So what if the lawn needs mowing and the garden has been taken over by enormous rogue zucchini, or that the kids need haircuts and your garage is starting to look like a likely candidate for Hoarders. The chores can wait. Play hookie and get the whole fam-damily out of town for a fabulous day trip that you’ll all remember. Just two hours away (with a good chunk of the “drive” on the ferry) is the sweet seaside town of Port Townsend. With amazing food (including the world’s best waterside pizzeria), weird and wonderful art, the cutest playground you’ll ever visit and the best hide-and-go-seek spot this side of Hogwarts, a visit to Port Townsend might just be what the doctor ordered before it’s back to school, nose-to-the grindstone time. Leave the garage de-junking for the fall! Port Townsend is calling!
Activity #1: Go Window Shopping on Water Street
You’ve arrived! First things first… it’s time to stretch your legs and explore the adorable (and totally walkable or stroller-able) downtown. Jump feet first into Port Townsend’s quirky, creative and picturesque town center with a walk down the main drag (Water Street). Don’t worry, you can’t miss it. Just go towards the water, and it’ll be the street you end up on. As one of only three Victorian seaports in the entire country, enjoy the European feel of the historic architecture and well-groomed shops.
And speaking of shopping, you can hardly walk five feet without stumbling upon yet another little spot that you just have to poke your nose into. Bibliophiles will love The Writers’ Workshoppe (you gotta love a store that has a section for “Best Kick-Ass Female Character” and “Books I Would Require If I Were an English Teacher”). If you need an old-fashioned slinky or are hoping to get your little ones obsessed with Boggle from an early age, spend some time at Whistle Stop Toys. They have a well-curated selection of toys, board games and action figures as well as high quality non-toxic floor toys for toddlers and babies. For great hostess gifts and something with a little sparkle, check out Tickled Pink.
If you fall in love with the coastal chic style of Port Townsend, beware of the bright and airy Conservatory Coastal Home; the treasures you’ll find there will steal your heart and gently lighten your pocket book. And if you’re in the mood to sample the fine work of the town’s many artists and craftspeople, step inside Forest Gems; you’ll quickly be trying to convince your sweetie that a hand-carved rocking chair can totally fit in the back of your hatchback. If time is pressing, but you want to have a quick art fix, check out Port Townsend Gallery – a local artists’ collective where you can find everything from watercolors and leather art in the gallery to where the kids can run around while you check out the cool sculptural pieces in their outdoor garden.
Activity #2: Hit Up a Museum (or two!)
Ok, so Port Townsend may not be Disneyland. In fact, it doesn’t even try to woo you with over-the-top adventure parks or museums so enormous that they require a compass, cross-trainers and a mammoth’s supply of GORP to get through. What it does have, though, are a few well thought out and delightfully friendly museums, perfectly sized to get your weekly dose of something good for your brain without leaving you bleary-eyed or foot sore. You can easily fit one or more of these into your day trip, while still having ample time for other adventures.
Best in Show: Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Located conveniently in Fort Worden State Park, this gem of a museum is the perfect mid-way point in your day trip, either right before a beach combing adventure along the shores, or right after a wander through the catacombs of Fort Worden. This is not just another “aquarium” visit. This is a real life working marine research center and natural history museum with a passion for civic involvement (including multiple programs for kids!). And if you have any whale lovers in your group, the new “Story of Hope” exhibit is not to be missed. The center is also part of the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network, so grab some earphones and see if you’re one of the lucky ones who’ll hear real live Orcas talking to each other just off shore. Don’t forget to leave a little extra time for observing the critters in the awesome touch tank where the super-friendly docents provide age-appropriate mini-lessons while you’re peeking at the starfish and enormous hermit crabs in the tank.
Insider Tip: Be sure to bring (or buy) your Discovery Pass for parking. Otherwise you’ll definitely get a ticket!
Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Fort Warden State Park
532 Battery Way
Port Townsend, WA 98369
Online: ptmsc.org/index.html and on Facebook
Summer Hours: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm; Wednesday – Monday (June 14 – Sept 2)
Fall Hours: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm; Friday – Sunday (Sept 6 – Oct 27)
Winter Hours: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm; Friday – Sunday (Nov 1 – March 31) Natural History Exhibit ONLY
Spring Hours: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm; Friday – Sunday (April 4 – June 8)
Cost: Adults, $5; Children, $3 (under 5 free)
Don’t forget your Discovery Pass ($10 Daily or $30 annual) for parking in the State Park.
Runner Up: Aero Museum
Although it’s actually five miles south of town at the Jefferson County International Airport (don’t think “SeaTac,” think old fashioned airstrip with cute museum attached), this is the perfect museum to hit if you have someone in your crew who’s begged you for “just five more minutes” while staring at the cool planes in Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Recently revamped in 2008, the museum constantly rotates their impressive collection of classic and antique planes.
Take note: If you have a budding pilot in your midst, this museum also has one of the premier Youth Mentorship programs for youth interested in aviation and plane restoration. You’ve been warned.
Port Townsend Aero Museum
Port Townsend, Wa 98368
Open: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm; Wednesday – Sunday
Cost: Adults, $10; Youth, $6; Children under 6 free
And if your brain needs a break: Rose Theatre
Maybe you’re taking this “playing hookie” thing really seriously and need to just kick back and relax for the afternoon, or maybe the day is more drizzly than expected, or maybe, you want your family to experience a movie theater like none they’ve ever seen before. Either way, the historic Rose Theatre is just the ticket. It opened as a vaudeville house in 1907, and to this day has some of the original murals and old-time balcony seats. The movies are world-class art films and Sundance favorites, so you can get a little taste of culture while you relax, but in case you were worried that this was just a smaller, artsier version of the neighborhood AMC, you’ll know for sure that you’re not in Kansas anymore when you taste their popcorn: freshly popped with real butter. It’s a must do!
235 Taylor Street
Port Townsend, Wa 98386
Open: Daily (see website for times)
Activity #3: Get outside!
You’ve got your pick of amazing outdoor activities in Port Townsend. Being right on the waterfront, you can’t go wrong with any number of water-based activities. You can rent a kayak, go whale watching, or take a sailing lesson. Wooden boat enthusiasts have found their Mecca here at the Northwest Maritime Center and won’t want to miss the Wooden Boat Festival in the fall (September 6-8). But for an outdoor jaunt that is a little more land-based, check out our two faves:
For breathtaking views while the kids frolic in an idyllic playground, go to: Chetzemoka Park
You know what they say about Smuckers. Well, with a name like Chetzemoka, it’s got to be good. And it is. Set up on the bluff between downtown and Fort Worden, while you’re playing in Chetzemoka, you’ll also be gazing at the Cascade Mountains and Whidbey Island. Although the playground equipment may strike the Seattle park aficionado as a bit dated, we prefer to call it full of old-fashioned charm. There’s a great gazebo for picnic lunches next to a perfectly manicured lawn, little arched foot bridges that cross a wandering brook, a forest of rhododendrons and cool climbable tree stumps that can serve as pirate ships or tree houses or castles, depending on your mood. Make sure you walk to the far northwest corner of the park, where you’ll find an enormous tire swing. Your kids will be talking about that underdog for the rest of the year!
900 Jackson Street
Port Townsend, Wa 98386
For an all-day outdoor adventure, go to: Fort Worden State Park
As soon as you enter the timbered gates of Fort Worden, you know you’re in for something fabulous, and you’re right. This park is the perfect combination of stunning natural beauty, interesting history and unique opportunities for exploration. You’re greeted by rows of officers’ quarters and other Victorian-style army buildings lining huge grassy parade grounds (perfect for games of capture the flag and kite flying) and the Coast Artillery Museum.
Venture down to the shore, and you’ll find two miles of stunning, driftwood-strewn sandy beaches perfect for a salty dip. (You’ll also find the Marine Science Center and one of our favorite lighthouses.) Climb up Artillery Hill and you’ll find wooded hiking trails with lovely views, as well as the Fort’s true piece de resistance: the bunkers on (and in!) the cliff. These batteries are part of the massive fortification which housed historic guns and cannons from 1910 – 1943 used to protect the Sound. Bring flashlights or headlamps and have the best game of hide and seek or blind tag as you run, walk or sneak through the caverns. Although the tunnels might be a little too scary for younger kids (under 5-ish), remind yourself that you can’t actually get lost (just keep walking and you’ll pop out on the other side), and let yourself get a good case of the goose bumps as you creep through the pitch dark catacombs.
If you really want a treat, stay the night at the campground or in one of the cool 100-year-old homes on the grounds.
Fort Worden State Park
200 Battery Way
Port Townsend, Wa 98368
Cost: $10 to $30 (day or annual rate for Discovery Pass)
Activity #4: Eat Something (Delicious!)
Don’t let Port Townsend’s Liliputian size fool you… it’s a culinary force to be reckoned with. In fact, Port Townsend’s restaurant scene been called the “Paris of the Northwest” by Sunset Magazine. This is a town who knows how to feed families, and who knows that even though you have youngsters in tow, everyone deserves a delicious meal that is free from anything in nugget form. Here are our favorite spots that will suit the epicurean in your group as well as your picky eater:
For Early AM Eats: Sweet Laurette Café and Bistro
If you’re in Port Townsend for breakfast or brunch, head directly to Sweet Laurette’s. Your kiddos won’t know what hit ‘em. Fill up those bellies with a lemon-blueberry dutch babies or perhaps an egg sandwich BLT, or for the adventurous, try out your scramble with some local duck eggs. The food is here local, sustainable, made from scratch (including all the scrumptious pastries), and just plain delicious. With great outdoor seating and excellent coffee to boot, this is the place to get your PT adventure off to the perfect start. Insider Tip: Call ahead for reservations, especially on weekend mornings!
For an On-The-Go Lunch You’ll Wish Would Franchise in Seattle: Waterfront Pizza
This hole-in-the-wall pizza joint is the epitome of local favorite that’s become a cultish obsession. Check them out on Yelp, and you’ll see review after review exclaiming that this is absolutely the best pizza in the universe. Short on luxuries (but what type of luxuries do you need at a pizza place?), but big on flavor. Locals will recommend that you order up a whole pie and go enjoy it on the beach. So do we. You can thank us later.
For Lunch Served With a Nicely Hopped Adult Beverage: Public House Grill
Your kids will love the drawing paper “table cloths” and the halibut and chips served with house-made tartar sauce. You’ll love the beer selection and assortment of fresh seafood and delicious salads. You’ll also love the great interior architecture, the huge windows looking onto bustling Water Street and the super friendly, fast service.
For a Delicious Northwest-y Dinner – Silverwater Café
Head here if you want a nice dinner without the fuss you might find at a Seattle fine-dining-ish restaurant. You’ll get linen napkins, excellent service (by a wait-staff that seems genuinely excited to see your family arrive), and beautiful ambiance (not to mention super delicious grub), but it’s all done in Port Townsend’s easy, low-key style, that makes you feel welcome and relaxed. You can enjoy your meal out at a pace that’s a few notches below the usual shove-it-all-in-before-the-wheels-come-off-the-bus. Casual elegance is the name of the game and kids are welcomed with open arms. There’s a great children’s menu and an assortment of books and toys to keep them entertained while you sip your pinot grigio and await your hazelnut seared halibut or port braised lamb shank.
For Your Sweet Tooth: Elevated Ice Cream
All home-made, and packed to the roof with deliciousness, this adorable little ice cream and candy store is the type of old-fashioned ice cream shop that every small town should be required to have. It’s sweet but not cutesy, and the home-made ice creams, sherbets and Italian ices (mostly made with local fruit and berries from surrounding farms) will be just the thing to top off your trip. With grownup flavors like Ginger, Lemon Custard and Swiss Orange Chocolate Chip as well as kid faves like Mint Chip, this “must visit” spot will give your kids eyes that we’re-so-happy-we’re-almost-crazy glint to them. If you haven’t already fallen head over heels for PT, Elevated Ice Cream will clinch it and ensure a return visit very soon!
Plan Your Next Visit:
So you had a great day trip! We knew you would. Now, as you’re planning your next visit, be sure to hit up one of the fabulous annual festivals that have made Port Townsend the quirky, artsy, fun seaside town that it is:
- July: Port Townsend Jazz Festival – Swinging tunes at the longest running jazz festival in the state.
- July: Festival of American Fiddle Tunes – Old-time toe-stomping fiddle fest. Bring your dancing shoes. You won’t be able to stop yourself.
- August: Acoustic Blues Festival – A soulful showcase of American classic blues.
- September: Wooden Boat Festival – The first and largest wooden boat festival in America; a wonderful nautical weekend!
- October: Kinetic Skulpture Race – The kids will go nuts for these crazy people-powered contraptions that race through town and go through sand, mud and float on water. A “must see” for every budding engineer.
Getting there: From Seattle, hop on the Bainbridge Ferry and then head north on WA Hwy 3. Go west across the Hood Canal Bridge (on State Route 104 West) and then north onto WA Hwy 19. You’ll wind your way through the tiny bergs of Chimacum and Port Hadlock before finally ending your quick voyage in Port Townsend.
What is your favorite thing to do in Port Townsend? We’d love to hear from you in a comment below!
Photo credits: Laura K., Dan DeLuca, Glen Fleishman, Robert Sanzalone, Fabianily, A. Davey