Located just two hours from Seattle (with a good chunk of the “drive” on the ferry), Port Townsend is close enough for a day trip, yet offers plenty to do for a longer stay. If you’re itching to get out of the city, we’ve got the inside scoop on this seaside town’s amazing food scene (including the world’s best waterside pizzeria), weird and wonderful art, cutest playground you’ll ever visit and best hide-and-go-seek spot this side of Hogwarts. Read on!

photo: A. Davey via Flickr

Activity #1: Go Window Shopping on Water Street

You’ve arrived! First things first…it’s time to stretch your legs and explore the walkable and 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.

You can hardly walk five feet without stumbling upon yet another little spot that you just have to poke your nose into. 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. Bead-builders will want to stop at Wynwoods Gallery & Bead Studio to see what’s new and snag a deal and budding artists might want to take a peek or two at Abracadabra, a fun art supply and gift store.

photo: Robert Sanzalone via Flickr

While 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”), the store features over 5,000 titles, so it will appeal to everyone in the fam.

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 just might 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 or if time is pressing, check out the Port Townsend Gallery, a local artists’ collective where you can find everything from watercolors and leather art in the gallery and the kids can run around while you check out the cool sculptural pieces in their outdoor garden.

photo: Kaliko P. via Yelp

The kids (and you too for that matter) will enjoy the many finds found at the Quimper Mercantile Co., a one-stop-shop featuring everything from sports equipment, to gifts, to the latest must-haves. And while you’re at it, be sure to check out the “eclectic collection of fantastical accessories” at The Mad Hatter & Company.

Activity #2: Hit Up a Museum (or Two!)

While you might plan your trip to serve as an educational experience, don’t tell your kids that. Instead, just take them to one of the town’s great 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.

photo: Marine Science Center

Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Located conveniently in Fort Worden State Park, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden State Park 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!). If you have any whale lovers in your group, the “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 Discover Pass for parking.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Fort Warden State Park
532 Battery Way
Port Townsend, WA 98369
360-385-5582
Online: ptmsc.org and on Facebook

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Winter Hours: Fri.–Sun.; noon–5 p.m. Natural History Exhibits only.
Spring Hours: Fri.–Sun.; noon– 5 p.m. Begins Mar. 29, 2019.
Summer Hours: Daily except Tuesdays; 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Fall Hours: Fri.–Sun.; noon–5 p.m.

Cost: $5/Adults; $3/Youth (6-17); 5 & under Free
Don’t forget your Discover Pass ($11.50 Daily or $35 annual) for parking in the State Park.

photo: Kandice S. via Yelp

Aero Museum
Although it’s actually five miles south of town at the Jefferson County International Airport (don’t think “Sea-Tac,” think old-fashioned airstrip with a small 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. The museum constantly rotates their impressive collection of classic and antique planes.

Inside Tip: 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
Airport Rd.
Port Townsend, WA 98368
360-379-5244
Online: ptaeromuseum.com

Open: Wed.–Sun.; 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Cost: $10/Adults; $9/Seniors & Active Military; $6/Youth (7-12); 6 & under Free

Jefferson Museum of Art and History
Located in the city’s original city hall and jail, the Jefferson Museum of Art and History’s displays are well designed with monthly exhibits that dial down further on special interests. During the summer, the museum offers walking tours on Saturdays giving a more up-close and personal approach to local history.

Jefferson Museum of Art and History
540 Water St.
Port Townsend, WA 98386
360-385-1003
Online: jchsmuseum.org

Open Daily, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: $6/Adults; $5/Seniors; $1/Kids

Port Townsend School of the Arts
While you’ll want to plan in advance for this, the Port Townsend School of the Arts offers a variety of one-day classes and workshops for kids and adults throughout the year. Located across from the Rose Theatre, the Port Townsend School of the Arts offers classes for ceramics, drawing, fiber arts, mixed media, painting, photography and even a summer art camp. Be sure to visit their website for current offerings.

Port Townsend School of the Arts
Fort Worden State Park, Building 306
Port Townsend, WA 98368
360-344-4479
Online: ptschoolofthearts.org

photo: Rose Theatre via Yelp

If Your Brain Needs a Break: Go to the 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!

Rose Theatre
235 Taylor St.
Port Townsend, WA 98386
360-385.1089
Online: rosetheatre.com

Open: Daily (see website for times)
Cost: $10/Adults; $9/Seniors; $8/Kids (12 & under)

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 (the first weekend in September). But for an outdoor jaunt that is a little more land-based, check out our two faves.

photo: Helen C. via Yelp

For Breathtaking Views & a PlaygroundGo ToChetzemoka 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!

Chetzemoka Park
900 Jackson St.
Port Townsend, WA 98386
Online: yelp.com/biz/chetzemoka-park-port-townsend

photo: Amie B. via Yelp

For an AllDay Outdoor AdventureGo ToFort 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
360-344-4400
Online: parks.state.wa.us/511/Fort-Worden

Cost: $11.50 to $35 (day or annual rate for Discover Pass)
Open: Year-round

photo: Jenn B. via Yelp

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 has 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.

Bayview Restaurant
From simple sandwiches to delectable salmon dinners, the Bayview Restaurant has it all and a view to match! Bayview has won local awards for their service, soups, breakfasts and pies. Homestyle meals served in a warm atmosphere on edge of Port Townsend Bay.

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!

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.

photo: Elevated Ice Cream and Candy Shop via Yelp

Elevated Ice Cream and Candy Shop
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!

Fairs & Festivals

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:

Rhododendron Festival – Pet parade, bed races, grand parade, carnival and the Rhody Run. (May)

Brass Screw Confederacy and Steampunk Hootenanny – Witness artists, actors, and the aesthetically odd that embrace esoteric apparel, exotic experiments, and fantastical imaginations unfettered by trifles like physics and decorum. (June)

Orca Festival – Whale experts, educators, tribal representatives and artists (June)

Centrum’s Voice Works – Workshops and public performances for singers from across the nation.

Centrum’s Festival of American Fiddle Tunes – Week-long gathering featuring hundreds of musicians living and learning with the masters of fiddle traditions. (July)

Concerts on the Dock – Local bands perform a wide array of dance music. (July)

Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend – Washington’s longest-running summer jazz festival. (July)

Centrum’s Acoustic Blues Festival – The skills, sounds, stories, laughter, and heartache of the authentic bearers of the blues tradition. (July)

Olympic Music Festival – A summer season of concerts in partnership with Centrum at Fort Worden State Park. (July)

Jefferson County Fair – Enjoy a good ol’-fashioned fair. (August)

Wooden Boat Festival – Featuring more than 300 wooden vessels. (Sept.)

Jefferson County Farm Tour – Experience a working farm and connect with local farmers.(Sept.)

Kinetic Skulpture Race – Attempts to marry art and transportation produce hilarious results. (Oct.)

Port Townsend Ukulele Festival – Intense fun, ukulele instruction, and merry music making. (Oct.)

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.

—Jeffrey Totey & Katie Gruver

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