The 14 Best Things to Do in Port Townsend: A Complete Guide
Port Townsend is frequently named among the top small towns in the country with its postcard-perfect views, filled with magnificent Victorians and surrounded by both water and mountains. The “City of Dreams” as it was known in its early years, is fronted by sparkling Port Townsend Bay, often filled with sailboats, kayaks and other vessels, boasting a backdrop of the stunning beauty of Mount Baker, the Olympics, Mount Rainier, and the Cascades on a clear day.
You’ll find a ton of things to do in Port Townsend – simply strolling through town with the grand Victorian buildings housing all sorts of eclectic boutiques, coffee houses, pubs and restaurants, is enjoyable. And bonus! It has a fun and quirky arts culture too.
We think it’s among the best weekend trips from Seattle, and once you visit, you won’t be surprised to learn that Budget Travel included Port Townsend among its “coolest small towns” ranking, and Smithsonian magazine named it among the Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015.
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What to Do in Port Townsend
If you want to see whales in the wild, you’re in one of the best places to do it with Puget Sound Express offering excursions from Point Hudson Marina where you’ll almost always spot porpoises, sea lions, seals, and bald eagles, with guaranteed whale sightings during the peak seasons. They have multiple tours leaving from Port Townsend, including whale watching tours that will take you around Port Townsend, or all the way out to the San Juan Islands.
The best times to go to see whales are mid-March through late April when the gray whales are migrating through the waters that surround the area, and orca whales from late April through October.
Hit the Trails
You’ve got lots of options for hiking in Port Townsend, including the nearly 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail that starts in Port Townsend and ends along the shores of the Pacific, bringing stunning coastal, lake, river and farm views – if you’ve got the time and an adventurous streak you can cover the entire route, or just tackle it in sections.
The 2.7-mile trail from North Beach Park to Glass Beach offers the chance to discover pieces of colorful sea glass and spot marine life offshore, while Fort Worden Historical State Park offers a number of scenic trails along sandy beaches and through the woods.
Hit the 2.7 mile Point Wilson Trail, which takes you out and around the point at the northeast corner of town, including the lighthouse.
Paddle Out in a Kayak
You can explore Port Townsend Bay while watching for marine life like seals, otters, and porpoises in a kayak with rentals available at the Northwest Maritime Center right downtown. Fort Worden also offers kayak rentals for paddling along the beaches, but don’t get too far from land as Admiralty Inlet can get very rough and ship traffic is busy too.
Try Some Local Cider
There are several outstanding cideries in Port Townsend, with Finnriver the hands-down favorite, offering farm-crafted ciders along with local, seasonal dishes.
Alpenfire has a tasting room and a picturesque setting while Eaglemount produces both ciders and wine on a farm homestead that dates all the way back to 1883.
Explore Fort Worden Historical State Park
As mentioned previously, Fort Worden offers hiking and kayaking, but there’s a lot more in this park, including an interesting history to explore with nearly 1,000 officers and troops training to defend the Puget Sound here; in fact, you might recognize it as the military base in 1982’s “Officer and a Gentleman” starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger.
You can tour the Commanding Officer’s Quarters to get a glimpse at the life of an officer and his family and check out the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum along with multiple old bunkers and tunnels.
Listen to the Whales at Port Townsend Marine Science Center
While it’s located inside Fort Worden, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is worth a visit of its own with a small aquarium that features local fish and invertebrate species along with one of only six fully articulated orca whale skeletons that tells the story of an orca named Hope. The highlight for many, just before going inside is the hydrophone that faces the water where you can often hear the area’s famous orcas “speaking” to each other as they search for salmon in the Sound.
Check out the Farmer’s Market
Another one of the best things to do in Port Townsend, and a great way to mingle with the locals, is to visit the Port Townsend Farmers Market, held in the Uptown district between early April and mid-December every year on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
It’s considered one of the state’s best markets of its size, complete with live music and everything from high quality local produce, ciders, herbs, and flowers to local honey, goat cheese, smoked salmon, and handcrafted items.
Discover History and More at the Jefferson Museum of Art and History
The Jefferson Museum of Art and History is the county’s historical and art museum, located downtown in the 1892 City Hall building. It not only includes a wide range of exhibits focused on the area’s early settlers and native inhabitants, with juicy tidbits about the Ladies of the Night who lived here around the turn of the century, but the basement cells of the old city jail where author Jack London once spent the night.
View the Ruins and Stroll the Shoreline at Fort Townsend Historical State Park
Fort Townsend Historical State Park is often overlooked for the more well-known Fort Worden, but those who are interested in military history can explore this former army base, used between 1856 until a fire destroyed the barracks in 1895. It makes for haunting photos with most of the old buildings reclaimed by nature; the Second World War torpedo tower, officers’ row and parade lawn are all still recognizable, and there are six miles of trails winding through the trees, two miles of shoreline, and a picnic area too.
Step Back in Time at the Rothschild House Museum
Another must for history buffs, the Rothschild House sits on a bluff in Uptown overlooking the bay and remains just as it was when local businessman D.C.H. Rothschild lived here with his family in the mid-19th-century, complete with the herbs and roses they planted. Built in 1868, it stayed in the family until 1962 when it was donated to the public and maintained by the Jefferson County Historical Society to reveal a look at life here in the late 1800s.
Enjoy the Flowers & Shakespeare in the Park at Chetzemoka Park
Chetzemoka Park can be found atop a bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet in the Uptown district, home to gorgeous gardens that in the spring will be bursting with color for some fantastic photo-ops. It includes picnicking facilities, fire pits, and barbecues along with a trail leading to the beach below. On weekends throughout August, you can enjoy Shakespeare in the Park too.
View Local Works at the Northwind Arts Center
Art enthusiasts won’t want to miss a visit to the Northwind Arts Center downtown which houses exhibitions, artist showcases and an art gallery with a unique collection that features local artists. Not only are there some great works here but you might be able to attend a poetry reading or a concert right inside the gallery too.
Catch a Show at the Rose Theatre
The Rose Theater is a Port Townsend institution and one of the best things to do in Port Townsend, saved by residents and others who are passionate about the beloved theater through a GoFundMe fundraiser during the pandemic.
The circa 1907 cinema boasts a stunning interior with typical theater seating, plus an upstairs area with comfy couches for watching movies. Before each showing, a host announces and provides a brief preview just before it begins. Catch new releases, including independent films, plays and opera, all while enjoying food and cocktails.
Learn About the Winemaking Process and Taste the Local Wine
Witness the art of grape growing and harvesting at Port Townsend Vineyards on Portuguese Hill, known for its unique organic grape varieties, using sheep that fertilize the vineyard and eat the weeds. At Vintage by Port Townsend Vineyards downtown you can taste the results alongside delicious food pairings.
Where to Eat & Drink in Port Townsend
Where to Eat in Port Townsend
Finistère. This is the place the locals should go and foodies shouldn’t miss; a hidden gem in Uptown featuring artfully presented New American fare (vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options available), all of which can be paired with a well-curated list of wines by the glass and indoor and outdoor seating.
Banana Leaf Thai. The best spot for authentic Thai in town with friendly service, an outdoor patio and vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets are all catered to.
Doc’s Marina Grill. Located on the waterfront by the Port Hudson Marina with indoor and outdoor seating, Doc’s is a Port Townsend staple serving large portions of fresh seafood, delicious clam chowder, and a kale salad that’s to-die-for (vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free friendly too).
Blue Moose Cafe. Hidden away in the Port Townsend Boat Yard, this quirky, cozy spot is where the locals go for a comfort food breakfast with organic coffee; gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options available.
Pane d’Amore Artisan Bakery. Located in Uptown, head here for fresh pastries, cookies, artisan breads and other baked goods along with local cheeses; gluten-free and vegan options are available.
Elevated Ice Cream. An ice cream/candy shop downtown that’s become a local institution, Elevated serves homemade ice cream with some unique and incredibly tasty flavors like dark chocolate cardamom; gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian friendly.
Drinks in Port Townsend
Better Living Through Coffee. Located along the waterfront downtown just a short walk from the ferry terminal, this is one of the most popular spots for enjoying organic Fair Trade coffee; baked goods, soups and other light bites with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options available.
Seal Dog Coffee Bar. A tiny, hole-in-the-wall spot in Uptown, this is where locals in the know go for the best espresso in town along with homemade baked goods, including scones, pastries, and cakes.
Cafe Tenby. Home to Pippa’s Real Tea, this downtown cafe serves High Tea British-style with an extensive list of tea options plus a menu that includes authentic British items like scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam; enjoy occasional live music on the back patio too.
Port Townsend Brewing. Go for a great local brew with ales on tap and a wide selection of local and regional bottled beers that can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio along the waterfront or in the tasting room with seasonal live music hosted several days a week (no food is served here but you can bring your own or have it delivered).
Propolis Brewing. Opened by a local, Propolis Brewing has quickly become one of the top spots for a brew with one of the most extensive and unique selection of beers you’ll find everywhere. It focuses on farmhouse ales using a variety of herbs and fruits with outdoor seating for enjoying them on-site as well as bottles to go.
Alchemy Bistro & Bar. The place to go for cocktails or a pre-dinner glass of vino with a fabulous ambiance and an extensive wine list and small plates that pair perfectly with them.
Where to Stay in Port Townsend
Not only are there plenty of things to do in Port Townsend, but you’ll have many different options when it comes to where to stay, from hotels to Airbnbs.
Hotels in Port Townsend
Waterstreet Hotel. Located in the heart of downtown, this hotel is housed in a magnificent Victorian era building just steps from Pope Marine Park along the waterfront. Rooms offer historical ambiance and modern amenities at a very reasonable price for the location.
Palace Hotel. Set within another classic 1889 Victorian brick building, the Palace Hotel is an iconic Port Townsend landmark that’s just a three minute walk from the Port Townsend ferry terminal, convenient for those arriving on the Whidbey Island ferry. It has a fascinating history, including tales of ghost sightings, with elegant, antique-filled rooms, some of which offer bay views.
Ravenscroft Inn. Located in the historic Uptown district, linked to downtown by sets of steep stairs, Ravenscroft offers B&B accommodation. All include free Wi-Fi, but you’ll get the best views from the Baker and Bay rooms where you can gaze out at the bay, sunrises, sunsets, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker.
Vacation Rentals in Port Townsend
3 blocks to downtown! Self check-in. An Ideal option for couples, as the name belies, this one-bedroom apartment offers a great location just a short walk from downtown Port Townsend and it’s just two blocks from the historic Uptown district which offers plenty of its own. It includes a kitchenette with a two-burner hotplate and a French press along with a big clawfoot tub with bubbles included for the perfect way to relax at the end of the day.
The Nest Luxury House in the Trees. Families or friends traveling together might want to book The Nest, accommodating six guests in two bedrooms. Nestled in the trees it includes a hot tub, outdoor wood-fired sauna, and decks for enjoying the fresh air – and, from “The Overlook” you’ll be able to take in wide-open views of Discovery Bay.
Getting to Port Townsend
From the Seattle Ferry Terminal on Alaskan Way, take the Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island.
After disembarking, follow Highway 305 to Highway 3 North in Poulsbo, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge which becomes Highway 104 traveling 6.7 miles to Beaver Valley Road/WA-19. Turn right, following the roadway for 14.1 miles until it becomes WA-20. From there you’ll drive another three miles to reach Port Townsend.
Best Time to Visit Port Townsend
You’re unlikely to find yourself ever wondering what to do in Port Townsend with so many options no matter the season, but each brings something unique depending on what you’re looking for.
Spring. Rain is possible anytime here on the Olympic Peninsula, but spring often brings plenty of sunny days in between the wet weather along with colorful flowers that will be blooming along the city’s already picturesque streets. The farmer’s market opens up in April, featuring lots of fresh local produce and much more, yet you’ll avoid the bigger crowds of summer.
Summer. The warmer months of the year are ideal for enjoying Port Townsend’s beaches and activities out on the water, from whale watching excursions to kayaking. While ferry waits can be longer and there will be more tourists in town, those clear days with Mount Rainier and Mount Baker visible are dreamy.
Fall. While late September often delivers beautiful weather, as fall progresses rain, wind, and cooler temperatures are the norm. October can be spectacular, however, with foliage transformed into ruby and brilliant orange hues, and the fun and quirky Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race is typically hosted on the first Saturday of the month.
Winter. Winter tends to be chilly and rainy but snow is unlikely – if there is a dusting it enhances the beauty and will be gone before you know it, plus accommodation rates will be cheaper and ferry waits non-existent. Do as the locals do by bundling up and enjoying peaceful strolls on the beach with few others around, take part in one of the many holiday events, or head to one of the many indoor attractions.
Best time to visit overall: Anytime is the best time to visit Port Townsend, but most find that those frequently dry, sunny summer days are perfect for taking advantage of the incredible scenery and outdoor adventures that this Victorian seaport town provides. If you can be here on 4th of July, a spectacular fireworks show is usually hosted at Fort Worden Historical State Park and from the waterfront you can see other displays on Whidbey Island across Admiralty Inlet too.
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