Located on the edge of Washington’s spectacularly scenic Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend is Seattle taken to the extreme—an offbeat, hippie city that promises nirvana to those who find the Emerald City too urban, too crowded and too culturally conservative.
From the hustle and bustle, it’s an easy two-hour drive across the Puget Sound to the quieter escape, and getting there is a worthwhile adventure. First, you’ll cross the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, whose predecessor was the notorious “Galloping Gertie.” Built in 1940, the narrow suspension bridge undulated wildly in the wind and dramatically collapsed after four months, and the catastrophe was captured on grainy black and white film.
Fortunately, the sole casualty was a cocker spaniel whose owner failed to lure him out of his stranded car, which plunged into the water. You’ll also drive over the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge—the world’s longest of its kind—which spans Lake Washington. At six lanes wide and 7,708 feet long, this pontoon bridge opened just last year and is constructed of precast concrete that makes it feel reassuringly stable.
Once you reach Port Townsend, check into the Swan Hotel. With its water views and windows open to ocean breezes, it’s a pleasant spot that’s well-located at the edge of downtown. If you’ve arrived hungry on a Wednesday or Saturday, walk a few blocks to the uptown farmers market and proceed directly to the Cape Cleare salmon cart for its renowned sandwich: a generous portion of salmon on toasted local ciabatta that’s slathered with a creamy sorrel sauce and stuffed with lightly dressed greens. Prefer cheese? Check out Mount Townsend Creamery, especially for the rich, creamy Seastack that’s dusted in vegetable ash and sea salt. And there’s plenty more to explore at one of the biggest small-town farmers markets in the country. More than 70 vendors tap the primary agricultural area of the eastern Olympic Peninsula to offer everything from Breton crepes to bonsai trees.
PORT TO CALL: Port Townsend provides calm delights such as the Swan Hotel.
Another excellent food choice is Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar. Note that the “bar bites” menu is available beginning at 3 pm, so if you just want to nibble on housemade pâté, chorizo-stuffed dates or local oysters, this is the place. When it comes to satisfying caffeine fixes, coffee shops abound. The most demanding standards can be met at Velocity by baristas who can whip up a velvety steamed milk, swirled with a monogram of cinnamon.
Port Townsend is famous for its charming Victorian architecture and its status as a maritime center. If you drop into Brion Toss Yacht Riggers, a shop on the Point Hudson Marina, you’ll find the eponymous owner is as charming as he is ruggedly handsome, always amenable to demonstrating knots with the flair of a magician. Also entertaining is the city’s Free Speech corner, where whiteboards bear detailed, hand-written opinions on political matters, and a banner rippling in the breeze invites passing drivers to “Honk if You Support Free Speech.” The locals revel in their cherished position outside the mainstream, with local shops selling popular T-shirts that are printed with two semi-official slogans: “Port Townsend: Proud to Be a Little Dinghy” and “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There.”
When you feel like mellowing out a bit, head to nearby Chimacum, where you’ll find the Chimacum Cannabis Company. Recently named one of the best dispensaries in America by High Times, the store is located in an airy farmhouse and open daily from 8 am to 10 pm, ready to fulfill all your medical and recreational marijuana needs with items from flowers and suppositories to tinctures and edibles.
While still in town, you must stop by Finnriver Farm & Cidery, a lovingly restored dairy farm where you can sit in a lawn chair on the patio and admire views of the fruit orchards and seemingly endless green space. Play bocce or croquet and, of course, sample the ciders, created from the organic fruit of more than 6,000 trees. Although the property is open every day for tastings, the farm is at its liveliest on weekends, when musicians take the (small) stage and local food purveyors serve dishes ranging from sweet and savory crepes and galettes to wood-fired pizza. It’s a little off the beaten track, more than a little intoxicating and absolutely delightful—much like Port Townsend itself. ◆
Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar, alchemybistroandwinebar.com; Brion Toss Yacht Riggers, briontoss.com; Chimacum Cannabis Company, chimacumcannabis.com; Finnriver Farm & Cidery, finnriver.com; Swan Hotel, theswanhotel.com
- – Port Townsend is home to several hundred deer that nonchalantly wander the city streets and parks, and even have their own Facebook page. Remember to check yourself for ticks.