In the mid-1800s, Port Townsend was poised to be one of the largest harbors cities on the West Coast. Then, the railroad came to Seattle instead.
Port Townsend's historic Victorian seaport architecture sat nearly frozen, ready to welcome visitors with unique shops, restaurants and art galleries. The wait was worth it.
This year, Mother Earth News named Port Townsend one of the country's "Great places you've never heard of."
Along with its urban amenities, Port Townsend offers a gateway to outdoor pursuits at Olympic National Park and beyond via State Highway 101.
Sitting in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the city has far fewer rainy days than other parts of Western Washington, making Port Townsend a great town for bicycling, even in winter.
"If you have a bike here, you can go all over the place," says Christina Pivarnik, the city's marketing director. "I can't think of many places that have as much to offer."
HOW TO GET THERE
Port Townsend occupies the northeastern tip of Olympic Peninsula. From Bellingham, drive south on Interstate 5, then turn west onto Highway 20. Continue west until you see signs to Whidbey Island.
After you cross onto the island at Deception Pass, follow the highway south to Coupeville and then west to the state ferry landing near Fort Casey State Park. The 30-minute ferry crossing deposits you in downtown Port Townsend. Be sure to check wsdot.wa.gov/ferries for ferry times.
WHERE TO STAY
Port Townsend has a variety of hotels, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts with Victorian themes, as well as homes for rent. Visit PTguide.com for online reservations. Accommodations include:
The Palace Hotel
1004 Water St.
This restored Victorian hotel is smack downtown and puts you close to shops, restaurants and other Victorian architecture.
The Commander's Beach House
400 Hudson St., at Point Hudson Marina
The bed-and-breakfast sits by the water, with short walks to downtown, Chetzemoka Park and Fort Worden State Park.
Fort Worden State Park and Conference Center
200 Battery Way
People can rent a former officer's quarters or other unique homes at the former U.S. Army installation. Two RV hook-up campgrounds are also available year-round.
While at the park, visit its museums and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, with interpretative programs and education about Puget Sound marine life and shorelines. A new exhibit, "Learning from Orcas - The Story of Hope," opened this fall.
WHERE TO EAT
Castle Key Restaurant and Lounge in Manresa Castle
At Seventh and Sheridan streets
Specializing in seafood and steaks, dining at Castle Key is a great way to see the hotel and gardens, formerly the largest private residence in Port Townsend, one modeled after a Prussian castle.
823 Water St.
Enjoy upscale pub food with pizzas, pastas and a variety of beer and wines, both regional and international.
920 Washington St.
The café's glowing neon sign directs diners interested in soups and sandwiches for lunch and Mediterranean specialties for dinner.
1020 Lawrence St.
Lanza's has been serving reasonable Italian favorites, such as chicken piccata, off the beaten path in uptown Port Townsend for 26 years.
WHERE TO DRINK
Visitors can enjoy a winery and cidery tour in Port Townsend, with most tasting rooms open Friday through Sunday during the winter. Call ahead for details.
1984 Hastings Ave. W.
Fairwinds specializes in non-mainstream varietals from Yakima Valley.
Finn River Farm and Cidery
62 Barn Swallow Road, Chimacum
Enjoy hard ciders and spirited fruit wines, and a self-guided farm tour.
Eaglemount Wine and Cider
2350 Eaglemount Road
Sample and buy hard cider, wine and mead created at the homestead farm.
THINGS TO SEE
Gallery walks: Art lovers can stroll through 13 galleries from 5:30 to 8 p.m. the first Saturday of every month.
The Rose Theatre and Rosebud Cinema
235 Taylor St.
Office: 360-385-1039. Movie info: 360-385-1089
With its independent films, visiting filmmakers and an annual film festival, the Rose is a "have to" for film lovers. Each film is personally introduced by theater staff.
Key City Public Theater
419 Washington St.
The renowned theater presents original and revival works, and hosts a playwrights festival every February for new works.
Community Tree Lighting and Santa Visit
Dec. 1, 4:30 p.m., at Haller Fountain, downtown
Enjoy caroling in the streets and Santa's arrival on the city's vintage white firetruck during the Victorian- themed holiday celebration.
Reach DEAN KAHN at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2291.