Tucked between the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the sparkling Puget Sound two hours northwest of Seattle, this tiny port town experienced a boom in the 1880’s, but after the town’s fortunes fizzled, it was left nearly frozen in time. Now the port’s historic Victorian charm and spectacular scenery draws artists and outdoor enthusiasts alike to the area for hiking, whale watching, boating, cultural events like the Port Townsend Film Festival, and top-notch restaurants that serve extraordinarily fresh seafood from the surrounding waters.
Eat Smart: Toss back oysters and a pint of Port Townsend Brewery’s creamy stout at Sirens (360-379-1100), a low-key eatery/pub with a breezy patio perched over Port Townsend Bay. For a farm-to-fork experience, head to Brassica (Friday and Saturdays only, 360-385-3283) where Chef Arran Stark offers a superb three-course prix fixe menu for just $36. Everything is sourced locally, from the wild salmon that is delivered by bike direct from the fisherman to the super-sweet Brussels sprouts grown just a mile away.
Be Fit: Get up close and personal with harbor seals and other ocean wildlife on daylong kayaking tours through PT Outdoors (360-379-3608). The sheltered bay is calm enough for even the wariest of beginners in the summer.
If the sea doesn’t beckon, head to nearby Olympic National Park (360-565-3130), where hikers can trek along 72 miles of wild coastline, explore the temperate rain forest, or traverse the park’s glacier-capped wilderness among mountain goats, Roosevelt elk, and bald eagles.
Live Well: Fort Warden State Park, a 434-acre complex on the north side of town overlooking Admiralty Inlet boasts miles of easy hiking trails among turn of the century barracks, a lighthouse, and an abandoned gun battery. Within the park, the Marine Science Center (360-385-5582) teaches visitors about local aquatic creatures with hands-on conservation exhibits. To see bigger wildlife, hop aboard one of The Puget Sound Express (360-385-5582) naturalist-guided cruises and visit the Orca whales that reside among the nearby San Juan Islands, or sail around Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, where tufted puffins and other seabirds congregate.
Where to Stay: The Romanesque-style Palace Hotel (360-385-0773) in the center of the National Historic Landmark District offers nineteen spacious rooms, most with private baths, done up with Victorian touches like wrought iron beds, flowered quilts, and antiques. Rooms are named after the working women who resided in the hotel when it was a bordello in the 20’s―Miss Rose’s room has a deep whirlpool tub and great views of the bay.