Port Townsend's Maritime Heritage

September 2, 2016

By Carolyn Price

Photo at right: The Jefferson County Courthouse, built in 1892, is evidence of a time when a thriving Port Townsend was thought to become the “San Francisco of the North.” © Steven Pavlov / http://lovingwa.blogspot.com/, via Wikimedia Commons


Located on Admiralty Inlet along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Townsend is the northern gateway to Puget Sound. A thriving Victorian seaport in the 1880s, it was thought to become the San Francisco of the North. However, the railroad intended for Port Townsend was instead diverted to Seattle.

Undeterred, Port Townsend has embraced its maritime heritage. Fort Worden on the north end of town is a former military installation and popular state park for hiking, biking and water sports. Visitors can overnight in former officer’s quarters, classic cottages or a small castle overlooking the Strait. Forest and beach-side tenting and RV hook-ups are also available inside the Fort’s 433 acres.

Updated Victorian-style bed and breakfasts complement the town’s waterfront which is designated as a National Landmark Historic District.

The town’s hub is the Northwest Maritime Center. Come here to watch boat-building or learn to sail. Grab some coffee at Velocity Coffee House and step outside to fill your lungs with the fresh sea air.

Attend the 40th Wooden Boat Festival in early September or join the hoopla at the start of the annual 750-mile wind-powered Race to Alaska in late June where the first team to reach Ketchikan wins $10,000 and the second place team a set of steak knives.

Port Townsend is also home to Pygmy Boats, the leader in pre-cut do-it-yourself kayak building, and the family-operated Puget Sound Express for whale-watching and birding tours. Film, art and music festivals abound year-round.

Quench your thirst at the brand new Propolis for herb-infused craft beers, or take a short drive to downtown Chimacum to visit award-winning Finnriver Cidery which is leading the Pacific Northwest hard-cider revival.

And don’t forget your bike. Wend your way through the Port Townsend Boatyard to the Larry Scott Memorial Trailhead, a 7.3-mile fairly flat trail which serves as the western start of the Olympic Discovery Trail.