“Ah man! Now my jeans are soaked!” While our kids howled with laughter, my husband stared down at his pants dripping with sea water. I had little sympathy; if you are going to stomp on a massive kelp bulb hauled out of the ocean by your 7-year-old, you are going to get wet. I have no clue how our two sons managed to stay dry and not coated in the sand during our hour-long, shoe-free, hike along the beach. Drinking in the fresh air, watching eagle-eyed for sea glass, and dragging 20ft long ropes of kelp with them meant our kids slept like logs during our 3-day mini-break in Port Townsend.
Port Townsend, Washington, is in Jefferson County and nestled along the Pacific Ocean at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. While you can drive to Port Townsend from Vancouver, the shorter journey involves a 40-minute ferry ride from Coupeville over to the ocean-front town. Dubbed “the City of Dreams”, Port Townsend was slated to be the largest harbour on the west of the USA and scads of money was invested in the city during the late 1800s resulting in a stunning downtown core filled with Victorian brick buildings. The dreams crumbled when a last-minute decision re-routed the railroad terminus to the east of Puget Sound rather than in Port Townsend. After a massive exodus from Port Townsend, the military moved in and created Fort Worden in the late 1890s, an active base from 1902 until 1953. In the 1920s a paper mill was constructed helping mend the economic downturn of the region. Today the town is populated with mill workers, hospital staff, retirees, and artists. The eclectic residents, the stunning architecture, the mild climate, and the walkability of the community make Port Townsend a perfect retreat for families looking for an oceanside getaway.
Places to Rest Your Head:
Bishop Victorian Hotel: constructed in 1890 the Bishop Victorian Hotel exudes historic glamour. The red brick walls, the paintings, antique furniture, and lovely welcoming aura makes guests feel like they have arrived home. The Bishop Victorian does an exceptional job of making travelling with kids easier. Located on Washington Street, the hotel is in the heart of downtown. In the lobby, guests are invited to borrow DVDs and grab a pack of popcorn to make in their room. There is also a cupboard chalk full of board games for anyone to use. The hotel rooms are spacious: we stayed in a 2-bedroom suite complete with a sitting area and kitchenette (fridge, microwave, coffee maker, dishes and sink). All guests are provided with a continental breakfast in their room.
Fort Worden: Situated on 433 acres, Fort Worden is a state park and has a truly charming array of accommodation options: camping along the beach, bunking in a dormitory-style military building, or having an adventure in one of the stand-alone buildings. Our family was fortunate to call The Steward’s Cottage home for one night. The 100-year-old, two-storey house is tucked right beside the old military hospital as the Cottage was where the nurses would sleep at night. From the front porch, and over the white picket fence, we enjoyed watching boats sail on the ocean and the sun setting at night. Fort Worden has become a cultural hub for both Port Townsend visitors and residents alike: a Wooden Boat Festival, writers’ conference, and blues and jazz festivals, plus music, dance, and live theatre performances are just some of the programming offered. And when you visit be sure to walk to Artillery Hill; when we visited we spotted a massive submarine being escorted to open water from the Naval Magazine Indian Island which is the US Navy’s primary munitions-handling dock on the Pacific coast.
Places to Fill Your Belly:
Elevated Ice Cream & Candy Shop: A true old-fashioned ice cream shop! The owners of Elevated Ice Cream & Candy Shop have been making their own delicious ice cream, sherbet, and Italian ices onsite for 40 years. The store also has a large selection of home-baked desserts, espresso beverages, chocolates and specialty candies. You can dine in the store, or you can ask for your treat to go, head out the back door, and sit along the covered boardwalk jutting over the ocean.
Doc’s Marina Grill: Overlooking the water, Doc’s Marina Grill is clearly a go-to place for the locals. When they tell you reservations are recommended, they aren’t kidding. But after devouring the she-crab soup along with the oysters & chips, I’m surprised there wasn’t an even bigger line to get a table. You know the food is good when all conversation at the table ceases! Our 9-year-old is still raving about the Big Doc Burger.
Reveille: Located in the Commons Building of Fort Worden, Reveille provides delicious farm-to-table menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Places to Grow Your Brain:
Marine Science Centre: When you walk in the door of the Marine Science Centre, do your best to befriend one of the docents. The Centre is an interactive, hands-on space. Climb through a storm drain, touch the baleen of a whale, identify toxins in your home, gaze at the massive skeleton from the orca named Hope; kids will love all of the activities geared towards them. But without a doubt, a highlight of our visit was the time spent with a docent named Linda. She was exceptional at engaging our boys, highlighting areas of the Centre we missed seeing, providing in-depth and fascinating information. For much of the year, the Centre is only open Friday – Sunday noon – 4 pm. However, in the summer the hours switch to 11 – 5 pm every day except Tuesday. And, for those of you able to be in Port Townsend for a bit longer, be sure to check out the week-long summer camps (open to kids as young as three years old).
Jefferson Museum of Art & History: Wander through a former courtroom, a once-operational fire hall, and a slightly terrifying jail. Having never toured a jail I wasn’t expecting to be so rattled seeing the bars and cells, the shackles bolted to the ground, and the solitary confinement room. I’ll be honest I had a look and skedaddled out of there very quickly. The history found in the rest of the museum was much more my speed. The former municipal courtroom and fire hall displayed the history of Port Townsend. Taking time to watch the introductory movie is definitely worthwhile.