The Most Fabulous Things to do in Port Townsend, Washington Skip to Content

The Most Fabulous Things to do in Port Townsend, Washington

The Most Fabulous Things to do in Port Townsend, Washington

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If ever there was a beautiful, must-visit American town, Port Townsend, Washington has to be it. Located at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the Puget Sound, Port Townsend experiences a temperate climate year-round and is best known for its Victorian architecture and natural beauty.

Our family first explored Port Townsend several years ago on a cross-country road trip, and it has been captivating us ever since. In fact, our first-born has since flown the coop and makes his living building and repairing wooden boats there. That means we get to explore Port Townsend several times a year.

Because Port Townsend is so near and dear to us, we thought we’d share some of our favorite Port Townsend activities, as well as some incredible options for dining and our favorite Port Townsend hotels, but first some important details for those of you who want to visit one of the most beautiful towns in America.

How to Get to Port Townsend, Washington

Port Townsend is located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, just two hours or so from Seattle. After flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), you can either rent a car or embark on a hodgepodge of different types of transportation to get to your destination.

You don’t need a car to get around Port Townsend, especially if you’re staying at a downtown Port Townsend hotel. The area is very walkable, with all the major sites and attractions within the downtown area. If you are planning on road-tripping to Olympic National Park, then a car rental car will be very helpful.


Car rentals are often the most expensive part of our trip. Our favorite tip? Use a car rental comparison website to find the best deal. We have had great luck with Discover Car Hire, which has lots of options from major car rental companies. We once got a minivan for a camping trip in Port Townsend for $249 for a whole week.


If you don’t want to rent a car, you can take the Light Rail from Sea-Tac to the Pioneer Square Station, walk two blocks to the ferry terminal and hop on a ferry to Bainbridge Island.

From Bainbridge Island, catch the Kitsap Transit bus to Poulsbo, and then transfer to the Jefferson Transit bus to the Port Townsend park-and-ride. From there, it’s a mile to downtown Port Townsend. You can hoof it, or hop on the Jefferson Transit downtown shuttle.

See? You’ve just taken a plane, train, ferry, and bus to get from Seattle to Port Townsend. Now you’re ready for a long siesta!

The Best Things to do in Port Townsend, Washington

Ready to fall in love with the cutest Victorian town on the planet? Pack a rain jacket, and embark with us on some of the best things to do in Port Townsend, Washington.

Get Outside: Discover Port Townsend’s Parks and Natural Areas

No matter where we go, we love to explore parks and trails, beaches, and campgrounds. Port Townsend has so many beautiful natural areas! Here are some of our favorite outdoor spots.

A walking path in Chetzemoka Park in Port Townsend, WA
A walking path in Chetzemoka Park in Port Townsend. Photo credit: Christina Pivarnik

Chetzemoka Park is the Perfect Spot for a Port Townsend Picnic

This little waterfront park is a treat to visit on a sunny afternoon.  Bring a picnic and stroll through the expansive gardens of donated tropical flowers and the colorful rose promenade. There are botanical secrets here that are just waiting to be discovered. You are also likely to spot deer browsing on the park’s lush grass. There’s a short trail that leads to a small rocky beach,  a few bench swings to relax on, and plenty of picnic tables.

Looking for Port Townsend Camping? Check out Fort Worden State Park

For Port Townsend camping and hiking that’s close to downtown, you really can’t beat Fort Worden State Park, plus Fort Worden is a great destination for hikers, swimmers, anglers, and nature lovers. You could visit every day for a week and not tread on the same trail twice!

Pitch Your Tent at Fort Worden

There are two distinct camping areas in Fort Worden State Park. The Beach Campground is the most popular (for obvious reasons), but the beach sites are quite exposed, offering little shade or privacy. If this doesn’t bother you, then you will love the beach campground for its awesome view and its proximity to the Point Wilson Lighthouse and the Marine Science Center.

If you are looking for a more sheltered site, consider the Upper Forest Campground, which provides both shade and privacy. It is located in southwest corner of Fort Worden, near the Chinese Gardens Lake. 25 of the 30 sites provide full hook-ups for RVs. The other 5 are primitive sites suitable for hikers or bikers. When camping in Port Townsend, we almost always choose the Upper Forest Campground.

Fort Worden campgrounds are open year-round, and if winter camping isn’t’ your thing, there is dedicated lodging available as well. You can make your reservation online on the Washington State Parks website.  

Please note that in the summer, Port Townsend camping at Fort Worden State Park can be really busy. Reservations are a must in July, August, and September. You can probably get away with not making reservations during the rest of the year.

Explore the Abandoned Fort Worden Bunkers
One of the Fort Worden bunkers in Port Townsend
One of the Fort Worden bunkers in Port Townsend, Washington

When our kids were younger, their favorite part of the entire Port Townsend experience was the turn-of-the-century bunkers in Fort Worden State Park. The bunkers are widespread throughout the park, but our favorites are nestled into the bluffs overlooking the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and the Puget Sound.

Take heed that these abandoned bunkers are massive, unsupervised concrete structures without any of the safety precautions or oversight you might expect in a historical landmark.

Filled with unlit tunnels and chambers, rail-less stairways, vertical ladders, and the sense that once entered, these “catacombs” (as our kids coined them) could become labyrinths without escape. The bunkers are a treat for adventurous or imaginative souls and would make a great setting for the next big horror flick.

Visit the Point Wilson Lighthouse
The Point Wilson Lighthouse in Fort Worden State Park
The Point Wilson Lighthouse in Fort Worden State Park

The Point Wilson Lighthouse is located right at the entrance to the Puget Sound at Admiralty Inlet at the tip of Fort Worden State Park. It is a vital navigational aid for ships coming and going in the area.  The original lighthouse was built in 1879 and sat atop the lightkeeper’s house. The current lighthouse and fog signal building were both constructed in 1913. It is one of 19 U.S. lighthouses still standing along the Puget Sound.

Point Wilson lighthouse is not an official part of Fort Worden State Park, but the park provides easy access to the lighthouse grounds. It can be reached by walking along Fort Worden Beach or the park’s north shore. Tours are offered on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. from May through September.

Visit the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

This beloved little science center and museum make a great stop on a rainy afternoon, or any time if you have kids. The Marine Science Center opened in 1982 and provides hands-on explorations to teach kids and adults about the Salish Sea with touch tanks, aquariums, and even a hydrophone to listen to offshore whales.

The center is also home to one of only six fully articulated orca whale skeletons in the United States.  The Marine Science Center is open on the weekends during the winter months and every day but Tuesday during the summer.

Explore Downtown Port Townsend

A man playing a piano in downtown Port Townsend, Washington
Pianos in the street? Port Townsend is full of surprises! Photo credit: Christina Pivarnik

Located in the heart of the Puget Sound, Port Townsend is a perfect combination of Victorian-era cottages, sprawling gardens, and a bustling downtown. You will find dozens of boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants in the downtown area, and if you are like us and want to stay where you can walk everywhere, you won’t have a problem. Downtown Port Townsend hotels are plentiful, unique, and available at every price point.

Our Favorite Port Townsend Restaurants

We’ve done a lot of eating in Port Townsend, and our favorite restaurants change every time we visit. The following list includes some of our very first favorites, as well as new loves from our 2018 visit. I know there are many, many restaurants that we haven’t had a chance to visit, so be sure to experiment and let us know what we’re missing.

Waterfront Pizza. Located on Water Street in the center of town, this is arguably the best pizza you will ever taste outside of Manhattan— get your enormous slices to go and eat them on the little beach right next to the counter.  The lines are long but believe me, the pizza is well worth the wait.

*2018 update: So, our most recent visit to Waterfront Pizza in Port Townsend was a bit underwhelming. Here’s my advice. If you are going to partake, order from the counter by the slice. We don’t recommend sit-down service in the small upstairs dining area. Our pizza took forever, and it just didn’t taste as good as we remembered.

Khu Larb Thai. Superb, authentic Thai food can be yours without leaving the shores of the US. The Olympic Peninsula’s first Thai Restaurant has been wowing foodies for more than 25 years. No matter what you order, you’ll be delighted with the food, the service, and the ambiance.

Fried thai dumplings in Port Townsend

Some of the best Thai food anywhere!

*2018 update: Since our last visit, there is a new Thai restaurant – Banana Leaf Thai Bistro, which is pretty awesome. Our suggestion. If you are looking for an elegant Thai meal, go with Khu Larb. For more casual fare or outdoor seating, check out Banana Leaf.

Elevated Ice Cream. Swiss Orange Chocolate, Blind Love, and Marionberry –these were our favorite flavors, but there are dozens and dozens to choose from. They’re all original, all homemade, and all delicious. No matter how full your belly is from all that Thai food and pizza, do not skip the ice cream!

 Hanazona Asian Noodle Shop. Although Hanazona has been open since 2005, we visited for the first time last year. This is a small place that is perfect for a quick lunch. It features affordable, delicious, organic food, much of which is sourced from local sources. My son, who works in Port Townsend says that Hanazona is totally habit-forming. We definitely agree!

A cup of coffee on the beach
Better Living Through Coffee!

Better Living Through Coffee – The best small town coffee shop I’ve ever been to, and a strong contender for my favorite coffee shop of all time. Better Living Through Coffee has a lot going for it. The location is in the heart of downtown Port Townsend and right on the waterfront so you can drink your coffee and watch the boats go by.

The coffee is fresh, hot, and strong. They use the pour over method for all of their coffee, and it doesn’t sit around for even one second. If you are looking for a special coffee drink, do yourself a favor and order the Caffe Arancia (coffee with cocoa powder, orange peel, and vanilla), or the Caffe Chetzemocha (coffee, cocoa, chile peppers, and spices.

The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

schooner at the wooden boat festival in Port Townsend
A schooner during the sail at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. photo credit: Christina Pivarnik

Last year we timed our visit to coincide with the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. The festival happens each year in early September and features three days of activities, workshops, boat tours, music, and more. There are more than 300 wooden boats packed into the Port Townsend Marina, and the town is overrun with boat enthusiasts, sailors, and woodworkers.

We had been hearing about the festival for years and were thrilled to be there for 2018. If you are planning a visit to Port Townsend and are interested in boats and maritime history, you owe it to yourself to check out this fabulous festival. My only word of caution would be to make your reservations early because lodging fills up very quickly for this world-famous event.

Stroll Uptown Port Townsend and Check out the Historic Victorian Houses

Port Townsend James House
The historic James House is a private home in Port Townsend / photo credit: Jason Squire

The Victorian homes of Port Townsend were built uptown starting in the 1880s when the town was a contender for hosting the main railroad terminus for the Pacific Northwest. While Seattle was eventually chosen as the railroad hub, Port Townsend was left with dozens of fabulous homes that survive to this day.

The Victorian homes are primarily located uptown, and while most are private residences, you can definitely stroll the streets and view the homes from the outside. For lovely photos and an overview of many of the Victorian homes in Port Townsend, check out Dave’s Victorian House site. It’s a great resource.

Go Whale Watching from the Port Townsend Marina

A southern resident orca near San Juan Island.
This is Mike (J26), a Southern Resident Orca that we saw on our trip.

This had been on my personal bucket list for a long time, so I was so excited to embark on a whale-watching tour in the Puget Sound last September. We set sail one early morning with the Puget Sound Express, who has been offering nature tours and whale watching excursions in the Salish Sea for more than 40 years. 

We spent the whole day on the water, with a short stop in Friday Harbor for lunch. We saw lots of wildlife on our trip, including many Southern Resident orcas, a tufted puffin, and lots of seals and sea lions. I will never forget it!

I wrote a separate post about our whale watching experience if you want to read more. 

Where to Stay in Port Townsend, WA

There are a lot of options for your Port Townsend lodging, based on how much you want to spend (of course), and where you want to be. There are some adorable historic Port Townsend hotels right downtown, and many bed & breakfasts, inns, and Airbnb rentals. You have lots of choices! Here are our recommendations for where to stay in Port Townsend.

We can’t actually recommend a decent Port Townsend hotel for under $100 a night. There are a few to choose from if you are really on a budget, but they really aren’t worth mentioning. If cost is the most important thing (we get it!), we’d recommend booking your accommodation on Airbnb, where you can score a 2-bedroom apartment for under $50, and an entire guesthouse on 3-acres for under $150. Find our favorite Port Townsend Airbnbs below, or use the map to find your own favorite spot. 

If you are looking for a mid-range hotel or a swanky high-end option, you have lots of choices. We’ve included our favorites below, but there are many more that we haven’t stayed in.

Boatbuilders Cottage -Waterfront Airbnb Rental in Port Townsend

We haven’t stayed here yet because it has been booked during the times we have visited. If you are looking for an adorable waterfront bungalow and have two to four people, do yourself a favor and see if this boatbuilder’s cottage is available. I can vouch for how cute it is and for its amazing location, which is right downtown on the waterfront. You can watch the boats come and go from your little covered porch and you are just a few steps from the beach! If you are new to Airbnb, use our referral code for $55 your first stay.

Blue Gull Inn Bed & Breakfast – Port Townsend 

Built in 1868, the Blue Gull Inn is a historic Bed & Breakfast located in a residential neighborhood in the Uptown District. You can still walk to downtown from here, but it’s very quiet.

There are places to sit and relax in the yard, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot deer as they roam through the neighborhood eating up everyone’s flower gardens. Your stay includes a hearty breakfast, and the hosts are charming and very friendly.

There’s plenty of reasons to head to this beautiful corner of the Pacific Northwest. Whether you’re hitting up some urban culture in Seattle, or making a pilgrimage to Olympic National Park, your road trip will be so much more colorful with an extended stop in this unique and hip seafaring town.

Fort Worden Vacation Rentals – Port Townsend, WA

Fort Worden State Park is located along the Admiralty Inlet on the Puget Sound on what was once a United States Army Installation. The former army barracks have been turned into a variety of accommodations, from single rooms and dormitories to Victorian homes and cottages that can be rented for a night or a full week. Fort Worden can accommodate single people or huge groups, including wedding parties, and conferences. Single rooms start at $179.


You can’t beat the location, and you’ll have easy access to the hiking trails, beach, the Marine Science Center, and the Point Wilson Lighthouse. Camping is also available at Fort Worden State Park.

A special thank you to Christina Pivarnik and Enjoy Port Townsend for providing some of the photos for this post. They are a great Port Townsend Resource – providing lots of information on dining, shopping, lodging, and special events.


Want to learn more about this beautiful part of the world? Here are a few more of our favorite PNW posts:


And if you’re on Pinterest, I’d love it if you would share this post:

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Brandi

Friday 6th of November 2020

I can’t believe you didn’t mention the Manresa Castle. We stayed there for a few days for our Anniversary on Halloween. Their restaurant and lounge were wonderful. The food was phenomenal, and the pork sliders were the best I’ve ever had!

Tara Schatz

Monday 9th of November 2020

Hi Brandi, I don't know Manresa Castle, but I'm checking it out now. Thanks for the tip!

Susie

Friday 22nd of November 2019

I enjoyed reading your article. We have a condo in PT. We fly in to Seattle and can take the Rocket Transportation ($126 round trip for two). Pick us up at Sea-Tac (Seattle Air Terminal) and drop us off at our front door. (Return to airport -- just reverse -- the Rocket picks us up at our condo and takes us to Sea-Tac.

I agree with all of your comments. We started going to PT about 7 years ago -- we loved it so much we bought the condo there and travel there about 7 times a year. It's such a treasure to go there. In July there is a very large music festival that we've attended several times; there are parades and loads of local things to do.

Our favorite places to stay (before we bought the condo) are the Commander's Cottage located right on the water downtown; the Sea Loft on Lincoln Street, and Katie's Cottage (across from Fort Worden). Each place is different and worth looking into for your next trip. All of these hosts are lovely people with whom we have now become friends.

We will retire in Port Townsend and look forward to many years of happiness there.

Tara

Friday 22nd of November 2019

Port Townsend seems like a fabulous place to retire. I am going to check out the places you mention for our next trip, which will hopefully be in the spring. Thanks for sharing!

Lightnin Joe

Friday 11th of October 2019

If youre a musician and wa ant to record a demo while uoure in town. Let us know!! We have instruments available. jampronw.com

Brian McLoughlin

Thursday 17th of August 2017

Marrowstone is not “off the coast of America.” It is well inside it in Puget Sound, as is all of Port Townsend and its neighbours.

Tara

Friday 18th of August 2017

I won't argue with you there, Brian. The photo of the sign was taken on Marrowstone (at the general store). I'm sure it was meant to be humorous.

Janice Halliday

Wednesday 16th of August 2017

Coming right up: Port Townsend Film Festival, Sept. 15-17, in Port Townsend's walkable National Historic District, 89 new documentary and narrative films in 8 theatres; a free outdoor movie under the stars each night on Taylor Street. Festival Bar on the Dock, Barbecue, Kebobs and Grilled Cheese next to Pope Marine Park. See More info, and buy your passes at www.ptfilmfest.com

Tara

Wednesday 16th of August 2017

Thanks for sharing this, Janice. I think this is something our readers would love. I plan on being there next year for sure!