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 on the Puget Sound in Washington, Port Townsend experiences a temperate climate year-round and is best known for its Victorian architecture and natural beauty.
The town’s popularity is not all about its charming looks either – there are so many things to do in Port Townsend, especially if you love getting outside!
Port Townsend is one of our favorite small towns to visit in all seasons, especially with kids or as a multi-generational vacation spot. It’s charming and laid-back with constant breezes blowing off the sea, and the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Our family first explored Port Townsend many years ago on a cross-country road trip, and it has been captivating us ever since.
In fact, our firstborn has since flown the coop and makes his living building and repairing wooden boats on the waterfront in Port Townsend. This means that we get to spend lots of time in our favorite west coast town!
Because Port Townsend is so near and dear to us, we thought we’d share some of our favorite things to do in Port Townsend with you.
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. You’re going to love this place!
Have a Relaxing Picnic at Chetzemoka Park
Chetzemoka Park is a small waterfront park within walking distance from both uptown and downtown Port Townsend.
Pack a lunch and stroll through the expansive gardens of donated tropical flowers and the colorful rose promenade. There are botanical secrets At Chetzemoka Park that are just waiting to be discovered. You are also likely to spot deer browsing on the park’s lush grass.
Take the short trail that leads to a small rocky beach and watch the tide go in or out. You’ll likely run into dog walkers, bird watchers, and people scanning the sound for whales.
There are a few bench swings to relax on, and plenty of picnic tables too. Call me old-fashioned, but an afternoon picnic overlooking the Puget Sound is also one of the most romantic things to do in Port Townsend, and it’s totally free!
Plan a Full Day and Night Adventure at Fort Worden State Park
For Port Townsend camping and hiking that’s close to downtown, you really can’t beat Fort Worden State Park. 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!
Camping at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend
You can park your RV or pitch your tent very close to downtown Port Townsend. 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.
The Beach Campground is best for RVs where you will have protection from the elements and a bit of privacy. These beautiful campsites have awesome views of the water and they’re within close walking distance of the Point Wilson Lighthouse and the Marine Science Center.
If you are looking for a more sheltered campsite, consider the Upper Forest Campground, which provides both shade and privacy. It is located in the southwest corner of Fort Worden, near the Chinese Gardens Lake.
25 of the 30 sites provide full hookups 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 inside the park as well. You can make your reservation online on the Washington State Parks website.
Insider tip: 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
When our kids were younger, one of their favorite things to do in Port Townsend was to explore 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 because these abandoned bunkers are massive, unsupervised concrete structures without any of the safety precautions or oversight you might expect in a historical landmark. Obviously, that’s what makes them so much fun to explore!
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.
The Fort Worden bunkers are one of the best kid-friendly things to do in Port Townsend, provided your kids are older and aren’t afraid of heights and dark tunnels!
Visit the Point Wilson Lighthouse in Port Townsend
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
Looking for more things to do in Port Townsend with kids? The beloved science center in Fort Worden State Park makes a great stop on a rainy afternoon, or any time if you have kids who love the ocean.
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.
Shop at the Port Townsend Farmers Market
Located in uptown Port Townsend, the Port Townsend Farmers Market happens every Saturday year-round, and it’s one of the best outdoor markets in Washington. Whether you want to stroll around with a fresh cup of coffee and listen to live music, or stock up on an abundance of produce, meats, cheese, and seafood, you don’t want to miss this market.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market is located on Tyler and Lawrence Streets uptown and takes place between 9 am and 2 pm between April and December. Winter hours are between 10 am and 2 pm.
Insider tip: If you book a room at a downtown hotel, you can do all of your exploring on foot. There are plenty of things to do in Port Townsend without having to get in your car.
Our Favorite Port Townsend Restaurants in the Downtown Area
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 recent visits. 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.
Finistère: Based on our unscientific survey, 8 out of 10 locals think Finistère is the best place to go for a celebratory dinner. We finally got around to trying this swanky little spot in uptown Port Townsend during our last visit, and we agree that it’s swoon-worthy. From the delightfully decadent chicken liver mousse with red onion jam to the incredible salads, cocktails, and entrees, we loved every detail of our meal at Finistère. Worth every penny. Be sure to make reservations!
Waterfront Pizza: Located on Water Street in the center of town, this is not your ordinary pizza joint. Unique flavor combinations and fresh ingredients come together to create otherworldly pies that we can’t get enough of. The lines are long but believe me, the pizza is well worth the wait. We recommend ordering at the takeout window and eating outside near the water.
The Castle: Looking for a cozy nook to settle in with drinks and comfort food? How about a fun line-up of live music, game nights, and special events? A visit to The Castle makes for a fun night on the town, and the Asian fusion menu options are both distinctive and delicious! Try the Grilled tofu with homemade peanut sauce or the pork and veggie pot stickers.
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.
We discovered another Thai restaurant during our last visit – 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.
Hillbottom Pie. How is it possible that Port Townsend can sustain two amazing pizza shops? Every single thing we’ve ordered from Hillbottom Pie has been amazing – soup, pizza, dessert. Everything! Get the marionberry pie if they have it!
Elevated Ice Cream. Swiss Orange Chocolate, Blind Love, and Marionberry 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!
Hanazono Asian Noodle Shop. Although Hanazono 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 habit-forming. We definitely agree!
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.
Pourhouse – Got a hankering for a cold brew with a waterfront view? Head to Pourhouse on the beach. They’ve got 12 beers on tap and more than 200 varieties in cans/bottles.
Enjoy the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival
In 2019, we timed our visit to coincide with the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (September 9 – 11, 2022).
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 to experience it in person. 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.
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 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.
When meandering around Uptown Port Townsend, be on the lookout for the friendly deer that wander the streets and eat the gardens of the locals. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Port Townsend deer are part of the fabric of uptown life, and they’re really cute!
The other thing you’ll notice about Uptown is the Little Free Libraries! They’re everywhere, and we never ran out of awesome reading material thanks to the well-stocked libraries on every street corner.
While strolling Uptown, be sure to stop into Pane d’Amore for delightful baked goods, and Aldrich’s Market if you need gourmet groceries. This unique market is Washington’s oldest grocery store (1895).
Go Whale Watching from the Port Townsend Marina
Whale watching for orcas has been on my 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, which 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! This full-day excursion was a splurge for us, but whale sightings are guaranteed, and it was an amazing experience.
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.
If you don’t want to rent a car, you can take the Light Rail from Sea-Tac to 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!
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.
The downtown area has some lovely hotels that are within walking distance of everything. Uptown Port Townsend is more residential and quiet, with a few nice vacation rentals that would be perfect for families.
In the past, we have stayed in vacation rentals, but short-term rental restrictions are in place to ease the housing crisis for locals who are getting priced out of the market.
Here are a few of the places we’ve stayed at in Port Townsend that we can recommend:
The Palace Hotel – Downtown Port Townsend
The best way to enjoy all the amazing things to do in Port Townsend is to stay right downtown, you really can’t beat the locally-owned Palace Hotel. This charming downtown hotel features antiques in all the rooms, and the views of the water from several of the rooms are incomparable! Many are dog-friendly and some even have full kitchens.
We love that the Palace Hotel is within walking distance of the downtown shops, restaurants, and coffee shops, and parking is free.
During our most recent visit, we stayed on the third floor in a room with a kitchen so that we could cook some of our meals. I’ll admit that walking up three flights of stairs multiple times a day was a workout, especially a day after we hiked Mount Storm King.
As long as you don’t mind doing the stairs, the Palace Hotel is delightful and you really can’t beat the location!
The Swan Hotel – Downtown Hotel Near the Water
You can’t beat the location of the Swan Hotel, which features a fitness center, shared lounge, garden, and free WiFi throughout the property. The spot we stayed in last included a beautiful private patio with a garden view.
Amenities include a small workstation/desk, a flat-screen TV, a bathroom, and an electric tea kettle. Some rooms have a kitchenette that includes a fridge, oven, and microwave.
From the Swan Hotel, you are just a stone’s throw from the marina and within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants.
There are 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.
What are your favorite things to do in Port Townsend WA? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!
Want to learn more about this beautiful part of the world? Here are a few more of our favorite PNW posts:
- Olympic National Park: The Sol Duc Valley
- Camping and Hiking in North Cascades National Park
- A Walk Through the Quinault Rainforest
- Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park
- Hike Mount Storm King in Olympic National Park
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