We’re lucky to have great getaway destinations here in the Pacific Northwest, but Port Townsend, Washington, is near the top of my list. Why?
This former Victorian-era seaport has great places to eat or sip, charming shops and galleries, historic buildings and architecture, and an interesting cultural artsy-literary-outdoorsy vibe, all within an easy day trip from the greater Seattle-Tacoma area. (Of course you can make it an overnight or weekend trip as well.)
I’m overdue for a visit to Port Townsend to see my aunt and uncle, so today I catch the 9:40 a.m. Edmonds-Kingston ferry, which leaves me plenty of time to get there for lunch.
It’s a chilly morning, with snow squalls scurrying across Puget Sound while the ferry churns through the whitecaps. As we near Kingston after the 20-minute crossing, the clouds lift and the Olympic Mountains hover close by on the horizon, gorgeous in a fresh coat of snow. I’ll never tire of looking at these craggy peaks.
Just a couple miles before the highway crosses Hood Canal, I make a quick stop in scenic Port Gamble. Founded in 1853, this company-owned mill town on Hood Canal/Port Gamble Bay is now a National Historic Landmark, with a few shops, a kayaking center, and a newly revamped General Store. I’m too early for lunch, but the café now offers meals with an emphasis of local and seasonal fare. Next trip.
My Aunt Sylvia calls and asks me to pick up lunch at the Chimacum Corner Farmstand on the way to Port Townsend. This homegrown little store, which just opened in November 2010, features mostly Olympic Peninsula-grown and -produced food. I get a couple ham and Mt. Townsend Creamery cheese sandwiches on locally baked bread, although I’m bummed that the guy in front of me snagged the last two Cape Cleare (a local, sustainable fishery) tuna sandwiches. I also grab a package of stew meat from the freezer because it’s all grass-fed beef from Short’s Family Farm just down the road here in Chimacum.
After enjoying our sandwiches, my aunt and I head into Port Townsend to explore. Our first stop is Wild Sage tea and herb shop on Washington Street, a block away from Water Street and the main tourist action. “Would you like a taste of tea?” says the proprietor as we step inside the cozy little shop. Today’s she’s offering a yerba maté blend that’s redolent of almonds.
We were expecting to have a cupcake in the adjacent space, but the cupcake folks are moving into their own shop soon. In January 2011 Wild Sage will expand into the space and serve tea and light bites. I leave with a small package of a fragrant blended white tea with rose, vanilla, lemon, and white peony.
Next we cut downhill to Water Street and stop in a few galleries on our way to The Writers' Workshoppe, tucked upstairs in the back of an old building. Port Townsend is home to many writers and writer wannabes (well, anyone who writes is writer, right?), and this cute, small shop offers a room for writing and poetry groups to meet as well as books about writing and (my favorite) Writer’s Block chocolate bars. It’s so warm and bright up here I just want to settle in with my laptop and start composing prose on the spot.
My aunt bids me goodbye, leaving me with time to wander some more. My next stop: Lehani’s Deli and Coffee shop on Taylor Street for a quick cup of tea and then, even though I’ve had lunch, Hanazono Asian Noodle shop next door. I’ve been falling hard lately for savory and spicy Asian noodle soups. As I watch some big steaming bowls of Thai Tom-Yum soup come out of the kitchen, I wish I was still hungry. Instead I get a couple fresh spring rolls to go for dinner (they are very good).
Of course I have to go to my “must stop” in Port Townsend next: William James Books on Water Street. This long, narrow bookstore buys and sells used and out-of-print books, with a consistently fine and varied book selection at very reasonable prices. Just my luck, today I find a hardback Asian Noodle cookbook with full-page color photos for less than $10. I have a hard time restraining myself as I pull books off the shelf to buy. (I made myself put a few back before checking out.)
For old times’ sake, I walk up Water Street to Elevated Ice Cream and pop in. I’m not in the mood for ice cream, even though I’ve had some great scoops here in the past, but I do buy a soft, chewy handmade caramel, hmmm.
So I don’t completely ignore Port Townsend’s beautiful setting at the convergence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound, I wander over to the waterfront and gaze at the sea for a moment. This is a great sea kayaking town, with mellow and exciting paddling up the Strait and down around several nearby islands.
My last stop today is the Haller Fountain and Terrace Steps on Washington Street. This lovely fountain is a recast of an original and lies at the bottom of a set of stairs leading up to the bluff above downtown. I dash up and down the stairs for the exercise and views, and trust me, it’s a decent cardio workout.
About 3:30 I need to get going to catch a ferry back to Seattle. After seeing posters around town for a community New Year’s Eve gathering, I wish I could stay and just settle in for a while.
When You Go
Click here for a map and directions to Port Townsend, which lies on the smaller Quimper Peninsula that juts off the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. And really, an afternoon is just scratching the surface here. You could easily spend a weekend exploring the area beyond town. Above downtown, historic Fort Worden State Park features cultural events throughout the year, from an annual writer’s conference to Fiddles Tunes organized by Centrum, an arts organization that presents workshops, concerts, and artist-in-residence programs at Fort Worden. There’s lots more going on up here….another blog post!