This is the fun part of getting to Port Townsend. It's also the shortest way, if day-tripping. The Washington State Ferries carry 26 million passengers a year across the Puget Sound to work in Seattle or to visit the the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands. We chose the Seattle Main Terminal/Bainbridge Island route and the handy website helped us figure out sailing times and approximate cost. Fares vary depending on season, length of your vehicle and number of passengers. For a one-way ticket, our standard-sized rental cost around $15 for the car and driver and another $7 or so for 1 adult passenger: yours truly. Kids and seniors are less.
The website has directions to the terminal from whatever direction you're coming from. Be there 30-45 minutes ahead of departure time and even earlier during peak season when the ferries are very busy - the website can give you an idea how long wait times may be. Once there, drive up to the toll both, buy your ticket, pull ahead into one of the boarding lanes, shut your engine off and wait until boarding time is indicated by a crew member. Stay in the lane you're in unless an attendant directs you to a different one, and drive slowly onto the ferry, pulling as close to the car ahead of you as possible. Then kill the engine, deactivate your car's alarm (mandatory, if you have one), wait until all other cars around you have stopped, take your valuables and climb the stairs to the upper deck or cabin for nice views of the Sound during your 35 minute journey. An announcement will be made when it's time to return to your vehicle for disembarking. As you see the cars in front of you start leaving the ferry, turn your engine on and follow them out. Easy.
It's about a 50-mile drive from Bainbridge Island. Arriving on Bainbridge, head north on SR305 to SR3, then north on SR3 to Hood Canal Bridge. Cross the bridge and follow SR104 to SR19, bear right and follow 19 to where it turns into SR20, and 20 into Port Townsend.
You can buy ferry tickets in advance but no real need to - they'll help you figure out the proper fare at the toll booth and pre-payed tickets don't put you in front of the line. We bought one-way tickets as we were returning to Seattle via the southern land route but if just taking a day trip to explore the little towns of the northern coast, go for the round-trip version. There are restrooms, food and beverages aboard the ferry but this route is pretty short so grab a latte before arriving at the terminal and enjoy it while waiting in line.
The easy-to-use website will tell you virtually everything you need to know including frequency of ferries, fares, rules and regs and other good stuff. There are additional terminals and ferry routes to other locations around the Puget Sound so, again, see the website if interested in another route.
This ferry connects Port Townsend with the west side of Whidbey Island at the small ferry harbor at Keystone. The ferry crosses the mouth of the Puget Sound as it empties into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean via the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The narrow waters of the Puget Sound are known for fearsome tidal rips created by tides flushing waters in and out of narrow channels twice a day. Here, Washington State ferries must contend with some of the hardest tidal currents found throughout their many routes. Large low tides create ebb currents outside of the entrance of the Keystone Harbor that cancel some ferry runs. To fully appreciate the power of the current, walk past the west end of the ferry harbor - (miss your ferry by five minutes and you will have an hour in which you can make the walk ;-\) - and go up above the campground to the old batteries of Fort Casey. With an ebb tide, watch the waters roil and flow just offshore, as the waters of Puget Sound try to roll back into the open ocean. The view towards Port Townsend and the Olympics from the old fort is pretty amazing, as well.
The ferry ride is thirty minutes long. If you are going to Port Townsend from Whidbey Island, you get to enjoy the view of the Olympic Mountains and the historic waterfront of Port Townsend as you arrive. Going the other way, especially on an ebb tide, you can watch as the ferry captain’s boat handling skills are put to a test as the ferry has to cross what can be a very nasty current just before obtaining the quieter waters of the small ferry harbor. Pictures two through five show the ferry coming into Keystone; first, going past the harbor and then letting the current bring her back to the mouth (a boating manuever appropriately called ferrying ;-] ) before a final gun of the engines into the quiet waters of Keystone Harbor. This ferry is the MV Quinault, originally built in 1929. A few days after our crossing, she got knocked about on the pilings and is being repaired at the moment, replaced by another ferry.
Port Townsend is a small town and you can walk around to any of its sights. It's a very green town and bikes are popular.
Port Townsend is located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State about 50 miles and 90 minutes from Port Angeles, the gateway city of Olympic National Park. It is 120 miles and 3 hours from Rialto Beach on the WA coast. Seattle is 60 miles and approximately 2 hours but you will need to jump on the Kingston-Edmonds ferry en route. Buses also ply this route but I have no personal experience since I was driving around the country for six months at the time.
Port Townsend does have ferry service to Keystone which is on Whidbey Island and is only 30 minutes away. You can also go to the Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. If you are going to Victoria on Vancouver Island, you will have to drive to Port Angeles to get a ferry there.
NOTE: Please also see my Jefferson Transit Tip, which is a companion tip to this one.
Getting to Port Townsend can be a bit of a pain. On popular weekends, especially in the summer months, huge lines form at the three major ferry routes out of Seattle (Bainbridge Island and Bremerton to downtown Seattle plus Kingston - Edmonds). On August weekends I have seen two hour waiting lines at Edmonds for the ferry across Puget Sound.
However, you don't have to deal with all that if you don't bring your car with you. Instead, as a walk-on passenger, there is almost an unlimited supply of seats, as passengers take up quite a bit less space than autos, trucks and buses. You will need a car if you are going to Olympic National Park or a few other places, but Port Townsend is a small city where you can get everywhere by walking, or if you really need to the local transit system.
So, how do you do the Seattle - Port Townsend route by public transit, to avoid waiting in such horrific lines?
Unfortunately, none of the routes are particularly easy, but there are a few:
Seattle -> Edmonds -> Kingston -> Port Townsend, "one seat ride" (but not quite)
By far the easiest is that offered by Olympic Bus Lines
but, the catch is that the timetable only features two departures a day. One of those is in the afternoon, and the other is in the evening. Thus, this is not an option for those wanting a morning trip from Seattle to Port Townsend. However, the service offered is supposedly a single - seat trip from SeaTac Airport, with stops at King Street Station and a few other points, before arriving at Port Townsend, and also serving Sequim and Port Angeles.
The reason for that footnote on the "single seat ride" is that at least some, and maybe all, of the trips require that you transfer to a different bus at Discovery Bay. It is a side product of Port Townsend being out on the end of a peninsula: no one wants to provide direct transit service to it when there are a number of people wanting to go onward to Port Angeles and the ferry to Victoria.
Olympic Bus Lines is the most expensive option, but takes a reasonably fast route, and is through-ticketed on Amtrak, Greyhound, and other carriers including some airlines (this is why they also serve the SeaTac airport), so that done right, you should be able to get all the way to Port Townsend with a single ticket purchase from Amtrak, Greyhound, or some airlines. The bus is fairly small, so you won't want to take huge luggage.
The other routes to Port Townsend are a little more complex as they involve services by multiple different transit agencies and making good connections between them:
Bainbridge Island Ferry -> Kitsap Transit -> Jefferson Transit
This one requires careful planning and timetable following, as there are only a few connections in the morning and the afternoon that work. (At least, that is the situation as of this writing).
From downtown Seattle take the Bainbridge Island ferry. At the ferry terminal in Winslow, tranfer to Kitsap Transit bus route to Poulsbo. At the Poulsbo transit center, transfer to Jefferson Transit bus route #7 to Port Townsend, which comes to Poulsbo only a few times per day. (Four times per day on normal weekdays, as of this writing.)
Due to the connection only happening a few times per day, you really have to follow the timetables backward from the Poulsbo transit center and make sure you get on the early ferry to Bainbridge Island.
However, if you do follow the timetable (and Jefferson Transit has a summary of what you need to do on their web site - aimed at getting people from Port Townsend to the SeaTac airport), you will find that a properly executed series of transfers takes 2.5 hours - which isn't really that different than driving under the best of circumstances, and beats waiting in line at the ferry on a busy day.
This is a public transit bus, and is not set up for hauling luggage. People do take luggage onto the buses, but you will want to pack light if you decide to do things this way.
The price for this:
$6.85 for a walk-on passenger on the Bainbridge Island ferry, which includes the return fare.
$2.00 each way for Kitsap Transit
$2.50 for a day ticket on Jefferson Transit, and thus includes both directions from Port Townsend to Poulsbo
Total: $12.35 round trip, or $6.175 each way
(not including transit fees getting to the ferry terminal)
Edmonds - Kingston Ferry -> Kitsap Transit -> Jefferson Transit
This is very similar to the above method, but requires going to Edmonds and crossing Puget Sound on the Edmonds - Kingston ferry, taking Kitsap Transit bus route #92 to Poulsbo, and then Jefferson Transit bus route #7 to Port Townsend. This is only practical if you are close to Edmonds, as getting to the Edmonds ferry terminal by public transit can be a bit of a chore. This route may be desirable if you are starting, for example, in Everett.
Seattle -> Widbey Island -> Port Townsend
There is a direct ferry from Widbey Island to downtown Port Townsend, and thus it looks like an attractive option for getting to Port Townsend. However, the process of doing this is quite tangled, and it is time consuming due to the lack of good connections in a number of places.
From downtown Seattle, take SoundTransit express buses that serve the north end of town. The exact bus you need depends on where you plan to transfer to local buses to Mukilteo. SoundTransit 511 to Lynnwood Transit Center to Community Transit 113, or SoundTransit 510 to Everett and transfer to Everett Transit 18 to Mukilteo are examples of combinations that work. However, they sometimes require a fairly long wait time between buses for transfers.
The fastest way to get to Mukilteo from downtown Seattle is on SoundTransit's Sounder commuter trains, but those only come north in the afternoon, as of this writing.
Once at Mukilteo, it is necessary to take the Mukilteo to Clinton ferry. It is then possible to take Island Transit bus route #1 northward from the Clinton ferry terminal. At a convenient place along its route, it will be necessary to transfer to Island Transit bus route 6 coming back south. This route serves the Keystone ferry terminal (which Washington State Ferries has been told to now call the "Coupville" ferry terminal, even though it is quite far from that community). The exception to this is Saturdays, when Island Transit route #1 serves both the "Coupville" ferry terminal and the Clinton ferry terminal - but on Saturdays it is a bit harder to get to Mukilteo from downtown Seattle. On the other hand, many other transit routes do not operate on Saturdays, so this may be your only practical option from a number of locations.
The last step of this process is to take the Keystone to Port Townsend ferry to Port Townsend.
This last option requires a lot more transfers than the other two, but the buses run a lot more often and therefore your travel options are slightly better in terms of departure times. However, the total travel time is a horrid 5 hours or so, depending on the time of day - though that may be comparable to driving to Port Townsend if you are having to wait in a two hour ferry line in your car.
$3.00 SoundTransit fare from downtown Seattle to Lynnwood Transit Center
$1.75 Community Transit from Lynnwood Transit Center to Mukilteo Ferry
$4.10 Washington State Ferries from Mukilteo to Clinton (includes return fare)
$0.00 Island Transit bus service between Clinton and Fort Casey State Park
$2.65 each way on Fort Casey State Park to Port Townsend
Total Round Trip:
$18.90, or $9.45 each way
The web site below is for Jefferson Transit, which serves Port Townsend and its surrounding communities, but there are a host of web sites that involve getting from Seattle to Port Townsend unless you take the Olympic Bus Lines option.
However, Jefferson Transit is the only transit agency that has a good summary of how to do the Port Townsend - Poulsbo - Bainbridge Island Ferry series of connections, so they are the web site I chose to put there.
For my trip to Port Townsend on September 20, 2010 I went to Port Townsend using the Bainbridge Island method, and returned to Seattle using the Widbey Island method. I have a Seattle to Port Townsend Travelogue for that trip, which gives a more detailed step by step series of events in this process.
Other Tips and Photos of Mine that Relate to this Transportation Tip:
Jefferson Transit: Port Townsend Tip
Port Townsend - "Coupville" Ferry: Port Townsend Tip
Fort Casey Ferry and Terminal (same ferry as above, only Fort Casey end of things):
Bainbridge Island Ferry: Bainbridge Island Tip
Kitsap Transit / Poulsbo Transit Center: Poulsbo Tip
Island Transit: Whidbey Island Transportation Tip
Clinton - Mukilteo Ferry: Whidbey Island Transportation Tip
Jefferson County Transit is responsible for operating several bus routes that connect locations within Jefferson County, including bus routes within Port Townsend. For the most part, getting around inside Port Townsend itself only requires the use of a sidewalk, as downtown Port Townsend isn't large at all. However, for extending the range of your explorations a little bit without having to have a car on hand (a vehicle may actually be a hinderance in Port Townsend as it is a popular tourist destination, but very compact so there isn't a huge amount of parking available) Jefferson Transit can take you to various places near Port Townsend, or as far away as Poulsbo or Port Angeles, or further.
There are several routes that have "commuter" connections to the outside world: bus route 7 operates four times each weekday to Poulsbo, where it connects with Kitsap Transit to the Bainbridge Island ferry or the Edmonds - Kingston ferry. Both of those have other transit connections to Seattle and other populated parts of the east side of Puget Sound. There are also connections to transit systems to the south and west that will eventually bring the rider to Olympia (via the route that serves Brinnon) or to the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula at Forks.
Bus route 7 also connects to several resort establishments on the west side of Hood Canal, plus a few state parks, to downtown Port Townsend, and thus this bus route may be useful if you are staying in one of those.
For passengers riding in and around Jefferson County, the current fare is $1.50 for a full day pass. For those boarding the system outside the county, the fare is $2.50 for a full day pass. You are able to use a full-day pass outside the county if you purchase it inside the county. So, if your trip originates inside Jefferson County you still just pay $1.50.
The transit system is not large at all, but there are a number of bus shelters scattered through the system in and around Port Townsend. Almost all of the bus shelters feature the complete system timetable taped to one of the windows of the bus shelter - which is not a huge amount of service, but enough to get around inside Port Townsend and arrive and depart in the morning and afternoon.
The local service tends to be hourly, and the connections to the outside world are irregular but appropriately timed considering where they go.
Several of the routes operate in a loop. For example, bus route #2, the "Mountain View Connector" is one of the better routes for getting around in Port Townsend to the north and west, and operates in a clockwise direction through downtown, up to Fort Warden State Park, back down southward through several residential areas, and then to the point where it started. This does not provide exceptionally direct service if you are wanting to got the clockwise direction, but it is faster than walking, and provides better service for the available money than would be possible if there were two buses operating around the loop in opposite directions.
Bus route #11 currently operates once every 1/2 hour, and is called the "Shuttle". It connects downtown Port Townsend to the newer large shopping areas (mostly grocery stores) on the southwest side of town).
Few buses actually operate as a loop, however. For example, a bus might make one loop as a #11, change to a #2 when it arrives at the end of the route, and then change to something else after it has finished that loop.
Virtually all of the bus routes converge on Port Townsend as their hub, with the primary center being a transit center / park and ride lot on the south side of downtown Port Townsend. The system works reasonably well for those wanting to get around inside the city without driving everywhere, and go beyond normal walking range, and is quite economically priced. Connections to the outside world are infrequent, but at least they are available.
Unfortunately, services are somewhat limited, and stop fairly early in the evening, as they do in many small town transit systems. However, the transit service provided could be very helpful at times within the region, and for those wanting to come here without a vehicle there it is a reasonable option to get to some attractions in the region.
I found the bus drivers to be very courteous, and more importantly the drivers and the dispatcher are willing to make modifications to the routes. For example, when arriving in Port Townsend on #7, the riders were asked by the driver how many needed to go into downtown, as the timetable does not show the bus going beyond the park & ride lot on that particular trip. The driver then called dispatch and received approval to make a "special" trip into Port Townsend outside of that which is covered by the timetable. In many cases I also saw the drivers call the dispatcher and make sure connections were made between infrequently operating rotues, or to connecting bus lines at other transit agencies.
Interiors of the buses generally feature the system timetable (there are few routes, so only one is necessary), plus a fatter book featuring each route plus instructions about the system, and a list of the connecting transit services.
The interior of the buses depend on what bus you get: each of them is a little different as it was purchased in a different era. All of them seem to have much better padded seats than the typical transit bus in most cities. One bus on the system has a fairly large luggage rack in place of a section of seats.
Bike racks appear to be installed on all buses.
Connecting services include Kitsap Transit at the Poulsbo Transfer Center
I have taken the series of transit connections from Seattle to Port Townsend, and my adventures are described in the Travelogue titled Seattle to Port Townsend and Back in a Day.
Port Townsend is connected directly to a place called "Keystone" on Widbey Island by a ferry service that operates approximately every hour and a half across Admiralty Inlet (the service times change significantly during the day due to tides, and during severe weather and extreme low tides is cancelled completely, so be sure to check the timetable).
The actual service point on Widbey Island is Fort Casey State Park, and though Keystone and Coupville have both been used at various times to describe the other end of the ferry service (currently Coupville is in vogue), the fact is that other than the camp ground and beaches of the state park, and a single restaurant, there isn't anything on the other side of the water. Both of these named communities are fairly far from the ferry dock. Even Fort Casey State Park is rather limited in scope during the winter months, as the park is usually closed to visitors from November 1 to March 31st.
The ferry terminal in Port Townsend is just south of downtown Port Townsend, and within an easy walk of everything of interest in downtown Port Townsend.
At the other side of Admiralty Inlet there is much less of interest.
This ferry route is frequently exposed to weather and tide related disruptions and delays, so be prepared for a wait. For example, October 6, 2010 is an abnormally low tide day, and one or more sailings will be cancelled on that day.
This ferry route is currently using a smaller ship than normal, which is on loan from Pierce County Ferries. Soon, a new ship will be plying the waters of Admiralty Inlet here, but as of September of 2010 it was still the Pierce County ferry in service here.
The current boat has limited capacity, and it would be best to be prepared for a long wait, especially if you have not made a reservation (capacity is limited enough that they do allow reservations for this route). Also, all vehicles over 6,000 lbs weight must make a reservation.
Walk-on passengers are accomodated on the Port Townsend side in a small waiting room equipped with rest rooms and a single vending machine with snacks and drinks, and a water fountain. A similar facility is on the Fort Casey end of things.
On the Port Townsend end, tickets must be purchased at the ticket booth at the entrance to the ferry terminal. This includes all vehicle passengers and walk-up passengers - be sure to use caution when approaching the ticket counter as some vehicle drivers are not expecting walk-up passengers to be standing there. Yes, on most Washington State Ferries routes, east bound walk-up passengers do not pay a fare, but the Port Townsend Route is different: here you must pay a fare to go east. It is $2.65 for walk-on passengers, $11.45 for an auto and driver (add $2.65 for each additional passenger), and $4.95 for a motorcycle and rider.
Before boarding the ship, you must run your ticket through a turnstyle machine to get to an outdoor gated area, which will be opened just before you are allowed to board. Walk-on passengers are then allowed to enter the boat just before the autos use the same ramp to drive onto the ship.
During the peak tourist season, Port Townsend becomes quite crowded with tourists and it may be difficult to find a parking place on popular weekends.
A free park and ride lot has been established on the southeast side of the city, but still quite close to downtown Port Townsend. The park and ride lot sits behind the transit center, and thus has the best public transportation service in Port Townsend, and is able to serve commuters to Seattle and Bainbridge Island, Port Angeles, and Olympia as well as serve the needs of the local tourist traffic.
As an added point of convenience, the Port Townsend visitor's center is also located right next to the park & ride lot, so there is a possibility you are going to be coming here anyway.
This park and ride lot may be of use to you if you do not want to try to deal with parking issues in downtown Port Townsend.
As stated on my Jefferson Transit Tip, a one day ticket is only $1.50.
The official shuttle through downtown Port Townsend is bus route #11, but such routes as bus route #7 run through town at the start of their operation early in the day before #11 starts operation. Thus, there is service from the Park and Ride lot through downtown Port Townsend starting before 6 in the morning and operating until approximately 7:45 at night. The downtown shuttle itself operates from 7 in the morning to 6:30 at night.
Bus route #11, the downtown shuttle, operates through the transit center in both directoins: one direction connects downtown to a shopping area further southwest of here, and the other direction goes downtown. Buses frequently change routes at the transit center, so just because a bus arrives at the transit center showing a #11 symbol doesn't mean that it will leave as a #11. The best thing to do is to wait at the #11 to downtown bus stop sign, which is almost under the roof structure of the transit center that is shaped like a clock tower, but in fact doesn't have a clock on it.
How to Get Here: from Highway 20, turn north onto Haines Place (between the McDonalds and the Safeway parking lot). Turn left at 12th, and right after passing the transit center building and Port Townsend visitor's center. The way is very well marked, and as the Port Townsend Visitor's Center is right next to the park and ride lot, all you have to do is follow the signs for that and then go further back to the parking lot behind the transit center.
The transit center is also equipped with bike lockers and a bike rack.
You will find the standard strip malls and drive-though restaurants approaching downtown Port Townsend. These establishments are the same as anywhere, but they are not what you came to Port Townsend to see.
Once you arrive in the downtown core, you will experience best what Port Townsend has to offer if you get out of your car and walk the streets little bit. (And Be Very Careful Where You Park!!!)
Here's the thing: as noted before, one of the primary interests of the city is that downtown Port Townsend consists of largely 1880s and 1890s buildings, with a few from the 1920s thrown in, and one one or two modern ones. This means that what faces the streets are doorways and windows, as the downtown area simply is not intended for people to blast through in their cars - the downtown area is oriented the way people lived over 100 years ago! For example: A few of the hotels are rooms above the storefronts, which means all you can see from the street is a six foot wide doorway. There are quite a number of restaurants that are that way too: you won't notice them until you walk past them, as they are on upper floors or on the back side of the building facing the water, and thus the only note of their presence is a sandwichboard sign on the sidewalk and a narrow doorway on the street.
Also, because of the streetside parking in Port Townsend, many of these signs, doorways and even complete store windows may be completely obscured by, say, a motorhome or other large vehicle parked in front of the store.
In extreme cases, there are several reasonably popular places that are located underground - in basements of buildings or on staircases that simply come up out from underneath Port Townsend in the middle of the sidewalk. The staircase shown in the photo leads to an under-ground coffee house. This entire place could easily be missed if you drove through town.
Virtually none of this is visible from blasting through town in your car, so really to experience the 1880s town the way it was intended to be experienced, the way to do it is on foot, just as you would have in the 1880s.
This simply isn't a concept that woud work in a marketplace that is built completely around touring a city by automobile, like most American cities are. Instead, to find some of these places, you have to walk past them. Port Townsend was built in the 1880s and 1890s, and the methods of building and transportation were quite different at that time.
Also, there are quite a number of small restaurants and stores along the various side streets, and along Washington Street (one block away from the water and Water Street). In fact, some of the more interesting places to go are not along the "main drag" of Water Street, as that is the prime real estate, and my guess is that is also the most expensive store and restaurant space. If you look around, you will find some wonderful reviews of some of the restaurants along Washington Street, though the view is good. Also, the Upstage Theatre and Restaurant has a number of night live music events, but it is virtually impossible to find from your car, as it is in a very hidden location. It is easy to find if you explore Port Townsend on foot, however.
Sirens has had wonderful reviews from a number of places, and I ate there once over a year ago. The view from the deck is wonderful on a clear day! Yet, you can't find this place by driving past it. The entrance from Water Street is a narrow doorway, and a sign on the street.
I never thought about how big a problem this would be, with the vast majority of Americans used to simply driving everywhere, until I read a long list of terrible reviews about the Lighthouse Café. There are hundreds of terrible on-line reviews about this place, and it isn't a particularly appealing place from the sidewalk either. So, why were so many people coming to Port Townsend and winding up at this place, when there are so many attractive restaurants all though downtown Port Townsend?
I found the answer in several of the reviews: "We drove all the way through Port Townsend and back, and the only place we could find to eat was this terrible restaurant." Thinking about it, I realized that the Lighthouse Café is the only place in downtown Port Townsend that has a sign big enough for people to see if they go blasting past it in their car.
The solution? Don't go blasting through Port Townsend in your car. The only thing at the end of Water Street is - well, the water. I'm sure the water and the road ending at its edge will still be there when you are done eating. You don't need to be in a huge hurry to get to it then, no?
Certainly, you can drive through town if you want to, but doing that generally doesn't result in seeing the best the town has to offer.
Below are three of the PT guides that may be of help in finding various activities in Port Townsend:
PT Guide: http://www.ptguide.com/
Enjoy PT: http://www.enjoypt.com/
City of Port Townsend Web Site: http://www.cityofpt.us/
This includes not just local city information, but also things like a small virtual tour of the city.