I’ve heard Port Townsend referred to as the Paris of the Pacific Northwest. Now, that may be an overreach, but after spending a few days in this charming Victorian-era town on the Olympic Peninsula, I can see why Seattleites tout Port Townsend as the perfect year-round weekend destination spot.
With an extensive network of biking and hiking trails nearby, there is plenty of draw for outdoor enthusiasts. Bicyclists often make the pilgrimage by arriving via a ferry from Whidbey Island, and then continuing their journey west to Port Angeles via the Olympic Discovery Trail. Kayakers also flock to this town surrounded by water, and campers love to set down roots at Fort Worden State Park, which is only a mile from the city center.
Crappy weather? No matter. I think the grey mist gives this already stunning landscape another boost.
If the outdoors aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to do inside. The lure of blocks lined with bookstores (I counted five all within a 10 minute walk), cafes, art galleries and a nationally-acclaimed doorknob shop should hook just about anyone. This is a haven for artists who are weather agnostic.
There is much to explore, but here are a few highlights to get you started:
1) Food Co-op: As my first destination spot, I follow a Westfalia with its surfboard on top to the Food Co-op, a beautiful leaf-covered grocery store on the way to the center of town.
Grocery stores are a great place to get a feel for a city and get a sense of what the residents are like. At the co-op, cycling magazines and The Economist and New Yorker are prominently displayed alongside raw food and small-batch chocolate. You do the math.
2) Bookstores, yay! I am still rooting for ’em and happy to see there are five thriving in Port Townsend. There are mainstream shops, and a few curated stores such as Phoenix Rising, which focuses on spiritual books. The Writers’ Workshoppe is more my speed and takes a writer-centric approach by categorizing the sections by technique instead of genre such as “books in which the setting is a character.”
3) Japanese food in Port Townsend? Damn straight, and it’s so good I would make a trip just to eat at Hanazono. Opened in February of 2005, Japanese natives and mother/daughter duo Yoko and Kaori Hull source most of their food locally and serve a combination of traditional dishes and modern Japanese.
Ramen! You’re likely to have better luck finding a sasquatch than finding superior ramen in Seattle, and the Kulls nailed their tonkotsu ramen: porky, a rich broth, and with the perfect hint of black garlic. Jackpot.
4) Starlight Room: Rocky, the owner of adjoining Rose Theater for 20 years, always had his sight set on the second floor space which was a photographer’s studio for several years. He thought it would be perfect for showing independent films. He was right. In partnership with the Silverwater Cafe, the movieteur opened Starlight as a spot for 21+ to get a charcuterie platter, deviled eggs or a bottle of hand-picked wine while enjoying a film.
If you want a reprieve from the mega blockbusters, this is it. The focus is thoughtful independent films such as Robert Reich’s Inequality for All and The Fifth Estate, about Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.
A Columbia City-based architect convinced Rocky to go vintage instead of modern and hand-picked each couch, sofa and light fixture.
5) First meal of the day: This town takes its first meal of the day seriously. Whether you get your fill from the guy who makes his own bagels at the farmers market (Bob’s bagels consistently sells out) or a cozy cafe, this first meal of the day is highly regarded in Port Townsend.
Sweet Laurette, heralded for their cakes and granola, also has a sit down restaurant. Velocity Coffee serves craft coffee made with beans from Olympia Roasters, and if grab and go is more your speed, the petite Durham Donuts outpost on Water Street has you covered.
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