This is a question I get asked a lot when I am away from the Pacific Northwest. The short answer is Port Townsend is northwest of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula. In the past, that answer has generally satisfied people, but with all the attention the little Victorian town is getting in the press these days, I thought it would be good to go deeper. Just recently Port Townsend made the "Best List" in Fodors, USA Today, AARP and the Seattle Times.
Depending where you are coming from, ferry travel is likely to be involved, and nothing says Pacific Northwest more than a wonderful ferry ride. As part of the state highway system, it links numerous islands by waterways that zigzag the Puget Sound and up to the San Juan Islands. You can check out the ferry map here and you can see how many paths there are to Port Townsend, or PT as we locals call the town. I love the ferries and generally make the choice to get from here to there that way, but sometimes it's just easier to "drive around" from Seattle. But if you are visiting, make the boat trip a part of the outing. Once on board, it's relaxing, you can get a cup of good Seattle coffee or a bowl of clam chowder, watch the water traffic from the deck, take a stroll around and stretch your legs. If you are coming from Seattle you can take either the Seattle to Bainbridge ferry or the Edmonds to Kingston boat. Either way, it's about an hour from the ferry terminal, and then head north. Coming from north east, you'll come across Whidbey Island and land slap dab in downtown Port Townsend, with a great view of the city waterfront as you slip into the dock. Coming from Vancouver Island, hop on the Coho, the car ferry from Victoria. You'll go through Customs and Immigration in Port Angeles and then head east for a beautiful drive to Port Townsend.
When I first moved to Port Townsend in the late 80s, it was a sleepy, rather rundown little town with not much going on. Life revolved around the maritime activities and the boat yard was the hub. Hippies lived in lovely, albeit shabby, Victorian mansions and incognito millionaires drove around in ancient Volvos. The Town Tavern, a classic old bar was the hot spot in town with just a few other restaurants with unmemorable food. The hardware store, an absolute treasure trove, was right downtown on Water Street. Back in the mid-1800's, the town was dubbed the City of Dreams when there were high expectations that it would become the largest harbor on the west coast when the railroad arrived. Sadly, at least for the dreamers, the railroad opted for the eastern side of the Sound and Port Townsend, along with the beautiful Victorian buildings built to house the Consulate and other mucky mucks, became a ghost city. But then, in the early 1990s, the town was re-discovered. It was inexpensive and within easy striking distance of Seattle and Tacoma. Houses and rent were cheap. A couple of new developments were promoted and built - to paraphrase the old Field of Dreams movie quote - "if they build it, they will come". And come they did, in droves, raising the town's profile to the chic and avant garde center it is today. The hippies are still around, but now they drive Prius' cars and shop at the Co-op for organic lentils and beans! (The Port Townsend Co-op is an absolute gem.)
Downtown is upscale now, with elegant art galleries and gift stores lining Water Street. Small bistros and cafes are tucked into alleyways and specialty stores, like the Spice and Tea Exchange, with its vast selection of teas and spices and Lively Olive that sells unique olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Port Townsend has turned into a real foodie town, with numerous restaurants that serve everything from fresh Dungeness crab to Thai and Indian cuisine, and everything in between. But despite the growing urban-chic feel, PT still keeps its own vibe going. Just wander through the boat yard. Journeymen (and women) clamber over big fishing boats propped up on scaffolding, undergoing restoration and repairs. Carhartt jeans and bib overalls are well-represented; old pickup trucks and yes, old Volvos, hold heavy tool boxes filled with traditional woodworker tools. Long hair, beards and dreads are the norm and the Blue Moose Cafe, right in the boat yard, caters to hungry workers. And even in downtown Port Townsend, there are a few places that still feel like "old Port Townsend." Ku Larb Thai is still right across from the Port Townsend Leader office, serving up great Thai food. On Tyler Street, even though it changed its name from Tyler Street Cafe to Hillbottom Pie, and their bill of fare is different, the ambiance is still "old" Port Townsend. SeaJ's Cafe, one of the old "dives" is still going strong down on the docks, where you can get an excellent fish and chips and coffee for a buck! Because it has grown up so much, there is a lot to do now, so watch for my More Than 7 Things to do in Port Townsend post. [box type="info"]
Spice and Tea Exchange
929 Water St, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Lively Olive Tasting Bar
929 Water St, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Sea J's Cafe
2501 Washington St, Port Townsend, WA 98368
Blue Moose Cafe
311B Haines Place Port Townsend WA 98365[/box]