Port Townsend has lots of great parks for beachcombing, biking, hiking, picnicking or just having a morning latte along the waterfront. This tiny pocket garden (Water and Adams Street) is right downtown and has picnic tables, gravel paths, flowerbeds and a nice view of the Puget Sound. And the scenic waters of the Sound provide terrific opportunities for kayakers, fishermen and sailors. See the link below for info about all park and outdoor recreation activities.
Water Street, which is sort of Port Townsend's Main Street, has lots of shops, galleries, restaurants and a few pubs: great place to fritter away a few hours (and a few $$). The heaviest concentration is the area east of the ferry docks and includes Washington St. (parallel to Water St.) and the little connecting streets in between. A lot of these establishments are in really fabulous old buildings so don't forget to admire the architecture!
See the website below for a P.T. map
This one for a list of businesses:
This one for a mobile device:
This one for some history on the most interesting of downtown buildings:
A walk around Port Townsend's fascinating Victorian architecture is a must. The heaviest concentration is in the old downtown area around Water and Washington streets, and on the high bluff overlooking the harbor: a square roughly defined by Harrison, Tyler, Clay and Washington Streets. You can do this on your own with self-guided information or book a tour. The following websites have information on formal tours, where to pick up self-guided materials and some on-line references you can review and/or download to get you started. Sorry I don't have better pictures but it was raining - tough to keep the lens dry!
The waterfront is a wonderful place explore and there are various pedestrian routes along the shoreline that include parks, marinas, beach access and viewpoints. See the link for where to get walking, biking, bus and driving maps of Port Townsend.
When you're exploring the Victorian houses on top of the bluff (or what they appropriately call "Uptown") there are several points along Jefferson Street with nice panoramas of downtown and the sound. Try the one at the old Fire Bell Tower on Jefferson and Tyler streets for starters. Incidentally, the tower was built in 1890 with a 1,500 pound bell that alerted local volunteers of the location of a fire by being rung in code. This ingenious system bought precious time by enabling volunteer firefighters to go directly to the scene instead of to the firehouse first for briefing. It was in service until the 1920's. See the website for where to get yourself a P.T. self-guided walking tour map
An old shop building. Everything about the building seems just right, the colour [perhaps I should say 'color' ;-)] of the stones, the arches, the windows and curtains, the glass panel above the door, and even the trash bins on both sides of the entrance. From richiecdisc's page I learned that it is called the N.D. Hill Building.
NOTE: As of July 1, 2011, a day use fee has been implemented at many Washington State parks. This fee is $10 per day, or a $30 fee for a year pass. There is a $5 fee in addition to the annual pass fee if purchased at one of the many resellers. Please see my Discover Pass tip for a little more about this. For a bit more about Washington State parks in general, please see my Washington State Parks tip.
In the 1890s and early 1910s, efforts began to transform the northeastern end of the Quimper Peninsula into a military outpost, with the ability to fire 10 inch (254mm) guns deep into the Straight of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet. At the time Port Townsend was the main customs house for ship traffic entering Puget Sound, and so a number of foreign flagged vessels would stop here on their way to Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma, Bremerton, or other cities that were much more important ports of call than they are now. It was thought that military force at this location would be vital to the defense of Puget Sound and all the cities located there.
By the end of World War II, the need for so many coastal fortificatioins was proving unnecessary due to technological developments and strategy changes. The old fort closed completely in 1953, after a long period of decomissioning.
Today, the remains of various antique concrete structures are the only remains of what was once the fortifications on the top of what has come to be called Artillery Hill, and they are slowly being allowed to be reclaimed by natural forces. Only a relatively small number of the over 400 buildings that once existed at the fort remain. If you visit them, please remember that falling off them can be dangerous or fatal.
These surviving structures have been turned into a wide variety of uses, including rental guest lodge housing (for example the structure known as Alexander's Castle), a conference and retreat center, two museums, a youth hostel, a community college, a performance center or two for theatre groups, and it is a home for a fairly extensive arts community known as Centrum, which hosts everything from live performances to artists in residence.
The western edge of the park is a wetlands area known as the "Chinese Garden" and there is a fairly large part of the facility that remains in reasonably intact native forest. There are camping facilities in two locations: at the beach and near the visitor's center and store. The "upper" campground is more sheltered then the lower camp ground, but has fewer places. The lower camp ground is very close to the beach, but has little sheltering it from other camp sites and the strong wind that comes through the area. The camp sites may be used for tents, but most of them appear designed for full-scale recreational vehicle use and those are more expensive than a simple tent site.
This state park is also the home of the Point Wilson Light, which has been automated and exists in a fenced facility at the tip of Point Wilson. Occasional tours of the lighthouse facility are offered, but that particular piece of land is still under federal ownership and operation. Please read the Point Wilson Lighthouse tip for more information.
Other museums at this state park include a marine science center and the Commanding Officer's Quarters Museum with the Coast Artillary Museum preserving some of the historic military machinery.
High atop artillary hill, not only are there decaying fortress structures, but one small piece of the military remains have been turned into an artwork referred to as Memory's Vault.
In the southwestern corner of the park there is also the Cemetary for those that served at Fort Worden and their immediate families.
In addition to all this, there are many small features of the park that make it a treasure in and of itself. During clear weather, there are views in almost all directions, but finding those views requires hunting for viewpoints through the various hiking trails that lead through the park. Visible through the windows of one of the storage sheds, and with historical markers attached to the sheds, you will find the remains of one of the small steam locomotives used to build Fort Worden. The beaches are narrow, but enjoyable. There is a lot of bird life in the forests, and you will certainly see deer in the area, if not wandering the middle of the park itself (see main photo).
With all of the items at Fort Worden, you are most likely going to find something here of interest. I have created separate tips for a number of these items, only some of which I was able to explore. Those items I did not explore I wrote tips about anyway, so that there is at least a record here of some of the other items that are located in the park. Perhaps one day I will return to further explore.
How to Get Here, and Park Orientation: There are several different ways to get here, but the best way is to follow the signs from highway 20. Jefferson Transit bus route #2 connects downtown Port Townsend to the park, and makes a loop through the main part of the park. The main entrance to the park is at Cherry and W streets, and there are several ways to get there from downtown Port Townsend, including just going north on residential streets to the park entrance. After entering the park, the hill directly in front of you is Artillary Hill. This has a large number of the fortification ruins. There is a visitors center at the first street to the left. If you turn right on any of the streets and head to the water, and then turn left to continue down the hill, you will come to the "lower" camping area and the Point Wilson Light, as well as some of the beaches and some other ruins. You may wish to either print out a map of the park from the web site (below) or get one at the visitor's center, but the park visitor's center isn't always open, especially during the off-season.
After dinner, I went out on the veranda and took pictures of a lighthouse I saw which I later identified as Point Wilson
This active lighthouse with an octagonal brick tower with lantern and gallery, rising from 1-story brick fog signal building was build in 1914. The flashing characteristics are somewhat unusual consisting of a white light, occulting every 20 s for 5 s, with one red flash in the middle of the occultation. 49 ft (15 m) . The assistant keeper's house and two oil houses are also preserved.
The station is endangered by shoreline erosion and rising sea level. The station buildings have been flooded several times by winter storms, and the only long-term solution is an expensive relocation of all the buildings. A crude barrier of rocks provides some protection from wave action but not from high tidal surges. The Washington State Park system is somewhat reluctant to acquire it for this reason
Just north of the small Port Hudson, one finds a rocky beach that expands and contracts with the tides. Watch the constant flow of maritime traffic moving in and out of the Puget Sound. Look across to the cliffs of Whidbey Island, the old buildings of Fort Casey with their whitewashed exteriors gleaming. Above it all, the white glacial snows of Mt Baker rise. You can walk out towards Fort Worden and beyond to the lighthouse at Point Wilson, 2.4 miles away.
Even if you are not here during the Wooden Boat Festival, you can still enjoy some of the craftsmanship involved with the boats that are made from wood. You can also rent some of the small rowboats and get a view of the marina and Port Townsend from the water level. Many of the boats have been created by local boat builders or the nearby Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building located in nearby Port Hadlock, five miles to the south along Port Townsend Bay. You can find the Bear and the Townsend, two boats built by the NWSWBB for the Wooden Boat Foundation lying at their moorings here in Port Hudson. Look carefully and you will also find the Lorraine, a Danish version of the long popular Swedish Folkboat, one of the most popularly built small sailing yachts of all times. This vessel belongs to a local sail maker who maintains her in glorious fashion.
Before Port Townsend was a city, this was apparently a fairly popular place for migrating and wintering birds to spend their time.
Today, despite the boat traffic, the dog traffic, and the various other interferances, the local bird life continues to survive. I'm not sure I would exactly describe them as thriving, as other than signs demanding that people keep their dogs on leashes and prevent them from chasing after the beach birds, there is little protection for them or their food sources here.
But, it is certainly a place where you can find some bird life.
The web site below is for the Admiralty Audubon Society, which covers the Port Townsend area. Included on their web site is a list of places in the area to find birds, and what is frequently seen, and a few other hints.
Important locations include:
Kah Tai Lagoon
Fort Worden State Park
The piers hanging over the water that are accessible on foot include two at the Northwest Maritime Center (they are behind the building and not visible from the road) and Union Warf provide a good view of what is on the water.
I've seen harlequin ducks just off the beaches, bald eagles flying over downtown, black turnstones on the stone jetty at the entrance to the small marina at the far end of Water Street at the end of town, great blue heron in many locations, loons and a king fisher exploring the water a few feet from downtown buildings, and bufflehead and ruddy ducks at Kah Tai Lagoon.
Located as far down Water Street as you can go without driving into the water, the Maritime Center is a mixture of museum, tourist event center, store, and viewpoint.
"The mission of the Northwest Maritime Center is to engage and educate people of all generations in traditional and contemporary maritime life, in a spirit of adventure and discovery."
Here, you can stand on the sidewalk and watch through the windows as people construct wooden boats from scratch in the wood shop, or maybe participate in an actual event out on the water.
This is one of the places that I didn't have a chance to explore yet, and it is on the list of places to devote some time to on my next trip.
However, I did explore it enough to thoroughly enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains from the end of the two piers / viewpoints they have constructed behind their building, and are open to the public. From these you can see a full view, from Port Townsend behind you to the Cascade Peaks (if you are lucky including Mount Rainier and Mount Baker and mountains in between), all the way around to the Olympic Mountains, and back again to Port Townsend. In winter months, from here you can watch black turnstones, which winter in Port Townsend, probing the beach for food and roosting on the nearby rock jetty at the entrance to the marina.
The museum is located several blocks from the end of Water Street, right in what was the bustling center of Port Townsend. The building once served as Port Townsend's city hall.
Admission is currently $4, and the museum is open daily 11 to 4.
The historical society also sponsors a monthly "First Friday" lecture, which is announced on their web site. Some of these have nothing at all to do with the history of Jefferson County, or western Washington. For example, as this is written there is an advertisement for the November 5, 2010 lecture, which will be provided by the author of a book about Sarah Graves, who was a new bride that became a member of the ill-fated Donner Party in California.
There is a passport program available that gives people a somewhat reduced rate admission to the Commanding Officer's Quarters Museum, the main Jefferson County Historical Society Museum in downtown Port Townsend, and the Rothschild House Museum in the "uptown" area of Port Townsend. However, the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum is the only one of the three that is operating during the off-peak months.
There are a number of historic houses on the hill overlooking Admiralty Inlet, but the 1868 Rothchild House is one of the oldest, and predates the additions of all the glorious decorations from Port Townsend's guilded age.
The house is now housing tracks for somewhat more recent (1880s) and much more recent (1950s) houses, but this small piece of history has been retained. The Rothschild family started a business in the 1850s, originally called "Kentucky Store" but eventually becoming Rothschilds, a maritime oriented business, located on the other side of Puget Sound.
The family owned and lived in the house into the 1950s, and only minimal changes were made (such as the addition of an indoor bathroom) over the course of its history in the family. In 1962 it opened as a historic site, and as family members were able to provide information about how it was originally laid out every attempt has been made to keep it as historically authentic as possible.
The house is owned by the Washington State Parks department, but is operated by the Jefferson County Historical Society.
It is open 11 to 4 Daily, May through September.
I've been told there is a passport program available that gives people a somewhat reduced rate admission to the Commanding Officer's Quarters Museum, the main Jefferson County Historical Society Museum in downtown Port Townsend, and the Rothschild House Museum in the "uptown" area of Port Townsend. However, the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum is the only one of the three that is operating extensively during the off-peak months.
I can't tell you much about this museum at all, except that it is closed except on Saturdays and Sundays during the off season, which is when I happened to make my way out to Fort Worden this time. The web site implies that the museum is only open May through September, but the sign in front of it indicates that they are open weekends. So, make sure they are open if you consider it a vital part of your trip to Port Townsend.
The museum is operated by the Jefferson County Historical Society, which also operates the general purpose historical society museum in downtown Port Townsend.
Naturally (the name says it all), the museum is housed in the old commanding officer's house, which has served as a home to many families over the half-century that Fort Worden was an active military base. Part of the museum is dedicated to keeping the house in authentic period furnishings, while part of the museum has rotating displays of such items as historic photographs, documents and other historical items of relevance to Fort Worden and its surrounding area, and special collections from those who lived in the area. Witness, for example, the spring exhibition of letters from long time Port Townsend resident Frederick Berger from the Spanish American War.
Even if I did visit the museum as a child, which I think I did, what I remember from then isn't relevant today as I am sure a whole new group of people are in charge of the museum, and that items have changed a bit in the last 25 years.
There is a passport program available that gives people a somewhat reduced rate admission to the Commanding Officer's Quarters Museum, the main Jefferson County Historical Society Museum in downtown Port Townsend, and the Rothschild House Museum in the "uptown" area of Port Townsend. However, the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum is the only one of the three that is operating extensively during the off-peak months.
More extensive writings about the museum must wait until I am able to visit on a day that it is open. However, I am putting it on the list of things to see and do in Port Townsend so that you may at least be aware that it is here.