Top 16 Best Things to Do in Port Townsend, Washington

Last Updated on January 9, 2022 by admin

The charming seaport town of Port Townsend is located on the Quimper Peninsula in Washington State. It’s one of the gateway cities to the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. Port Townsend is known for its Victorian-style buildings and coastal views. It was even rated as one of the Top 10 Best Small Towns in America by Fodor’s (article linked here). Port Townsend is one of only a few Victorian Seaports listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the town is known for its art scene, outdoor recreational opportunities, and charming architecture. In this post, we’ll share the top 16 best things to do in Port Townsend.

Port Townsend Washington


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How to Get to Port Townsend

 

If you’re traveling from Seattle, you have two options to get to Port Angeles:

  1. You can take the Bainbridge Island ferry and then drive north. This route is about 56 miles long and takes a little over 2 hours under ideal traffic conditions. (Tip: Be sure to check the ferry wait time in advance. Weekends in the summer can have especially long ferry lines.)
  2. You can avoid taking the ferry by driving south around the Puget Sound and then up north to the peninsula. This route is about 111 miles long and also takes a little over 2 hours under ideal traffic conditions.

Because both routes are about the same duration under ideal traffic conditions, you’ll want to check WSDOT updates for current traffic conditions and ferry wait times. That might be the deciding factor on the day you choose to travel.

We prefer to take the ferry because it is such a unique way to view the Puget Sound. However, if the ferry line is excruciating long, we would probably skip it so that we can have more time at our destination.

best views of Seattle ferry from Bainbridge Island
Departing Seattle from the Bainbridge Island ferry

 

If you want to spend some time on Bainbridge Island, be sure to see our full guide to Bainbridge Island!

 

What to Pack for a Trip to Port Townsend

  • Binoculars: You’ll want to be able to see all of the details as you explore the beaches and mountains of the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Power Bank: We like this cell phone charger because the cord is embedded. (One less thing to lose!) A power bank will let you charge your phone when you’re out exploring. You don’t want to run out of battery, because you’ll want to take lots of photos!
  • Water Bottle: Stay hydrated while you’re out exploring. We like this one because it’s an insulated bottle.
  • Hiking Boots: When out on the trails, you’ll want to make sure you have proper foot protection and ankle support. I’ve been using the Columbia brand for years and have really liked my boots!
  • First Aid Kit: Anytime you’re out in the wilderness, make sure that you travel with a first aid kit.
  • Day Pack: Store all of your extra layers and snacks in a comfortable day pack.

 

(Click on any of the images above to see current prices.)

Anytime you go hiking, be sure to pack the 10 Essentials.
 

Brief History of Port Townsend

The land of Port Townsend is on S’Klallam land. The S’Klallam (which means “strong people”) named the land Kah Tai and have stewarded the land for hundreds of years. The čičməhán Trail in Port Townsend honors the contributions of this tribe and seeks to educate visitors about their history.

The city of Port Townsend was established in 1851. (For reference, Washington didn’t even become a state until 1889.) The city was called the “City of Dreams” because it was hoped that it would become the largest port on the western side of the United States. However, economic activity ultimately shifted to the Seattle ports instead. For a more complete history of the area, check out this link.

Fort Worden State Park


Tips for Visiting Port Townsend

  • Check out the city’s visitor information website for current happenings. 
  • If you plan on visiting the nearby Olympic National Park (which we definitely recommend!), you’ll need to purchase an Olympic National Park Pass. We recommend that you purchase it online and print it out in advance. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks in the same year, you might want to look into purchasing an America the Beautiful annual parks pass.
  • While you’re visiting, be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles. Pack out everything that you pack in. Do not litter. Stay on marked trails. Don’t feed the wildlife. If you’re at the beach, be careful not to step on living creatures. If you look under rocks, be sure to put them carefully back. Following these guidelines will help to keep this area pristine. 
  • If you plan on hiking, download the hike map in advance using the All Trails app. That way you’ll have access to a map even if you don’t have cell service. It’s also a good idea to download the National Park Services app if you plan on visiting Olympic National Park. You can learn a lot about the park right from your phone!
Check out our post about the nearby town of Port Angeles for more itinerary ideas!

 

16 Best Things to Do in Port Townsend

We created a map that shows where to find most of the places we mention below:

 

Trip map created with Wanderlog, the best travel planner app on iOS and Android

1. Walk the The čičməhán Trail

The čičməhán Trail has 18 formal stops in Port Townsend that are marked with signage. You can choose to walk either the 3-mile, 6-mile, or 12-mile loops. For a map of the trail, see this link.

2. Chetzemoka Park

This large grassy park is within walking distance of downtown Port Townsend and is located directly on the water. The park has views of Admiralty Inlet and beach access. There’s a gazebo and bandstand, picnic areas, and a playground. It’s a great place to picnic or go for a beach walk. The park was named after Chetzemoka, who was a S’Klallam leader.

3. Rothschild House Museum

Rothschild House, Port Townsend (1863)“Rothschild House, Port Townsend (1863)” by A.Davey is licensed under CC BY 2.0No changes made to photo.

The Rothschild House Museum is currently closed to the public but set to re-open in May 2022. (See updated information here.) When you visit this house, you’ll get a true sense of what it was like to live in the mid-1800s. D.C.H. Rothschild built the house in 1868 and it was kept in the family until the house was donated in 1962. During that time, the house was barely changed at all, so it’s an excellent example of decor from that era. As a result, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Port Townsend Aero Museum

The Port Townsend Aero Museum currently has dozens of historic aircraft on display. At the time of this writing, an adult admission ticket costs $10 (with discounted prices for seniors, active military, and children). Aircraft currently on display include a 1946 Cessna 140 and a 1929 Corben “Baby Ace.”

5. Jefferson Museum of Art & History

The Jefferson Museum of Art & History is currently closed to the public due to restoration efforts and is scheduled to re-open on March 3, 2022. (See updated information here.) Some of the previous exhibitions at the museum have included topics on climate change and women in the outdoors. At the time of this writing, an adult admission ticket costs $6.

6. Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Currently the aquarium, exhibits, and gift shop are open on Saturdays and Sundays. You can check out their schedule here. At the science center you can learn all about the Salish Sea and local marine wildlife. 

7. Fort Worden State Park

Fort Worden State Park Point Wilson Lighthouse
Point Wilson Lighthouse at Fort Worden State Park

 

Slightly north of downtown Port Townsend is Fort Worden State Park. You can actually walk to the state park along the beach if you’d like a bit of a walk. (It’s a little under 2 miles depending on where you are departing from the city.) Fort Worden State Park has lots of shoreline, a historic lighthouse, and an abandoned military fort. As you walk its numerous trails, you’ll likely run into old military bunkers. You’ll need a Discover Pass if you’d like to park your vehicle at the state park.

We wrote a full post about Fort Worden State Park (linked here) to help you plan your visit!
 

8. Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park

This park is extremely popular among bird watchers. There have been over 150 different bird species that have been documented at Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park. The park has trails, benches, and picnic tables.

9. Victorian-Style Buildings

Port Townsend

Throughout the entire city you will see numerous Victorian-style buildings and architectural elements. The picture posted above is a commercial building that was built during the city’s earlier prosperous years. Many of the homes in the city are obviously private residences, so be respectful as you walk by and admire the architecture. 

10. Port Townsend Antique Mall

The antique mall is a treasure trove of collectibles from decades past! You’re sure to find something interesting as your browse through the many items.

11. Glass Beach

If you’re up for a bit of a walk, the trail to Glass Beach is approximately 5.4 miles roundtrip. The trail ends at a beach known for having – you guessed it – lots of beach glass! You’ll want to time your visit around low tide for greater ease in reaching the beach.

12. Larry Scott Memorial Trail

The Larry Scott Memorial Trail begins in Port Townsend and is part of the Olympic Discovery Trail and Pacific Northwest Trail. If you like to run, walk, or bike, this is a great way to get some exercise.

13. Visit a Brewery

Enjoy a craft beer at some of the local breweries. Port Townsend Brewing Company or and Propolis Brewing are great places to check out. 

14. Rose Theatre

The Rose Theatre was established in 1907 and it retains much of its historic charm. The Starlight Room is an especially cozy place to watch a movie. 

15. Bell Tower Park

At this park, you can see Port Townsend’s historic fire bell tower. The tower is 75 feet all and it was built in 1890. The giant bell weighed 1,500 pounds and was made of brass. It’s the last wooden fire bell tower in existence in the United States.

16. Explore Local Shops

During the weekend, you can enjoy High Tea with scones, sandwiches, and jams at Cafe Tenby. You can enjoy a saltwater soak at Soak on the Sound. There are private saltwater soaking tubs and infrared saunas. You can also visit Wilderbee Farm and drink some mead, pick local fruits and vegetables, and have a picnic. They have a tasting room that is currently open on the weekend


 

Where to Stay in Port Townsend

Booking.com  

Here are a few places to consider for your trip to Port Townsend:

Or, you can click on this link to see a full list of over 20 places to stay in Port Townsend.


Where to Eat in Port Townsend

Here are some suggestions for places to eat during your visit:

  • Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar: If you’re looking for oysters and a raw bar menu, visit Alchemy Bistro & Wine Bar. 
  • The Old Whiskey Mill: This restaurant has pub fare as well as several different types of poutine. (A Canadian favorite!)
  • Doc’s Marina Grill: This restaurant is located right on the water. Their menu has numerous options for seafood, burgers, and sandwiches. (There’s also a Doc’s Marina Grill on Bainbridge Island!)
  • Cafe Tenby: This bakery and cafe has all sorts of pastries, as well as an excellent tea menu. You can even have high tea at this cafe.
  • Elevated Ice Cream Co: This ice cream parlor makes all of their ice cream on-site.
  • Blue Moose Cafe: Breakfast is served all day long!

Things to See in the Olympic Peninsula

Port Townsend is ideally located near many amazing sites in the Olympic Peninsula. Most of the sites listed below are within a few hours drive of Port Townsend:

  • Hoh Rain Forest: Head into the rainforest and check out the Hall of Mosses loop trail. You’ll be in the heart of the rainforest, and everything you see will be draped in green mosses and lichens.
  • Third Beach: The trail to Third Beach is 3.6 miles roundtrip. You’ll see plenty of sea stacks from this beach hike.
  • Kalaloch Beach: This beach is large and sandy. The beach is near the Kalaloch Lodge and Kalaloch Campground and is easily accessible. We recommend watching the sunset here!
  • Tree of Life: Located at Kalaloch Beach, the Tree of Life is a tree with its roots nearly full exposed due to erosion. If you’re at Kalaloch, you don’t want to leave without seeing it!
  • Big Cedar Tree: A very short .1 mile trail will take you a massive Cedar tree believed to be over 1,000 years old. After storms in 2014, it was split nearly in two.
  • Lake Crescent: This beautiful lake is located in the Olympic Mountains.
  • Sol Duc Falls: To reach the falls, you’ll complete a beautiful 1.6 mile roundtrip hike. 
  • World’s Largest Spruce Tree: The tree has a circumference of 58 feet, 11 inches.
  • Forks, Washington: This is the town where the Twilight book series takes place. Fans of the books will enjoy seeing many of the places mentioned in the books.
  • Port Angeles: This city is located on the northern coast of the peninsula. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Port Townsend

What is Port Townsend known for?

Port Townsend is a historic seaport town filled with many Victorian-style buildings. It’s been voted as one of the best small towns in the United States, has a thriving arts community, and is a gateway city to the Olympic Peninsula. The city is located right on the water and has miles of beaches. It’s also located next to Fort Worden State Park. Finally, the city hosts the annual Wooden Boats Festival each year.

Is Port Townsend worth visiting?

Absolutely! This charming town is a beautiful place to stay while you explore the local beaches and parks. The city is filled with Victorian architecture, quaint shops, and lots of delicious restaurants.

How long is the ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend?

The ferry ride is 35 minutes long. You’ll depart Seattle and land on Bainbridge Island. Once on Bainbridge Island, you’ll need to drive another 47 miles north to reach the city of Port Townsend.

How long should you stay in Port Townsend?

The city is a popular weekend destination for many Seattleites. We’d suggest staying for at least two nights when visiting Port Townsend. If you’d like to explore the wider area, such as Olympic National Park, we’d recommend expanding your trip. 


Summary

Port Townsend is a charming getaway close to Seattle, Washington. The town is filled with historic buildings in Victorian architecture, and the city is right next to Fort Worden State Park. We hope that this post provided you with some inspiration to visit this beautiful city!

Pinterest pin for Port Townsend
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Disclaimer: We strive for content accuracy. Since the time of publishing, travel-related information regarding pricing, schedules, and hours may have changed. Please see individual websites embedded in this post for the most current trip-planning information.


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