor, but makes über-creative cocktails as well as extremely tasty tapas. This was our best night out in town.
- Best Beer -> For a superb brew you can’t beat Port Townsend Brewing Company. My interest was first piqued by the place when a local guy told me he moved to Port Townsend just for their stout. I can’t say I would make the same move, but the stout sure was tasty. Good flight of beers plus they also have a beer garden where they play live music on the week-ends.
- Best Entertainment -> We’d been tipped off to historic Rose Theater thanks to our RV buddies Aluminarium. This cute old spot, originally started as a Vaudeville house in 1907 offers films in compact little rooms with old-fashioned comfy chairs. Their unique claims to fame are their fresh popcorn (accompanied by an impressive spice bar) and the lady who comes in to give a little background on each film before it starts (so cool!). We saw Chef and really enjoyed it. In a close second the local community theater offers a slew of great entertainment for ridiculously cheap prices.
- Best Fish & Chips -> We tried a few of these around town. The serving at highly-touted Stillwater Cafe was sadly unimpressive, but the one at Doc’s Marina was excellent. Plus you can’t beat the view at the latter.
NOTE/ For those with dogs, you can hang with doggie at the outdoor area of Doc’s Marina as well as the lovely slice of beach right next to Better Living Through Coffee.
Lighthouses & Forts
When you’re sated with city living it takes mere moments to get out of town and enjoy the wild outdoors. Nearby Fort Worden State Park not only has several lovely (dog-friendly) beaches, but boasts miles of hiking trails, the impressive 1897 fort and (here’s the kicker for us nutters) the pretty Point Wilson Lighthouse. The latter has seen better days, but does offer a gorgeous view and free tours (on Saturday’s only). If one fort isn’t enough you can drive a mere 20-miles to another lovely spot Fort Flagler State Park where you can gawk at more old barracks & batteries, walk along more excellent beach and sneak a peak at the curious Marrowstone Point Lighthouse. Between the two you’ll have almost 25 miles of hiking trails, all dog-friendly with plenty of spots to be completely alone.
NOTE/ All the State Parks (trails and beaches) around Port Townsend are fully dog friendly. The only spots you can’t bring doggie are inside the historic structures and the lighthouses. Point Wilson Lighthouse tours are only offered on Saturday’s in summer 1-4PM. Marrowstone Lighthouse is not open for tours. State Park day-use fees are $10/day or $30 for the annual pass.
The summary doesn’t nearly cover it, but hopefully I’ve given you a good enough taste to be tempted for more. I haven’t even mentioned the fabulous dinner we had with Metamorphosis Road (our first night -> check their blog post HERE), the 27-year reunion Paul had with his highschool buddy Drew and the rocking farmers market (the best we’ve seen since Astoria). Phew…was that really all in one week!!!?? We spent most of our time just wandering around, mostly on foot and totally dug the area. On Monday we leave our scenic marina spot and drive a mind-blowing 4 miles to a spot where “the beast” will board her very first boat and sail her very first stretch of water. Exciting stuff!
Adieu lovely Port Townsend, you’ll definitely be seeing us again!
- Port Townsend City Guide -> Click HERE and HERE.
- Port Townsend Maps -> Click HERE
- Port Townsend Historic Homes & Buildings -> Click HERE
- Local State Parks -> Fort Worden State Park click HERE. Fort Flagler State Park click HERE.