Port Townsend, Wash., waterfront. Credit: PTMurphus via Flickr CC
It’s rare to find a getaway that combines beaches, hands-on history, kid-friendly hiking paths and a touristy downtown — Port Townsend, Washington, has all these things and more. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, just an hour-and-a-half drive from the Bainbridge ferry dock, this nearby Victorian seaport makes for a perfect day trip or weekend getaway destination for families.
As a Port Townsend native, I’ve compiled a list of can’t-miss attractions and locals-only hidden gems. From Fort Worden State Park to Finnriver Farm and Cidery, I dare you not to fall in love with my ultra-charming hometown.
1. Fort Worden State Park
You could easily spend your whole weekend in Fort Worden State Park. Once a military base designed to protect the Puget Sound, it’s home to abandoned bunkers, a plethora of well-kept walking paths, a field that’s fabulous for flying kites and a lower beach complete with the Marine Science Center (read: marine touch tanks and mammal skeletons), plus the picturesque Point Wilson Lighthouse.
Local tips: Find otters snacking on mollusks on the floating docks near the Marine Science Center pier. Try your spookiest howls in the echoing halls of Battery Kinzie, known to locals as the lower bunkers. The cantina across from the Marine Science Center has build-your-own sundaes in the summertime. You’ll find the most beach glass along North Beach.
2. Aldrich’s Market and Chetzemoka Park
Nestled in the heart of uptown Port Townsend is Aldrich’s Market, Washington’s oldest grocery store, first opened in 1895. This local favorite features local produce, tasty pre-made paninis and endless snacks.
After you hit Aldrich’s, go to the end of Lawrence Street to Chetzemoka Park. In the early 1950s, white settlers came to Port Townsend and were welcomed by Chief Chetzemoka of the S’Klallam tribe. The park was dedicated to him in 1904. With a wide-open field, swings, gazebo, play structure and beach access, “Chetz” (as the locals call it) has it all.
Local tips: Aldrich’s sells fresh, authentic sushi upstairs. Take it to Chetzemoka for a casual picnic on the tables next to the playground. If it’s a low-tide day, head down to the beach for the best tide-pooling in town.
3. Rose Theatre
You don’t have to see a movie at the Rose Theatre to get a taste of its famous popcorn, but once you see the inside of this old-school theater, you might want to stick around for a movie after all. If you’re in town for an adults-only weekend, check out the Starlight Room upstairs, an adults-only venue with food and cocktails, plus cozy couches and plush loveseats for relaxed movie viewing.
Local tip: Dress up your popcorn with the follow array of toppings, available at the condiment station to the right of the concession counter: butter, yeast, Parmesan and Silverwater Spice. Insider tip: ask for your preferred size popcorn in a one-size-larger bag, so you have room to shake the toppings throughout the bag.
4. Breakfast at Point Hudson Café
If you’re looking for a family-friendly breakfast spot with a great view, check out Point Hudson Café. Located in the Point Hudson Marina, it’s the perfect place to watch sailboats come and go while you enjoy a simple, tasty breakfast.
Local tip: Go early — it gets busy!
5. Hot chocolate at Velocity in the Maritime Center
When it comes time for an afternoon pick-me-up, take the kids to Velocity. This coffee shop serves up quality brews in a sparse but warm setting. Peruse the attached Maritime Center Shop while you wait for your coffee. For adults and adventurous kids, I recommend trying the spicy mocha, made with dark chocolate, Himalayan salt, cayenne and cinnamon.
Local tip: Instead of sitting down inside, take a walk on the pier to watch the ferry to Coupeville slide by super close. Keep an eye out: You’re likely to see seals bobbing around in the shallow water underneath your feet! On a truly lucky day, you might see a harbor porpoise or even orcas swimming between Port Townsend and Indian Island.
6. Finnriver Farm and Cidery
Just 15 minutes outside of Port Townsend, Finnriver River Farm and Cidery should not be missed. This newer cidery is quickly becoming a local staple for year-round fun. Here you’ll find an open-air building with heaters in the wintertime and shade in the summer. On weekends, dance to folksy local musicians. While this is a hard-cider spot, don’t be deterred — Finnriver is 100% kid-friendly. Take a walk in the orchard, try your aim at cornhole or let the kids wear themselves out climbing the big playground tires. Did I mention Finnriver has delicious, organic and locally sourced food?
Local tips: Adults should try the black current cider. Feeling more daring? The spicy-sweet habanero cider offers an interesting kick.
7. Jefferson Museum of Art and History
Port Townsend has a host of fun little museums, but don’t miss the Jefferson Museum of Art and History. Marvel at our maritime history, which includes a surprising amount of Victorian-era drama. Bonus: if you have an antsy youngster, head to Pope Marine Park across the street to get the wiggles out.
Local tip: Don’t miss the jail downstairs!
8. Elevated Ice Cream and Candy Shop
Fun fact: Elevated first started selling ice cream out of an antique Victorian elevator cage. Now in a larger space, they serve up quality homemade flavors of both traditional ice cream and dairy-free Italian ice. Most go for a plain ol’ cone, but their build-your-own sundaes and made-on-the-spot milkshakes are fabulous.
Local tips: The Swiss orange chocolate chip ice cream flavor is a local favorite that is around all year long. Get it with chocolate sprinkles. Don’t miss a ride on the coin-operated buffalo in the back!
9. Window shopping
Port Townsend is a tourist town, which means it has a plethora of cute shops. Walk the length of Water St. for toy stores, trinket shops and more. Whistle Stop Toys will meet your traditional toy store needs, while Abracadabra offers quirkier gifts for kids and adults alike. Love books? Check out the Imprint Bookstore’s kid’s section or get lost among the endless stacks of used books at William James Bookseller.
Local tip: Grab lunch at Waterfront Pizza. While there’s a sit-down restaurant upstairs, locals get their slices to go and sit by the beach around the corner.
10. A bounty of festivals!
I admit, as a Port Townsend local, I’ve rolled my eyes at the zillions of festivals we have. Love jazz? Come in July for the Jazz Port Townsend Festival. Love boats? Check out the Wooden Boat Festival in September. Looking for a fun kiddie parade, pet parade, grand parade and carnival? Come for the Rhododendron Festival in May. Kids will love the up-close performances of Shakespeare in the Park and the kooky creativity that goes into Port Townsend’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. Planning ahead? Spend New Year’s Eve with the Jefferson Historical Society, which sponsors a community First Night celebration of art and heritage, complete with fireworks at 9 p.m.! For the full list of festivals and events, check out ptguide.com.
Local tip: Port Townsend is fun all year round. Summer is busiest, but during the shoulder seasons or even winter you can beat the crowds. You'll find fewer tourists, fewer fests and more opportunities to explore the town like a true local.
If you go...
Getting there: The most direct way to get to Port Townsend from the Seattle area is by way of the Edmonds-Kingston or Seattle-Bainbridge ferries. Plan on a 2- to 2.5-hour trip, including the ferry ride but not including ferry wait time. If you’re in the South Sound, head north across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and plan on about a 2-hour drive from Tacoma.
Where to stay: Get a taste of Port Townsend’s charm by staying in one of the many Victorian bed and breakfasts. If you want something close to the water, check out the Swan Hotel. Historic Manresa Castle offers the chance to stay in a haunted room. The Harborside Inn offers simple, less expensive rooms within walking distance of downtown.
More day-trip and weekend getaway destinations for families: